Ask someone to name a trilogy, and the original Star Wars will probably be one of the first to come up. It’s hugely iconic, massively influential, and for many people, considered some of the greatest films ever made. So, we thought that would be a pretty good place to start.
It’s important to note that we watched not the untainted original releases, but the remastered 2004 edition. You know, the one with loads of CGI and weird changes. We’ll be touching on that later, but not too much (enough vitriol and rhetoric has been splurged all over the internet about them anyway). We thought we’d just get it out of the way that those are the versions we watched.
Star Wars, as the first film was originally called, was released in 1977. Little did independent film maker George Lucas know that he was about to create the greatest thing that the world had ever seen: the character Wedge Antilles.
But we’ll get on to him later.
A New Hope (1977): “Mos Eisley – a more wretched hive of horrible CGI everywhere you will never find.”
Straight away, with A New Hope one can’t help but notice how iconic the entire look and feel and sound of the film is. The opening shot, which immediately establishes hierarchy between antagonist and protagonist, is still impressive 36 years later. It’s amazing to think that the initial shot of the Star Destroyer moving in to view is all model work. The attention to detail is astonishing. And it’s this home-made, “junkyard” aesthetic that gives the original Star Wars trilogy much of its charm, a fact lost in the later prequels.
The soundtrack still has a great deal of impact (particularly ‘Binary Sunset’). All that’s missing is ‘The Imperial March’. And this is something we found quite shocking. The Imperial March, the soundtrack of the “bad guys” in Star Wars is completely missing from A New Hope. And it’s when one starts to notice what’s not there, that the first Star Wars film starts to look a little flimsy in a couple of areas.
In fact, there are several moments in A New Hope that makes it seem like it was intended to be a stand-alone film, with no follow-up. Firstly, Emperor Palpatine (along with his aforementioned theme) makes no appearance, just a passing reference to ‘The Emperor’ when discussing the Imperial Senate. You would think a guy who turns out to be the main villain of both the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy would have a larger part to play (/any part) than that. Instead, Grand Moff Tarkin is meant to be our main antagonist in the ‘big bad boss’ sense. Furthermore, and further weirder (in hindsight) is the love triangle between Leia, Han, and Luke. The relationship between Leia and Han has not yet blossomed and throughout there’s very much a feeling of “Leia & Han/Leia & Luke: will they won’t they?” Obviously, this is undermined by the later realisation that Luke and Leia are brother and sister. One can’t help but feel, that had their familial ties been decided earlier, the initial romantic potential wouldn’t have been so explicit. And finally, the throne room scene: this is a bit of a let down as an ending. There’s no concern for repercussions, or at least none are displayed, R2D2 is fixed without consequence, and the threat from the Empire seems dispersed. Despite the unresolved fate of Darth Vader, it feels like a finite conclusion.
Indeed, Vader is one of the weirdest characters in the first film. The relationship between him and Obi-Wan feels underwritten, though much of this is to do with hindsight and lack of continuity in the prequels, something we will touch on later. During the lightsaber duel between the two aboard the Death Star, Obi-Wan calls his opponent “Darth”, his title, not his name, which seems peculiar (and is never done again by anyone in any of the other films). Obi-Wan also tells Luke on Tatooine that his father was “a good friend”, which seems slightly inconsistent with Obi-Wan’s brutal maiming and near-murder of Anakin in Revenge of the Sith.
All in all, A New Hope feels more like a homage to the Sci-Fi serials, Westerns, and B-movies Lucas was trying to emulate. It lacks the in-depth character development of the second two films, and is more a trope-hitting pastiche of the old-school: swinging across gaps, shoot outs, cheesy wipes, cantinas, odd aliens, Wedge Antilles, and beginning on the lonely ranch with aspirations of adventure. This is probably the main contributing factor to it feeling like a stand-alone project. And as a stand-alone film, it’s truly excellent. But as we have realised, one can never consider Star Wars in a vacuum: it’s so influential, and its universe now so expansive, that our first outing in to that universe feels, at times, a little sparse and under-considered. Really, Star Wars is hindered by its own myth, but not in a way that stops from being an excellent film: it’s aesthetic is hugely iconic, with awe-inspiring set pieces, the characters are likable and it paved the way for many of the successful franchises of modern cinema.
Well, this one’s the best.
Unlike A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi feel more cohesive and it’s almost as if it’s where the “real” story starts to be told. We learn a great deal more about the characters and the universe. That’s not to say A New Hope doesn’t have character development; it provides the major groundwork for the series. But it is in Empire that these characters and worlds really develop their depth. Most of this can be attributed to the writing: George Lucas didn’t direct or write the screenplay. Funny that.
Empire showcases a more varied aesthetic from A New Hope: the homemade/junkyard feel is gone, whilst the locations and terrains explored by our characters are more diverse – the snow planet Hoth, the swamps of Dagobah, and the idyllic cleanliness of Cloud City. Coupled with that, within those locations we see further detail: the Wampa’s cave, Yoda’s house, and the carbonite freezing room respectively. These are complex, well-thought out and intricately designed environments, without feeling cluttered or over-wrought.
John Williams’ soundtrack, such an important defining aesthetic for the series, really comes into its own here. The themes and motifs from A New Hope are expanded on and added to: ‘The Imperial March’ is debuted in all its glorious infamy; Han and Leia are provided with their own theme to accompany their burgeoning romance; Yoda gets one too.
The film contains far fewer tropes and homages to the old-school Sci-Fi and Westerns Lucas was originally trying to copy, and as a result Empire feels more genre-defining. It has begun to set its own new blueprint for future genre cinema. The most significant moment in this new style is Empire’s “twist”. Renowned, rehashed, and sometimes ridiculed, the “I am your father” moment remains Star Wars’ most iconic sequence. And, in a way, its fame has neutered it. The impact of this moment, surely, would be phenomenal at first viewing in ignorance.
While this moment is the climax and the crux of Luke’s story in Empire, it is Han and Leia’s story that dragged us in the most. It forms the central backbone of the narrative, shows clear development of the characters, and provides a human interest in what would otherwise be a film entirely focussed on one journey and one character. It is here, in the romantic relationship, that Empire achieves its true depth. Certainly, it’s a very “Space Opera” narrative to go to, but it’s simple, effective, and well-written enough to make it not seem melodramatic or tawdry. Leia’s declaration of love, and Han’s blasé reply, remains one of the greatest moments in the series.
Empire, fittingly, is the first appearance of The Emperor (and his theme). However, a distance is still maintained. We see him only as a hologram, not in the flesh. While it’s great to finally see who the “big bad guy” is, that really is all the Emperor remains. We never really understand his motivation, and his character can barely be called a character. In Jedi, he goes on to act as a “devil on the shoulder” for Vader, but in Empire, he simply appears, looks evil, and then disappears. It’s Vader that is the most complex, and therefore the most entertaining villain. It is in Vader that we are most invested. One can’t help but that think, perhaps Darth Sidious is a little unnecessary.
Equally characterless, but certainly not unnecessary, is Boba Fett. His mystery and aloofness adds an unease to the whole film, and Han’s final comeuppance at his hands feels simultaneously inevitable and surprising. Boba Fett is a great example of an early cult figure: one who fans picked up on despite his limited screen time, character development, and lack of lines. This probably contributed to the addition of Boba Fett to the Jabba scene in A New Hope in the remastered edition, as well as some backstory in the prequel trilogy. Neither of these things would’ve been included, surely, without the initial audience response to the character. And their additions really aren’t necessary. It’s Boba Fett’s mystique that makes him such a great and well-loved character. We don’t want to know about his family, we don’t want to see him as a child, and we don’t want to know that all the Imperial Soldiers are clones of his father. He should be, and always will be really, a monosyllabic guy with a jet pack. And that’s awesome.
Something we haven’t mentioned is the CGI additions in Empire, and honestly, that’s because they didn’t really annoy us that much. The most noticeable are the additions on Bespin: the vehicles, the town, etc. But here it adds depth. In Mos Eisley, weird monsters are placed right in the shot, and pointless droids are doing stupid things with machines. Here, the CGI isn’t invasive. It’s not necessary, either, but it’s not offensively bad. One thing to be thankful for especially, is that Yoda was not replaced by CGI à la the remastered E.T.
There is so much more to say about Empire, but sadly we don’t have enough space: the excellence of the Yoda puppet, Lando’s character, the asteroid belt scene, hiding in the garbage, Luke’s training, Luke’s vision of Vader. There’s so much depth to this film that you can see why it is still considered the best.
0) Wedge Antilles
1) Han Solo
2) Admiral Piett, for survival instincts and facial expressions.
3) Wampa Ice Creature, for only trying to get some dinner.
5) Lobot, because he’s bald and has a weird robot bit on him.
6) Ugnaughts, for being ugly as fuck.
7) Lando Calrissian, because of this picture.
Return of the Jedi feels very much like The Empire Strikes Back, Part Two. Story lines from the previous film are resolved, such as the rescue of Han and the completion of Luke’s training. In the traditions of classic finales, the big baddy is destroyed, relationships are solidified and good triumphs in the end. However, it is not simply a continuation of Empire, but a completion of the whole trilogy, harking back to A New Hope by starting off on Tatooine and again having to destroy a Death Star.
Unfortunately, it is in Jedi that the CGI additions begin to truly annoy. The Max Rebo’s Band sequence is dire, the added beak on the Sarlacc is unnecessary, the celebration sequences at the end give the whole section a weird mismatched visual language, and worst offender of all, is the addition of Hayden Christensen appearing to Luke in the final shot, a decision that only a mother could love. One can only be thankful that they didn’t do a CGI version of the Rancor.This makes the middle section of the film, the Ewoks on Endor, a pleasant relief in this regard as it is still complete with the old-school Special Effects and costumes. The Ewoks have had a lot abuse over the years, with many people saying that they catered too much to the young audience, perhaps because of the costume design, and began the slippery slope in to The Phantom Menace and Jar Jar Binks. Whilst the Ewoks and some of the Endor scenes are among the weakest aspects of the film, at least the little furry things actually have a purpose, as opposed to merely providing (poorly-written) comic relief. Oh sorry, forgot that Jar Jar turns out to apparently be a well-respected politician. The ewoks represent the underdog and give the whole battle with The Imperials a very David & Goliath/Home Alone feel. Equally, the characters in Jedi, mainly Han, are bemused and annoyed by them meaning that that is a part of the authorial intent. Jar Jar Binks is never reacted to negatively, only with a roll-of-the-eyes and a sort of “Oh you!” look, never a “What are you doing here? Please stop it” look. Equally, with the Ewoks, it’s nice to see and learn about an alien species in detail, something we’ve not yet experienced. And they also give C3PO a purpose, whereas before he simply blundered around getting people in to trouble, with R2D2 picking up the pieces.
In this entire review we’ve barely talked about Luke. And honestly, that’s because we’re not really sure why his character develops in the way it does. He seems to learn how to be a Jedi extraordinarily quickly, later is deemed to be “chosen”, and Vader and, especially, The Emperor, seem to think he’s important. But we don’t really see him do anything. He manages to destroy the Death Star without using the homing system in A New Hope, but after that he trains, fights and loses against Darth Vader and then, despite his apparent skill when entering Jabba’s palace and fighting the Rancor, we don’t see anything particular that marks him out as significantly special. Even the death of the big bad guy is not at his hands, but rather at Darth Vader’s. Really, this is all tied in with The Emperor’s motivation: why does he want Luke to turn to the Dark Side? Why does he think Luke is special? Why is he an asset worth risking time, men and money over? It’s all a bit ephemeral and unexplained. It’s all a bit “he’s evil because he’s got a hood and wearing black”. Certainly, this rings true with the Space Opera feel of the thing, but really misses an opportunity to create a deep and interesting relationship between the main antagonist and the main protagonist.
We should mention the relationship between Lando & Han, really. To us this is one of the most interesting pairings in the films. They are “bad guys gone good”, turned towards a noble cause but not really knowing how it’s happened. Lando’s betrayal, subsequent guilt, and ensuing success as a Rebel Leader provide a genuinely believable and relatable character arc. Han’s development is more complex. While tied up with money, ultimately he fights for friendship and love and through this, surprising even himself, he becomes a better man. The man who shoots Greedo in the Mos Eisley Cantina is worlds away from the man hugging Ewoks on Endor. There is an excellent moment in Jedi where Lando and Han meet each others eyes, as if to say “neither of us know how we’re here, but we’re thankful we are”.Whilst Return of the Jedi is the weakest film in the trilogy, it is arguably stronger than A New Hope as an episode of the trilogy, thematically and in terms of continuity. It has odd moments, but the action in it is great, the characters are written consistently, the environments are new but as equally iconic as the previous films. A fitting end to a classic trilogy.
1) Wedge Antilles
2) Admiral Piett, again.
3) Twi’leks, for being feisty and occasionally green.
4) Admiral Ackbar, for his clearly superior leadership skills and trap awareness.
5) Malakili, for loving his rancor so much.
6) Leia, for being someone who loves you.
7) Boba Fett, for not saying much.
8) AT-AT, for appearing briefly on Endor.
THE FINAL WINNERS
“So who’s this Wedge Antilles you’ve been talking about?” we hear you cry! Well, he’s only the best character in the whole trilogy. Here’s why.
It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to call him an invincible, omnipresent guardian angel that makes a habit of changing costumes in a phone booth. Each significant conflict (The Battle of Yavin in IV, The Battle of Hoth in V and The Battle of Endor in VI), Wedge is there, battling against The Empire and carrying the Rebel Alliance to victory almost single-handedly. He is the only rebel pilot to survive both Death Star attack runs. Not only does Wedge both feature in and survive all three battles – he plays a major role in each one, even though he is consistently portrayed as a “background character”. In The Battle of Yavin, he is the only X-Wing survivor aside from Luke, and even saves Luke’s life by shooting down a pursuing TIE Fighter; in The Battle of Hoth he is the first pilot to take down an AT-AT Walker; and in The Battle of Endor, Wedge in his X-Wing and Lando in the Millennium Falcon together destroy the second Death Star, and are the last ships to leave before its destruction. You’re not fooling anyone, Lucas – you might as well have called the franchise Star Wedge.
It is also interesting to note that the ‘Captain Antilles’ C3PO refers to in IV as the previous owner of the two droids, is not Wedge, but Raymus Antilles, another Rebel Alliance captain and strangely, no relation. On top of that, the actor who portrayed him, Dennis Lawson, is the uncle of Ewan McGregor. Wedge Antilles is the heart, soul and backbone of the entire Star Wars franchise, and therefore is undoubted winner of Plath Number One.
Honourable Mention: Chopped Off Arms
The Empire is one of the loosest and most confusing group of baddies in any film series ever. Their troops are badly trained, missing most of their shots and fleeing in huge numbers when one man runs at them shouting. While the Imperial Guard, the guys in red, look awesome, they don’t do anything awesome. The Admirals are brilliant however, especially Admiral Piett who survives through the choking-fest that is Empire all the way to the end of Jedi. Honestly, The Empire would be much more organised and understandable if the Admirals ran it, or indeed Grand Moff Tarkin, rather than a man in a big black cloak on a rotating throne who’s motivation is mainly be evil, because that’s what’s expected.
Shit No. 1: George Lucas
Now, admittedly, Lucas is only Number One Shit because we watched the remastered versions with CGI everywhere. Sure, his original idea with Star Wars was groundbreaking, hugely influential, and truly inspired. But it’s hard not to notice how significantly the standard of the films go up the less he is involved. People seem to forget that it was a huge host of people that made the original Star Wars what they were, and really Lucas was only the catalyst that started a feast of ideas to be thrown around by many talented individuals. But since the prequels, he has got his hands all over the Star Wars franchise, failing to realise what originally made it good. He feels like a teacher trying to join in on the classroom’s joke. Most notably is the addition of the head *donk* noise when the Stormtrooper knocks his head on the door in A New Hope. That was a little mistake that the fans noticed and loved and laughed at. George Lucas picked up on it, thought “That’s funny! People like that bit! Let’s make it MORE funny! Add a sound effect!” Like any good joke, as soon as the person in charge latches on, all vestiges of humour are lost.
Equally, many of his ideas even in the original trilogy feel like they were made without much thought for the constructed world. That means there’s retroactive construction everywhere, some of it flimsy and badly thought-through. Go on a wiki page for any Star Wars character and the amount of fan fiction trying to fill in bizarre gaps in characters is astonishing. The cult status of Star Wars is held up by the fans’ obsession with sorting out Lucas’s mistakes.
We love to hate him, and sometimes we hate him with good reason. But there’s no denying he has a great mind somewhere in there. Somewhere.
Throughout this review we’ve made loads of references back to the prequels, the original unaltered versions, the expanded universe and that’s almost entirely unavoidable when dealing with a franchise so monumentally expansive and revered as Star Wars. As we’ve said, these films can never exist in a vacuum. It’s impossible to think of them as just films on their own. The baggage that comes with them, the misanthropy towards Lucas and his changes, the famous lines, the iconic set pieces, and, most importantly, Wedge Antilles, are all part of the Star Wars experience.
Trilogy Rating: ★★★★½