I’m treading in dangerous waters, some of the more dangerous nerd infested waters around. I’m familiar to the dangers that lurk, but I still must be wary. And so, looking over both of my shoulders and all around, I step out and ponder the question of which is the best Star Wars film. Let’s start from the top.
It definitely isn’t Episode I. Ironically of all the films, I’ve seen this one the most, because I was a 13 year-old kid when it was released and thus entirely engrossed in the goofy antics of a computer generated stereotype and a 10-year old delivering the stilted lines of Mr. Lucas. It’s just not that great of a movie, though. George Lucas managed to suck the energy and life out of the original trilogy, replacing it with beaurocratic rambling and pod races. The characters are unfamiliar and not entirely interesting in the first place, while the layover on Tatooine feels like a not-so cleverly crafted plot device to bring everything together. A lot of coincidences, along side a lot of poorly written dialogue, topped with a pretty cool lightsaber battle make this a disappointing movie that still entertains on a basic popcorn munching level.
Bringing us to Episode II. Attack of the Clones is a better made film, but still a little too attached to its governments maneuverings. Lucas created a plot point that required a whole lot of filler in the middle to complete, and because of that the first two films were stuffed with all the Trade Federation, Counts, Dukes, Viceroy mumbo jumbo that none of us really paid any attention to. The thing he forgot is that in the original films, all the politics were safely presented in the classic rebellion plot. Two important things come out of those plots; bad guys and good guys. In the prequels’ political maneuvering we have insurgency and splinter factions, shady dealings and back alley wars. They’re boring as we wait the entire film for the big battle. Episode II does a better job of introducing the familiar elements that we know and love so well, Boba Fett, Obi-Wan as a Jedi Knight, Anakin with a lightsaber. Unfortunately, one of the worst love sequences in the history of popcorn cinema sits in the middle, alongside a completely unnecessary factory escape sequence, and all those political dealings. Of course, the end of this film really kicks things into gear and almost salvages the entirety of the film. One of the most exciting scenes in the entire series (Yoda can move) brought the theater to its feet, and a whole lot of Jedi with a whole lot of light sabers.
Which leads into Episode III. I’d say the ending of Attack of the Clones leads directly into the beginning of Revenge of the Sith, in which Lucas finally got it right. I’d say it’s probably a matter of so many open plotlines finally filling in, every little bit of the puzzle the audience has been waiting for figuring itself out. The characters we know and love finally appear in their full formed glory and there is a lot of action, really good action, and the trademark humor that the first two films bogged down with hokey plotlines. This was a good film and the most exciting of the three prequels by far. The return of Vader was on the horizon for 6 years, and when he finally arrived, it was everything promised (minus the Nooooo at the end. How cliché was that). But, could it possibly match up with the original three films. In some ways yes, but in others, not as much.
Episode IV is the original and thus a classic for all the obvious reasons. It’s started the whole saga, and no one can forget the first time they saw it. But, is it the best. I don’t think so. In fact, in terms of how good of a movie it is, it probably falls somewhere in the middle. It’s all exposition and beginning, introduction to the action we see later in the series. We meet the whole cast of characters and witness the beginning of the evolution of a Jedi Knight. We get the smarmy exchanges between Han and Leia and the antics of C3PO and R2D2, but it’s all a few degrees cooler than the later films. Vader’s introduction is a classic moment in film history though, and the destruction of the Death Star still one of the greatest audience cheer along climaxes you’ll ever see.
Episode V is the original depressing piece. You can’t honestly consider it the worst after the destruction of the Republic and multiple murders of Revenge of the Sith, but it was a major downer after the successes of A New Hope. But, The Empire Strikes Back was just that, the Empire striking back, and hard. Everything about this film was great. From the monumental revelation by Vader to Luke of his heritage, to the secretive dark training on Dagobah with the quirky little Jedi. Luke’s development truly takes off in this film, and we begin to see Luke the Jedi Knight instead of Luke the whiny farmhand. Han and Leia’s relationship takes on a new level as well, as the two become closer than they expected and the whole thing ends with Han in carbonite, Luke’s hand missing, and the rebellion in disarray. Leading into the concluding film, this one did everything right. But, if you don’t like to be depressed, I suppose this might have been a tough one to swallow.
But Episode VI remedied everything for those depressed by Empire. Return of the Jedi starts off with a bang and keeps running until the end. Luke is now a full fledged Jedi, and Han is still in the clutches of Jabba the Hutt and his retinue. Enter the infamous gold bikini scene, some Boba Fett action and a giant Sarlac and we’re off to the races. Return of the Jedi immediately fixes all the problems of Empire and just keeps on chugging until the end where Luke and Vader defeat the Emperor. We learn of one more secret of lineage in Luke and Leia and take one more run at a brand new Death Star. Even Lando’s decided to turn a new leaf and help out the good guys.
And there you have it, a run down of all six films with what made them good and what made them bad. Which is best? I suppose I still didn’t answer that one did I. I’ve always been partial to Empire as the best film, when watching the series as a whole, but then again, Jedi was always more exciting and ultimately satisfying. I won’t consider the prequels, if for no reason other than that I have much more affinity with the original Trilogy. But on this argument I’m going to have to go with the mood of the day. Today, I’d rather watch Empire. But when I’m in a depressed mood, Jedi might find it’s way into the DVD player first.