Star Wars Movies Ranked

We recently rewatched the Star Wars movies. We decided to individually rank the movies from favorite to least favorite, then compare notes. First, our brief thoughts on each movie individually.

Star Wars Movies We Own

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

Erik: Visually beautiful, but the plot drags and the dialogue is ludicrous. Like the other prequel movies, it at least has a clear narrative purpose that operates on two levels: the corruption of Anakin Skywalker and the fall of the Republic.

Eppu: Too messy all round; a travesty of writing not helped by (some of) the acting.

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones

Eppu: Least bad of the prequels; only Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman save the movie.

Erik: Despite its weaknesses (especially in the Anakin/Padme storyline), this film comes the closest to the series’ classic pulp sci-fi inspirations.

Star Wars: Episode III – The Revenge of the Sith

Erik: More weak plot and ridiculous dialogue, but there is an atmosphere to this film that sustains it, a palpable sense of an age of beauty and light coming to an end.

Eppu: An intelligent woman—and playing the Smurfette part to boot—is reduced to a walking womb. Yuck.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Eppu: The learning-to-work-together aspect and found family vibes with a heaping of nostalgia offset the grimdark.

Erik: A love letter to the original trilogy, filled with great characters.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Erik: An unnecessary, self-indulgent piece of fanfiction with neither the spirit of the original trilogy nor the narrative purpose of the prequels.

Eppu: It’s just weak all round, and Alden Ehrenreich certainly can’t pull off the role of young Han. (Well, except for propping, sets, and CGI, which at least are very professionally done if not always terribly imaginative.)

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

Eppu: Can’t beat a classic: well edited, scored, acted, with decent if at times very concise writing. Feels a little sparse or basic compared to today’s movie plots, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Erik: There is beauty in how spare the writing and worldbuilding are, giving us just enough that our imaginations can fill in the rest.

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

Erik: Some great action sequences and character development, but it doesn’t feel like they all belong in the same movie.

Eppu: Darker and more desperate, again well constructed. Nostalgia helps here, too.

Star Wars: Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi

Eppu: Loved it as a kid, but the present me sees the ridiculousness of Ewoks fighting stormtroopers.

Erik: I love seeing Luke’s growth as a Jedi, both in skills and self-awareness, and I like Ewoks versus stormtroopers.

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

Erik: While the movie is overly focused on being as Star Wars-y as possible, the new characters are all clearly defined and well acted.

Eppu: Tries to hit all of the same spots as the original trilogy, but ends up trying too much.

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

Eppu: Despite its confusion on what the movie wants to be, General Leia and Vice Admiral Holdo kick ass. The entertaining side plot with Rose is also a plus.

Erik: So much wasted potential. This could have been the best movie in the entire series, but it is too obsessed with its concepts to actually tell a story with them.

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker

Erik: An overstuffed mess of contrived events, plot gimmicks, and fanservice for the worst parts of the Internet.

Eppu: I like best the Rey plus Kylo Ren conflict-turns-into-understanding arc. Palpatine and his cronies are comically, hilariously dark and corny, which almost makes me snort my way through those parts.

Here’s our individual rankings.

Erik’sEppu’s
1Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the JediRogue One: A Star Wars Story
2Rogue One: A Star Wars StoryStar Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
3Star Wars: Episode IV – A New HopeStar Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
4Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force AwakensStar Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
5Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes BackStar Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
6Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the ClonesStar Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi
7Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last JediStar Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker
8Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the SithStar Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
9Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom MenaceStar Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
10Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of SkywalkerStar Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
11Solo: A Star Wars StorySolo: A Star Wars Story

Erik’s comments:

I put Return of the Jedi first for a couple of reasons. First, I love the opening act with the rescue of Han from Jabba’s palace. It’s so well structured, gradually reintroducing us to all the heroes and showing us Luke’s growth as a Jedi. Second, I’m a sucker for any fight in which low-tech beats high-tech, and the Endor battle is one of my favorites.

I like The Force Awakens more than The Empire Strikes Back. I’ve never really been a fan of Empire, although I know it’s widely considered the best movie of the original trilogy. I won’t argue about the strengths of Empire or the weaknesses of Force, but I just enjoy watching Rey discover her Jedi powers and Finn find his footing in the Resistance more than I enjoy watching Luke run around a swamp and Han try to kickstart the Falcon.

I didn’t think there could be a Star Wars movie worse than The Phantom Menace, but then came Solo and The Rise of Skywalker. Phantom at least has beautiful sets and costumes, an action hero queen, and a fantastic lightsaber fight. Rise is a jumbled and unnecessary mess, and Solo is just answering questions that didn’t need answers.

Eppu’s comments:

Overall, I found the nods towards the original trilogy in Rogue One an absolute delight the very first time we watched the movie, and I’ve continued to enjoy them a lot despite the fact that many of them are basically direct copies of dialogue or shots. For me, it’s very close to a perfect combination of homage plus original material. Director Krennic is the only acting job that comes close to unbearable ham (but that may have been how Ben Mendelsohn was directed, as he’s great in other productions).

The strength of Empire for me is the exploration of Luke’s, Leia’s, and Han’s characters when they each hit a rough patch, which is why I ranked it higher than Return. Also Lando turns out to have more depth right from the bat than, say, Count Dooku.

Sadly, the sequels are almost as bad a mess storywise as the prequels, but fortunately they picked more talented core actors and did *not* write in an inept, ham-fisted Asian caricature. (Then again, I gather that the production of the sequels was exceptionally convoluted and involved lots of back-end drama.) Cinematographically, though, the sequels are light years ahead of any of the others, I think.

In hindsight, maybe I should’ve bumped Clones a step down and Phantom a step up—Anakin behaves so fecking creepily towards Padme it’s upsetting to watch. At least in Phantom he behaves more maturely, as odd as it is to say about a little kid, and, like Erik said, there’s pretties to see.

There’s a marked difference in quality between the original and prequel trilogies. I’ve often wondered why that is. (Not having really cared to look for an answer online, though, I can only speculate.) I do have a vague impression of having read somewhere that one reason for the success of the original trilogy was that the editing team—if I remember right, especially Marcia Lucas—wove the storylines into a cohesive, tight, smoothly moving arc. In the prequels, the core of the story largely gets lost among the bling. In a way, it feels like once Lucas effectively was the boss, it was to the detriment of the story.

Granted, we finally got the fight scenes worthy of the jedi; that, plus improved effects (including makeup and costuming), are what the prequels did absolutely right. In the end, however, they visuals are not enough in themselves to pull the prequels up from the bottom.

From the point of view of current viewer (i.e., setting aside any past significance from a technological point of view), action scenes and special effects have improved so much in the past few decades that the prequels cannot offer anything memorable. It’s the strength of the story, the characters, and the acting that a movie must stand on now. In that sense, the prequels have very little to offer me. Moreover, it’s actually rather impressive that we both ranked Solo as the absolutely last one, below the prequels—a mark of a true washout. I’m only sad that the tanking of Solo means my fellow Finn Joonas Suotamo likely won’t get hired for more Chewbacca roles.

There’s so much you could say about all of the movies. At times ranking really wasn’t very straightforward. (How do you properly gauge the messiness of the prequels, for instance. I’m sure if you were to ask me two years from now, I’d list some of the movies differently.)

We know other people have different opinions from ours; we’d like to hear yours!

Image by Eppu Jensen

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Epic Mashup: Captain R2-D2

We all know interesting mashups of genre characters, but this R2-D2 / Captain America mashup really takes the cake:

Twitter Daniel_Logan R2-D2 Captain America Mashup

When you think about it, R2-D2 is very like the Cap: starts small (although R2 never gets larger), doesn’t talk all that much, embodies persistence, can often jury-rig vehicles, kicks (space) Nazi butt, and despite modest beginnings turns out to be one of the most competent characters in the story. I’m all in with this one, LOL!

Image via Daniel_Logan on Twitter.

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Teaser Trailer for Andor, a New Star Wars Series

Apart from Obi-Wan, another Star Wars series I might want to see is Andor. Here’s the first teaser:

Andor | Teaser Trailer | Disney+ by Star Wars on YouTube

And the second trailer:

Andor | Official Trailer | Disney+ by Star Wars on YouTube

There’s also what’s apparently not called a trailer but a sizzle reel for Andor from 2020 with some fascinating concept art and behind the scenes glimpses.

The first thing to really grab me was the birch tree in the first trailer (around the 20- to 30-second mark). I love birches despite their evil, evil pollen, but they’re rarely depicted in SFFnal screen adaptations. Now, though, birches are canonical in Star Wars. Woot!

Another thing of note is how different the two trailers are—I’d say the first mostly introduces a mood for the series, while the second starts rolling in the various characters almost at a breakneck speed.

I also loved that Mon Mothma seems to get a much larger role than in previous stories. Plus, Fiona Shaw! Shaw’s a superb actor (whom I know from Killing Eve, a screen adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion from 1995, and as Aunt Petunia in the Harry Potter movies) but, sadly, at this point Shaw is credited only for one episode in IMDB. Boo!

Add to all that more of Diego Luna and Stellan Skarsgård (seen in Dune, Chernobyl, the Thor franchise, and many others) plus the astounding set-building, propping, and costuming we’re sure to get in any Star Wars project, and I’m strongly considering a Disney+ subscription.

Andor will release on August 31, 2022, with a three-parter of a premiere.

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Official Trailer for Obi-Wan Kenobi

Another trailer for the Obi-Wan Kenobi series shows a lot of reused footage, but also new, tantalizing scenes:

Obi-Wan Kenobi | Official Trailer | Disney+ on YouTube

Apart from the Empire’s hunt for Obi-Wan, most of the plot seems to revolve around interpersonal conflict. (Those of you who have started watching already may be able to fill us in on this!) There seems also to be an introduction of the first true female antagonist of the franchise. (I don’t count Captain Phasma, as she didn’t get nearly enough screentime.)

Obi-Wan Kenobi was released on May 27, 2022.

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Trailer for the Obi-Wan Kenobi Series

Obi-Wan Kenobi, a live action series with six episodes, is nearly here.

Apparently, the series is supposed to gap the pain of Ewan McGregor’s young Obi-Wan and the hope of Alec Guinness’ old Obi-Wan. That makes for an unusual angle to approach a Star Wars story from, and the first Disney+ series I have any interest in seeing.

Obi-Wan Kenobi | Teaser Trailer by Disney+ on YouTube

At this writing, Obi-Wan begins streaming on Disney+ on May 27, 2022. So soon! (It was supposed to be May 25, 2022, the 45th anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars, but apparently something something—publishing is weird, and tv publishing doubly so.)

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Deconstructing the Star Wars Sequels: The Rise of Skywalker

The first two movies in the Star Wars sequel trilogy had their problems: The Force Awakens was driven too much by nostalgia for A New Hope, and The Last Jedi was too dependent on an intellectual conceit. The Rise of Skywalker has a different and rather unusual problem: it is two movies crammed into one.

Rey and Kylo Ren smash stuff as they duel, screenshot from Star Wars 9: The Rise of Skywalker

By all public accounts, the new Star Wars trilogy was not planned with an overarching plot. The intent was that each director would put their own stamp on each movie. The effects of that choice are visible all over The Last Jedi, which moves about as far away from The Force Awakens as it can without technically breaking continuity. The reaction from fans was strong, as most of us probably remember. Some of that reaction was beyond the pale, up to and including online harassment of some stars (notably those who were not white men). For a good year and a half, it was just about impossible to have a conversation about the movie online without things devolving into a scorched-earth flame war. Disney seems to have been shaken enough by the reaction to turn back to J. J. Abrams for an encore of The Force Awakens to close out the trilogy. The Rise of Skywalker slams the door hard on everything The Last Jedi was trying to do and doesn’t look back.

This about-face is visible all over The Rise of Skywalker. New characters like Rose and D’Acy are demoted to background extras; Rey’s parents are retroactively promoted from mere junk traders to scions of Palpatine; Poe and Finn get to be heroic and do things that actually matter to the plot. The Rise of Skywalker rejects The Last Jedi so thoroughly that it attempts to fit an alternative second movie into its first half. Although we’ve been told that there was no overarching plan for the sequel trilogy, it sure seems like Abrams and company at least had ideas sketched out for two more installments after The Force Awakens. When called on to helm the third movie, Abrams tried to fit all of those ideas into one.

The first half of The Rise of Skywalker has traces of what could have been the second movie of the trilogy. While there isn’t a simple breaking point where a theoretical Episode 8 ends and Episode 9 begins, the action on Kijimi makes a suitable climax at around the halfway point. We reconnect with Lando Calrissian in the first half and with Endor in the second. Ending the movie somewhere around Kijimi would leave Chewbacca in the First Order’s hands, C-3PO out of commission, and Rey confronting the reality of her parentage, a cliffhanger ending for the middle movie of the trilogy and an echo of the ending of The Empire Strikes Back.

Seeing the movie as two films packed into one helps make sense of some of its odder features. For one thing, The Rise of Skywalker is overstuffed with plot. Compared with either of the movies that came before it there are more new locations, more new characters, and a less direct narrative line. The plot even overspills the edges of the movie, with crucial set-up squished into a rushed beginning and the suggestion of further adventures packed into the ending. There is also a curious amount of doubling in the movie that makes sense if it was originally conceived as two. Our heroes set out in search of two different devices that lead to destinations: first a Sith dagger, then a Sith wayfinder. There are two planets with women who connect to our heroes’ past and offer potential love interests for their future: Zorii on Kijimi who has a history with Poe, and Jannah on the Endor moon who is a rebel stormtrooper like Finn.

As it stands now, the movie undermines its own script. Rey and the audience alike hardly have a chance to react to Kylo Ren’s revelations about her ancestry because the movie has to rush on with the rest of the story. The discovery that Plapatine’s brand new fleet has planet-destroying capabilities is similarly underwhelming with so much else for the movie to do. C-3PO’s self-sacrifice to translate the Sith blade is played as an emotional farewell, but then almost immediately undercut when R2-D2 reloads his memories; if we had waited two years between movies to get our old droid friend back, the moment would have had the emotional weight it seemed written for.

The middle entry in the sequel trilogy, The Last Jedi, for all its flaws, introduced the most interesting and challenging new ideas Star Wars has seen in decades. Even if all The Rise of Skywalker did was reject those ideas, it would still be a disappointment of a movie. In trying to not only turn away from The Last Jedi but retroactively create its own Episode 8, the movie ends up being not only lifeless but messy and overstuffed.

It is a shame that none of the new trilogy lived up to the hopes of fans. Every film has its good points and enjoyable moments, and I am at least mildly fond of them all, despite their problems. It is interesting to observe, though, that each of the new trilogy’s movies has an entirely different problem with its structure.

Image: Rey and Kylo smashing stuff via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Deconstructing the Star Wars Sequels: The Last Jedi

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the storytelling structure in The Force Awakens and how it mimics the narrative shape of A New Hope without the character growth to support it. Today we look at The Last Jedi, the second and most challenging of the new trilogy movies. Where The Force Awakens was too committed to reenacting a familiar story to offer any new ideas, The Last Jedi is too much in love with its ideas to build a story around them.

Rey on the Jedi island, from Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi does not run on nostalgia like The Force Awakens. It toys with some echoes of The Empire Strikes Back—the rebels are on the run chased by Imperial forces while the novice Jedi goes off to train with an old master, learning something about their parents along the way—but these echoes do not drive the plot the same way A New Hope did for The Force Awakens. The story of The Last Jedi is instead driven by Rian Johnson’s desire to challenge every trope and convention of the space opera that he can.

The movie does a good job posing the questions. What if the hot-shot pilot who doesn’t play by the rules is actually making things worse with his antics? What if the old master is broken by guilt and remorse and doesn’t want to train the chosen one? What if the chosen one isn’t actually all that chosen? What if the previous movie’s shadowy overhanging villain is actually a chump who gets himself bisected mid-monologue? What if the rebels and the Empire both buy their weapons from the same scummy arms dealers? What if the heroes send out a desperate last call for help in their hour of need and no one comes? The what-ifs go on and on, each of them a worthy hook to hang plot on, but none ever taking up any weight. The movie asks plenty of questions, but never gets around to the answers.

Instead of actual development for the plot and characters, we get empty gestures at development. We are clearly meant to think that Poe has Learned a Lesson by the end of the movie when Leia tells the others to follow him, but just what that lesson was and how he learned it are a mystery. Similarly, Finn’s retort to Phasma, calling himself “Rebel scum,” is framed as if it ought to mark a turning point for the character, but the rest of the movie doesn’t do the work of showing us that his relationship to the Rebellion/Resistance matters. Rey comes the nearest to having a character arc. After spending most of the movie looking to others to guide her on what being a Jedi means, she strikes out on her own and uses the Force to move rocks and save her friends. It’s the closest the movie comes to a payoff, but it barely adds anything to her development in The Force Awakens, and it’s not much to show for having Rey stuck between grumpy uncle Luke and creepy stalker Kylo for most of the movie. The structure of a narrative arc is built into the film, but the story isn’t there to fill it.

The time and narrative energy that could have been put into building the story and challenging the characters is instead spent on gambit after gambit that doesn’t pay off. Luke’s lessons teach Rey nothing. Finn and Rose’s side quest to the casino planet is pointless and deflates much of the tension built by the First Order’s pursuit of the fleeing rebels. Poe’s mutiny gets undone with a kicked-over steam vent and a blaster. The movie invests more energy into critiquing the socio-economics of a galaxy far far away than in giving our heroes anything meaningful to do.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this movie is how it dangles the possibility of meaningful development in front of us only to do nothing with it. Characters like Vice Admiral Holdo and Commander D’Acy are vast untapped wells of awesomeness reduced to Teaching a Man a Lesson. The number of times that important moments in the movie correspond to women with outstretched hands—from Rey lifting rocks and Leia pulling herself back out of space to Rose patting a giant horse-puppy and Holdo jumping into hyperdrive—makes it seems as though the gesture ought to mean something, it just doesn’t. Johnson’s other movies, notably his following creation, Knives Out, show that he is quite capable of handling complex story structures (something I’m not confident I can say about J. J. Abrams). In this case, though, it feels as though the director got so focused on making his movie about failure that he ended up failing to make a movie.

None of this is to say that there aren’t good things in The Last Jedi. It has some of the sequel trilogy’s sharpest dialogue and most striking visuals, from Poe’s jabs at Hux at the beginning to the red scars of battle streaming across the stark white ground of the salt planet at the end. It introduces what may in fact be the most daring idea in the new Star Wars universe: that a Jedi can come from anywhere (at least until the next movie took a big step back.) But these things arrive within a movie that is so committed to the task of deconstructing Star Wars that it deconstructs it right down to the ground and leaves nothing behind.

Image: Rey from The Last Jedi via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Deconstructing the Star Wars Sequels: The Force Awakens

We’ve all had a few years to mull over the Star Wars sequel trilogy, and opinions are mixed. Some people love them and some hate them, but most of us seem to be in the middle, enjoying some things about the movies while feeling an overall dissatisfaction. It is, of course, true that any franchise so deeply loved as Star Wars was going to have a hard time living up to fans’ hopes with its long-awaited return. Not to mention Star Wars fans can be a particularly unpleasable lot. Still, I think a significant part of what made Episodes 7-9 feel lackluster comes from how they handle the structure of their storytelling. In this and a couple future posts, I want to dig into what that means.

Finn and Rey on the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The most obvious thing about the narrative structure of The Force Awakens is that it hews very close to the story of A New Hope. We start with a lost droid carrying vital information running into a potential Jedi on a backwater desert planet and end with x-wing fighters blow a giant planet-killing ship out of the sky. In between we get everything from a cantina with its own funky jazz band to rebels sneaking around the corridors of an imperial supership to rescue a captured young woman. Your cruisers can’t repel nostalgia of that magnitude.

There’s a good reason why this story doesn’t work as well as A New Hope. When he first sat down to plan out the Star Wars story, George Lucas played to his strengths, and storytelling is not one of them. For all that we think of Lucas now as the creator of one of the great stories of our time, he has always been a filmmaker first. The story of A New Hope is not particularly original, nor is it trying to be. It knowingly walks the steps of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. The hero’s journey concept is a controversial one, its substance disputed by folklorists and its application embraced by some writers but rejected by others. But rather than delve into Campbell, I want to look at something related but simpler: the three act structure.

The three act structure is a fundamental storytelling tool that can be found in everything from fairy tales to Hollywood blockbusters. There are lots of different ways of explaining it and, just like the hero’s journey, different people have different interpretations of it, from the very basic to the immensely complex, but here’s a simple version of how it goes.

Act 1: We meet the main character and learn enough about the world they live in to care about them. The main character is faced with a problem that they must solve or there will be consequences.

Act 2: The character attempts to solve the problem but fails. Their attempt fails because they did it in a way that did not require them to change. There may be consequences for their failure, or the potential consequences of failing to solve the larger problem may grow greater.

Act 3: The character accepts that they must change, and with that change they are now able to solve the problem.

Not every story follows this pattern, to be sure, but it underlies a lot of familiar narratives. To take a well-known example, Homer’s Odyssey works along these lines. Act 1: We meet Odysseus and learn about his struggle to get home. We learn about the greedy suitors feasting all day on his meat and wine and see them scheme to kill Telemachus, force Penelope to marry one of them, and finally get their hands on Odysseus’ wealth if he does not get home. Act 2: Odysseus tries to get home, but he runs into obstacles. The worst of his problems comes from the fact that he cannot bear to slip away from the cyclops by calling himself “No one.” Instead, his pride drives him to turn around and shout out his real name, which allows the cyclops to call down Poseidon’s curse on him. It costs Odysseus his crew and ten years of wandering. Act 3: Odysseus finally gets home to Ithaca and accepts that he must disguise himself as a beggar and not give away his identity until he is ready to kill all the suitors and reclaim his home and family.

A New Hope is a textbook example of the three act structure. In Act 1 we meet Luke Skywalker and learn of the importance of bringing R2-D2 and the Death Star technical readouts to the rebels before the Empire can destroy more planets with their new weapon. In At 2, Luke attempts to solve the problem by rescuing Leia and getting the droid back to her, but without letting go of the idea that he’s just a farm boy from the sticks. It costs him his mentor and his last connection to Tatooine as Obi-Wan Kenobi sacrifices himself to let the Millennium Falcon escape the Death Star. In Act 3, the Death Star threatens the rebel base on Yavin, and Luke finally accepts that he must become more than he was and trust the Force in order to defeat the Empire.

The three act structure works best with a single character at its center so we can watch how they grow and change when faced with a challenge. (It can work with an ensemble, too, though. Take Avengers: In Act 1, we see the problem—Loki steals the cube—and meet the heroes: Iron Man, Captain America, etc. In Act 2, the heroes try to deal with Loki by each doing what they do best; it doesn’t work, Loki gets away, and Coulson dies. In Act 3, the heroes get past their differences, come together as a team, and stop Loki’s fiendish plan.) A New Hope is centered on Luke. Other characters have important moments and experience some growth—especially Han, who chooses to come back and help fight the Death Star rather than fly away with his money—but Luke’s growth into a Jedi is the core of the story.

For all that The Force Awakens does its best to follow along with A New Hope‘s story, it doesn’t have the same focus. Knowing that the Luke-Han-Leia trio was such an important part of the original trilogy, The Force Awakens spends a lot of time setting up Rey, Finn, and Poe as their new counterparts. To the extent that any character’s story provides the narrative line running through The Force Awakens, it is Finn, the mutinous stormtrooper. Finn works well as an audience surrogate character to introduce new and old fans alike to the world of the new trilogy—everything is as new to us as it is to him—but his story does not follow the three act structure. He makes his big choice at the beginning of the film, putting down his blaster and breaking Poe out of the First Order’s lock-up. In the end he chooses to go back to the world he escaped from to rescue Rey, but that is by far the least momentous change his character undergoes. Poe, for his part, is a hot-shot pilot at the start of the movie and still a hot-shot pilot at the end; he has plenty of good moments as a character, but this movie is not about what happens to him.

Rey’s story is the one that tracks most closely with Luke’s (orphan kid from a desert planet meets runaway rebel droid and discovers their Jedi powers), but the movie is not structured around Rey’s journey the same way A New Hope was structured around Luke’s. Rey starts out by running away and looking to others to solve her problem with BB-8, and in the end she comes into her own as a budding Jedi. She has a beautiful moment overcoming her fear and trusting the Force to let her mind-trick her way out of First Order holding, but the story of the movie is not her story. Rey’s growth and her confrontation with Kylo Ren are things that happen in parallel with the larger plot; they are not key to it the way Luke’s story was.

There are plenty of weaknesses in The Force Awakens, from an over-reliance on nostalgia to underbaked worldbuilding, but one of its fundamental problems is that it is so focused on rewriting A New Hope it loses sight of what A New Hope was itself rewriting. What we get in The Force Awakens is a copy of a copy, with all the flaws that come with it.

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Representation Chart: Star Wars, Sequel Trilogy

We all know that the representation of people of different genders and races is imbalanced in popular media, but sometimes putting it into visual form can help make the imbalance clear. Here’s a chart of the Star Wars sequel trilogy movies (Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker).

Characters included

(Characters are listed in the first movie in which they qualify for inclusion under the rules given below.)

  • Episode VII: The Force Awakens: Poe Dameron, Kylo Ren, Han Solo, General Hux, Snap Wexley, Rey, Captain Phasma, General Leia Organa, Finn
  • Episode VIII: The Last Jedi: Luke Skywalker, Vice Admiral Holdo, Rose Tico
  • Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker: Emperor Palpatine, Zorii, Lando Calrissian

Rules

In the interests of clarity, here’s the rules I’m following for who to include and where to place them:

  • I only count characters portrayed by an actor who appears in person on screen in more or less recognizable form (i.e. performances that are entirely CG, prosthetic, puppet, or voice do not count). Phasma and Zorii are edge cases on this rule, but since we do at least once see enough of their faces to identify the actors as white women, I have included them.
  • The judgment of which characters are significant enough to include is unavoidably subjective, but I generally include characters who have on-screen dialogue, who appear in more than one scene, and who are named on-screen (including nicknames, code names, titles, etc.)
  • For human characters that can be reasonably clearly identified, I use the race and gender of the character.
  • For non-human characters or characters whose identity cannot be clearly determined, I use the race and gender of the actor.
  • I use four simplified categories for race and two for gender. Because human variety is much more complicated and diverse than this, there will inevitably be examples that don’t fit. I put such cases where they seem least inappropriate. “White” and “Black” are as conventionally defined in modern Western society. “Asian” means East, Central, or South Asian. “Indigenous” encompasses Native Americans, Polynesians, Indigenous Australians, and other indigenous peoples from around the world.
  • There are many ethnic and gender categories that are relevant to questions of representation that are not covered here. There are also other kinds of diversity that are equally important for representation that are not covered here. A schematic view like this can never be perfect, but it is a place to start.

Corrections and suggestions welcome.

Chart by Erik Jensen

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Video Mashup Tribute: Danger Zone with X-Wings

Anybody else who grew up in the 1980s and remembers the song “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins? Here’s a treat: Jackson McKay mashed it up with X-wing clips from Star Wars movies for a really thrilling video.

Danger Zone: X-Wing Tribute (Ep IV-IX & Rogue One) by Jackson McKay on YouTube

What a blast! 😀

Found via Tor.com.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.