Watching all six Star Wars films in one sitting. (This review is for qualified dorks only!)

Mouse's Musings, Movie Reviews, Movies, Nerdtastic

Since I can remember, there’s always been this fantasy that when George Lucas finally finished making all his Star Wars movies, we might be able to sit down, watch every single one of them, and behold some sort of grand visionary saga. Well, my room mates and I did it. Does it work? Did George Lucas have the creativity, foresight, filmmaking chops, and testicular fortitude to complete his task?

Well, yes… and no.

To begin with, when watched together as one film, the newer prequel trilogy is far better than expected. It’s the only film trilogy I can think of where the total work is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

As the prequel films were coming out, I was never satisfied with the love story between Anakin and Padme Skywalker. The entire thing seemed forced, unjustified, and wooden. However, when watched as a six-hour epic, it works. In the first act, young Anakin is enamored with “an angel”. In the second act, he wins her heart. In the third, he loses her. Watching all the movies together really shows the serial-style of filmmaking Lucas always said he was aiming for. The love story between Anakin and Padme most of all benefits from this.

As individual films, the prequel trilogy seems full of pointless scenes and whimsical wastes of time. As one piece of film, though, only the pod-race scene in The Phantom Menace and the droid factory scene in Attack of the Clones feel like distractions. As a whole, the prequels seem full epic exposition, meaty plot, and intrigue.

One still wishes The Phantom Menace featured an older Anakin Skywalker. Count Dooku’s role in the creation of the clone army, his leading the Seperatist forces, and himself trying to defeat Palpatine still feels inadequately explained and murky. The prequel trilogy really needed a scene featuring the formation of the Rebellion. (several such scenes were cut from Revenge of the Sith)

The prequel trilogy is still imperfect. George Lucas’ filmmaking, especially in Attack of the Clones, seems to lack sufficient chops for the task he undertook. The cinematography in The Phantom Menace is much more careful, articulate, and intentional than the other two; Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith lose something by not being shot on film. The Phantom Menace also stands out because of its real sets. Nonetheless, of all my observations from the experience of watching the Star Wars Saga in its entirety, the level of enjoyment I felt in watching the prequel trilogy was the most surprising.

The thing I was most excited for when I sat down to watch all six movies was to how the two separate trilogies fit together from Episode III: Revenge of the Sith to Episode IV: A New Hope.

In short, they do so quite poorly.

The visual style differences are alone are too jarring. A New Hope was shot on cheap film stock, Revenge of the Sith on high-def digital. Revenge of the Sith is emotionally heavy, A New Hope is not.

With the prequel trilogy preceding it, The Empire Strikes Back is even better than it was before/ The DVD editions inserted Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor and altered a line of dialogue, and it works. His minor presence in The Empire Strikes Back really highlights his absence in A New Hope.

Darth Vader does not translate well between the two films. Aside from a few personal notes and vague ideas, it is apparent Lucas never knew what would become of Vader, or where he came from, while he was making A New Hope. Lucas also failed to re-create the Darth Vader from A New Hope in his design of Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith. The best “Vader shot” in Revenge of the Sith has Darth Vader with his arms crossed in a casual pose. The Darth Vader of the original trilogy never takes such a stance: he always stands with hands on hips or an arm out-stretched. The absence of visual cues for the character between the two films is noticeable and a weakness in the entire saga.

The Chewbacca of Revenge of the Sith makes little sense when compared to the character he is in the original trilogy. The Revenge of the Sith Chewbacca appears to be some sort of leader or tactician, happy to help his little Muppet Jedi friend escape from the heat of battle. The original trilogy Chewie is dangerous, aggressive, and not always too bright. The inconsistency is most unfortunate.

There is a discrepancy in Yoda’s character between Revenge of the Sith and The Empire Strikes Back that is a problem. Yoda is simply too Muppet-like, his humor too goofy, to come across as the same character. His character works better later on, though. We really get the sense that Yoda had lost his way in the prequels and in his exile on Dagobah he comes to re-learn what he had learned, and remembers the truer, more pure ideals of the Jedi dogma. Yoda teaches Luke to use his powers only to defend, never to attack, and it works splendidly as that teaching is precisely the opposite of Yoda’s prequel-film actions. In the context of the prequel films, when Yoda raises Luke’s X-Wing out of the swamp it is not so much a marvelous display of the power of The Force as it is Yoda’s redemption.

The scene where Yoda and Obi-Wan try to prevent Luke from leaving Dagobah is much richer in the context of the prequel films. Rather than their belief he should stay being some contrived dramatic tension it becomes a desperate plea to prevent Luke from doing precisely what Anakin did: leave his training incomplete to rescue his friends and family.

Really, in the context of six movies, A New Hope is the weakest link. The prequel trilogy makes the saga about the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker. In that respect, A New Hope has very little to offer to the greater-plot: the murder of Luke’s family, the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Obi-Wan speaking to Luke from beyond the grave. Otherwise, A New Hope feels like an unwelcome distraction.

In fact, though all of the original trilogy films are better films as individual works than any prequel film, in the context of Anakin’s story, they feel weak. Han Solo never has anything to do with “The Rise and Fall of Anakin Skywalker”. In the later films I found myself forgetting the plot to defeat the Empire. I was kept waiting for the Han/Leia/Chewy scenes to end so that I could see the next scene featuring Vader, the Emperor, Obi-Wan, or Yoda. An unfortunate consequence of watching all six films as one piece is that the classic scenes of the original trilogy become distractions from the greater story.

Return of the Jedi is frustrating. The scenes with Luke, the Emperor, and Darth Vader have a fantastic new level of depth considering Anakin Skywalker’s fall seen in Revenge of the Sith. Unfortunately, the things that make Darth Vader so much more compelling in Return of the Jedi are also the things that make Han, Leia, and especially the Ewoks so utterly irrelevant. The man we’ve seen go from a perky pod-racing boy to a dark Lord of the Sith is about to be redeemed by his lost son, and we’re concerned with a shield generator on a moon full of teddy bears?

All the problems aside, make no mistake: watching all six films in a row is a fascinating, rewarding experience. The story as a whole flows much better than one would expect, save for the problems between episodes 3 and 4. While the story of the Star Wars universe’s morality and freedom may be imperfect, the Rise and Fall of Anakin Skywalker is well-told, almost masterfully.