A few years back I celebrated the tenth anniversary of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace with a post about the five things I love in that film. I always intended to continue on and do similar posts for each additional film, but never got around to it.
I figured today's release of the entire saga on Blu-ray was as good an excuse as any to finally finish the project, so here are five things I love about the rest of the Star Wars films (and you can read my Phantom Menace post here, as well as Dr. Bitz's rejoinder here).
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
"Across the Stars"
If Anakin and Padme's romance has any resonance whatsoever, it's largely due to John William's sweeping and sorrowful love theme that completely tells the story of their tragic and doomed relationship without cheesy dialogue and wooden acting. I've often said that it would be fun to watch the Star Wars movie as silent films, with only score and sound effects. If that were the case and it was left entirely up to this theme to tell their story, Anakin and Padme might have gone down as one of the greatest romances in film history.
After mercilessly slaughtering the Tusken Raiders who captured and killed his mother, Anakin returns to the Lars homestead, to the very same place that Luke will later see Princess Leia for the first time. His breakdown, in which he declares that one day he will be the most powerful Jedi, is underscored by a haunting rendition of the "Imperial March", and for the first time it is clear that moppet child /petulant teen Anakin will one day become Darth Vader
Battle of Geonosis
If Phantom Menace gave us our first look at highly skilled Jedi action in its climactic lightsaber battle, Episode II ups the ante by giving us dozens of Jedi simultaneously kicking ass, eventually spilling out into one of the saga's best and grittiest ground battles.
It's become a bit played out, thanks to Episode III and The Clone Wars, but I can't deny that the first time Yoda drew his lightsaber and transformed into a whirling dervish of green energy I was filled with childlike glee and excitement.
"Begun, the Clone Wars have..."
As Chancellor Palpatine watches the launching of Star Destroyers while the "Imperial March" swells triumphantly, we realize that not only have the Clone Wars begun, but so too as the Empire.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Ian McDiarmid owns this film, effortlessly shifting from the coolly manipulative Chancellor Palpatine, telling Anakin exactly what he knows Anakin needs to hear, to the twisted and frightening Darth Sidious, who can dispatch four Jedi masters in seconds, and finally to the cackling super-villainy of the Emperor, hurling Force lightening at Yoda.
So called for the title of the track on the soundtrack, the scene in which Anakin, having told the Jedi that Palpatine is a Sith, struggles with deciding whether to intervene and save the man he believes can save his wife while a worried Padme looks out over the setting sun, is my favorite scene of the film. It's the moment upon which the entire saga hinges, and it's handled with uncharacteristic subtlety, letting a mournful wail and some gorgeous lighting do most of the work.
A genuinely sorrowful sequence, as we watch the Jedi cut down by their own troops, especially for those of us well-versed in the Expanded Universe who know some of those Jedi thanks to books and comics.
Anakin vs. Obi -Wan
It's the fight that everyone had been anticipating for over twenty-five years, and it's a fight that was probably doomed to disappoint many, as there is no way it could match what's been envisioned in the imaginations of thousands of moviegoers in the years since the pair discussed it vaguely during A New Hope. Still, I rather like it, particularly the first half (before the lava rivers and hoverboards get involved). If the lightsaber duel at the end of Phantom Menace was a fight of skill and elegance, this one is, fittingly, more akin to a knock-down, drag-out barroom brawl.
Luke is brought to Tatooine
The prequels come full circle as Obi-Wan delivers the infant Luke to his aunt and uncle, and the trilogy comes to end with a scene echoing one of my all time favorites, as Luke and his new family look out over the setting suns of Tatooine.
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
One of the best openings in film history, as the narrative crawl gives way to an empty star field quickly filled by a starship pursed by another starship so large, it swallows the first and fills the screen. And with that, Star Wars is upon us.
My single favorite scene in the entire saga, as Luke, unknowingly on the cusp of realizing his destiny, watches the setting suns of Tatooine while the Force theme plays in its entirety for the first time. It is a scene that perfectly captures that feeling of youthful yearning, of seeking adventure and excitement and a life of consequence.
Leia kicks ass throughout A New Hope, sassing Darth Vader and lecturing Tarkin and bossing around Han, but she really shines shortly after Luke pulls her out of her cell aboard the Death Star amidst an onslaught of Stormtroopers. She quickly takes charge of the situation, finding a way out for her would-be rescuers as well as herself, in one move single-handedly upending the archetype of the princess who must be rescued by the hero.
Battle of Yavin
The only Star Wars film to not end with a lighsaber duel of some kind, it almost makes up for it with a brilliant aerial dogfight in space, inspired by World War II air battles. By the end, it amps up the tension by mercilessly stripping away all of Luke's support (first the rest of the fleet is destroyed, then his wingmen, then his co-pilot) until it's seemingly down to just Luke, Vader and a one-in-a-million shot.
A New Hope may not be the most action-packed or technically superb of the Star Wars films, but it is perhaps the most purely archetypal, in which Lucas' study of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, as well as his love of Westerns, Saturday morning serials and Akira Kurosawa, is most visceral. Luke as the Arthurian hero, Obi-Wan his Merlinian mentor, Leia the princess imprisoned in the evil fortress, Han Solo the cowboy/pirate, Darth Vader the fallen knight and C-3PO and R2-D2 as the Greek chorus. While all the films will follow through on these threads (and introduce additional archetypes of their own), never are they more pure and direct than in this one.
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Appropriately enough, Empire is Vader's film, as he runs roughshod over allies and foes alike, unrelenting in his pursuit of the Millennium Falcon and Luke. In the end, he loses only because an exhausted and crippled Luke chooses death over Vader. In A New Hope, he was an enforcer beholden to higher powers; in Jedi he's an object of redemption. But Empire is the film that establishes Vader as one of cinema's greatest villains.
The Asteroid Field
A thrilling action sequence as Han recklessly dodges TIE fighters and asteroids alike, with an energetic score that, whenever it comes on while I'm in the car, makes me want to speed up and dangerously weave in and out of traffic.
Training on Dagobah
Much of my love for this movie comes from the training sequences on Dagobah, as Yoda spouts bits of Zen wisdom (and insults) at Luke as he races through the jungle. It all culminates in Yoda effortlessly raising Luke's X-Wing from the swamp. "I don't believe it," Luke says, prompting Yoda to sadly reply, "and that is why you fail."
Boba Fett is the breakout star of Empire, but I much prefer the other major character it introduced, the slick and smooth Lando Calrissian. As Han Solo edges ever closer to respectability, Lando steps in and ups the scoundrel quotient, making passes at Leia and cutting deals with the Empire. And he does it all while rocking a pimptastic cape.
Luke Loses His Hand
I don't know if this makes me a sick kid or what, but for whatever reason I was endlessly fascinated by the idea of Luke having his hand cut off by a lightsaber and replaced with a robotic replacement.
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Princess Leia's Metal Bikini
The Emperor's Dialogue
His enunciation having been parodied by Family Guy and pop culture in general ("something something something Jedi, something something Dark Side"), Jedi finds the Emperor at his scenery-chewing best ("the Death Star will be quite operational, when your friends arrive"), nearly spitting his lines at Luke, radiating malice and sheer contempt ("your faith in your friends is yours!"). It makes his lines as much fun to say aloud along with him now as it did when I was a kid.
The Battle of Endor
I could take or leave most of the business down on the planet, but the space battle surrounding the Death Star improves on the battle in A New Hope by giving us even more rousing space combat, drawing in everything from faster fighters to larger capital ships, and culminating in a rollercoaster ride through the bowels of the Death Star, capped off by Lando's triumphant "wahoo!"
Luke Cuts Loose
My favorite scene of the film, as Luke, taunted with threats of Darth Vader turning Leia to the dark side, snaps out of his Jedi calm and goes batshit crazy on Vader, overwhelming the villain through the sheer force of his anger, only stopping when he realizes how much like his father he's become (and he's returned Vader's end-of-Empire gesture).
Vader's Funeral Pyre
Forget the Teddy Bear picnic, the "yub-nub" song (or the Special Edition's more dignified but less fun finale music), and Ghost Jedi (pre- or post-Hayden), the real end of the Star Wars saga comes as a somber Luke sets ablaze his father's armor. We hear the Force theme for the final time as Luke's journey comes to an end, echoing the first time we heard it, just as Luke's adventure was about to begin, as he gazed wistfully out at the setting suns.