Watching Like a Writer is a movie review series that looks at films from the perspective of a fiction writer, complete with one writing takeaway, and an exercise that will help better your fiction!
Is there a better time than now to be a Star Wars fan? Both the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy are all available in stunning HD, J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens reinvigorated the franchise, and now we can expect at least one Star Wars movie every year for the foreseeable future. Although over-saturation of all things Star Wars is certainly possible down the road, right now I’m thrilled about new stories in this universe, both in furthering the episodes we know and love, and in these unique standalone entries that begin this week. With Solo now in theaters, it’s time to look back at the five best Star Wars movies!
So, yeah. I wasn’t a huge fan of the prequels. I was kind of entertained by Phantom Menace when I first saw it in the theaters, but watching it again last year was constant torture. Attack of the Clones is my least favorite Star Wars movie, mainly because of the romance section that always makes me want to just pour gasoline over my body and light the match. The only prequel I enjoyed was Revenge of the Sith, particularly its ultra-dark final hour that almost make the three prequels worth your time. Almost.
Before The Force Awakens came out, I, and most everyone I imagine, re-watched the six films, and the one in the original trilogy I cooled on was episode six. I’ve gone back and forth over the years in my feelings for Return of the Jedi. Sometimes I’m super enthusiastic about it (as I was as a young kid seeing it on the big screen in 1997), and sometimes I think it’s just too lame to make a fuss over. I’m in the middle right now, still not a big fan of the Ewoks, but thrilled by the rescue of Han in the beginning and moved enough by the emotional payoff to the Luke and Vader story that I feel it’s still a great watch and worthy chapter in the franchise.
It’s been criticized in some ways in the months since its release, most especially for its similarities to A New Hope, but it’s hard to deny just how much fun this movie is, especially compared to the prequels. Watching it again last month I was delighted from beginning to end, especially seeing Harrison Ford as Han again, and seeing Rey’s tremendous arc take shape. There was so much riding on its success that it’s kind of a miracle it turned out as well as it did, and I for one am pumped to see where the franchise goes from here.
The great and glorious original, a piece of cinema history that will always be cherished and shared for many generations to come. There’s something refreshing every once in awhile to watch this movie as a standalone, as just one singular story from beginning to end that never turned into the giant saga we know of now. George Lucas had one crackerjack of an idea back in the mid-70s, a time when the science fiction genre was pretty well dead, and it’s amazing to think what he was able to accomplish with this film at the time, casting three idealistic actors for the leads, creating one of the all-time great villains, and somehow bringing an entire universe to life through impossible means. A New Hope remains one of the all-time great blockbusters…
…So therefore it’s kind of remarkable that A New Hope still gets second place on the list. The Empire Strikes Back, one of the best sequels in cinema history and simply one of the all-time great movies, is a dark, complicated, fiercely entertaining masterpiece of a movie. Unlike Return of the Jedi, there’s not a weak scene, not a wasted moment, not a single beat in its sprawling narrative that feels misguided. The addition of Yoda could have been cloying and cute, but his character helps build the mythology further, and the reveal of Vader’s secret still remains of the greatest twists in film history. I love everything about The Empire Strikes Back. It’s the zenith of great blockbuster storytelling that has rarely been matched in the decades since its release.
Watching Like a Writer: My major takeaway from The Empire Strikes Back is always its insistence to go darker and more menacing in its tone, something that may not have been expected by Star Wars fans when it was first released. I love sequels that dare to take risks and not just repeat what was done in the first movie, sequels that really put the characters in danger and make you question what will happen next. I think of films like The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, Toy Story 3. Just because the first film had a specific tone and look and story doesn’t mean the sequel has to be the same. Bad things can, and should, happen.
Exercise! Think of a sequel to a short story or novel that you’ve written. How could you further complicate the characters and the narrative, and potentially take the story to a darker place?