Like many people facing lockdown, I subscribed to Disney+, which has all of the Disney, Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel films; and like at least two of my fellow book bloggers (Elle from Elle Thinks and Simon from Savidge Reads), I decided that this might be the moment to watch Star Wars for the first time. As a member of the blighted generation as far as popular SF went, who grew up without Doctor Who and during the time when Star Wars Episodes I-III were screening, the only Star Wars film I’d seen before was Episode I, The Phantom Menace. Reasonably enough, I decided that Star Wars was over-complicated, boring and silly, and decided never to watch a Star Wars film again.
This time around, I decided to skip Episodes I-III altogether and launch straight into IV-VI, followed by Rogue One, followed by VII-IX. There are extensive fandom debates about the correct viewing order for the Star Wars films when watching them for the first time; suffice it to say that, in retrospect, I’m pretty pleased with my choice, even though it was not recommended by anybody! I don’t think you should watch Rogue One before seeing the original trilogy, even if you are keeping chronological order, because it very much functions as a prequel; watching the films in release order means that Rogue One intervenes awkwardly between Episodes VII and VIII; and if you leave it to the end, you finish, in my opinion, on a sad low.
The rest of this post contains spoilers for Star Wars Episodes IV-IX and for Rogue One.
The Original Trilogy (Episodes IV to VI)
In case anyone reading this blog isn’t already aware, I am the kind of person who is either NOT into a franchise or INTO IT; when I love something, I like to think about it for a long time until I’ve analysed every bit of it to destruction. Therefore, what a joy to watch these three films as somebody who really isn’t invested in them. The biggest surprise about Star Wars for me is how funny and uplifting it is. I’d expected serious space battles and plots that I’d have to concentrate on, but instead I got simple-but-effective storytelling and broad-but-compelling characterisation. My favourite thing about the franchise, hands down, is the droids; especially C-3PO but also R2D2 and the other droids that are introduced in the later films. I loved how we actually follow C-3PO and R2D2 through A New Hope, and even though neither of them is as central to The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi, they maintain a refreshing counterbalance to the seriousness of The Hero’s Journey.
Speaking of Luke, my hopes were (ironically) not high in A New Hope, when I noted that he was ‘irritating and fluffy!’ but I was surprised by how much I’d warmed to him by Return of the Jedi, where his final confrontation with Darth Vader and his own dark side delivered a twist that I genuinely hadn’t expected. Han Solo and Princess Leia are both engaging secondary characters, and Harrison Ford is one of the best things about the films (obviously second to my beloved droids). Leia didn’t quite work for me basically because the film forgot to give her any kind of lasting emotional reaction to the destruction of her entire planet in A New Hope, and I couldn’t see her as much more than a narrative device after that, but I was still on board with her romance with Han. Courting controversy, my favourite film of the trilogy was Return of the Jedi and my least favourite was The Empire Strikes Back, although I thought all three were strong; Empire is clearly the most tightly plotted and cohesive, but I preferred the greater space that the other two films allowed for characterisation and world-building, even if they did go off on too many diversions. (I hear the Ewoks are generally unpopular with fans, but I thought they were adorable!)
In short: a solid, delightful trilogy that takes its place for me alongside my other fun adventure-film favourites like Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean. While I can see why it would have felt groundbreaking when it first came out, it’s hard to completely relive that experience in the twenty-first century – but I’d definitely watch them all again.
The rogue one
I was SO EXCITED to watch Rogue One, the 2016 prequel to A New Hope that follows the doomed crew that managed to smuggle the blueprints of the Death Star away from the Empire, and cleverly closes a plot hole in the original film by explaining that a disaffected engineer deliberately designed the Death Star with a fatal weakness. However, I hated the film and I’m still sad about it. It has some very basic problems. We’re not given enough time to invest in any of the crew members except our main protagonist, Jyn, and she’s not well-written. A pound-shop Katniss Everdeen, she never feels sympathetic or believable, and I also think she was miscast; she’s meant to have grown up living on her wits, but she’s played by Felicity Jones with a cut-glass English accent. (I know there are meanings to accents in the Star Wars universe etc etc. but it still didn’t work.)
A fair bit of this film, in fact, feels like a Hunger Games rip-off, with its transparent determination to show that even rebels have divided motives and are not all good, but it never gives itself enough time to develop this moral complexity. The filmmakers seem to have been convinced that Morally Complex = Dark = Serious, an equation that annoys me so much that I wrote a whole other blog post about it. OF COURSE the only significant droid in this film, K-2SO, is the only person who’s allowed to be funny or have a character. ♥ droids forever. The result of all this is that we get a lot of relentlessly grim action sequences with none of the lightheartedness that’s characteristic of all the other Star Wars films. Thinking it over, I wish the protagonist of this had not been Jyn but her father Galen, who was the aforementioned disaffected engineer who designed the Death Star; if the filmmakers (rightly) wanted to have a female lead, they could have (shock!) made Galen a woman.
The Latest Trilogy (Episodes VII to IX)
This was an interesting viewing experience, because all these films are recent enough for me to have had vague memories of what I’d perceived to be the ‘fans’ reaction’ when they came out, and I’d basically remembered that everyone loved The Force Awakens, then either hated The Last Jedi and liked The Rise of Skywalker, or vice versa. Therefore, I was surprised that I found these films much of a muchness, although I’d agree that The Force Awakens is the best and The Rise of Skywalker the worst. Again, I wondered how I would have reacted had I been a diehard fan of the original trilogy; no doubt there are a lot of nuances and missed opportunities here that have simply passed me by. Nevertheless, I felt that this new trilogy delivered an equally enjoyable ride to the first three films, with some notable improvements (decent female and BAME representation, more interesting thematic resonance) coupled with slightly more convoluted plotting. Indeed, I’d say The Force Awakens is the best Star Wars film I’ve seen, even if it cheated a bit by riding on the coattails of the original trilogy.
Rey is a much better character than Jyn, the other Star Wars female protagonist of which I am aware (Leia was clearly never foregrounded in that way). I’d heard complaints that she was too idealised, but I didn’t find that to be the case; obviously, she occupies the same Hero slot as Luke did, so there are aspects of her journey that are unrealistic, but that’s par for the course in this genre, and she experiences setbacks and misgivings as well. Finn was a fantastic co-protagonist in The Force Awakens, and one of my main complaints about the second two films is that he was shortchanged, forced very much into a supporting role when I think the story would have been better had it not focused so closely on Rey.
The films also flesh out an interesting and diverse supporting cast, and alongside the obvious cameos, I very much enjoyed Rose, Poe, BB-8 and OF COURSE all of my old favourite droids, who have lots to do, although this did reawaken many of my concerns about droid rights (why is C-3PO, clearly a sentient being, so frequently laughed at when he expresses concerns for his own safety, and why is his temporary loss of selfhood when his memories are wiped also played for laughs?) The Rise of Skywalker didn’t quite succeed in wrapping up the trilogy satisfactorily – there were too many loose ends left hanging due to the film being totally consumed by Rey and Kylo Ren, which I found the least interesting strand of the story – but neither was it the terrible catastrophe that I expected going in.
If you aren’t a diehard fan of something, it’s probably easier to enjoy it, especially when new additions to ‘it’ get released. Which is sad for me because this is just not how I watch or read most things, but these films were a perfect lockdown distraction, and so thank you to everyone who’s told me that I ‘have to see Star Wars’ over the years. In fact, I’m so keen I’m now up for watching more! Tell me which one I should try: