Spoilers: do not read if you have not watched Rogue One yet
Okay so my new Star Wars Film Rankings:
1. Rogue One
2. Star Wars (this really is the greatest film in the Star Wars canon but right now I cannot place it above Rogue One)
3. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
4. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
5. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
6. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
7. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
8. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
I don’t know if the Ewok Movies count but I enjoy them despite their poopiness. I can’t think of anything else that should be included but I hated The Clone Wars animated film so much that I place it below everything else
9. Star Wars: The Clone Wars
the South Park guys managed to top themselves again. This season has done the most amazing things. The most amazing of these amazing things are the Member berries. These anamorphic berries act as a metaphor for Trump’s remarkable election campaign and SWVII. The success of both were tied to nostalgia (so the the brilliant duo claims) and the desire to return to a simpler time. There is truth to this satire (Stone & Parker almost always bring some enlightenment) but obviously the full reality is more complicated. Trump does not need more press and I’m tired of thinking about that stuff! So I’m gonna write about why Star Wars is awesome!
Alright so SWVII was clearly a remake of Star Wars. Does that make it a bad film? No. Remakes and reboots cannot be disqualified out of hand. The film is very successful as an action/fantasy/adventure film. The main purpose of that sort of film is fun and filling the audience with a sense of wonder and adventure.
But the rebuttal is: it’s stupid to remake a film within the same series!
That seems true until you look at the Star Wars series. This series is more complicated than any other major franchise. Take Rocky…7 films and only 5 are worth watching but the 2 terrible ones can be completely cut out and everything is fine (IV is the worst Rocky movie by far, V is bad but there is a decent script hiding there and interesting things happen to Rocky in that movie, IV is simply a piece of trash, I love the Drogo fight scene but that aside from that it is unwatchable). Most film franchises are like this because they aren’t Star Wars. Star Wars is a serial. Every film really matters.
This is one of the many reasons that SWVI is trash. It has a horrible story and it’s a terrible sequel. Also it’s just as much of a remake of Star Wars as SWVII! As the capstone to the six film saga of Anakin Skywalker it actually works relatively well and the final act is quite impressive both technically and in terms of storytelling. The moment where Luke looks at his robot hand and sees that the prophecy of the Cave is coming true maybe the single greatest cinematic moment in the entire series. But aside from those good things the film is trash.
Han isn’t Han anymore. He’s been tamed. Kasdan’s orginal script kills him off and that makes perfect sense for his character. He is Mal from Firefly (or rather Mal is Han, whenever I sell Firefly to the uniniated I say it’s like a show about the millennium falcon) and Mal only makes sense as a renegade, a failed warrior. Han is Rick Blaine, the Millenium Falcon is Rick’s Cafe, and space is Morocco during WWII. Rick, Mal, and Han are all interesting because they are good guys who seem bad. They are men of action not sentiment or abstract principle. They do the right thing when it really matters. They aren’t the greatest of heros, they are the occasional hero. And they cannot function in a functional setting. They require dysfunction. Secretly they are ashamed and this fuels their occasional heroism vis a vis their desire to justify themselves. They cannot admit such things of course and we do not want them to.
This scene demonstrates the character perfectly:
The good rogue. Unable to attach but unable to be evil. They are Robin Hood without the nobility or fame.
In SWVI Han is dead and Leah’s boyfriend has replaced him. It would be better for Han to die physically in a last ditch act of Heroism then for his identity to be murdered by George Lucas. Kasdan was right and Abrams allowed Kasdan to resurrect the True Han Solo in SWVII…and kill him honorably.
But the most terrible thing (I’m not going to mention the Ewoks because as lame as they are they simply don’t contribute to the story and character problems) is that the story ended. Lucas has always been clear (and he’s often unclear in general) that Star Wars and Indy are serialized stories. This is evident in the films themselves because each scene flows into the next dramatically pulling the viewer through an adventure (all films do this of course but not in the life or death manner of a serial). We literally cannot wait to see how our Heros are going to get out of the next jam. And if Star Wars had been the only film in the series this would not be a problem. But Lucas now claims he always wanted to call Star Wars “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” because he wanted to evoke this serialization feeling. The viewer was supposed to feel as if they were interrupting an ongoing story.
Basically Lucas gave up on Star Wars when he made SWVI. Kasdan’s script left the fall of the empire ambiguous. Luke was existentially destroyed by the confrontation with the his father and the emperor. He leaves the rebellion and goes into exile. Leah is all alone again and the Jedi still have not returned. That is a cliffhanger that makes SWV look like a Disney movie (irony intended) by comparison.
Thankfully Abrams and Kasdan got to bring all these things back with SWVII! They literally wrote all of that good stuff back in! And honestly you don’t really even need to watch SWVI anymore. You should from time to time but it isn’t necessary. In fact leaving that chapter blank makes that Magic moment where Han tells Rey and Finn that all the myths are true that much more magical. It becomes like Alec Guinness referring to the clone wars before 2002.
But most importantly the SWVII ends on a cliffhanger! The series has been reserialized! And I love that Luke is now one of the great macguffins in Cinema history. I’m seriously guys. His presence in SWVII is like the Letters of Transit in Casablanca, Harry Lime in the Third Man, or the briefcase in Pulp Fiction.
All these things make SWVII one of the greatest Star Wars films, but also Member Berries taste pretty good when they clear out bad member berries (like the prequels). And imagine being a kid today. Star Wars just isn’t Star Wars to these kids. It’s still great but it’s more like Seven Samurai (and 7Sam was more like Star Wars back in 1954) today then it is like Star Wars. SWVII brings all that good stuff to a new generation that can’t eat Member Berries because they don’t Member 77, 80, 83, 99, 02, or 05.
Something similar happened in O5. Many people I went to college with admitted they didn’t really get Star Wars till SWIII came out. Despite its flaws that film was strong enough with the Force that it made fresh what had become old.
And that’s what makes Star Wars so so great. It is universal. It takes that Hero with a thousand faces and gives him or her a face that we recognize.
And here’s where Rogue One comes in
Spoilers again! You have been warned twice now!
because this is the true face of the Wars! Rogue One is real Star Wars. I cannot think of a better way to explain it. It’s like every SW film has been a fantasy up till now. But Rogue One gives us the true rebellion. The real soldiers fighting for their lives, fighting for the dream of freedom. They aren’t clean or nice. They’re a bunch of Han Solos. And the most beautiful thing is they all die! They all die for the dream.
It’s like the screen writers grew up watching the first Star Wars and didn’t really care about the main characters. When they watched the battle of Yavin IV with their buddies they came up with back stories for everyone who wasn’t named Han, Chewie, Luke, R2, Wedge or the sole survivor of gold squadron (whose name I can’t remember). 30 snub fighters left Yavin IV and 3 returned. Who are the real heros of the battle of Yavin IV? The 27 men who gave their lives so another Alderan could be prevented. Star Wars shouldn’t have ended with the guys who took off and only showed up seconds before the end of the battle receiving a medal from the beautiful princess. It should have ended with a goddamned monument with 27 names etched into it. And the princess should have given thanks to the Force for providing those men with the conviction and courage to do what was right instead of what was easy. And everyone whose lives were spared should have baptized that monument to freedom with their tears.
I love the original Star Wars. I love it to pieces. But Rogue One has made it feel a bit hollow to me. Because Rogue One is the goddamned monument that the 27 martyrs of the Battle of Yavin IV deserve. Luke lost a hand fighting the empire (and an adopted Uncle and Aunt) but the soldiers of Rogue One freely gave their lives because of the possibility that they might be able to change the course of history and prevent evil from claiming another victory. We’re only getting one film with the best characters Star Wars has ever had because these characters only had one life to give and they gave it so that others could have hope.
For the first time Vader seems scary. As Ben Domenech said on The Federalist “it turns out that if you aren’t related to him Vader will just kill you without hesitation.” That’s real life. Soldiers aren’t selected because they’re special, they’re special because they chose to be soldiers. Rogue One is a film dedicated to the Unknown Soldier. To the Winter Soldiers. It is a film ultimately about the greatest love of all:
“No one has greater love than this – that one lays down his life for his friends.” -John 15:13
These principles are displayed perfectly by another geek culture icon: Captain America. Steve Rogers was the real winter soldier because of his heart, because of his choice to become a soldier. Not because he was invaluable, not because he was special. In fact his weakness was what made him special:
“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” – Thomas Paine
That’s the winter soldier. He’s the opposite of the sunshine patriot. The little guy who won’t give in to evil. This is really what Star Wars has always been about: the little guy. This is made most clear by the biggest little guy ever:
“Size matters not. Judge me by my size do you? And well you should not! For my ally is the Force and a powerful ally it is.”
The apostle Paul makes this principle crystal clear:
“Think about the circumstances of your call, brothers and sisters. Not many were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were born to a privileged position. But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, so that no one can boast in his presence. He is the reason you have a relationship with Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
And in Rogue One we see a blind man save the day because of his trust in the Force!
“I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.”
Simply beautiful. The best stories are always connected to the story that God is telling with the world. But before this gets much weirder I’ll give Jesus the final word on this post, since he was the original new hope:
“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage – I have conquered the world.”