Critic & Son – Star Wars Edition
You shouldn’t expect your kids to be into the same things you are. It certainly wasn’t the case with my father and me. Bill was a World War II veteran, a lover of big band music, and a guy with the kind of effortless charisma that made him likable to everyone he came across.* He was also a casual moviegoer. I remember him laughing himself into a mild asthma attack during The Naked Gun, and I remember us seeing both Goodfellas and The Silence of the Lambs theatrically.
However, I should emphasize he was a casual moviegoer. Did he care about the works of Altman and Kurosawa? Nope. Not even a little. Movies were strictly for entertainment, full stop. For some odd reason, I dove into movies far deeper than he ever did. Along with my desire to visit Loch Ness and my wish to make a pilgrimage to the grave of John Belushi, obsessive filmgoing was one more piece of evidence to my father that his son was defective, perhaps fatally so.
With my son, Liam, things are different. At twelve years old, he’s already developed strong opinions of his own regarding film. In between snickers, the mother of one of his friends told me about Liam critiquing their video library. He’s said, “I love Sonic the Hedgehog, but it’s not a good movie.” He’s a perceptive kid, and like just about everybody else in this time of plague, he’s bored to tears.
For the last couple of months, I’ve gotten numerous comments from Liam that were variations of, “Can I help write a review? Please? Please?” In the interests of familial harmony and for my own physical safety, we’re going to have a recurring feature around these parts On a semi-regular basis, Liam is going to join me in ranking the top five picks of franchises and genre flicks to you, our discerning readership.** We’ll begin with our Top Five picks for Star Wars Visual Media:
- Liam’s #5 – The Last Jedi: My reasoning for placing this here is that The Last Jedi chose to experiment with the mythos of the Star Wars universe. It made bold moves, took characters in unexpected ways, and had the coolest space fight of all time, even if it came out of nowhere. There could’ve been more brand-safe plays, and a heck of a lot of people disliked this movie for said bold moves, but this is the movie from the sequel trilogy that I re-watch the most.
- Tim’s #5 – The Mandalorian: Maybe all this time Star Wars is better suited for television? As the crown jewel (and virtually only series of note) on Disney+, The Mandalorian follows the adventures of a taciturn bounty hunter tasked to take care of an alien infant that’s both Force-sensitive and cute as the dickens. It’s essentially Lone Wolf and Cub with spaceships and blasters, along with some interesting ideas about parenting and nature vs. nurture.
- Liam’s #4 – Rogue One: The best way to fill a plot hole is to make a feature-length movie about it! Rogue One is a smart, witty, and brutal Star Wars movie. It introduces a cast of fun and intriguing characters and then kills them off in a variety of ways. It features cameos from C3PO, The Ghost from Rebels, and the best scene of Darth Vader ever, which really makes his next duel look sad in comparison. A solid war film, and the best prequel movie from Star Wars.
- Tim’s #4 – Rogue One: For a minute there, it looked like we’d get a series of self-contained Star Wars movies that had nothing to do with the Skywalker Saga. Then Solo killed that idea stone dead.*** Before that happened, we got Rogue One, an honest-to-Tarkin war movie about a suicide mission to swipe the Death Star plans. A game cast and director Gareth Edwards’ intense sense of scale took an idea that was unnecessary and transformed it into an engaging piece of entertainment.
- Liam’s #3 – Revenge of the Sith: I know I called Rogue One the best prequel, but it isn’t my favorite. Revenge of the Sith is the movie that makes the prequels feel important. It shows us Palpatine annihilating four separate Jedi Masters, we finally see Anakin become Darth Vader, and we see the decimation of the Jedi through Order 66 in what is, in my opinion, the best half an hour of Star Wars.
- Tim’s #3 – The Last Jedi: If I’m being honest with you, I have to admit that I kind of hate the sequel trilogy that kicked off with The Force Awakens. Both that film and The Rise of Skywalker look gorgeous, have fun action sequences, and rely almost entirely on nostalgia to push the narrative forward. The polarizing middle chapter The Last Jedi took big chances, including a grizzled Luke Skywalker who’s given up being a hero due to a moral failing. Writer/director Rian Johnson had very little interest in catering to fans. That’s a good thing, and I prefer having my expectations subverted.
- Liam’s #2 – The Mandalorian: In easily the best piece of Star Wars television, The Mandalorian shows us what it is like to be a bounty hunter after the fall of the Empire. We see a cast of colorful characters interact with the bounty hunter, we get Taika Watiti as a murder droid and, most importantly, Baby Yoda. It is breathtakingly beautiful and has some of the best writing in Star Wars.
- Tim’s #2 – The Clone Wars: Hey kids! Instead of swashbuckling adventure, how about we spend time focusing on trade disputes and political skullduggery? We all know that the Prequel Trilogy, by and large, sucks. But showrunner Dave Filoni saw through the layer of anti-entertainment. It took some time to get going. Over seven seasons, The Clone Wars managed to make the fall of Anakin Skywalker tragic, managed to turn faceless clone troopers into mostly sympathetic characters, and managed to introduce Ahsoka Tano. She’s Anakin’s apprentice and her journey from an annoying sidekick to a hero with the courage to walk away from the Jedi Order is genuinely mythic.
- Liam’s #1 – The Empire Strikes Back: In one of the best sequels ever made, Empire blows the original Star Wars out of the water with how smart the writing is, one of the best lightsaber fights of the series, and causing the heroes to lose by the end of the film. It made Darth Vader into one of the best villains of all time and caused all other Star Wars projects to feel meek in comparison. It’s no wonder that this movie still is one of the most impactful movies even after 40 years since its release.
- Tim’s #1 – The Empire Strikes Back: We can all agree that Star Wars is one of the most important movies ever made. Its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, does what most sequels can only dream of doing. It takes everything that works about the first film and makes it better. The action scenes are more interesting, the dialogue isn’t as clunky, and the characters have arcs that are deeper and better defined. We have a hero who makes many, many stupid mistakes, making his eventual wisdom feel more hard-won. We have a plot twist that’s astounding. We have a Harrison Ford performance that’s charming and engaged. What’s not to love?
*The racist Border Patrol agent that he got fired? Probably not a big fan of my pops. Buy me a beer sometime and I’ll tell you the story.
**Huge credit goes to film writer Drew McWeeny, whose outstanding column Film Nerd 2.0 examined his introduction of classic movies to his boys. It’s excellent writing and I’ve wanted to try something similar myself. His work is well worth paying for and you can buy their introduction to the Star Wars movies here.
***There was talk about a riff on Seven Samurai, in which a squad of Jedi Knights had to defend a small settlement from hordes of Imperial troops. I would have loved to have seen that.