A-List: Star Wars

By J. Don Birnam

December 15, 2015

But I had higher ground!

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The most iconic franchise in the history of commercial cinema, one of the most influential cultural phenomena in the world, and one of the most lucrative endeavors in the history of moviemaking, returns to theaters just in time for the Holidays. Spanning six movies and counting, multiple books, universes, games, characters, obsessions, and box office records, the Star Wars franchise changed the history of movies forever, created the blockbuster, and embedded itself into the cultural ethos in ways few other forms of entertainment ever have or ever will. Regardless of your own view of the quality of these films, Star Wars is simply a part of who we are and one of the most successful movie franchise of all time. Oh, and the award-winning score by John Williams is one of the most iconic of all time.

The new Star Wars movie, the Force Awakens, the seventh installment in the series, also happens to be the most anticipated movie in a long time. Not since Marvel’s The Avengers hit theaters a couple of years ago has there been this much hype, marketing, and advance speculation. As usual, I will leave the experts to tell you how the movie is going to perform at the box office - predictions range from breaking all records to pedestrian numbers - but whatever the outcome (and reigning the box office for a number of weeks seems all but guaranteed), the movie series is worth exploring a bit today in honor of the latest release.

I will rank my favorite five (of the six) Star Wars movies. No doubt, disagree with me, you shall. Join the Star Wars cacophony on Twitter, if you dare.

Not ranked: Episode II: Attack of the Clones. I. Just. Can’t. That movie, what a disappointment, what a bumbling mess. Plotless, gutless, and punchless - the unbelievable and eye-roll worthy romance between an okay Natalie Portman and a terrible, devastating Hayden Christiansen simply and utterly ruins the movie. If it weren’t for Christopher Lee’s saving performance as Count Duku and Yoda’s bad-@ss fight scene towards the end to redeem it, the movie may have even deserved Razzies. Thankfully, there are five far better entries in the series.


5. Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Before The Force Awakens broke records for advance ticket sales, The Phantom Menace had fans lining up for days and weeks to be among the first to see the first Star Wars movie in nearly 20 years. At a time when there was no way to buy tickets online, the cacophony of the lines and the hype helped make this one of the most anticipated releases ever. It was probably for that reason that a lot of hardcore fans were disappointed and panned the movie.

I actually became a bigger fan of the series with the new releases. I am therefore not as animated against The Phantom Menace as older fans may be. Sure, the Jar Jar character was comically annoying, but I liked the backstory that the movie provided, the special effects were much improved over the quickly-stale shots in the original series, and the new worlds were sufficiently imaginative and new to keep me interested. By no means a perfect film, the biggest problem for The Phantom Menace’s is that it is an artificial exposition of a story that is to come later, so it feels as if narratively something is missing. But, as a Star Wars movie, it is pretty solid in my view.

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