It’s the age-old question amongst Star Wars fans – 456123 or 123456. Whichever side of the spectrum you fall on probably determines when you joined the franchise as a fan. Personally, I’m all about chronology, but does it really matter all that much? Star Wars fans are VERY vocal. But if you have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s probably because you’ve never seen Star Wars before – SHOCK HORROR!
You still have a few days to catch up (or a month, depending on whether you’ve managed to get tickets or not, because if you haven’t pre-booked, well, good luck!) before The Force Awakens is released, so below I bring you a retrospective look at the six movies thus far. For the purpose of this article, I’ll look at them in order of release.
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
The original trilogy kicks off with A New Hope, which singlehandedly changed cinematic history forever.
In its original format A New Hope is revered for its special effects, and it introduced us to iconic characters and concepts that are synonymous with the Star Wars movies. That opening crawl, the segue into a shot of space and a distant planet, gorgeous music, Darth Vader’s breathing, the lightsaber, Chewbacca’s cry… I could go on and on.
The original Jabba the Hutt is laughable (a fat guy in a furry suit), but that is perhaps the only qualm with this movie – well, aside from the clunky dialogue, but that’s a problem that recurs throughout the entirety of Star Wars.
This movie works as a standalone feature (just imagine Darth Vader died as his ship hurtled out of control), but thankfully George Lucas continued it three years later. He’d taken fans on a journey to a galaxy far, far away… It would be criminal if he’d stopped there.
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Often regarded as the greatest movie in the franchise thus far, The Empire Strikes Back is revered. It introduced fans to two of the most iconic characters in cinema history (Yoda and Emperor Palpatine), featured a truly breathtaking battle across the icy planet of Hoth, and shocked fans worldwide with the infamous reveal of Darth Vader being Luke Skywalker’s father.
Reportedly Harrison Ford wanted Han Solo to be killed off at the climax of this movie, but that wasn’t the case. I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see his wish come to fruition in The Force Awakens or a future movie – what better way to kick of a new trilogy than to kill off a character that has been around for almost 40 years?
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
Return of the Jedi ended the original trilogy in spectacular fashion as saw Princess Leia don her iconic bikini, the badass Boba Fett falling victim to the Sarlacc, the teddybear-esque Ewoks, the genesis of the ‘IT’S A TRAP!’ meme, the formal introduction of Emperor Palpatine, the death of Yoda, and the unmasking of Darth Vader.
The climax of this movie entirely delivers, even with the deplorable Ewoks. It’s a feel good completion: Princess Leia and Han Solo finally affirm their true love for one another, the Empire is destroyed once and for all, and Anakin Skywalker redeems himself.
All is well in the galaxy far, far away again. Until 17 December, that is.
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
16 years later and Star Wars is introduced to a new crop of fans, as Darth Maul stalks the shadows and Jar Jar Binks ruins the franchise (for most, that is – I happen to think he’s brilliant!). Many fans hate the prequel films, but none of them are that bad at all.
And an over reliance upon special effects isn’t a bad thing either, because the Gungan battle with the droids is absolutely sublime, and the Pod Race on Tatooine is one of the greatest sequences in the entire franchise.
I think the prequels are equally as good as the original movies. Here we get to see Obi-Wan Kenobi in his prime; we get to see a younger Palpatine begin his quest for power, the origins of Anakin Skywalker and C-3PO; and we get to see the Jedi en masse. Gone was the Yoda who spoke in riddles.
Say what you want about The Phantom Menace, but the final battle between Darth Maul, Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi is the greatest lightsaber battle thus far.
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
As its title suggests, the second movie in the prequel trilogy details the origins of the Stormtroopers and pitches them in the first of their countless battles.
The battle of Genosis is brilliant to behold, as its our first glimpse at the true prowess of the Jedi – the entirety of the Jedi Council rally to the cause, and even Yoda turns up to battle Count Dooku. This final act is all good – even the origins of Boba Fett.
What isn’t so good is the romance between Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala. We all knew it was coming, but it was forced down our collective throats so much that it sickens many. George Lucas’ shoddy storytelling is never more clear than in these segments.
The love between these two characters isn’t explored in depth. We never see Anakin really battle with his inner demons with regards to breaking his Jedi oath and getting freaky with Padmé. But we get to see the first sparks of anger in Anakin, and we all know where that leads too…
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
And thus we come to the final movie in the prequel trilogy, which is really everything we could have wanted. The decapitation of Count Dooku was long overdue, and the fight between Obi-Wan Kenobi and General Grievous wasn’t really needed (surely Lucas could have conceived a better way to separate Obi-Wan and Anakin), but everything that followed was the stuff of dreams.
Chewbacca makes his first chronological appearance as the Wookies of Kashyyyk battle the Droid Army, Anakin Skywalker turns to the Dark Side after he is plagued by nightmares of Padmé dying, Mace Windu dies at Darth Sidius’ hands who in turn is grotesquely disfigured, and the Jedi are slaughtered. This is what fans both old and new had been waiting to see, and it wasn’t a letdown.
Nor was the final battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin. Spectacularly shot and executed, it shows the true prowess of the Jedi and Sith – none of this half-arsed batting of sticks as seen in A New Hope.