Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005, George Lucas)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The galaxy is in chaos: a separatist droid army is waging war with the republic, and Jedi knight Anakin Skywalker is feeling torn between the two sides…

WHICH VERSION? The 2005 DVD release, which was more or less the same cut as the theatrical version. (Apparently Darth Vader’s infamous “Nooo!” is shorter on home video.)

GOOD GUYS:

* R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) is often at Anakin’s side, especially during the opening action sequence.

* General Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) is on Jedi business at the start, saving Chancellor Palpatine from the bad guys. Obi-Wan lets Anakin take the credit for the rescue, but can afford to be magnanimous because he’s now a member of the Jedi Council. Later, when droid leader General Grevious is located, Obi-Wan is sent to kill him – he does so by shooting him after a long lightsaber fight. (“So uncivilised,” he says, nodding towards dialogue from Star Wars.) However, Obi-Wan’s life is threatened when stormtroopers – under orders from Palpatine – start to assassinate all the Jedi. Obi-Wan then learns that Anakin has gone over to the Dark Side. He finds his old friend on the planet Mustafar, where they have an epic duel. After Anakin is defeated, Obi-Wan leaves – but only after collecting his padawan’s lightsaber so he can give it to Luke in 20 years’ time.

* Mace Windu (Samuel L Jackson) coordinates the Jedis’ efforts in defeating the separatists. When he learns that Palpatine is a member of the evil Sith religion, Windu goes to arrest him but then realises the Chancellor is too deranged and must be killed. However, Anakin comes to his new master’s aid and helps him murder Windu.

* C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is gold and shiny now. He’s seen by Padmé’s side a few times, then has his memory wiped at the end of the film (because in the original movies he doesn’t remember the events of the prequels).

* Senator Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) gets more to do than in Attack of the Clones. He could hardly have less. He’s loyal to the Jedi, and they use his space ship – THE SAME ONE FROM THE OPENING SCENE OF STAR WARS! – as a refuge. At the end of the film, he takes the newborn Leia home to Alderaan.

* Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) is now secretly married to Anakin. She also tells him she’s pregnant, but they need to keep the news under wraps. If it were public knowledge, he’d be kicked out of the Jedi club, while she’d have to give up her job. She’s already showing, however, so maybe she’s telling friends that she’s developed a love of cake and beer. The character isn’t in the film a huge amount, goes missing for long stretches, and does a lot of wimpering. (Princess Leia must be turning in her mum’s womb.) When she’s told that her beloved Anakin has gone evil, Padmé goes off to find him – he responds by assuming she’s betrayed him and throttling her. She later goes into premature labour and gives birth to two enormous CGI babies. She has just enough time to make sure we all know their names before she dies. (So how come Princess Leia says she can remember her mother in Return of the Jedi, then? EH, GEORGE LUCAS?!)

* Yoda (Frank Oz) tries to offer guidance to a clearly stressed Anakin, but is unhappy when the young Jedi is given a seat on the Jedi council. Because he has an established relationship with the Wookies, Yoda then takes a battalion of troops to their home planet – Kashyyyk, last seen in The Star Wars Holiday Special – to reinforce a rearguard action. When the stormtroopers turn evil, Yoda senses the danger. With the help of ally Chewbacca, he manages to escape. He confronts Palpatine and they fight, but Yoda can’t beat him so has to go into hiding.

* Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) features briefly in the scenes on Kashyyyk, where the combined Wookie/republic forces are repelling the rebel droids. There were plans to feature a 10-year-old Han Solo in this sequence, but they were dropped. Probably for the best.

* Commander Cody (Temuera Morrison) is a featured stormtrooper. He’s Obi-Wan’s mate until Palpatine sends the coded message – order 66 – that turns all the clones into murderous brutes.

* Tion Medan (Bruce Spence, who was the Gyro Captain in Mad Max 2) is an alien whose people are being held hostage by General Grevious.

* Luke and Leia are Padmé and Anakin’s twins, born near the end of the film. In order to protect them from their evil father, the babies are split up and hidden. The girl is given a home by Bail Organa and his wife (we skip over the conversation where he pitches *that* idea to her). The boy, meanwhile, is taken by Obi-Wan Kenobi. His brainwave is to hide the child… on Anakin’s home planet… with Anakin’s stepbrother… on the farm where Anakin’s mum used to live… growing up with Anakin’s surname…

* Captain Antilles (Rohan Nichol) appears briefly. He runs Organa’s ship and was also seen in the first Star Wars film, being throttled to death by Darth Vader. The process of writing this review has been the first time I’ve ever realised that the guy being strangled (“We intercepted no transmission… Argh! This is a consular ship!”) is the Captain Antilles that C-3PO later mentions to Luke Skywalker. It’s taken me over 30 years to spot that.

* Beru (Bonnie Piesse) and Owen (Joel Edgerton) appear when Obi-Wan shows up to give them the baby Luke. They’re not surprised to see him, so presumably he called ahead and asked them to spend the rest of their lives raising the secret child of the galaxy’s most murderous maniacal murdering maniac.

BAD GUYS:

* Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) is more or less a good guy at the start of the film. He mounts a daring rescue of Chancellor Palpatine after the republic’s leader is seemingly kidnapped by the separatists. (It’s actually been staged by Palpatine.) During the mission, Anakin is ordered by Palpatine to kill head ‘kidnapper’ Count Dooku. Anakin’s conflicted… but does it anyway, severing Dooku’s head just to make sure. Later, after learning that he’s going to be a father, Anakin is dogged by prophetic nightmares about Padmé dying in childbirth. Meanwhile, Palpatine engineers it so Anakin gets a seat on the Jedi Council; but *they* meanwhile want him to spy on the chancellor. Palpatine drips poison in Anakin’s ears, stokes his anger, and also dangles the power to save Padmé in front of him. Anakin deduces that Palpatine is the Sith Lord they’ve all been searching for, but rather than hand him in he helps the chancellor kill Mace Windu. Anakin feels guilty, bless him, but still becomes Palpatine’s apprentice in exchange for the skill to save Padmé from an early death. So Palpatine gives him a new (Sith) name – Darth Vader, which he seemingly picks out of his arse. Off the deep end now, Anakin murders a load of Jedi (including some kids, though the one with dialogue is a precocious little shit so let’s not be too judgemental). Anankin also goes to the volanco moon of Mustafar and wipes out the separatist conspirators. But when Padmé and Obi-Wan arrive, Anakin thinks they’re against him so begins to throttle Padmé. After a long, epic, mostly green-screen-shot lightsaber duel with Obi-Wan, Anakin loses his limbs (he’s now more Monty Python Black Knight than Jedi Knight) and is burnt by lava. Obi-Wan leaves him to die (harsh), but Palpatine shows up, takes him back to Coruscant and encases him in a full suit of sleek black armour. Now recognisably the Darth Vader from the original movies, the character’s dialogue is voiced by James Earl Jones. (Or is it? He’s not credited and Jones himself was evasive when he was once asked about it.)

* General Grevious (Matthew Wood) is the leader of the separatist droid army. He’s a droid himself, though has organic elements (such as a heart and real eyes). He wheezes and coughs a lot. When Obi-Wan tracks him down, Grevious reveals his USP: he has four arms and can wield a lightsaber in each one. He’s a totally CG character.

* Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has been captured when the film begins. But Count Dooku has only pretended to take him – it’s all a ruse, staged by Palpatine himself. As well as playing both sides of the war off against each other, the chancellor is plotting to make Anakin his new apprentive *and* manipulating events so he can have even more power. His to-do list must be massive. When his real agenda is discovered and Mace Windu tries to arrest him, Palpatine shows us he’s shit-hot with a lightsaber. But during the fight with Windu, the chancellor is aged by exposure to an energy beam so he now looks more like he does in the original films. Anakin finally becomes his apprentice (“You’re hired!” “Thank you, Lord Sidious!”) and gets a new name. Together they start to wipe out their opponents. Palpatine then declares a new Galactic Empire to replace the old republic, with himself as Emperor. After relatively minor roles in the previous two films, Palpatine gets a lot of screen time here – and McDiarmid is a terrific panto villain.

* Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) is in one scene, just enough time for Anakin to behead him on Palpatine’s orders.

* Viceroy Nute Gunray (Silas Carson) is on the brains trust of the separatists, but then Anakin kills him.

* Grand Moff Tarkin (Wayne Pygram) makes a mute cameo in a scene of the Emperor (as he is now) and Darth Vader looking at the shell of the under-construction Death Star. Hang on, so that means it takes the Empire 20 years to build the first Death Star, but then they knock up the second one in a few months. Perhaps the original involved a lot of R&D work.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: The opening is pretty spectacular. It’s a tremendously detailed 74-second CGI shot, which takes us through an enormous space battle going on above Coruscant.

BEST COMEDY MOMENT: R2-D2 gets some entertaining slapstick in the first act.

MUSIC: Another excellent score.

PERSONAL CONNECTION: I first saw this movie on Thursday 19 May 2005. My pal Simon Guerrier had got us tickets to the first showing of the film’s first day on general release – at the ginormous Odeon Leicester Square. I was so nervous that morning, because we all assumed it was the last time we’d ever see a new Star Wars film. The 1,679-seat auditorium was full. When the caption ‘A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…’ came up, someone shouted out, “I’ve seen this one!” and we all laughed. It broke the tension brilliantly. I really, really enjoyed seeing the film that day.

REVIEW: The drama is basic and clunky, but at least it’s there. This is a story based on character choices, which means that while not perfect the film is more watchable and engaging than its prequel cousins. There’s a vivid sense of events spiralling out of control; an awful inevitability hangs over everything. Meanwhile, as with every Star Wars film, the design work is really smart. It tells story just as well as dialogue or acting – better, probably. The good guys’ space ships are starting to precursor the Empire models, for example, while Anakin’s costumes are now from Gestapo’R’Us. Also, the series’s obsession with CGI is better handled here than it was in Attack of the Clones. The action feels weighter and a bit more physical, while environments seem less cartoony for the most part. (It helps that the whole film has a darker, moodier colour palette.) The same old problems remain – terrible dialogue, wooden cast members – but this is the best Star Wars film since Return of the Jedi.

Seven younglings out of 10

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Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002, George Lucas)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Various planets are planning to leave the Galactic Republic, putting strain on the Jedi knights and threatening civil war. A republican army is proposed, but someone is trying to kill its main political opponent…

WHICH VERSION? The 2002 DVD release, which made some minor changes to the theatrical release.

GOOD GUYS:

* Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) is no longer Naboo’s… Hang on a sec, her first name is actually Padmé? The name she was using when she secretly disguised herself as her own handmaiden in The Phantom Menace? It wasn’t a pseudonym?! That makes even less fucking sense now. Anyway, she’s no longer Naboo’s queen (which is actually an elected position). She’s replaced Palpatine as her planet’s senator in the galaxy-wide parliament and is said to be the leader of the opposition. She’s still using the decoy trick, though, and her unfortunate stooge is killed in the opening scene – it’s just the first of two assassination attempts. After going all the way to Coruscant to vote against the creation of a new army, the threat to her life means she flees home before the division is called. Old pal Anakin Skywalker acts as bodyguard and – despite his dialogue seeming like quotes from Fascist Nutjob Monthly – they fall in love. Disappointingly, Portman is astonishingly terrible in this movie. It’s a dull, listless, placid performance. When Anakin confesses that he’s killed some bandits and their children in a violent rage, she *barely reacts*. At the film’s end, Padmé and Anakin secretly marry: droids C-3PO and R2-D2 are the only guests. In the plus column, the character’s costumes and hairdos often echo Princess Leia’s from the original movies, which is a cute touch.

* R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) is still by Padmé’s side, even when she has to go into hiding. On Tatooine, he forms a double act with fellow droid C-3PO and they get some comic-relief action beats in the final third. In this film, R2 has hitherto unseen booster rockets, which means he can fly. Those would’ve been handy in the original series.

* Captain Typho (Jay Laga’aia) is Padmé’s latest head of security. And yes, his name is actually Typho. He can’t be everyone’s cup of tea, though, because as soon as Padmé’s life is threatened, the job of guarding her is given to the Jedi.

* Mace Windu (Samuel L Jackson) is deeply suspicious of Supreme Chancellor Palpatine and his politicking. Near the end, the Jedi turns up on the planet Geonosis – he’s brought the other knights with him to save the day. “This party’s over!” Windu says in an attempt to feature in the film’s trailer. He also unleashes his lightsaber, which is uniquely purple. Is this a hint that his loyalties lie somewhere between Jedi blue and Sith red? No, it’s just that Jackson wanted a cool-looking weapon.

* Master Yoda (Frank Oz) is now a totally computer-generated creation. It’s a remarkable achievement, which clearly took many talented people a lot of time and effort. But doesn’t everyone miss the puppet version? We see him leading the Jedi council and training a group of ‘younglings’ (kid students). For the climax, he goes and fetches the new clone army and leads them into battle against the bad guys: as he says, begun the clone war has. In a moment that is as gleefully wonderful as it is laughably ridiculous, we see Yoda draw his lightsaber and duel with the six-foot-plus Count Dooku.

* Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) is a politician from Alderaan. If you know your Star Wars, you’ll know he’ll later be Princess Leia’s adoptive father. But he’s a spectacularly redundant character in this film.

* Dormé (Rose Byrne… Sorry, my mind wandered there for a moment) is Padmé’s handmaiden.

* Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) has had his contribution reduced, presumably because the character went down so poorly in The Phantom Menace. When Padmé goes into hiding on the eve of a crucial vote, she asks him to take her place in the senate. (She can do this, can she? Just appoint a proxy?) Jar Jar fucks up his responsibility, however, when Palpatine cons him into kickstarting the vote that gives the Chancellor dictatorial power.

* Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) has, in the last 10 years, grown a beard, grown a mullet, and grown some balls. Ewan’s much better in the role this time round – he has fun with Obi-Wan’s wry humour, sarcasm and pensive anger. Kenobi is assigned to protect Padmé, but breaks off that mission to investigate her would-be assassin. He then gets a subplot where he plays private detective, following one small clue to the heart of the conspiracy. It’s maybe the film’s best element in conception, yet sadly consists mostly of McGregor staring into the middle distance and trying to act opposite aliens who’ll be added in post-production. His investigation leads to the rain-lashed planet Kamino, where tall, long-limbed, serene creatures are cloning a 200,000-strong army. The fully grown soldiers all look like Dr Ropata from Shortland Street. That’s because they’re being cloned from bounty hunter Jango Fett. They’re also being kitted out in white armour – THE CLONES REFERRED TO OBLIQUELY IN STAR WARS ARE THE STORMTROOPERS! What a great subversion of expectation that is. Obi-Wan then tracks Jango to a planet called Geonosis, where he overhears the bad guys spelling out their evil plan. He radios for help from apprentice Anakin – and after a lengthy Ray Harryhausen-influenced action sequence, our heroes fight back. Obi-Wan corners evil leader Count Dooku and they duel. Obi-Wan is about to be killed when Anakin saves him.

* Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) has been Obi-Wan’s padawan apprentice for 10 years now. He’s in love with Padmé, but is gutted when she patronises him during their first meeting in a decade. He’s also been having nightmares about his mother. (Shouldn’t have abandoned her to slavery, then, should you?!) Anakin’s headstrong and impetuous, which doesn’t reflect well on Obi-Wan’s 10-year training regime; has been getting chummy with the clearly evil Palpatine; and has a nasty right-wing attitude to law and order. When he guards Padmé as she returns to Naboo, he wears her down with his stalkery whining and they fall in love. But he’s still having those mum-related dreams (paging Dr Freud!). On the basis of this, he risks Padmé’s life by taking her to Tatooine. He finds his mum’s new home, a farm run by the Lars family. Anakin’s old droid, C-3PO, is also there. But Shmi has recently been snatched by bandits and is presumed dead. Anakin hunts the bandits down and finds his mother in a bad way; she then dies in his arms. Going ape-shit, he murders the bandits, then risks Padmé’s life even more by going with her to rescue Obi-Wan. Anakin ends up fighting bad guy Dooku, but has his arm chopped off. Ouch. Hayden Christensen gives an atrocious performance in this film. When you see the list of actors auditioned or considered for the role – Paul Walker, Colin Hanks, Jonathan Brandis… *Leonardo DiCaprio* – it’s all the more mystifying what they saw in him.

* Sio Bibble (Oliver Ford Davies) is still doom-mongering on Naboo.

* Queen Jamillia (Ayesha Dharker, who was later in both Doctor Who and Coronation Street) is the new leader of Naboo. They like voting for teenage girls on that planet, it seems. Bit dodge.

* C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) has been finished off by someone since the last film: he now has a metal casing, though it’s not yet the shiny gold we know and love. A thought occurs: given that the droid clearly spends time living with the Lars family, why doesn’t Owen recognise him in Star Wars? After hooking up with R2, 3PO gets dragged along to Geonosis for unexplained reasons.

* Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton), girlfriend Beru Whitesun (Bonnie Piesse) and invalid dad Cliegg (Jack Thompson) are Shmi’s new family. Cliegg bought her from slave-owner Watto, freed her and married her. When they sit Anakin down to tell him that Shmi’s missing, they do so at the same table that Luke has breakfast at in Star Wars.

* Shmi Skywalker (Pernilla August) has one scene before dying.

BAD GUYS:

* Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is in charge of the senate now. He has his eye on Anakin, who he reckons will one day be the most powerful Jedi around. As well as campaigning for a new republican army, he’s secretly growing a clone force as well. He wants a civil war so he can manipulate events and take absolute power. He’s aged visibly in the 10 years since he got the top job. So did Tony Blair, I suppose.

* Zam Wesell (Leeanna Walsman) is a bounty hunter hired to kill Padmé. When her attempt fails, Obi-Wan and Anakin give chase. Zam is a shape-shifter and we see her face go reptilian before she dies.

* Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) is a bounty hunter who wears the same kind of armour we saw Boba Fett sport during the original movies. That’s because Jango is Boba’s dad – well, his clone source anyway. You see, some aliens have paid Jango for his DNA, which they’re using to create a massive clone army. As well as the fee, he’s asked for one clone who he can keep for himself. Let’s be charitable and assume he’s feeling paternal. Probably the film’s best dramatic scene is between Jango and Obi-Wan when the latter comes to investigate: both characters know more is going on than they can admit, and their chat is frosty and guarded. Jango has a space ship, Slave I, which Boba uses in the original movies. During the final battle, Jango is beheaded by Mace Windu.

* Boba Fett (Daniel Logan) is a young clone – in effect, the son – of Jango. He witnesses his father’s death and we see him retrieve his iconic helmet from the battleground. Hopefully Jango’s severed head has rolled out beforehand.

* Watto (Andy Secombe) returns from The Phantom Menace.

* Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) is the leader of the separatist movement, but is basically a puppet for Palpatine’s Sith alter ego, Darth Sidious. He’s been building a droid army, ready for when the republic votes to have one. After fighting with Yoda, he escapes so he can be in the next film.

* Nute Gunray (Silas Carson) also shows up again. He’s still the Trade Federation viceroy, despite numerous attempts to indict him.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: Obi-Wan’s fight with Jango in the rain on Kamino. Obi-Wan loses his lightsaber, which means it’s more of a punch-up than is usual in Star Wars.

BEST COMEDY MOMENT: It’s slim-pickings, but Ewan McGregor gets some dryly amusing lines. “Why do I get the feeling you’ll be the death of me?” he sighs prophetically when Anakin pisses him off. A moment later, he has a comedic chat with a black-market conman: “You want to go home and rethink your life,” Obi-Wan says, using a Jedi mind trick.

MUSIC: The score is most fun when it’s quoting stuff from earlier movies – such as the ‘Luke stares at the twin suns’ cue from Star Wars, the ‘Darth Maul fight’ theme from Phantom Menace or the ominous notes of the Imperial March.

PERSONAL CONNECTION: I first saw this film at a cinema in Derby on Tuesday 21 May 2002 with my ex-housemate Hilary and her friend Giles. But I’m going to use this category for a rant. Is it just me or do the Americanisms in these prequels seem really incongruous? In film one, Qui-Gon spoke of “an odd play for the Trade Federation”; in this film, we learn that Padmé had to stop being queen because of a presidential-style term limit; and in the next film, Anakin will refer to himself as a “poster boy”. In the originals, talk of senates and regional governors felt more Roman than Washington, but maybe that was my misplaced assumption. Did those films feature Americanisms too, but I was just so young I didn’t spot them?

REVIEW: One step forward, one step back. There *are* improvements from The Phantom Menace. This one gets going more quickly, with intrigue and mystery being set up straightaway. There’s a better plot here with twists and turns, and it’s basically a more engaging story. Also, there’s some lovely thematic rhyming going on. The same kind of events keep happening in this series, but in interestingly different ways. However, visually speaking, it’s all so bloody *artificial*. Watching Attack of the Clones is like watching a computer game play itself out. There are CGI backdrops, CGI sets, CGI creatures, CGI extensions to virtually every shot, at times 100-per-cent GC sequences… It’s exhausting and relentlessly distracting, especially for those of us who grew up on the physical, palpable, visceral special-effects movies of the 1970s and 80s. It’s also horrendously ‘indoors-y’ – only on location in Italy and Tunisia does the film get out of the green-screen studio and blow some real life through the scenes. Another perhaps unavoidable problem is the curse of the prequel. By showing us backstory, the mystery is considerably lessened. When Luke Skywalker casually mentioned the Clone Wars in the first movie, it felt so evocative. By not explaining it, it seemed huge. But now we can see it, and it’s CGI soldiers shooting at CGI robots, it’s rather less exciting. Most disappointingly, though, the drama is still brain-curdlingly dreadful. It makes it almost impossible to care about what’s happening. The writing is especially pungent during the stilted, sparkless romance between Padmé and Anakin. Two wooden actors trot out hackneyed lines and hammer away at any subtext until nothing is left but a desire to switch the film off.

Six death-sticks out of 10

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999, George Lucas)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

It’s around 30 years before the destruction of the Death Star… While rescuing a queen from a blockaded planet, two Jedi knights find a young, talented and possibly very important boy called Anakin Skywalker…

WHICH VERSION? I watched the 2001 DVD release of the movie, which added some extra footage to the 1999 theatrical version (in the pod-race sequence, chiefly).

GOOD GUYS:

* Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) is a Jedi knight who’s sent by his bosses to sort out a trade dispute centered on the planet Naboo. He’s confident, a bit cocky, can handle himself in a fight, and brings some much-needed swagger to the movie. When the nasty Trade Federation attack Naboo, Qui-Gon and apprentice Obi-Wan manage to rescue the planet’s queen. During a stop-off on Tatooine for supplies, Qui-Gon then finds a boy called Anakin who he thinks has great untapped Jedi potential. He presents the lad to the Jedi council – but when they refuse to train him, Qui-Gon says he’ll take Anakin on as his new apprentice (ta-ra, Obi-Wan!). He then returns to Naboo with the queen and, with the help of the locals, they defeat the Trade Federation. However, Qui-Gon is killed by an agent of the evil Sith. He uses his dying breath to beg Obi-Wan to look after Anakin… Jinn doesn’t fade away when he dies, like Ben does in Star Wars or Yoda in Return of the Jedi. Does he not have the right credentials?

* Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) is Qui-Gon’s ‘padawan’ (Jedi apprentice). He’s young, still in training, and has a silly haircut. McGregor is doing a distracting impression of Alec Guinness’s distinctive voice, and is sadly unsteady in the role. To be fair to him, the character is lightly written and doesn’t get much to do: he follows Qui-Gon around, meets Anakin, then is very upset when his master is killed. He becomes a Jedi Knight proper at the end, and takes Anakin on as his padawan.

* Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) is the elected leader of Naboo, despite being a teenager (she’s meant to be 14, according to internet sources). She dresses in elaborate Oriental-style outfits with some outrageous headwear. And for some reason, she speaks with a strange bass-deep voice. Once captured by the Trade Federation, she noticeably changes – especially her face. That’s because she’s actually swapped places with her handmaiden Sabé (Keira Knightly in an early film role), who then acts as a decoy. Amidala now uses the name Padmé and slots in place as one of the queen’s entourage. It does genuinely seem like this is meant to be a unspottable plot twist, despite Natalie Portman’s fame and recognisable face. All the characters seem duped – except maybe Qui-Gon, who drops hints that he’s seen through the ruse. As ‘Padmé’, the character pretends to be a lowly lackey, even cleaning R2-D2 when ordered to by the ‘queen’. She ends up on Tatooine and insists on going with Qui-Gon when he searches for supplies. She meets Anakin, a young boy, and they make a friendly connection. Once the gang get back to civilization (on the capital planet Coruscant), she and Sabé switch places again; Padmé is said to now be on errands. After a bit of politicking, she returns to Naboo to help with its liberation… and switches back to being ‘Padmé’ again. It seems she does this solely so there can be a ‘dramatic’ reveal, which surprises other characters but none of the audience members. Portman is absolutely rotten in this film. It’s a soulless, lethargic performance.

* Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) is a bumbling, clumsy, foolish, irritating, childlike Gungan. His people are an amphibious, humanoid race of beings who share Naboo with the human queen and her subjects. Soon after bumping into Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, Jar Jar takes them to the Gungans’ underwater city. After that, he kind of hangs around for the rest of the story – only in the final-act battle does he get stuff to do. Famously, justly, rightly, accurately, importantly, Jar Jar has been seen as one of this film’s mortal wounds: a moribund character who is as annoying as he is probably racist. The actor’s only doing what’s scripted, so we can’t blame him.

* Captain Panaka (Hugh Quarshie) is Amidala’s head of security. Quarshie, now of Holby City, uses an American accent.

* Sio Bibble (Oliver Ford Davies) is one of the politicians on Naboo. Davies doesn’t use an American accent.

* Boss Nass (Brian Blessed) is the leader of the Gungans. What accent Blessed is using is anyone’s guess. But he’s good fun.

* R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) is one of the service droids aboard Amidala’s ship. He excels during a crisis, so is promoted to the queen’s retinue. He later takes part in liberating Naboo.

* Ric Olié (Ralph Brown) is the pilot of Amidala’s ship. Brown also uses an American accent.

* Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) is the young boy who Qui-Gon finds on Tatooine. He’s about nine years old and is a slave who works for a trader. Despite his youth, he’s a very talented pilot – AS BEN TOLD US IN THE FIRST STAR WARS FILM! – and knows his technology. He offers to take part in a dangerous ‘pod race’ – Formula 1, Star Wars-style – in order to raise the cash Qui-Gon needs to fix Amidala’s ship. Even though a competitor sabotages Anakin’s pod, the lad still wins. As part of Qui-Gon’s bet with Anakin’s boss, Anakin is now freed from his slavery; having spotted his potential, Qui-Gon plans to train him as a Jedi. Anakin meets Obi-Wan, then helps to free Naboo – he ends up in a star fighter and actually destroys the Trade Federation mother ship. Sadly, Jake Lloyd is pretty terrible in the role. He was young, granted, but his acting is barely to a professional level. Why did they start with Anakin aged nine – couldn’t he have at least been a teenager?

* Shmi Skywalker (Pernilla August) is Anakin’s mum. She tells Qui-Gon that the boy was conceived immaculately. “I carried him, I gave birth, I raised him; I can’t explain…” she says sheepishly. Yeah, right. That, or a drunken night out in Mos Eisley – you decide. When Anakin is freed of his indentured service, Shmi isn’t. But rather than simply take her with them – why are Jedis caring about the rights of slave owners?! – Anakin has to leave her behind.

* C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is a human-sized droid that Anakin has been building in his spare time. He’s not the finished article yet: he has no ‘skin’ and is shaky on his feet. As he’s the same type of droid as one we’ve seen earlier in the film, presumably Anakin is building the equivalent of a kit car. C-3PO meets his future partner-in-bickering, R2-D2, but gets left behind when Anakin leaves Tatooine.

* Wald (Warwick Davis) is a young friend of Anakin’s; he seems to be the same race as Greedo, the heavy from the first Star Wars movie. Davis also cameos as a pod-race spectator (without a mask this time).

* Supreme Chancellor Valorum (Terence Stamp) is the leader of the Galactic Republic’s senate. He seems to have executive political power *and* act as the legislature’s presiding officer. Why an actor with Stamp’s ability was needed for such a perfunctory role is hard to imagine.

* Master Yoda (Frank Oz) is the leader of the Jedi council. He’s slightly spryer than he was in the original trilogy, and we even see him walk in a CGI long shot. When Qui-Gon presents Anakin, Yoda is skeptical, saying the boy’s future is uncertain.

* Mace Windu (Samuel L Jackson) is Yoda’s right-hand man (well, he sits to Yoda’s left actually). He tells us that there’s a prophecy about a boy who will “bring balance to the Force,” but doubts that it’s Anakin. (Is the point here that the prophecy is actually about Luke?) I remember seeing Jackson on TFI Friday a couple of years before this film came out, saying he was desperate to be in the new Star Wars. “I’ll play Luke Skywalker’s slave!” he cried.

* Fighter Pilot Bravo 5 (Celia Imrie) is a pilot who takes part in the attack on the Trade Federation fleet. I’ll repeat that: Celia Imrie.

BAD GUYS:

* Nute Gunray (Silas Carson) is the leader of the nasty Trade Federation, who are blockading the planet of Naboo. (The Trade Federation’s representative in the senate, Lott Dod, is voiced by the great Toby Longworth.)

* Lord Sidious (Ian McDiarmid) is a shadowy figure pulling all the strings behind the Trade Federation scenes. He clearly has an agenda: he wants power and he wants rid of the Jedi. When Senator Palpatine – Naboo’s apparently benign politician – shows up, anyone who’s ever a) seen the original trilogy, b) paid attention to Sidious’s face and voice, or c) SEEN A FILM BEFORE, will realise that they’re the same person. Yet like with Amidala and Padmé, it’s played like a Usual Suspects-style plot twist. As Palpatine, the character skillfully engineers a coup in the galactic senate. The president is ousted and Palpatine, seemingly reluctantly, takes his place. As in Return of the Jedi, McDiarmid knows what he’s doing: he’s good fun.

* Darth Maul (voice: Peter Serafinowicz, body: Ray Park) is Sidious’s evil Sith apprentice. A man of few words – and when he has them, they’re voiced by Duane Benzie from Spaced – but much attitude. He’s sent by his boss to wipe out the Jedi; after tracking them, they finally come face-to-face-to-face on Naboo. Darth Maul is revealed in a deliberately arch ‘hero’ shot scored by macabre choral music. He then switches on his double-ended lightsaber. After an epic duel, he cuts Qui-Gon down, but then is killed himself by Obi-Wan.

* Watto (Andy Secombe) is a flying alien with a dodgy Italian-type accent who has Anakin and his mother as slaves. He runs a trading business on Tatooine. Qui-Gon’s Jedi mind tricks won’t work on him because he’s a Toydarian. However, Qui-Gon later manages to con him by blatantly fixing a dice roll…

* Sebulba (Lewis Macleod) is an alien thug on Tatooine who is Anakin’s main competitor in the pod race.

* Jabba the Hutt is spotted during the pod-race sequence. His hangers-on seem to include Bib Fortuna, who’ll still be with him come the time of Return of the Jedi.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: The pod race was thrilling in 1999 and holds up really well still. It’s dynamic, well edited and exciting. And it sounds great too: each pod makes its own distinctive noise. (Whether we need Greg Proops as a hammy American-TV-style sports commentator is a different matter.)

BEST COMEDY MOMENT: It’s not this film’s strength, humour. Liam Neeson’s generally louche demeanour is quite amusing.

MUSIC: Excellent, of course, especially when quoting themes from the original trilogy. John Williams has written some tremendous new stuff too – the Soviet-sounding Duel of the Fates cue, which scores the Jedis’ fight with Darth Maul, was everywhere for a while. Quite right too: it’s terrific.

PERSONAL CONNECTION: I first saw this film at a UCI cinema in Derby on Friday 16 July 1999. I went to a morning screening with my pal Will Haywood. Despite every negative point made in this review, I did really enjoy experiencing it for the first time. The build-up had been a long time coming. I remember Empire magazine printing the first publicity photos months before the release: they were images of the Naboo fighters in their hangers, and some of Anakin’s home on Tatooine, I think. Then the trailer was a revelation. I’d sat in my university computer room and waited for 23 minutes for it to download. When it played, it juddered and froze – but I was still agog.

REVIEW: Blimey, there’s CGI everywhere! Ships, planets, aliens, robots, even characters. It takes some getting used to after the physical ‘there’-ness of the original series. But on the whole, this both looks and sounds like Star Wars. The Art Deco-influenced stuff on Naboo is really smart, implying a grander, more artful age before the grimy, battered world we saw in the first movies, while Ben Burtt’s sound design is sensationally inventive. However, there are some serious issues with this film. A bland, muddled story that needs spelling out doesn’t help. Neither does the decision to turn the Force (described in such pleasingly vague terms in the original series) into a dull blood disease. But sadly the worst aspect is the cast. The dialogue is dreadful, even by George Lucas standards, but they just can’t find a way to power through it. There are a few actors who know what they’re doing – Liam Neeson, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L Jackson – but too many flounder, presumably directionless. The whole thing is crying out for the energy, charm and wit of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford.

Six midi-chlorians out of 10

Star Wars: Special Edition (1997, George Lucas)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

WHICH VERSION? In 1997, writer/director/producer/corporate-bigwig/beard-wearer George Lucas returned to his masterpiece and rejigged it for a cinematic reissue. This new edit added some then-state-of-the-art special effects and features some never-before-seen footage. Irritatingly, this ‘special edition’ has since become the default version of the movie for home-video releases and TV screenings. Further minor tweaks were made for a 2004 DVD (that’s the version I watched for this write-up) and again for a 2011 Blu-ray box set. I’ve already reviewed the original film – so instead this is a discussion of the changes made in the 90s. It’s not a definitive list; just a look at the ones I spotted and thought interesting…

* The vintage 20th Century Fox logo has been updated, while a Lucasfilm logo has replaced its old text credit.

* The film has the subtitle ‘Episode IV – A New Hope’, which had actually been on the original too from a 1981 rerelease onwards.

* We get a few new establishing shots of Tatooine. They’re nice enough. R2-D2’s encounter with the Jawas has been colour-timed to make it seem more like dusk.

* The scene of Stormtroopers finding the crashed escape pod has had an overhaul. It’s longer now, with some newly filmed Stormtroopers and computer-generated dewbacks (we only had static models of these elephant-like creatures in the old version). They’ve been digitally added to some existing shots too.

* A nice model shot of the Jawas’ huge sandcrawler vehicle has been replaced by a CGI version, which is pleasant enough and more dynamic.

* Similarly, there’s a new establishing shot of Ben’s house, which is more detailed (and more digitally) than the old one. It tells us that his hideaway is on top of a hill and he has a nice view across the wastelands.

* Luke and Ben’s arrival at Mos Eisley is a lot more elaborate now. There’s new CGI footage of the city streets as their speeder drives into town. It’s crammed full of people and creatures and vehicles – some on newly shot film, some computer-generated. There’s even a bit of comedy. Great in theory, as it expands the city and brings it to life, but the additions stick out a mile – especially the cartoony shots of the speeder.

* In the cantina scene, one of the strange creatures seen in the montage of customers – a wolfman – has been replaced by a new frog-headed hipster alien who’s wearing a beret and smoking a pipe.

* In Han Solo’s confrontation with Greedo, Han no longer simply kills the guy rather than deal with him. He now shoots only in self-defence, after Greedo takes a shot at him. At point-blank range. And misses. This is a justifiably ridiculed, infamously unpopular change, which undermines Han’s entire character arc for the film. It’s like painting in eyebrows on the Mona Lisa or dubbing a new bassline onto a Beatles song.

* The Stormtroopers searching Mos Eisley now have little floating devices following them around (cameras, I guess?).

* An entire unused scene from the 1976 shoot has been added in. Han returns to the Millennium Falcon to find Jabba the Hutt and his cronies waiting for him, and has to use his silky charisma to buy more time before he has to pay off his debt. Jabba is a computer-generated character and is pretty corny-looking (he was even worse in the 1997 cinema version, but the DVD I watched carried out some repair work). The raw footage featured actor Declan Mulholland playing Jabba, but George Lucas claims he shot the scene that way only as a guide. The notion, he says, was that Mulholland would be replaced in post-production, probably by a stop-motion puppet. Well, that’s clearly bullshit. Not only was Mullholland is full costume, but Harrison Ford walks behind and in front of him and even touches his chest at one point – not things you’d get an actor to do in 1976 if the intention is to matte in a special effect. (Han also calls him a ‘wonderful human being’ in the dialogue, though admittedly he’s being sarcastic.) The whole thing is awful. On a story level, it adds little and slows down the momentum. It robs the viewer of first seeing the Millennium Falcon through Luke’s eyes. And the clash of 1970s film and 1990s technology is nothing but distracting. The worst moment comes when, in the original shot, Harrison Ford walks behind Jabba. When later designed for Return of the Jedi, Jabba was given a huge tail – so how can Han avoid it? The solution – to have Han walk up and over it, and for Jabba to grimace in pain – is a pathetic idea and looks absolutely terrible. On the plus side, although not part of the original shoot, Boba Fett has been digitally added to the scene. Nice touch.

* There’s a new shot of the Millennium Falcon taking off.

* When Dantooine explodes, it does so mainly with a focused arc of energy for some reason. The Death Star does the same later on.

* The Death Star hanger now looks more like it does in Return of the Jedi.

* The gag of Han turning a corner on the Death Star and bumping into six Stormtroopers has been altered: he now finds dozens of them.

* There are some new CG shots of the Falcon approaching Yavin.

* The Aztec-style temple on Yavin 4 now looks a lot more weatherworn.

* In the original cut, Luke goes from maudlin about Ben’s death to excited about the upcoming battle very quickly. Now we can see why: a deleted scene of him bumping into old pal Biggs Darklighter has been slotted in. (Biggs’s other deleted scenes from the shooting script haven’t been used – it seems the footage hasn’t survived in good enough quality.)

* We get new computer-generated shots of X-Wings taking off from Yavin 4, then shots of them approaching the Death Star have been replaced by CG versions with significantly more craft. A few CGI shots have been slipped into the main battle montage too. As a surgical bit of editing, it works really well: the geography of the dogfight is a bit clearer and none of the urgency is lost.

* James Earl Jones is now credited for playing the voice of Darth Vader. It’s astonishing to realise he wasn’t listed originally.

REVIEW: First and foremost, it’s really enjoyable to see a good quality copy of Star Wars. Little restoration work was done to the 2006 DVD release of the original cut, allegedly because Lucasfilm felt guilt-tripped into releasing it. So it’s smashing to see the movie shining and gleaming and popping through the TV screen. Most of the alterations in this version are good in theory and liveable-with in practice, but the two big changes to the Mos Eisley sequence – Han and Greedo, Han and Jabba – damage the film significantly. Let’s knock a mark off because of that.

Nine explosion rings out of 10

Star Wars (1977, George Lucas)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When her ship is boarded, resistance leader Princess Leia sends the stolen blueprints of an enemy space station to ally Obi-Wan Kenobi. However, a farm boy called Luke Skywalker intercepts them and decides to join the rebellion…

WHICH VERSION? Can open, worms everywhere. Star Wars films have been issued at the cinema, on TV, on VHS, on LaserDisc, on DVD and on Blu-ray in a succession of different edits. Each has brought either minor changes – a sound mix tweaked here, a shot trimmed out there – or significant overhauls of key scenes. To all intents and purposes, I watched the original 1977 edit of Star Wars. And it *is* just called Star Wars on this version. The subtitle ‘Episode IV: A New Hope’ wasn’t added until a cinematic rerelease in 1981. However, I watched it on a DVD that came out in 2006, which is a letterbox (rather than anamorphic) transfer from the 1993 LaserDisc, which itself had done some minor remixing to the 1977 cut’s soundtrack. If your head isn’t hurting enough yet, check out this page on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_changes_in_Star_Wars_re-releases#Episode_IV:_A_New_Hope

GOOD GUYS

* C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is the first ‘person’ we see. He’s a nervous, fussy, jittery robot (or ‘droid’) who’s our point-of-view character for the film’s opening 19 minutes. An English butler of a character, he’s the story’s comic relief.

* R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) is C-3PO’s partner, a forthright, squat, little droid who is trusted with a mission by Princess Leia and doesn’t take any bullshit in his determination to carry it out. Only C-3PO can understand R2’s bleeps-and-whistles dialogue; the two of them have the vibe of a bickering married couple. At the film’s climax, R2 takes part in the assault on the Empire’s HQ, a space station called the Death Star. He always seems to know what’s going on.

* Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is a young, confident, ballsy, slightly sexy ambassador from the planet Alderaan. She’s also a high-ranking member of the Rebel Alliance, so when Imperial forces board her ship she tasks R2-D2 (who she seemingly picks at random) to deliver some important documents to an ally. When she’s captured, she’s forced to watch as her home planet is destroyed – but she’s regained her spunk by the time our heroes rescue her. She bickers with Han Solo (they clearly want each other) then coordinates the Alliance’s attack on the Death Star. Fisher was 19 years old when she made this film – doesn’t that make you feel ancient?

* Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is the hero of the story, a corn-bred farmer who lives with his auntie and uncle. He dreams of far-off places but can only look on in envy as his friends escape their dreary community. When he stumbles across Leia’s message, he helps R2 deliver it. They soon find Ben Kenobi, an old hermit who knew Luke’s dad. Kenobi is actually a Jedi in hiding – they were quasi-religious knights before the days of the fascist Empire. He gives Luke his father’s weapon and teaches him about the Force, an “energy field created by all living things”, which “surrounds us, penetrates us and binds the universe together”. After Luke’s relatives are killed, he asks to join Ben on his mission to help the rebels; he wants to train to be a Jedi too. (Cults take longer than this to recruit people.) They end up on the Death Star, where Luke and new ally Han Solo have to masquerade as soldiers and rescue Leia. Luke clearly fancies the Princess, and even gets defensive when Han suggests he might have a crack at her. Luke also gets sniffy when Han doubts the existence of the Force – something Luke only learnt about earlier that morning. (There’s nothing like the zeal of a convert, is there?) After destroying the Death Star, Luke and Han are given medals by the Rebel Alliance. Han’s mate Chewbacca is not given one – neither are the two other pilots who survived the battle. Fickle bastards.

* Uncle Owen (Phil Brown) and Aunt Beru (Shelagh Fraser) clearly know more about Luke’s family history than they let on. Owen especially seems keen to keep Luke in the dark, while Beru enjoys drinking blue milk. The pair are killed by stormtroopers. The chilling image of their burnt skeletons haunted millions of childhoods.

* Ben ‘Obi-Wan’ Kenobi (Alec Guinness – how the fuck did they get Alec Guinness?) fulfills the wise-old-wizard role in the narrative. Ben can take care of himself – both physically and by using his Force skills. But should we really trust him? He’s in hiding from the Empire but still using the surname he had when he was a Jedi. And he doesn’t seem to recognise C-3PO and R2-D2, which is odd given what happens in the prequels. Or maybe he does know them: note how he only starts giving Luke details about the past after 3PO has switched himself off… Once aboard the Death Star, Ben gets a sneaky-monkey subplot then sacrifices his life to save Luke. He then talks to Luke from beyond the grave (Luke is totally unfazed by this surprising development). Guinness may have thought the whole project was horseshit – “New rubbish dialogue reaches me every other day,” he wrote at the time. “I just think, thankfully, of the [fee]…” – but he’s terrific in this film. He adds soul to every scene he’s in.

* Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) is a Wookie – a tall, hairy alien – who growls a lot but can only be understood by his friend and colleague Han.

* Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is a rogue, a scoundrel, a smuggler and dresses like a cowboy. He’s sarcastic, world-weary and cynical. No wonder so many of us fanboys developed man-crushes on him. Interestingly, though, a lot of us have been mispronouncing our idol’s name: he says it ‘Haan’. A man under pressure, given that he owes a chunk of money to a gangster, he’s a refreshingly ambiguous character in this otherwise black-and-white story. He’s not short of confidence (“Sometimes I amaze even myself…”) and joins the mission solely for the payday. Soon after we meet him and he takes on Luke and Ben as passengers, he’s cornered by the lackey of an unseen mobster called Jabba. Han distracts Greedo while he surreptitiously slips his gun from his holster then nonchalantly shoots him under the table. It’s a vital piece of plotting, this: we’re not mean to trust this man; he’s selfish and reckless. (When the scene was re-edited for the 1997 special edition, Han shoots only in self-defence. A million geeks cried out in terror.) Han Solo has the downright most coolest space ship in all of sci-fi: the Millennium Falcon, which can do the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs (whatever that means). It has smuggling compartments, which come in handy when the gang are captured by the bad guys. Before the climax, Han takes his reward for rescuing Leia and fucks off – but he’s clearly feeling guilty about abandoning his new mates, and returns in the nick of time to save the day. He’s given a medal, so presumably this wobble of loyalty is forgiven.

* Biggs Darklighter (Garrick Hagon) is an old mate of Luke’s. He joined the Rebel Alliance before Luke got involved, but is killed during the final battle. (Most of the character’s scenes – including stuff early in the film on Tatooine – were cut out.)

BAD GUYS

* Darth Vader (body: David Prowse, voice: James Earl Jones) makes an arch first appearance: he’s a swish of black in amongst a cloud of white smoke. We’re told that years earlier he betrayed and murdered Luke’s father (who’s not named) after being seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. (Religions, eh? Always making nice people do bad things.) He wears a full suit of all-black armour and a helmet that covers his entire head. No one dares ask if he’s human, an alien, a robot… We do know he’s violent (he strangles someone with his hands) and touchy (he throttles someone via telekinesis after they ridicule the Force). He murders Ben then zeroes in on Luke during the final battle. At the end, he’s not killed off but rather sent spinning away into space – ready for the sequel.

* There are plenty of stormtroopers (did anyone else used to think they were robots?) and Imperial officers. Don Henderson and Leslie Schofield (JOHNNY BRIGGS’S DAD!) play two of the officers.

* Lots of Jawas appear in the early stages. They’re a race of cloaked midget traders (that is, traders who are midgets: they buy or steal and then sell droids).

* The Sand People (or Tusken Raiders) are nomads on Luke’s home planet who have mammoths and cause trouble.

* Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing – how the fuck did they get Peter Cushing? Oh, yeah: because he’d do any old shit) is the commander of the Death Star. He seems to be Vader’s boss and is icy cool and cruel. His arrogance leads to his downfall.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: The thrilling attack on the Death Star: a sumptuous 12-minute slice of cinema gold. It showcases world-class model work, really smart editing and some monumental music cues. The tension builds and builds and builds. (The terse dialogue also contains a large amount of unintentional innuendo.)

BEST COMEDY MOMENT: Han pretending to be a stormtrooper over a radio: “Er, everything’s under control, situation normal… Er, had a slight weapons malfunction, but, er, everything’s perfectly all right now. We’re fine, we’re all fine… here… now… Thank you… How are you?”

MUSIC: The score is a masterpiece by John Williams. Whether dark or light, driving action or creating mood, it’s a total joy. There’s also terrific use of character-specific themes (or leitmotifs, to use the musical term). George Lucas once said he designed the Star Wars movies to be, in effect, silent films in terms of their storytelling techniques – and indeed the score conveys emotion and drama much more elegantly than the dialogue. (Ben Burtt’s sound design, meanwhile, is extraordinary.)

PERSONAL CONNECTION: I don’t really remember a time before I’d seen Star Wars. It came out two years before I was born, so I would’ve first watched it on VHS soon after we got a video recorder in about 1983.

REVIEW: The 20th Century Fox logo and fanfare… The Lucasfilm logo… The caption reading ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….’ The Star Wars logo and a triumphant burst of theme music… The crawl of scene-setting text… And then *that* shot of a monumentally enormous spacecraft flying overhead. It’s a thrilling opening, whose power hasn’t dulled after even a hundred viewings. Star Wars is all about momentum, and this beginning propels us right into the middle of the action. We’re thrown into a simple story of good versus evil. It’s a familiar tale of a pure hero to cheer for, a wise old man to offer guidance, a damsel in distress, sidekicks to chuckle with, a maniacal villain intent on evil, and little if any subtext. Mythology scholar Joseph Campbell should’ve got a screenplay credit. As well as the silent-movie vibe mentioned above, the colour scheme is almost black-and-white (with occasional browns). Cliffhanger-heavy plotting highlights the Flash Gordon/movie-serial roots. A Wilhelm Scream or two adds an old-Hollywood connection. And there’s no sex, no swearing, and only flashes of real violence. If you ignore some of the haircuts, it’s practically timeless. But that doesn’t mean it’s not inventive. It’s a totally believable fictional universe, at once both different and familiar. Even now, after so many imitators and plagiarisers, the film feels fresh and textured. The design work is breathtaking: every set, every vehicle, every costume, every robot… There’s detail and nuance and storytelling in each decision. The special effects, meanwhile, are still excellent today, and have the heft and verisimilitude that’s often absent from CGI-era blockbusters. (The use of models for the space battles is worth the entry price alone.) The dialogue is full of exotic references – to spice mines, a language called Bocce, a teen hangout called Tosche Station, the Clone Wars – that mean nothing and everything all at the same time. However, that’s not to say the writing is especially well crafted. Of the cast, Harrison Ford is probably the best at ironing out the kinks in George Lucas’s hackneyed dialogue, giving what are torturously constructed lines some life and humour. In fact, it’s generally thanks to the actors that the characters and situations are so engaging – Mark Hamill is winsome, Carrie Fisher is feisty, Alec Guinness adds gravitas, Anthony Daniels is funny, James Earl Jones is terrifying, and Harrison Ford redefines swagger. Packed full of joie de vivre, Star Wars is an extraordinarily enjoyable escapist adventure. It’s cliché from start to finish, but done so well – so joyfully, so exuberantly, with so much style and pace and panache – that it’s become definitive. It’s as close to perfect as makes no difference.

Ten wretched hives of scum and villainy out of 10