ranking the Star Wars movies

January 3, 2018

So, I don’t rank the Star Wars movies. I mean, I probably could if someone threatened me or threw money at me. But really, I don’t see the point. Because apart from the first one, none of them really stands alone. All but the first depend on some kind of prior knowledge of the existence of the Star Wars universe and the saga of the Skywalker family. The recent ones have really depended on that knowledge, and audience expectation of what it means to watch a Star Wars movie. So now, much like the MCU, we don’t have individual movies that can be fairly graded as movies — we have chapters in a long-running thing that we haven’t really developed filmic language to discuss.  (Previous long-running film franchises, like the James Bond movies or even the Mickey Rooney Andy Hardy films, were a collection of stand-alone films, designed to be watched in any order. Not so much with Star Wars and the MCU.)

At some point in the late 80’s, my family got the VHS box set of the original trilogy, and we blocked out a whole evening to watch the whole thing back to back. This felt radical at the time, long before the age of the binge-watch. And the trilogy in one sitting was a revelation. It’s one story. It really is. Each film is three acts, but the trilogy as a whole is three acts also, with each film being an act. For a long time after that, I refused to watch each film individually.  If I was going to watch Star Wars, I was going to watch 6 hours of Star Wars. (This has changed. These days, I’ve been known to pop in the Return of the Jedi DVD and skip past all the Tatooine stuff to get straight to the Battle of Endor. Because big space ships FTW.)

I confess I haven’t watched the prequel and original trilogy all in one sitting — but I have watched the Machete Order. (And here’s my review of it.) And again, it really does all feel like one story. Story and imagery from each film calls back to the others. There are echoes all the way the through.

I could sit here and talk about how I like The Last Jedi better than The Force Awakens. It’s got more emotional complexity, it subverts our expectations rather than playing to them, which is ever so much fun. But TLJ doesn’t stand on its own. It needs to the setup in TFA to be able to do what it does. Part of its emotional impact comes from knowing what happens in TFA first.

I have favorite chapters in favorite books — I’ve been known to take Bujold’s A Civil Campaign off the shelf just to read the Council of Counts/proposal chapter over and over again.  But I can’t take that chapter out of that book and somehow say it’s better than the other chapters. Because it needs the rest of the book to be what it is.

Plus, no one ever lists the Ewok movies in their rankings of Star Wars films.

 

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