Gerald’s Pop Culture Cosmos Guide To The Star Wars Cinematic Universe! (UPDATED 2-3-2020)

After delving into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which you can read HERE ) the decision was made to take a similar approach with other film series and genres that readers can look at and think to themselves “If that’s what he thinks, maybe my view would be a bit different” then share their own opinions here or on our social media. It just so happens that with Star Wars: The Last Jedi hitting theaters, now would be a opportune time to share some thoughts on this beloved movie franchise. So after viewing Star Wars films for nearly forty years, here’s another humbly submitted list (from worst to first) on the episodes of this now Disney-owned juggernaut that have inspired millions from a galaxy far, far away:

Rise of Skywalker

11. Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019, 2 hours 22 minutes, Directed by JJ Abrams) The final cataclysmic battle betwen the Resistance and The First Order proved to be a true disappointment. With a scaddershot story and character arcs that proved to be either inconclusive, unsatisfying, or simply cast aside altogether, Abrams is left holding the bag on what proved to be the culmination of the Skywalker saga ending with a resounding thud. Even the final appearance of General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, whose posthumous turn was given life thanks to special effects) could not lift or emotions high enough to forget how badly the ending of this new trilogy of movies was so badly constructed. Whether it was the attempt to ret-con events that happened in the divisive Last Jedi or trying to bridge the gap created from the first film, Rise never does a good job with either and ultimately fails under the weight of all that the things the movie was asked to do.

The movie centers around the true identity of Rey (Daisy Ridley), the redemption of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and a returning clone of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). With a re-ignited vision of controlling the galaxy, Palpatine sets forth a plan to try and decimate the forces of good with one swift, final stroke. Unfortunately, the journey taken along the way by our heroes to fend off this threat is filled with stale jokes, overused Star Wars tropes, and a relegating to obscurity for anyone who doesn’t have tForce powers. The Rise of Skywalker should have been the pinnacle of success for the Star Wars franchise. But as the results of a world box office take that was roughly half of the 2015 trilogy starter in The Force Awakens prove, it looks like Star Wars and Lucasfilm will have to go back to a galaxy far, far, away to find better ideas for its theatrical films.


10. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999, 2 hours 16 minutes, directed by George Lucas)- In many ways the comparison to this film can be made to another episode one from a familiar movie franchise, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The story of how the groundwork was laid for the entire Star Wars series with the occupation of the planet Naboo, the rise of Senator Palpatine amidst growing tensions within the galaxy’s Senate and the discovery of a possible “Chosen One” (Jake Lloyd) carries on at such a snail-like pace that one can be forgiven if one was expecting Kirk and Spock to show up looking to try and communicate with “V–Ger” once again. It became readily apparent that director George Lucas chose correctly in introducing the world to the Star Wars universe with Episode Four instead of this origin tale because if this would have appeared on screens in 1977, the franchise may never have lasted this long. Let’s not even approach the dilemma known as Jar Jar Binks because that’s a toxic issue this movie certainly could have done without.


9. Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith (2005, 2 hours 20 minutes, directed by George Lucas)-One has to feel a bit sympathetic for actor Hayden Christensen. For a lot of Star Wars fans, their lasting images of him remain the incessant whining he was asked to do playing Anakin Skywalker in the final third of this film causing his character’s legacy (and the film too for that matter) within the franchise to fall off a steep cliff. This comes as a disappointment for those who were hoping for the story of the fall of the Jedi Council, the first young Skywalker and the Senate and the rise of Darth Vader and the Galactic Imperial Empire to be something that would be held up against its later episodes. Instead, the closure of the first three chapters ends up being a mess with all the puzzle pieces tying it to Episode Four being shoe-horned in at the very end to try and keep everything cohesive, which unfortunately it ultimately fails in doing.

The roots from where this movie falters and why this particular film fails in reaching a loftier status is the truly under developed writing which often leaves quality actors and actresses without anything of quality to say, in essence giving little for the audience to care about. The one very notable exception is the scene-stealing performance by Ian McDiarmid as Chancellor Palpatine whose narrative skills and deceptive practices befuddle and hypnotize Anakin and the rest of the Jedi clan allowing him not only to dominate them but almost carry the entire movie to an almost acceptable level by himself. Time to “execute Order 66” on this film and move on to more quality inclusions in this series.


8. Star Wars Episode II: The Attack of the Clones (2002, 2 hours 22 minutes, directed by George Lucas)- Far and away the best of the three episodic films, Clones yields a strong story overall even when burdened by a “roll your eyes” teenage love story and an absurdly long run time. Where Episode One falters in providing the audience with ample reasons to be interested in the vast Star Wars universe, this movie shines a brighter light on the series as a whole because of its novel approach to the birth of the Clone Wars by constructing in the fashion of an old-time detective yarn. Ewan McGregor is given more to work with his take on Obi-Wan Kenobi and it ultimately pays off in a performance that blends his portrayal and that of the late Sir Alec Guiness of the character a lot more smoothly.

As long as the movie stays focused on Obi-Wan and his pursuit of the mysterious origin of the clones and of the bounty hunter he is after it is the audience who reaps the rewards. When the story shifts to that of young Anakin Skywalker (Christensen) and Senator Padme (Natalie Portman) as they travel in secret back to her homeland, the movie gets side tracked with  a forced love story and flirtation-fest that proves at points to be irritating on how it takes away from other good aspects of the film. The movie’s latter stages, which include the best moments of Christopher Lee’s and Samuel L. Jackson’s subdued Star Wars career and a Jedi “battle royale” ultimately garner this film a passing grade and delightfully stays away from being a clone itself in comparison to its other much-maligned prequel movies.


7.Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017, 2 hours and 30 minutes, directed by Rian Johnson)- Featuring some of the most polarizing plot twists in recent memory, The Last Jedi sets out to change the Star Wars mythos and in doing so leaves a ton of much fan beloved collateral damage in its wake. Johnson’s bold moves in a strongly executed final stage literally saves the movie from mediocrity or even worse after a flat, convoluted and muddled second chapter of the film bogs down a film in a way not seen since the prequels. Characters given story arcs seemingly only to give them something to do give way to more important pieces of both past and present Star Wars lore as the conflict between Rey and Kylo Ren begins to reach a true crescendo.

While there is plenty to argue about (unnecessary plot points and deaths, character stories that never got the opportunity to be totally explained) with Jedi there is no denying that Mark Hamill turns in what is perhaps his best performance to date. The self-awareness Hamill brings to the iconic Luke Skywalker character provides clarity from both a fictional and real world perspective rarely seen in cinema today. Combine that with a strong climax to the story and one has a film, despite all of its issues that just dips below The Force Awakens due to its decision making and its radical changes with new, current or revered characters unlike its 2015 predecessor.


6. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015, 2 hours, 16 minutes, directed by JJ Abrams)-Director JJ Abrams reboot of the Star Wars series proves to be a successful one as it bobs and weaves its way through familiar territory but in doing so always remains a fun time.  As a movie that outlines the new series of films with its telling of the rise of a new yet familiar threat to the galaxy in the First Order, Awakens gives us characters that the audience can seemingly get behind even if was done at an almost record pace. Combining characters we’ve come to know and love in Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) along with strong additions Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) was a brilliant way to jettison new and old fans alike into a new universe filled with both fascination and dangers that threaten the entire solar system.

While the action is set as a feverish pace and provides non-stop thrills, chills and laughs, it is the compelling interaction of on screen father and son Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (Adam Driver) that propels the movie forward as the decisions that are made provide key moments this movie cannot be without. The feelings of love, betrayal and torment are portrayed crystal clear on the screen by Driver’s performance and provide a key backdrop on the continuous battle between the forces both light and dark. What holds the movie back from greatness is the derivative plot to previous films in the series as the narrative gives way to a “safe” direction by Abrams. With Star Wars: The Force Awakens however, maybe taking the safe route was the best choice indeed as a way of initiating the audience to new trilogy of films but one gets the feeling that more could have been done if the film had taken a couple of bold directions. As Han so aptly said himself in the movie “Hey, I like this”, this reviewer enjoyed the film but just wanted to like it even more.


5.Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016, 2 hours 13 minutes, directed by Gareth Edwards)- The first attempt at providing an anthology series that would give movie audiences a further glimpse into the Star Wars universe, Rogue One‘s success on both a critical (Rotten Tomatoes cumulative score is at 85%) and financial (it generated over one billion dollars worldwide at the box office) realm proved that there are those clamoring for a larger narrative in this continuing space opera. The tale of a “rogue” gathering of rebels who fight through the efforts of the Empire and risk it all to get their hands of valuable intel that may lead to the destruction of the infamous Death Star is both unique in its look and feel yet provides enough familiarity to belong with the rest of the storied films.

Felicity Jones plays a tough and determined Jyn Urso who leads the crew on the mission after discovering a true path after years of criminal activity and defiance against anyone and everyone. She finds that path after discovering that her father (Mads Mikkelsen) had sent a secret message to her reaffirming their bond and giving her inspiration to find his location and stop the Empire from carrying out its nefarious deeds. The group collected while conveying a gathering of mismatched parts does come together and provides a backbone the movie needs. Strong performances by Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, a loyal agent of the Rebellion who’s own tactics begin to narrow his judgment and Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe a disciple of “the Force” who believes so strongly that his faith never wavers even in the midst of death and destruction are buoyed even further by Alan Tudyk’s voice over work as reprogrammed Empire robot K-2SO to provide strong support for the film as they carry out their dangerous task.

Cameos are abound in this film from Darth Vader and others but the CG “uncanny valley” moments with Admiral Tarkin and Princess Leia take some of the good will away that this film tries very heartily to build. While there are other small plot holes and continuum issues that can be nit picked the film as a whole serves the series well and falls just behind The Force Awakens as a new breed of films that compliment the Star Wars series very well. For those looking to find out more of the tales from Star Wars lore one could definitely look at Rogue One: A Star Wars Story because it is a very good place to start.


4.Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018, 2 hours 15 minutes, Directed by Ron Howard)- Sometimes the Force just doesn’t go your way. With Director Ron Howard stepping in after a falling out with Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, Solo will always have the distinction of being remembered as the first true failure for the Star Wars franchise (well, if you’re not counting the original Holiday Special of course) earning just under 400 million dollars worldwide. This origin tale outlines the maturation of Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) into the scoundrel that so many Star Wars fans have come to love. Ehnrenreich’s performance was acceptable, given the temptation to do a full-on Harrison Ford impersonation. His early path in the film led him to meeting his friend Chewbacca and ultimately joining a gang of thieves, as they venture out to obtain a desired stash of Coaxium and a dangerous trip through the much talked about Kessel Run itself.

But it’s the fascinating crimeworld underbelly of Star Wars lore that gets romanticized in the film, where Han finds himself consorting with various con artists and villains, that gives this movie heart and intrigue even after a horrendous opening scene. With talented actors and actresses such as Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke and Thandie Newton playing key roles in the film, the movie quickly finds its own footing and never ceases to charm thereafter. Even a puzzling romance for revered character Lando Calrissian (played with cool brilliance by Donald Glover) and his android-liberating counterpart L3-37 (Pheobe Waller-Bridge) can’t stop this film from being one of the more pleasent rides in the galaxy. Hopefully in the coming years on Disney Plus, many Star Wars fans will catch the film and wonder why they didn’t see it on the big screen after all.


3. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977, 2 hours 1 minute, directed by George Lucas)- The movie that started it all still provides quality life lessons about the choices we make and the differences in right and wrong. yes this movie has not aged as well on screen with its special effects as the others made in the 1980’s but can anyone really expect that from a film that was made roughly forty years ago? What George Lucas’ film does so incredibly well is adhere to a simplistic story-telling format that can resonate with audiences young and old which will keep this film nestled in Star Wars fans hearts for all of eternity. The result of this initial entry in the series is a treat but its the journey on how a boy becomes a man when faced with joining the Resistance and entering into a battle to take down the planetary space station the Death Star that keeps fans coming back for more.

Adding onto that is that there is not a single reliance on one main character to do the heavy lifting in this movie as Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Princes Leia), Harrison Ford (Han Solo) and Sir Alec Guiness (Obi-Wan) all have their opportunities to showcase their talents as the interactions between them ooze a charm so deep it is at times more fun to watch than the action sequences themselves. Throw in the Imperial Forces (led by the empowering voice of James Earl Jones) that are sprinkled in with just the right amount and you get an adversary worthy of audience interest. All this creates a spectacle that wowed audiences back then and still has the ability to do so even today. The force is strong with this one and will remain so for a very long time.


2. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983, 2 hours 11 minutes, directed by Richard Marquand)- Yes, Ewoks are abound in this film and at the time the film was released they were thought of as only a marketing ploy but when viewing the movie as a whole they can now be seen as an integral part of why Jedi makes for such a fun adventure. Given the easier task of being the film that wraps up many loose ends, the film does an admirable job in providing the audience closure on many questions that were asked after Empire Strikes Back was released.

The film, which focuses on what would be at the time the final major skirmish between the Rebellion and Imperial Forces keeps the interest level high even when it has to narrow its view to the final Jedi training for Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill) and the incursion onto the moon of Endor. The action sequences hold up well even today but its the interaction again of all of our beloved crew, who have by this time become so familiar not only with their own characters but their compatriots as well makes for an interplay that brings out the most humor and delight of the series time and time again. It is also a tale of redemption, loss and of family that can still find a place in the hearts of the audience and provides an excellent closure for this trilogy of films. It could be easy to say before watching the film that “It’s a trap”, but it’s a great trap to fall into for audiences.


1. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes back (1980, 2 hours 4 minutes, directed by Irvin Kershner)- The film in the series that is the most critically lauded and with good reason as director Irvin Kershner provided a movie that could have brought the series to its knees but instead catapulted the franchise into a higher realm altogether with its fantastic array of story telling, exotic locations and surprises that have become a hallmark of the Star Wars saga itself. Casting a darker shadow, the Imperial Forces led by Darth Vader (portrayed on screen by David Prowse and voiced as always by James Earl Jones) bounce back from the defeat in Episode One to one up the Rebellion at every turn, whether its on the ice world of Hoth or the breathtakingly beautiful Cloud City.

The additions of Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) and Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) make the interplay even better as Luke Skywalker begins to better understand the Jedi universe through Yoda’s teachings and the complexities of the choices Lando must make as he decides to betray his friend or the mining operation and its people he has come to oversee. This film will always be highlighted as a peak in the series due to its dept combination of directorial prowess, excellent writing and acting and action sequences that fit seamless into the context of the film without overstaying its welcome. Search your feelings on this film for the truth because as a standard bearer for the Star Wars series The Empire Strikes Back will have its place at or near the top of fans’ lists for a long time to come.

So that’s one reviewer’s take on the juggernaut known as the Star Wars franchise. If you have thoughts on the series itself or would like to share memories of what the films have meant, feel free to leave your comments below or on our social media at Pop Culture Cosmos on Facebook or @popculturecosmo on Twitter. Enjoy the Star Wars films everyone and may the Force be with you…always.

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