Home Video Picks & Passes 12.25.16

A look at the past entries in the Star Wars saga.

(photo: Wikipedia)

The Empire Strikes Back [Ep. V] (1980) — PICK

Star Wars [Ep. IV – A New Hope] (1977) — PICK

Return of the Jedi [Ep. VI] (1983) — PICK

Revenge of the Sith [Ep. III] (2005) — PICK

The Force Awakens [Ep. VII] (2015) — PICK

Attack of the Clones [Ep. II] (2002) — PASS

The Phantom Menace [Ep. I] (1999) — PASS


This is my personal, not terribly original, ranking of the films from the best, The Empire Strikes Back, to the weakest, The Phantom Menace. As an aside, for non-fans, I invite you to read my essays “An American Mythology: Why Star Wars Still Matters” and “The Myth and Magic of Star Wars: Is It Over?” at DecentFilms.com.

The original Star Wars (Episode IV) is a brilliant fusion of Buck Rogers and King Arthur, drawing inspiration from Tolkien, Asian martial-arts cinema, Westerns, hot-rod culture and other sources.

But The Empire is the high point, with deeper emotions and more haunting themes. When people call Darth Vader Hollywood’s greatest villain or celebrate the romantic tension between Han and Leia, they’re thinking of this film.

Return of the Jedi is the somewhat anticlimactic finale to the original trilogy, not just because of the widely criticized Ewoks, but because the moral ideas aren’t well thought out. But the redemptive arc remains a bold stroke, and there are other impressive elements, such as Jabba and his entourage. Revenge of the Sith, the climax to the disappointing sequel trilogy, is indispensable for serious fans for its depiction of the fall of Anakin Skywalker and the thematic resonances with the original trilogy. And The Force Awakens is at least successful nostalgia.


Caveat Spectator: Stylized sci-fi violence: Whole space stations and even planets are blown up, so the death rate is high, if generally pretty bloodless — although II and especially III are more graphic and disturbing. VI is the one with the infamously revealing “slave Leia” golden bikini. Generally fine for older kids and up, except III.


Steven D. Greydanus is the film critic for the Register.