There’s perhaps no more beloved Star Wars character than Han Solo. The roguish rule breaker made famous by Harrison Ford was thus the perfect candidate to get his own standalone origin film. Although a host of production issues – including replacing directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord with Ron “Arrested Development Narrator” Howard – meant the film stands on some shaky foundations, it still delivers another solidly entertaining Star Wars adventure.
Of course, the movie centers around a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich), and the various adventures that made him the scoundrel we all know and love. We see how he meets Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), his first flight with the Millennium Falcon, and we even get to see that fabled Kessel Run first mentioned in the very first Star Wars movie.
The film begins with Han’s hard life on the planet Corellia, where we meet his first love interest, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). When it finally looks like Han and Qi’ra are free to get off the harsh planet, Qi’ra is caught by Imperial troops at the last minute. Thus Han begins his journey to become a great pilot to return to Corellia and find Qi’ra. Han first attempts this by joining the Imperial forces, but after flunking (due to not following orders), he decides to join a band of smugglers who are ready to pull off a major heist, one that could snag Han his own ship.
This ragtag band is comprised of Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), his wife Val (Thandie Newman), and a small, multi-armed monkey-man named Rio Durant (Jon Favreau). They are later joined by the aforementioned Lando Calrissian and his droid, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). But things grow complicated, and eventually Han and the gang find themselves serving a mob boss called Dryden Vos (Paul Bethany).
Appropriately, Solo: A Star Wars Story is a much simpler film than most other Star Wars fare, with galactic struggles of good and evil being replaced with a much smaller scale story of Han and company simply trying to survive the criminal underbelly of a certain corner of that galaxy. Because of this, Solo lacks much of the drama and depth of recent Star Wars features The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and even fellow anthology film Rogue One. While Solo may be lighter fare than its Star Wars kin, it nonetheless shares their adventurous spirit.
“Fun” is perhaps the key word to describe Solo. It lacks many of the fantasy elements of the series (no Jedi here) and instead solely focuses on the ‘movie serial’ quality of the franchise. It lacks in ambition, being the safest Star Wars movie since Disney’s acquisition of the series, but makes up for it in one thrilling set piece and action sequence after another.
That’s not to say that their aren’t a few bumps in the road along the way. As fun as Solo is, the film’s troubled production may be present at times, with the movie having somewhat inconsistent pacing. Not to mention some of the film’s best characters (Rio Durant) could have used some more screen time, while the film’s most obnoxious character (L3-37) gets way too much.
Though the biggest issue with Solo: A Star Wars Story goes back to its sense of complacency and its unambitious nature. Solo is a fun movie throughout, and certainly a solid effort at delivering what it promises (a little detour of the series focused on a single, beloved character), but it’s also the first of these recent Star Wars films to not feel ‘special.’ At least not within the context of being a Star Wars film. I suppose the fact that it’s a big-budget crowd pleaser that doesn’t involve super heroes is a special achievement in its own right in this day and age.
If all you’re looking for is a good time at the movies, and a thrilling adventure that happens to take place in a certain galaxy far, far away, then Solo: A Star Wars Story easily delivers. But you might want to downplay your expectations if you’re looking for the next Star Wars classic.
With that said, we do get to see Chewbacca kick all kinds of ass. And that’s always a lovely, lovely thing.
Okay, another May the 4th, another day I missed the opportunity to write some meaningful Star Wars content. I promise I’ll get to reviewing every Star Wars movie, writing opinion pieces on aspects of the movies, and complain about how toxic the fanbase has become.
So in the interim, I hope you just enjoy this celebratory post of all things Star Wars. But yeah, I do promise to do my best to get to all my planned Star Wars content at some point. So yeah, I hope you look forward to that, and also hope you’re a sensible Star Wars fan who can accept the franchise as the children’s science-fantasy series that it is, and don’t try to hack a new Star Wars movie’s metascore because it undoes those crappy expanded universe novels from way back when.
Let’s all raise a glass of blue milk in honor of this timeless franchise about magic, space samurai and arms/hands getting lopped off.
Happy Star Wars Day, everyone! May the fourth be with you!
Wow. I mean, wow. I had high expectations for The Last Jedi, seeing how much I love The Force Awakens and how I greatly enjoyed Rogue One. But I was not expecting it to exceed my expectations as much as it did. Go ahead and call me hyperbolic, but I think it was probably the best all-around Star Wars film yet made.
Yes, I know that’s a bold statement. But I’m not usually one to be so quick at making such bold statements, so when I do, it’s kind of a big deal for me. Definitely a sign that whatever I’m making the bold statement about left an impression on me. And boy, did The Last Jedi leave an impression on me.
The Force Awakens was a return to form for the series, and introduced a great new cast of characters while re-introducing us to the ones we’ve loved since the originals (and wisely ignoring the prequels for the most part). As far as I’m concerned, The Force Awakens went toe-to-toe with The Empire Strikes Back, but right now, I think The Last Jedi betters both of those Star Wars greats.
I’m not going to go into details here, as to not spoil anything and to save most of my thoughts for a proper review. But I will say that the film opens with arguably the best space battle in the series. Usually, the space battle comes towards the end of a Star Wars film, but here you get it right off the bat, and it’s amazing. And the film just keeps it up from then on out. The LAst Jedi has the longest running time of any Star Wars film, but it’s consistently entertaining throughout its entirety.
Better still, The Last Jedi continues the great strides in character development started in The Force Awakens, with Rey and Kylo Ren in particular growing more as characters, and might even already be the two best-developed characters in the series.
I also can’t wait to see how fanboys will find the stupidest reasons to hate The Last Jedi due to it not being a part of their childhood nostalgia, while also trying to rewrite history and pretend that the prequels were ever any good. You know it’s going to happen. No matter how good these new Star Wars movies get (and they’ve been great so far), Star Wars nerds will find any reason to whine. Oh well, their loss.
Seriously, I can’t say enough good things about The Last Jedi. There are a couple of little gripes I have with certain character and story elements (which I can’t reveal here), but they’re inconsequential compared to how much the film does right. This was seriously one of the most entertaining moviegoing experiences I’ve ever had. I might even say it’s my favorite movie since Pixar’s Inside Out. I simply enjoyed The Last Jedi from start to finish. It’s entertaining, emotional, and captures that Star Wars magic perhaps better than any of its predecessors.
Whatever the filmmakers have in store for Episode IX, they have a hell of an act to follow.
*This post contains spoilers for both The Force Awakens and Rogue One!*
You know what I’m sick of? Hearing Star Wars fans constantly put down The Force Awakens while touting the supposed superiority of Rogue One. Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Rogue One. But if I’m going to be honest, I thought it was the weakest non-prequel trilogy Star Wars film, while I felt The Force Awakens deserves to be ranked alongside The Empire Strikes Back as one of the series’ best entries. Again, I liked Rogue One, and hopefully by the time I’m done writing this, I won’t appear to be too dismissive of it.
I’ll save some of my more specific praises and quibbles for when I review the individual Star Wars movies. For now, I just want to write about why I think The Force Awakens is a vastly better movie than the almost-strangely beloved Rogue One.
Now, if I were to completely simplify this, my main complaints with the pro-Rogue One, anti-Force Awakens crowd can be summed up exactly as you might imagine, given the audience in question: Virtually none of their complaints are rooted in storytelling or filmmaking critiques, and are instead (as expected), little more than nerdish nitpicking.
For example, most of the people who cry foul at The Force Awakens will praise Rogue One for “reminding everyone that Star Wars is about war, and that the Galaxy isn’t all about the Skywalker family.”
Here’s the thing about that, Star Wars was always about the Skywalker family. These people seem to forget that Star Wars started its life as a singular movie. A movie about Luke Skywalker, that eventually expanded into a series about Luke and, subsequently, his father Anakin.
Yes, there is more going on in the Star Wars Galaxy than just the Skywalker family, and one of the great things about the Star Wars franchise is that it has a well-developed mythology going for it. But these fans seem to have become so engrossed in the many “expanded universe” aspects of the Star Wars franchise, that they’ve forgotten the heart and soul of the franchise (that is to say, the film series) isn’t an encyclopedia of the Galaxy far, far away, but a narrative focused on a select number of characters within said galaxy.
What I’m getting at is, if you want to find out the history of some random background character, or read up on Jedi history, or get the finer details of the many battles in the Galaxy, you have plenty of other sources to get such information. The movies are just that, movies. They have stories they need to tell, and can’t get bogged down by over-explaining a bunch of needless details about their universe just to appease fanboys.
With that said, I’m not trying to rag on Rogue One for telling a side-story within the Star Wars universe. I have nothing against the idea of spinoff Star Wars films. But the way so many Star Wars fans get irritated by the fact that The Force Awakens’ plot was centered on Luke Skywalker is ridiculous. Of course the Skywalker family was at the center of the story (even if they weren’t the main characters this time). It was the seventh episode in a saga that’s always been about them. Don’t fault it for not straying outside of the characters who have always been at the heart of the narrative.
Another complaint you’ll hear all the time from Star Wars fans targeted at The Force Awakens is how it was “a copy of the original Star Wars” (that is to say, Episode IV). While I fully admit that some of the similarities in plot were the shortcoming of The Force Awakens, it had more than enough differences in story and characters to give it its own identity. Hell, if The Force Awakens were a direct copy of A New Hope (which it isn’t), I’d argue that it’s actually the better version of it. The writing is better, the characters have more depth, and the acting is most definitely an improvement (the one look Mark Hamill gives at the end of The Force Awakens is better delivered than any of his dialogue from A New Hope).
It’s even a bit ironic that the same people who complain that The Force Awakens is too much like A New Hope are also so quick to praise Rogue One, a film in which the entire story just serves as an opening chapter to the plot of A New Hope. It literally is the same story, and ends with the beginning of the original film.
Again, I’m not trying to write-off Rogue One in the same way that so many Star Wars fans try to write-off The Force Awakens (despite having nothing but good things to say about it just over a year ago). I definitely like how Rogue One retconned the nature of the Death Star’s weakness (thus putting an end to all jokes of the competence of the Empire’s engineers), and I appreciate how – unlike George Lucas when making the prequels – the filmmakers actually seemed to have watched A New Hope multiple times to keep continuity (when Alderaan was destroyed in Episode IV, it was the first use of the Death Star’s full power. Sure enough, whenever the Death Star is used in Rogue One, they make a point to mention that they’re only sampling its strength). Point being, I like what Rogue One did with its connections to A New Hope, but don’t rag on The Force Awakens for its similarities to A New Hope when Rogue One is literally A New Hope’s previously unseen first act.
Things don’t end here though, as it seems The Force Awakens’ naysayers often criticise the characters of Episode VII, once again without so much an insight on storytelling, so much as throwing out buzzwords they probably heard on some clickbait articles. And once again, with more than a little bit of an irony, since the characters are the main weakness of Rogue One, whereas they’re one of The Force Awakens’ biggest strengths.
The popular target seems to be Rey, the main character of The Force Awakens, whom disgruntled Star Wars nerds like to describe as a “Mary Sue” (again, buzzwords). People often like to claim that Rey magically learns the Force and is able to do anything without even trying (it’s almost as if the Force is like magic or something).
There are a number of problems with these claims. To point out the obvious hypocrisy, Luke Skywalker learned the ways of the Force and how to use a lightsaber basically by conversing with Obi-Wan for a few hours. Now, I’m certainly not trying to knock down A New Hope, one of the most influential – and one of my favorite – films of all time. But you can’t claim Rey’s fast ascension with the Force is a problem and turn a blind eye that the exact same thing happened with Luke Skywalker. The whole point is that Rey, much like Luke, is exceptionally powerful with the Force. Ergo, they learn the ways of the Force much faster than most. Their status of being exceptional Force users is kind of the whole point of their characters.
So people like to claim that Rey “magically” learns everything, and is inexperienced in lightsaber combat when she defeats Kylo Ren – a master of the Dark Side of the Force – in a duel towards the end of The Force Awakens. But there are a number of reasons why these complaints are – as is often the case with Star Wars – little more than fans overreacting.
I already touched on the fact that Rey is supposed to be exceptionally powerful with the Force, and like all stories where the main character is particularly gifted in magic, said character learns their abilities quickly.
More notably in Rey’s case, we still have two more movies on the horizon that will explain more about her character. There are still places for her to go, and secrets about her to be revealed. Don’t be surprised if she’s revealed to be the “Chosen One” who has been brought up in virtually every Star Wars film, but never actually realized (Luke was never revealed as such in Return of the Jedi, after all). So we still have apt time for explanations for why Rey learns the Force so quickly. Maybe, just maybe, people shouldn’t get ahead of themselves just so they can complain about something.
Another aspect to point out is that The Force Awakens doesn’t treat Rey like an expert in everything she’s doing. She’s just as taken aback as anyone by her powers. She’s someone who’s exceptionally powerful with the Force, but is surprised by her power. It doesn’t just make her out as someone who automatically knows the solution to every dilemma (that would be a Mary Sue).
Most importantly, Rey actually has a character. She’s shown to have dimensions and depth, she actually has worries and concerns (sometimes to her detriment, like wanting to stay on a junk planet to hopelessly wait for someone from her past to return).
Compare this to Jyn Erso, the heroine of Rogue One, who doesn’t have many defining character traits outside of being the daughter of a scientist coerced into the Empire’s forces. She has a decent enough opening backstory – being adopted by a Rebel extremist after the Empire takes her father and kills her mother – but she really doesn’t have much to speak of in terms of personality or depth. She just comes off as a character passing through the story. Sadly, the same can be said about most of the members of Rogue One (save for K-2S0, the droid of all characters).
Yes, we do see some different shades of the Rebellion in Rogue One (like when Cassian – Rogue One’s eventual captain – kills his informant in cold blood, revealing a previously unseen side to the good guys of Star Wars), and we get to see a more ruthless Rebel leader in Saw Gerrera. That’s a great change of pace for the Star Wars franchise, to be sure, but while Rogue One succeeds in giving the Rebellion some depth, it struggles to do so with its main characters, and outright doesn’t even try with its villains.
Now, Star Wars has largely had archetypal characters since day one. But the movies always managed to bring out a lot of personality and depth out of them. And though not all of Star Wars’ villains have shared in that (Boba Fett and Darth Maul, despite being fan favorites, really didn’t do anything other than look cool), The Force Awakens actually managed to create one of the series’ most fleshed-out villains in Kylo Ren, who is – ironically enough – often the subject of ridicule by the same old critics.
Kylo Ren was something akin to an inverse Anakin Skywalker. While Anakin was a Jedi who was seduced by the dark side of the Force, Kylo Ren is a master of the dark side (they never quite referred to him as a Sith) who is tempted by the light side of the Force. He was the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa/Skywalker, and the grandson of Darth Vader. He wishes to become more powerful than Darth Vader, while trying to avoid what he perceives as Vader’s downfall (his last minute turn to the light to save his son). So Kylo Ren is a villain who’s trying to prove his worth to himself and his cause, while also showing a level of insecurity that usually only the good guys display.
Of course, many fans are quick to point out Kylo Ren’s “temper tantrums” as reasons why the character is supposedly not a compelling villain (yet these same people swear by Boba Fett who, again, never really did much of note). The thing is, these so-called “temper tantrums” go back to my ‘inverse Darth Vader’ statement. As any Star Wars fan knows, when one of Vader’s lackeys failed to do their job, Vader simply strangled them for their failures. Kylo Ren instead shows a level of restraint, and when given bad news by one of his men, will take his anger out by destroying some equipment and breaking a few things, instead of killing his henchmen in cold blood. He may be trying his damnedest to surrender himself to the dark side, but he’s still not there yet, and can’t bring himself to kill his own men.
That’s called inner conflict within the character. That’s interesting.
Let’s compare that to Rogue One’s baddie, Director Orson Krennic. Though the character is well-acted by Ben Mendelsohn, Krennic ends up being a huge missed opportunity. As stated, Rogue One does a great job at showing an ugly side to the Rebellion, yet it showcases the Empire as more cartoonishly evil than ever.
Rogue One had the chance to show an Imperial higher-up who wasn’t simply doing what he did “because evil.” It would have been nice to see an Imperial villain who maybe believed what he was doing was right, instead of simply delighting in causing destruction and death across the Galaxy.
The disappointing thing is, Rogue One almost hints at such a character in its opening moments through a quick dialogue exchange. “We were this close to providing peace and security for the Galaxy.” Krennic tells a defiant Galen Erso, who responds with “You’re confusing peace with terror.” It’s a brief bit of dialogue that suggests Krennic may actually believe what he’s doing is ultimately for a greater good, no matter how terrible it may seem (and indeed is). But then the film fails to follow-up on that moment in regards to Krennic’s character, who instead remarks on how beautiful the destruction of a city is when they test the Death Star’s power on it.
That’s really where the great fault with Rogue One lies: the characters. Though The Force Awakens had some character missteps (the underutilized Captain Phasma being the most obvious example, but at least she has two chances to be redeemed in the sequels), it managed to make most of them memorable additions to the franchise. Aside from the snarky K-2S0, none of Rogue One’s characters end up amounting to much more than what their introductions present us with.
Chirrut Îmwe, for example, is a blind man, but can fight because of his skills with the Force. And that’s pretty much all there is to say about him. Meanwhile, Bodhi Rook, the Imperial pilot turned Rebel, is so bland you’ll probably forget he’s even a part of the team.
This proves especially detrimental due to Rogue One’s ending. Now, I’m not about to rag on the third act of Rogue One, because I think it’s brilliantly executed, and arguably the best “last ten minutes” of any Star Wars film. Seeing every last member of Rogue One meet their end (some in a blaze of glory, others in tragically unceremonious ways) is an effective and moving ending. But it would have been all the more effective and moving if the two-plus hours beforehand had really made us care about this band of Rebel misfits for reasons other than that they’re the main characters.
Think of how impactful Han Solo’s death in The Force Awakens was (even if we saw it coming). As soon as Han Solo died, the film reached an emotional crescendo. Sure, it’s easy to say that Han Solo is a classic character who many of us have loved since we were kids, but the fact of the matter is we loved him in the first place because of how well-realised he was as a character. As great as Rogue One’s ending is, it’s a big emotional ending to a lot of characters who previously didn’t give us a whole lot of emotional resonance.
Okay, by now I probably am sounding dismissive of Rogue One. But that’s only because the whole reason for writing this post is to point out why I don’t think it’s as good as The Force Awakens, which most Star Wars fans seem to disagree on (though it seems like most movie critics are more on the same boat as me, if that means anything). The Force Awakens isn’t a perfect movie, either (as stated, there are indeed maybe a few too many similarities to A New Hope, even if fans exaggerate them, and Captain Phasma probably should have waited to show up in Episode VIII, where she’ll hopefully have more to do). But with the way so many Star Wars fans talk about The Force Awakens, you’d think it were some kind of plague.
Star Wars fans seem to love Rogue One because of how it shows that there’s more to the Star Wars universe than just the Skywalker story, and how it showcases various little details about the Galaxy far, far away that broaden its world-building and revive memories of the expanded universe (my friends still mention how a Hammerhead from Knights of the Old Republic shows up). That’s all well and dandy, but these elements don’t make a better movie. They just adhere to hardcore fans who read all the books, watch the TV shows, and so forth. They aren’t elements that improve storytelling.
In the end, Rogue One is a fun entry in the Star Wars franchise that serves as a great introduction to these new Star Wars offshoots. But The Force Awakens gave us more compelling characters, more memorable dialogue, and better editing and pacing (the “Bor Gullet” scene in Rogue One should have been left out entirely, considering its a subplot that goes absolutely nowhere).
It seems like fans’ insistence of Rogue One’s superiority over The Force Awakens is rooted more in its placement and setting in the Star Wars universe – which branches out the fanservice a bit – as opposed to more legitimate and insightful critiques on the storytelling.
I greatly enjoyed Rogue One. But to put it simply, The Force Awakens is a better movie.
It’s May the Fourth! Star Wars Day! The day in which we celebrate all things Star Wars (except the prequels… and those Ewoks TV movies). I was unsure what to write about to celebrate the occasion. I was tempted to write reviews for some of the Star Wars films, or write a blog about why – contrary to many Star Wars fans – I greatly prefer The Force Awakens over Rogue One. But I think I’ll save those for another day (soon).
Earlier today, I found this video in my recommendations on YouTube. It’s a video of an old television appearance by film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, who defend the Star Wars films from a rather prudish critic who is less enthusiastic about the franchise.
This video inspired me to write about something that I actually intended to write some time ago: Why Star Wars is so special, even in a time when fantasy and sci-fi blockbusters are no longer as rare as they were when Star Wars first made its impact.
Critics of the Star Wars franchise often deride the series for being “all about the special effects” (much like the prudish critic in the above video does, as he makes an incoherent analogy about a dog’s tail to go with it). While it’s true the visual effects of Star Wars were revolutionary, the real treat about Star Wars is its imagination.
All the visual polish in the world wouldn’t mean a damn thing if what it brought to life had nothing to it (just look at all the visual effects movies today that fall by the wayside). What makes Star Wars stand out so much is the imagination at play in its world.
There are countless aliens and creatures, many of which are truly original and inspired to behold. Considering the closest thing Star Wars has to a rival is Star Trek, a series in which the majority of aliens just look like people with varying odd-looking foreheads, the fact that Star Wars was able to bring to life so many unbelievable creatures made it captivating to audiences.
The “wow, look a that” factor, prominent as it may be, is probably the least of Star Wars’ imaginative triumphs. The world (or should I say Galaxy?) of the series is a unique blending of genres that creates something truly original.
Because of Star Wars’ popularity, we often take for granted how inspired its setting is. People who refer to Star Wars as “sci-fi” are only looking at things from face value. Sure, it’s set in outer space, and many of its machines look like something we can only imagine being products of the distant future. But Star Wars, from the offset with the immortal words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” immediately informs us that it’s more akin to fairy tale than science fiction.
Jedi like Luke Skywalker and Obi-wan Kenobi, as well as Sith such as Darth Vader, are more or less wizards and sorcerers. The Force is their magic, and the heart of the series’ mythology. We also have princesses, animal sidekicks (Chewbacca), and robots who have more personality than real-life humans. If Star Wars were strictly sci-fi, an uppity, whiny droid like C3-P0 could never exist. But with the fantasy and fairy tale elements in play, we can happily embrace the idea of a robot who cracks jokes and has panic attacks.
Star Wars isn’t just sci-fi and fantasy, either. It also has elements of westerns and samurai films, as well as war dramas. It’s a franchise that takes all these radically different pieces, and puts them all together in a coherent whole. Very few franchises even come close to pulling such a thing off.
Of course, these things still wouldn’t mean much if Star Wars weren’t also compelling films in their own right. Though the prequels certainly leave a glaring blemish on the franchise, as a whole, there’s a reason why the Star Wars films have remained the most influential of blockbusters.
I wouldn’t often use the word “purity” to describe the appeal of a film, but I think it’s incredibly fitting when describing Star Wars. Not pure in the sense that it’s completely void of evil (this is a series in which the galaxy is ruled by a lightning-throwing sorcerer). I mean pure in the sense that it has no ulterior agenda. It’s a simple story of good and evil that adopts the iconic “hero’s journey” structure of the myths of old, and uses its wildly original world to introduce us to memorable characters.
Though the likes of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo may be a bit archetypal, they easily stand out over any other characters of their ilk by the simple touches the films (and actors) gave to them. Whatever similar characters existed beforehand have long-since been rendered obsolete. Anyone else who fits into such archetypes is now compared to those found in Star Wars, who are unlikely to be displaced from their pedestals.
Another aspect that makes Star Wars so appealing is that it is a film series anyone can enjoy. In the above video, Siskel and Ebert (rightfully) defend Star Wars’ placement as a children’s film, whereas their opponent John Simon derides it for its childlike elements.
The thing is, Star Wars works because it’s a children’s film, but one that doesn’t talk down to children. It’s fun and imaginative, and littered with memorable characters that could appeal to anyone. It’s the kind of film a kid can (and will) easily enjoy, and the adult sitting next to them can enjoy every bit as much.
A lot of Star Wars fans don’t want to admit that it was always a series aimed largely at children, but that’s exactly what’s allowed it to endure. If Star Wars were a series aimed squarely at science fiction enthusiasts, it’s hard to imagine it would have anywhere near the level of timelessness that it does. Many people (such as myself) have grown up with Star Wars, and new generations are continuously doing the same. It’s a film series made for kids, and because of that, it has managed to break age barriers and be appreciated on a universal level.
In the video, Ebert and Siskel also mention how, back in the early 80s, younger audiences really didn’t have a whole lot of options when it came to quality entertainment. Most kids movies at the time were dumbed down, because they were made for kids. Star Wars, on the other hand, gave children a whole mythology to embrace. It captivated audiences’ imaginations, and continues to do so to this day.
In this day and age, children do have a few more options when it comes to quality entertainment, due in large part to the influence Star Wars had on filmmaking. But while Star Wars may continue to be endlessly imitated, its only really been duplicated by, well, more Star Wars movies.
It’s true, Marvel has put out some great family entertainment, as have a few other studios and franchises. But really, the only better family films around are all in the realms of animation. Disney has been on a hot streak in recent years, Pixar’s resume speaks for itself, and Studio Ghibli sits at the very peak of this mountain. Outside of such animated endeavors, however, Star Wars is virtually inapproachable in its imagination and appeal. Though Star Wars’ storytelling may not boast the sophistication of Pixar or Ghibli, its execution in storytelling easily stands above any of its live-action peers. Even Marvel’s best haven’t come close to being as captivatingly imaginative as Star Wars’ galaxy far, far away.
That’s not to say that the Star Wars films are perfect, of course. Even my favorites of the lot (Empire Strikes Back and The Force Awakens) have some issues. But anything the (non-prequel) Star Wars films may slip-up on, they more than make up for with the purity of their imagination and storytelling. And that’s why it has drawn in so many fans in a way very few – if any – franchises have.
Why so many people love Star Wars shouldn’t even be a question. The real question is why wouldn’t we love Star Wars so much?
Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer was quite the novelty in its day. It was one of the first games to be based on the then-new Phantom Menace, the first and least-terrible of the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Little did we know that, for the next few years, pretty much every Star Wars game would be based on the prequels. But, at the time, everyone was excited to see what Episode 1 could bring to the world of gaming.
Much like watching The Phantom Menace today, if you play Episode 1 Racer in this day and age, you’d probably wonder what all the hype was about. Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer is simply an empty racing game that has little replay value.
I seem to have a tendency to frown on Nintendo 64 titles when revisiting them, but that’s simply because the Nintendo 64 is the most poorly-aged of all Nintendo’s consoles, with only a handful of titles standing the test of time. Episode 1 Racer is just another example of an N64 title that has succumbed to age.
The premise is simple enough: take the high-octane and largely unnecessary Podracing sequence of The Phantom Menace, and make a game out of it. On paper, it’s not an idea that’s doomed from the start. But the game was clearly rushed out in order to promote (and capitalize off of) the release of the movie, as there’s basically nothing to it.
On the plus side, you have a wide range of characters to choose from (all of the wacky aliens who took part in the Podrace of the movie are present), though most of them have to be unlocked. Each character has a different Pod with different stats, so there’s a little variety with the characters.
The downside is that the racetracks are so incredibly bland that the variety of characters really don’t matter. The stages all feel empty, and all you basically do is drive through them and avoid a few obstacles here and there, all while fighting those dreaded sharp turns. There are no items, no boosts, nothing that makes the gameplay standout from any other generic racer.
It also doesn’t help that the game is just ugly to look at. I know, some will say it “looked good for its time,” but the fact of the matter is the outdated visuals work against the game. The environments have trouble loading, with turns and obstacles only showing up when you’re right on top of them, which is a real hassle, seeing as how all of the vehicles move so fast. It all just looks blurry, and makes things like turns hard to see. You’ll find yourself crashing more because of the visuals than player error.
Along with the visuals, the audio is another issue with the game, mainly because it largely isn’t present. Like most Star Wars games, Episode 1 Racer uses music from the film it’s based, but for the most part, the races are completely silent, and when the music is present, it’s so quiet you’ll barely notice it (which is a shame, because the soundtrack was one of The Phantom Menace’s few highlights).
Another issue is that there’s very little penalty for crashing. Within a second, you’re placed in the exact same spot where you crashed, and you pick up full speed immediately, so you can basically crash several times during a race and still come out victorious with little struggle (in fact, I did exactly that on a few different instances). A lot of people complain with how long it takes Lakitu to bring players back into a race in Mario Kart, but that actually makes sense. If you perform badly, why shouldn’t therr be a penalty for it?
Episode 1 Racer as a whole is just way too easy. On top of the lack of any real obstacles or stage gimmicks, and the generous “punishment” for crashing, the computer AI is so easy it’s pathetic. As stated above, I managed to win several races even after crashing multiple times. And they weren’t close races, either. I never even saw any of my opponents after the first few seconds of a race (with a few exceptions of lapping them). You do have the option of playing the game with a friend, which at least makes the game more playable, but you won’t exactly get a lot of fun out of it.
Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer may have seemed like something special at the time of its release, but it has definitely aged poorly. It lacks depth and polish in its mechanics and stage design, and just feels so empty and generic. Perhaps Sebulba sabotaged the developers?
Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (more commonly referred to as Super Empire Strikes Back) is the second entry in the SNES’ Super Star Wars trilogy. Being the video game adaptation of the most critically-praised Star Wars film, Super Empire probably comes with the most expectations of the lot. And while it does bring a few cool additions to the table, it still suffers from some of its predecessor’s shortcomings.
Gameplay-wise, Super Empire follows the same basic formula as the first Super Star Wars. It’s still a tough-as-nails action-platformer that sees Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca fighting hordes of enemies and giant bosses in levels that faithfully recreate events from the movie. But Super Empire Strikes Back does add a bit more variety to the gameplay.
While the 2D platforming stages make up the brunt of the levels, others work as horizontal shooters, and some even take on a quasi-3D perspective (the efforts being admirable for 16-bit hardware, though age has only made the graphical limitations more unpleasant to the eyes in these 3D stages). Even the traditional platforming stages have more variety, with even the first level seeing Luke mounting a Tauntaun for greater speed and jump distance.
Simply put, Super Empire Strikes Back finds ways to keep the action fresh as the game progresses, with players also able to find hidden Force spells for Luke and weapon upgrades for Han and Chewy.
The action is as fun as ever, with the Han and Chewbacca stages being satisfying for simply being able to blast everything non-stop, while Luke’s stages featuring trickier platforming and combat (though the fact that Luke starts the game out with his Lightsaber this time means he can use his ever-useful double jump attack from the get-go).
On the downside, Super Empire Strikes Back, like its predecessor, is not a game for everyone for the simple reason that it is insanely difficult. Once again, there’s no learning curve to speak of, with the earliest levels immediately throwing swarms of enemies at the player (including dreadful Wumpa Ice Beasts, which can freeze Luke with their ice breath, leaving him vulnerable to an onslaught of attacks for an overly-long period of time). You can still pick up hearts from enemies, but like the last game, the enemies are so frequent and respawn so suddenly that it hardly makes a difference.
The thermal detonator is just as disappointing of an item as it was in the last game. It has the ability to wipe out every on-screen enemy once it’s picked up, but it still has a small window of time to be used, not to mention most of the enemies it destroys will respawn seconds later, making it almost pointless.
The boss fights can also be a pain. Many of the bosses provide a good, fun challenge, with a notable improvement in consistency with the first few boss fights in this game as opposed to the first few bosses in Super Star Wars. Others, however, are just ridiculously difficult. One stage sees Luke ascending an AT-AT, with the AT-AT’s head being the boss fight of the stage, complete with three canons that fire ion lasers relentlessly. Supposedly, you’re supposed to deflect the ion lasers back at the canons, but that’s incredibly hard to do when jetpacking Stormtroopers are constantly raining fire down on you as well. The only way I managed to defeat this boss was because I happened to get lucky and one Stormtrooper dropped a Thermal Detonator, making this just about the only time said item really came in handy.
What’s most aggravating about the difficulty, however, are the more unfair aspects of the levels. One blind jump in a platformer is one too many, but Super Empire Strikes Back houses a good few of them on the first stage alone. There are just too many instances where it’s unclear what you can jump on and what you can’t, and too many areas where you can’t see where you’re leaping to. It makes an already difficult game downright frustrating.
To make matters worse, you only have so many lives to start with, and only three continues. If you run out of these, you have to go back to the beginning of the game! Thankfully, Super Empire features a password system, which makes progression more bearable.
Still, there is fun to be had with Super Empire Strikes Back. The action is fun a lot of the time, the graphics are very detailed and quite impressive for the time. The synthesized version of Empire’s iconic score is another highlight, with the title screen’s version of the Imperial March giving you a sense of the game’s faithfulness to its source material right out the gate.
It’s just that, for everything Super Empire Strikes Back gets right, it still suffers from the alienating difficulty of the first title. Star Wars diehards who are up for a heavy challenge may feel welcome to Super Empire, but everyone else might get fed up with it quickly.