Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Amazing. Every word of what you just said was wrong.

I was listening this morning to Mark Kermode's movie podcast, in which he and Jack Howard were, in the wake of the recent The Rise of Skywalker, ranking The Nine in order from worst to best. This seemed like a fun and mildly diverting thing to do, so for the hell of it, here is my order:

9. The Phantom Menace
Mark and Jack were divided only as to whether this was the worst or the second to worst, and for me there is no real contest. I think perhaps it's the terrible disappointment that I felt on seeing it that has stayed with me. Is it the movie's longeurs, two people sitting around talking about taxes? Is it Jar-Jar Binks? An annoying kid who shouts "yippeeee!"? The 'comedy' Gungans in general - Boss Nass and all? Perhaps the fact that the villains are utterly non-villanous (and speak in racist cod-Japanese accents), with the army of robots with one 'off' switch (Trade Federation - clearly they contracted their military to the lowest bidder). Awful. Just awful. Darth Maul is quite cool, but he gets about five minutes of screen time.
By the way - this is worth a listen: the talented Peter Serafinowicz, who did the voice for Darth Maul, telling the hysterical story of his own involvement with the movie, and how we all felt when we saw it for the first time.

8. Revenge of the Sith
I was surprised how highly Mark Kermode rated this one. I can't agree, even if Anakin killing the younglings is a moment of genuine shock. This was a truly terrible end to a truly terrible series of movies. It is so bad that it almost falls into 'so bad it's good' territory. Lightsabre escalation (this one has six blades, to shave you even closer!), Jedi being idiots, a universe that can replace people's limbs with cybernetics but can't perform a c-section... it has a lot of stupid things, but worst of all are Natalie Portman and especially Hayden Christiansen as Amidala and Anakin. It's like watching two coffee tables. "I have the high ground!" You so don't. What can one say except: "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

7. Attack of the Clones
Mark and Jack rated this lower than me, but only because I hated Revenge of the Sith more than them. This is tainted by all of the problems of the prequel trilogy - wooden acting, boring and meaningless dialogue, and - and this is a problem that isn't confined to the prequels - a complete nonsense of a plot. When the Clone Wars were mentioned in a throwaway line in A New Hope, they were a strange, mysterious thing that happened long in the past, and one could imagine almost anything. Lucas of course decided to remorselessly lay them out in front of us in the quest to build a new extension to Skywalker Ranch. But considering that they were just a word, think of the different directions he could have gone. How about senior politicians being replaced by cloned doppelgangers - infiltration agents from an insidious internal threat? No, instead we got an army of copies of Boba Fett's dad, fighting an army of robots - no tension, no emotional investment. And we had to sit through Amidala and Anakin's 'romance' (spare us!), and what the actual fuck was the factory sequence all about?
There were some good things - Christopher Lee, flying Yoda, some cool visuals. But it can't hide the emptiness at the heart of the movie and the trilogy. To those who say that Disney killed Star Wars - no, they didn't. George Lucas did.

6. The Rise of Skywalker
A month ago I might not have placed this quite so low, but the more I think about the movie, the less I like it. It's a theme park ride - exhilarating while you're sitting through it, but afterwards, you wonder why you did. Even though they had to rewrite because of Carrie Fisher's death, so much about the plot makes no sense whatsoever. A hidden planet that no-one can get to except via a flashing pyramid that can only be found using a serrated knife that only works from one vantage point, yet the planet has the largest - crewed - battle fleet in the galaxy and a stadium full of goths - how did they get there? There is no jeopardy - every time something exciting happens, it is narratively rewritten. Chewbacca is dead! - oh, no he isn't. C3PO's mind has beeen wiped! He got better. Poe's love interest sacrifices herself to save him! Lol no she's fine. And that rewriting is characteristic of the glaring flaw in the movie; it rewrites what happened in The Last Jedi. Now Rey is not everywoman, she is another of this bickering clan of space royalty. Bleah. What happened to Rose? What was Finn going to say? Why did Rey put Leia's lightsabre on Tattooine? Leia's only memory of the place was as the sex slave of a giant slug. A colossal missed opportunity, that feels like it was written by committee.

5. The Force Awakens
Possibly controversial to put this one so low (Solo?), but as with The Phantom Menace, I think it's about the disappointment I felt when I saw this at the cinema. There are some great bits. Seeing Han and Chewie and the Falcon again felt great. Luke throwing away the lightsabre at the end was a great ending. Rey, Finn and Poe are engaging characters. But. I don't share the love for Kylo Ren. He's a whiny teenager in a Darth Vader mask. And most of all - if you're going to make a Star Wars film, don't just remake the original. I mean, blowing up a Death Star? (Starkiller base, whatevs). FFS - haven't we done this to death already? I also find your lack of explanation disturbing. Who are the New Order - what happened to the New Republic? Can you really destroy a galactic Federation just by taking out half a dozen planets? WHAT IS GOING ON IN THIS MOVIE? What are the stakes? Is this the Empire reborn, or just a fascist insurgency? Tell us for God's sake!

4. Return of the Jedi
Everyone agrees that this is the weakest of the original trilogy, the only real question is - how bad is it compared to the sequel trilogy? It shows Lucas' descent into trying to capture a younger audience, that eventually reached its nadir in The Phantom Menace. Compared to that, the Ewoks are not too bad, but they are still annoying (we shall pass over Caravan of Courage and never speak of it again). The Force Awakens makes more narrative sense, but it doesn't have Leia in a slave girl outfit. Look, I was 17, okay?

3. The Last Jedi
I wanted to place this movie higher, because I really like what it did with the mythology. I won't hear the fanboy whingeing about Mary Poppins - Leia is Darth Vader's fucking daughter, for Chrissake - you think she can't do some Force tricks in extremis? The Rey plot arc is excellent. I love the fact that she is no-one and everyone - the Force wasn't supposed to be about monarchist bloodlines. It's in everyone and everything. Mark Hamil is great in this, especially at the ending, which is just brilliant. I like Benicio del Toro. Unfortunately, the Stupid is also quite strong in this. Why isn't Poe supposed to sacrifice himself to save the Rebellion? Why does the Empire need to bring a fucking big cannon down to the planet anyway? What's with the Casino scene? And Admiral Holdo's plan is crap, and she inspires a mutiny by refusing to tell anyone what it is, but Rose and Finn's isn't much better. Even so, Kylo Ren is much better in this film, and in general I think it's pretty good.

2. The Empire Strikes Back
This is a good movie - that's pretty well agreed upon, but is it the best? I can't quite say that, for two reasons. The first is the Dagobah training sequence, which feels too long and slows the action down. But the second is just that I love the first movie so much. Which of course brings me to...

1. A New Hope
I know that there are all kinds of flaws with this movie. Its pacing feels quite relaxed these days, which I think is what kills it for a younger generation; well it was made in 1976, I guess. But I was 11 when I watched it at Walsall ABC, and the initial shot of the star destroyer rumbling across the screen made myself and my friend Paul look at each other wide-eyed and literally go: "wow!" I know that my nostalgia clings to my memories of the film and perhaps stops me from examining it too closely. I know that it's a mashup of Hidden Fortress with the ending from 633 Squadron (those who say it is the Dambusters are simply wrong). I know it's Buck Rogers with a side order of samurai and space cowboys, and I don't care. It's still perfect and I can watch it over and over again. In spite of the name change that Lucas forced on it in 1981 when the obscene profits from this made him decide that there was going to be a trilogy of trilogies, for me it was and will always be... Star Wars.

For reference:
         My rating                                   Mark Kermode                        Jack Howard                     
1.      A New Hope                              The Last Jedi                          The Empire Strikes Back
2       The Empire Strikes Back           The Empire Strikes Back       The Last Jedi
3       The Last Jedi                              The Force Awakens               The Force Awakens
4       Return of the Jedi                       A New Hope                           A New Hope
5       The Force Awakens                    Revenge of the Sith                Return of the Jedi
6       The Rise of Skywalker               Return of the Jedi                   The Rise of Skywalker
7       Attack of the Clones                   The Rise of Skywalker           Revenge of the Sith
8       Revenge of the Sith                    The Phantom Menace             Attack of the Clones
9       The Phantom Menace                 Attack of the Clones               The Phantom Menace

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