Catching up on Star Wars:

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or actually have a real life), you probably are aware that the latest chapter in creator George Lucas’s Star Wars saga, Episode II: Attack of the Clones, is set to hit theatres on May 16. Given my adoration for the films (I may be the only HBS student who willingly houses a life-sized Yoda at SFP), I’ve eagerly approached several classmates in an attempt to stir up a sense of comradery and general debate about the films. Shockingly, I discovered that many students have not seen the previous films, vaguely recall them from childhood, or generally think I’m from another planet (e.g., Hoth, Tatooine, Dagobah, Texas). In response, I’ve laid out a quick overview of the four installments and strongly suggest hitting your local video store (or favorite on-line sharing service) to brush up on (or discover for the first time) the magic of Star Wars prior to diving into the Episode II.

Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
Largely exposition, Episode I: The Phantom Menace, details the origins of several key characters in the saga, most notably, Anakin Skywalker, who the audience meets as a 10 year old boy blessed with once-in-a-millennium talents. Upon overcoming the disbelief that this bright-eyed boy one day morphs into the sinister Darth Vader (see Episodes IV-VI), the audience is led along at a crawl, as Lucas methodically introduces character after character while scrambling around a thin plot involving trade blockades and tension within the galactic governing body. While exposition is essential in most epics, Lucas realizes the dryness of this convention and, unfortunately, resorts to a more childish rendering of the movie’s details. One example is the introduction of an all-computer generated character, Jar Jar Binks, through which Lucas makes a fumbled attempt at comic relief. Since the film’s release, Star Wars aficionados have lambasted Jar Jar, leading Lucas to assure fans of the character’s diminished role in Episode II. This is a blessing and ranks as perhaps the top reason to renew your hope in the series.

Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
Cheesy title aside, the new film promises more story, less Jar Jar, and a good excuse to waste two hours after RC finals on May 16.

Episode III: Title TBD
Pre-production has begun. Few details are known, but expect a dark narrative that relays the downfall of Anakin and the birth of Darth Vader.

Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
The chapter that started it all, A New Hope introduced audiences across the world to the general whininess of a young Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the bravado of galactic scoundrel Han Solo (Harrison Ford), the purity and determination of Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and the sinister evil of Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones). Though often noted for its breakthroughs in sound and visual effects, the true impact of Episode IV is really felt in its enchanting story of good versus evil, personal growth, and ultimate sacrifice. Not surprisingly, Episode IV remains the most popular of the films, boasting the number two spot in all-time box office receipts behind James Cameron’s Titanic.

Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Taking a darker turn (much like the transformation of Darth Vader), Episode V chronicles the maturation of Luke Skywalker as he begins to realize his potential to restore order to the galaxy. For Episode V, Lucas passed the director’s reigns to Irvin Kershner, who effectively guides the audience through the difficult decisions facing those with talent. For example, Luke is tempted by opportunities to leverage his skills for his own gain yet to the detriment of others (sounds like an LVDM case) while learning more than he bargained for about his past and its implications on his future. The film is wrought with symbolism that transcends time and genre, as the audience itself struggles with the wrenching decisions Luke has to make. The film ends with many unanswered questions, prompting many moviegoers at the time to discount the film’s merit. Upon reflection, however, Episode V remains the most thought-provoking, mature, and polished installment of the series.

Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
Originally titled Revenge of the Jedi (until a young fan wrote Lucas asking him why the stoic order of the Jedi are motivated by “revenge”), Episode VI is filled with action, effects, and a bunch of Muppets (i.e., Ewoks) that provide an entertaining conclusion to the series. Partially in response to audience backlash from the film noir overtures of the Empire Strikes Back, Episode VI lightens things up a bit, installs more humor, and provides the happy ending audiences craved since the end of Episode IV. While not a bad film (e.g., the climax in which Darth Vader reconciles his life’s choices is brilliant), Return of the Jedi at times seems a bit dumbed-down for the audience that grew up with Episodes IV and V. Perhaps Lucas was attempting to tap into the next generation of fans (Muppets seem to have that effect on kids) while keeping enough meat in the film to satisfy his legacy audience.