It was not a great use of time, but I watched all 15 hours and 32 minutes of Star Wars I-VII before going to the theater with the family for Star Wars VIII, and here are a few thoughts (SAFE AT FIRST, THEN SPOILERS):

Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace. On seeing it again, the best part was the opening fanfare and crawl. “The franchise will live!” I thought . . . and everything was downhill from there.

Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones. Now after seeing it again, my favorite scene is the closing: Anakin and Padme’s wedding, with C3PO and R2D2 as witnesses. Why my favorite? Because the music foreshadows the tragedy and, more importantly, the bride and groom speak no words. Thus they save us from more dialogue like the earlier: “Now that I’m with you again, I’m in agony.”

Star Wars III:  Revenge of the Sith. Now we’re getting somewhere. It’s not so good, but at least we find out why Darth Vader turned out to be the baddest guy in the galaxy. The best scenes are the ones that link him to Star Wars IV.

Star Wars IV: A New Hope. Woohoo! Somebody just opened the creative windows in a stuffy oppressive room (so to speak), and a fresh breeze is blowing in. What else from 1977 holds up so well as this movie?

Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back. Another great film, in which a running time of just over two hours gets us action, romance, Yoda and the big reveal: Darth Vader is Luke’s father! (I was one of the three people in a packed Birmingham, Alabama, theater who did not see that coming.) And the scene still shocks me on the Blu-Ray replay, even though I know every line.

Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi. Nice film to wrap up the Darth Vader story line. The franchise is getting a little tired by now, but seeing the characters again makes it worthwhile. The scene where Luke tells Leia she’s his sister, the pyre on which Vader’s body burns, and the celebrations at the end wrap things up nicely.

I’m a fan through and through, so I can only quibble a little with the franchise on this point: The bad guys have a fatal over-reliance on A Big Destructive Space Station That Has a Key Weakness to be Exploited by a Few Inside Attackers and a Few Bold Fighter Pilots.

Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. And you know what? The bad guys change their name from the Empire to the First Order but they still didn’t learn their lesson about A Big Destructive Space Station That Has a Key Weakness to be Exploited by a Few Inside Attackers and a Few Bold Fighter Pilots. This time the space station is actually an entire planet but it’s just as vulnerable. The inability of the villains to learn and adapt puts them way below the level of the Borg (different universe, I know).

All that made Star Wars VII for me a competent sequel and no more. (Better a competent sequel than three incompetent prequels, you think?) And because I’m a Star Wars fan, a competent sequel is good enough. I loved it! – seeing the old characters aged about 38 Earth years, and meeting Finn and Rey.

SPOILER ALERT

Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi. So after watching over 15 hours of Star Wars and seeing Star Wars VIII in the theater, I’ll leave the big reviews to others and just pass along these few points:

  • I now like VII as more than a competent sequel, because it nicely set up Finn and Rey for VIII. To me, “The Last Jedi” redeemed “The Force Awakens” in much the same way that “Revenge of the Sith” redeemed “Attack of the Clones.”
  • Yeah, I’m a fan. I’ll go to anything Star Wars. But:
  • The franchise is getting old. Lightsaber battles can’t do very much that’s creative.
  • The franchise is getting old. The complexity of the space battle scenes has gotten out of hand — to the point that it interferes with the story-telling. Example: The opening scene of “A New Hope” still looks great, 40 years later. A huge Star Destroyer is going by overhead, firing on Princess Leia’s much smaller ship. The scene had to be simple because it’s all that the limited technology of the time would allow, but it works better than the more complicated battles now technically possible.
  • The franchise is getting old. There cannot now be a new introduction of a villain as bad as Darth Vader in “A New Hope.” Kylo Ren is a weak reflection of Vader, despite Adam Driver’s excellent portrayal of the character. (Did I mention that I think the franchise is getting old?)
  • Carrie Fisher as Leia and Mark Hamill as Luke both lined up nicely with their characters, as written. In the original trilogy they were young and inexperienced actors, but that played nicely into the impossible situations their characters faced. All these years later, Fisher had aged to become a thoughtful general rather than a princess with an attitude. Hamill played the embittered former hero well. Neither actor was a superstar, but the writing and direction were just right for them and their characters. As a fan, I appreciated the tasteful closing title dedication “In Loving Memory of our Princess: Carrie Fisher.”
  • Can Star Wars IX nicely tie all this off and go in a new direction?  I hope so as a fan. I’ll be there. (But I’ve got to stop this habit of a full Star Wars marathon before each new release.)
Star Wars: The whole thing