With the full cast of J.J. Abrams new Star Wars VII announced this week, including the return of Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher as well as new faces Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac and Max von Sydow, May the 4th (be with you) seems even more important this year.
Though we’ll have to wait until December 2015 to see how the story continues more than 30 years after the epic conclusion of Return of the Jedi, you can catch up on all six movies to date with nationwide marathon screenings this weekend on Saturday May 3rd and Star Wars Day on Sunday 4th.
In the meantime, here’s our top picks of the greatest moments in a galaxy far, far away.
Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace, 1999
We’re tempted to say the end credits, but that’s a bit mean. While pseudo-science talk of midichlorians took all the fun out of the force, and the least said about dodgy racial stereotypes in the Trade Federation and the blithering idiocy of Jar Jar Binks the better, there are some redeeming qualities to the prequels opener.
The first of many made-for-computer-games chase scenes race to come, the effects team studied NASCAR races and, one assumes, a whole lot of Ben Hur to capture young Anakin’s pod race win against the devious Sebulba. It’s pretty long, but thrilling nonetheless, AND it has Jawas!
Rise of an emperor
Without a shadow of a doubt, the best thing about the prequels is the return of Scottish actor Ian McDiarmid who plays the at-first weasely Senator Palpatine who rather cunningly deposes Terence Stamp as the Galactic Senate’s Chancellor. Not long now till he raises an empire and can jump start cars with his fingers…
Darth mauls ’em
Darth Maul (Ray Park), with his black and red tattooed face and vicious yellow eyes, gave us the heebie jeebies. This dude has a double-headed lightsaber and takes on both Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn and Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi. Looks like he’s going to wipe the floor with them too, with Qui-Gon mortally wounded, until a nifty force jump from Obi-Wan sees two halves of Maul falling into a great big pit. We wish he’d stuck around.
Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones, 2002
So Anakin has grown up into Hayden Christensen and isn’t quite as annoying as the sprog from the first flick, and we get some cracking scenes set on Coruscant, soon to be home of the evil Galactic Empire.
Zam Wessel chase
Ok, another chase scene, but this one was genuinely awesome. The shimmering megalopolis of Coruscant’s never-ending city is breathtaking, and the (sometimes) female shape shifting bounty hunter Zam Wessel (Leeanna Walsman) kicks ass. Such a shame we didn’t see more of her, as fellow bounty hunter Jango Fett puts paid to that with a poison dart.
Who’s ya Daddy?
No, Not Luke’s; hold your horses. This time it’s all about Jango, played by Maori actor Temuera Morrison (Once Were Warriors). Not only is his genetic material the source of the Republic’s clone army, that will go on to become the Empire’s stormtroopers, but he’s also the daddy of everyone’s favourite bounty hunter, Boba. Shame dad gets beheaded by Samuel L Jackson’s Mace Windu.
Yoda v Saruman/Dracula
Either the best or most ridiculous fight in the entire saga, when both Anakin and Obi-Wan are easily incapacitated by Christopher Lee’s Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus, it’s left to the wee lean greenie Yoda, voiced by Frank Oz, to finally prove his mettle. Hobbling in on his walking stick, that’s soon shown to be benefits fraud when a force wrestle gives way to an all-out hyper-gymnastics lightsaber battle that sends Dooku fleeing with the plans for a certain “that’s no moon…”
Padme saves herself
In one of the precious few moments where poor Natalie Portman gets to do anything other than wear a lot of makeup, Padme picks the lock on her cuffs in the very Gladiator-like colosseum of monsters scene on Geonosis, even pulling a Leia and using her chains to her advantage, fighting side-by side with Anakin and Obi-Wan.
Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith, 2005
Those who say The Empire Strikes Back is the darkest instalment of the saga might want to re-watch the fall of the Republic and the massacre of the Jedi’s as the Emperor’s long-held plans come to fruition…
Dooku looses his head
Anakin’s a very naughty boy indeed. After battling his way to Coruscant’s surface from the space battle erupting above it, Count Dooku takes out Obi-Wan and then taunts Anakin with a very familiar line, “I sense great fear in you, Skywalker.” Not best pleased, Anakin proceeds to behead Dooku with a double lightsaber whammy, on the command of Palpatine.
Palpatine’s evil scheming stands revealed, as does his creepy Emperor voice and force lightning, which he promptly unleashes on Jackson’s seriously unimpressed Windu. He deflects the blast with his natty purple light sabre, frying Palpatine all grey and shrunken, just the way we like him. Palpatine pleads for a creepy-eyed Anakin to save him and, in a reverse echo of Return of the Jedi, Anakin chops off Windu’s saber hand, before the Emperor lightning blasts him out the window.
When all hell breaks loose on Coruscant, and across the galaxy, following the unveiled Emperor’s Order 66 to slay all Jedis, a room full of frightened kids think they’re all right when Anakin walks in, then he fires up his lightsaber. Not so much. Cue awesome mass death montage, the darkest the saga ever gets.
Obi-Wan v Anakin, Round 1
This is it, the longest, most complex and awe-inspiring of all the lightsaber battles, the one the prequels were made for. Obi-Wan stows away on an unsuspecting Padme’s shuttle as she races to her lover Anakin’s hiding spot on the volcanic Mustafar. She can’t believe he’s gone to the dark side, but when Obi-Wan reveals himself, Anakin force throttles her almost to death, even though she’s carrying their unborn twins. The ensuing battle between Obi-Wan and Vader nee Anakin is epic, and one of them comes out lacking several limbs.
Vader suits up, the kids ship out
Clue, it’s not Obi Wan. The shattered remains of a near-dead Anakin are delivered to Palpatine, where he’s rebooted with robotic parts plus the iconic leathers and mask. He’s also told he killed Padme for good measure. In fact, she survives just long enough to give birth to Luke and Leia. Obi-Wan takes the boy to Tattooine, while Jimmy Smitt’s Senator Bail Organa takes Leia to Alderaan, and the scene is set for the sequels that came first.
Star Wars IV: A New Hope, 1977
Where it all began, really. George Lucas’ masterpiece space opera spawned an empire of his own making. We salute him, even if he made some very dodgy directorial decisions further down the track.
From the moment he first appeared, in a haze of dry ice aboard a rebel cruiser, Darth Vader was the stuff of nightmares. Towering 7ft tall (thanks to Dave Prowse), clad in black leather with an asthma-inducing mask and the majestically rumbling voice of James Earl Jones, he displayed a disturbing obsession for force-choking anyone who mildly annoys him, regardless of whether or not they play for his team. An instant icon was born.
A hive of scum and villainy, the Mos Eisley cantina bar scene rocks, and not just because of the Modal Nodes band. It’s where the crew get nasty, with Alec Guinness’ Obi-Wan lopping off the arm of a space pirate and Han blasting the guts out of Greedo. Who shot first depends on which version you watch. Stick to the original, we say – Han’s dangerous, and we like him that way.
The supercilious Grand Moff Tarkin, played by the always-excellent Peter Cushing, forces an undaunted Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) to watch as he reveals the immense power of the Empire’s secret weapon, the Death Star, and blows her home planet Alderaan to smithereens. Nasty.
While R2-D2 and C-3P0 desperately try to release them, Luke (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), furball Chewbacca and Leia make for the most curmudgeonly group of so-called friends as she, fairly enough, berates them for their rather rubbish rescue attempt that’s left them being slowly squished to death in a trash compactor. With added tentacle monster. Oh the ignominy.
Obi-Wan v Anakin, Round 2
After all these years, it all comes down to this, the master faces the padawan for the second time (see Revenge of the Sith) as Obi-Wan faces off with Vader while Luke and the gang watch from across a crowded Death Star hanger. Technically Obi-Wan throws the fight this time round, taunting Vader with the immortal line, “If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”
Death Star Blitz
Luke, Wedge, Biggs and Porkins head into the trenches of the Death Star in their X-Wings with Vader in hot pursuit. Two attempts to fire a salvo of missiles into an exhaust port fail, and Luke’s about to be wiped out by Darth when Han turns up in the Millennium Falcon and sends Vader’s TIE fighter spinning out of control. Luke listens to the force, uses it and seals the deal. Cue enormous eruption and much celebration.
Star Wars V: Empire Strikes Back, 1980
The rebels may have won the battle, but the Empire’s pretty angry, and this is where it all goes to hell (again) for the good guys. Irvin Kreshner takes the helm from Lucas this time round, and it’s an infinitely tauter, more exciting affair.
The opening scenes on the icebound Hoth are some of the series’ most visually impressive, with towering AT-AT walkers emerging from snowy mists to obliterate the underground rebel Echo Base. Luke takes one out tying up its enormous legs with the towrope of his snowspeeder, while an almighty ion cannon punches holes in the Imperial blockade.
Yoda raises the X-Wing
Following this devastating assault, Luke retreats to the swampy planet Dagobah, following a tip off from a ghostly Obi-Wan, and first encounters the seemingly helpless Yoda. The little guy soon raises Luke’s sunken X-Wing out of the quagmire and trains him further in the ways of the force. This involves a rather trippy scene where Luke decapitates a phantom Vader only to discover his own face in the shattered mask.
Betrayel on Bespin
Billy Dee Williams plays the charismatic rogue Lando Calrissian, an old mate of Han’s. Though they aren’t on the best of terms, it comes as a genuine shock when it’s revealed he’s turned traitor to save his own people and hands them right into the laser-deflecting palm of a waiting Vader.
Hans on ice
Possibly the coolest moment of the entire saga, Vader has Hans frozen in carbonite as a test run for Luke. Just as he’s about to be icy-poled, Leia professes her love for him. The rogue replies, “I know,” in a cannily ad-libbed line from Ford. Vader then hands him over to Boba Fett, who’s headed straight to Jabba the Hutt to collect the price on his head.
Luke arrives way too late and goes head-to-head with Vader, who promptly chops off his right hand, then drops possibly the biggest filmic doozy of all-time: “I am your father,” to which a girning Luke promptly cries “NOOOOOOOOOO,” then throws himself into a handy pit. That reunion didn’t go so well….
Star Wars VI: Return Of The Jedi, 1983
The rebel alliance is down on its luck in this Richard Marquand-directed finale, what with a freeze-dried Han in Jabba’s art collection and a seriously depressed Luke working through some hard-core daddy issues. Fear not, it’s bounty hunter Leia to the rescue.
Leia in chains
While Leia’s bounty hunter disguise to get her into Jabba’s palace is certainly inspired, her short-lived reunion with Han goes awry when they’re sprung and she ends up chained to the overgrown slug in a slave girl outfit that played havoc with teens’ hormones everywhere.
Poor old Rancor
Luke’s own rescue mission also takes a turn for the worse when he ends up tumbling through a trap door into the pit of Jabba’s enormous pet, the Ray Harryhausen-like stop-motion Rancor. Undaunted, Luke squishes the beast under a portcullis door, much to the dismay of its openly weeping keeper.
Boba goes bye-bye
Thoroughly unimpressed with losing his wall-mounted Han sculpture AND his great big Rancor, Jabba decides to chuck the lot of them into the Sarlaac, a hungry semi-sentient desert pit. Unfortunately for him, Leia turns the tables on the big bully when she promptly throttles him with her own chains. Meanwhile, a slowly defrosting, half-blind Han accidentally knocks a jet pack-enabled Boba into the pit beast.
Need for trees
The Fast & the Furious with trees, Leia and Luke’s speeder race through the forest is the finest of all the saga’s space chases, as they attempt to keep the rebel alliance’s presence on Endor secret before a final assault on the slowly rebuilding Death Star. Bonus points for the Ewoks wiping out a few stormtroopers the old fashioned way, with sticks and stones and a rope or two.
Epic threeway battle
“It’s a trap,” yells the fishy Admiral Akbar (Tim Rose) as the mother of all space battles erupts around the half-finished Death Star, which turns out to be fully operational. The resulting blitzkrieg is a monumental cinematic achievement made all the more perfect by its reflection in two smaller but arguably more important skirmishes.
On the surface of Endor the Ewoks team up with the rebels to take control of and blow sky high the Death Star’s shield generator, allowing Lando to deliver the final blow in the Millennium Falcon.
But before that happens, it all comes down to three people: Luke, his daddy gone baddy and the demented Emperor. Palpatine recognises Luke’s power and wants to turn him to the dark side by forcing him to kill his father. When Luke resists, Palpatine ups the wattage and fries the living daylights out of him. It’s only now, that Anakin’s conscience reawakens, he grabs the Emperor, electrocuting himself in the process, and hurls him into yet another convenient pit. Awww, bless.
Movie Marathon Locations:
NSW/ACT – Hoyts Penrith, Hoyts Chatswood, Hoyts Warringah Mall, Hoyts Broadway, Event Castle Hill, Event Liverpool, Event Macquarie, Event George Street, Greater Union Miranda, Event Bondi Junction, Event Burwood, Event Glendale, Greater Union Shellharbour, Cremorne Orpheum, Dendy Canberra.
VIC/TAS – Hoyts Chadstone, Hoyts Eastland, Hoyts Northland, Hoyts Highpoint, Hoyts Melbourne Central, Village Sunshine, Village Knox, Village Southland, Village Fountain Gate, Village Crown, Village Geelong, Village Hobart, Village Albury, Village Bendigo.
QLD/NT – Hoyts Stafford City, Event Chermside, Event Mt Gravatt, Event Indooroopilly, Event Robina, Event Cairns Central, Birch Carroll & Coyle Darwin Casuarina, Birch Carroll & Coyle Maroochydore.
SA – Hoyts Tea Tree Plaza, Event Marion, Wallis Piccadilly
WA – Hoyts Carousel, Event Innaloo, Ace Midland Gate, Grand Warwick
For more info or to book tickets, go to www.facebook.com/StarWars.AUNZ