Release Date: September, 1980 (Turkey) Directed by: Mike Hodges Written by: Lorenzo Semple Jr., Michael Allin Based on: characters by Alex Raymond Music by: Queen, Howard Blake Cast: Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Ornella Muti, Max von Sydow, Topol, Timothy Dalton, Mariangela Melato, Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde, Robbie Coltrane, Deep Roy, Kenny Baker
Starling Films, Dino De Laurentiis Company, Famous Films, 111 Minutes
“Flash, Flash, I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!” – Dale Arden
Far from great, this is still one of the coolest movies ever made. It’s certainly a product of its time, as it wants to exist on the same level as Star Wars but the rest of Hollywood hadn’t yet caught up to the magic that George Lucas possessed.
Regardless of that, this is still an enthralling motion picture that made the best out of all its parts, creating a one-of-a-kind, pulpy world that really felt like an update of the old school Flash Gordon serials it tried to emulate in many regards.
Also, this has more of a ’70s feel to it than ’80s. But it was technically made and shot in ’79, so there’s that.
Flash Gordon is overly fantastical and I mean that in a good way, as it’s so stylized and unique that it really stands out among a lot of the other epic science fiction space operas of its era.
The sets are incredible, as are the costumes. Sure, some things look ridiculously hokey, even for 1980, but they still work in this strange universe.
I thought that the cast was also solid, despite the lack of experience Sam J. Jones, who plays the film’s title character, had in front of the camera. He still shines and I’m surprised that this didn’t lead to bigger and better things. Although, he is overshadowed by some of the other actors, especially Max von Sydow, a legitimate veteran who seemed to be completely committed to the role of an evil, outer space madman hellbent on ruling the galaxy.
I also really dug Timothy Dalton and Brian Blessed in this. They’ve been two of my favorite British actors over the course of my life and this is actually the first thing that I saw both of them in, way back when I was a young kid that rented this movie quite a lot.
Sadly but also understandably, I think that this film is mostly remembered for its music, as superstar rock band Queen did the film’s theme, as well as some other awesome tracks. Their music in this is spectacular and it makes the film so much cooler than it would have been without their iconic tunes. But really, between these songs and the film’s stupendous style, it’s like a perfect marriage.
All in all, this is a film with some flaws and it’s probably way too hokey for modern audiences but for the time, it worked. I just wish it had as much of a cultural impact as other big budget movies from that incredible era of live-action space operas.
Rating: 7.5/10 Pairs well with: other sci-fi and fantasy films of the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Release Date: May, 1988 (Cannes) Directed by: Ron Howard Written by: Bob Dolman, George Lucas Music by: James Horner Cast: Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Warwick Davis, Billy Barty, Jean Marsh, Patricia Hayes, Pat Roach, Gavan O’Herlihy, Phil Fondacaro, Tony Cox, Kenny Baker (uncredited)
“Magic is the bloodstream of the universe. Forget all you know, or think you know. All that you require is your intuition.” – High Aldwin
I wish that Willow was more beloved than it is. It definitely has its fans but for whatever reason, it never quite reached the levels of popularity that Lucasfilms’ other big properties reached: Star Wars and Indiana Jones.
To be fair, I’d say that this isn’t as good as those other two properties but it is still in the ballpark and not far off.
Willow is an imaginative and fun adventure that was one in a string of special effects milestones in the early days of Lucasfilms’ digital effects mastery. This film had a major breakthrough in its use of visual morphing technology.
But apart from the special effects wizardry in the film, it also came to life with its spectacular sets, wardrobe and art direction.
What makes this click on a level much higher than just being a standard blockbuster is the ensemble cast. Everyone in this film is good and fun to watch, as they all felt like they were giving the movie their all, they had good chemistry and they were believable in their roles. I especially like the chemistry between Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer, as well as Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley, who became my third or fourth childhood crush because of this film. Apparently, she became Kilmer’s crush too, as they met on this film’s set and married shortly thereafter. And they stayed together for almost a decade, which is in eternity in Hollywood time.
The casting of Jean Marsh as the film’s main villain, an evil sorceress named Bavmorda, was a stroke of genius. One, because she is a damn good actress but can really be terrifying. Two, because her appearance in a similar role from Return to Oz was still fresh in my childhood mind when this came out. And I’m sure it was fresh in a lot of kid’s minds, who were scarred for life by the witch with the interchangeable heads.
I’ve really got to tip my hat to Warwick Davis, though. I don’t think that most people realize that he was just seventeen when this movie was filmed. He carries himself like a true veteran and even though he’s not the top billed star, he is the main character of the film, which is also why the movie’s name is his character’s name. Willow is his journey.
I wish that this had led to more leading roles for Davis but I think that was also the intent had this film done as well as the other Lucasfilm tentpole movies. It underperformed, even though it did make a profit, and that’s probably why this didn’t get the trilogy treatment. Granted, there are still talks of bringing the world of Willow back to the screen and there was also a sequel novel trilogy written by Chris Claremont with the plot outlines done by George Lucas.
Willow is one of the best fantasy epics of its time. I think that revisiting it is long overdue and I assume that it’s going to happen, especially with Disney now owning Lucasfilms and needing content for their Disney+ streaming service. And with that being said, I think a sequel television series would actually work better for this property than a theatrical movie.
Rating: 9.25/10 Pairs well with: other Lucasfilm movies from the ’70s and ’80s, as well as The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Also known as: Empire of Dreams (shortened title) Release Date: September 12th, 2004 Directed by: Kevin Burns, Edith Becker Written by: Ed Singer Music by: John Williams Cast: George Lucas, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, Warwick Davis, Frank Oz, Lawrence Kasdan, John Williams, Joe Johnston, Ralph McQuarrie, Alan Ladd Jr., Irvin Kershner, Steven Spielberg, Walter Cronkite
“I think George likes people, I think George is a warm-hearted person, but… he’s a little impatient with the process of acting, of finding something. He thinks that something’s there. “It’s right there, I wrote it down. Do that”. You know, sometimes you can’t just “do that” and make it work.” – Harrison Ford
I can’t believe that it’s been fifteen years since this documentary came out. It was the selling point of getting me to buy the original Star Wars trilogy on DVD though, as I had already owned the movies several times over, in all their incarnations, but wanted to have this documentary to keep and rewatch over the years.
It’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen it but it’s available on Prime Video, as well as Disney+ now.
Seeing this again sparked something in me that I hadn’t felt since Revenge of the Sith came out in 2005. It was that feeling of wonder, excitement and childlike awe. Disney is incapable of generating that sensation in me since they took over the Star Wars franchise and honestly, it’s mostly dead to me.
Empire of Dreams brought me back to where I was though from my childhood and into my twenties when I had a deep love for everything Star Wars. But most importantly, this showed me how much better the original movies were compared to Disney’s schlock and the shoddy prequels.
If Disney tried to make an Empire of Dreams followup about their new trilogy, would anyone care? Well, anyone with actual taste that was alive when the original Star Wars phenomenon was still alive and strong? I mean, how interesting would that documentary even be? And do you really even care about seeing any of the modern Star Wars actors and filmmakers talking about these new movies?
Empire of Dreams does a stupendous job of delving deep into the creation of one of the greatest film franchises of all-time. But seeing it with 2019 eyes, it more importantly shows you just how magical the Star Wars brand once was before Disney retrofitted it for an audience of wine moms and broke social justice warriors who can’t afford to buy the merch in the first place.
Rating: 9/10 Pairs well with: the original Star Wars trilogy and other Star Wars documentaries.
I haven’t watched these films in a few years. I catch glimpses of them from time to time as I am flipping through channels on cable but it has been at least five years since I’ve sat down and watched this trilogy in its entirety.
It is universally agreed upon that this trilogy was not on par with the original trilogy and many people have griped about these three films for well over a decade now. I knew they weren’t as good but I used to try and defend them, as I could look passed their faults because at least they were new Star Wars movies.
Having had a lot of time away from this series and being less enthusiastic than I probably should be about the upcoming Disney films, I can no longer defend the prequels in good conscience. They are what essentially killed the Star Wars magic inside of me, even if I didn’t want to see it at the time.
But let me address each one individually.
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999):
Release Date: May 25th, 1999 Directed by: George Lucas Written by: George Lucas Music by: John Williams Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Pernilla August, Frank Oz, Samuel L. Jackson, Ahmed Best, Ray Park, Terence Stamp, Keira Knightley, Peter Serafinowicz, Sofia Coppola, Warwick Davis
Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 133 Minutes
“I have a bad feeling about this.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi
The Phantom Menace is a bad film, plain and simple.
There are only a few good things even worth mentioning as positives.
To start, Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor were great as Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Also, Darth Maul is the most bad ass looking Sith of all-time. Unfortunately, Darth Maul has little screen time and meets his demise before this film is over and Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan have to share most of their scenes with any combination of the characters Jar Jar Binks, Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala. All three of those characters, in this film and really all of the films, were mostly unbearable.
This installment into the Star Wars mega franchise was too full of political nonsense and pointless babble about stuff no one cares about. Sure, we’d like to know how the Galactic Empire came to be and how the Sith rose to power and conquered the Jedi but we didn’t need endless diatribes about details no one even remotely wanted to follow.
Also, take into account what this franchise was before this movie. You have now replaced terrifying and cool Storm Troopers with anorexic and bumbling Battle Droids. You replaced Rebel soldiers with thousands of Jar Jars and armed them with bubbles. You replaced X-wing Starfighters and TIE Fighters with awfully designed Naboo Starfighters and Vulture Droids. You replaced desolate and wild worlds with the Singapore Botanical Gardens. Everything about this film was wrong: in tone, in characters, in design, in total execution.
It was corny, cheesy, way too child friendly and full of more annoyances than things that are actually cool.
Fuck pod racing. Fuck midichlorians.
There really is nothing I like about this film other than the few things mentioned around paragraph two. And even then, they certainly aren’t enough to save this movie.
Rating: 6.5/10 Pairs well with: This specific Star Wars trilogy of films.
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002):
Release Date: May 12th, 2002 (Tribeca) Directed by: George Lucas Written by: George Lucas, Jonathan Hales Music by: John Williams Cast: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Jimmy Smits, Temuera Morrison, Joel Edgerton, Rose Byrne, Ahmed Best, Pernilla August, Liam Neeson
Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 142 Minutes
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” – Anakin Skywalker
Attack of the Clones may be even worse than The Phantom Menace.
This film offers up a lot of the same as the previous. Luckily though, Jar Jar Binks has pretty limited screen time, as the backlash of that character was tremendous. In fact, I’ll be shocked if future Star Wars films even remotely show a Gungan.
The cool thing about this film is the inclusion of Jango Fett and the origin of his son, the uber popular and awesome Boba Fett. Also, Christoper Lee, one of my three favorite actors of all-time, shows up as the Sith Lord, Count Dooku.
This film should have been awesome. Well, for the first time ever, we get to see what happens when an army of Jedi fights together. While it was visually cool to see a bunch of Jedi light up a few dozen lightsabers, it happened against Battle Droids. You know, those clumsy metal comedians that the idiotic Gungans beat in the previous film. Somehow, now, they present a challenge to the best Jedi in the galaxy. Am I missing something here?
Also, one thing that has always bothered me about the Star Wars films was the ambiguous travel times. Never is it as much of a continuity problem, as it is here.
Look at the timeline of people traveling to Geonosis. Yoda shows up five minutes after Mace Windu, even though they both left Coruscant at the same time and Yoda had to make a pit stop at Kamino to pick up the Clone Army. Anakin and Padmé got there not too long before Windu because they knew Windu would not make it in time to stop Kenobi’s execution. However, Windu walks up just as the attempt at execution is going down. And Windu was walking casually slow. Had he tried not to look so cool, he could’ve probably beat the clock for sure.
This movie is a mess. Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman’s acting during the Anakin and Padmé romance scenes was beyond painful to watch.
Rating: 5.5/10 Pairs well with: This specific Star Wars trilogy of films.
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005):
Release Date: May 15th, 2005 (Cannes) Directed by: George Lucas Written by: George Lucas Music by: John Williams Cast: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Jimmy Smits, Peter Mayhew, Ahmed Best, Temuera Morrison, Joel Edgerton, Bruce Spence, Keisha Castle-Hughes, James Earl Jones, Bai Ling (scenes cut)
Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 140 Minutes
“Oh, I have a bad feeling about this.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi
The third and final movie in the prequel trilogy is the best of the three. However, it still isn’t very good by Star Wars standards.
In this one, we see Anakin’s destiny reach full climax as, by film’s end, he becomes the iconic Darth Vader. Of course, the path to full Vaderdom is just more of the same bullshit that we’ve had to endure over multiple films now. And Hayden Christensen continues to give a wooden performance accented by Natalie Portman, who doesn’t even want to be there and Ewan McGregor, who is trying to be passionate with the shitty lines George Lucas gave him to speak.
This film solidifies just how stupid the Jedi Council is or just how bad of a writer that George Lucas is. Why are only two Jedi sent to rescue the Supreme Chancellor who is held hostage over Coruscant, the capital of the galaxy? I mean, there is a Jedi Temple full of Jedi below, even if many are off fighting on other planets. And why did Yoda and Obi-Wan not tag team Palpatine and then Anakin? And somehow, Yoda and Obi-Wan fought their battles at the same time, even though they took off for them simultaneously but one was down the street and the other was on the other side of the galaxy. Again, ambiguous travel times.
Count Dooku dies too early. General Grievous is a dumb villain and it is clear that instead of having long lasting iconic bad guys like Darth Vader, Lucas would rather give us Maul then Dooku then Grievous in an effort to sell more toys. Sacrifice the story, sell more shit.
Fuck this movie too.
Rating: 7.5/10 Pairs well with: This specific Star Wars trilogy of films.