Star Wars ,The Empire Strikes Back & Return of the Jedi

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Star Wars (1977)

An orphaned hero. An imprisoned princess. A wise old hermit. A magic sword. A fearsome dark lord. Such archetypes are the stuff of myth and romance, yet astonishingly the first Hollywood film ever to give these mythic conventions their due was not some Arthurian epic or medieval costume drama. Rather, it was a gonzo space opera in the Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon tradition, combining a nostalgic blend of cinematic influences — Saturday-matinee cliffhanging and bickering banter, WWII dogfights, Western saloon shootouts — with unprecedented technical virtuosity and effects wizardry.

The iconic stature of Star Wars can't be reduced to a laundry list of influences, though. In a decade of jaded, sophisticated cinema and moral ambiguity, Star Wars brought wonder back to theaters. It celebrated heroism and good over evil. It gave us Darth Vader, one of the screen's most indelible icons of evil. In the Force, it gave us a potent symbol of mystery and transcendence over and against the anti-religious Imperial culture and the skepticism of Han Solo. And it did all this in a bravura adventure film parents and children can enjoy together.

Content advisory: Stylized sci-fi combat violence and menace. Fine for older kids.

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The Empire Strikes Back , the sequel to Star Wars , is the high point of the Star Wars saga. It takes the story and themes of the first film into deeper waters. The stakes and the emotions are higher, the conflict more personal, the villain more fearsome, the heroes harder pressed. In Star Wars , Luke Skywalker was swept up into a world of adventure. He learned something of his illustrious heritage, rescued the princess, blew up the dreaded Death Star and saved the Rebellion. In The Empire Strikes Back , by contrast, Luke's heroism confronts a stiffer challenge: He must face defeats, setbacks, failure, and ultimately a terrible revelation about his past.

Luke's first steps in the ways of the Force were instinctive and intuitive. To go on to mastery, however, he must sacrifice, undergo grueling training and discipline, face up to the fact that the goal is beyond him and grow beyond himself. The romantic tension hinted at in the first film blossoms here as sparks fly between roguish Han Solo and prickly Princess Leia. Even the comedy is funniest here; C-3P0 is never funnier.

Content advisory: Stylized sci-fi combat violence and menace. Fine for older kids.

Return of the Jedi (1983)

The original Star Wars offered a simple vision of good triumphing over evil. The Empire Strikes Back went deeper, exploring the necessity of sacrifice and facing defeats and hard truths. Return of the Jedi , the third and final chapter in the original Star Wars trilogy, is about nothing less than resisting temptation, compassion for enemies and the possibility of redemption even for the most evil.

Admittedly, Jedi doesn't realize its lofty ambitions quite as successfully as the previous films did theirs, largely because the moral issues aren't persuasively thought out or defined. Jedi stumbles in other ways too, making the finale the weak link in the series. But its strengths more than make up for its weaknesses. There's that terrific first act, taken up with the brilliantly orchestrated rescue of Han Solo by a masterful Luke Skywalker; the eye-popping creature design of Jabba the Hutt; the death-defying forest sky-cycle chase sequence; the almost satanically evil Emperor; and the boldly redemptive climax.

Content advisory: Stylized sci-fi combat violence and menace; mild sensuality. Fine for older kids.

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