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May the 4th be with you! Here’s everything our critics have said about the ‘Star Wars’ franchise

Nardine Saad – Los Angeles Times (TNS)

With “Star Wars” Day looming, it’s an apt time to take stock of the L.A. Times’ reviews of each installment — movies and TV shows — in the ever-evolving, paradigm-shattering intergalactic franchise.

Updating our list from 2015, which came before a new wave of “Star Wars” films and TV series endeared the franchise to a new generation of fans, we’re including our reviews of the latest theatrical entries in “Star Wars” movie canon, and some notable mentions of the TV, streaming and serial projects that gave us backstories for Han Solo, Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Mandalorian and his beloved Grogu.

Here, in the order of the action in the “Star Wars” universe, are the reviews and features (some from a long time ago) that appeared in a newspaper in a galaxy not so far, far away …

‘Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace’ (1999)

Former L.A. Times film critic Kenneth Turan — who reviewed all three prequel films — didn’t love “The Phantom Menace.” His review said it was obvious that the new addition to the franchise was “aimed at younger audiences” and noted that it “delivers lots of spectacle but is noticeably lacking in warmth and humor.”

‘Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones’ (2002)

Turan was also not feeling newcomer Hayden Christensen and his sulky take on Anakin Skywalker: “Judging by his performance here (perhaps not a wise thing to do), young Canadian actor Hayden Christensen was picked for Anakin strictly on his ability to radiate sullen teen rebellion, something he does a lot. Anakin chafes like a grounded adolescent at the restrictions Obi-Wan places on him, grousing that the master is “overly critical. He never listens. He just doesn’t understand. It’s not fair.”

Turan dubs the relationship between Anakin and his beloved Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) “High School Confidential in Outer Space” and states that the two are less troubled by their forbidden love and more “burdened by a formidable lack of chemistry.”

‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ (2008)

Times staff writer Michael Ordoña described the feature film that launched George Lucas’ computer-animated TV series as a “theatrical pilot for the upcoming animated television series” and wrote that “anyone older than 8 with the majority of brain functions intact will have a bad feeling about this.”

“But where new characters, plot threads and better dialogue might have made up for much, ‘Clone Wars’ simply doesn’t aim high enough,” he wrote. “For those who had expected improved writing from the last four films [‘Return of the Jedi’ to ‘Revenge of the Sith’], your hopes will be dashed on the ornately realized rocks of Tatooine.”

Review aside, the TV series ran for seven seasons — first on Cartoon Network, then Netflix and finally Disney+ — from 2008 to 2020. Not to mention, “The Clone Wars” (both film and series) introduced its share of key characters and lore that has been indispensable to the franchise in the Disney+ era.

‘Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith’ (2005)

Turan came in with show-stopping pun: “‘Revenge of the Sith’ is a visual stunner, but beware of the talk side.”

Enough said.

‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ (2018)

Former Times film critic Justin Chang took on the newer “Star Wars” installments after Turan left The Times in 2020. His duties involved reviewing the lesser-loved film “Solo,” whose rocky behind-the-scenes story involved the firing of original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller and the hiring of their replacement, Ron Howard. The film details how fan-favorite rogue Han Solo scored the famous Millennium Falcon, met Chewbacca and came by his surname.

“[Howard] and his collaborators (including screenwriters Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan) have cobbled together a high-speed, low-energy intergalactic heist movie, an opportunity to spend too much time with people you don’t care about and too little time with people you do,” Chang wrote.

‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ (2022)

The titular former general and Jedi master, introduced in 1977’s “A New Hope” and whose backstory was expanded upon in 1999’s “The Phantom Menace,” got his own space adventure in this Disney+’s six-episode limited series starring Ewan McGregor.

Times staff writer Tracy Brown explained that for series co-write Joby Harold, part of the excitement of the Disney+ series was exploring what could have happened between “Revenge of the Sith” and “A New Hope” for McGregor’s Kenobi to become the version embodied by Alec Guinness. The series is also a touching tribute to everybody’s favorite princess: “Leia’s role in ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ both expands her significance in the overall ‘Star Wars’ story and recontextualizes existing canon in a way that deepens Leia’s imprint on the saga,” Brown wrote.

‘Star Wars Rebels’ (2014)

Times television critic Robert Lloyd wrote that the 2014 expression of the “Star Wars” brand seemed “sent to hold your attention until the arrival of the seventh live-action film.” The cartoon series premiered on the Disney Channel and was “the first tangible fruit of the incorporation of ‘Star Wars’ into the Walt Disney empire, and a Disney cartoon is very much what this is.”

“Though firmly in the Lucas tradition, this is also a Disney cartoon, for a Disney crowd and a Disney corporation — watching, you can almost feel the plastic and the plush — and whatever the characters are up to, however cute or sentimental the business, it is smartly designed and cinematically staged, and not hard to enjoy.”

‘Andor’ (2022)

The critically hailed Disney+ series “Andor” tells the story of how Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) transforms from disaffected, self-centered thief to committed resistance fighter willing to die for the cause, Brown wrote.

“Eschewing many of the familiar tropes and set pieces associated with the franchise, the series has pushed ‘Star Wars’ storytelling to new heights,” Brown said, and its political proclivities made the series must-see TV.

‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ (2016)

Landing in theaters a year after “The Force Awakens,” the brisk and momentous story was actually set about three decades prior and is a “swiftly paced, rough-and-ready entertainment that, in anticipating the canonical events of ‘A New Hope,’ manages the tricky feat of seeming at once casually diverting and hugely consequential,” Chang wrote.

“With the Death Star undergoing its final quality assurance tests, the evil Galactic Empire is very much in the ascendant. The Rebel Alliance is fractious and disorganized. And what initially seems like a zippy stand-alone adventure soon reveals itself as a grimly exciting prequel to the first, or should I say fourth, film in the series, ‘Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope.’ (Think of the new movie, if you must, as ‘Star Wars: Episode III.V — Dawn of a New Hope.’)”

‘Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope’ (1977)

The first-ever “Star Wars” film from director Lucas — originally titled simply “Star Wars” — was heralded by the late Times critic Charles Champlin as “the year’s most razzle-dazzling family movie, an exuberant and technically astonishing space adventure in which the galactic tomorrows of ‘Flash Gordon’ are the setting for conflicts and events that carry the suspiciously but splendidly familiar ring of yesterday’s westerns, as well as yesterday’s ‘Flash Gordon’ serials.”

‘Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980)

Champlin really got into the spirit of the Force, praising both the first film and this one for their optimism and more: “‘Star Wars’ and ‘The Empire Strikes Back,’ like all superior fantasies, have the quality of parable, not only on good and evil but on attitudes toward life and personal deportment and there is something very like a moral imperative in the films’ view of hard work, determination, self-improvement, concentration and idealism,” he wrote. “It does not take a savant to see that this uplifting tone only a little less than the plot and effects is a central ingredient of the wide outreach of the films.”

‘Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi’ (1983)

We found someone who loved the Ewoks! The late Times movie critic Sheila Bensoncalled the final film in the original trilogy “frankly irresistible” and heaped tons of praise on the furry fiends from the moon of Endor.

‘The Mandalorian’ (2019)

The big-budget, live-action series launched Disney’s streaming platform (and gave us the adorable “baby Yoda,” aka Grogu). Lorraine Ali, who was then a Times’ TV critic, described the show as “‘Star Wars’/Disney right down to its weird sand creatures and blighted outposts, and a safe-but-entertaining start” for Disney+.

“The premiere episode of the first live-action series in the ‘Star Wars’ universe is a direct descendant of the big-budget film franchise in both tone and execution. It’s long on impressive special effects and alien shootouts, and short on a fresh story line beyond the usual unwitting hero with a mysterious family tree and a destiny that involves saving the universe (or part of it),” she wrote. “The feel of the series is blockbuster cinema — action-packed, predictable, entertaining — so it’s jarring when the first episode ends at around 35 minutes.”

‘The Book of Boba Fett’ (2021-22)

The first spinoff of “The Mandalorian” focuses on fan-favorite bounty hunter Boba Fett, who left a lasting impression despite only six minutes and 32 seconds of screen time and four spoken lines during the original trilogy, Brown wrote. (Hey, the action figure was cool.)

Picking up after the events of “The Mandalorian,” “The Book of Boba Fett” follows Fett (Temuera Morrison) as he establishes himself as the new crime lord in charge among the local scum and villainy on Tattooine, along with his faithful right hand, Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen). The series also filled in some gaps about what Fett was up to between the events of “Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi” (1983) and his appearance in “The Mandalorian.”

‘Star Wars: Ahsoka’ (2023)

When Ahsoka Tano crashed into Anakin Skywalker’s life as his newly assigned padawan apprentice in 2008’s animated “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” she changed “Star Wars” forever.

Much like her master, the teen was reckless, impulsive, stubborn and didn’t always follow the rules. She was also the first female Jedi protagonist who audiences got to see in action onscreen in a franchise that until pretty recently held the lightsaber-wielding users of the Force in the highest regard.

The next chapter in the character’s 15-year legacy was “Star Wars: Ahsoka,” which similarly broke new ground on the live-action side of the galaxy far, far away. Starring Rosario Dawson, the series boasts the first nonhuman “Star Wars” title hero as well as a core cast primarily composed of women. Both are representational milestones and examples of how “Star Wars” has become much more inclusive than it was when the original film premiered in 1977.

‘Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens’ (2015)

Turan wrote that the most hotly anticipated motion picture since “Gone With the Wind” had “an erratic, haphazard quality to it” but was “a definite improvement” on the franchise’s “abortive” second trilogy set, “The Phantom Menace,” “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith.”

“‘The Force Awakens’ is only at its best in fits and starts, its success dependent on who of its mix of franchise veterans and first-timers is on the screen,” Turan wrote. “But ‘The Force Awakens’ is also burdened by casting miscalculations and scenes that are flat and ineffective. Sometimes the Force is with this film, sometimes it decidedly is not.”

The Force was certainly with it at the box-office. The film grossed $120.5 million on its opening day, and in 2016 became the highest grossing movie in U.S. history (at the time), not adjusting for inflation.

‘Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi’ (2017)

The series’ eighth official episode, directed by Rian Johnson, was hailed as “easily its most exciting iteration in decades” by Chang, who described it as “the first flat-out terrific ‘Star Wars’ movie since 1980’s ‘The Empire Strikes Back.'”

“It seizes upon Lucas’ original dream of finding a pop vessel for his obsessions — Akira Kurosawa epics, John Ford westerns, science-fiction serials — and fulfills it with a verve and imagination all its own.”

‘Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker’ (2019)

“The Rise of Skywalker,” the frenzied big-bang conclusion of the franchise’s third movie trilogy, “offers itself up in the spirit of a ‘Last Jedi’ corrective, a return to storytelling basics, a nearly 2 1/2-hour compendium of everything that made you fall in love with ‘Star Wars’ in the first place,” Chang wrote in 2019.

“The more accurate way to describe it, I think, is as an epic failure of nerve,” he said. “This ‘Rise’ feels more like a retreat, a return to a zone of emotional and thematic safety from a filmmaker with a gift for packaging nostalgia as subversion. Still, let’s acknowledge [director J.J.] Abrams for the proficient craftsman and genre-savvy showman he is. Like some of his other major pop-cultural contributions (two enjoyable ‘Star Trek’ movies and the twisty TV series ‘Lost’ among them), ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ is a swift and vigorous entertainment, with a sense of forward momentum that keeps you watching despite several dubious plot turns and cheap narrative fakeouts.”

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(Former L.A. Times staff writer Meredith Woerner contributed to this report.)

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©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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