Films featuring
James Earl Jones

The Return of the Jedi

The wrap-up to the first trilogy (chronologically, not narratively) should have served as a warning of the pain we were to endure upon the release of the prequels twenty years later. All of the flaws that dogged episodes I through III were visible in Episode VI for anyone who cared to look.

Of course, back then we simply assumed that it was George Lucas unable to top the success of The Empire Strikes Back. Maybe he hired the wrong director in Richard Marquand or, as we have often seen in the case of movie trilogies, the filmmakers can’t always write an ending that lives up to the promise of what’s gone before.

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Clear and Present Danger

The course of action I’d suggest is a course of action I can’t suggest.

The Hunt for Red October is still the gold standard for film adaptations of Tom Clancy novels, but this third installment, the second with Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, is only second by a narrow margin and widely superior to the previous Patriot Games and the subsequent Sum of All Fears.

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The Empire Strikes Back

Why, you stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerf herder.

While the 1977 original may have launched the Star Wars phenomenon, I would make the case that this film was responsible for creating the enduring franchise. Had The Empire Strikes Back fallen flat on its face, had it not been, in many eyes, a superior film to the original (or equal in quality at the very worst), there would have been no special editions, no prequels, no Disney sale, and no one would be talking about whether J. J. Abrams wants to direct a seventh film.

I think the strength of this film lies in one simple fact. This is Darth Vader’s movie, more than any other in the franchise. Continue reading

Star Wars

Luke's just not a farmer, Owen. He has too much of his father in him.

Looking back on it from more than 30 years, it’s hard to imagine a time when Star Wars did not permeate our culture. It informs both our popular arts as well as high-level policy debate during the Cold War. It rewrote the rules of summer movies only two years after Jaws wrote them in the first place. This one movie took merchandising from a tidy little sideline to a stratospheric cash cow for Hollywood.

In short, a little movie made for less than $10 million, of which the studio thought so little that they willingly parted with all the ancillary rights that studios normally hang on to until hell freezes over, ended up being the greatest single act of creative destruction in the history of the business since The Jazz Singer. After Star Wars, the artistically ambitious films that were a hallmark of the early-to-mid-seventies were shuffled off to the independent filmmakers, while Hollywood became a factory for blockbusters.

At this juncture, it’s pointless to review this movie like I would a “normal” film, other than to offer my conjecture on why this little movie worked like no other movie before it and few since. And yes, I’m calling it Star Wars, not Episode IV or A New Hope. The movie that hit theaters in 1977 was called Star Wars, so that is the name of the movie.

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Looking for Richard

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Not long before this movie came out, I spent a couple of weeks in London and, among other things, took in a production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre at Bankside. And unlike my wimpy travelling companions, who splurged for box seats, I experienced the play in true groundling fashion, huddled against the stage in a rain storm. Okay, I don’t think the groundlings of Shakespeare’s day covered themselves in plastic bags, but they would have if they’d had them.

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The Hunt for Red October

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How quickly did we leave the Cold War behind? The dust had barely settled on the fall of the Berlin Wall when this 1990 Tom Clancy adaptation was treating the subject like a period film. Of course, the world had changed so drastically since the novel’s 1984 publication that it was impossible to view the material as current events.

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