That's right, I've finally gotten around to writing a review of the franchise. The one thing virtually everybody agrees is good (besides Lord of the Rings I guess). As with most things, everybody is wrong. Here's a list of major criticisms:
The morality. This is a very broad criticism that has a lot of facets. For one thing, the badguys are all strawman chaotic evil, and the goodguys aren't even that good. They're lawful neutral at best (I argue that point in a separate article). Now a flawed goodguy is normally a fine thing, but only when they're portrayed to be flawed. The Jedi are portrayed to be essentially perfect in the canon films. Not to mention it's statist, but that's to be expected. The intense black-and-white framing with no grey is also unfortunate.
The force is a fluffy magic system. This problem shows itself in many ways, so I'll just give one example: why can't Jedi fly? We know they have self-telekinesis.
A moderate case of sexism during the original and prequel trilogies. I bet Lucas thought he was being so egalitarian by including a female main character in both trilogies. It's not very meaningful when neither of them are Jedi, and Padme exists purely to support Anakin's arc. As for Leia, honestly I feel like you could just take her out of the original trilogy and the story would be much the same. And although the sequels seem to be doing away with this problem, after seeing how Episode 8 went I'm a little worried that we're going to end up with the exact opposite problem: Rey and Leia against Kylo. It doesn't help that Rey is the most overpowered hero Star Wars has ever seen and Kylo is a total wuss.
The droid rights problem (see the Solo section at the bottom). The droids in Star Wars are pretty clearly supposed to be sentient, but they seem to have no rights - none of the heroes ever object to them being sold as property by the Jawas in the beginning of A New Hope, never having a say in anything, or the practice of regularly wiping their memories.
The same thing applies to clones: no rights, they're bred to be soldiers and either don't have a choice in the matter or there are magically never any who don't want to do this. What's that? They explore this in the Clone Wars show? Yeah, but they don't address the obvious implication that um, the Republic is evil.
The gross incompetence of enemy mooks in every Star Wars movie. I don't think I need to explain why this is a bad thing.
Now I'll do some movie-specific criticisms. I'll list them in release order.
Episode IV: A New Hope
The intro to the movie is a really big weak point. It isn't until what would have been at least chapter 3 of a novel version that we finally meet the protagonist. If I was watching this movie for the first time, I would have walked out on it at least once by then.
It's a plot hole in the opening scene that the empire didn't destroy the escape pod. Just because it doesn't have life forms is no reason not to do that in a franchise where intelligent droids are commonplace.
Before we cut away from Vader interrogating Leia, it's heavily implied that Leia is about to be gruesomely tortured. Just look at that probe and the way it zooms in on the needle. If they did, Leia should have been at least horribly traumatized when we next see her. If they didn't, that in itself is a plothole. Why would you not use physical pain in that situation? It's not like the empire has standards.
Obi-Wan is clearly still a capable Jedi. He has no excuse to be living as a hermit on some obscure planet when he could be helping the rebellion. Even if he's too old to be a great frontline warrior (which isn't a legitimate excuse in a franchise containing Count Dooku), he could still be helping. He could be using the mind tricks we know he can do to persuade stormtroopers to desert, maybe, or using his force senses to act as a sort of superpowered scout, at the very least.
Luke in the beginning expresses wanting to leave his home and join the rebellion in a fight against evil. That's good. It shows us that Luke is a good person who values moral Agency and wants to do big things with his life. But then as soon as he's offered the chance to do exactly that and learn the ways of the Force, he suddenly forgets about this and thinks he can't fight the Empire and wants to go back home. It's like the hero was deliberately trying to make this easy for the writer, but the writer decided to pointlessly retcon his only admirable trait as soon as it became useful.
You might say they wanted to kill off Luke's family first to raise the tension or whatever. But they could still have done that. Luke could have decided to go but wanted to tell his aunt and uncle he was leaving, and found them dead when they got there. They could have pieced together that the stormtroopers traced the droids through the Jawas to the Lars homestead.
The scene where Han shoots Greedo is just awful. Han was very clearly being threatened with death, so what does he do? Say "over my dead body" and then not shoot immediately. Any reasonable person would have fired in that situation. Far worse than that is the thought that Greedo actually missed from point-blank range! Has he never used a blaster before? Even a stormtrooper would have hit that shot!
I also think that as unique and creative as it might have sounded, having main characters with no lines (Chewbacca and to an extent R2) was an incredibly bad decision. The result is that these characters have no personality and we don't really think of them as people, despite that the movie itself does.
Nobody seems to talk about that scene where C-3PO and R2 are playing a board game against Chewie. Han's line implying that Chewie might actually pull someone's arms out of their sockets if he lost the game is treated as funny and nothing else, but what about when you realize how evil that makes Chewie?
The moronic incompetence of the stormtroopers on the Death Star is excusable if we accept Leia's premise that the Empire placed a tracking beacon and let them go on purpose, but if she knew they were being tracked, why oh why did they go directly back to the rebel base?
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
In this installment, we meet Yoda. Copy-paste my criticism of Obi-Wan.
I don't know why nobody else says this, but Han and Leia's romance is actually really messed up. Han's dialogue in the beginning borders on sexual harassment. At least two times later on he totally crosses the line into physical assault: once when she falls and Han grabs her and she asks him to let go multiple times and he refuses, and again when he fondles her hand and she tells him to stop and he says "stop what?". Then he kisses her without explicit permission. Of course, Leia doesn't complain because George Lucas apparently thinks this is fine.
Luke's behavior when he visits Cloud City is more than a little irrational. His stated purpose was to rescue Han and Leia, but after he sees Leia being taken away be stormtroopers he doesn't pursue, but instead goes after Vader, and continues to press the fight when he has multiple chances to disengage. Has he completely forgotten why he's here? And he's sufficiently out of his mind to think he has a chance to outfight Vader?
There are also quite a few scenes where the emotions of the characters are so downplayed from how they would be realistically it just cripples the drama. Even besides the omnipresent "battle is not scary" crap, Luke should have had some kind of cognition while he was facing Vader in the cave ("WTF is happening? How is Vader here? Should I run and get Yoda's help?"), or while he was hanging on that little beam at the bottom of Cloud City ("Shit, I can't believe I chose to come here with Ben and Yoda both telling me this was a bad idea! Look where it got me!"). But nope. He's just blank the entire time.
I also think that C-3PO's incessant dialogue did vastly more harm than good. Every time a scene is supposed to be intense and exciting we have C-3PO yelling about how much he doubts R2's abilities, or some shit like that.
Finally, I don't want to end this section without mentioning how wrong Yoda is about everything. I know I already mentioned at the top how much I abhor Jedi spirituality, but it comes to a head in this movie when Yoda says things like "A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack" - even though Jedi demonstrably do use the Force for attack - and "Adventure, excitement, a Jedi craves not these things" - even if you don't believe in the Protagonist virtue model, that's a spectacularly horrible piece of advice to give to someone involved in a war for freedom and who you're trying to train to play the most adventurous and exciting role in it. And he's always on about patience without any understanding of the context that that virtue is supposed to be understood in. He uses it to mean "You should favor waiting around eating soup and doing nothing over completing your mission that will help liberate the galaxy".
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
The whole nude Leia thing in the beginning was totally unnecessary and distasteful. I can't tell if this was some kind of disgusting attempt at fanservice, or if George somehow thought he was doing something somehow not perverse here.
In the scene where Luke talks to Ben and Yoda about Vader being his father, it's not believable that he was that hung up about it. Luke didn't grow up with Vader and had never even spoken to him prior to their battle. He doesn't know anything about his father as a person except the long list of atrocities, so it's unrealistic that he felt so strongly about having to fight him. The reluctance was just shoehorned in to pander to an audience that has an unjustified belief that one ought to treat one's biological family differently than one would ought to treat any other person who took the same actions.
Please retcon the Ewoks and everything about them out of existence. They're little teddy bears who take down high-tech armed and armored soldiers with sticks and spears. It just makes the stormtroopers even more of a joke than they already were. Far more importantly, the scene where the Ewoks capture and incarcerate the heroes - and even plan to eat Han! - and are still portrayed as goodguys. They must have known the heroes were people. There's no defending it. The Ewoks are evil.
And C-3PO refuses to tell the Ewoks to let the heroes go? Why the fuck...?
Leia's unwillingness to talk to Han about what Luke told her is really painful. She is in love with him, and has no motivation to keep this a secret. If she were a real person she would want to talk about her emotional problems to her lover. Not to mention how much it was clearly upsetting Han and giving him a false impression of her choosing Luke as a lover instead of him.
The messed up Jedi spirituality is thicker in this movie than anywhere else in Star Wars. While I'm willing to accept Luke's insistence on trying to convert Vader to the point of turning himself in, there is absolutely no excuse for not taking out the Emperor when he had a clear chance. Hating the emperor is a goodguy thing to do! And then he has to go as far as throwing down his weapon, fully surrendering to the forces of evil because he's apparently inexplicably become an outright pacifist. For fuck's sake it's amazing how much damage the phrase "turn the other cheek" has done to our culture's moral compass.
The dialogue between Luke and the Emperor in that scene is also really, really bad. Every time it cuts away and back from Luke looking out the window at the fleet, the lines they exchange are nearly identical. There's no progression in this conversation. Luke's final refusal is delivered by the line "I'll never turn to the dark side", which is a near-verbatim repitition of what he's already stated several times. And it makes matters worse that he claims "You've failed, your highness" as he surrenders and gives up on defeating the Emperor - when he just found out his friends aren't going to either.
Let's also mention that Luke didn't actually play a role in the final downfall of the Empire in this movie. Wait, what? How can I say that when he clearly is responsible for converting Vader and thereby killing the Emperor? Think again: the heroes on the ground overcame the Emperor's trap and took down the shield all by themselves. The heroes in space exploited the weakness and took out the Death Star all by themselves. The Death Star would have been destroyed, and both Vader and Sidious killed, without Luke's involvement in the finale. You might argue that Luke's presence distracted the Emperor from sensing the rebels overcoming his measures, but the Force is such an iffy system that we can't make that claim without any real evidence for it. And even if that's true it still cripples his role as protagonist of the story to say he was only serving as a distraction. This is actually a very serious failure and only mitigated by how easy it is to not notice.
Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Episode I introduces midichlorians, a horrible worldbuilding mistake. The Force isn't magical anymore. It's just a scientific phenomenon. If Episode I was the first Star Wars movie and they actually did something with that concept, that would be okay, but after the original trilogy builds up the mysticism around the Force, it really isn't okay. At least it's easy to forget about it since the other movies ignore the concept.
Without knowing the context of the culture it came from, I would think the Jedi are okay with slavery. When Qui-Gon goes to Tatooine and finds slaves, he should have just threatened Watto into letting the slaves go and taken the hyperdrive, but instead he risks the life of a 9-year-old boy in a dangerous race so he can get the parts without upsetting a slaver. What the fuck, Qui-Gon.
It's also a plothole that Anakin won the race. He's just one of probably dozens of racers with no special advantages. We know that he has never even finished a race before, and Sebulba sabotaged his pod, but somehow he still wins because the plot needs him to. Writers can't rely on luck to save the heroes. Come on.
The scene where Anakin asks Padme if she's an angel. Ugh... come on, Lucas. Not only would nobody say that to a stranger in real life, but 9-year-olds aren't exactly known for noticing physical beauty in other people. It's just an absurdly heavy-handed way to set up a forced romance in Episode 2.
The scene at the dinner table where Qui-Gon grabs Jar Jar's tongue and holds it for several seconds. This is physical assault. I don't care if his table manners were bad, that doesn't make it okay to just violate someone else's body like that.
As much as I think the Jar Jar hate is overdone by most fans, I have to agree he's a bad character. He plays no role in the plot except bringing Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon to the Gungan city. And the scenes where he bumbles around in the battle being incredibly successful through pure luck are absolute cringe.
Of course, we have to talk about Darth Maul... if only they had put less effort into making him look cool and more into making him actually cool. He has no backstory, almost no lines, and dies in his first real fight. What they should have done is just kept Darth Maul alive into AotC and even RotS. Scrap Dooku and maybe Grievous as well. That way they could have concentrated the coolness of their villains into one deeper villain instead of three separate weak villains.
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
This movie was the unfortunate creation ground of Anakin and Padme's awful romance. This seems to be a very common mistake in romance writing: writers forget that real people don't fall in love simply because the plot needs them to, but because they see something they like in the other person. Anakin and Padme had nothing in common and no chemistry; George forced them together for the sake of the plot and it shows.
During Dooku's conversation with the captured Obi-Wan, he flat-out tells him that the republic is under the control of a Sith lord. What conclusion could you possibly draw from that except that Palpatine is the Sith lord we've been looking for? And yet the Jedi don't figure it out until well into the next movie.
There's actually another problem with the same scene. And this isn't the only place this occurs in Star Wars (it's all over the fiction industry in general), but it's the least defensible if you ask me: when Dooku offers Obi-Wan to join him, why doesn't Obi-Wan pretend to accept in the hopes of maybe backstabbing him later? He has nothing to lose, and this course of action would be completely non-committal. There doesn't seem to be any possible reason not to try this, and the film doesn't even acknowledge it as an option.
The scene where Anakin kills the Tusken raiders and then talks to Padme about it is very messed up. The movie's unilateral moral is that Anakin was wrong to kill them; but the Tusken Raiders were murderers. Killing them protected their future victims. What kind of double-standard pacifist wrote this story? The only argument you could make that Anakin was wrong there is from his statement that he killed "not just the men, but the women, and the children too" - obviously the children probably didn't have anything to do with the murders - but the scene doesn't actually show him killing any children, heavily implying that he's wrong to kill even the ones who kidnap and murder innocents. Also that defense raises a separate problem from the way he mentions the women separately; is this an implication that women shouldn't be judged the same as men who take the same actions, or are the Tusken Raiders so partriarchal that they really no power over it? There's no indication of such. And after all that, Padme's reaction was hilariously downplayed. Your boyfriend confesses to murdering children and you're going to say "To be angry is to be human"?
The gunship argument scene after Padme falls out is horrifyingly bad. Mostly because it's blown way too far out of proportion; Anakin might be in love enough to want to put the ship down but he isn't stupid enough to make it dead obvious in front of Obi-Wan that he's breaking his vows and neither is Obi-Wan stupid enough to not pick up on it after this. For his Jedi apprentice who's dedicated his life to the order and trained against attachment for over a decade to suddenly want to abort the mission and outright say he doesn't care if he gets expelled for it and then for no consequences to ensue is absurd.
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Way too many times the badguys lose fights because they were morons and tried to capture the heroes instead of killing them. It happens aboard the ship in the beginning when the heroes are brought to Grievous and then escape, it happens with the battle droids in the elevator, and it happens on Utapau when Obi-Wan jumps down and is surrounded by hundreds of enemies and they don't, you know, all attack him at once like reasonable adversaries.
The way this movie treats Padme is really disappointing. AotC set her up as a reasonably strong character (as much as you can be when it's clear you exist just to be a love interest), but in RotS she just has absolutely nothing to do for the whole movie. And to top it all off, she dies of sadness when her man turns evil? I guess the movie wasn't sexist enough... Just drives home the point that the only woman in the story isn't her own character but exists solely for Anakin's sake.
Grievous was a big disappointment. Like Darth Maul, he looks cool and threatening, but that's all. In the beginning of the movie, his senseless attempt to capture the Jedi instead of killing them predictably ends in disaster, he sends his minions to fight them without lifting a finger himself, he flees when they of course get chopped into pieces with zero effort, all the while claiming "you lose, General Kenobi". In the Utapau scene, he makes the same dumbass tactical mistake, he loses two hands and all of his lightsabers in his first minute of fighting Obi-Wan, and the only time he's able to do so much as land a punch is when Obi-Wan is disarmed. Grievous is the least threatening villain in all of Star Wars (not counting Phasma), and that's saying something.
It's also worth mentioning that RotS boasts some of the worst dialogue in the franchise. Anakin: "If you're not with me, then you're my enemy!" in a dramatic voice when it kind of disjoints the conversation anyway, followed by Obi-Wan: "Only a Sith deals in absolutes" (in a franchise with such black-and-white morality, really?). And then later Anakin: "From my point of view the Jedi are evil!" What, is Anakin engaging in relativist rhetoric now?
Now, in the case of this movie it is necessary for me to say that Revenge of the Sith has some positives. I've been only counting the flaws of these movies and that's kind of unfair except that it's true. None of them really have any outstanding points to praise. But the prequels are the only trilogy with a strong hero's arc, and Revenge of the Sith is not only a decent resolution to it but also a tragedy, which is super rare in our fiction. I have to give it some credit for that.
Episode VII: The Force Awakens
This isn't a big problem, but it's unsatisftying that the old man in the beginning who gives Poe the thingy was never mentioned again, as he was strongly implied to be a character with a past that relates to the others. Speaking of Leia, "She's royalty to me", and Kylo speaking to him, "Look how old you've become".
Rey is overpowered. Jedi need years of training to reach even padawan-level, but Rey uses a mind trick successfully without even five minutes of training. Then she beats a trained Sith lord in a lightsaber fight without having ever held a lightsaber before. It's great that Star Wars finally has a female protagonist, but making her blatantly overpowered actually damages the effect by making it look like feminist propaganda.
We were promised an explanation of how Maz Kanata got Luke's lightsaber, but never got it.
Really? The First Order built the Death Star 3.0? What a surprise when the Resistance takes it down in the very same movie! When will the badguys learn? Aaaargh
It's made clear that things have changed since the end of the original trilogy, but we don't know how. The two sides' names have changed - that implies that the war was over at least temporarily. We're jumping into the middle of the plot in a world we don't know anything about?
In the original trilogy, it's made very clear that Leia is force-sensitive, so why didn't Luke just train her? Honestly why bother introducing Rey when you already have a female hero in place and set up to be a Jedi?
Okay, maybe you don't want Leia to be the protagonist since she's not starting from the beginning like Luke and Rey, but she should at least be a Jedi. She could have been Rey's mentor. Especially since after Episode 8 it's apparent that they are going to make Leia a Jedi after all, it really feels like a needless plothole that Luke didn't just train her immediately after RotJ.
By far my biggest criticism of Rogue One is in the scene at the rebel base where Jyn is given her mission. It's visually subtle, but Jyn is actually still handcuffed while in the rebel base. These rebels apparently have no concept of respecting the basic rights of someone you want to work for you (don't even pretend she was a threat). Sometimes you gotta wonder if they're really any different from the empire.
A much smaller criticism is that most of the names of the members of Rogue One weren't even mentioned in the movie, or if they were it was so discreet that I didn't catch. The only two I knew by the end of the movie were Jyn and Cassian. It really hurt the relatability of the characters. When I watched it, I actually frequently couldn't tell Cassian and the other guy who looked like him apart.
Also, does anyone else think the blind non-Jedi ninja is a mind-numbingly stupid idea?
Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
The scene where Leia slaps Poe for successfully taking out an imperial Dreadnaught and saving the day. I knew it was just a matter of time before this fucking trope showed up. Although surprisingly there's also the scene where Luke does similar to Rey, and it's not obvious whether that makes the movie worse by doubling the condonement of physical assault, or better by showing that it's not a double standard thing.
The part where Rey followed Luke around the island trying to get him to talk to her went on for far too long. Both the drama and the believability were killed after a while. Not to mention that cow milking scene was disgusting and unnecessary; I had to look away.
Really, Snoke is dead already? He never even got to do anything! What is it with Star Wars and incompetent, underdeveloped villains?
The fight scene with Rey and Kylo versus the praetorian guards, while really, really cool from a story perspective, was really, really bad from a choreography perspective. I didn't even notice it at all my first time. But when I saw a youtube video that played through the fight pointing out all the mistakes, I couldn't help but feel a sense of almost guilt for thinking this scene was fine. I can't count on one hand the number of times one of the guards just forgot about the fight and decided to go tangle with an imaginary adversary for a minute instead of the real ones.
TFA mentioned the "Knights of Ren", so the burden was really on TLJ to explore that. So what did Disney do? Completely ignored it, to the point where you can be forgiven for forgetting it ever happened.
Oh yeah, and the scene where Rose stops Finn from sacrificing himself to save the day. That is actually treacherous. Like I've said before, heroes that make mistakes are great, but it wasn't portrayed as a mistake. Luckily, they left it unclear enough that they still have a chance to reverse it in Episode 9. Not that they will though...
Rose's preached moral is bad enough that I'm making it a separate point. "Saving what we love" is exactly what Finn was trying to do! He was going to take out the cannon to save what he loved! Also, it's painfully ironic that the prequel trilogy shows Anakin following this exact advice (saving Padme over destroying the Sith) and, rightly, portrays him as evil for it.
Wait. They actually kiss in the scene right after that? You gotta be kidding me. Even if you loved her, even if you didn't think what Rose did was treacherous, would you really kiss someone right in the middle of a fucking battle like that?!?
The biggest thing we have to talk about in Solo in L3's droid rights campaign. Because, as I said above, L3 is entirely right... and that's why this is a criticism. The problem is that the anti-droud racism is so deeply ingrained in Star Wars that I don't think taking it back and sending this message is a viable solution. You just end up with a massively self-contradicting franchise, which is the whole reason the EU had to be purged (not saying it was Disney's reason but it was my reason for supporting it). Also, if you're going to deliver a message like that with your movie, it needs to be the focus of the movie. You can't just tack on a super heavy moral about how everything in the franchise is wrong and all the goodguys we've rooted for thus far have been wrong.
Next biggest is one of the most horrible sins of storytelling: the protagonist keeps a secret from the audience. I'm talking about the gambit pileup with the coaxium and Enfys Nest and everything. The audience is clearly led to believe that Han was out of cards - just look at his face when he finds out what Beckett did - but he actually saw it all coming (how?) and won anyway.
I for one wasn't sure why Qi'ra couldn't come with Han in the end. Dryson is dead, if someone else takes over the Crimson Dawn they'll have no way of knowing she killed him, and it's clear she really does love Han.
Also, the revelation that Enfys Nest were goodguys was really unsatisfying because there was no foreshadowing of it. They put the heroes in a lost position and then magically turned the villain good - aka Deus Ex Machina.
Let's also mention the scene where Beckett decides to let Han and Chewie onboard after trying to kill Han, and then there's... no conversation about it?!? The tension in the air would be so strong after that that neither of them would be able to resist talking about it if they were real people. This should have been a great scene for letting the characters develop and bond with each other. But no, the writers skipped it because they weren't interested in their characters.
Finally, the dark battle scene in the beginning was all of confusing at the time, unexplained in retrospect, and seemed to have no place in the plot. Why were those people fighting the empire? They're scoundrels, not rebels. If they get caught by the empire they're supposed to flee, not fight what one of them literally claimed was a "war".
Oh, one more thing: while it was a huge relief to me that Han didn't end up winning the Falcon in the first Sabaac match, the scene at the end where he does had no place in the story except patching the inconsistency between Solo and ANH. The story was finished before that. Resolved. The writers realized that they forgot to accomplish one of the core goals of the movie, so instead of going back and revising their plot, they just added a patch scene at the end. Not to mention the cheating thing is a bit unbelievable. Lando was playing with a bunch of other experienced card game players; if he had more of a certain card than was supposed to be in the deck, wouldn't somebody have noticed during the game? In real life experienced poker players count cards.
And I'll probably come back and add some more of the more minor and movie-specific criticisms later on. Still, Star Wars is a huge improvement over other pervasive franchises like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. It's good enough that I plan on watching Episode 9.