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 flaws:
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 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.
The scene where Han shoots Greedo is also 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 C3P0 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 even worse than it is everywhere else in Star Wars. Not only do they never hit a shot, they search the Millenium Falcon by hand instead of using the life sensors we know they have, take the word of R2 and C3P0 when they find them hiding despite how incredibly suspicious that situation should have been, and flee from a lone Han when there's half a dozen of them. Leia tries to explain that the empire must have placed a tracking beacon and then 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. (Note that the reason I have only one criticism here is most likely not because the movie is good, but just because I haven't seen it in too long. Same goes for most of these movies, actually.)
I don't know why nobody else says this, but Han and Leia's romance is actually really messed up. Han's dialogue is 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 Han fondles her hand and she tell 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 C3P0's incessant dialogue did vastly more harm than good. Every time a scene is supposed to be intense and exciting we have C3P0 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, 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 important 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 of any apparent value over completing your mission that will help liberate the galaxy".
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
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. Like come on, he's a galactic tyrant, he kills innocent people, you have to take him down, period. Besides, 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, 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 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.
When Luke throws down his lightsaber instead of killing Vader in order to "not turn to the dark side". Come the fuck on Luke. Just because Sidious tells you to kill him doesn't make it evil. He's still a tyrant and a threat to innocent people, you still have to take him out. And if you're not going to, you should at least keep your weapon in hand so you can defend yourself. It's amazing how much damage the phrase "turn the other cheek" has done to our culture's moral compass.
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.
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
The movie makes several times the mistake of having 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, 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 soldiers.
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? Are you kidding me? As if 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.
Now, in the case of this movie, it is necessary for me to say that Revenge of the Sith has by far the strongest emotional impact of any Star Wars movie. Because 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
Rey learned the force way too fast. 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. Could we get some background, please, instead of just jumping into 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
Leia was an asshole to Poe. She physically assaulted him for doing what he thought was right. Fuck this trope. He had every right to hit her back.
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...
Wait. They actually kiss in the scene right after that? You gotta be kidding me. Even if you loved someone, 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 had lost, 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.
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 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.