Almost two years ago to the day a pair of intrepid film fans settled into a well worn sofa to undertake a big screen on the small screen adventure; a trek through all three of the Lord of the Rings extended editions, going there and back again on a 681 minute movie odyssey. It was exhausting, exhilarating, and thanks to combination of fatigue and "you bow to no one” Aragorn earnestness, rather emotional.
Since then the FilmsFilmsFilms crew have undertaken eleven movie marathons. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve drunk too much booze and gorged on too much popcorn. One thing we’ve learnt is that watching a plot unravel across a number of movies can cast a whole new light on a film series. We’ve noticed things we never saw before and seen characters in a new light. If you’re a film fan and never ploughed through your favourite movie series in one mammoth sitting, you really should. It’s a satisfying challenge and a great way of breathing new life into films you’ve seen too many times before.
So to celebrate reaching the two year milestone FilmsFilmsFilms set forth on the ultimate Hollywood journey, a story that truly spreads itself across time, space and a six film saga; Star Wars.
At 794 minutes this would be our longest marathon yet. There was a short debate about what order to run the films in, but we soon opted for story chronology. It was a short argument; it would get the worst film of the series out of the way early on, would ensure we finished on a plot high, and made a lot more sense from a straight-line plot point of view. So with bowls of breakfast cereal on our laps, we slipped The Phantom Menace (1999) into the blu-ray player and steadied our nerves. Half hour in, with Jar Jar Binks and Jake Lloyd having made their onscreen debuts, one marathoner crudely voiced what we’re all thinking, "this film still sucks arse”.
10.00am, Phantom Menace and there's already a light and a dark side in the room...
I was never a massive Star Wars fan, so I can only imagine the heart crushing disappointment at the time. It must have been equally galling with The Matrix (1999) playing in screens next door showing Lucas how sci-fi cinema at the turn of the millennium should be done. Retrospectively, Phantom doesn’t leave quite the stench it did first time around. Neeson is an easy watch as he always is, while the Duel of the Fates is still breathtaking, one of the few iconic moments from the film that also had a new soon-to-be-classic cut from John Williams. Natalie Portman looks stunning, and the pod race is a double treat; it’s a thrill to watch and it meant Jake Lloyd kept his mouth shut for fifteen shit-dialogue-free minutes (though why the hell Qui-Gon didn’t just twat Watto with his lightsabre and pinch the parts he needed, none of us can tell).
Attack of the Clones (2002) takes us to lunchtime and starts to clear the breakfast indigestion Phantom caused. The early running is a little rough though; Hayden Christensen's shit ponytail and the start of his endless whinging and moaning causes a collective groan, while the best scene in the first half is a blatant steal from Blade Runner (1982). Things improve immeasurably when Samuel L Jackson unleashes his uber cool purple lightsabre and Portman’s white tribute-to-Leia outfit starts falling apart at the seams. In a nice tribute to Peter Cushing’s villainous turn in the original trilogy, Christopher Lee adds another bad guy of his own to his bulging back catalogue. And then after almost two decades of waiting fans finally found out why Yoda is the Jedi master of all Jedi masters as he takes it to Count Dooku in a whirlwind of green lightsabre swings. We do wonder if he’s on the benefit scrounge though as no sooner has Dooku snuck off he grabs his walking stick and limps off again. Broken Britain and Broken Coruscant indeed.
Threatening Yoda with the world's smallest lightsabres
A smile and a sandwich for lunch as we slide Revenge of the Sith (2005) into the player and realise that only top quality movies lay ahead. Anakin has sorted his crap haircut out but his whinging has now reached Mary Whitehouse proportions. We’ve also given up counting the number of woeful dialogue lines the cast gamefully try to wrangle into semi-believable exchanges. The only one who comes off well is Ian McDiarmid, who, as the day goes on, we realise is the underappreciated star of the series.
These are small complaints though as we all revel in mass Wookie mayhem, the return of the old school Star Wars universe (including a nice Cushing look alike) and Obi-Wan finally dishing out an Anakin ass-whooping that we’ve been screaming for during the preceding four hours. Lucas for all his faults on the script front didn’t pull his punches with Order 66 either and its genuinely moving watching the Jedi get decimated and the newly minted Vader clean out kiddie Jedi central with his lightsabre. The finale on Mustafa is perhaps the stunning highlight of the new trilogy, a visual masterpiece, McGregor working wonders with the few lines of tortured dialogue and Kenobi leaving Anakin a human sausage roll. And of course we all join in with that Anakin / Vader line that is so bad, it’s become a classic "Nooooooooo”.
The Empire Strikes Back; snow so white it blinds us.
Such is the visual and aural assault of the last forty-five minutes of Sith the start of A New Hope (1977) seems a little pedestrian by comparison, once we move beyond Vader’s Star Destroyer. Classic internet spoof Snatch Wars has also left an indelible mark as we can’t help but here Alan Ford’s gravely tones every time Dave Prowse points his finger "I’ll cut your fucking Jacobs off”. Something that does become apparent, and then lingers in the room like a heavy fart over the next three films, is the incestuous overtones that finger the relationship between Luke and Leia; the glances, the caresses, the full on lip smacking snogs. I get back ache from all the cringing.
The excellent transfer to blu-ray for this thirty seven year old vintage softens the blow. Anakin versus Obi-Wan round two is a much more sedate affair, but understandably with the former only rocking one original limb and the latter having spent the intervening years getting musty in a cave. Harrison Ford’s arrival is a seismic shift; its incredible how much of a difference his roguish space pirate makes to the story and the tone. The eternal question arises; does Greedo shoot first? In this lastest home edition, it appears they both shoot at the same time, though if pushed to call we reckon Greedo pips Solo to the post, just.
Carrie Fisher, gold bikini, hidden boner
The most critically lauded instalment arrives next, as we all sit up straight to see how good Empire Strikes Back (1980) looks on blu-ray. We’re also surprised at how fresh we all feel seeing that we’ve been living in Lucas’ universe for almost nine hours now. But Empire’s slow middle section had us reaching for the energy drinks as weariness crept in. Bums were numb, bellies were bloated, and teeth were furry, yet the quality of the film kept us going. One thing that really stands out now that we've followed the new trilogy with the old is just how senile Yoda is when Luke finds him. Last time we saw him he was a super wise, super dangerous Jedi warrior; now he’s a doddery old kook, more concerned with rummaging through Luke’s lunchbox than sorting out the state of the universe. Thankfully shades of the CGI Yoda return and those oh-so quotable nuggets come thick and fast, "do or do not, there is no try”.
On blu-ray, the final Han Solo carbon freeze / Luke versus Vader battle looks more stunning than it ever has before. It is one of the most visually arresting scenes in movie history, the contrast of the orange/yellow lighting against the cool blue background the perfect colour metaphor for the series' dark side / force division. Ironically, given the naff dialogue we’ve endured up until now, the scene peaks with one of the best onscreen exchanges ever, "I love you...I know”.
Feeling slightly weary, we reach the sixth and final part around ten in the evening, twelve hours on from when we started. Fortunately for me, it’s my favourite instalment. The critics and fans were less keen, but there’s no debate over which Star Wars movie has the best opening; the first half hour of Return of the Jedi (1983) is glorious. Funny, action packed, chock full of new character development, and of course, the gold bikini gracing the mouth-watering curves of Carrie Fisher, none of the other films come close in the action packed intro stakes.
Our prize for reaching the end? One last creepy Anakin stare...I'll be seeing that bastard in my nightmares...
The finale of Jedi does seem a touch convenient when it arrives just before midnight; years of struggling against the evil Empire and the whole house of cards is brought down by some short-ass bears flinging rocks and swinging logs. Its the most embarrassing upset in history. And thank god Lucas added some extra celebratory scenes back in 1997, as the end of this massive saga really needed something more grandiose than a treetop barbeque to cap it off. But just when we think its safe, up crops the ghost of Anakin to throw Luke one of those creepy, I’m-gonna-molest-you looks he spent the first three films flinging Queen Amidala’s way. Come back Sebastian Shaw, all is forgiven.
Three minutes to midnight, the show comes to an end. And what a show it’s been. Sure, the dialogue is the often the movie equivalent of having someone piss in your ear, but there’s so much else to appreciate and entertain, even in the new trilogy, that it can be completely forgiven. We sat in front of a television from 10.00am until midnight and not one minute passed when we weren’t utterly enthralled by what was on screen. We've quoted dialogue, we've laughed, we've shuddered, we've fist pumped the air, we've picked out the cameos, the in-jokes, the added scenes, and the head-bumping mistakes. This is how you make a double movie trilogy. Lets hope JJ Abrams can make it a hat trick.