Monthly Archives: December 2015

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

StarWarsEp3TitleHayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader
Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi
Natalie Portman as Padme Amidala
Ian McDiarmid as Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine
Frank Oz as Yoda
Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu
Anthony Daneils as C-3PO
Kenny Baker as R2-D2
Jimmy Smits as Senator Bail Organa
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca
Silas Carson as The Viceroy
Matthew Wood as General Grievous

After taking a mini-vacation for Christmas, I am ready to conclude this Star Wars material in anticipation of the new movie with Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Whether you like these prequels or not, you have to admit that this was a pretty significant moment in the series. It shows us Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader, the villain who, to many, defines the entire series. Do you know that before the new Force Awakens, he was the only Star Wars character to appear in every movie in the series in some form? Also, we were told that this was to be the last Star Wars movie ever. I don’t think any of us really believed that, but what the Hell, we were gonna roll with that.

The civil war between the Republic and the separatists from Attack of the Clones is on. But there’s something more sinister going on. Chancellor Palpatine has set this whole thing up and is turning Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side. Anakin gets visions of Padme — who he is only secretly married to because marriage is against the rules of the jedi — dying and is informed by Palpatine that only the Dark Side can enable him to save Padme. And I think you all know how that works out. But despite his conditional turn, Anakin ends up becoming addicted the Dark Side to the point where he ends up becoming consumed by it and former mentor Obi-Wan ends up giving up on him.

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The true villain.

The most obvious improvement over Attack of the Clones is Hayden Christensen’s performance. He’s still not Oscar-worthy by any stretch of the imagination, but he does elevate himself to below average as opposed to utter crap. Since many of his scenes are with McGregor and McDiarmid, both of whom are great actors, that’s not as bad as it sounds.

One slightly disappointing performance, though, is from Samuel L. Jackson as jedi master Mace Windu. He specializes in playing extremely passionate characters but is an even-tempered jedi here. He might have adapted to this new situation, except that the change of style appears to have made him uncomfortable. Result? A rare mediocre performance from him.

The romantic dialogue is still highly questionable, but the dialogue concerning the political gamesmanship and Anakin’s turn are quite solid.

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Secondary baddie? No. Action figure design.

Action is also excellent. It consists mostly of lightsaber dueling and Palpatine’s troops sneak-attacking unsuspecting opponents. It’s done extremely well, particularly the simultaneous Anakin v. Obi-Wan and Yoda v. Palpatine duels (good wins one, evil wins the other). Acrobatics, great effects, and most importantly, creativity enable them to really stand out.

The most exciting part is, of course, Anakin turning to the Dark Side. As noted, part of the reason is that Palpatine convinces him that only the power of evil can save Padme. Ironically, it turns out to be precisely because Anakin turned that his wife dies. Still, a big part of Anakin’s conversion is that Mace was half-expecting him to turn all along. So when circumstances create a close battle between Palpatine and Mace, with the outcome to be decided by who Anakin helps, he has a choice between helping a father figure and a guy who’s been treating him like a suspected criminal. Of course, Obi-Wan screwed up in his failure to see the signs and help Anakin resist the Dark Side before it was too late, as he admits in both this movie and Return of the Jedi. So we’re left to wonder who really is at fault.

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“Payback, jedi bitches!”

 All said, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is a pretty good conclusion to the prequel trilogy. While not perfect, it’s a very admirable ending.

Overall: 8 out of 10

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

StarWarsEp2TitleHayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker
Natalie Portman as Senator Padme Amidala
Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi
Ian McDiarmid as Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious
Christopher Lee as Count Dooku
Frank Oz as Yoda
Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu
Anthony Daniels as C-3PO
Kenny Baker as R2-D2

I wasn’t as harsh on The Phantom Menace as some have been. While it had its problems, I find it to be an enjoyable film overall.

Does that mean I like everything Star Wars? Not at all. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones is not something I consider to be a remotely good movie. Dialogue is awful (not that it was ever this series’ strong suit), plotting is shallow and lousy, and nothing seems to matter but the climactic laser shootouts and sword fights at the end. In short, Star Wars meets Steven Seagal.

It’s been a number of years since our heroes liberated planet Naboo. Anakin is now a teenager and jedi-in-training under Obi-Wan Kenobi. They are tasked as bodyguards to Senator Padme Amidala. After an attempt on Padme’s life is made, Obi-Wan spirits her away to a hidden place with Anakin protecting her, while Obi-Wan investigates who was behind the attack. Through a series of deus ex machina, er, plot twists, all three people end up where some separatists, including a new sith (and renowned ex-jedi) named Count Dooku, are hiding.

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Oh, and Boba Fett’s dad turns out to be important, despite Boba being as marginal a character as they come before the expanded universe elevated them. Go with it, people.

The first thing I want to bring up is Hayden Christensen’s performance. It’s nothing less than atrocious. His voice is both forced and over the top. Doesn’t have much variety in his facial expressions, either. And yet, he’s called on to show tremendous emotion at times. Needless to say, it ain’t pretty.

Speaking of things that aren’t pretty, there’s the romantic dialogue between Christensen and Portman. It’s horrible. I mean horrible because nobody ever talks like this. For instance, when Padme explains that their careers make a relationship impossible, Anakin says, “You’re asking me to be rational.” This is meant to show that Anakin can’t control his feelings for Padme, but instead makes the former come off as a raving lunatic.

(However, I must take issue with a popular critique of Anakin. They say that he’s too whiny. And I agree. He is. However, the same will be true of his son. Don’t believe me? Rewatch his scenes with Yoda in Empire Strikes Back and see how Luke complains about everything he can. “We’re wasting our time!” “You want the impossible!” And on and on. That Luke’s father is a crybaby actually makes perfect sense.)

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Of course, knowing that doesn’t make it any harder to want to punch Anakin in the face. Can’t argue with that.

The plot isn’t constructed in the best of ways either. It’s almost randomness that somehow gets to a climatic finish. That’s why I made the comparison to Steven Seagal.

This movie does deliver in terms of action, though. The blaster and lightsaber combat is executed extremely well. It’s the kind of epic, fast paced combat that the originals never could have managed. Samuel L. Jackson is a particularly convincing jedi, however much the mostly dispassionate character he plays does not work to his strengths as an actor.

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When there’s so little good to be found, you can understand why this is what Attack of the Clones is best remembered for.

But in terms of substance, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones is by far the worst movie in the series (note that I have not seen any of the sequel trilogy as of this writing). We really do all make mistakes.

Overall: 3 out of 10

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

StarWarsEp1Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn
Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi
Natalie Portman as Queen Amidala
Ahmed Best as Jar Jar Binks
Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker
Ian McDiarmid as Senator Palpatine/Darth Sidious
Ray Park as Darth Maul
Kenny Baker as R2-D2
Andy Secombe as Watto
Pernilla August as Shmi Skywalker
Frank Oz as Yoda
Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu
Hugh Quarshie as Captain Panaka
Oliver Ford Davies as Sio Bibble
Lewis MacLeod as Sebulba

Few movies inspire the kind of hatred in geeks the way Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace does.Yet its incredible box office numbers, along with those of the entire prequel trilogy, indicate a geek-vs.-mainstream division similar to that of the Twilight series. Sure, part of that is the brand that sells automatic tickets. Its harshest critics even argue that this was so true that the worst movie ever would’ve been one of the most successful ever if “star” and “war” appeared in the title. But this is more grasping for straws than realistic explanation. If Batmaninspired movies could bomb at the box office, then at some point these prequels should have started struggling to turn a profit.

Basically, the criticism of Phantom Menace boils down to three arguments:

1.) It’s too kiddie-friendly.
2.) There’s not enough interesting going on.
3.) Jar Jar Binks is an asshole!

I fully accept the third premise — and will eventually get into what Jar Jar does to this movie — but I can certainly argue with the first two.

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Why stop with the tongue?

While it’s technically true that this is a very family-friendly movie, since when has that not been true of Star Wars as a whole. The comic relief duo that is C-3PO and R2-D2. The ewoks. The Muppets’ fingerprints (see Yoda, Jabba’s gang) on the series. I’m not saying that the originals were just for kids, but the apparent belief of some that this is somehow a totally dark and mature series is simply wrong, and points to fans wanting Star Wars to be something it’s not, was never intended to be.

As far as the lack of interesting stuff, we’re in a different time period, with a different cast. A more lighthearted film before we get into the big stuff makes sense. Besides, there is big stuff going down, though it wasn’t as easy to know before we knew everything that Lucas and co. were building up to. We’re told that the planet Naboo is being taken over by the Trade Federation over a tax dispute. Doesn’t sound very interesting, except that the Trade Federation is being manipulated by greed and a sith lord named Darth Sidious and his apprentice, Darth Maul. As we discover in the next two episodes, Sidious is secretly a Naboo Senator named Palpatine, who is orchestrating all this to demonstrate a nonfunctional Republic and because of sympathy for Palpatine’s people, he becomes Chancellor of the Republic. Although Queen Amidala*, aided by jedi knights Qui-gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, their new apprentice Anakin Skywalker, and a gungan named Jar Jar Binks eventually liberate Naboo, they have no idea that the traitorous new Chancellor that they have put in power was their ultimate enemy all along! See how all this ends up being quite meaningful?

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Never trust a scary-looking old man.

*Not all this political gamesmanship is perfectly executed. For instance (and this might be nitpicking, I admit), “Queen” Amidala isn’t a queen at all. She says she was elected and doesn’t seem to be able to order Naboo’s senator around. Amidala’s more like a governor.

Character development works as well. Qui-Gon is a rebel who often defies the wishes of the jedi council. This surprising attitude for a jedi proves quite interesting. Another surprise to those who watched the originals first is that Obi-Wan turns out to not be a seasoned jedi but instead someone just now getting ready to become a full-fledged jedi. That helps explain why he screws up with Anakin: Obi-Wan isn’t ready to have his own pupil. Amidala is a politician thrown into a world she’s not ready for but determined to save her people regardless.

And it’s at this point where I have to talk about Jar Jar and the young Anakin. Jake Lloyd, to be frank, can’t act. He’s constantly over the top and his timing is weak. I’ve seen child actors who showed some degree of competence, but Lloyd certainly wasn’t among them. Besides, he’s actually not as annoying as the teen Anakin in Attack of the Clones, so it can’t just be that Lloyd was a child.

Then there’s Jar Jar. If you know three people who were disappointed that he barely exists in the next two films, I’ll be amazed by your detective skills. His high-pitched voice and ridiculous stupidity/clumsiness make for an extremely unlikable character. I think what hurts him the most is the exaggerated nature of his idiocy. Scenes like Jar Jar not noticing that a vehicle isn’t running are bad comedy of the worst kind.

To end on a positive note, there’s some nice bits that reveal things that we know that the cast does not. For instance, the Jedi Council refuses to train Anakin because of the potential for the Dark Side in him, though Qui-Gon trains him anyway. This puts a very clever twist on the prophecy cliche. Anakin is supposed to bring balance to The Force. But since there are lots of jedi and just two sith, Sidious and Maul, what’s the real way to create balance?

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Isn’t that a cute little destroyer of worlds?

A couple of annoying characters is not enough to ruin a movie. While Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace isn’t a great movie, it’s good enough.

Overall: 7 out of 10

Return of the Jedi

ReturnJediTitleMark Hamill as Luke Skywalker
Harrison Ford as Han Solo
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia Organa
Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian
Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor
James Earl Jones and David Prowse as Darth Vader
Anthony Daniels as C-3PO
Kenny Baker as R2-D2
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca
David Barclay as Jabba the Hutt
Frank Oz as Yoda
Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan/Ben Kenobi
Timothy M. Rose as Admiral Ackbar

Originally intended to be titled Revenge of the Jedi (changed because that would be out of character), Return of the Jedi marks the end of the original Star Wars trilogy. It’s also the third movie in the entire series to be made. That is a low point in most series of films. There are exceptions. Rocky didn’t decline until its fifth try and Iron Man had a so-so second movie and bounced back in the third go. But the vast majority of series get worse at about this time. From that perspective, Return of the Jedi fares well.

The first stage of the story is as you’d expect. Remember that The Empire Strikes Back ended with Han Solo having been frozen in carbonite and is being taken by a bounty hunter to Jabba the Hutt, the mob boss who is owed money by Han. Luke, Leia, Lando, Chewie, C-3PO, and R2-D2 make the save, only to discover that a new and improved Death Star is under construction. While Lando prepares to lead the attack on it, the others use a stolen imperial shuttle to reach Endor, the forest moon where the power source of the Death Star’s deflector shield is located. But is Luke being sidetracked by the knowledge that Darth Vader is his father and a desire to reach what little good remains in the Dark Lord of the Sith?

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I guess beauty really is more than skin-deep.

The first issue is the actors. Half of them, while not bad, haven’t much energy put into them. Harrison Ford and James Earl Jones stand out particularly as notable offenders. Many members of the cast seem to have been anxious to move on to other films but were required by contract to return.

Another issue is that the script isn’t as strong as in the first two. I’ve always believed that the rescue of Han takes up too much screen time. This part showcases some impressive Muppeteering, but lasts for some time, despite being very simple and straightforward. The result is that the core of the plot has to be somewhat rushed.

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Ewoks are still in the tribal age yet somehow can ride hovercraft? If you say so.

Having said that, you know what’s the worst Star Wars nitpick ever? “Why doesn’t the Rebel fleet just blast the shield generator from orbit?” I’ll tell you why: because the Empire had another shield generated by the Death Star and guarding ships to protect Endor. When our heroes are pretending to be Imperial soldiers seeking passage to Endor, we’re told about the need to get the shield lowered. Han even says, “if they don’t go for this, we’re gonna have to get outta here pretty quick, Chewie.” “Get outta here” doesn’t exactly mean, “break for Endor,” does it?

Tangent over. For all its flaws, Return of the Jedi does resolve things effectively. The relationship between Han and Leia concludes well, especially compared to the one between Anakin and Padme in the original trilogy (and you better believe that’s gonna get a rant from me). Also, the way, the Luke/Vader thing is settled is shocking but heartwarming. I don’t think any of us weren’t surprised by that the first time we saw it.

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Jabba is lazy, out of shape, but has schemed his way into getting rich off the work of peons. Maybe he’s the most human character in Star Wars.

Return of the Jedi may not be on par with its predecessors, but it’s a competent movie that wraps things up well.

Overall: 7 out of 10