Star Wars countdown – Return of the Jedi

So, this week brought the final part of our Star Wars countdown, re-watching all the films in preparation for seeing The Force Awakens later today. It feels so close now… In fact, by the time you read this, I’ll either be FREAKIN’ THERE in the cinema, or trying to find people that I can finally have spoiler-y chats with!

The Return of the Jedi came out when I was five/six years old. It is the first Star Wars film I remember seeing, and along with ET and Indiana Jones, forms one of the three legs of the chair of my childhood. My father owned a small chain of video libraries back in the day when people had to actually leave their homes to access films. I helped out in those stores, went on delivery runs with him, and knew every film on the shelves, even if too young to watch them. Films were intrinsic to our every day lives.

I know I should hate the Ewok teddy bears, for consistency with my Jar-Jar hate if nothing else, but I was six when first exposed to them. The force is weak in this one. They are possibly the most memorable, defining feature of my childhood at home too, from toys (I loved the Ewok village, oh and also that speeder toy with the operationally questionable self-destruct button) to spinoff films – Caravan of Courage, anyone? – to animated TV series (Ewoks, and Droids). When that ewok tries to move his just-killed friend… I am six all over again, complete with a tear in my eye.

So, when I say that films defined my childhood, I really mean it. Perhaps Return of the Jedi defines it best of all. My father’s video libraries closed down in the mid-90s in a saturated market as the trend for owning films grew, and I similarly moved beyond childhood into teenage awkwardness. An era was over.

Yes, as a film it is inferior to the previous two, re-hashing the best beats from the previous film (another Death Star! Leia says “I know!” More hokey shield-shenanigans!), but to lesser effect. This is all irrelevant to me.

It’s my son’s favourite Star Wars film at the moment. He is also 6. At this age, things get locked in amber for all eternity. I am even less able to judge this film objectively than the original New Hope. I can pretty much quote the dialogue along with the actors (especially Lando, for some reason). The ewoks don’t bother me, working their child-bewitching magic before my adult cynicism had a chance to question the role of teddy bears in this rebellion.

So, some vaguely chronological thoughts:

– Look at the size of those helmets of those staff on the new Death Star… And Vader is looking extra shiny… Interesting to see the Empire’s priorities while building a new Death Star. Spaceballs had an easy target for humour… “I see your Schwartz is bigger than mine”

Ay wanna wonga? Makes me chuckle every time, for some reason, even despite being (over) referenced in the prequels.

Jabba’s a great, and repulsive, villain. For once, we have an alien who is not just a man in a suit. Easy to forget that in these days of wall-to-wall CGI.

– Very slow start to the film… Atmospheric, but a bit dull as all the pieces left separate at the end of Empire are reunited.

– I love the bounty hunter language based solely on the word “yoto“. Was tempted to write this blog post in the same way. Yoto. Yoto.

Boba Fett nods a lot in Jabba’s palace. Certain friends of mine worship the ground he walks on… They obviously subscribe to the less is more approach. Unlike, for example, George Lucas.

– Speaking of which, the gold bikini just doesn’t do it for me, despite being such a fanboy staple. I saw this when I was 6, remember. Leia might as well be wearing a cloth sack.

Luke’s plan to defeat Jabba relies entirely on R2-D2 being in the right place on the skiff, and being able to make that impossible shot of firing the lightsabre to Luke… What if Jabba had just sold him on, or used him for parts?

– “When 900 years old you reach, look as good you will not”. So wise…

Yoda told Luke he wasn’t ready when he left… Now he says he doesn’t need any more training. Also, that he will only become a Jedi after facing the second most powerful Sith in the galaxy. Not exactly a fair final exam from Jedi school.

– “Many Bothans died to bring us this information…. “Has ever a planned spin-off been based on less information in the main source? Also, does the fact that the Emperor let them escape diminish their sacrifice?

The Forest Moon of Endor… So, is that a moon called Endor, or a moon around the planet Endor? This has always bugged me. Happy to be enlightened!

– What possible reason would there be for taking C-3PO with them onto a forest moon to attack an imperial base? You know, when everyone’s in stealthy forest mode, and he’s a useless, irritating, shiny GOLDEN robot. Who can’t shoot. Even R2 is a stretch.

– “You know, fly casual.” I love this line. There’s not enough of Han in this film (in his defence, that’s probably because he starts the film as a wall decoration in Jabba’s palace).

– “I see you have constructed a new lightsabre” Darth Vader says to Luke… When did that happen? Did he knock one out while rescuing Han? Are they as easy as making daisy chains?

– re the final 3-part conclusion – ie in the Death Star, in space, and on Endor – did this film set the template for so many great action films that followed (and Phantom Menace)? Do any film buffs know if this device ever got used before?

– The make-up on the Emperor is better in this than in Revenge of the Sith. This isn’t a rose-tinted memory, but the reality from what I’ve just been re-watching. (Although his eyes do seem to have a little Morticia Adams-style lighting around them.) And where’s his lightsabre gone? Or his penchant for unnecessary twirling?

– Why does Vader saving his son’s life count as redemption for all the lives he has taken? I remember the younglings…

– Why does the destruction of the second Death Star result in galactic celebration? They’re still controlled by the Empire, even if the Emperor himself is dead, along with some of his key ships/stations. Why is this time different to the first Death Star being destroyed? Did that huge fleet watching the action around the Death Star get routed, or did they all just fly off, quit, and settle down to raise a family and a farm on a backwater planet?

– Why have your shield generator on a moon, rather than, ooh, within the structure being shielded?

– Wouldn’t the exploding Death Star have rained destruction down on Endor?

Ewok heads are tougher than stormtroopers armour. Fact. The white armour seems to be made from paper. Presumably following the metal shortage caused by building yet another Death Star, and significantly extending the helmet lengths of desk staff.

– Does the Emperor’s plan – to risk the safety of the new Death Star and the Empire itself to trick Luke into turning to the dark side – make any sense at all? Really? Anakin was seduced to the dark side, never tricked.

– Luke does seem awful comfortable (not to mention much better with a lightsabre) channelling his darker, angry side against Vader. “Once you start down the path to the dark side, forever will it dominate your destiny…” Wonder if Yoda’s right. Better go find out 🙂

Must dash. There has been an awakening….

 

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Star Wars Countdown – A New Hope

As part of my family’s weekly countdown to seeing The Force Awakens, I’ve been blogging about each episode of Star Wars. This week, it was the turn of Star Wars itself, or A New Hope as revisionists would call it (wrongly 🙂 ).

This is a film that has defined so much of my life, that I grew up with (I still have the original pillow case from my childhood, although sadly not the toys)… it’s impossible to write anything about it objectively. It is not a perfect film, but I would still place it in my favourite “Top 5” of all time (alongside Goodfellas, Godfather Pt 1, Shaun of the Dead, and Finding Nemo seeing as you asked). That list may change a little over time, but Star Wars has been a constant. Hey, even the revised header for my blog (“A Certain Point of View”) is based on a Star Wars quote.

So… what are the best of the best bits for me?

1 – Universe-building
From the opening scene, giving us the scale of the Imperial Star Destroyer as it takes an age to scroll across the screen, to the twin suns on Tattooine, to the Cantina scene in Mos Eisley, to the wonderful names (Grand Moff Tarkin, Death Star, Darth Vader, Wookiee) that stay just the right side of silliness (Porkins excepted), to the scruffy charm of the Millennium Falcon (down to the dice hanging in the cockpit), to the sterile, mechanical interior of the Death Star… this is a rich, immersive, fantasy experience, set a long time ago and far, far away, but utterly recognisable at the same time.

2 – The action
The second half of the film is pretty much action-packed, squeezing in lightsabre fights and space dog-fights that have set the template for the space/fantasy genre.

3 – The music and sound effects
John Williams has given us so many amazing film scores in his time… scoring Jaws or ET alone may have been enough for an ordinary mortal… but his work on Star Wars is incredible. It papers over the cracks in the clunky dialogue, and keeps raising the tension throughout. And all this without the Imperial March yet (which comes in with Empire Strikes Back).

The sound effects deserve mention too. This is all part of the world building, but the thrum of the lightsabre is so embedded in culture now that it’s hard to remember that there was a time before. Plus, some of the sound effects of things as simple as Obi Wan shutting down the tractor beam… in one of my early jobs, whenever I turned the power on in the backroom, I would try and imitate that exact sound effect… I still do now from time to time…

Now, in the interests of at least attempting objectivity, here are the three worst facets of the film (NB – I watched the special edition, and simply skipped over the pointless added Jabba scene… as should you):

1 – Luke
Are we really supposed to be rooting for this whiny farm boy? Give me the piratical charm of Han Solo (who definitely shot first, and would do it again in a heartbeat) anyday! “It just isn’t fair!”… give me strength. Also, why is he more upset about Obi Wan’s death than the death of his adopted parents? Not that he really grieves for either. I’m not getting into that incestuous business of fancying his sister, either. Lucas clearly made up the story as he went along…

2 – Plot holes
These are legion, and tend to be forgiven as “part of its charm”, but as a writer setting out on my path, given numerous pieces of advice about how to structure a story, and checking for logical consistency… it’s tough to swallow this sometimes when you can see how successful some have been without paying any heed to those demands.

– “Only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise.” Really? There is no evidence of this elsewhere in the film…
– “Execute her immediately”… and yet there Leia is, distinctly not executed, when Luke and Han eventually get to her, some time later…
– Why did the Stormtroopers not simply lob down a grenade into the garbage masher, once they knew all the heroes were down there? They just ignore them, and assume that activating the mashing mechanism will do it. Sloppy.
– “I’ve already tried that, it’s magnetically sealed”… when did this happen? There was a gap of about three seconds between you each diving down…
– Why are there so many platforms and unguarded walkways around the Death Star? I appreciate the Evil Empire may not be big on health and safety, but it still seems needlessly dangerous, especially when the Death Star’s planet-killing death ray fires straight past some workers in a side tunnel, making them cower for their own safety…
– Why do they not separate their waste on the Death Star? Surely some of that metal could have been recycled…
– “They’re coming through!” Er, they’re not. Well, not when this was said anyway.
– If Leia believed that their escape from the Death Star in the Falcon was too easy, and that the Empire let them go, then why fly immediately to the hidden base that she’s been resisting attempts to unveil throughout?
– Is it really possible to fly an X-Wing into a planetary life or death situation without so much as 5 minutes instruction? (And is it appropriate to compare making an all-or-nothing shot on the Death Star with TIE fighters trying to kill you with “bulls-eyeing wamp rats in your T-16″… what is a wamp rat anyway? why do the young people of Tattooine fly around taking potshots at them? poor wamp rats…)

3 – Characterisation
The central characters are based on tropes, rather than rounded people. The wizard, the princess, the pirate… When we first meet each of them, they can be described as “spiky” (Leia), “cocky” (Han), and “whingey” (Luke)… they are the same at the end. Sure, Luke shows some ability with the Force (and I will allow that he is slightly less whingey), and Han shows he’s not just about the money, but would it be too much to ask for a proper character arc? Or even more rounded characters, with flaws and competing motivations? I think this is why Star Wars obsessives like me cling to the “Han Shot First” theme, because this is the only hint we get of any of our central trio having a hint of a darker side, or something “non-linear” about their character. The fact that George Lucas tried to airbrush this out of history in the special edition speaks volumes for the way that he lost the plot after Return of the Jedi…

So, on to Empire Strikes Back next week – many people’s favourite instalment in the franchise. I’ll be casting my critical eye over that in similar fashion. I’d love it if you’d join me 🙂

 

Previous instalments:
https://altheauthor.wordpress.com/2015/11/15/star-wars-countdown-the-phantom-menace/
https://altheauthor.wordpress.com/2015/11/28/star-wars-countdown-the-revenge-of-the-sith/

 

 

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Star Wars countdown… The Revenge of the Sith

This is the second in a series of blog posts as I re-watch the Star Wars films with my 5 year-old son in the build-up to The Force Awakens hitting the cinemas in three weeks’ time. I was away at a SCBWI Conference last weekend, having a fantastic time (https://altheauthor.wordpress.com/2015/11/23/how-the-scbwi-conference-blew-my-mind/), so missed Attack of the Clones (a bullet dodged). This week it’s the turn of Revenge of the Sith.

There is much to enjoy in this one, and it almost works as a film on its own merits (leaving aside the last ten minutes when they try to join every last dot with the original trilogy). One of the main reasons for this is that the “comedy” has been largely cut. Jar Jar and 3-PO barely appear in the film, to keep it darker, edgier. BTW, if all this Star Wars talk has just whetted your appetite for more, check out this blog post: http://www.avclub.com/article/star-wars-prequels-dont-deserve-your-hatred-226732 . Needless to say, I disagree with this, but it is well worth a read!

Some thoughts…

War! The first word of the opening scroll promises much, especially compared to previous set-ups (although I’ve at least found one fan of a good historical trade dispute through this). BUT then we’re straight into another space battle that feels like a cartoon. Everything’s too busy. And if you’ve got buzz droids at your disposal now, why do they disappear in less than twenty years? Continuity (both forced, and failed), and consistency, are two of my biggest overall criticisms of the prequels.

General Grievous is a great idea for a bad guy – collecting lightsabres! four arms to use them! – ruined by that over-used trope, comedy emphysema.

R2 flying… Did George Lucas get amnesia about what this astromech droid can do? It’s stupid and unnecessary. This is Exhibit R in the “case against” the prequels.

– The Dooku fight is well-staged, both in terms of choreography and showing Anakin’s descent. Also, the way Obi Wan says “Dooku” makes me think of “doo-doo”, every time.

– The opera scene is Machiavellian brilliance. Wonderfully acted, paced, scored and with visuals beautiful and original. Palpatine tells a story of the power to defeat death. Anakin is hooked. “Is it possible to learn this power?” (A pause) “Not from a Jedi.” The best acted scene of the prequels, by a mile.

– Then, “Exhibit S” in the case against… Obi Wan riding that lizard thing around… Ropey effects, tonally wrong for the film. Just wrong, and stupid. Honestly, was George trying to add crap into the film to make the other bits seem better?

– At the writing conference last week, I attended a workshop on story structure. There we talked about the midpoint of the film, whereby the central character is not the same again. Well, one hour and ten minutes into a two hour twenty minute film, we have Anakin defending Palpatine against the Jedi (Mace Windu in particular), then pledging himself to Palpatine. “Henceforth, you shall be known as Darth Vader…” Cue John Williams theme… Great stuff, but all this analysis of structure is in danger of ruining movies for me!

– The Jedi temple attack, and Order 66 is a wonderful sequence, taking in a host of different worlds and tragic deaths for the unfortunate Jedi. And when Anakin lights his lightsabre in front of the younglings with murderous intent, it brings a lump to my throat every single time. So dark, and sad.

Yoda’s dialogue is overdone, to the point of parody. “Not if anything to say about it, I have…” My son’s reply, reasonably, was “what does he have?” This line made everyone in the cinema groan first time round, and it made me wince this time.

– The fight between Obi Wan and Vader should be the emotional climax of the prequels, and there is some great work from Ewan McGregor with the material, but… it doesn’t quite work. The lightsabres (both blue) are not distinguishable, the movement is too fast (contrast the Obi Wan – Darth Maul sequence, which is fast but believable), and you just get the impression of a lot of twirling rather than a fight to the death. When they start leaping around on ridiculous platforms over the molten rock… it takes it all too far. It adds complication, when it needs simplicity, to strip everything back to these two brothers fighting to the death.

– Interesting contrast between the births of the twins and Vader. Why does Obi Wan need reminding in the original trilogy that “there is another”. Why does Leia remember her mother? When the droid says that Padme has just “lost the will to live”, there is a part of me that says “I know the feeling…”

– The Vader Frankenstein moment is horrible, painful, naff, comically awful… The single worst moment in the prequels (and yes, I haven’t forgotten Jar Jar). Honestly, you’ve got the coolest bad guy in the history of the universe, and then you all but make him drop to his knees and cry. “Exhibit T”

– How come the Death Star takes another fifteen or so years to be finished, when it’s gone from design to shell in a couple of years? Contractor problems? How do they keep it secret for that length of time? It’s almost like this stuff’s being made up as they go along…

Having got to the end of the prequels, it is unlikely that I will watch them again. They are a mixed bag of great moments and awfulness. If they didn’t have the Star Wars name attached, I would have watched and forgotten them already by now, and perhaps that is how they should be judged. The original trilogy though, I can see me dipping into those on rainy bank holidays forever. So, onto A New Hope (as my son calls it), or more accurately (as I see it) Star Wars, next week 🙂

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