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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