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 🙂

images

Star Wars countdown… The Phantom Menace

Every Saturday night, my wife and I have a “film night” with our 5 year old son. This can be a mixed bag… for every viewing of an Avengers film, or the Back to the Future trilogy, we have had to suffer through Spy Kids, or Book of Life. As long as there are snacks, my son is generally happy, and it means we get to spend some quality family time together, without the 2 year old feeling left out, causing his usual brand of mayhem, or demanding Big Hero 6 or Toy Story 2 or 2 again.

In just over six weeks time, the three of us have tickets to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yes, we have our tickets already.

Putting these two facts together (film night, plus Star Wars incoming), we asked our son if he wanted to re-watch the Star Wars films before the new film comes out. “Yes. All of them.” he replied immediately, before I had a chance to narrow the options down to the original trilogy…

So, we’ve just re-watched Phantom Menace together. Have my thoughts on this changed over time? Not really. Here are the ten things that suck most about Phantom Menace:

1- Nobody cares about taxation disputes. Sure, it’s possible that there are tax lawyers out there, rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of a major film finally giving this issue the long-overdue attention it merits… go and watch The Firm again, and be merry.

2- Anakin Skywalker is just too young. Imagine if Obi Wan had met him at about the same age as we meet Luke… Then contrast father against son over time as Anakin slowly turns evil. We’ll never know now how this would have worked out. Thanks, George.

3- Midichlorians. Just don’t.

4- Every scene is too “busy“. It’s like a cartoon for kids with ADHD… Whether on Tattooine, or Naboo, or Coruscant, there’s just too much background getting in the way of the foreground detail. Less is more. The financial and technical constraints of the original trilogy made for a far more believable set of locations, all at the outer reaches of the galaxy. We need to feel the dirt.

5- The stupidly stupid racist accents, especially on Naboo.

6- Are you an angel? No, you little pervert. What are you, like ten years old?

7- Yippee! No.

8- One of the most important men in the galaxy can apparently hide his identity by wearing a hoodie, and NO ONE recognises him… I look forward to the day that Barack Obama tries that to slip out for a pizza.

9- Anakin building 3-PO. Really?

10- Comedy droids. Roger roger; I’m out.

All that, and no room for Jar Jar. (He needs his own top ten countdown, but I’m not doing that.)

So, what did work?

That lightsaber finale. Awesome. From the double ended sabre lighting up, to the final sequence between Maul and Obi Wan… Oh, what glory there could have been. Ewan McGregor is patchy in this film (hampered by the wooden dialogue and the silly hair), but he really sells the finale. When he’s itching to get through the final implausible delaying mechanism to get to the man who has just killed his mentor, I’m right there with him, and the following sequence is so well-choreographed and FAST it still gives me goosebumps every time. I’ll even overlook the (entirely unbelievable) way he somersaults over Maul at the end, without Maul just slicing Obi Wan up the middle.

The sound effects in the podrace are amazing, taking you right into the pilot’s seat. Which is a good job, as the visuals are overdone and cartoony.

That Duel of the Fates song is incredible. Up there with the Imperial March for me.

When we got to the penultimate scene, with Qui-Gon’s funeral pyre, my son asked “Daddy, why are they not toasting marshmallows?”… maybe the next step should be to record a 5-year old’s “director’s commentary” DVD extra?

So, onto Attack of the Clones next week… A New Hope seems very far away, let alone The Force Awakens!

Star_Wars_Phantom_Menace_poster