Revenge of the Sith. The Last Hope!

I come to it at last, the third and final installment in the prequel series, and sixth in the overall Star Wars franchise! Hard to imagine I started this whole thing three weeks ago. Seems like a lifetime has passed, but that’s the way time works!

And what can I say about this last installment? Well, I can tell you that between movies two and three, Lucas seemed to be taking mounting criticisms of his movies seriously. I can also say without exaggeration that after two generally panned movies, we were all pulling for him! Many reviewers openly wondered if the third and final movie could save the franchise, cuz Lord knew the fans weren’t likely to endure a third disappointment.

Luckily, Lucas seemed to pull if off with this third and final one. After the release, critics and fans seemed united in hailing it as the best of the three. Of course, the competition wasn’t exactly fierce, and there were still loads of problems that would become more apparent as time went on. The initial gentleness and praise with which this movie was met seemed to be the result of wishful thinking, really. No one wanted to see Star Wars fail.

Plot Synopsis:
The movie opens, as always, with the crawl. WAR! It says. It then goes on to explain… See, there’s the thing known as the Clone Wars. They’re bad. Lots of people dying, lots of systems being overrun. And now, the fight seems to have come to Coruscant.

We cut, as usual, to ships in space. And after a brief, silent flyby, we see that its in fact some mad space combat! Ships everywhere are engaged in close quarters combat, destroyers, cruisers, and tons of fighters between them. And it’s all happening over the capitol. And to top it off, Skywalker and Kenobi are there too, leading the assault in their fighters.

There mission is to reach General Grievous’ command vessel, where Palpatine, a hostage, is being kept. They fight there way through several droid fighters, pull some cool moves, board the ship, take out tons of droids – all rendered with state of the art CGI of course – and begin working their way to the room where he’s being kept. Once there, a room that is made to resemble the Emperor’s own throne room, they do the deed of fighting Dooku for the second time.

And this time, things go much the same. Obi-Wan is taken out early, and dismemberment ensues. But this time, it’s Anakin hewing off Dooku’s limbs. Defeated, Palpatine tells Anakin to kill him, and after a minimum of discussion, Anakin slices his head off.

He expresses some regret, but Palpatine tells him not to worry about it. Second time Anakin has committed cold blooded murder and the whole thing’s brushed off without a second thought. They even raise the issue of the last time he did this, appropriately…

He also tries to get him to leave Obi-Wan behind, but this Anakin proves immune to. Together, they begin the process of fleeing, only to get caught and brought to meet Grievous himself. Now this guy, though he’s hasn’t been introduced yet, is apparently important. He’s killed Jedi too, judging from his collection. However, Anakin and Obi-Wan have no trouble escaping and take control of the ship.

Anakin, in demonstrating his alleged flying skills, begins trying to land the ship on Coruscant itself. A spectacular crash ensues, in which we see a surprisingly callous attitude towards the potential loss of life. But then again, they never confirm that anyone was hurt, despite all the damage they do.

Anyhoo, a tender reunion soon follows. Anakin is reunited with Padme, admits he’s missed he, and learns she’s pregnant. This is a bad thing, for as we soon learn, Anakin’s been having bad dreams again. This time about Padme dying. He remembers what happened with his mother and doesn’t want a repeat.

Meanwhile, Obi-Wan and the Jedi are getting nervous about Palpatine. He’s had his emergency powers for some time and even expanded on them. Now that the war is nearing its end, they fear he won’t give up his powers. After years of benefiting from all the chaos and confusion, it seems they are finally sensing that he’s not on the level. They propose to devise a test. Once they’ve hunted down Grievous, they’ll confront him. If he doesn’t relinquish his powers, they’ll know he’s up to no good.

At the same time, Palpatine continues to use Anakin to further his own aims. He appoints Anakin as his personal representative to the Council, who do not trust him so they don’t promote him to Master. Anakin is incensed.

However, the Council still asks that Anakin spy on Palpatine for them. They also begin to express doubts about Anakin and the prophecy, whether or not it might be misread. Seems late to be bringing this up, but the die is kind of cast at this point…

Palpatine also seems to know more about Anakin than he’d prefer to know. That much is clear when he begins to address the possibility of how the Dark Side can save people from dying. Anakin is obviously intrigued, and begins to promise Padme in the most cryptic of ways that everything will be fine.

Once more, the Council decide to divide Anakin and Obi-Wan and send them on separate missions. While Anakin spies on Palpatine, Obi-Wan is dispatched to deal with Grievous. He flies to Atapau, where the Separatists base used to be, and engages Grievous in single combat. The Clones troops arrive shortly thereafter, and a big CGI fight ensues.

After a big chase involving a giant lizard, a ZOOM, and a cliffside fight, Anakin blows Grievous away with a blaster. In a shout out to remarks made in the first movie, he then mocks the weapon that saved his life. Seems kind of callous…

Back on Coruscant, Anakin gets wise to Palpatine after he practically spells it out for him. He draws his blade, but hesitates to take him down when Palpatine reminds him that he will never save Padme without his help. Instead, Anakin runs to Master Windu and tells him what he’s learned. Windu takes some backup and goes to arrest the Chancellor and another fight ensues. Palpatine quickly dispatches his backup, but Windu manages to subdue him before long.

Of course, Anakin shows up and pleads for Palpatine’s life. Windu seems set on killing him, which seems odd considering that he’s a Jedi Master and killing prisoners is not something they do. But this forces Anakin to intervene and Windu dies. Anakin is crippled by guilt, but out of a desire to save Padme declares his loyalty to Palpatine.

His first task, it seems, is to kill everyone in the Jedi Temple, which Anakin does, including all the kids. Once he’s done that, he’s sent to Mustafar to wipe out the Seperatist leadership, a move which will end the war and eliminate the last of Palpatine’s liabilities. He kills them too, and seems to enjoy it just a little too much!

Obi-Wan returns to learn what Anakin has done. He and Yoda arrive at the Temple to find the corpses of all the “Younglings” (guess they couldn’t say kids, might have sounded too… murdery). Obi-Wan then tells Padme, who for some reason seems surprised that Anakin has done this… again.

Once more, the Jedi choose to divide their forces. Yoda will go and take on Palpatine while Obi-Wan will fly all the way to Mustafar to deal with Anakin. Palpatine then declares the formation of the Galactic Republic, and outside of Padme and Bail Organa, no one seems to mind! She issues a line meant to capture the absurdity: “So this is how liberty ends… in thunderous applause.”

And so we get two fight-scenes, almost interspersed. Yoda fights with Palpatine in the Senate and gets several floating pods thrown at him. He loses, is picked up by Senator Organa (Leia’ adoptive father), and declares he’s failed and must go into hiding.

Padme and Obi-Wan confront Anakin, who seems to have gone a little Batty McPsycho now. After all he’s done to save her from death, he then turns on Padme with a choke move. And then of course Obi-Wan and him go at it like a bunch of Highlanders on crank!

After a VERY long, drawn out fight scene, Obi-Wan takes off Anakin’s legs and remaining arm. Anakin burns on the slopes above molten magma, and Obi-Wan just leaves him there. Palpatine picks him up and takes him a medical facility where they begin the process of turning him into Vader. Simultaneously, Amidala delivers her babies and dies in childbirth. No medical reason is given, it just seems that she’s lost hope… okay.

All remaining threads are tied up nicely. It is agreed that Luke will go to Tatooine, Leia will go to Alderaan, and Obi-Wan will also go to Tatooine to hide and commune with his old master. And then, the newly-created Vader has a ham moment by wailing when Palpatine tells him that he killed Padme accidentally. “Nooooo!” is his reply. And it seems that they are no in total cahoots. The movie ends with them witnessing the construction of the Death Star.

Last Word:
Well, like I said, this movie did better than the previous two. However, there were problems that few were prepared to admit so long as the Star Wars legacy seemed on the line. Most had to do with the plot, so I’ll save those for last. First, the movie shared some problems from the previous two which really became apparent by now.

They include the shooting, how Lucas shot all his scenes from the comfort of his chair using two cameras and simply had his actors walk slowly across the screen or sitting to deliver the lines. And then there was the bad dialogue. The romance factor was diminished in this movie, but there were still those painfully awkward scenes where Anakin and Padme are forced to say how much they love each other and it all comes out tasting of ham and wood!

And it wasn’t just the romance, it was every dramatic line in the movie. Padme’s line about “how liberty ends” was one. Mace Windu’s angry declaration, “The oppression of the Sith must not be allowed to return!” was another. Why didn’t anyone ever tell Lucas, “this is NOT how people talk!” Where is Harrison Ford when you need him? And of course, the way he kept showing characters from the first as if it were necessary to cram them all in. This time it was Chewbacca, Leia, Luke, and bit more of Bail Organa, which pretty much completes the original cast. In fact, the only person he didn’t preview was Han Solo! Wonder why…

And of course there was more of the same on the recycling front. Here too, the examples were many and close together. At the beginning, we’re meant to remember Jedi where we see Palpatine in that chair in front of that window. The battle at the end was meant to call to mind the final duel between Luke and Vader. The attack on the Wookie compound on Kashyyk also seemed like a not-too-subtle attempt to resurrect the Battle of Endor (which originally called for Wookies). And the scene at the end where they are all stowed aboard a Corellian blockade runner is supposed to remind us of the first movie when Leia’s ship (same make and model) was boarded.

But none of that compared to the fact that the majority of the war, the most important aspect of the prequel movies, all happens off screen. It begins at the tail end of the movie II, then ends at the beginning of movie III, with the vast bulk of events taking place between them. Like most fanboys, I went to theaters back in 1999 expecting the prequels to be ABOUT this, but instead the war served as a backdrop to the duty of showing how Anakin fell and all the rest.

In fact, beyond a few action shots and some talk of it, the war seems to have no real consequences whatsoever to the Republic. No shortages, no recruitment drives, no resistance to the war. Even Coruscant itself seems completely unmarred by the fact that it was attacked in the beginning. A few scenes after an invasion, people are going to the opera and acting like nothing’s happened. There’s not even a single indication of damage done to the city.

Okay, plot holes time! I’ve chosen to list them in sequential order to save time and prevent overlap. Here goes!

  1. Opening Battle: Much like in Clones, the fight between Anakin, Obi-Wan and Dooku suffered from an obvious contrivance. Once again, Obi-Wan had to go down and stay down so Anakin and Dooku could fight one on one. But this time around, there was the added necessity of making sure he unconscious while Anakin executed Dooku. Which brings me to point 2!
  2. Murder? No Biggie: Once more, Anakin has committed a severe violation of the Jedi Code and basic morality by killing a man in cold blood, and no one seems to notice or care. Palpatine tells him to do it, he issues mild protests, but then does so without much regret. What little guilt he expresses is assuaged when Palpatine brings up how he’s done it before. That seemed appropriate, since there were no consequences then either.
  3. The Jedi Council, Assholes!: In the first movie, the Jedi Council tell Anakin that he has to severe all ties with his mother in order to be one of them. Why? Because his fear of losing her is bad and a path to evil. Okay, seems pretty callous, but I guess they needed something to hint at his descent into evil. Now, in movie three, Anakin is told by Yoda that his fear of losing Padme is wrong. Basically, he tells her that these fears are selfish and he should be happy this person, whoever they are, is going to die. He uses better sounding words, but the reasoning is basically the same. What kind of gurus are these? Why do they insist on being so harsh in their rules? It’s like their begging people to rebel against them by making their code impossible to follow. No love, no attachment, no sadness over loss. If anything, it’s their fault Anakin turned bad. They made him leave his mother behind, she dies and he goes on a rampage. His wife is near death, once again they tell him to let her go, and he goes on rampage to save her. There’s a lesson here I’m thinking…
  4. The Jedi Council, Idiots!: It is astounding how many stupid calls the Jedi Council make by this time in the series. First up, they’ve been saying for all three now that there’s something not quite right, some dark force, some hidden danger, but they never act on it. In this movie, they finally seem to be catching on. Mace Windu says he senses the Dark Side around Palpatine, Yoda expresses doubt about the so-called prophecy, and Mace and Yoda both fear putting Anakin in his presence. And yet, they do! Not only that, they continually fail to act to stop Palpatine even thought it’s obvious that he’s at the center of all things. Really, where is the mystery? Granted, Lucas tried to explain this away by saying the Jedi’s were being blinded by the Dark Side. But you don’t need ESP to see what’s going on here! The simple question, que bono, would have solved their entire dilemma. Who’s been benefiting from the all crises, again and again? Palpatine! And if you can sense dark energy coming from him, I’d say mystery solved!
  5. Anakin’s Descent: Now to be fair, Anakin had already turned to the Dark Side long before this movie. The moment he murdered women and children, he was bad. That wasn’t no preview of how it happened, that was it happening! But still, the way he chooses evil in this movie seems just so stupid. He saved Palpatine, that I get. But immediately after, Palpatine tells him he doesn’t know how to save Padme. That should have been the end of it. Anakin should have gone into a rage and killed him for lying through his teeth. Instead, he agrees to join him based on the promise of helping him, and that’s enough to convince him to murder children. On top of that, did he also not realize after Palpatine said go to Mustafar and kill all the Separatists that Palpatine was the one leading them? He had ample clues, like how did he know they were there? Why were they expecting him when he arrived? Why did they keep pleading that they were all friends? Did he not know, or did he not care?
  6. “No, not Anakin!”: I’ve harped on about how Anakin killed kids and no one, particularly Padme seemed to care. But what really makes no sense was how Padme reacts when Obi-Wan tells her he’s murdered the “younglings”. “No, not Anakin! He couldn’t!” Whaaaaat? You know he could, because he told you he’s done it before! The real answer should have been “Oh, no! Not again!”.
  7. Constant Separations: Why was it necessary to send Obi-Wan alone to get Grievous? On the one hand, they said they wanted an experienced Jedi to go deal with him. Okay, but why does he have to go alone? They say it’s also because it might just be a wild goose chase. Still not making sense. If Anakin’s the one who’s constantly saving Obi-Wan’s bacon, then it only makes sense to keep them together. No, the real reason is so they can be apart while Anakin does all that evil shit. Second, Yoda and Obi-Wan break up to deal with Palpatine and Anakin seperately. Again… why? Why not kill Palpatine first since he’s on Coruscant, then fly to Mustafar to deal with Anakin together. In every other movie, even at the beginning of this one, they always worked in pairs. Now they suddenly they are deliberately isolating themselves to have one-on-one showdowns. Again, the only reason is plot necessity, making sure that Yoda fails while Obi-Wan has his big fight with Anakin.
  8. The Senate, Morons!: As if the Jedi’s missing the obviousness of Palpatine’s rise to power wasn’t enough, there’s the added idiocy of the Senate. For years, these guys, have been surrendering more and more power willingly to Palpatine. And then when he announces that the Jedi attacked him, they buy it. Really? They believed that the Jedi, the servants of peace and justice for 1000 generations, are trying to take power? Not the hideously scarred man who took power in the name of security, wiped out the Jedi, and is now declaring the government a military dictatorship? They don’t see this as the slightest bit suspicious? What’s more, the entire reason they gave Palpatine “Emergency Powers” was because of the war. Now that it’s over and all the threats eliminated, he claims that arrangements is to be made permanent. And how does the Senate respond? According to Padme, “with thunderous applause”! How stupid are these people?
  9. “Noooooo!”: Another perfect opportunity for Anakin to turn on Palpatine would have been when he told him Padme was dead. Saving her was the whole reason he turned to the Dark Side, betrayed the Jedi, killed the “younglings”, and murdered the Separatists leaders. Now he’s told she isn’t even alive, and what does he do? Cries and still agrees to be the Emperor’s lap dog. Again, I would have been like “Well then f*** you, pal! I got no reason to follow you, so I’m taking it all!” He already said how he could defeat Palpatine and run things with Padme. Why not do it now and run the whole thing himself? What kind of Sith is he, turning down obvious opportunities for personal power?
  10. Contradictions: As a last point, I’d like to highlight how there were even contradictions here between this last movie and the originals. Didn’t Leia say that she knew her mother, and that she died when she was very young? That she was beautiful, kind, but… sad? She sure did, and this hinted at the fact that her mother was lamenting the loss of her husband, Anakin. So Padme dying in child birth kind of contradicts that. And it was just plain silly! Are we to believe that in this day and age, women die in child birth because they’ve got broken hearts? Even if she were feeling dejected and in the mood to give up, they got defibrillators and adrenaline, don’t they? They can restart a heart! And why was it necessary to have the Death Star being built at the end? Was it so important to preview it as well? As I recall, the first one was built to combat the threat of the Rebellion. Since that’s a good twenty years away at this point, the Empire has no justification to build it yet. And the second one only take a few years to build and it was bigger and badder than the first. Why then would it take them twenty years to build the first one?

Wow, that’s a lot of complaints. But like I said, time has a way of making these things more apparent. And listening to geeks way bigger than myself grip about the prequels flaws has kind of helped. And in truth, I didn’t mind this movie too much. It was just that by this point, the flaws of all the others seemed to snowball into one. So it really didn’t matter that this one was “the best of the three” because in the end, the whole production suffered from the same immutable flaws.

One thing I remember Lucas saying before the movie premiered was that he had to force himself to sit down and bang out this script. Not a good admission to make, but that seemed true of the first and second as well. It seemed like, beginning in the mid nineties, he sat down with the intent of writing a prequel, and focused entirely on how he was going to bring it to life through visuals and special effects. The plot was only important in so far as it explained everything from the original movies.

And with no one willing to question Lucas and help him with his writing, the plots for all three movies felt like they were first drafts that didn’t make much sense and were really just forced explanations and connections. Sure they explained where everyone came from. Sure, the fight scenes and CGI were pretty damn cool. But there was no tension, no suspense. We knew where everything was going since we already saw the originals. So any attempt at recapturing the feel of the originals was lost.

Really, what was the point of these movies? We all wanted them back so badly, but why couldn’t they have been about the Clone Wars and the stuff we didn’t know about? The best prequels are the ones that explore the things you don’t know, not the things you’ve already been told but haven’t yet seen. And that was where these movies were the weakest. It’s easy to criticize, I know. Especially with the benefit of hindsight. But even I could think of better plot lines and outcomes when I was watching the movies for the first time!

Well, that about does it for these movies. My apologies for not being more positive, but that’s the effect these movies tend to have. As the documentary The People Versus George Lucas contended, it’s only because people loved the original Star Wars so much that they expressed such disappointment and feelings of betrayal over these ones. I can think of one other franchise that has this sort of polarizing effect on people, except for maybe Dune!

Personally, I would be wishing Lucas well, were it not for the fact that he seems to have learned nothing from this experience. After the third and final movie was released, he completely took over the Clone Wars animated series which he didn’t seem to care about until he realized it was profitable. Then, he decided to re-release all six movies in 3D. Once again, he seems to be re-releasing his movies for no other reason than because he wants to take advantage of the latest technology. That makes three releases for the origins and two for the prequels.

On top of that, he has stalwartly refused for years to release the original movies on DVD. This was in response to fans saying they would like them available alongside the Gold Editions that feature all the added CGI and new ending where Hayden Christensen’s ghost shows up at the end. Lucasarts claimed that it was because they no longer existed, but he also went on the offensive saying it was his movie so he had the right to choose which version history would remember and which would be forgotten.

This, more than anything, would seem to indicate that Lucas has surrendered to the lure of the Dark Side of the industry, where money and power rule. All this from the man who used to resent studio control and industry greed. How bitterly ironic! Sad that he can’t see it, but what can you do? Well, some fans are taking it upon themselves to make their own versions. Topher Grace is one. As already noted, his movie, Star Wars 3.5, is slated for release one of these days. All he needs is for Lucas to give him the green light. It could happen…

Of Prequels And Why They Suck…

Of Prequels And Why They Suck…

Looking back, I’ve noticed a sort of thread running through some of the posts I’ve made. And in truth, this thing was quite influential when it came to what inspired me to write science fiction in the first place. It began with the infamous Star Wars prequels, the movies which ruined what used to be a very influential and nostalgic franchise. It was then reinforced by the odious Dune prequels, which tarnished the legacy that inspired me to write science fiction in the first place. Since then, I’ve noticed these same elements at work in any prequel I’ve chanced upon and the lessons only seem to get more concrete.

While I’m no expert on the fine art of writing, be it science fiction or anything other genre, by the time I started doing it I was pretty clear on what I wanted to create. Basically, I wanted to write something I would enjoy, something that emulated the greats I had come to know and admire. But when it came to what I DIDN’T want to do, I found prequels summed up a lot of it succinctly (especially the aforementioned examples). I’m sure I mentioned as much in previous posts, but today, I thought I might speak to these things specifically; outline why prequels can – and often do – suck!

1. No Surprises:
Whether it was the Star Wars prequels, X Men Origins: Wolverine, the Legends of Dune series, or anything else prequel-oriented, there was one undeniable problem they all had in common: we already knew what was going to happen. By stories end, we know that the characters are going to become whatever it is they were in the original story, and we know who’s going to live and who’s going to die. In some cases, we even know how, so there really are no surprises. The only real purpose of a prequel is to fill in the background, explain HOW things happened and how the characters and story we are familiar with came to be.

For example, in Star Wars, we know that Anakin becomes Darth Vader, that Palpatine is the villain and will take over the Republic, and that Amidala will give birth to Luke and Leia before dying. There are a host of other details which the more nerdy among us were familiar with as well, and we were all drawn to theaters back in 1999 hoping to see how they played out. But in the end, when all was said and done, I don’t think any of us came away satisfied. Seeing how things happened when you already know what will happen just seems to make for a disappointing experience.

2. Sense of Duty:
Another thing that brings down a prequel is the fact that things MUST be explained. In short, the writer, director, author, etc. has a list of things which need to be covered before the end. These things have to fall within an established framework – i.e. what has already been established by the original story – and cannot contradict or be inconsistent with them. So really, in addition to having a story where there really are no surprises, you also get a story where things have to proceed in an established fashion and often seem heavily contrived. The end result is not what would feel natural based on the story so far but based on what needs to happen for the sake of the original story.

X-Men Origins will suffice as an example here. In this movie, the story had to show where Wolverine came from, how he and his brother (Sabretooth) had their falling out, and how his memory got erased. The result was actually pretty weak, in my opinion. Basically, Colonel Striker shot him in the head with Adamantium bullets, which he knew wouldn’t kill him but would erase his memory. Now, how did he know ahead of time that that would be the effect it would have? Second, why do that instead of lobbing a rocket-propelled grenade at him? Simple, because the story required it. Wolverine is supposed to be an amnesiac in the first movie, so this movie had to show how.

And while were on the subject, why didn’t Wolverine’s girlfriend kill Striker at the end when she had the chance? The woman had suggestive powers and had the man in her grasp, so why not tell him to march off a cliff? Again, because the story demanded it. Striker needed to live to see movie two, so instead she said some fluff about how she’d be no better than him and just told him to take a walk until his feet bled and he fell from exhaustion. I can’t speak for everyone, but personally, I was disappointed.

3. Less Is More
A lot of people insist that when it comes to back stories and background, the less we know, the better. After all, wasn’t Darth Vader scarier before we knew that he was once portrayed by Hayden Christensen? Wasn’t he a lot more menacing before he cried over the loss of Padme? I know for a fact that I’m not alone when I say that the whole “NOOOOOOO!” scene at the end of Revenge of the Sith brought him down in my eyes. What was once a titanic force of badassery was transformed into a whiney, bitchy child through the simple act of fashioning an origins story.

To use a non-prequel example, consider the Batman franchise. In the Tim Burton version, we got to see the Joker’s origin story, but in the Christopher Nolan version, we got nothing. And frankly, wasn’t Ledger’s updated take on the Joker much more scary than Nicholson’s because of it? Sure, his dialogue and acting were spot on at capturing the insanity and terror of the laughing psychotic killer, but wasn’t part of that assured by the fact that we had NO IDEA who he was or where he came from? The origins stories that he told – “wanna know how I got these scars?” – and how they kept changing was part of what made him so effective. As the audience, we wanted to know, how DID he get those scars? Why IS he so crazy? But by denying us this, I think we were kept wanting and we respected the movie more for it.

The same is true of Batman himself. In Burton’s, we got an exact reversal of what happened with the Joker. Aside from the fact that his parents were murdered, apparently by a young Jack Napier (who would go on to become the Joker), we knew nothing about him. Where he got his skills from, his equipment, and how he got started. This served to make him a much more mysterious character which in turn made him more interesting. In Burton’s Batman, he was the focal point whereas the Joker was his nemesis. But in Nolan’s updated version of The Dark Knight, the Joker was undoubtedly the focus while Batman was just the hero trying to stop him. I’d say what he knew – or in this case, didn’t know – about them was central to that.

4. The Audience’s Imagination Is The Writer’s Greatest Weapon:
I believe it was the famous photographer Duane Michals who said “I believe in the imagination. What I cannot see is infinitely more important than what I can see.” Okay, I Googled that, sue me! But the man had a point, and it applies doubly to movies since they too are a visual medium. What the readers and/or an audience can imagine based on snippets of a story is infinitely more powerful than what they can be shown with a few hundred pages of text or a two hour movie. This is why less is more. By giving the audience less to work with, they have more freedom to imagine and create. If you tell them what happened, detail for detail, then they have nothing except for what you’ve given them.

This, I think, is precisely why prequels are so often a disappointment, at least in my estimation. I’ve always considered myself to be an imaginative person. Given a blank canvas, or one with just a few details, I can create just about anything. And I’m hardly alone in that fact. Imagination is something everyone has – to varying degrees, sure – but it’s part of what makes us human and gives our lives meaning. Being able to express our inner life makes us happy, and there are few things more hurtful and insulting than having someone mock or dismiss that creativity. It’s also one of the cornerstones of a free society, the freedom to create and not be persecuted for it.

So it’s little wonder then why people are drawn to movies where books they’ve read are being adapted to film, or to prequels, where things that have been previously alluded to are acted out. People go to see them because they want to know if it will bear any resemblance to what they themselves imagined. Or, they go because they just want to see what the director’s own vision was. Either way, when you get around to seeing it for yourself, is it not a letdown no matter what? Isn’t that the real reason why people who’ve read the book constantly insist that the movie isn’t as good? That certainly seemed to be the consensus amongst LOTR geeks. And I should know; by The Two Towers, I was one of them! And isn’t that the real reason why the Star Wars prequels sucked as much as they did? We, the fans and audiences are active participants and create out of what we are given. Being told point blank what happened removes half the fun of it!

Some Tips For Writing:
Well, that’s all I got for now. Except to say that if someone is hoping to do a prequel, there are certain tips that I’ve come up with that can help. These are by no means established rules, just the result of my own amateur experience and observations. For one, a writer should take care not to give too much away when writing background. As always, less is more. It’s enough to let the background stay in the background and focus on the story. The more the reader/audience has to work with, the better. That way, when you are writing out the back story, you have much more freedom to work with, and don’t have to worry about staying within boundaries.

Second, a good idea is to write things out ahead of time. When I was thinking up Legacies, I began by writing out an outline for the entire background of the story. I didn’t do this because I was one day planning on writing a whole franchise worth of books, prequels included, but because I just wanted the story to be tight and know where everything fit. But because of that, I was able to pen several short stories that took place before the first novel. Rarely were the main characters and plot lines from that novel the focus of these stories, but they did serve as a solid backdrop which helped to advance things.

But don’t take my word on that, consider Lucas himself. He thought up the entire plot for Star Wars trilogy before making the first movie in the franchise, thus he knew exactly what he wanted to do ahead of time. Sure, he made changes and was forced to adapt along the way, but the end result benefited from this foresight. However, when it came to the prequels, he had only the bare bones to work with, and began writing each movie independently of shooting it. And it certainly showed, didn’t it? Rather than feeling like an ongoing story, each movie was a self-contained tale that was full of duty and contrivances. Nuff said? Plan ahead!

Last, but not least, remember that a story, ANY story, needs to tell its own tale. It cannot be written for the sake of filling in another. Its a bit of a vague point, I know, but a writer’s mentality is important when it comes to the creative process. At no point can you be thinking, “this needs to be explained, that needs to be explained”. It needs to be, “this is a story that needs to be told”. Every character has an interesting back story, and stories are living, organic things. They change over time, grow, and eventually die. Showing how they got to where they were going needs to be interesting and told with sincerity. So forget the duty, focus on the events and what made them interesting. If in the end its not a story that you yourself would enjoy, then don’t tell it! Simple as that…

The Star Wars Prequels (cont’d)

Isn’t it always this way? I just get finished with a long review of the Star Wars prequels, and I realize I left some stuff out. Not only that, I notice that I made some technical errors as well. Ah well, I suppose its the burden of Star Wars geekdom – anal-retentiveness and a total weakness for details. And if all these Star Wars reviews have proven nothing else to me, it’s that I’m a total geek! So here we go…

1. Anakin is NINE in the original movie: That’s right, nine. Not ten, as I originally said. Boy, I’m splitting hairs even mentioning this, but I don’t want someone noticing it and thinking I’m not up on my Star Wars trivia. Why, to a fellow geek, something like that might just stick in their craw!

2. Good acting: Looking back on my three reviews of the Phantom, Clones and Revenge I realized there was something I neglected to mention. The fact that there was actually some good acting throughout. Liam Neeson, for example. He’s always good, but as Qui Gon he was actually quite capable and had a good presence. Samuel L. Jackson, though his lines were heavy-handed as hell, nevertheless managed to bring some much needed bad-assery to this painful trilogy. And how could I have possibly forgotten Ian McDiarmid? The man who brought The Emperor to life in the originals was back again for more in this trilogy! I honestly think that his character was the only one that was faithfully executed in every one of his scenes. He was certainly the only one who had consistently decent one-liners, and that’s in spite of Lucas’ weak writing! I tell ya, it’s that voice. The man could make dish water sound cool and menacing! And the way he transitions so easily from a prissy, overly-cultured Senator to an evil blood-curdling Sith Lord… masterful!

3. Racial Caricatures: In drawing out Lucas’ use of racial stereotypes, there was one key characteristic I failed to mention. Watto, who is an obvious Jewish caricature, had several characteristics that gave him away. The ones I mentioned were his love of money, yamaka-style hat, and exploitative personality. But I forgot to mention the hooked nose! That above all else was a dead giveaway that Lucas had antiquated prejudices on the brain when he wrote this! I also could have mentioned that he combines several Italian stereotypes into his character as well: the stubbly face, the paunchy belly, the thick, raspy accent, the tank top, the hand gestures and phrases like “whaddyaknow?” In fact, that’s what I thought he was until the Shylock-like parallels were pointed out to me, then I was even more offended. Two stereotypes in one, good job Lucas! *Cough* Racist!

4. Hard-ass Jedi: In my first review, I mentioned how the Jedi were portrayed as needlessly harsh teachers for the way they told Anakin that his fear for his mother was a bad thing. I even mentioned that this would come up again later, by which I was referring to the third movie. And wouldn’t you know it, I totally spaced on it! Which is nuts because it was pretty damn intrinsic to the plot. To recap, the Jedi Council tells a nine year old Anakin (nine, not ten!) that he must forget about his mother because his fear of losing her will lead him to the Dark Side. Of course I thought that was total BS! I mean, who tells a kid this kind of stuff and expects it to go over well? Not only that, but it seems like such a stretch. “You’re afraid of losing your mom? Why, that’s the gateway to evil!” No, telling a kid he has to forget about his mom and sit back while she’s MURDERED is the gateway to evil! Not that they’d notice, these guys can’t sense evil when it’s three feet in front of them and in the form of a Sith Lord!

But as if that wasn’t enough, Yoda is at it once again in the third movie. When told that Anakin is having premonitory dreams where someone he loves dies, he simply tells him to let it go. Apparently, his love for this person and fear of losing them is also a bad thing! “Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed that is,” says Yoda. Not only that, he’s told he should be happy that this person is dying! “Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force.” What the hell kind of advice is this?! Has Yoda forgotten what Anakin did the last time they told him to just let go? Apparently he has because it never once came up again! So not only is he not allowed to have any romantic attachments, he can’t have any attachments period! Seriously, was Lucas so desperate to make Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side seem justified that he had to pitch the Jedi as a bunch of unfeeling jagoffs? Personally, I’d be telling Yoda and the entire Council to get bent and then march straight on home to nail my wife! Them and their whole order of ascetic virgins can kiss my ass! Bunch of self-righteous fops, you ask me!

4. Selling out: Last time around, I lamented Lucas’ selling out but hoped he might take the hint and get back to his base. Alas, I was already too late! Seems that in the last few years, he’s released two more special editions of his movies! Yes, as if the original box set, the THX box set, the Gold Edition box set, and the prequel box set weren’t enough, now we have “Star Wars: the Force”, and “Star Wars: The Complete Saga”, both of which are full volumes of all six movies. Both contain all the usual bonus feature crap and behind-the-scenes documentaries, but the Force edition is apparently a directors cut that includes all the deleted scenes. Yeah, I’m kind of intrigued by the idea of bonus scenes too, but Jesus Christ Lucas, how many new versions of Star Wars do we need?! You got alimony to pay or a dozen bastard children we don’t know about? Stephen Spielberg got something on you that you gotta pay to keep under wraps? Why else would you feel the need to re-merchandize the most merchandized franchise of all time? You know, I think this might just be his way of sticking it to all those people who laughed at him when he said he wanted to retain the merchandizing rights!

Well, that about covers it for now. As usual, reflecting on the path Star Wars has taken since my younger days has left me feeling bitter and jaded. I suppose its all in how you look at it. On the one hand, I could be happy that Lucas, who started as a humble purveyor of sci-fi (like me!), became a man with the power to shape several generations worth of popular culture. Or I could be pissed that the man who created something that helped shape my and many other people’s childhood went on to rape it! Tough call man…

Star Wars Episode III: Last Chance…

Last time, I believe I left off with a passing mention of how the Clone Wars weren’t exactly given their due in Lucas’ prequels. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it was my understanding that that was what they were supposed to address, and with a name like Attack of the Clones, I don’t think that would be an unrealistic expectation. But Lucas seemed more concerned with addressing the back-story of Anakin’s fall to the dark side and the love story between him and Padme/Amidala. Everything else was pushed to the side or parceled out between obligatory scenes of (ahem) romance and Anakin bitching about how angry he was and unfair his life is. The end result was a movie that hopped all over the place, moving along with a sense of duty rather than an intriguing story that took its time to build, and with dialogue and character development that was basically info-dumping and pure exposition.

In short, it sucked! But between movies two and three, Lucas appeared to sit up and take notice. Whereas Phantom Menace and Clones were chock full of indications that Lucas held the fan’s feelings in contempt, Revenge of the Sith seemed to contain within it a feeling of humility. It was as if Lucas saw the writing on the wall and realized that if the third movie was to be a critical flop, the Star Wars franchise might forever be ruined. That, I think, was enough to get him to realize that he was still mortal.

Still, the final entry in the franchise suffered from the same weaknesses as the rest. Nobody missed Jar Jar Binks, the cheesy romantic element was toned down (somewhat), the action was a lot better and more relevant, and the motivation was a lot more believable. But the same basic problems of duty, pacing and rushing were there all around. About the best thing you could say about it was that it was salvageable. Not great, but enough to ensure that the whole trilogy didn’t totally suck. But I’m getting ahead of myself here…

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Prior to the movie’s release, Lucas did his usual round of interviews and gave the fans a bit of an inside look at the plot and his process. In the course of this, he admitted that he had to force himself to commit to writing every day, eight hours at a stretch, in order to get the script banged out on time. Now that’s not something you EVER want to admit to as a writer! Automatically it makes people think that what they are about to see is a second-rate effort, done out of a sense of obligation and devoid of any heart. And yet, it was better than the first two, even if it managed to retain their weaknesses.

The War: As I said in the last review, the war happens between movies. We catch the very beginning of it in Clones and the tail end of it in this one, but that’s it. Despite the fact that they are of extreme importance to the story, the war (or wars) are really more of a backdrop against which the main story – Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side, takes place. That only drives home the point of how the prequels are dominated by a sense of duty, meant to explain rather than tell their own story. If anything, it should have been the other way around. The war happens, it is the means through which Palpatine seizes power, and in the course of it, Anakin becomes a great hero, falls in love with Padme/Amidala, and then succumbs to temptation. It’d be a lot more fun, more subtle, and more entertaining that way.

Anakin and Dooku, take two: Here was a fight scene that was due, and it was enjoyable to see Anakin take down Dooku. But it was pretty much a total rehash of the first time these two fought, sans the ridiculous walk-on by Yoda. As predicted, Dooku has to take out Obi Wan in order for him and Anakin to duke it out between themselves. And its perfectly contrived, the way he tossed him aside with the Force and uses a gangplank to pin him down. It’s also perfectly contrived that Obi Wan would thusly be unconscious and totally unaware of how Anakin kills Dooku. That was another problem I had with this fight scene. After cutting off Dooku’s hands, Anakin is told by Palpatine to execute him. This is in keeping with the whole Sith thing: “you beat my apprentice, now take his place”. But what is so stupid about it is how Anakin beheads him with barely a second thought.
It’s like “You know, I really shouldn’t…”. “Do it, Anakin! He’s too dangerous.” “Okay!” Slit! “Gee, That felt wrong.” “It’s okay Anakin, he had it coming!” And then, barely another word on the subject. As if to remind us how this has happened before, Palpatine brings up how Anakin wiped out all those Sandpeople. Once again, it seems like the Jedi have no clue and Anakin has got away with cold-blooded murder.

The Love Story: We’re fortunate not to get an earful of awful, cheesy dialogue between Anakin and Padme in this one, but there’s still enough to bring the bile to the edge of your throat. For what its worth, the two seem to have a little more chemistry in this one, but it still feels forced. “You are so beautiful” says Anakin. “That’s because I’m so much in love,” she replies. Ugh!

Grievous: Here is a character who is not bad, as far as conceptuals go. But the fact that he’s introduced in this last movie where he then dies, that’s kind of weak. You can’t expect to introduce characters who are central to the plot in the third act and expect people to develop some kind of attachment to them. What’s more, in this movie, Grievous sounded oafish and really wasn’t that threatening. In the Clone Wars cartoon (the original by Genndy Tartakovsky, not the crappy Lucas remake!) Grievous was a frightening, bad-ass mutha who took down multiple Jedis at once. His voice was deep, cold, and metallic, and he had some truly bone-chilling lines! “Run, Jedi run! You have only prolonged the inevitable. But I will give you the honor of a warrior’s death.” Did I mention he’s also a master of psychological warfare?

Yes, that’s what’s wrong here! Between the cartoon and the third movie, Grievous goes from being an unstoppable malevolent force to a veritable heel! This was the guy who cut his way through clone troopers and Jedi alike and even managed to kidnap Palpatine in his own capitol building. And yet, we’re to believe that Obi Wan is able to take him down all by himself. There’s even a joke that fans made about this: Right before their big fight, Grievous turns to Obi Wan and says “It’s a good thing this is the movie and not the cartoon version, otherwise you’d be right fucked!” Ha! It’s funny because it’s true.

Anakin kills kids: Okay, really? I mean I know Lucas is trying to establish that Anakin’s turned evil, but are we seriously to believe that he’s gone from being conflicted and afraid about joining Palpatine to murdering children? How exactly does the Force work? Do one bad thing and BOOM! You’re an evil psychopath? If it’s that easy a transition, no wonder the Jedi are so pedantic. What’s more, I loved Padme’s reaction when she finds out about his crime. “No! Not Anakin! He couldn’t…” she says. What, this surprises you? You barely batted an eye when he told you that he slaughtered women and children, now you’re surprised he murdered some Jedi younglings? A more fitting reaction would be, “Not again! Christ, that boy’s incorrigible!” Not saying I approve, but if you’re going to have such a casual attitude the first time your hubby commits mass murder, you kind of forfeit the right to be surprised when he does it again. Or is Lucas trying to say indiscriminate murder is okay when it’s Sandpeople? Dude… that’s racist!

Anakin and Obi Wan’s big fight: Now, it’s been well-established at this point that Anakin is a better swordsman than Obi Wan, right? I mean, Dooku kicked Obi Wan’s ass twice with little effort, and Anakin kicked Dooku’s ass with energy to spare. So… how is it that Obi Wan was able to stand toe-to-toe with Anakin for like ten minutes straight and then beat him? Seriously, this fight scene makes no sense! Just like with his one-on-one with Grievous, Obi Wan, who’s been a bumbling dope up until this point, seems to suddenly acquire some mad fighting skills and saves the day. What’s more, this fight scene drags on forever! The choreography is beautiful, like watching fire dancers do their thing, but there’s no real tension. Not like there was between Vader and Luke in Empire. That fight scene went on for awhile, but it was well-paced and punctuated by terror. You could see how Vader was slowly beating Luke down and you feared for him. This time around, it was just a lot of visuals with little to no emotional content. And the fact that we knew ahead of time that Obi Wan would win removed any sense of anxiety from it.

“Nooooo!”: Now I know for a fact that few among us thought Hayden Christensen could possibly fill Vader’s shoes. The whiny, bitchy stride he struck in movies two and three hardly seemed consistent with the Darth’s deep voice or malevolent nature. Still, that scene at the end, where Anakin/Vader asks the whereabouts of Padme and then emits a pained shriek when Palpatine tells him she’s dead… painful! Not to mention kind of dumb. It goes without saying that if Anakin is truly going to cross over, Palpatine needs to make him sever all ties to his past. But telling him he killed his own love, strange, but I’d think that’d have the opposite effect. The whole reason he sided with Palpatine was to save her. Now that she’s dead, there’s really nothing to hold them together. Not only that, but in light of Padme’s death, all the sacrifices he’s made to earn Palpatine’s help would seem like they were done in vain. Personally, I’d be pissed! Rather than commit wholeheartedly to Palpatine’s plan, I’d want to kill Palpatine and take his whole plan apart piece by piece! Or, in keeping with the whole Sith thing, kill Palpatine and take over the whole operation myself. That’d make way more sense than serving him like a slave, “I must obey my master,” and all that. Really, what’s he done for you Darth?

Well, that about covers it. To be fair, I’d like to point out that there were some things I actually liked in this movie. Unlike the others, it wasn’t saved merely by its action. No, this one actually had a little depth that managed to justify the expense of seeing it. The fact that Anakin’s fall was born of fear, that he did it because of the promise of powers that would make him what he wanted to be (powerful enough to prevent death) actually made sense. Knowing that Lucas had to force himself to get this script out didn’t help things much, I knew in the back of my head as I saw it that he kind of pulled it out of his ass. But like most critics, I was willing to forgive this. It seemed like we were all pulling for him because we didn’t want to see Star Wars fail. After growing up with it and spending so much time and money on the toys, books, etc, we just weren’t prepared to abandon ship!

However, I personally feel that enough time has passed so that we might finally able to put the prequel trilogy and everything else Lucas has done in perspective. Despite his weaknesses as a writer/director, Lucas has an undeniable talent for borrowing elements from different genres and combining them in just the right way with some classical mythology and history to create an enjoyable experience. The original movies called to mind all kinds of things that the audience could relate to. The Battle of Hoth was like Dunkirk, the (first) assault on the Death Star like the Doolittle raid, and I don’t think anyone wasn’t on the edge of their seat with the final battle! Luke’s journey to find himself and learn the truth of his ancestry was like the Odyssey, the redemption and sacrifice his father made like something out of Greek tragedy.

It’s ironic then that Lucas himself would succumb to the temptation and allure of money, fame and power. In the end, they led him to believe that he was the master of Star Wars and that he alone knew what it was all about and what made it great. He was wrong, of course. One of the most enduring powers of Star Wars was its mass-appeal, how it could snatch up the youth and adult vote in one swoop. By snubbing advice and letting his age-old fans know that he didn’t care what they thought, he ended up churning out two movies that were almost universally panned and nearly cost him his legacy. It was only in listening to the critics and accepting his limitations that he was able to create a passable third and thereby “redeem” the franchise before it was too late. Yeah… irony!

But alas, Lucas appears to be up to his old tricks again. No sooner had Tartakovsky’s Star Wars: Clone Wars begin to garner critical acclaim that he snatched it up and began making his own version. It seemed that he was perfectly happy to let someone else tell the story of the Clone Wars until they began to do a better job of it than him. Then, I’m guessing ego or greed got the better of him and he came out with a cartoon movie and a series! And of course, they are just like his first two prequels – kiddy, cheesy, and razor thin in terms of plot. And it seems as though he isn’t finished just yet. Word is, he’s thinking of making sequels; that is, movies that pick up where the originals left off! If so, I’d say he has an opportunity on his hands to do what all the fans want – i.e. get back to what made the originals great and stop churning out the kind of crass, commercial crap that’s been spewing from Lucasarts for so many years.

So on behalf of all fans everywhere, I’d like to make a plea to Lucas. Dear Sir, I urge you to consider the lesson of the prequels and incorporate it into your future work. First, check your ego at the door. You created Star Wars, but that doesn’t mean you’re infallible. Second, ditch the adulators who are keeping you from hearing the truth. It’s always a true friend who’ll tell you what you need to hear even if you don’t want to hear it. Those who tell you flattering things with shit-eating grins plastered on their faces will only bring you down. Third, your foresight to retain the merchandising rights may have made you filthy-fucking-rich, but it’s also what’s been polluting your mind. There are things more important than money, merchandise, spin-offs, re-releases, and digital remastered editions! In the end, it should be about the story, not the returns. Fourth, get back to your fan base and really try to connect with them. I know, who are they to question you, right? Simple, they’re the ones who grew up watching Star Wars and made it the success that it was. Had they not paid their hard-earned money to see your movies and buy your paraphernalia, you’d have spent the last thirty years writing fan fiction and paperback space opera out of a studio apartment in downtown LA. Whether you like it or not, the franchise does in part belong to them. As its creator you can make it good, but only they can make it great! Without your fans, there is no phenomenon, so take what they say seriously.

That’s all! And as cheesy finish, let me just say “May the Force be with you” and not worry about reprisals ;)!

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Plot: 5/10
Direction: 7/10
Total: 7/10

Star Wars, Episode II: Send in the Clowns!

Yeah, that’s not the most original parody of this movie’s title, but it sums up my feelings pretty well. In my last review, I addressed the first movie in the Star Wars prequel lineup, the absurdly named The Phantom Menace. In sum, it was a movie with some signs of quality, but which suffered from a technocratic plot and a whole lot of childish content. Overall, sort of a C+. Okay, not great! In addition, I tried to tackle the two big questions that are constantly asked about the Star Wars franchise. Number one: why were the originals so enduring and influential in their time? And two: what the hell happened with the prequels? The originals were enduring classics that combined gun slinging, swashbuckling adventure with space opera and mythology. The prequels… well, they were entertaining in places. Annoying, insulting, generally inexplicable, but still entertaining.

And now, onto the second movie in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, the even more absurdly named Attack of the Clones! As you can tell from the title of this posting, I did NOT like this movie; and in that, I am hardly alone. According to critics and fans alike, it was even worse than the first – a complete 180 of what happened with the first trilogy where the sequel outstripped the original. And the reasons were obvious: For the most part, Phantom Menace was an critical flop because it was simultaneously kiddy, technocratic and suffered from an obvious sense of duty. The second movie suffered from the same ailment, but added some new elements that brought it down even further. But I could not hope to address them all in one paragraph so let me break it down succinctly. As C3P0 would say (in the originals!) “Here we go again…”

Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones
As I’m sure I mentioned in the previous post, Lucas spoke of what this movie would be about long before it aired… to the disappointment of fans everywhere. Whereas most of us were hoping that the second movie would depart from the childish tone struck by the first, Lucas dashed all that by saying it would be a love story and aimed squarely at kids. And of course, it would explain how the “Clone Wars” happened. On top of that, he had to give the audience some preview of Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side. A tall order, to be sure, but Lucas managed to mangle it pretty good! Here’s what went wrong:

Forced Chemistry: Lucas is known for writing dialogue that nobody can say, but in this movie, he really outdid himself! Those “romantic” scenes between Christensen and Portman, they’re PAINFUL! Not only does nobody speak like that, Portman and Christensen manage to go through these scenes without exhibiting the slightest trace of romantic chemistry! In fact, we’re given every indication to suggest that what’s really going on is a case of creepy stalker syndrome! Remember that back and forth from early on in the movie, “Please don’t look at me like that,” says Portman. “Why not?” asks Christensen. “It makes me uncomfortable.” Sound like love? Nope! As if that wasn’t bad enough, there’s the part where Anakin says he’s been dreaming about her for ten years straight, and that just being around her again is “intoxicating”. Ick! Can you say “obsessive”? And last, there’s the part where she totally disses him in front of people on Naboo. “Anakin is just a padawan,” she says. He objects to this sluff off, but she totally puts him in his place. Clear enough? She don’t like ya, kid. Move on or face a restraining order! And yet, we’re supposed to believe these two somehow fall in love a few scenes later? The only reason we’re supposed to believe it is because we already know it happens! Otherwise, it is wholly unbelievable and totally cringe-worthy!

Forced Rivalry: Oh, and let’s not forget the totally forced animosity that exists between Anakin and Obi Wan. It’s obvious from the way Anakin back-talks him and complains about him behind his back that he’s got some animosity for the man. It’s already predictable due to the fact that we know in advance that Anakin will turn bad and betray him, but it doesn’t help that the dialogue and the delivery feel totally fake and wooden. And lets not forget how insistent Lucas was with the whole odd couple dynamic! In fact, the back and forth between Anakin and Obi Wan and their complaints about each other are so overdone that Obi Wan just comes off as a nagging shrew and Anakin as a total bitch! Yes, we know what’s going to happen and its necessary to preview how, but Jesus-Allah-Buddah, a little subtlety please!

Infodumping: Which brings me to my next point. Lucas, you can’t have your characters just announce their feelings! It’s unsubtle, insulting to the audience, and drives home the whole dutiful nature of these awful movies even more! From the very outset, we learn that Anakin is in love with Padme/Amidala. Why? Because he says so. We learn shortly thereafter that Anakin resents Obi Wan. Why? Because he says so. We learn that Anakin is arrogant on a count of his abilities? Why? Obi Wan says so! On and on this goes throughout the movie. Lucas seems to think that the best way to establish something is to have his characters announce it openly, as opposed to say establishing it slowly through bits of dialogue and acting! And of course, its all because he feels obliged to cover his bases and explain how everything happened. This is why I hate prequels, you know.

Hayden Christensen: To be fair, the boy was up against it dealing with Lucas’ awful script writing, but that didn’t prevent him from being the most whiny, annoying bitch I’ve ever seen on camera. Seriously, even Shia LaBeouf was less annoying by comparison, and that was with Michael Bay writing his lines! And this is the guy who’s supposed to turn into Darth Vader? I would think that a war hero who got tempted by evil and became the universe’s most notorious bad-ass would be… oh, I don’t know, like Gary Cooper. The strong silent type! Not some whiny little kid who does nothing but lament about unrequited love and bitch about how he’s not being treated like an adult by his master. Exposition ruined what should have been the perfect character!

Jump-around Plot: Ostensibly, this movie was supposed to be about the Clone Wars. But on top of that, Anakin and Padme are supposed to fall in love, and then there’s the added duty of previewing Anakin’s fall to the dark side. As a result, we get a whole first hour in which the main characters are just running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Anakin brings Padme to Naboo to protect her (her home planet? Really? An assassin wouldn’t think to look for her there?), and the scenery works its magic and they fall in love. But then, Anakin has to rush off to Tatooine, totally unrelated to the plot, to find his mother. Once there, he finds out she’s been taken by sand people and she dies as soon as he finds her. Anakin responds by wiping out the whole village of sand-people, and somehow, nobody seems to care. That little act of genocide is forgotten as they have to rush back into the fray to rescue Obi Wan because he’s been taken prisoner. The only one who appears to be sticking to the plan is Obi Wan, who was busy at work the whole time investigating the clone plot. On its own, that part wasn’t bad, but its so diluted by the other crap that you almost don’t notice it. In fact, were it not for all the other crap, we might have actually gotten into the war!

Genocide? No biggie!: Speaking of the massacre Anakin committed, I’m sure everyone noticed how little the other characters seemed to care about that. Yoda senses the massacre through the Force, but it never comes up again. Even worse, Padme seems totally unphased when he tells her that he slaughtered women and children. She even goes as far as to say “To be angry is to be human.” WHAAAAAT? The boy wipes out an entire village of people, women and children included, and the best you can say is “no biggie?” What kind of person are you?! Equally odd, when Anakin returns to the Jedi, no one so much as mentions it. Yoda knew something was up, but its like he either forgot or stopped caring. Little wonder why this kid turned evil, he’s got no boundaries!

More Re-Used Characters: Like I said about the first movie, Lucas seemed to think that he had to introduce ALL the characters from the first movie, even if he was hard-pressed to do so. In this movie, we get the back-story of Boba Fett, who as it turns out, is a clone! Yes, the bad-ass bounty hunter extraordinaire from the first trilogy is actually the clone of a bounty hunter named JANGO Fett. That seemed kinda forced, but the introduction of Owen and Beru, who are apparently Anakin’s step-brother and step-sister-in-law? That was just plain stupid! Did he expect the audience to go “ah-hah!” every time he did that? Honestly, I think people just rolled their eyes and sighed whenever it happened.

Final Fight Scene: One thing that always seems to redeem Lucas’ movies is the action scenes. That awesome fight scene from the first one was enough to justify admission, but this time around, Lucas screwed the pooch on that one too! The big scene at the end, which apparently was inspired by Roman-style executions in the Coliseum, was not too bad, but it was long and drawn out. And holy hell, the fight scene that ensues between Dooku, Anakin, Obi Wan, and then Yoda? It was totally unrealistic, and punctuated by some of the worst dialogue ever! First, he takes down Anakin by hurling him into a wall just so he can fight Obi Wan one on one. Then he manages to defeat Obi Wan without inflicting any real harm, mainly so he and Anakin can go at it mono a mono. After he takes off Anakin’s arm, fulfilling yet another plot element, him and Yoda go at it. “I can see we are not going to resolve this with our knowledge of the force, but our skills with a lightsaber.” Do I even need to say it? Nobody talks like that! Yeah, the fight scene is entertaining, sure, but otherwise nothing but theatrics and zero substance!

Clueless Jedi: In the first movie, the Jedi seemed just a little slow on the uptake. I mean I know I have the benefit of knowing exactly who the bad guy is, but between the first and second movie, a full ten years have passed! You’d think they’d have done some digging and learned a thing or two about who Darth Maul was and who he might have been taking his orders from. And this time around, they’re even more clueless. And it seems almost necessary in order to explain how Palpatine could have seized power without the Jedi getting wise to him. I admit, that was a tough thing to tackle. But Yoda’s explanation, how the “dark side clouds everything. Impossible to see the future is,” etc etc, falls pretty flat. Apparently, the Jedi’s have a diminished capacity to use the Force now, and rather than tell anyone, they keep it hush hush because Yoda doesn’t want their enemies getting any ideas. Pretty contrived explanations, man! A simple line of dialogue, like how Palpatine has mastered a technique that allows him to mask his presence in the Force, that might’ve worked. It might even make sense in the context of how, at times, Yoda and the others get suspicious of him. He can mask his dark Force energies from detection, but once in awhile, something slips through. Oy! I feel so geeky!

And that about covers this bad-boy. Overall, it was pretty bad, pretty rushed, pretty forced, and suffered from a sense of duty even more than the first. It was not enough that it had to explain major plot elements, it also had to forecast a number of developments that the audience knew would happen later on. And that was its downfall. When it comes to prequels, the potential for excitement comes in the form of developing things that have been hinted at, but for which the audience is seriously short on the details. In this case, the Clone Wars. Only once did it come up in the first trilogy, when Luke spoke to Obi Wan about what his father did. And several passing mentions were made in other areas of the franchise, including comics, novels and video games. But always, the details were in
short supply because the master (George) never left any notes.

So really, that’s what this movie needed to do but failed to deliver on. Explain the war, get into it, and sure, throw in some stuff cataloging Palpatine’s rise to power. That’s it! Instead, we get a whole lot of set-up designed to explain how the war is GOING to happen, an awful romance story, a rushed and forced prelude of Anakin’s fall, and a quick scene showing how Palpatine used the war crisis to become a tyrant. This last part felt like a technocratic holdover from the first movie – Parliamentary procedure leading to the emergence of dictatorship, yadda yadda. But the point is, we missed out on all the real action when that’s all the fans really wanted in the first place! In fact, the final scene where Clone Troopers are boarding their vessels and going off to war is the closest we get to seeing the war at all in this movie. Sure, the big battle on Geonosis kinda counted as part of the war, but it was really more of a prelude, not the actual thing! And with a name like “Attack of the Clones”, you’d think we’d see more, you know, attacking! Instead, the war is something that happened between movies, to be covered later by another producer (Genndy Tartakovsky) and then commandeered by Lucas when he realized it was profitable. But more on that later! Up next, the salvageable finale to the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Revenge of the Sith!

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Plot: 2/10
Direction: 7/10
Total: 5/10

The Star Wars Prequels…

If only I get my hands on a big, rolling intro the way Lucas did! Man, would THAT come in handy here! Weren’t they just so great? I can remember watching them as a kid, pre-teen, post-teen, and young adult. Those inros and the music that preceded them, they always had a way of getting me into the mood for another Star Wars movie marathon. And weren’t they just the thing for a movie party? Yes, the Star Wars franchise was a masterpiece of pop-culture gold, something we who saw it when we were children could still enjoy years later. Hell, people of my parents generation found them equally appealing, both when they first hit theaters and years after their release. During the 80’s and early 90’s, there was scarcely anyone who wasn’t affected by the Star Wars phenomena. And today, those who haven’t seen the originals tend to get funny looks when they make that admission. I myself have been known to say “Didn’t you grow up in this country” whenever someone admitted it to me!

Sounds a little crass when I hear myself say it now, but you have to admit, I had a point! In fact, Star Wars has been so influential that pop culture experts, cultural historians and media gurus have been pouring over it for decades, trying to ascertain exactly why this ought to be. I mean think about it: a franchise that had a limited budget, an inexperienced director, weak writing/dialogue, newby actors and actresses (with the exception of Sir Alec Guinness), and production problems from day one somehow became a rip-roaring success at the box office and spawned two sequels that did even better. In fact, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was one of those rare sequels that was considered better than the first, right up there with the Godfather Part II, Mad Max, and T2.

Now why is that? Why is the Star Wars franchise so enduringly influential and popular? There is no single answer, but the general consensus seems to be that they were just good at capturing a certain Zeitgeist. In addition to its accessible theme of the hero’s journey and the idealist fighters battling against an evil empire, there was also the classical themes of The Fall, the Redemption, dynastic struggle between father and son, the ties that bind, the hero’s fate, and countless elements borrowed from other popular genres, such as gun-slinging spaghetti westerns and swashbuckling samurai movies. All this came together to create something that some thought was brilliant, others thought was a guilty pleasure. But that all could agree, it worked! People liked it and wanted more!

So it begs the question, how and where did things go wrong? I’ve say how and where at the expense of why because I feel that one is obvious: right around the summer of 1999, when Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was released. That’s pretty much when things went wrong! From then on, things got steadily worse, with an even-worse sequel and a salvageable third. Fans of the franchise were left sore and dumbfounded, having spent their money to see them, but generally feeling betrayed and confused. From a critical and a popular standpoint, the Star Wars prequels did not hold a candle to the originals, leaving many people to wonder what could have happened.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Naturally, when it was announced that prequels were coming out – movies that would cover the Clone Wars, show the origins of the Empire, and the fall of Anakin Skywalker/rise of Darth Vader – fans were excited. I know I was! Like most men my age, I had grown up on the franchise and lived in a world saturated by Star Wars toys, books, magazines, lunchboxes, figurines, and even novels. So it goes without saying that I wanted to see how Lucas would fill in the back-story. But like most fans, I left the movie theater a little daunted. It was only a few minutes in when I first came to realize who the target audience was, and like most people my age, I wasn’t too happy about it. Sure, the lightsaber fight scene and podrace were both worth the price of admission, but something needed to be done about the rest of it. There were just too many weaknesses that were glaringly obvious. Let me see if I can break them down succinctly:

Weak Plot: It’s a rare thing when a movie can be both technocratic and childish at the same time, but this movie pulled it off! First, we have a plot where the “greedy Trade Federation” is blockading a planet because they’re unhappy about taxes. And we get a big earful about how the Republic is deadlocked and ineffective due to the stumbling blocks of parliamentary procedure. Really? This is how the big, huge saga begins? I know were supposed to be getting a preview of how the Republic became a tyranny due to corruption and inefficiency, but it could have been done in a way that wasn’t so heavy-handed and dull. In fact, nothing about this plot seems realistic or even interesting. A great big civil war and slide into despotism began with taxes on trade routes??? Let’s not forget how the Trade Federation has all these ships and battle droids. When was the last time a Merchant Marine was ever allowed to do that, stockpile weapons and blockade planets? Who the hell is running the Republic that this sort of thing was allowed to take place? And if they really wanted to stir things up, why blockade some backwater place like Naboo (kiddy name if ever I heard one!)? Why not a hub, like Coruscant or Alderaan or something like that? Oh, and Palpatine, the evil Sith Master who will overthrow the Republic and become Emperor, he’s actually FROM there? I’d think a master of the dark side would be better suited coming from somewhere a little less remote, don’t you? I know, I know! Sarah Palin wasn’t exactly from a major hub either. But she’s aint President… yet (gulp!)

Racial Caricatures: Let’s not forget the borderline racist junk that made it into this movie. First, the “greedy” Trade Federation representatives, whom Qui Gon Jinn referred to as “cowards”, clearly a bunch of Japanese businessmen. Why is the Trade Federation run by this one race, for that matter? Aren’t they supposed to be like a guild or something? The fact that they all look and sound the same only deepens this racist impression. Then there’s Jar Jar, a creature so annoying he made most of us want to hurl a whiskey bottle at the screen! He has big flappy ears, is clumsy as hell, has a ridiculous accent and speaks pinyin. Put on a big fro and you got Buckwheat, racist without the folksy! Next, there’s Watto, who might as well be called Shylock for all the obviousness of his character. One, he’s greedy and cares only about money; two, he wears a yamaka-type headpiece; and three, he’s an obvious scam artist. So in essence, Lucas caricatured Black people, Asians and Jews in one fell swoop with this movie. I know he likes to draw parallels to the past, but Victorian-era bigotry is not something any smart man should want to associate with.

Virgin Birth: The original Star Wars movies made obvious use of Judea-Christian mythology, but this movie went above and beyond. Having Anakin be the result of an immaculate conception, where the Force (or midi-chlorians as they call them in this movie) willed him into being, was just plain pushing it! I mean, I know Anakin was supposed to be special, but this whole “Chosen One” thing was too much. The fact that there was a prophecy associated with his existence had potential, and I kind of liked where they went with it in later movies, but in this particular one, it made me want to gag.

Midi-Chlorians: Didn’t you just know I was going to bring them up next? Yes, as someone who grew up with The Force, I can tell you that one of its greatest selling points was its mystery. The way Obi Wan explained it to Luke, the Force sounded very much like an allegory for destiny, history, or the unfolding of a divine plan. No one quite understood it, no one knew with any certainty what course it would take. But in the end it seemed to unfold in such a way that balance was restored and those who tried to control it ended up being screwed. What better allegory is there for Karma, the Divine, or universal justice? You can’t get more mythological and Judea-Christian than that! And how and why some people are more sensitive to it than others was something that was also a mystery. So you can imagine how it might seem disappointing or dumb when Lucas decided to reduce it to microscopic bacteria that exist in your bloodstream! Why not just say there’s a F gene or something? With one stroke of the pen, we went from deep mythology to pulp sci-fi!

Re-use of Characters: Prequels are supposed to use many of the same characters, but that doesn’t mean that EVERY SINGLE ONE needs to be accounted for, or that they have to be part of the same plot. For starters, Anakin build C3PO? And R2D2 knew him as a kid? What they didn’t have other service droids in the past, you gotta re-use the same ones for over thirty years? And if so, why the hell didn’t this come up in the originals? Sure, Lucas did a last minute explanation for that in the third movie, but that didn’t change the fact that this was just weak. And it happened again and again in the second and third movie, as if Lucas was getting a bonus every time he managed to write a character from the original movies into the new ones. You know, the universe is a big place. People’s paths may cross, but not all the freaking time!

Forget your mom, kid: One of the things I heard people complain about a lot with this movie was the way Anakin was being pressured to cut all ties to his mother. In essence, he’s pulled away from her, told that his fear of losing her is a bad thing, and how this could lead him to the dark side. “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering…” as Yoda put it. So what then? He’s just supposed to turn his back on her and become an emotional ascetic? He’s freaking ten! And with lessons as pedantic and cold as this one, its no wonder the boy turned to the dark side! And really, one can draw a straight line like that through anything! Watch! “Fun leads to enjoyment. Enjoyment leads to fondness. Fondness leads to obsession. Obsession leads to destruction. Destruction leads to suffering…” Or how about discipline? Jedis love discipline. Watch me connect to it the dark side! “Discipline leads to perfection. Perfection leads to arrogance. Arrogance leads to foolishness. Foolishness leads to error. Error leads to anger…” and so on. See? Not hard! It’s like playing “Six degrees of Dark Side”. And the prequels are full of this kind of needlessly harsh reasoning, stuff you’d never expect to hear out of a Jedi. I mean, I know they’re supposed to be disciplined, but isn’t compassion also supposed to be their thing? More on that later…

The Kid: As if Jar Jar wasn’t annoying enough, we got to suffer through all the bad one-liners and atrocious acting of that kid who played Anakin. Another obvious ploy to court the kiddy vote, as was all the podracing and dog-fighting he did, stuff no ten year old would ever do! The former was bad enough, but did Lucas really have to include that horrid dogfight scene at the end where he basically saved the day through sheer luck? I already checked my brain at the door, but I still felt my intelligence being insulted with that scene! Speaking of which, where is that kid now? I don’t recall seeing him in anything after this movie came out. But given the sheer exploitation, odds are good he either turned to drugs or became a petty criminal in order to channel his outrage of being in such a film! Hell, if I were him I’d be suing the bastard for raping my youth!

Okay, so it was a bad movie. However, I remember being soothed by rumors that this first installment was just a first salvo that was meant to get the kids hooked and that the later movies would be aimed more at the adults. Lucas was even rumored to have reported that his second installment would be darker, and since the subject matter was supposed to be how the Clone Wars began, I figured it had to be true. Lord knew, we who were now adults, who had grown up enjoying Star Wars as kids, expecting something from the man. But I learned a lesson from all this, check your sources, and don’t expect nothing from men like Lucas! Sometimes, the fan community makes up stories and puts them in place of real fact. And Lucas, it seemed, had no intention from deviating from the course he set. In fact, he even went on the record as saying that Star Wars was always meant to be a “Saturday Morning serial for kids”. Translation: screw you grown-up fans! I don’t need you anymore!

And it was about that time that I discovered why Lucas was going down this road in the first place. Contrary to what some people had said, he had not gone crazy, or mad with power. In truth, Lucas was never a very good writer or director. The only difference now was that he seemed to think he had overcome these limitations. A few years into the release of the prequels, critics had formed a chorus that could be heard chanting the seminal words of Harrison Ford: “George, you can type this shit, but you sure as hell can’t say it!” These words, which were just a heartfelt complaint at the time, have come to be synonymous with everything Lucas did wrong. Apparently, when he was making the first Star Wars, he had a lot of trouble adapting his script to the screen. More than one cast member, aside from Ford, had asked themselves “Who talks like this?” when reading it. But, knowing his limits at the time, Lucas sought the help of others during the making A New Hope and had full-time writing and directorial assistance when making Empire and Return of the Jedi. But after years of success and adulation, Lucas appeared to think that he knew best and didn’t require any help from anyone anymore. In fact, it was rumored that he now did all his writing on the Skywalker Ranch, surrounded by sycophants and yes-men who told him what he wanted to hear and kept the negative reviews from his ears. It was not until the second installment got panned that he seemed to sit up and take notice. But more on that in my next installment…

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Plot: 6/10
Direction: 7/10
Total: 6.5/10