The Legged Squad Support System

Ever since man began killing man in an organized fashion – i.e. the rise of armies –  political and military leaders have struggled with the problem of how to keep them supplied. As Napoleon himself stated in the early 19th century, “An army marches on its stomach”. Since his time, things have not improved drastically. Even with the advent of the steam train, trucks and airplanes, a fully-loaded soldier must still carry upwards of 90 lbs of equipment on their backs. Not an easy task, especially when marching through particularly hot, wet, or rugged terrain.

Well it just so happens that DARPA and the United States Marine Corps might be in possession of something that can help real soon. A few years back, they awarded a contract to an engineering firm named Boston Dynamics to develop a prototype for Darpa’s Legged Squad Support System (LS3). This system calls for a walking quadruped robot that will augment squads by being able to carry equipment autonomously over the kinds of complex terrain where traditional tactical vehicles can’t go.

The walker will reportedly be able to carry a payload of 40o pounds over as much as 20 miles and provide 24 hours of self-sustained capability. In addition, it requires no drivers or remote controllers, since it will be fitted with remote sensors that will allow it to follow the team leader, and a GPS so it can travel to predesignated coordinates. Already, the prototype LS3 has taken its first steps, and the USMC hopes to have some in the field sometime this decade.

One has to wonder… is the beginning of AT-AT walkers and other Star Wars stuff? If so, then I’m thinking we might just be seeing some prototypes for hover cars and lightsabers very soon. Like many fanboys, I was a little kid when the originals came out. Now, like them, I’m in my thirties and thinking I’ve waited long enough! Check out the video below to see the LS3 in action:

Cool Cyborgs (updated)!

8 Man:
Always good to start with a classic, don’t you think? Especially one that really doesn’t get the attention it deserves. In addition to being Japan’s first cyborg superhero, this 60’s anime character was also the inspiration for Robocop. You heard me right!

Apparently, the main character was a Detective who was murdered by a group of ruthless criminals, but whose body was retrieved by a scientist who conducted an experimental procedure to transfer his “life force” into a machine body. Having failed the previous seven times, his eights and successful attempt is aptly named “8 Man”.

But unlike Robocop, this cyborg can do some pretty freaky stuff! In addition to being heavily armored, he can run at incredible speeds and shape-shift into other people. His true identity is kept a secret from everyone except his old police chief and the professor who conducted his experiment.

But like Robocop, 8 Man chooses to go beyond his crime-fighting mandate to find his old girlfriend, best friend and attempt to rebuild his old life. His attempts are often marred by the fact that he is no longer human, but as they say, it’s the journey that counts!

Bionic Woman:
Sure, Steve Austin was pretty cool, but did he look this good? Hell no! And in the case of the Bionic Woman, the hero story was far less crude. Though the original series was little more than a spinoff of The Six Million Dollar Man (featuring Oscar Goldman as the scientist again), the re-imagined series was far more original and endearing.

In this version, the main character (again named Jaime Sommers) is a surrogate mother and bartender struggling to make ends meet. After a near fatal car accident, she is saved by an experimental procedure involving advanced prosthetics and implants (no, not those kind!). Afterwards, she goes to work for the people who performed her operation – the Berkut Group, whom he boyfriend works for.

Through her work, she is responsible for thwarting crimes and evil machinations, while trying to explore her role and the changes she’s endured. As with the original series, Jaime’s modifications include bionic legs, a bionic right arm, a bionic right ear, and a bionic eye like that of Steve Austin. In the updated series, she also gets a dose of nanomachines called “anthrocytes” which are capable of healing her body at a highly accelerated rate.

The Borg:
Now here is a race who’s name is the second half of Cyborg! No chance for misunderstandings here! And as all fans of Star Trek know, the Borg are extremely proud of what they are. A race of beings dedicated to the perfection of life by merging the organic with the synthetic. And of course, they are all networked to a hive mind known as “the collective.”

Native to the Delta Quadrant of the Star Trek universe, the Borg occupy thousands of systems and hundreds of races. No indication is ever given where they originated from or what their intentions are, beyond adding “the biological and technological distinctiveness of other species to [their] own” in pursuit of “perfection”.

Is there a more perfect metaphor for runaway progress and the deification of technology? It’s not exactly a subtle commentary on the issue, but it does encapsulate the kinds of fear many people have when faced with a rapidly changing world that seems to be growing more complicated all the time. I imagine the Singularitarians don’t like the analogy much, but then again, Star Trek has been known to send mixed messages 😉

Cylon:
In the original series, the Cylons were lumbering, chrome covered robots that kind of resembled toasters. It was for this reason that they frequently got a shout out in the re-imagined by being referred to as such. However, the re-imagined versions were quantum leaps ahead, the result of bioengineering rather than conventional robotics.

Unlike the “skin jobs” (a reference to Blade Runner), Centurions and Cylon Raiders were only partially organic, consisting of organic brains inside machine bodies. Much the same is true of the Cylon Hybrids, the minds that operated their Basestar’s jump systems. In their case, their bodies are largely organic, but their minds are enhanced with advanced machinery and networked into their ship.

Because of this combination of organic and synthetic, Centurions and Raiders are capable of being “lobotomized”, which took place in the third season when their handlers became suspicious of their behavior. Ultimately, these three begins represented a key step in the Cylon’s evolution from mechanical to biological, which achieved perfection with the creation of the seven purely biological models.

Cyberman:
A fictional race taken from Dr. Who, these cyborgs were another one of the good Doctor’s recurring enemies. But unlike their Dalek counterparts, they seemed to change with every appearance. A possible inspiration for the Borg, these being were as humans who chose to begin experiment more and more with artificial implants.

This eventually led them to become the cold, calculated and ruthlessly logical beings that are, with every emotion all but deleted from their minds. While they do maintain their human brains and some human organs, they possess little of their original humanity, which is why they don’t get along with us decent folk!

Another parallel they share with the Borg is their means of proliferation, which is to turn other organic beings into Cybermen (a process known as “cyber-conversion”). However, they remain few in number during the course of the series and therefore prefer to act covertly, conducting their schemes from hiding places and using human pawns or robots to act in their place until they need to appear. Quite unlike the Borg, who prefer to get right in there, blow shit up, and assimilate anything that’s left!

Darth Vader:
“He’s more machine than man… twisted and evil!” That’s not to say all people who are more machine than man are evil! But it is the working definition of “cyborg.” Having lost both arms and legs in lightsaber duels and much of his body severely burned, Darth Vader (nee Anakin Skywalker) had to be put in a protective suit that regulated his breathing and bodily functions… I don’t even want to think about that!

But there was an upside to all those enhancements. For one, he got James Earl Jones vocals and the most intimidating, badass exterior in the Galaxy! Hell, even his breathing sounded scary. And it didn’t encumber his use of the Force at all, as exemplified by his ability to crush throats and toss objects around at will. And the ghosts of many dead Jedi and Luke’s missing hand can attest to it not hampering his sword fighting skills either.

Ultimately, this suit proved to be his undoing when, in the course of betraying his evil master, most of its circuits were fried by the Emperor’s electrical bolts. He died shortly thereafter, redeemed and looking upon his son for the first time “with his own eyes.” Sniff… I hate this mushy stuff!

Motoko Kusanagi:
The star of Ghost in the Shell, the beautiful, deadly and artificially enhanced Motoko Kusanagi. Known by her fellow officers as “the Major”, Kusanagi is a member of Section 9, a counter-terrorism squad working for Japan’s National Public Safety Commission. As part of her commitment to her job, Kusanagi underwent cybernetic enhancements, marrying her human brain to the “shell” that is her new body.

Throughout the original manga, anime and cinematic versions, Kusanagi’s basic role is the same. She fights all kinds of criminal elements: kingpins, warlords, and cyber terrorists, but also uses these experiences to reflect on the larger issues and her fateful choice to become a cybernetic being. These issues include what it means to be human, what constitutes life, and the line between authentic and artificial.

In addition, she’s also a pretty vivacious and good-looking being! Though technically not flesh and blood, she still maintains a pretty active sex life, at least in some versions of the story. In others, her personal life is not dealt with, but there are still plenty of nude shots, provided exposed synthetic flesh can be counted as nudity 😉

Robocop/Murphy:
Here we have another case of tragedy yielding the perfect union between man and machine. Alex Murphy, dedicated cop and family man, gets ruthlessly gunned down by a bunch of criminal thugs, only to be resurrected by a bunch of corporate thugs as a cop cyborg. Heavily armed, armored, and programmed to serve and protect, he became the Detroit Police Departments signature weapon in the war on crime.

But of course, things begin to go awry when Murphy’s memories and personality began to re-emerge. For one, there was the question of his wife and son, both of whom had been led to believe he was dead. Second, there was the psychological and emotional strain of knowing you could never be fully human again.

Alas, Murphy resolves the sacrifice of his identity and humanity by doing what he did best, kicking criminal ass and taking criminal names! These of course included crime lords, drug bosses, and the thugs who murdered him, but also the corporate crooks who created him and were plotting to take over Detroit. So aside from the sci-fi elements and human interest angles, there was also some social commentary in this franchise. Lots going on here!

Nexus Six Replicant:
“If we gift them with a past, we create a cushion or a pillow for their emotions, and consequently, we can control them better.” What is a machine when it has feelings, thoughts, and even memories?  Is it, as the Tyrell Corporation motto goes, “More human than human”?

Sure, some purists would say that a Nexus 6 isn’t technically a cyborg. But as I recall, the working definition of Cyborg is a merger of the cybernetic and organic. And as any fan of Blade Runner knows, Nexus 6’s are not so much built as grown, the product of biomedics rather than mechanics. And if that’s not good enough to get this one past the censors, screw em! Moving on…

Designed for service on the off-world colonies, every Replicant was designed to fill a certain role, ranging from military, to worker, to pleasure. In short, they could do the work of any human while simultaneously being denied the basic rights humans take for granted. However, since it was understood that they could become unruly after too much time, each unit was built with a four-year lifespan.

Inevitably, the Replicants of the movie came to Earth seeking a reprieve from their inevitable deaths. Their leader, Roy Batty, was especially obsessed with buying more time, since he himself was near the end of his lifespan. When told that there was nothing that could be done, he went a little beserk, but also came to appreciate life all the more in his last few moments.

T-800 Terminator:
“The Terminator’s an infiltration unit, part man, part machine. Underneath, it’s a hyper-alloy combat chassis – micro processor-controlled, fully armored. Very tough. But outside, it’s living human tissue – flesh, skin, hair, blood, grown for the cyborgs..” That’s how Kyle Reese, the warrior from the future, describes them. Arny’s version was a bit less… loquacious. “I’m a cybernetic organism. Living tissue over a metal endoskeleton.” Take your pick, they’re both right!

Designed to impersonate human beings, mainly so he could get close to them and kill them, the two Arny models were quite at home in the past. If you looked like this, would anyone really complain if you chose to walk the streets of LA naked? It’s LA man, anything goes! What’s more, Arny’s cyber strength and tough skeleton make him deadly and very survivable.

This proved quite the headache when one was sent back to kill Sarah Conner, but was quite a plus when one was later providing protection for her and her son! In the end, it took a hail of bullets, some well placed plastic explosives and a machine press to kill the first one. And the second one managed to survive an impalement, the loss of a limb, about a million bullets, and still managed to lay the smack down on a T-1000. Perhaps they should amend the name… Endurinators!

Thank you all! Stay tuned for the follow-up, Sexy Female Robots! I guess I’m just in a robot kind of mood 😉

Cool Ships (volume VI)

Back yet again with a sixth installment in the Cool Ships series. Like last time, I took this opportunity to tackle some overlooked examples, and some new ones as well. In addition… You know what? Screw the introductions and final thoughts, let’s just get into this!

Bird of Prey:
There’s nothing like a classic, and when it comes to the Star Trek franchise, few ships are more classic than the Klingon Bird of Prey. The perfect balance of form, speed, versatility, and firepower, the Bird of Prey is a ship with a very long history of service in the Klingon Empire.

This ship made its first appearance in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock when a renegade Klingon captain, seeking the secrets of the Genesis Planet, used one to attack the Enterprise. Kirk and his crew would later commandeer this ship and use it in the following movie to travel back in time and bring two whales to the future (The Voyage Home).

Bird of Preys would also appear in the fifth and six movie installments, in the latter case as a prototype raider that could fire while cloaked (something previously unheard of). Remaining in service well into the 24th century, Bird of Preys appeared repeatedly in Stark Trek TNG, and DS9,  most notably as part of the Klingon war effort against the Dominion.

Boasting two multi-directional disruptors and single photon torpedo launcher located in the nose. It is also one of the first Klingon vessels to boast a cloaking device, something unavailable on heavier cruisers. Because of their stealthy abilities and versatility, they have played a variety of roles, including reconnaissance, escort, raids and as support for larger vessels.

Cylon Raider:
Boy, they’ve come along way baby! During the original series, Cylon raiders were saucer-shaped, had energy weapons and were crewed by up to three Centurions. In the re-imagined series, this changed significantly, though the Raider still retained its basic roll as a light assault craft.

In addition to getting a facelift, the newer generation of raiders relied on kinetic weapons, missiles and even tactical nukes. Its crew was replaced by an organic brain which was merged with the ship’s machinery, and which relied on an “eye” located in the fore of the central module to communicate and conduct navigation. Much like Raptors, Raiders are capable of making short-range FTL jumps, and therefore do not need to be deployed from a Basestar in the field.

Much of what is known about the modern raider came from Starbuck’s own experiences with a downed vessel. After making her way into the interior, she discovered a system of organs which were apparently fed by an internal supply of nitrogen and oxygen. After removing the brain, she was able to fly the ship using the system of organic levers and controls and rendezvous with the Galactica. Starbuck was meant to use this same vessel as a Trojan horse, but instead used it to fly back to Caprica (“You Can’t Go Home Again”)

Though self-aware, the average Cylon ship is not as intelligent or independent as a humanoid Cylon. However, like the humanoids, they are capable of resurrection and have their consciousness and memories recycled into a new body whenever they are shot down. In time, their accumulated knowledge and experience can make them even more formidable as opponents, as was demonstrated by the vessel known as “Scar” in the season two episode of the same name.

The Ebon Hawk:
Looking beyond the original movies, there are plenty of cool ships to be found in the expanded Star Wars universe. One example is the Ebon Hawk, a Corellian freighter which comes from the Knights Of The Old Republic game.

Much like its modern cousin, the Millennium Falcon, the Ebon Hawk is every smugglers wet dream. The perfect marriage of speed, maneuverability, and survivability, it is perfect for running blockades, evading capture, and saving the galaxy! It also played a central role in the Sith War and the events immediately following it.

Originally belonging to Davik, a ruthless criminal warlord belonging to the Exchange, the ship became the property of the Jedi Order after it was confiscated by Revan. Using this vessel to escape the Sith blockade of Taris, Revan and his comrades used this vessel to travel the Galaxy, investigating the Sith’s plans for domination and systematically unraveling them.

After the end of the Sith War, Revan took this ship to the Rim to further invesigate the true source of the Sith threat. The ship returned to the universe a few years later, carrying an former Jedi master named Kreia who had since become a Sith master, and was exiled by her peers. Once again, the ship would become the property of a Jedi warrior – Meetra Surik – and several fellow-travellers who would used it to retrace the path of Revan and eliminate the Sith Triumvirate, the last of the Sith Lords.

The Event Horizon:
A bit of a break for the usual lineup of cool ships here, the Event Horizon was a  prototype vessel that was featured in the movie of the same name. Built in the near future by Earth scientists to be the first that would be capable of making FTL jumps. In the course of making the jump from the edge of the Solar System to Proxima Centauri, the ship disappeared. Seven years, it rematerialized, sending out a general distress signal.

Upon investigating the derelict, the crew of the rescue ship Lewis and Clarke found a ship of horrors. In addition to having a long spine that was inlaid with jagged metal spikes, the experimental gravity drive looked like some kind of medieval torture device. Seriously, the thing was basically a studded metal ball with spiky rotating appendages.

Oh, and did I mention the ship was haunted? Yeah, apparently generating a quantum singularity and passing through it leads directly to Hell. So in essence, the ship brought a whole lot of Hell back with it when it came back to our universe, and these dark forces began making the rescue teams go made just as it had the original crew. Kinda stupid really…

But ultimately, the design and concept of the ship were pretty cool. And even if you forget about the obviously macabre nature of the engine room, it was pretty neat to behold.

Mothership (Homeworld):
The flagship of the Kushan fleet, the Mothership was the centerpiece of every mission in the Homeworld universe. Originally intended as a colony vessel, its role expanded during the Homeworld War to include that of a command ship and mobile shipyard. This was due to the many hostile races encountered after the Kushan fleet left Kharak to find Earth.

Although not an effective combat platform, the Mothership’s hyperdrive make it FTL capable and therefore capable of deep-space travel. In addition to its internal factories, it also has the capacity to hold 600,000 cryogenically frozen colonists as well as its regular crew of 50,000.

Although not heavily armed, the Mothership contained the means to construct many different classes of support vessels. These included scouts, resource harvesters, fighter craft, destroyers and even cruisers. As such, it had a solid defense screen during the time of the Exodus. Periodically stopping to replenish its resources from asteroid belts, the Mothership was also able to replenish its losses.

USNC Pillar of Autumn:
And here we have another franchise making its first appearance in this series! Coming from the Halo universe, the Pillar of Autumn was featured in the original Halo. A Halcyon-class light cruiser, this class of ship is one of the older ships in service with the UNSC Navy.

During the Covenant assault on Reach, the Autumn fled to the Soell system where it discovered and then crash landed on the Halo ring known as Installation 04. There, after engaging both Covenant and Flood forces, Master Chief John 117 detonating it in order to destroy the installation before it could fire.

Measuring 1.17 km in length and armed with a combination of kinetic guns, nuclear missiles and a magnetic accelerator cannon, the Autumn is powered by a fusion core and able to make FTL (aka. slipspace) jumps through space. In addition, it also carries a squadron of fighters, 15 Pelican dropships, 8 Scorpion tanks, 40 Warthogs, and a full compliment of Marines and Orbital Drop Shock Troops. The ship is run by a central AI – in the case of the Autumn, Cortana – and has a crew of between 300 and 400 personnel.

The Scimitar:
Though I didn’t care much for the movie that featured it, The Scimitar was still a pretty freaking cool ship! Huge, powerful, scary-looking and packing a doomsday device and a truly impenetrable cloak, this baby pretty much had it all. So it begs the question… how the hell did a bunch of slaves built this thing anyway?

Of Reman origin, this dreadnought was built under the supervision of the Picard clone Shinzon and figured prominently in his designs to take over the Romulan Empire and destroy the Federation. This he planned to do by attacking Earth, a plot which was narrowly averted by the crew of USS Enterprise E.

Built for total war, the Scimitar was given every technological advantage the Romulan Empire had at its disposal. This included 52 disruptor banks, 27 torpedo launchers, several squadrons of Scorpion attack fighters, and of course, its thalaron radiation weapon of mass destruction. Requiring several minutes to power up, this weapon was capable of sterilizing an entire planet. Deployment of the weapon involved unfolding its wings, a move which only made it look scarier!

The Scimitar was also protected by two shield arrays, which combined with its weaponry gave it the edge in every combat situation. And as already noted, its cloak was perfect, emitting no tachyons or anti-protons as other cloaking devices were notorious for. As a result, the Scimitar was truly impossible to track while under cloak.

Slave I:
Anyone familiar with the Star Wars universe knows who Boba Fett is. And chances are, all of those people are familiar with his ship, the Slave I. A modified Firespray-31-class attack and patrol craft, the Slave I was originally the property of famed bounty hunter Jango Fett. After his death at the hands of Mace Windu, it passed to his son, Boba Fett.

Small, sleek and stealthy, the ship was also augmented with several advanced weapons systems. These included two rapid fire blaster cannons, two missile launchers, and a rear-mounted minelayer compartment which was capable of deploying seismic charges. The ship also carried a compliment of dummy torpedoes which could tag ships with tracking beacons.

During the events of Empire, Fett used this ship to track Han and the Falcon back to Bespin and then take his carbonite-frozen body back to Jabba’s Palace. After escaping from the Rancour Pit on Tatooine, Fett upgraded to a new ship, which he named Slave II in honor of his father’s ship.

Reaver Ship:
As a fitting final entry, I am returning to the Firefly universe once more. And this time, it’s the Reaver ship that I’ve decided to cover. Though every Reaver ship is of unique design, the one which was featured in the pilot episode (featured at right) is my personal favorite.

Like all Reaver ships, this vessel is adorned with red paint and what I can only assume is the blood of innocent victims. It’s hull and engine compartments have also been modified to look claw-like and threatening, it’s front section has been mangled from ramming into other ships, and its engine functions without radiation containment.

Above all, its weapons have been modified to incorporate the unique Reaver combination of medieval weaponry and snares. These can consist of EMP’s, grappling lines, nets, and launchers that fire shurikens, buzz saw blades, spears and some kinetic weapons. Ultimately, the purpose of Reaver weapons are to disable and capture enemy ships rather than destroy them. This gives the Reaver crews the pleasure of meeting their victims face to face and killing them with sharpened implements.

Yes, much like the Reavers themselves, their ships are scary and look like they got a facelift from a belt sander. But such appearances, as well as their lack of containment, let merchant ships and smugglers know they are coming. When that happens, crews can either power down and hope they’ll go unnoticed or run like all hell. Otherwise, they’re only option is to make peace with whatever deity they pray to and eat a bullet, cuz’ the alternative aint pretty!

Thank you all, this has been volume six! Stay tuned for volume seven, coming soon!

The Star Wars Prequels, Duty Strikes!

Hello, welcome to my last installment on the Star Wars franchise in honor of May the 4th. Only took six days, and I still got the final three movies to cover. Not my best work. But as they say, we all have lives. Well, some of us do. For those who have nothing better to do than read what I write I can only say… you poor things!

In any case, I promised when reviewing the originals that I would dedicate at least one post to the Star Wars the prequel trilogy. But one can scarcely do that without getting into the whole Star Wars legacy and addressing questions about Lucas himself and the directions he’s taken. Love them or hate them, the prequels remain a bone of contention for original fanboys and the new generation of acolytes.

To start, I’d like to give a very quick recap of the three movies before saying what was good and bad about them.

The Phantom Menace:
This movie was without a doubt one of the most anticipated releases in the history of cinema. After years of waiting and hearing that Lucas intended to revisit his universe with some prequel pictures, fans finally got their big break in the summer of 1999. If you’ve seen some of the footage of opening night, where people were lining up around the block, in costume, kissing the floor upon entry, and waving around multicolored lightsabers inside the theater when the movie came on, then you’ve got idea of just how raw and powerful the atmosphere was.

And yet, the Phantom Menace would also go down in history as one of the biggest disappointments of all time. One could easily say that all the build-up made that inevitable. But there were clearly some other factors as well, and people would spend years speculating on them. Of that, more later. First, let’s recap the plot.

The movie opens with the declaration that there is a taxation dispute going on and that the “greedy Trade Federation” has decided to blockade a remote world named Naboo in protest. Sounds a little dry and implausible but okay. We see two Jedis, Obi-Wan and Qui Gonn, being sent to reach a settlement with said Federation.

But once they get aboard, things get hairy. The Feds destroy their ship, on the orders of some “Phantom” dude who’s clearly manipulating things back home. He orders them to begin an invasion of the planet while he covers their asses in the Galactic Senate. Meanwhile, they try to kill them using poisonous gas and some rather inept robots.

Obi-Wan and Qui Gonn manage to escape, relaying on some sweet combat moves and Jedi springing, stow away on one of the troop transports, and are taken down to the surface. Somehow, they are landed on the other side of planet and must find a way to reach the capitol to “warn the Naboo”. Uh, what good does it do to warn people in the midst of an invasion? And why are they on the other side of the planet if the robots are invading the capitol anyway? Bad navigation console?

They come across a glaring stereotype named Jar Jar, a bumbling Gungan idiot who tells them his people can help. They swim underwater to the Gungan city where the Boss Nass, through a little force persuation, gives them a pod and lets them take Jar Jar with them, mainly because he owes his life to Qui Gonn (echoes of the Wookie life-debt there). They make it to the capitol and manage to the save the princess, a monotone teenage Geisha named Amidala. Turns out, royalty is elected on this world, and she agrees to go with them to Coruscant to plead their case before the Senate.

After a daring escape, which is facilitated by R2, they make it to space. However, there hyperdrive is damaged and they must land on nearby Tatooine. Qui Gonn goes off to find a parts dealer and meets another stereotype, an alien named Watto (who might as well be called Shylock given his caricatured appearance and character). He won’t take their credits, and since they don’t have anything to barter with, Qui Gonn concocts a needlessly convoluted scheme.

Yes, instead of simply going to another dealer or hiring a ship (a la Star Wars I), he decides to back Watto’s slave (a boy named Anakin) in a pod race using his ship as collateral. If the boy wins, Watto keeps the money and Qui Gonn gets his parts. But after determining that the boy is force sensitive – via a midichlorian count, one of the biggest let downs ever! – and (according to his mother) the result of immaculate conception, he decides to up the ante. If the boy wins, he gets to take him and the parts with him. For some reason, he seems completely remorseless about seperating the boy from his mother, but whatever.

Oh, and did I mention he built 3P0 – a factory model protocol droid – from spare parts to help his mom around the house? Weird, I thought these things were designed for, you know, protocol, as opposed to doing dishes! But whatever… He meets R2 and the they have immediate chemistry 😉

After the big ass pod race, clearly inspired by Ben Hur, Anakin wins using his Force abilities and Qui Gonn has his bounty. Their departure is momentarily interrupted when a Sith named Darth Maul shows up, seeking the princess, and Qui Gonn must fight him. They make it out and head to Coruscant, which is introduced for the first time in the franchise, and begin to attend to all the dry political crap that is waiting for them.

There, Senator Palpatine, representative of Naboo (and the man posing as the “Phantom”) tells them they’re in the thick of it. The Chancellor could force the issue but can’t since he’s been marred by accusations of corruption. Palpatine recommends calling a vote of non-confidence to unseat him so that someone less weak-kneed will take over. After finding nothing but gridlock in the Senate, Amidala concedes and makes the motion. Palpatine is happy, since he (surprise, surprise!) gets nominated!

Meanwhile, the Jedi Council has a look at Anakin, and is worried. It seems his fear of losing his mother is a bad thing, at least according to Yoda. Fear, through commodius viccus, leads to the Dark Side. Seems harsh, but this combined with his age, leads to their decision not to train him. Qui Gonn goes to bat for the little kid, but they are stubborn.

However, things change when Amidala decides she must go back home and the two Jedi are ordered to go with her. For some reason, they take Anakin and his two droids too, and Jar Jar is coming too to provide more slapstick. When they arrive, they begin plotting how their going to overthrow Federation occaption. The Gungans are recruited to help, and agree to lure the droid army into a battle as a feint to leave the capitol open. They decide to make Jar Jar, the idiot they exiled for being clumsy, a General and charge him with leading their attack. …Really?

Meanwhile, Amidala, the Jedi and a handful of her security people infiltrate the capitol. After Amidala and her people take the throne room though a little decoy and switch, Qui Gonn and Obi-Wan come face to face with Maul. A brilliant duel ensues, Qui Gonn dies, and Obi-Wan defeats him by pulling a flip and slice routine that frankly, Maul should have been able to prevent. Hell, its the same thing Anakin tries in the third movie and Obi-Wan lopped both legs and one of his arms off! And Maul’s way more badass!

But the really objectionable part comes when Anakin, through sheer dumb luck, ends up commandeering a fighter and flies into orbit with the Naboo fighters to engage the Fed command ship. Those watching couldn’t help but notice that the other ships have all left for some reason, but again, WHATEVER! Anakin, despite the Feds claim that nothing can get through their shields, manages to do just that when he accidentally flies his fighter into their bay and fires some torpedoes into their main reactor. The ship blows up just as Anakin flies out.

Down below, the Gungans are having a hard time tackling the droid army, and Jar Jar’s constant slapstick and bumbling aren’t helping things much. But somehow, he manages to stay alive, and eventually the destruction of the command ship renders all the droids inoperative. The day is won and the capitol celebrates. The Jedi have a memorial and speculate on how Maul must have had an accomplice, since Sith always work in twos. The camera then pans to Palpatine to let us know, as if we hadn’t figured it out already, that he’s baaaad!

And that’s how the movie ends. With lots of fanfare that calls to mind the medal ceremony of the first movie, we see Gungans, the Princess, Obi-Wan and Anakin all standing on ceremony as people cheer and blow horns. The credits rolled, and audiences everywhere were left speechless…

The Reception:
After the movie finished on opening night, it was like the fans everywhere were going “uh, what just happened?” Seriously, if you watch the documentary footage, you can’t help but notice how underwhelming the mood was once the movie was over, nothing close to the electricity that there was going in. It was as if they’d come to witness the second coming and were forced to watch cheep parlor tricks instead. The critics weren’t too kind either, most giving it mixed reviews based on its weak scripting, the inclusion of Jar Jar, the dry political content, and the saccharine character of Anakin.

However, there were good things about this movie too which did not go unnoticed. Just about everyone acknowledged that the pod race and lightsaber duel were worth the price of admission. But overall, this movie fell far short of expectations. And with the benefit of hindsight, the weaknesses became all the more apparent.

  1. The plot stunk of duty: This is something that would become more apparent as the trilogy went on. For all three movies, the entire plot seemed like a set-up for a bunch of explanations. This is a weak basis for a story and makes the audience feel like the movie is plodding along out of a sense of duty rather than a desire to tell a story. In the Phantom Menace, the focus was overwhelmingly on explaining how Palpatine got into power, even if that was only a small part of the story. Aside from that and the introduction of Anakin, there was nothing of importance happening elsewhere. I mean seriously, a taxation dispute? A blockade of a remote world? THESE things put the Galactic Republic in turmoil? I know this was all meant to show how inefficient and corrupt the Republic had become in its dying days, but c’mon! Give us something of consequence!
  2. The plot just plain stunk!: Throughout the first half of the movie, so much happens for which there is no decent explanation. Mainly, audiences just followed it along, waiting to see where it went and only realizing with hindsight that it didn’t make any sense. For starters, why did the Trade Federation agree to this risky scheme when they didn’t even know who they were dealing with? Were they that desperate to getting out of paying their taxes? Second, why was it necessary to fly to the surface to warn the Naboo if they were already being invaded? Third, why did Qui Gonn go through all that trouble just to get some parts? Why not go to another dealer, find a smuggler, agree to pay them ten times what they wanted once they got to Coruscant? Why sponsor a pod race, plot to free a boy, use his force power to manipulate the situation, and ultimately leave the boy’s mother behind in the end? It all seemed so reckless and silly, not what you’d expect from a Jedi Master. What’s more, everybody and their brother was warning him against taking on Anakin, saying they foresaw danger in his training. So why then was he so obsessed with training him, because of that vague prophecy? If this is such an important factor, why weren’t audiences made aware of what that prophecy was? Maybe then we might understand why he was so intent on seeing Anakin become a Jedi and the Council was not. But this was never done, not in this movie or its sequels. And Qui Gonn’s death-bed request that the boy be trained was a pretty weak excuse for the Jedi Council accepting him after all.
  3. One-dimensional characters: There’s this hilarious clip over at Red Letter Media where a guy asks a bunch of people to describe characters from the Star Wars universe. The rules are, say stuff about them without mentioning what they look like or what their job is. In the case of the originals, the people selected could say volumes about Han, Luke, Leia, et al. But with the prequels, they couldn’t say jack! There’s a reason for this. Beyond their basic roles, every character in this movie had no real substance or character. Hell, it wasn’t even clear who the main character was. So many people are the focus of the film and doing things to advance the plot that it doesn’t feel like their is a protagonist at all. Ah, which brings me to point 3!
  4. Who’s the focus here? All good stories have a protagonist. A person’s who’s journey is the focal point of the story and helps the audience to identify with them and become emotionally involved. In the originals, that person was Luke Skywalker. By no means was he the only character, but he was clearly the focus of the story. His own journey of self-discovery was the main driving force of the plot, and his battle with his own demons and his past provided the resolution. In the Phantom Menace, all we get is snap shots of different people doing things to advance the plot towards a resolution, which feels too tidy in the end.
  5. Too much reliance on CGI: It’s an easy thing to criticize a director for relying on CGI, but when you consider the fact that Lucas managed to capture lightning in a bottle using nothing but stop-motion, animatronics and puppets, you have to wonder why he was so obsessed with using the latest technology. Granted, it allowed him to do things he couldn’t before, but it also limited his shoots and made the movie feel incredibly sterile. In just about every shot in this movie, you don’t have real sets and actors on location. You have actors walking in front of a green screen and looking at hanging lights instead of physically real stand-ins. And no matter how advanced the technology, people will always know what they are seeing isn’t real. And when all the backgrounds look so perfectly glossy, clean and packed to the hilt with digital effects, it all just feel fake.

Some Possible Explanations:
As all fans of the Star Wars franchise are aware of by now, Lucas was never that good at scripting or directing. In fact, it was well known that in the first movie, help needed to be brought in to complete the film. In the second movie, that help was on hand from the beginning and it showed. But by the third, Lucas was clearly back at the helm and making the big decisions. With this in mind, it’s little surprise why the Phantom Menace was the way it was. With the success of the original franchise, Lucas had grown richer and more powerful than anyone thought possible, and with companies like Lucas Arts and Industrial Light and Magic behind him, who the hell is going to question him? He’s George freaking Lucas!

Surely, the man must have thought himself immortal by the late nineties when he began writing the script. All those people who used to tell him what to do or challenge him were now gone, replaced by sycophants and suck ups who grew up idolizing him. And can you blame them? It’s George freaking Lucas! How could the creator of Star Wars be wrong?

Sure, there were plenty of cool action scenes and the new technology was pretty damn effective at letting Lucas do all the things he couldn’t do before. But this was Star Wars, dammit! Where were the classic characters, the epic storytelling, the stuff that went beyond special effects and eye-popping visuals? Part of what made the originals so damn good was the depth that went far beyond the ships, guns, and lightsaber duels.

When you look at the originals, at all the things Lucas wanted to do but got called on, you begin to understand. According to rumor, Luke Skywalker was supposed to be a half-cyborg, Han was supposed to be a green alien, and the dialogue was supposed to be a lot more wooden and cheesy than it turned out to be. But thanks to dedicated professionals who knew how to rely on Lucas’ strengths and help him with his weaknesses, something truly awesome and classic was made.

But, as with most things, this success proved to be the downfall. Like Lucas, we all seemed to think he was solely responsible for the creation of Star Wars. Granted he was, in his own words, “the creator as well as the decider” (a cheesy reference to that awful Bushism), but he was never the sole voice of the project. Literally everybody, from the co-directors, co-writers, and even the actors themselves had a role in helping him to make his movies. Without them, we are left with Lucas as he is, warts and all. And after years of success and a growing obsession with the latest special effects, that’s not a very pretty sight!

Well, that’s what I thought of Phantom Menace. Stay tuned for Attack of the Clones… This aint gonna be pretty! But in the meantime, here’s some funny news. It turns out Topher Grace, who played Eric on That 70’s Show, has made an 85 minute editors cut of the three movies. Follow this link to read more on this interesting and funny story:

http://www.bestweekever.tv/2012-03-07/topher-grace-edits-star-wars-prequels

Return of the Jedi

Well, Star Wars weekend is passed, and my final review of the original lineup is long overdue. Been that kind of weekend, unfortunately, a constant flurry of visiting family, friends, and then coming home to be drowned in Spring cleaning. Luckily, I got some time with my keyboard today and decided I’d dedicate some time to the third and final movie in the trilogy.

And much of this is still fresh in my mind, seeing as how my wife and I were driving up island on Star Wars day, and I spent much of the ride recounting the plot to her. She never saw the original trilogy (crazy, I know), so I’ve been trying to fill her in. Appropriate, no?

Return of the Jedi!
Last time, I mentioned that Lucas claimed that he was following the three-act model when he made this trilogy. Thus if Act I could be considered the intro and Act II the dark chapter, then Act III would serve as the culmination to the whole thing. And that’s exactly what happened. In addition, the film had multiple story arcs towards the end the movie, all of which came together in a single, grand conclusion.

In fact, that’s something I forget to mention last time. You may recall that in the first movie, there was a single, all encompassing climax involving all the main characters, and that was the assault on the Death Star. In movie two, there were two strands, Luke’s confrontation with Vader which ran alongside Leia and Chewi’s escape from cloud city. And in this final film, there were three: the battle on Endor, the battle in space, and Luke’s final confrontation with Vader and the Emperor.

An act of symbolism, no doubt, but it’s also what worked best about this last film. With different things happening in different locations, audiences were kept intrigued and on the edge of their seats, watching how one climactic fight interacted with the next. And since we were emotionally involved with all the characters at this point, each one was about as tense as the last.

Alright, let’s get to the plot of this badboy and see why it worked so well!

Plot Synopsis:
The story opens with the new Death Star being introduced. The new weapon of terror is apparently nearing completion and Vader has flown in to inspect things personally. After letting the station commander know that it must be completed on schedule, he lets him know that the Emperor himself is on the way. He is naturally frighten and rightly so, as we are made aware for the first time that even Vader is a pushover compared to the big man himself!

Cut to Tatooine where Jabba’s Palace is located. R2 and 3P0 have entered, apparently to deliver a message to Jabba. Said message consists of Luke Skywalker opening a dialogue, asking to bargain for Han Solo, and concludes with him offering R2 and 3P0 as “a gift”. Jabba’s response is that no deals will take place, as he’s become quite fond of looking at Solo’s carbonite-frozen body. He’s even placed it against the wall like its some kind of artwork. Creepy, though it did bring the room together though 😉

Little by little, the others enter the picture. Leia comes in disguised as a bounty hunter and trade Chewi in for his bounty. As Han’s companion, he too is worth quite a bit of money to Jabba. At the same time, we learn that Lando has already infiltrated the place posing as a mercenary. In the middle of the night, Leia sneaks into Jabba’s palace room and thaws Han, who appears to be blind and sickly from hibernation. They have a passionate reunion, but it’s quickly cut short…

Beginning with a dark, evil laugh, Jabba reveals himself from the corner where they were hiding. Han tries to bargain with him, but Jabba’s pretty intransigent at this point. He has him thrown in the same dungeon as Chewi and Leia is forced to wear a funky-looking bikini (to the delight of nerds everywhere) and become his palace slave. This consists of wearing a choke chain and lying beside him on his floating couch.

However, Chewi let’s Han know that Luke will be along shortly,  and that he’s a Jedi Knight now. And he does, looking a lot more badass than he did last time! After making his way in with some subtle force tricks, he confronts Jabba and demands Solo’s release. However, things go awry when the minds tricks fail to sway Jabba and he sends Luke and one of his henchmen him into his Rancour pit below.

After a tense few minutes, Luke manages to kill it by dropping the cage door on its head. Jabba is pissed, and orders the whole bunch to be put on his barge and flown out to the desert. Seems they are going to kill them in a big ceremony by being tossed into the Sarlacc pit. No shortage of weird aliens or convoluted death schemes in this one!

Once arrived, and overlooking the sucking Sarlacc pit (some people have suggested Lucas might have some issues with female genitalia!), Luke and the others stage their counterstroke. This consists of R2 firing Luke his lightsaber, who then starts cutting through henchmen with it. He then works his way to the other escort, eventually reaching Jabba’s own sailbarge. Meanwhile Han, who’s eyesight has been returning, manages to take out Bobba Fett’s jetpack through blind luck. He flies into the side of Jabba’s barge and falls helplessly into the pit. But of course, he will survive!

Leia manages to turn the tables of Jabba by getting a hold of her choke chain and wrapping it around the big slugs neck. R2 breaks her chains and shoves 3P0 and himself off the barge, leaving Luke and Leia to rendezvous on the top deck where they use the barge’s cannon to set the place to blow. They make it back to their barge with Lando, Chewi and Han, swing around to pick up the droids, and get the hell out as Jabba’s barge is blown to hell.

Once they retrieve their ships, Luke and the rest dust-off from the planet. The Millennium Falcon heads off to join the Rebel armada while Luke, in his trusty X-wing, sets course for Dagobah. Seems he has a promise to fulfill, and some questions he needs answered. Arriving to find Yoda sick and weak, Luke manages to get the answers he needs. It seems that he’s finished his training, but that one final test remains: he must confront Vader again. Yoda also confirms that Vader is in fact his father, a fact he and Obi-Wan withheld. Yoda then warns him one last time of the perils of the darkside, but also that there is another Skywalker. He dies uttering these last words, and then fades away…

Back in the swamp by his X-wing, Luke feels incredibly alone. First Obi-Wan, then Yoda; but wouldn’t you know it, Obi-Wans specter appears and tells him Yoda isn’t really gone, kinda like him! Luke demands to know why Obi-Wan lied to him, to which Obi-Wan replies that his version of events – i.e. “Vader betrayed and murdered your father” – was true… in a sense.

Luke expresses his doubts about being able to kill his own father, but Obi-Wan says a confrontation is inevitable. He also confirms what Yoda said before he died, that there is indeed another Skywalker that was kept seperate from Luke to protect her identity. Luke concludes it’s Leia, which isn’t a stretch seeing as how she’s been the only female lead in this entire universe so far!

Back at the fleet, we are treated to a briefing. Seems the Alliance is poised to strike at the second Death Star before it is operational. Since the Emperor is overseeing the final phase, they plan to kill him and destroy his weapon of terror in one fell swoop. The plan involves two phases: in one, a small team or commandos will land on Endor and disable the shield generator that’s protecting the Death Star.

In the second, the fleet will jump in and send their fighter squadrons into the center of the station to take out its main reactor. Lando is set to lead the fleet, and Han is leading the planetary assault. Chewi and Leia volunteer to help, and so does Luke. Han is also sure to lend Lando the Falcon for the attack, which he promises to take good care of. The mission is on!

After narrowly making it to Endor aboard a stolen Imperial shuttle, Luke sense his father through the Force. Vader has the same experience, detecting him on the shuttle which, for some reason, is allowed to land. He informs the Emperor and asks for permission to confront him. On the surface, their party’s progress is interrupted when Leia gets lost chasing down some scouts. She is rescued by a strange, furry indigenous creature known as an Ewok. After helping her thwart some more scouts, he takes her back to his village.

Luke, Han and Chewi also come into contact with the locals, but in their case, it involves a trap involving raw meat and a net. Once they spring free, they find themselves surrounded by the furry guys, but they turn up their spears when they see C3P0, whom they believe to be a god. They too are brought to the village, and after enforcing some ground rules (no eating of his friends!), they begin conducting some cultural exchanges.

The Rebel party are welcomed into the tribe and the Ewoks volunteer to help them rid their world of the Empire. Meanwhile, Luke and Leia have a private chat where he reveals to her that she is his sister, and that he must go off to confront Vader. He believes he can turn him back, and as long as he remains with them, they will be in danger. Leia is tearful, but can’t stop him from going.

Luke surrenders to the first patrol he can find, and they take him to Vader. During their little reunion, Luke tells Vader that he intends to turn him back to the good side, but Vader is intransigent. He will take Luke to the Emperor where we will either turn or die. It’s clear he’s torn by this decision, but tells his son it’s too late for him to turn good again.

Together, they travel to the Death Star and meet with Palpatine himself. He repeats Vader’s ultimatum, turn or die, to which Luke boasts that soon, they’ll all be dead. The Emperor laughs and reveals that he knows of the attack and that it’s a trap! Cue scary music! It seems the Emperor allowed the location of the Death Star to fall into Rebel hands in the hopes that he could lure them into an attack and crush them all at once. Luke is understandably dismayed…

Han and his party, with the help of the Ewoks, find their way to the back entrance of the shield generator. After making their way inside, they are promptly surrounded and taken prisoner. R2, 3P0 and their Ewok scouts can only watch in dismay, but the Ewoks hatch a plan and run off. They return with the entire Ewok nation, and spring a trap of their own on the Imperial troops. A massive fight ensues, with the Ewoks and Rebels gaining the element of surprise but slowly losing out to the Imperial troops superior weapons.

Meanwhile, the fleet jumps in as planned. On approach, Lando’s helmsman tells him they can’t get any reading on the Death Star to know if it’s shields are still active. His helmsman concludes they are being jammed, but Lando knows this can’t be unless… He orders the fleet to pull up, and they narrowly peel off before slamming nose first into the shields. No sooner do they get their fleet reoriented than the Imperial fleet shows up out of nowhere to seal off their escape. Ackbar yells his iconic catchphrase: “It’s a trap!”

Lando and the fleet begin combing through wave after wave of TIE fighters. Despite their superior numbers, he and the other Rebel squadrons manage to hold their own. However, he grows suspicious when he notices the Star Destroyers are not moving into attack range. However, according to the commander of the Executor, their orders are to hold while the Emperor unveils something “special”.

Cut to the Death Star, where the Emperor lets Luke know, in the latest frightening revelation, that the Death Star is also fully operational. He orders them to fire. The big gun blazes up and destroys the nearest Rebel Mon Calamari cruiser. Lando and Ackbar realize the terrible truth. Ackbar orders a full retreat, but Lando insists they won’t have another chance to assault the Death Star, and simply must give Han more time to bring the shields down.

On the Death Star, Luke is finding it increasingly difficult to resists the Emperor’s taunts. He knows the Emperor wants him to give into his hatred, but he must resist or risk falling prey to the dark side. In time, he gives in and takes his lightsaber and tries to strike the Emperor down. However, Vader interferes and the two begin fighting. Luke turns up his sabre several times, but Vader continues to press him and force him to defend himself.

After they lose a second Mon Calamari cruiser, Lando tells Ackbar to move the fleet into attack range of the Star Destroyers. As long as they are tangled with the Imperial fleet, the Death Star won’t be able to shoot them, and at least they’ll be able to kill a few enemy ships in the process. The two fleets close ranks, and all hell breaks loose! Ships on both sides are destroyed, but at least they are buying time…

Back on the surface, the Ewoks and the Rebels manage to turn the tide. Chewi and some of furry friends commandeer an AT-ST and begin using it against Imperial forces. The Ewoks defenses also prove effective once they put away the rocks and wooden arrows and break out the logs. Once they realize that they’ve won but can’t make it back into the bunker, Han hatches a plan. Using the AT-ST’s communication system, he tells the commander inside that they’ve beat the Rebels and need reinforcements. The Imperial commander orders the doors opened, and Han and the Ewoks take the base and plant their charges.

The place blows up and the shield comes down. Ackbar orders all fighters into the Death Star to take out its reactor. On board, Luke continues to try and elude Vader. However, Vader senses his fear and is able to read his thoughts. He realizes Luke has a sister, and threatens to turn her instead. Luke loses it and attack Vader, pulverizing him with lightsaber blows until he takes off Vader’s hand. The Emperor laughs and tells Luke to take his father’s side, but Luke turns back at the last second. He is now a Jedi, he says, and will never turn to the dark side.

The Emperor is… pretty pissed! He replies that, as promised, Luke will be destroyed if he won’t turn. He begins electrocuting him with lighting from his finger tips, and Luke begins to beg Vader for help. Vader intervenes, grabbing hold of the Emperor and tossing him off a catwalk into the depths of the station below. He explodes in a massive cloud of Force Energy. Unfortunately, Vader’s suit has been irreparably harmed by the Emperor’s electrical storm. Luke comes to his aid, but it seems like ol’ Darth’s ticket has finally been punched!

Inside the Death Star, Lando and the Rebel pilots manages to reach the main reactor and hit it hard. It collapses, triggering a chain reaction which begins to destroy the station from within. Outside, Ackbar and the Rebel fleet manage to bring down the Executor through smart tactics and dumb luck. The Super Star Destroyer loses control and crashes into the Death Star. The whole place begins to fall apart.

Luke manages to reach a shuttle with Vader in tow. However, with his suit irretrievably damaged, Vader tells Luke to take his mask off so he can see him once with his own eyes. Luke obliges, and sees the scarred pale flesh that is Vader’s true face. He then tells Luke to leave him, that he already saved him, and to tell his sister what he did. He then dies, in a scene with is truly tearful… Luke and Lando manage to escape as the station explodes, Lando howling a triumph cheer as the Falcon clears the flaming exit tunnel.

Luke makes it to the surface, where victory celebrations are already underway. Leia tells Han about Luke and her being related, and gives him a big kiss. Their little triangle has become a twosome at last! He arrives in the Ewok village amidst music, dancing, and has a final communion with the specters of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and his father. The final shot shows the entire cast sitting together and smiling broadly as the music reaches a crescendo. The trilogy is done!

What worked and what didn’t about this last installment:
As I said already, this movie packed a triumphant climax that really worked. After two big installments, audiences got to see everything come together with three separate battles, all of which succeeding in capturing a different kind of tension. For example, the battle on the planet was a real heart string puller since we all wanted to see the indigenous furry creatures overcome the imperialistic bad guys. The battle between the two fleets was fast-paced and visually stunning, and the way they were entirely dependent on Han’s ban on the surface made it all the more tense. Finally, the confrontation between Luke and Vader was a whole different kind of action, a battle of wills as much as weapons.

Of course, there were weaknesses. For one, the whole convoluted plot to free Han seemed to contain a few too many twists to be a considered a crafty plan. It was like, why didn’t R2 just give Luke his lightsaber when he fell into the Rancour pit? Why did they need to wait until they were out in the desert? Second, the whole plot involving Ewoks was pretty kid-centric. Originally, Lucas was planning on using Wookies, but decided that something for the kids was in order, reworked the name Wooky into Ewok, and history was made!

And finally, there was some lazy acting this time around that survived the cutting floor. Second, there was the sheer implausibility that a race of small furry creatures armed with sticks and stones could overcome a legion of troops that the Emperor said were his best. And once you took away all the shooting and explosions, this movie really wasn’t as emotionally involved as the other two. Overall, the focus seemed to be on visual effects and action.

Combined with the kid-centric elements, it was clear that by this point in the franchise, Lucas was retaining creative control. So in a way, this movie was a preview of what Lucas would go on to with his prequels. In the end, this movie still kicked ass and was climactic to the point that audiences were blown away and all its weaknesses were overlooked. It was only with hindsight, perhaps with the help of such flops as Phantom Menace, that they became apparent.

But that’s something for the next post. Right now, I must go off on a triumphant note, much like this film! It was a triumphant conclusion, the action rocked, and holy crap that musical score was great! Even now, I find myself humming it as I recount the events of the movie. Epic! So really, this is and shall remain an enduring classic with many memorable scenes. Especially the one near the end where Lando and the Falcon clear the Death Star as its exploding. YEE-HA!

Yaaaay! The good guys one! The Empire has fallen! Bring on the wine and the Ewok music! And until next time… nope, still can’t say it! Good-bye y’all!

The Empire Strikes Back or Happy Star Wars Day weekend!

Well, it’s officially the day after Star Wars Day, so now what? It’s the perfect time to review the sequel to the time-honored classic, that’s what! And I did promise to cover this rare example of a movie that managed to exceed the original, didn’t I? Hell, I would even if I hadn’t, its a freaking cool movie! And the nostalgia appeal alone makes it worth revisiting, time and time again.

And as I might have mentioned last time, The Empire Strikes Back benefited from several advantages which weren’t initially available during the shooting of the first film. This included help with direction, writing, and of course he had the musical score from the get go, which really didn’t suck! But on top of all that was the fact that in the second movie, things had a much darker and more mature feel.

Lucas acknowledged this in a series of interviews and indicated that this was his intention all along. Following the conventional three act formula, Act II is always the darkest of the chapters, where things go bad for the main characters and escalates the dramatic tension. As such, he needed to turns things on their head after the first movie’s happy conclusion, and threw in some big revelations and twists just to make the ride especially fun.

The Empire Strikes Back:
Plot Synopsis:
The opening crawl once again tells us what we need to know, that despite the destruction of the Death Star, its a dark time for the Rebels. The Empire is still a force the dominant power in the universe, after all, and since their loss at Yavin 4, they’ve been pursuing the Rebels without fail. At the same time, Darth Vader has taken an unhealthy interest in finding Luke Skywalker.

Cut to Hoth, where we see an Imperial probe landing on the surface, and Luke and Han who are out on patrol on the back of some weird looking beasts. Luke spots what he assumes is a meteor and tells Han he is going to check it out, but is unfortunately laid out when a big furry Wampa (aka. a Yeti) sets upon him.

Next we see the Rebel base, where Han checks in and let’s Rebel General Rieekan know that he’s got to leave. Essentially, his time with the Rebels have only made things worse with Jabba and his considerable debt. Rieekan is understanding, but his farewell speech to Leia leads to a rather serious argument. Seems she’s unhappy about his decision, and he’s convinced there’s something other than professional admiration motivating her feelings.

Luke wakes up later in the Wampa’s cave, and relies on his newfound knowledge of the Force to free himself and slice off the Wampa’s arm. He escapes into the frozen wastes, but nighttime is descending and the temperature is dropping! Han realizes that Luke hasn’t checked in and decides to head out into the cold to find him. After several hours, the Rebel base is forced to seal its doors and lock them out for the night. Luke and Han are on their own, and odds of their living through the night are slim!

Out on the frozen wastes, Luke is near death and experiences a vision. Obi-Wan comes before him and tells him he must go to Dagobah to learn the ways of the Force from Master Yodah. He passes out just as Han comes over the horizon to find him, but the two are kinda stuck when Han’s Tauntaun dies from exposure. Luckily, Han gets the bright idea to cut his beast open and stick Luke inside, thus keeping him warm and alive until he can build a shelter. Come morning, Rogue squadron finds them and picks them up! The boys are saved!

Back to the base where the Rebels learn that there’s an Imperial probe droid in their midst. Yes, that little spindly thing from the beginning has not only been getting around, it’s been taking footage of their shield generator and broadcasting it to the Imps! Han and Chewi manage to take it down, but it seems that the damage has been done. The evacuation begins…

Then comes another moment in cinematic genius, the scene where the Imperial fleet is shown and the Executor (see More Cool Ships) is introduced. After seeing many massive Star Destroyers pass each other in the starry night, several of them are suddenly overtaken by a huge shadow. Naturally, the audience can’t help but wonder, what the hell is no big that it can cast a shadow capable of blacking out a whole fleet worth of Star Destroyers? A Super Star Destroyer, that’s what! We then cut to the bridge where Vader is watching the fleet, all to the tune of the evil Imperial music!

And of course, it seems the footage has reached them, and upon seeing it, Vader comes to life and orders the fleet there immediately. Admiral Ozzle, the aging stereotype of the arrogant and incompetent British officer, seems pissed at his subordinate for finding this out and gives him a hard stare. Oh we just know that’s going somewhere don’t we? Meanwhile, the Rebels are preparing to leave, and Han and Luke have an awkward moment as they once again say good-bye to each other and wish each other luck. Seems they’re always saying good-bye…

Shortly thereafter, the Imperial fleet arrives but has alerted the Rebels to their presence and have raised their planetary shields. Vader concludes that Ozzle jumped them in too close to the planet, and decides some disciplinary measures are in order. This consists of him choking him to death over a video conversation and promoting his immediate subordinate, Captain Piett, to the rank of Admiral. Here too, the scene was perfect! One man listening in, trying to ignore the fact that his superior is slowly asphyxiating and dropping to the floor, and appearing both flattered and terrified that he’s now in charge.

The first salvos begins as the Rebel ships begin to fly for deep space, X-wings and the planetary Ion cannon providing cover. Meanwhile, General Veers, commander of the Imperial troops, lands beyond the shield and begins sending his walkers into the fray. This is the first appearance of the AT-AT’s, and they were pretty chilling to behold. The Rebel troops meanwhile dig in while Rogue Squadron engages them in their attack speeders.

However, things don’t go so well. The AT-AT’s are too heavily armored to destroy with blasters, and the dug-in defenders weapons are similarly ineffective. Luke comes up with the bright idea to trip up the walkers using their tow cables, but this too begins to falter after the majority of Rogue Squadron gets shot down.

Luke himself is shot down and is forced to bail, taking out a second walker with a grenade from the underside. However, in time, General Veers walker gets in range of the shield generator and delivers the death blow to it. The Imperial forces move in and begin attacking the command center itself.

Back at said center, Vader and an Imperial garrison walk in virtually unopposed, and all forces are ordered to being a full retreat. Han grabs Leia, who is still at her post, and compels her to join him, Chewi and the droids aboard the Millennium Falcon. As the last ship to leave, they are barely out of the bay as Vader walks in. Luke similarly gets to his X-wing out on the wastes and dusts off from the planet. The Imperials have won, but the good guys have once again lived to fight another day.

Luke meanwhile tells R2 that they are not going to rendezvous with the fleet. Seems he’s got another destination in mind, the planet Obi-Wan told him to go to in his vision. Arriving at Dagobah, Luke’s ship is disabled by a storm and he crashes into a fetid swamp. He and R2 are unharmed – well R2 almost gets eaten! – but his ship is marooned and he now seems stuck on this new planet. In the course of setting up camp, he is snuck up on by a tiny little green man, an annoying little creature who seems to know who Yoda is. He promises to take Luke to see him, but only after they’ve had supper!

Meanwhile, it seems that the Imperial fleet has zeroed in on the Millennium Falcon. Han and crew try to escape them, but it seems that ongoing mechanical issues are preventing them from jumping into hyperspace. They pull a trick by pulling into an asteroid field and hiding on one of the larger rocks. Pulling into a cave, they set down to make their repairs.

Back on Dagobah, Luke discovers that the little green man is Yoda, and that his constant pestering was a way of testing his patience, a test he failed. However, Obi-Wan’s disembodied voice insists that he has confidence in the boy, but Yoda is unimpressed by Luke’s insistence that he’s not afraid. He insists, in a very chilling line, “You will be… you will be.” They begin his training, running through the woods as Yoda explains the mysteries of the force and the danger of the dark side.

Luke confronts his first test when he senses a cave filled with dark energy nearby. Yoda tells him he must go inside, and that the only thing in there is “only what you take with you”. After crawling through creepy lizards, snakes and slimy walls, Luke comes face to face with his nemesis – Vader! They exchange blows with their lightsabers and Luke is victorious, cutting off Vader’s head and watching it roll to the ground. However, he is dismayed when the helmet blows open to reveal… Lukes own face! Dun, dun, dunnnnnn! Foreshadowing!

While in hiding, Han and Leia finally come to terms with their feelings for each other. After sensing that there was something going on there, only to see the sparks fly with fight after fight, the two realize that they actually love each other and have themselves a passionate kiss. Unfortunately, the moment is interrupted when a very rude droid announces that he’s found the problem with the hyperdrive and they can get it working again!

Meanwhile, Vader orders the fleet into the asteroids to pursue. Despite taking severe losses, he presses his commanders to keep on them. However, the Executor must pull out of the field when Vader is alerted that the Emperor himself is making contact. In the course of talking with the massive hologram of the Emperor’s hooded face, he learns the Luke Skywalker is officially a threat. The Emperor insists he must be dealt with, but Vader assures him he could be turned. He will do so, or kill him in the process, Vader insists.

Back in the cave, repairs are proceeding, but things get a little odd when they realize that their hiding place doesn’t react too well to blaster fire. They board again and make it out seconds before the “cave”, which appears to have teeth, closes on them. Back on the Executor, Vader has called in some added help, a slew of bounty hunters which includes Boba Fett. The Falcon pops out of the asteroid field and is once more pursued and can’t withdraw, so Han decides to pull a daring maneuver by charging the pursuing Star Destroyer. After slipping over the bridge, the Falcon “disappears”.

The Captain of the pursuing Star Destroyer goes to apologize to Vader, and is killed. Vader orders the fleet to break up and track every possible trajectory. However, seems the Falcon is actually mounted on the back the Star Destroyer’s bridge where its been hiding the whole time. Han plans to float off as soon as their host dumps its garbage before going into hyperspace, which is apparently standard Imperial procedure (not so environmentally conscious that!) They begin to float off with the junk, but it seems they have a tail… Boba Fett in his ship, The Bounty!

They set coarse for Bespin, to a place known as “Cloud City” –  a floating metropolis built around a gas mining platform, where Han has a friend who he thinks will shelter them. This “friend”, who goes by the name of Lando Calrissian (whom he won the Falcon from years back) appears to be running the place now. And despite their bumpy past, Lando seems happy to see him. Leia, however, has a hard time putting her trust in him.

In time, she realizes just how right she was not to! After C3P0 disappears and turns up in pieces, Lando invites them to a dinner banquet, and Vader appears to be the guest of honor! Turns out Boba Fett tracked them there and alerted Vader, who showed up just before they did and threatened to destroy the place unless Lando turned them over. The torturing begins! But it seems that Vader has a larger agenda than extracting information or punishing a few rebels. The real aim of this little “deal” is to prepare a trap for Luke, whom he knows will not be able to resist.

Back on Dagobah, Luke has a vision of the future in which Han, Leia and Chewi are suffering. He is unable to shake the vision and decides to leave. Yoda and Obi-Wan plead with him not to go, telling him he’s not ready and that he cannot hope to defeat Vader. But Luke is intransigent, insists he will come back, and that he won’t fall to the Dark Side. Once Luke leaves, Obi-Wan laments that they might lose their only hope, but Yoda reveals that there is another… hinteddy, hint, hint!

Meanwhile, Han is put into carbon freezing, a way of testing the process Vader intends to use to capture Luke. He is then handed over to Boba Fett to take back to Jabba. Having had all he can take of Vader’s treachery, Lando pulls a double cross and springs Leia and Chewi from capture. Chewi tries to take Lando’s head off, but stops when he tells them they can still save Han. They arrive too late, and Fett gets away… Luke has also arrived and Leia tries to warn him, but they are separated by too much blaster fire.

Luke continues to search the city, and finds his way to Vader. The two draw and begin dueling, and Vader is impressed by Luke’s growing abilities. However, before long, he wears Luke down and eventually takes his hand off. Beaten and helpless, Luke crawls to the end of a catwalk overlooking Bespin’s central mining shaft. Here, after much time and waiting, he learns the truth of what happened to his father and why Vader has been obsessed with finding him…

Vader did not murder his father, you see. Vader IS his father. More than that, he doesn’t want to destroy Luke, but to recruit him. Together, he believes they can destroy the Emperor and “rule the galaxy as father and son.” Luke is overwhelmed and possibly even tempted, but chooses death rather than surrender and capture. Jumping into the shaft, he falls but is pulled into a side passageway which dumps him outside. Hanging on for dear life on the edge of an antenna, Luke begs Obi-Wan for help. However, Obi-Wan already told him he wouldn’t be able to interfere if he confronted Vader. With no one else to call to, he reaches out to Leia, who appears to hear him. She order the Falcon to turn around and picks Luke up. They blast for orbit and prepare to make a daring escape.

However, the Executor is pulling into position and Vader reveals that the Falcon’s hyperdrive was disabled. They need only close in and board them now. However, R2 already found out about the hyperdrive from the station’s computer and zooms in to make a hasty field repair. He managed to put things back in order just in time, and the Falcon blasts off! Admiral Piett watches in horror as he sees them escape, and waits for Vader’s vengeance. But Vader, solemn and saddened, merely wanders back to his quarters…

Back at the fleet, Luke and Leia are tending to his lost hand. Lando and Chewi have meanwhile hopped back onto the Falcon and are going off to find Han. The movie closes with a hopeful scene of Luke, Leia and the droids watching the Falcon leave against a backdrop of the Galactic Core. The shot widens to show the rest of the fleet as it drifts away. Though they’ve suffered a beating and many set backs, the good guys are still alive, and hope remains…

What Made This Movie Even Better!:
As every fan of Star Wars and classic cinema is no doubt aware, this movie is considered one of the few sequels that actually surpassed the original. The reasons for this are pretty plain and I’ve already gone over them, so I think I’ll skip them and get right to the specifics.

For starters, the cinematography was masterful. Again and again in this movie, the music, camera angles and dialogue all coincided to create the perfect atmosphere of tension and impending doom. The opening scene where the Executor is introduced, the build-up to the battle on Hoth, the sense of defeat as the Rebels are forced to retreat, the terror Luke feels as he confronts the Dark Side, the fearful moments as we wait for the trap to close around the main characters on Bespin, and the growing desperation as Luke fights Vader… All of it culminated in the massive revelation that Luke was in fact Vader’s on. It was one of the biggest twists in movie history, and it was absolutely awesome! Years later and I still get the willies just thinking about it.

And in the end, this movie really captured the essence of dark second act. After the introduction and brief victory of good over evil in the first movie, we get a dose of hopelessness and soul-shattering revelation in movie two. Not only did it chill the bones and impress audiences with its mature themes, it also made us wonder just how the good guys were going to turns things around in the end. And it was only because the two movies were so character driven that we cared about what happened so much. Luke’s coming of age, Han and Leia’s budding romance, Chewi’s fierce loyalty, and even the droids quirky antics; we all felt a sense of attachment to these characters and wanted to see them come out okay.

Little wonder then why audiences were on the edge of their seats for the next three years. And granted, the third and final installment had its share of weaknesses, by then the momentum and following had become so strong that it seemed like nothing Lucas did could be perceived as wrong. And honestly, the third and final movie was so climactic and emotionally involved that they really just disappeared didn’t they? But more on that next time.

Happy Star Ways Day Weekend everybody! Enjoy yourselves and… well, you know the rest 😉

May The Fourth Be With You!

Yes, it is now May 4th, making it officially Star Wars Day! And in honor of this momentous occasion, I’ve decided to dedicate the next few days to reviewing the classic movies which started it all. Yes, those movies, the ones that made Lucas filthy freaking rich and perverted his sense of creativity.

But I’ve already ranted enough about those… ahem, other movies. Today is all about honoring the good things about this franchise and pop culture phenomena. And it really was a phenomena wasn’t it? When it comes to setting trends, box office records, and inspiring an entire generation of movie makers and movie-goers, few things can measure up to Star Wars.

In fact, part of the reason the fanboys reacted so badly to the prequels was because they loved the originals so much. Were it not for the intense love inspired by the originals, the new ones would never have been able to inspire such hate. Funny how that works…

First up, and in honor of May the 4th, is the original Star Wars, or as its extended title reads:

Episode IV: A New Hope
Plot Synopsis:
The movie opens with a crawl that divulges the bare bones of the movie’s premise. Basically, there’s  an evil Galactic Empire, a band of Rebels, and things are pretty tense ever since the latter won their first victory against the former. But in truth, the audience got all they needed from the opening visual sequence, a touch of cinematic genius if ever there was one!

For starters, we see a small ship running for its life, being pursued by a very large ship that is chasing it down. This tells us two key things: the Rebels are a small but committed band that are fighting for their existence against a very large, very powerful foe. The massive ship and the way it is making a slow, lengthy crawl over the camera lets us see the power and reach of the Empire, and establishes some dramatic tension which last well past the first few minutes.

Meanwhile, the ship is disabled and boarded. Imperial troopers, decked out in their white suits of armor, very clinical and faceless looking, board and kill all the defenders. Then in walks Darth Vader, who stands a head taller than the rest, is clad all in black, and very clearly means business! Cut to the droids odd-couple, C3P0 and R2D2, who’ve been scurrying around since the action started. Though we don’t know who she is at first, we see Princess Leia giving something to the latter, which under the circumstances, is of obvious importance. Shortly thereafter, they eject in an escape pod to the planet Tatooine, located below.

Leia gets her formal introduction after Vader kills the ship’s Captain and brings her forward to demand answers. She’s a member of the Imperial Senate, and apparently also a member of the Rebel Alliance. The reason their ship was boarded was because a certain set of plans, pertaining to the Death Star, were stolen and traced to their ship. After getting nothing from her, the Imperial officers deduce that the escape pod must have contained them and pursue it to Tatooine’s surface.

In time, C3P0 and R2D2 wind up becoming the property of a moisture farmer named Owen Lars. His nephew, a young man named Luke, quickly establishes himself as the movie’s protagonist. In addition to wanting to get off Tatooine, he also dreams of being a pilot and finding out more about his father, a man whom he knows virtually nothing about. Like all classical heroes, his will be a journey of self-discovery which will take him across the galaxy and fundamentally change him.

Naturally, his surrogate parents are afraid to let him go, alluding to the fact that his father’s legacy is not something they want him to be a part off. But in the meantime, Luke has a more immediate problem on his hands. After seeing a fragment of the recording of Princess Leia and learning that R2 was intended to meet a man named Obi-Wan Kenobi, a man whom Luke suspects is actually Ben Kenobi who lives in the deep desert. After hearing of this, R2 runs off, forcing Luke and C3P0 to run after him…

They find him, and Ben Kenobi, after a near-death encounter with some Sand People. After chasing them off and tending to Luke, Ben reveals that he is in fact Obi Wan, and takes Luke and the droids back to his pad to talk. Luke learns, much to his delight, that Obi-Wan knew his father and that he was in fact a war hero and a Jedi Knight. His lightsaber is still in Obi-Wan’s possession, which he gives to Luke to play with. This was audiences first glimpse of one of the coolest weapons in sci-fi history, and impressively, it was done on a rather meager budget!

In any case, Obi-Wan sees R2’s recording in full. Leia reveals that she has come into possession of the Death Star plans, intended to deliver them to her father on Alderaan, but was intercepted in transit. R2 now holds them, and they still must be delivered. The recording ends with her pleading with Obi-Wan to help the Rebels. He asks Luke to accompany him so he can learn more about The Force and his father, but Luke is naturally reluctant. He can’t leave so long as he has ties and family on Tatooine that need him… Ooh, foreshadowing!

Cut to the Death Star, the infamous Imperial weapon of terror. Its commander, Grand Moff Tarkin, makes his first appearance, as do the other senior commanders. After some exposition on just how freakishly powerful the Death Star is, it is also revealed that until the plans are found, there is a danger. On top of that, there’s also the consensus that the Death Star needs to be tested by blowing up its first planet. Also, with Leia aboard and not talking, Tarkin concludes that they can kill two birds with one stone.

Luke and Ben meanwhile find a wreck in the desert, a Jawa landcrawler which had been destroyed by Imperial troopers. Luke quickly realizes that the Imperial troops were searching for his droids. He rushes home to find his uncle and aunt dead and their home destroyed. He then returns to Obi-Wan to tell him that he will come with him after all. The two then travel to the planet’s spaceport, Mos Eisley, to find a spacer who will take them off planet.

After getting past Imperial guards, they are forced to contend with some tough barfolk. Obi-Wan quickly dispatches them with his own lightsaber, and they meet Han Solo shortly thereafter. After being treated to some not so idle boasts about his ship (the Millennium Falcon), Obi-Wan determines that Han’s the man to take them to Alderaan. We, the audience, also learn that he clearly has some debts, and an angry creditor named Jabba. Before he can leave to check on his ship, he’s forced to gun down one of the men Jabba sent to collect.

Getting into orbit and away from the planet prove a might bit difficult given the presence of Imperial troopers and Star Destroyers. But Han wasn’t bullshitting when he said his ship was fast. They dust off, jump into hyperspace (another cool visual experience) and elude their Imperial chasers.

Meanwhile, Takin has the Death Star parked in front of Alderaan, which he threatens to destroy if Leia won’t divulge the location of the Rebel base. She does, telling him their on Dantooine, but Tarkin orders Alderaan destroyed anyway. Seems Dantooine is too remote to provide an effective “demonstration”. But it’s okay, since she was lying through her teeth. When Tarkin learns of this, he’s naturally pissed and orders that Leia be executed.

However, this order coincides with the arrival of the Millennium Falcon. Since their destination has been blown to pieces, the crew fly into a complete and utter debris field, and soon find themselves face to face with the Death Star itself. After getting nabbed with a tractor beam and brought aboard, they are forced to stow away in the Falcon’s secret compartments, where Han usually puts his “special” cargo. After popping out and sneaking past more Imperial troopers, they learn that Leia is aboard the station. Obi-Wan heads off to disable the tractor beam, while Luke convinces Han to take part in a daring rescue. Hijinx ensue!

First, we have Han, Luke and Chewi’s rather clumsy attempt to get Leia out of her cell block. The first phase, getting in, goes off without much trouble (unless you count all the shooting). Unfortunately, phase two, getting out, proceeds less smoothly. After being cornered my reinforcements, Leia orders them to jump into the trash compactor to escape. Only the timely intervention of R2 and 3P0 prevent them from being mashed.

Second, Obi-Wan succeeds in shutting down the tractor beam, but comes face to face with his old apprentice, Darth Vader. A lightsaber duel ensues, crossed beams providing a metaphor for the internal struggle between the righteous teacher and the student who went bad. As they head for the ship, Luke sees Obi-Wan locked in this duel, and is forced to watch as Obi-Wan puts up his blade and lets Vader kill him. But of course, he warns Vader that this will only make him more powerful… something we will understand very soon.

Ultimately, the good guys get away, short on crew member, but it seems their escape was allowed to happen. Knowing that they will set course of the Rebel Base, Vader has a tracking device placed aboard the ship, and the Death Star follows them to a small moon called Yavin 4.

Once there, Leia meets with the Rebel command staff and shares the plans. Knowing that the Death Star is likely en route, they prepare a desperate plan to destroy the Death Star using the one weakness they can discern. An exhaust vent located along the station’s central axis, at the end of a long, well-defended trench! Some two dozen Rebel pilots suit up for the mission, Luke volunteering to help, and asking Han to do the same. But, having been given his reward and eager to pay off his debts, Han says good luck and leaves with Chewi.

After slipping past the Death Stars shields, the Rebel pilots begin fighting it out with the station’s defenses and defenders. However, the assault on the vent itself does not go well. One wing of pilots is shot down trying to make the run, and the one pilot to get off a shot misses and is killed shortly thereafter. It now falls to Luke and what’s left of the attack wing, which includes his old friend Biggs Darklighter. Biggs is killed covering Luke, and he himself appears about to be gunned down by Vader’s own fighter, until someone new shows up and saves his ass!

Seems Han had a change of heart, and after blowing up Luke’s tails and sending Vader’s ship into a tailspin through space, Luke fires off his ordinance and hits the vent dead on! They break off and get away just in time to avoid the massive shock wave that blowing up such a massive station produces! The Rebel Alliance is saved, and the Empire has been dealt a mighty blow. However, as we see, Vader is still alive and makes it away, letting us know that the war (and movie franchise) will go on…

What Worked So Well About It!:
Where to begin. You know, its always at this point that critics and fanboys say what was so good about the original movies by comparing them to the new ones. To avoid this needless cliche, and perhaps to be a good sport, I’ll keep comparisons to a minimum. Suffice it to say, part of the reason why the first movie was such a smashing hit was because it tapped in to a certain need which was becoming apparent in the movie-going community. In terms of science fiction, audiences were becoming just the slightest bit tired of dystopian stories and dark visions of the future.

After so much technophobia and misanthropy, the stage seemed set for something positive and heroic to come along and renew people’s faith in humanity and the future. So in a way, Lucas’ masterpiece benefited from good timing, arriving exactly when people needed it to. Such timing had not been seen since the arrival of the Beatles to America, an event which came after the assassination of JFK when young people were looking for something happy and joyful to focus them onto new and positive things.

Another thing which worked in its favor was the fact that Lucas had to contend with limited budgets, an largely inexperienced cast and crew, and just about every mishap imaginable. Being in the position of the underdog, having little expected of him, and having to contend with all kinds of difficulties, what came out of it all is best labelled “art from adversity”. There’s just something so purifying about a noble effort which succeeds despite difficulty, isn’t there? It was like Lucas’ movie was living out its own plot, the committed band of Rebels fighting an evil Empire being a metaphor for Lucas’ own fight with the studios and production companies.

The Weak Parts:
But of course, Lucas also benefited from a great deal of help, which came from the highly experienced and talented hands of John Williams, the cinematography of Gilbert Taylor, and a host of editors who helped clean up his movie once the raw footage was slapped together. Arriving just a few months shy of the films theatrical release, these people saved production of the film in many ways, and demonstrated to Lucas that when it came to shooting and dialogue-writing, he needed some help to make it all work (something he forgot in more recent years!)

In fact, it was because these individuals had arrived late to the production that many weaker elements of the movie survived and became part of the original movie. In several scenes, actors and extras made mistakes which Lucas didn’t notice because he was not accustomed to shooting films. Two prime examples are when a Storm Trooper walks head first into a sliding door on the Death Star, and Mark Hamil yells “Carrie!” to actress Carrie Fisher while they were shooting. These were never edited out, as was some of the lazier acting and poor dialogue.

In fact, Lucas gained a reputation for writing wooden dialogue as he was making this movie. During their initial readings, many of the actors complained that it was unrealistic, unnatural, and completely awkward. These sentiments were brilliantly captured by Harrison Ford when he confronted Lucas and told him, “George, you can type this shit, but you sure as hell can’t say it!”.

The Enduring Legacy:
Of course, I could get into all the cultural and cinematic influences that were apparent and helped make the movie such a box office hit. But let’s face it, that’s been done to death! I shall just say that in the end, Lucas knew where to borrow from and could make it all work together. Combining elements like westerns, samurai movies, and allusions to ancient and modern history with an epic story of good versus evil, Lucas’ creation tickled all the right bones and gave audiences what they wanted when they wanted it.

And really, it was one of those rare movies where people felt that there truly was something for everyone. It was not strictly a kids movie (despite what Lucas would later claim) because there was simply so much material and attention to detail which no child would have been able to appreciate. So while the kids (and kids of all ages!) were dazzled with shoot outs, dogfigths and lightsaber duels, the adults were able to appreciate aesthetics borrowed from such classics as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Seven Samurai, Metropolis, and costumes and themes alluding to WWII and Nazi Germany.

And of course, with its smashing performance at the box office, Lucas and his crew now had the freedom and the street cred to make some follow up movies and see his vision through to completion. And in no time at all, all the studios and production companies which had doubted him or told him no were lining up to imitate him and finance whatever Star Wars clone they could find. Lucas, I imagine, got a real kick out of that!

Anyhoo, having spilled so much metaphorical ink on this movie, let me just wrap things up by saying Happy Star Wars Day and be sure to check back soon. Next up, I will be covering the even more famous The Empire Strikes Back, one of the few movies in cinematic history to ever be credited as being “better than the first”. In the meantime, check out this shot from the blooper reel. Keep your eye to the right as the Stormtroopers walk in…