Star Wars News!

star-wars-episode-7You’re not going to believe this. But just 15 minutes ago, on his Facebook feed, George Takei announced that he will be starring in the upcoming Star Wars remake. Not only that, but he had a few newsworthy items to share about the upcoming sequel that the studio has not been sharing just yet. These include the name of the new film and when filming will begin.

Friends, I am thrilled to announce that I’ll be starring in the Star Wars reboot directed by JJ Abrams. I’ll be playing Master Ceti Maru, a member of the Jedi High Council. The new film, entitled “Star Wars: Galactic Empire,” is greenlit and will begin filming sometime early next year. It is truly a moment for The Star Alliance. Thanks to all my fans for their decades of support.

You may not think it, but even a little hint like the name of the film can tell you volumes. In this case, it would seem to confirm what Hamil has been saying, that the movie would be set in a time when the children of Han and Leia were growing up, a time where the Republic had been resurrected and was fighting the remnants of the Empire to take control of the Galaxy.

In addition, since he will be playing a Jedi Master, its clear that in this time period, the Jedi Order has been restored. So Luke won’t be the only one anymore. Perhaps he’ll just be the head honcho, which is a bit of a change-up ever since Yoda passed away. What’s more, Takei was sure to provided a little mockup photo to get fans in mind of what he would like sporting a Jedi robe and a lightsaber (I see he went with the Windu model). Excited yet? I know I am.

Addendum: It’s officially midnight, so Happy April Fool’s Day! George, you’re one mean SOB!

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Revenge of the Sith. The Last Hope!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attack of the Clones. Here we go again…

Hello again! Here we are picking things up again with the Star Wars saga. Today, it’s the second installment in the prequel series, the ridiculously named Attack of the Clones. As I’m sure we all remember, Clones was the stuff of mixed reviews, some critics hailing its special effects and visual style, while others emphasized its flat dialogue and wooden romance.

But even more interesting was the fact that critics were torn over whether it was better or worse than the Phantom Menace. Not a good sign, and the butt of a LOT of jokes and debate. Hard to imagine that fanboys who were united in bashing the PM would find themselves fighting each other over which they thought sucked more!

But to be fair, there were some good points in this movie. So without further preamble, let’s get into it:

Plot Synopsis:
The movie opens with the crawl once again saying that there is a crisis. This time around, it’s the threat of Separatists – led by former Jedi Count Dooku – that’s making things problematic. And once again there is deadlock in the Senate over it. In any case, now-Senator Amidala comes to Coruscant to speak her peace on behalf of those who oppose taking strong measures, and an assassination plot gets underway.

This prompts the Jedi order to send two old friends, Obi-Wan and Anakin, to provide her with added protection. Their introduction is rather painful to behold, as the hormonally raging Anakin begins relating how he hasn’t stopped dreaming of her and tries to make awkward conversation with her. He also picks a fight with his mentor, Obi-Wan, over what their mandate truly is. In the midst of all this, Jar Jar breaks the fourth wall by looking into the camera and smiling at the audience – a sort of, “I’m still here, bitches” for all the fanboys to see!

In another bit of “things to come”, we also learn that Anakin has been having dreams of another woman – his mother. He dreams that something terrible is going to happen, but in the meantime, they must focus on Padme, who’s assassin is still out there. For some reason, they decide to “use her as bait”, which consists of letting her sleep in a window-filled room with nothing but R2 as protection. Didn’t Obi-Wan say they weren’t supposed to be investigating, just protecting? Oh well…

In any case, her would-be assassin sends a probe with some poisonous slugs to attack her. Obi-Wan and Anakin kill said slugs, and Obi-Wan jumps through the window to grab the probe and ride it. Wait, didn’t he say they weren’t supposed to be investigating? Why’s he so determined to follow this probe then? Anakin grabs a speeder, they fly like mad, and chase the attacker through the city. Anakin reveals that this woman is a shape-shifter, a fact which seems superfluous, but whatever. They also performs some stunts that defy the laws of physics, but that’s also unimportant.

After reaching a bar, Obi-Wan and Anakin chase her inside and begin combing the crowd. After a quick re-enactment of the scene from A New Hope (where Obi-Wan sliced off another thugs hand), they drag the shape-shifter outside and learn she’s subcontracting. But of course, her contractor kills her before she can say her name. Obi-Wan, who for some reason was willing to chase the shapeshifter across the planet, just lets him go…

The Jedi Council decides its time to send Padme home, and that Anakin is to go with her. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan is to track down the assassin by himself, a quest which takes him to the world of Kamino. This decision to split them, far from making logical sense, seems more like an excuse to get Anakin and Padme alone. Why send a Padawan off on his own, especially when his master has such misgivings about his attitude and powers?

But anyhoo, things get kind of cool when Obi-Wan arrives on Kamino and learns that former Master Sifo Dyas ordered the creation of a clone army. This, combined with the fact that the location of the planet was removed from the Republic archives memory would seem to indicate that there is a conspiracy afoot. Obi-Wan then meets with the clone template, a bounty hunter named Jango Fett, and is convinced he’s found Padme’s would-be assassin. They fight, Jango escapes, and Obi-Wan pursues him to Geonosis.

Meanwhile, we get a string of scenes that are meant to elicit a romantic response. After following Padme around, complaining bitterly about Obi-Wan and professing his love in a series of ever creepier and wooden dialogue, Padme tells Anakin there’s no way. Why? She’s a Senator… Uh, what? Are Senators not allowed to date? Of course, Anakin can’t because he’s a Jedi, but the very fact that they’re talking about this would seem to indicate the feeling is now mutual. Seems sudden, but neither here nor there…

Arriving at Geonosis, where there’s a massive a droid-building colony, Obi-Wan gets into it with Jango and the Slave I. After thinking he’s killed him (Obi-Wan eludes death by copying Han’s hiding move from Empire), Jango proceeds to planet and Obi-Wan follows shortly behind. After wintessing a meeting between Dooku and the Separatists in which they plan their attack (using their droid and clone armies), Obi-Wan broadcasts his position and is then captured. He meets Dooku, who proceeds to tell him the truth, after a fashion…

He tells Obi-Wan there is a Sith in charge of the Senate, and that his plans are motivated to bring him down. He asks for Obi-Wan’s help, who in a move taken from Empire and Jedi, tells him he “will never join you”. Back on Naboo, Anakin continues to have bad dreams about his mom and decides he must go to Tatooine. He retraces her path, only to discover that she was taken in by some people from the movie – the Lars family, which includes the future Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru.

He learns she was taken by Sandpeople, and catches up with them just in time to watch his mother die, at which point, he and loses it! And I mean REALLY LOSES IT! In a scene we don’t get to see, Anakin takes out his lightsaber and kills the entire community of Sandpeople who kidnapped and tortured his mom, including the women and children. He returns to the Lars family dwelling and tells Padme of his mass murder, to which she replies that it’s no big deal.

I’m sorry, NO BIG DEAL?! Are you freaking kidding me? Seriously, this man just confessed to murdering women and children and all Padme can say is that “to be angry is to be human”? What kind of sociopathic, enabling bullshit is that? Is she so into bad boys that she’s willing to overlook this first-time offense? Or are they in such a hurry to get to the next scene that she’s just got to forgive and move on? And why the hell didn’t the Jedi Order even mention this on his return? We all saw Yoda sensing it? C’mon people!

Alright, moving on… Back on Coruscant, the news of a Separatist army explodes like a bombshell, with Palpatine once again exploiting it for personal gain. Thinking he’s doing the smart and noble thing, Jar Jar moves that Palpatine get emergency powers – a la Octavian – and his first act is to create an army for the Republic. Why they don’t have one already is beyond me, but who cares? Point is, Palpatine has got his way, and Yoda and Mace Windu decide its time to get involved.

Anakin and Padme also get the distress signal from Obi-Wan and decide they will go save him. They arrive on Geonosis too and after a needless scene where they are almost killed in a robot factory, they too are captured. A scene ripped off from Gladiator follows, as they are reunited in a massive Colosseum-type arena to die in a public display. They escape and begin to wreak havoc, and are rescued just in time by the arrival of Mace and the Jedi Order. They fight to a standstill and are surrounded, when Yoda arrives with the Clone army and begins kicking some ass.

A big fight scene ensues on the open plains of Geonosis between droids and Clones, while Obi-Wan and Anakin chase Dooku down. He beats them both in a rather implausible scenario, first managing to cripple Obi-Wan without actually killing him or severing any of his limbs, and then cutting off Anakin’s arm (an obvious preview of the scene from Jedi). Yoda once again shows up to save the day, and in another scene from Jedi, Dooku does his lightning trick.

The fight ends with a stalemate, Dooku runs with Padme shooting at his ship. Once more, a scene from the originals is at work here, this time from Empire when Leia was shooting at the Slave I. But Dooku escapes, makes it back to Coruscant and tells Sideous (Palpatine) that the war is happening, as anticipated. He meanwhile sends the first batch of clones on their new Star Destroyer look-alikes, and Yoda laments that the Dark Side has fallen and “The Clones Wars” have begun.

The movie ends with Padme and Anakin back on Naboo, where they’ve decided to get married after all. But since it’s a secret wedding, the droids are the only parties in attendance. THE END!

What didn’t work:
Well, where to begin? I shan’t dwell on the wooden dialogue or the horrid lack of romantic tension, since those are the popular whipping posts of most critics when it comes to this movie. Instead, I’d like to stick to some of the more obvious weaknesses, those that become more clear with hindsight.

  1. The Set-Up: Things get rolling when we learn that an assassin is trying to kill Padme, presumably because she’s the voice of moderation between the Republic and the Separatists. However, things get really implausible, really fast. For one, why the hell did Jango Fett subcontract anyway. Why not simply kill her himself? And why did this lady use poisonous bugs when a simple bomb would have killed Padme instantly? We saw how easily that probe flew to her window, so why the slow, stupid and easily thwarted approach? Then came how Jango’s involvement led Obi-Wan on his wild goose chase. The only reason he knew to find him on Kamino was because he used a dart which was manufactured there. The only reason he know to fly to Geonosis was because Jango mentioned it to him. And why was Jango pulling double duty with the whole assassination thing anyway? If the Kaminos are such good cloners, anybody’s DNA would do and they could just enhance it. Having him do that and eliminate Padme was just a way to tie the two plots together really and make sure Obi-Wan could find out all that was going on.
  2. Love-Story Contrivances: I know, I said I wouldn’t mock the terrible dialogue, which I won’t. To me, the real weakness here was just how contrived and unnatural the whole love story seemed. Aside from a brief, age-inappropriate meeting ten years before, Anakin and Padme are practically strangers. Having Anakin say that he’s loved her ever since they met was completely forced. On top of that, the way they are sent to Naboo together and all the scenes of them doing lovers things: boating, playing in open fields, eating and retiring to the hearth – are all obvious attempts to try and force a sense of romance. That’s the key word here: force (no pun intended). Between Anakin constantly announcing his feeling for her and all the idyllic scenery they take in, it’s like Lucas was behind us constantly saying “Look, they’re in love!” In the original movie, Lucas took his time to build up the romance between Han and Leia. In the beginning, they couldn’t stand each other, but this concealed some genuine tension. In time, this flourished as they got to know each other and began to start acknowledging each others strengths. In the end, it was clear that their different backgrounds and personalities is what led to their attraction. Throw in some genuine crisis, and they realized they were in love. See? That’s a love story, not this!
  3. Unsubtle Dialogue: Again, said I would avoid talking about the wooden dialogue. Which I am, sort of! My gripe here is just how unsubtle and (again) forced it all was, which is something the critics really didn’t get into. Examples: in the beginning, Anakin announces that he loves Padme when talking with Obi-Wan and Jar Jar. When talking to Padme, Anakin announces that Obi-Wan is an unfair master who’s too hard on him. When sitting around the fire, Anakin announces how much he loves her. Finally, she announces her feelings back. And in this, they are hardly alone. All throughout the movie, actors announce what’s going on as a means to convey what’s happening and to make the audience feel the requisite emotions. Never is time taken to convey feelings, mood, or establish tension the old fashioned way. And this just makes for a bad movie! As Robot Satan said in Futurama: “You can’t have characters just announce their feelings! That makes me SO ANGRY!”
  4. Way Too Much: In the documentary of the making of Phantom Menace, there is a lovely scene where Lucas and his people are watching the screening and there’s this moment of “uh-oh” at the end. They then discuss how Lucas did too much and how that brought down the ending. You’d think between movie one and two, he would have learned from this, but no! In this movie, he tried to do way more. On top of showing how romance developed between Padme and Anakin, he’s also shoved in a big ol’ preview of Anakin’s descent to the Dark Side, how the Clones Wars started, and Palpatine’s evil rise to power. A lot of critics jumped on this, saying that the movie was too long and suffered from a sense of duty. And in that, they were profoundly right! Duty is another key word when describing this movie. Having spent movie one showing where Anakin came from, they now had to preview his fall, where the twins came from, and how the Clone Wars started all at once. And it made for a sloppy feel, with too much happening and things bouncing around from one thing to the next without any of it getting enough development.
  5. Recycling: But alas, all of these faults could have been mediated had it not been for the fact that there really didn’t seem anything new about these movies. All throughout, there is material which seems to serve no purpose than to satisfy origin stories or recapture elements of the first three movies. In Clones, Boba Fett, Luke’s surrogate parents, the Death Star and Vader’s robotic arm are all previewed, and that’s on top of the Clone Wars and the romance plot. Once more it’s like Lucas is behind us saying “Look! That’s how it happened!” But like everything else, it just feels forced. Why not let new characters have their time in the spotlight? Why is it necessary to use every character from the first three movies? And another thing, this movie, more than in the first, uses scenes from the originals like never before. I mean, its one thing to rip off other movies, like the arena scene from Gladiator, but Lucas was even ripping off himself! The scene in the bar where Obi-Wan cuts off the hunters arm, the scene where Obi-Wan hides his ship on the back of an asteroid, the scene where he tells Dooku he won’t turn, the scene with the lighting bolts, the scene at the end where Padma is shooting at Dooku’s ship. All of these are clearly meant to recapture the feeling of the original Star Wars, but they fell short for the simple reason that audiences wasn’t nearly as emotionally involved. There’s paying homage to an original, and then there’s recycling, and this was the latter!
  6. Lazy Shooting: Something else which became apparent by this movie was the lazy way in which it was shot. After Phantom, It was already obvious that Lucas loved to cram as much CGI into every frame as possible. Hell, that much was obvious with the Star Wars Gold Editions! But if you watch the movies again, pay close attention to how EVERY SINGLE scene is shot. In these, you have the actors either walking slowly across the stage or sitting down. Always. Two cameras capture all of their dialogue and exchanges, Camera one, camera two. Always. If they are walking and talking, they will always stop, turn, and go back and forth between camera one and two. Meanwhile, all visual effects and background are provided by a green screen and all CGI characters are represented by colored lights. There are virtually no props, no stand ins, and a minimum of real actors. This, I have learned, reflects Lucas’ preferred way of directing. He sits in his chair at the edge of the green screen and drinks his coffee while the actors interact with each other or lights which tell them where to look. They walk through, stop, turn, or stay seated, do their lines, and his two cameras capture everything. Action shots are handled in much the same way, with only the occasional close-up or distance shot. Unless of course the entire sequence is animated by CGI, which they usually are!
  7. Strengths? Not so much: The strong points about this movie, the ones that critics hailed, mainly had to do with vision and special effects. But here’s the thing: Lucas’ vision in this movie consisted of CGI environments that all seemed to be taken from other movies or real locations. That doesn’t seem very bold or original. And what’s more, even the special effects weren’t so innovative. Clones was launched during the summer of 2002, right about the time that Spider Man, Minority Report and Men in Black 2 were released, all of which made impressive use of CGI. So really, what was so stunning and unique about this movie’s visual effects? And if action was something else about this movie that people liked, consider that it came out at the same time as The Bourne Identity and XXX as well.  So really, this movie was not a stand-out, smash-hit, summer blockbuster. If anything, it was one hit in a summer full of them.

Well, that about covers the weaknesses of this movie. I did my best to avoid the cliched, beaten-to-death talking points, and yet I still feel I hit on them quite a bit. And I really went long there too didn’t I? And yet, I haven’t even mentioned what bothered me personally about this movie. But to do so means ditching all the civilized critique stuff and going all the way back to summer of 2000.

In was back then, between the first two movies movies, that Lucas seemed to be pulling an about face. A year after the Phantom Menace debuted, reassuring rumors began to circulate that Lucas claimed its sequel would be more dark, more realistic and more gritty, kind of like the way Empire was to the first movie. However, these hopes were shot when Lucas announced that the second movie would be a romance story at that Jar Jar would remain in the picture.

When asked about the fans hopes for something more adult and dark, he casually dismissed these and other criticisms by saying that Star Wars had always been a “Saturday morning serial for kids”. This above all else seemed to annoy me, and countless other fans, since it now seemed apparent that Lucas really didn’t care what his age old fans and was going to continue to do the things that was making the new movies incompatible with the old.

However, after movie two he seemed to sit up and take notice of just how annoyed the fans and critics were getting. With one movie left in the franchise, he seemed determined to give these objections some due before the sun set on the prequel trilogy. Of that, more next time. Stay tuned!

 

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

Cool Weapons!

Last time, I spoke (at length) about all the awesome firearms that come to us from a variety of science fiction franchises. But let’s face it, there’s a lot more than just guns to speak of! In fact, part of the genius of sci-fi is in how it is constantly inventing entire arsenals of weaponry, tools, and the various nicknacks that make the world go round. Any director or writer who show attention to detail will make sure that their characters come equipped, looked the part, and that their settings have plenty of believable gadgetry taking up space in the background. Here are just some of the cool examples:

Claws:
Predator_clawsAlong with the burner/plasma caster, these weapons are the most basic of Hunter weapons in the Predator universe. According to tradition, every Hunter must distinguish themselves in battle by confronting an enemy in single combat using no other weapon than their claws. Based on the two non-crossover films (Predator and Predator 2), this is apparently done once all lesser prey are eliminated and only the top prey is left. When that occurs, the Hunter will ensure that this finale opponent has been deprived of any additional weaponry, and then will shed every other weapon in their arsenal and engage them in hand to hand combat.

Combi-Stick:
Part of the Hunters arsenal, this weapon comes from the Predator universe and is part of their wider arsenal of cool weaponry. The name refers to the fact that this staff serves multiple functions. Collapses, it serves as a sort of quarter staff. However, the stick has telescoping sections with a blade like end, which when deployed turn it into a spear. In Predator 2, a hunter used his stick on multiple occasions. Against a group of the Jamaican gang members, it was used strictly for impaling, but during a later scene, it was used as a throwing spear against Danny Glover’s character.

Crysknife:
The Fremen weapon of choice, made from the tooth of a Maker (i.e. a Sandworm). The name and design of the weapon are based on the kris, a ceremonial dagger that was traditionally used in Indonesia and is associated with many cultural legends.

A testament to Herbert’s ability to incorporate historic and cultural elements into his stories, the kris is an enduring symbol of the Dune universe and was used by Fremen for warfare, duals, and ceremonial purposes, much like the real thing! In addition, the Fremen had very strict rules about the use and exposure of these knives. According to the Shadout Mapes – the Fremen housekeeper in Dune – who gives one to Jessica: “Who sees that knife must be cleansed or slain!” And as Leto II remarked in Children of Dune: “The crysknife dissolves at the death of its owner.”

Lasgun:
This weapon was the brainchild of Frank Herbert, and is a familiar weapon in the Dune universe. According to Frank’s many novels, the lasgun was a continuous-wave laser projector weapon that when fired emitted a constant, narrow beam of photons. Though it was able to cut through just about anything and was the weapon of choice in the Old Imperium, it had since fallen into disuse by the first Dune novel.

This apparently had to do with the invention of personal shields. Rather than protecting against a lasgun burst, the interaction of the two would cause a reaction that rivaled that of an atomic explosion. Hence, attacker and defender would both be killed instantly if either ever came into contact. Much like the prohibition against the use of nukes in Herbert’s universe, one would get the distinct impression that he was commenting on the futility of nuclear deterrents and arms races.

But that’s another matter. The lasgun, from its first appearance in Dune, has gone on to inspire many a sci-fi franchise. One that immediately comes to mind is Akira. In this movie, riot squads and the military employed large, external cell powered weapons to fire focused beams of light on a large mob, hewing off limbs and burning holes straight through some people! The main character Kaneda also commandeered one and used it to fight his psionic friend, Tetsuo, near the end of the movie.

Lightsaber:
Just what is it about lightsabers that make them so unbelievably cool? Is it that warm glow? The otherworldly feeling one gets from seeing one being activated? Could it be that crack, hiss sound they make when they clash, or that warbling noise when they’re spun around? Or could it just be the fact that they deflect blasters and cut through anything? Well yes! It’s all of the above, clearly! Yet another brainchild of George Lucas, meant to call to mind scenes of swashbuckling and chivalry from old samurai movies, the lightsaber has since gone on to occupy a central spot in the collective unconscious of an entire generation. It is a staple, perhaps THE staple, of pop culture’s take on sci-fi.

Making its debut appearance in the first Star Wars movie, the lightsaber was the established weapon of the Jedi. In addition to being their mainstay, lightsabers were also highly personalized, every Jedi being tasked with building one as part of their training. Originally, the only two designs were that of the blue and red, the former being associated with Obi Wan and Anakin Skywalker (which Luke then inherited), and the latter being associated with Darth Vader. However, Luke went on to create his own and fashioned a green beam. With the expanded universe, significance has been given to different colors, each one associated with a different class of Jedi, and indicating whether they are a member of the Sith or the Jedi Order.

For starters, blue is the color of the Jedi Guardian, the warrior class of the order who focus on combat training and fighting. Green is used by the Jedi Consuls, people who focus more on the force and accumulating wisdom and insight. Yellow represents a sort of middle ground, belonging to those Jedi who focus on a combination of both and are usually called upon to settle disputes and act as arbiters. When it comes to the Sith, only one color appears to be used, and that is red. However, purple, orange, and other closely related colors have popped up from time to time in various places as well. In addition, Mace Windu, the Jedi Master portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson, wielded a purple lightsaber as well. However, this was apparently due to Jackson’s insistence that his character have a purple weapon, as well as the initials BMF etched onto the side!

Ma’Tok Staff:
Coming to us from the Stargate universe, the Ma’Tok is a combination laser gun, club staff that is used by Jaffa warriors (the specially-bred human servants of the Goa’uld). According to the Stargate Wiki, the Ma’Tok relies on a plasma discharge to strike and cauterize the enemy, causing severe damage and intimidating resistance. It takes its power from an internal cell that employs a liquified mineral (Naquadah) to generate plasma energy. This liquid mineral gives the staff a virtually indefinite shelf life, making it the perfect blend of aesthetics and lethality!

Monomolecular Wire:
Here’s an idea that comes in various forms, but for the purposes of this post, I shall stick to the examples that I know best. The first one comes in the form of the Yakuza enforcer from Johnny Mnemonic! Anyone who’s seen this movie (or read the short story it was based on) will remember the main badguy who had an artificial thumb that contained a long filament of glowing wire. When he pulled that thing out and started whipping it around – LOOK OUT! – things began to get lopped off and sliced up! Another example of this being used as a weapon is from the Japanese anime Hellsing. In that show, the butler of the namesake character had monomolecular wires attached to each finger which he would break out whenever there was a crisis. Perhaps they were fashioned from silver, I really can’t recall. Would make them more effective against vampires though!

Plasma Sword:
And we’re back to the Halo universe for another example of cool gear! And today, the item in question is the plasma sword. As gamers are no doubt aware, this weapon is melee weapon of the Elites, but can be employed by humans as well since it’s your basic hand-held weapon. And much like lightsabers and lasguns, it can cut through just about anything and makes short work of any opponent. In many ways, its even more effective than the ballistic and energy weapons in the game. Whereas those can take several shots to take down an enemy (especially someone infected by the flood) one good hit from this baby will turn them into pulp! And if you see an enemy approaching you with one, be sure to hang back and unload your weapon in their direction!

Stone Burner:
Doubling down on the Dune universe, the next example of cool weapons comes in the form of Stone Burner. As a tactical nuke of limited yield, this weapon was the only form of nuclear device that was not prohibited by the Great Convention. This body, in addition to banning all forms of AI’s, also put a stop to the use of nuclear weapons, though it did not forbid the Great Houses from owning any. In any case, Stone Burners, when used strategically, could have a devastating effect on an enemy.

This weapon makes only one appearance in the Dune saga. In Dune Messiah, Paul Atreides is lured into a trap in the old quarter of Arrakeen where a stone burner is set off, which leads to the loss of his eyes.  Though physically blinded, Paul was not deprived of his vision (i.e. his prescience). This all had to do with a larger plot to force Paul to surrender his power as Emperor in order to save his children. And I think we can all agree, any plot that involves a tactical nuke and blinding your enemy Samson-style is pretty badass!

Throwing Disc:
Another Hunter weapon, this particular one made its first appearance in the second Predator movie and then went on to become a regular part of the Hunters’ arsenal. Much like their other weapons, the throwing disc appears to have many variations and may even be personalized to an extent. This may be the result of constant upgrading, or it may be that individual Hunters have a hand in designing their own gear. In either case, many types of throwing discs have appeared. Some employ simple curved blades, blades with spikes, or even shuriken-like appendages (as the picture at right demonstrates). In each and every case, the result generally involves hewed limbs and decapitations!

Thermal Detonator:
“Because he’s holding a thermal detonator!” Yes, whenever a bounty hunter pulls one of these out, you know they mean business! This weapon, which comes to us from the Star Wars universe, made its first appearance in Return of the Jedi. Since that movie came out, the device has been mentioned and referenced countless times in the expanded franchise. Apparently, thermal detonators are the grenades of the future, using plasma charges that when detonated, cause a large explosion that will burn through just about anything. Always be sure to bring one to a negotiation, just be sure to get the ones with the fail-safe triggers!

Vibroblades:
My third and final act of doubling down on a single franchise! Vibroblades are an integral part of the Star Wars universe, but also appear in a number of other franchises. In each case, the weapon revolves around melee weapons that are powered by ultrasonic devices. This increases the weapons cutting effectiveness, and makes them almost as dangerous as a lightsaber. Well, more like a distant second! But non-Jedi’s got to settle for what they can get.

In the video game Knights of the Old Republic, vibroblades and melee weapons are used due to the introduction of personal shields. Some might call this a rip-off of the Dune universe, but in this case, its not so much a matter of necessity as practicality. If an enemy can absorb your blaster fire, then rushing and attacking them with a sword kind of makes sense. And it gives the characters some practice with melee combat before they learn to harness their Jedi abilities.

Last Word:
Okay, I got nothing! Yep, after looking through all the aforementioned examples of cool weaponry, I really couldn’t find any particular patterns that were worthy of comment. Basically, it all comes down to things that augment or go beyond the usual arsenal of guns. It’s only where the swords and knives come into the mix that I see anything beyond simple coolness. And just about all that drinks from the cup of Frank Herbert, a man who merged the ancient and futuristic in order to make a point about technology and how one could find the past in the future and the future in the past. Yeah, that stuff was deep!

As for the rest of it, it’s just plain cool to behold… and fantasize about! Yeah, twenty years later and I still want a lightsaber of my own! 😉