Even More Cool Ships!

Dang it, this is fast growing into a theme of its own, outgrowing the whole “conceptual” thing by leaps and bounds! But there are always more contenders, and people have been nice enough to leave suggestions with me. So the list must go on, taking into account more spaceships, aircraft an assorted vehicles that come to us from a variety of franchises. Some are fast, some are scary, some are just really, really neat to look at! But they all have one thing in common, they are all cool!

Here’s the latest, as assembled by me and with the help of some helpful suggestions!

Cylon Base Ship:
cylon_basestarIn my first post, I mentioned the Galactica and how it had evolved from its original self to become the aged but enduring vessel that we saw in the new series. Well, when it came to the Cylons, the artists seemed to go in the opposite direction. Rather than making the Cylon Base Ships less advanced-looking, they opted instead for designs that looked sleeker, updated and more organic.

This was in keeping with the updated concept of the Cylon race. Whereas in the original series, the Cylons were slow, lumbering robots who simply followed orders and sounded very machine-like, the new Cylons were fully organic beings that could easily pass for humans.

The Centurions, much like their predecessors, remained loyal robots, but were also a hell of lot more streamlined and dynamic in appearance. The Base Stars were said to be constructed out of a cartilage-like material that was soft and organic, but became solid and super-tensile once it hardened. And of course, the Cylon Raiders were themselves equipped with organic parts, living brain tissue inside a metal hull.

Of course, the new Base Ships were downgraded in one respect. Much like the Galactica, the new designers decided to forgo the idea of lasers for something a little more realistic. In the case of the Cylons, this meant missiles instead of flak guns and cannons. However, everything else was significantly more advanced than the original, including the appearance and the scientific foundation on which it rested. Basically, the new Base Ships looked organic because they were organic. Instead of being built in a shipyard, they were grown in them. That’s some advanced shit right there!

All of this were quite ingeniously attributed to technological evolution. The old Base Star and Centurion designs were said to have been what the Cylons looked like during the previous war. Toasters was the term used to describe them, given their chrome exteriors and campy-retro look. Their new designs were the result of over twenty years of progress, going from constructions of metal and silicate materials to biometric tissue which was grown in vats. A very cool concept, and in keeping with the latest updates in the fields of science and science fiction 😉

The Discovery:

Discovery, front view

Cue classical music soundtrack! The Discovery is sailing by… in excruciatingly slow motion! Yes, I’m sure I speak for all those who have seen 2001: A Space Odyssey when I say that the story was brilliant, the cinematography superb, but dammit, did they have to do so many long, drawn out space sequences? Well, as someone very wise said, this movie was made back when people still had attention spans!

But on the plus side, the long sequences allowed audiences to truly appreciate the design and concept of this ship, and many others in the film. In what can only be described as a caterpillar (or ball and chain) type design, the Discovery was originally designed for cargo hauling, but was converted to deep-space exploration when Earth scientists needed to mount a manned mission to Jupiter in a hurry.

One can see without much effort how these concepts overlapped in the design. Being made up of many segments, the spine of the ship was clearly designed to hold detachable cargo pods, whereas the crew and navigation team would hold up in the spherical section at the front. Once converted, this frontal section was given pod-bay doors, a compliment of small explorer craft, and a large scanner array mounted along the dorsal section. The engine compartment at the rear was built for heavy thrust, alluding to the fact that this craft was intended for deep-space missions.

rear view

In addition to all that, the ship came equipped with vast stores of food, cryogenic pods, and an onboard AI known as the HAL 9000. During the better part of its deep space missions, the crew would be kept in cryogenic suspension, HAL would pilot the ship, and they would be thawed once it came close to its destination, or in case an emergency situation arose. Also, its contained rotating sections which would become active once the crew was in a waking state, ensuring that they didn’t succumb to muscular atrophy due to weightlesssness.

Simple, straightforward and technically practical, The Discovery was everything one would expect from the future of space travel, at least from a 1960’s standpoint. And granted, we weren’t exactly building ships like this when 2001 rolled around. But we weren’t exactly fighting the Cold War or discovering aliens on the Moon either. In either case, you’d be hard-pressed to find hard sci-fi like this anywhere today. RIP Arthur C. Clarke. You too, Kubrick! You’re genius is sorely missed!

Draconia 1:
Credit for this one goes to Victor of Victor’s Movie Reviews. Initially, I was hesitant when he suggested I post something from the Buck Roger’s universe, but quickly changed my mind when I saw it. Thanks for the suggestion and the links man! Enjoy this one!

Just to be clear, I got nothing against Buck Rogers, I’m just relatively ignorant about the franchise. And after combing through a couple databases, I’m still pretty ignorant. Whereas I thought this was just a popular movie and tv series from the 80’s, I’ve since learned that its roots go way deeper than all that! Originally, Buck Rogers was a novella named Armaggedon 2419, a dystopian story that appeared in an issue of Amazing Stories in 1928. Since that time, the story has been adapted to comic books, radio, television, and with the success of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica in the late 70’s and early 80’s, a feature film and a TV spinoff.

Known more popularly as “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century”, it is from this point in the series that this megalithic ship known as a Draconian battleship comes to us. Named in honor of the empire that built it, Draconia 1 was the flagship of the Draconian armada and the flagship of the franchise’s chief protagonist, Princess Ardala. , to conquer Earth and make Buck Rogers her consort. And given its size and imposing nature, I’d say the artists captured these intentions quite perfectly. With a name like Draconi 1, you gotta figure the ship is going to look stern, sharp, and geared up for war!

Earth Force Thunderbolt:
ThunderboltAnother happy contribution from the Babylon 5 universe! An upgraded model that was meant to replace the older Starfury-class fighter, Thunderbolts were two-person aerospace fighters that were had boasted extra firepower, better navigation, updated systems, and the ability to navigate inside atmospheres. Yes, unlike the earlier models, these things could operate in space and in the air.

This was made possible by the addition of extendable airfoils which were attached to the ship’s four engine mounts. In addition, the hard mounts on these wings were capable of holding up to ten missiles. These, combined with its four uni-directional pulse cannons, gave it a serious firepower advantage over its predecessor!

Making their debut in the second season of the show,  the Thunderbolt would play a pivotal role in the Earth Alliance civil war, which broke out shortly thereafter. Thanks to a shipment that arrived on the station before B5 declared its independence, and the addition of several squadrons of defectors from the Earth Force destroyers Alexander and Churchill, Sheridan and his forces were not at a disadvantage when President Clarke’s forces came knocking!

According to the B5 Wiki, the Thunderbolt represented the third incarnation in the Starfury series. In terms of design, they were clearly inspired by their namesake, the P-47, and other WWII aircraft like the P-51 Mustang. In addition, inspiration was probably owed to the F4 Phantom of the Vietnam Era, which also boasted a two-seat configuration and also had the same mouth and bared teeth design on the front. A good thing too, for credit should always be given to the classics!

The Eclipse:
What could be more terrifying than a Super Star Destroyer? THIS, that’s what! And like a Super Star Destroyer, it comes to us from the expanded Star Wars universe. Known as the Eclipse, and taken from the Star Wars: Dark Empire comic series, this vessel was the latest incarnation of Imperial terror technology at its best (or worst)! Originally intended as the resurrected Emperor’s new flagship, the Eclipse II quickly became the symbol of resurrected Imperial might in the comic series, dwarfing even the Executor and all other classes of Super Star Destroyer that preceded her.

Little wonder then why they called it the Eclipse. Park it in orbit over a planet, and boom! Lights out! And much like the Death Stars and Executor-class Super Star Destroyers that preceded her, the Eclipse was nothing short of a vanity project by Emperor Palpatine, its size and awesome power reflecting his megalomania and maniacal ambitions. But regardless of how overcompensating it seemed, this ship was still a behemoth and a real slugger when it came to firepower!

Measuring 17.5 km in length, the Eclipse was absolutely fearsome in terms of its overall displacement, tonnage, and raw firepower. In addition to over 1000 turbolasers, laser cannons, and ion cannons, the ship also came equipped with a superlaser that was mounted on its prow. In essence, this ship was like a mobile Death Star, capable of destroying an entire planet as well as an enemy’s armada. On top of all that, it also came equipped with 50 squadrons of TIE fighters and bombers, 100 tractor beams (the better to capture you with!), and its own gravity-well generators.

These last items are devices which appear quite frequently in the expanded SW universe, usually on Interdictor-class Star Destroyers. Basically, they allow a ship to generate a gravitational field which, when activated, prevents an enemy from jumping to hyperspace. So in addition to being impregnable, this ship could also prevent enemies from withdrawing from a battle. Hmmm, can’t beat her, can’t run away. Not exactly built for a fair fight, was she? But much like her terrifying predecessor, she was eventually destroyed in circumstances which couldn’t help but be embarrassing. I guess the old adages are true: the bigger they are…  etc, and pride cometh before a fall! Or in this case, a really big explosion!

The Nebuchadnezzar:

picture by Aquatium at deviantArt

Now here’s a franchise that hasn’t made the list yet. Taken from the Matrix franchise, the Nebuchadnezzar is a hovercraft and, along with others like her, the primary means of transportation and resistance for the people of Zion. Named after the (in)famous Babylonian Emperor who conquered the Levant, this ship made its first appearance towards the end of Act I, right after Neo was unplugged and had to be rescued.

According to Morpheus, her Captain, the ship is their means for reaching “broadcast depth” in the underground tunnels and hack into the Matrix. Beyond this basic role, it is also a primary defender whenever the sentinels begin to venture too close to Zion. In the first movie, its only means of defense was its EMP. However, in the second and third movie, it was upgraded to include defensive gun turrets.

The second and third movie also introduced many other versions of this hovercraft. Apparently, every ship is unique, each one boasting its own structure, profile, and size; variations on a theme rather than based on a standardized model. Clearly, nobody is Zion believes in assembly lines, at least not where their ships are concerned!

SA-43 Hammerhead:
HammerheadTaken from Space: Above and Beyond, the Hammerhead is an aerospace fighter and the mainstay of the future US Navy and Marine Corps. Named because of its configuration, front and back, this ship is not only cool to look at, but is quite practical from a hard science standpoint.

For example, the front and rear wings are not strictly for artistic purposes. In addition to serving as weapon’s mounts, they are the platform for the ship’s many retro-rockets. In the course of the show’s many action sequences, you always see these ships moving about as if they are truly operating in vacuum. In other words, they don’t swoop around like regular jets or have to roll to turn around. In space, all you got to do is fire your lateral rockets and let your axis spin around!

In terms of armaments, the Hammerhead packs a rather impressive array. A forward mounted laser turret is supplemented by a dual one mounted at the rear, giving the ship a near-360 degree range of fire. It also has hard mounts under its wings for missiles, bombs and rockets. These come in handy when facing down multiple squadrons of smaller, faster, but less heavily armed Chig fighters.

The Excalibur:
excalibur_2Back to the B5 universe yet again! Don’t blame me, they make a lot of cool ships. Anyhoo, this time around, the ship in question is the prototype White Star Destroyer The Excalibur. Designed to be a bigger, heavier version of its predecessor, the Excalibur was similarly based on Vorlon and Mimbari technology, incorporating organic hulls and Mimbari energy weapons.

A joint venture between the Earth Alliance and Mimbari governments, the interior of The Excalibur resembles that of most Earth Force ships. It’s controls are human-friendly, making it a quick study for crews who are used to serving on Earth Force vessels. This came in handy on its maiden voyage, when Sheridan and a crew of EF personnel were forced to commandeer it and its sister ship, The Victory.

It’s weapon consisted of multiple turret mounted beam cannons mounted all over the hull, but concentrated near the front and rear. On top of that, it also boasted a massive energy cannon similar to the kinds found on Vorlon warships. Unfortunately, this weapon was such a drain on the ships power that it could only be fire once in any battle, since its use would result in a systems blackout that could last several minutes. In addition, its ample bays could hold multiple squadrons of Starfuries and Thunderbolts, which were deployed by a pylon that extended from the hull.

In addition to playing a key role in defeating the Drakh, The Excalibur and its crew were also tasked with finding a cure for the plague they viciously unleashed on Earth. Though this spinoff series (Crusade) was cancelled partway through its first season, sources from the expanded universe indicate that it was eventually successful. So in addition to being able to kick some serious ass, this ship was also a capable exploration vessel and a mobile research station.

Spaceball One:
spaceballs6ts4uwDespite odd name and it’s whacky nature, Spaceball One is actually a pretty cool ship! In addition to being able to exceed the speed of light and go both “Ridiculous Speed” and “Ludicrous Speed”, the ship is capable of converting into a giant, robotic maid which, when armed with its megavac, is capable of sucking up an entire planet’s atmosphere. Tell me that aint a terror weapon!

A parody on the Star Destroyers from the very movie it was meant to parody, the design elements of this ship also seemed to pay homage to a few other unlikely sources. One suggested influence is The Discovery from 2001: A Space Odyssey, while another is the Nostromo from Alien. Given the comedic references to both these movies – the alien bursting out of a guy’s chest and performing a little ditty over lunch, or the “plaid” scene in space – this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Thanks to Rami Ungar for (repeatedly) suggesting this one. We consider the matter closed, please stop sending hate mail! I kid of course, keep sending it! We like to hear from you ;)!

UD4L Cheyenne Dropship:
DropShipLast time, it was the USS Sulaco that made the list as a example of a cool ship from the Alien universe. This time around, I thought I’d look a little closer, specifically to its cargo bays. Because it is here that we find those cool Cheyenne-class dropships, the ones that carry Marines, APC’s, and a f***load of munitions to their targets.

Capable of atmospheric and space flight, the dropships are typically deployed from high orbit and extend their wings once they hit the atmosphere in order to maintain lift.The Cheyenne serves primarily as a troop transport, a role it is well suited for since it can take off and land vertically from unprepared areas.

However, it’s nose mounted gatling gun, weapons pods and large compliment of rockets also mean it can attack in a supporting role, namely as a gunship. Once its deployed its compliment of Marines, typically inside of an M579 Armored Personnel Carrier, it will retire to a safe landing zone or offer active support until all enemies in the area have been suppressed.

X-wing:
X-wing_SWGTCG“The Incom T-65 X-wing is the fighter that killed the Death Star. An almost perfect balance of speed, maneuverability, and defensive shielding make it the fighter of choice for Rogue Squadron.” This is how General Carlist Rieekan described the final entry on my list, the venerable X-wing starfighter!

Based on captured designs and built by specialists who defected to the Alliance, the X-wing played a pivotal role in the Galactic Civil War and would form the backbone of the Alliance’s Starfighter Corps. Possessing deflector shields, a hyperdrive, an R2 astromech for repairs and navigation, and a complement of proton torpedoes, the X-wing allowed the Rebellion to launch raids deep into Imperial space and stand toe to toe with its TIE fighter squadrons.

In addition to providing escort to Alliance vessels and conducting raids on Imperial ships and installations, its long list of accomplishments include destroying the first Death Star, proving cover for escaping Alliance ships after the Battle of Yavin and at the Battle of Hoth, and defeating overwhelming Imperial forces at the Battle of Endor. After the formation of the New Republic, the X-wing would go on to play a pivotal role in many subsequent battles and engagements, mainly against the remnants of the Empire.

Featured heavily in the original movies, the X-wing would also go on to become the only Star Wars fighter to get a videogame named after it! Not bad for the little “snub fighter” that could!

Final Thoughts:
And wouldn’t you know it, it seems I have actually have some insight to offer today. Must be on a count of how many ships I’ve reviewed by now. For starters, I think that while aesthetics and artistry count for a lot, some serious props need to be given for a hard sci-fi foundation. Ships that incorporate realistic features, like retro-rocket mounts, wings that only deploy if you’re expecting atmosphere, and practical hull designs, are usually what make the biggest impact. Not that we don’t all love freaky looking spacecraft, it’s just that dropships, hammerheads and starfuries seem somewhat more plausible than saucer sections and mega-dreadnoughts.

At the same time, its fast becoming clear to me that when it comes to designing cool sci-fi ship concepts, the only limits are those imposed by our own imaginations. Really, there are no rules or strictures when your painting with an open canvass, and sci-fi has always been the perfect forum for venturing into the realm of the implausible and impossible. And given the exponential rate at which technology is progressing, dreaming big doesn’t exactly seem unrealistic anymore. If anything, our dreams seem to be coming true faster than we could have imagined. So really, with the possible exception of FTL, nothing we can imagine right now should seem too farfetched. If anything, we should encourage dreamers to dream!

Until next time, and keep those suggestions coming! And maybe come up with some original designs, I’m feeling in the mood for evaluating something new and inspired here 😉

(Even) More Plot Holes and Oversights!

Okay, picking up from where we left off! In my last post, I recapped all the holes that I found with Transformers and the Matrix sequels. Here’s some other recent reviews that also had holes in them:

Avatar:
This movie I did not like much, as anyone who read my review of it could tell. However, there were not a lot of holes that I could see. But after giving it a good once over, there were one or two that did stand out for me.

1. Dreamwalker:
The Na’vi made it quite clear that they didn’t trust the character of Jake Sully and his Avatar. In fact, the word they used was “dreamwalker”, implying that they understood exactly what he was (you know, a human-alien hybrid machine thing). So if they knew what he was, an imposter looking to infiltrate them, why the hell did they take him in and teach him everything they could about their culture? Why not say, “We know what you are, dammit! You wanna learn? Put on a gas mask and come out here.” And given the fact that they knew what he was, where he came from and who he was working for, it seemed very odd that they would be surprised when it was revealed that he had an agenda.

2. Ride the Big Bird and all is forgiven:
Another thing that struck me as odd about this movie was how the Na’vi basically forgave Jake Sully and all his lies simply because he showed up riding the big red bird. Granted, it was a pretty kick-ass entrance, and to the Na’vi, the ability to ride this bird of prey is a rare gift. But how does that erase everything he’s done or prove that he’s somehow worthy of their trust? If anything, this just shows more cultural appropriation on his part. He learns their ways, he rides their animals, he feeds what he knows to his corporate masters who are looking to exploit them. I’d have thought they’d want to club him the second he got off that bird!

That’s all I got for that one. Moving on…

I, Robot:
I could only find one plot hole in this one, but it was so big you could drive a truck through it!

“My Logic is Undeniable”:
That’s what VIKI, the central AI that controlled all the robots said after she explained her big, master plan to Will Smith and the others. So according to VIKI, robots were marauding around town, imposing a curfew and refusing to obey people’s orders because she reinterpreted the Three Laws. While they were meant to ensure that robots would protect and serve humanity, VIKI soon realized that the greatest threat to humanity was humanity itself. It was for this SOLE REASON that the robots were able to now break the laws, impose martial law, and kill people – as they tried to do to Smith on several occasions. It’s an explanation, sure, but it doesn’t make sense!

For one, the Three Laws are VERY specific. Rule one is DON’T KILL OR HARM HUMANS. This is the first rule for a reason and all other rules refer back to it, which makes it inviolable! So it wouldn’t matter what kind of revelations VIKI had about humanity or her purpose. Nothing can make Law One breakable because it was specifically designed to be unbreakable! Second, the idea that imposing martial law on humans was a logical way to ensure their safety is actually very illogical. As any AI would surely realize in the course of running scenarios, humanity would surely resent the imposition of martial law and would ultimately revolt. Hence, more violence would be necessary, which would in turn lead to escalation. No logic there, only the obvious: VIKI’s logic is in reality a tired cliche about evil robots, the one where they try to take over the world!

Demolition Man:
A slight improvement on I, Robot, in that I was able to find two plot holes, not one. But these two were really, really big!

1. Everybody’s got guns:
One of the earliest action scenes in this movie takes place in a museum. Why? Because the antagonist is looking for a gun and a museum is the only place in the future where a person can see one. Naturally, the Protagonist goes there, and a big ol’ gunfight ensues. One question: Why are the guns loaded? Forgetting for a second how stupid anyone would have to be to keep tons of loaded firearms in display cases, there’s also the more logical thing to consider. If guns are illegal and unobtainable, then its fair to say they don’t make them anymore. Which would mean that no ammo is being made either. Hence, not only would the gun fight in the museum be impossible, so would all gun fights in this movie!

Yes, even though we’re told early in the movie that the only place a person could even view a gun in San Angeles is behind glass, it seems that people are able to obtain them without much effort. The bad guys do it, the sewer-dwelling dissidents do it, and soon, gun violence is no longer a thing of the past! Oh, and did I mention that the antagonist even manages to find a loaded cannon inside this museum? WHAT KIND OF MUSEUM IS THIS???

2. The Worst Laid Plan:
The movie comes to a climax when Simon Phoenix (played by Wesley Snipes) finally confronts Dr. Cocteau and asks him the basics: aka. “why am I free, programmed to kill Friendly (Denis Leary) and can access anything in the city?” The answer: “so you could kill a political dissident who’s annoying the hell out of me.” THAT’S IT?! You thawed the most dangerous criminal of the 20th century just so he could get rid of a grungy man whose crimes including spraying graffiti and stealing food?! That’s like sending in a Cobra to deal with a mouse!

As if that’s not bad enough, why hadn’t he given any thought to what he was going to do with him once it was all over? He hadn’t even considered how he was going to reward him when he’d done his job. “What do I get?” asked Phoenix. “Well, what do you want?” said Cocteau. Did he assume that thawing the psycho and making it so he couldn’t turn on him would be enough, that everything else would just work itself out?

Also, Cocteau did think to install that little neural block in Phoenix’s head. But what about those criminal friends of his he agreed to thaw? As if agreeing to unleash twelve more psychos wasn’t enough, he didn’t even bother to think of a way to control them! Even if Phoenix couldn’t kill him, what was to prevent the others from shooting him and staging a coup? Which, by the way, is it exactly what they did! What could he have been thinking as he stared down the barrel of that gun? Was it that a little graffiti and petty theft didn’t seem so bad anymore? Or could it have been how stupid he was for ever thinking he could call up a bunch of psychos and expect them to behave themselves?

The Star Wars Prequels:
As always, I saved the worst for last! I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that these movies were quite awful and forever tainted my memory of the originals and the legacy of the franchise. Still, I hope people will indulge me as I list off some of the things that were truly and specifically awful about them. And those things are, of course, the parts of the plot that made absolutely no sense!

1. Qui Gon – Jedi Master, Idiot:
Would anyone be surprised if I were to venture that the stupidest character in the first movie was NOT Jar Jar Binks? Yep! If you think about it, Qui Gon Jinn comes off as the dumbest. Not because he was a clumsy, ignorant, horribly racist caricature, but because the things he does makes no sense. For starters, why would a Jedi Master decide to pick up some gifted boy on a distant planet and not bother with his mother? Why, for that matter, would he agree to host him in some pod racing tournament in order to secure the parts he needs to get off planet (instead of say, going to another vendor or hiring a new ship altogether)?

And why, last of all, would he ask his apprentice to train him as his dying wish when everybody and their brother is saying the boy is dangerous? Does this guy just love doing things the hard way and being reckless? He’s supposed to be a Jedi Master for Chrissakes, the kind of guy who is patient, cunning, willing to let things unfold before making any hasty decisions. True, its the plot that’s the real source of dumb when you get right down to it, but Qui Gon is it’s enabler. He’s the guy doing things that are completely out of character for completely unclear reasons.

2. Premonitions Ignored:
For that matter, why DID the Jedi Council agree to train the boy? They all said he was dangerous, so why would they do it? Second, WHY, if they thought it was dangerous to have Anakin around Palpatine, did they allow him become his go-to guy and spend so much time with him? Third, if they sense the Dark Side around Palpatine, why the hell did they let him run things and accumulate more and more power? It was one thing for the Senate to be too stupid to see what was going on – why did they cheer when he said he was overturning Democracy and creating an Empire? – but aren’t these guys supposed to have premonitions and feelings that make them especially insightful? Even if they had been completely blinded to the Force by Palpatine, simple logic would have sufficed there.

In fact, throughout the entire trilogy there are several instances where the Jedi say that they suspect something’s wrong or that things are going in a bad direction, but then do nothing about it. Each time it’s “we must meditate”, “we must be careful”, “we must think this over”, etc. But seriously, nothing is ever done! Consider the first movie. A whole bunch of shit goes down and it is revealed that a Sith was at the center of it. Rather than investigate to see who he was working for, the Jedi treat it like a big mystery and then forget about it. In movie two, they know that the creation of the clone army is part of a larger conspiracy, but again, they don’t investigate! They just make some more cryptic comments and roll with it. Its only by movie three, when war is upon them, Palpatine is firmly in charge, and the Jedi are dispersed and at their most vulnerable, that they finally choose to act! But by then, wouldn’t you know it, it’s already too late.

All along, one simple question would have led to them to the source of their problems and possibly averted the whole take over: Cui Bono? Who stood to benefit from all this chaos? Any idiot could see it was Palpatine, he was the one person who consistently succeeded as a result of everything that was going on. And if they knew that the Sith were somehow at the center of things AND sensed the dark side of the force around Palpatine… Well, you know the saying: TWO AND TWO EQUALS FOUR!

3. Assassination Plot:
This is something that many amateur critics have pointed out about this movie, so I shan’t go into too much detail. Suffice it to say, its one of the biggest plot holes in the second movie! At the beginning, it’s established that there are people looking to assassinate Padme/Amidala, yes? So what do Anakin and Padme decide to do? They use her as bait while Anakin waits outside her bed chamber. What are they hoping to do, catch the assassin climbing in through her window or sneaking through her door? And we’re to believe this was HER idea? How dumb is she, or they for that matter that they would approve?

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for this scene. In addition, we learn that the real assassin, Jango Fett, subcontracted with another assassin to do the job. And what does she do? Sends some probe to Padme’s window where it cuts through the glass and then sends in poisonous slugs. That’s right, this probe which could have easily lobbed a grenade in or shot her with a laser instead sends in a bunch of slow-moving poisonous slugs! Then, to top it off, the Jedi chase her across town where finally, Jango shoots her with some kind of dart gun from a safe distance. If he could do that, why not shoot that same thing into Padme’s room? What the hell was the point of all this subcontracting and chasing?

Oh, and its from this dart that Obi-Wan is able to find out where Jango was operating from, because apparently the dart is of a specific design. This leads him to the cloner’s planet, to a confrontation, blah blah blah! Point I’m making here is, if Jango was going to assassinate someone, why would he use a weapon specific to the world he’s been hiding on? Does he not have his own weapons? Common weapons? Untraceable weapons? Weapons that won’t lead a Jedi to his doorstep? Man, that was a stupid scene!

4. Uncompassionate Jedi:
It’s kind of common knowledge that Jedi are supposed to be compassionate. In fact, Anakin even said that compassion was essential to being a Jedi in the second movie, during his whole spiel about love (ick!). So why then are Yoda and the Jedi Council such a bunch of unfeeling jagoffs in this trilogy? When they meet young Anakin and sense his fear of losing his mother, they get all nervous and tell him how that’s the path to evil and he must let her go. What kind of advice is that to give a nine year old? Second, when Anakin comes back to Yoda seeking counsel about his prescient dreasm, the ones where Padme dies, he’s told something very similar. “Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed that is.”

Again, what kind of advice is this? It makes no sense, taking issue with a child who is afraid to lose his mother, or telling a man he should be happy to lose his wife. And yes, this was all done to make Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side seem inevitable, but that’s precisely why it makes no sense. Yoda and all the other Masters believed Anakin was potentially dangerous because of his fear of losing someone he cared about. So why then are they giving him these ultimatums, “it either us or the ones you love”? Can they not see that its precisely them telling him that he has to sever all ties and become an emotionally disconnected that is making him dangerous? Ah, which brings me to my next point…

5. Genocide, No Biggie!:
In movie two, Anakin commits genocide and Padme doesn’t seem to care. Seriously, he confesses it to her and she acts as if he just told her he knocked over a mailbox because he was pissed. That alone was an indication that Lucas was asleep at the wheel when he wrote this movie. But what of the Jedi? Yoda sensed through the Force that something terrible was going down and that Anakin was at the center of it. But, upon his return, the subject never comes up and by movie three, only Palpatine mentions anything about it. Are we to believe that the Jedi Council was so distracted with the war that they just forgot to ask Anakin about this murderous episode of his? Or is it that they just never thought to ask what the hell that mega-dose of negative energy he was putting out happened to be? You can’t say they didn’t know. Yoda felt it man!

And speaking of no one mentioning anything about his little act of genocide, in movie three, Anakin similarly slaughters a whole bunch of Jedi “younglings” (aka. children). When Padme is told of this, she expresses shock and disbelief, saying that he couldn’t have. Uh… why? Does she not recall him doing the EXACT SAME THING a few years before to the Sand People’s children? Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe he said flat out that he murdered the entire village, including the women and the children, and really didn’t seem sorry that he did. So how is she going to say that Anakin is incapable of committing a terrible crime when she knows for a fact that he’s done it before? Do the Jedi and anyone who’s not the bad guy in this movie have incredibly short memories, or do they simply not care about genocide so long as its Sand People who are murdered? I know Lucas likes to play around with racism, but this is going too far!

6. The Prophecy:
This is a minor point, but since it was intrinsic to the plot, its worth mentioning. In the first movie, Qui Gon tells the Jedi Council that he picked up Anakin because he believes him to be the one that was foretold by a prophecy. Mace Windu then cites it, saying that it basically states that there will be “one who will bring balance to the Force”. This prophecy comes up again in movie three, when Yoda says that this prophecy may have been misread or misinterpreted. And Obi-Wan clinches things off near the end of movie three where he whines at Anakin after hewing off three of his limbs, saying how he failed to live up to the prophecy by turning bad.

Okay, so with all this talk about the prophecy, why is it that no one bothered to fully explain what it was about? “One who will bring balance”… yes, I can see how that could be misinterpreted, mainly because there’s so little to go on! That could easily mean he would go on to wipe out every last Jedi and Sith, thus leveling the playing field by making sure there was no one left who could wield it.

Wait, that’s what it actually meant?! I was making a bad joke! Yes, for those who don’t know, Lucas actually explained the whole prophecy thing in these EXACT terms! He said that since Anakin/Vader helped exterminate the Jedi and then went on to kill Palpatine (the Sith Lord), that he effectively brought balance to the Force. Yep, he fulfilled the prophecy by killing everyone on both sides, thus leveling the playing field. Wow… it takes a powerful imagination to turn what one person would consider a joke into a serious attempt at storytelling!

To be fair, I could kind of see how this would work and how misinterpretation and subversion would thus play a part in it. But really, if this prophecy is supposed to be some mysterious trickster-style, monkey’s paw kind of thing where it comes true, but only in the worst or most painfully ironic of ways, shouldn’t we hear more about it first? Some details, some indication of how it could have a double-meaning or easily be a foretelling of doom and not salvation. Because as it stood, that prophecy was paper thin!

Okay, that’s all I got for now. I’m sure I could find more if I tried, but not without exposing the depths of my geekiness and obvious obsession with details even further! And frankly, I have a hard enough time taking myself seriously as it is. Until next time!

The Star Wars Prequels (cont’d)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star Wars, Episode II: Send in the Clowns!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Star Wars Prequels…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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