A Certain Point of View : What We Talk About When We Talk About STAR WARS

A long time ago...
I was born. February 14, 1983, to the day; so, roughly 3 months before Return of the Jedi rope-swung into theaters. I'd just shown up & was already way behind.
By the time I had my existential awareness about me, all 3 movies were available for home viewing: whether on the VCR my parents bought with an honest-to-god bank loan, or on HBO - the TV station that single-handedly gave me some of my earliest memories of life.
I don't remember sitting with A New Hope too much -- it just wasn't in the air the way the other 2 were in the mid 1980s. But Empire Strikes Back & ROTJ were heavy in the far-reaching rotation of movies that were always in the background - and foreground - of the early years.

And I'm not entirely sure, but the movies didn't so much stand out of that crowd, as much as fit right in. It's either a sad or a complimentary example of irony, but the bulk of the mainstream Hollywood fair that fed my head as a child were largely influenced by Star Wars itself - ANH especially. And so, by that time, E.T. was as cute as Yoda, Indiana Jones was as cool as Han Solo, and Starman seemed to have stronger powers than Darth Vader. This didn't diminish the movies in any respect - they just didn't have the same punch as they would to the generation immediately before mine.

But that's not what this is about - I promise. If you're looking for: an analysis of the relevance of the
films in our culture, a list of the old stories & films & serials they derived from, and/or the reaction of the fans to each rung in the ladder, then you needn't look far, but you need look farther than right here, right now. 'Cause I'm bored with that shit. Aren't you bored with that shit? Especially now, when a new one comes out every year, and every geek needs to take a step back & reflect on where we're at and where we should be. Problem is we've taken so many steps back that we're just looking at a fucking dot at this point.

But that's the intention - to not look at it from afar, as though it were two simultaneously setting sunsets, but to go back through the thick of it, like the trenches of a space station the size of a small moon. Because, to briefly explore that very vein which I have just pledged that I wouldn't: with the disadvantage of what are apparently known as 'Fanboys' (which is a pretty weak label when you hold it up next to 'Trekkies') poised over their light-up phones illuminating their open mouths, they -- they -- are and have been ruining what they claim George Lucas, Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, Rian Johnson et al. have ruined for them. Not unlike what the religious freaks do for religion: creating perversely shortsighted laws in the absence of fully understanding it themselves, and turning off anyone and everyone who's not in the know. As someone who can talk at some length about Ackbar and Lobot as well as Dex Jettser and Elan Sleazebaggano, I'd always thought I was a more-than-casual fan. And I'll continue to believe that -- what the 'Boys are doing is basically something I could never subscribe to: falling under the spell that the art of others becomes my own personal property. The films' true owners can sell it off at Toys R' Us for $9.95 or sell it off to Disney for $4+ billion, but what they did with it, have done to it, are doing to it, and will do it is a path I have followed, not formed. And I'm just fine with going to Toys R' Us.

The garbage'll do! (Merchandise)
Competing with all the other movies of my youth, physical stuff always helped keep SW afloat even as it aged - in part because it didn't stop, even in the 16 year gap between ROTJ and Phantom Menace. For as long as I've been alive, every toy store has had a Star Wars section. Let that marinate some.

Courtesy of my Great Aunt Olly, I had a loose handful of the crude Kenner action figures from '83, the ROTJ carrying case shaped like Vader, and the not-that-impressive ceramic Vader lamp that barely seemed licensed. Never a toy player as much as a toy displayer, these items bounced in & outta my closet over the years, coinciding with various phases. But to reiterate, this stuff was none too pretty to look at.

What was always present at arm's length were the clunky picture books that sparsely told the story of each film. I revisited these more than the movies - becoming more and more enamored with particular sets, characters, weapons, and costumes. These books, though aimed at someone much younger than I at the time, may've very well informed whatever unique take I have on the movies themselves.

Apart from buying a few MicroMachines around the time of the theatrical rereleases in 1997, the merch stayed pretty dry for me. And without getting too much into it (yet), the possibility of Episode I igniting any toy interest simply wasn't going to happen. But, it was indeed a prequel that sent me into an exciting obsession for a little while.

In the early months of 2005 with Revenge of the Sith looming dark in the clouded future, I experienced the startling revelation that the original movies were not part of my fresh and ridiculously vast DVD collection. I figured since this would be the film that most closely bled into the originals, thus finally, though however mildly, creating that satisfying illusion that this one large story is ::sigh:: seamless, I might as well get a refresher as to why I've been anxiously going to the theater to see these turkeys. Now in my early 20s, and watching them with an eye for Easter eggs as well as broad references, Episodes IV, V, and VI now seemed differently nuanced - like puzzle pieces. This led to the actual purchase of the two other prequels on disc. And the rewatching of them. And from there, the next logical question was: what else can I buy?

It's convenient, yes, but more than that, it's sometimes absolute bliss to be into something that's popular. To like a band that's still together, to read an author who still writes, it creates a large intangible camaraderie within the species. But, so much more than that, it's the availability of the shit. It wasn't like it is now; in the reign of Lucas, the merchandise Empire was exactly that, and I lived prosperously under its rule. I'd converted to Burger King for the first time in my life because they were giving out ROTS toys. I became a member of starwars.com. And, more than ever, I experienced the full power of eBay. Sith was still months away...
When it was released that May, it was like a warm bath: the true power of all sequels, prequels, reboots & remakes. Familiarity. It carried over the clunkiness of the prequels I had just familiarized myself with, and promised the smoothness of the Original Trilogy I had just refamiliarized myself with. Good or bad, it didn't effect (for the rest of that year, at least) my lust for paraphernalia.

But like all lust, it faded. After how much plastic and how many tattoos, one eventually wants to settle down & commit. Focus on that one special thing (or two or three). At some point in 2006 I sold it all - all - & with that money bought one perfect monumental statue to commemorate my love of Star Wars, toys, Star Wars toys, and my favorite character.

Scum and villainy (Top 10 Characters)
To clarify, the characters I've responded to and that fascinate me were, and are, incidentally the ones in the margins. To make a 'list,' well... pfffft. Go look to Entertainment Weekly for that one - you don't need another blogger to let you know that Darth Vader is, indeed, cool.
These folks all earned their fifteen minutes (or usually seconds) with their look, vibe, backstory, and what they did (or did't) do.

10. Kit Fisto
A Jedi Knight who managed to survive the Clone Wars, only to be struck down by Darth Sidious himself. Edging out Aayla Secura, the only other Jedi I'm aware of who actually coordinated their lightsaber with their race.

9. Oola
Mostly out of sympathy - a captive of Jabba the Hutt who meets a horrible end with a Rancor. I may've been the only little boy who thought her wardrobe nearly rivaled the one Jabba forced Leia into. The internet has yet to tell me otherwise.

8. Elite Praetorian Guards
Over the years, we've seen the Jedi and the Sith go up against many who were neither. Never before have they seemed so closely matched. These guys provided an entire installment with one of its best scenes.

7. R5-D4
Our introduction to the notion that there's a Yang to the Yin of R2-D2 -- moreover that droids come in all shapes and colors. R5 was dirtier and had a cooler color scheme. Some say fate stepped in - others say R2 sabotaged it on the ride over. Either way, its sacrifice allowed the saga to continue.

6. Tusken Raiders
Monsters/thieves/possible religious zealots. Natives to Tatooine, thus justifying the havoc they wreak on any and everyone else. They're also charmingly low-tech: they use clubs and rifles. Bottom line is they look badass and scary as all hell.

5. Tion Medon
In a sewer of half-assed CGI people, places, movements, everything, a character in real makeup and prosthetics is fresh air in the Prequel Trilogy. The fact that it's also a bang-up job helps cement the character as memorable and worthy of canon. Though a friend to the Republic, he looked & talked like a technicolor Cenobite.

4. Zam Wesell
Never a fan of the bounty hunters, but Zam had a lot of the neatness the others were lacking -- competence, for one... She also provided one of the better & more exciting sequences in the most boring installment.

3. Greedo
What made poor Greedo so cool - hard to pinpoint, it is. That he should've had the drop on Han? The casual alien interaction, complete with two separate languages? The 1970s jumpsuit? Or, is it just the idea that a green creature with giant eyes and a laser gun is, at its core, why these movies are important? He's tattooed on my right forearm.

2. Bib Fortuna
Speaking of bang-up makeup jobs - Bib was one of the scariest movie monsters to my young self, right up there with Freddy and the Library Ghost. He didn't have to do anything, he just looked cool - all the Twi'leks look cool.
Just for fun: Bib was portrayed by Michael Carter, who also played the pedestrian terrorized in the tubes of An American Werewolf in London.

1. Emperor's Royal Guards
Fans clamor over Boba Fett for his mystique and quietly menacing presence. My fascination for these dudes should then be relatable.
The terrifying beauty of the head-to-toe blood-red robes and helmets that had even less personality than Vader were all part of this overwhelming sense that these guys don't fuck around. Besides, their task is to protect the one guy who can protect himself better than anyone else in the galaxy.
They have their own Expanded Universe series, Crimson Empire. I've purposefully never sought this out, remaining comfortable in my own perspective of their silent threat.
A Royal Guard statue from Gentle Giant Studios is one of the few & most expensive pieces of SW memorabilia I currently own.

Keep your concentration here and now (Top 10 Moments)
While not all represented in the following, all of them had their set pieces. Most of them worked, some of them didn't. In fact, I've always felt that ever since Luke & Leia gave chase to a couple of Scout Troopers through the Forest Moon of Endor, most of the 'action sequences' have felt, for lack of an unintentionally punny word, forced.
But it's ok. Considering that, now, more than half of them are not Original Trilogy, exactly what blueprint are we following? What are our expectations? I know what mine are, and for (some of) the most part, they come through.
I will always openly and gladly admit that the series has its share of subtle nuance, quiet moments, moving performances, and rich subtext. And that in & of itself is its own list (which would consist almost entirely of Mark Hamill performances, ROTJ especially). In fact, I've written about one of those very instances as part of the That Moment series.
But these are the biggest moments, the loudest & most colorful moments. Because it's easy & the most fun (= Star Wars). And frankly, whenever someone mentions Episode this or that, these are the big loud colors that leap into my mind.

10. "This party's over."
Episode II
It could be fair to say that, throughout the PT, whenever something interesting or original appeared on the screen, it was that much more exciting after sitting through whatever dry flakiness they had to offer. That aside, this jiffy of a pop in Attack of the Clones showcases the Jedi doing something they hadn't done in the span of nearly two films: something. What ensues is a literal laser light show ignited by a gangbang of lightsabers. It doesn't last long & its laced with slapstick & clumsy dialogue, but it's like nothing else in any of the other films.

9. Han shoots first. And second, and third, and fourth.
Episode V
The briefest moment on the list, but there's a lot to talk about. Empire Strikes Back is known as 'the second act,' the 'downer,' the 'turning point,' and the best. All of the above might as well stem from this short scene, which packs more surprises than the film's other plot twist.
First, to see Vader out of his natural surroundings, at the head of a dinner table like a Bond villain, actually managed to give him an added dimension (as antiquated as 007 baddies may be). Also, not since the first moments of ANH aboard Tantive IV had we seen him in such a well-lit contrasting setting.
And speaking of added dimension, we're immediately given the answer to the question, "What would Han Solo do in the presence of Darth Vader?" Easy - immediately blow him away. The giddy shock and awe of his knee-jerk reaction secures his role as a galactic gunslinger better than all the swagger & banter leading up to this point.
And then, not to be outdone, we're immediately given the answer to the question, "Could one simply shoot Darth Vader?" The answer was very much no. And in that moment we realize: everything's fucked & apparently there's no way to make it better. That's my favorite kinda storytelling.

8. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.
Rogue One
ESB gave us our first taste of the extent of Vader's power, as well as his overall mood: force choking everyone, throwing around huge objects with his mind, impervious to blasters, kicking ass & taking limbs. But otherwise, stoic. Reserved, even - unless need be otherwise.
Cut to 2016, when we learn just how badly he wanted to know what happened to those plans...
Not since he put on the mask had we seen him so angry, which, let's face it, is a huge moment for Star Wars, and, for one of the most famous antagonists of all fiction, a monumental occasion in the history of cinema. Even the fanboys can't argue this one.

7. Yub-Nub no more.
Episode VI
This one causes a bit of friction. But I'm not alone--I don't think.
I don't hate Ewoks - I've just always seen them as a minus rather than a plus. What I did hate was the weak ending to the film & their "contribution" to it.
As the final page in the (once) final chapter of a (once) six episode series is turned, our principal characters, who we've come to know & love, celebrate alongside an entire race of beings we don't really know or love. More than that, in a franchise that's built on 'big, loud, and colorful,' we're merely left to imagine what the restoration of peace in our favorite far, far away galaxy might be like. More than that, the local music sucks.

When George Lucas went back to "fix" his films, I didn't mind. I still don't - I like most of the new additions. So? It may cost me readers and years of marital strife; but could it be that this also allowed John Williams to go back and perhaps "fix" something?
In the 1997 Special Edition, "Ewok Celebration" is replaced with "Victory Celebration," and all is right with the universe: as of 2004, Naboo and Coruscant are revisited, appropriately, and the Anakin Skywalker we've come to mildly tolerate punctuates the entire saga.
I champion this entire sequence, all of it - not because changes were made & the silly song got axed, but because I'm genuinely moved by the upgrade in the score, the all-inclusive festivities, and the visual component that Hayden Christensen provides as closure in the narrative. No apologies.

6. The Senate is dismantled.
Episode III
The prequels came with implied guarantees regarding the stuff we were gonna get to see; it was the only thing that kept them just above water. And how foolish were we that we didn't want or need any kinda surprises or deviation from what we expected? We got what we deserved & then some.
Exhibit A: fans had been waiting nearly 30 years to watch Anakin & Obi-Wan go head to head. And with minutes to spare, ROTS jammed it in there good. But something that was far less expected & much more welcome was the simultaneous duel between Yoda and the Emperor - two previously separate entities, both with serious gravitas, who we were never even aware had crossed swords.
And so they do: never before or since will you see the two most 'powerful' characters try to strike the other down, because that was it -- it was them. The scene carries a lotta weight in terms of plot crap,  but really it's just well choreographed action, and it's one of the (surprisingly) more clever moments in the PT. Clever to get them together, and clever to use the Galactic Senate as a setting...
Nearly coinciding with Palpatine's rise to power and the disfiguration of Darth Vader, the large, cold, CGI room is trashed, destroyed, as though the dark forces of IV, V, and VI are decimating this one horrible monument to the 3, laughably bureaucratic prequels.
Could be symbolic. I choose to take it as such.

5. Duel of the Fates
Episode I
Just keep your eyes on the prize: we needn't talk about anything other than this - the extraordinary lightsaber duel - right now.
We'll never forget Maul & this is why. Perhaps the most graceful and exhilarating fight in the entire saga; it's what drew us into this one & the potential of something else this cool further down the line is what got us to come back to the next one. The reveal of a double-bladed lightsaber, the cue of John Williams' new theme song, and the multicolored acrobatics... It wasn't just the best thing in the movie, it was the only thing.

4. War!
Episode III
Dialogue and performance weren't exactly the strongest suits of the Prequel Trilogy. ROTS knew this, and kicks off with more sustained thrills, a larger scale, and much more promptly than any other installment--PT or OT. The first 15 minutes have high marks, but the opening reveal of an upper atmosphere battle with seemingly hundreds of ships was just one of those things we didn't know we needed until we got it.

3. A New Hope. Almost.
Episode VIII
We may soon forget Snoke, but long will be the time before we forget his throne room. And the events that transpired there.
We haven't been treated to set design this bold or innovative since ESB (or Susprira for that matter). And as a lifelong fan of Imperial Guards, I was completely satisfied with the upgrade; these guys worked as well as, say, Secret of the Ooze's Super Shredder (which worked rather well).
And even though all the revelations within this scene have already happened several times in some fashion in most every previous installment, it's still a whammy. In part, perhaps, because we've never seen it played out quite like this: with slightly sharper dialogue and an extra helping of performance intensity.

2. "I know."
Episode V
Speaking of dazzling set design... Well, that's part of it. Han's guarded sentiment is part of it. The crazy ass cinematography, consisting of blue and orange light and billows of steam is a big part of it. But on its most primal level, which is what reached me as kid and still does, is the chilling and alarming clash of score and sound design that sends you sliding off the edge of your seat. John Williams' "Imperial March" baked into the industrial cranking and whirring of a giant metal claw descending into the carbonite chamber as Lord Vader stares blankly into the mist is more gothic and potent that most anything in the horror genre.

1. Luke goes dark.
Episode VI
What would it be like if Luke had turned to the dark side? Well, he kinda did for a second there, and the same thing happened that happens every time someone turns: he kicks ass.
All that aside, what this & apparently a lotta these scenes often come down to is the contribution of its musical composer. This is the best & most dramatic scene in ROTJ (which by default makes it such in the scope of the entire series) but more than that, this is best piece of music Williams contributed these films. Titled "The Final Duel," the name carries all the might and main it implies, both thematically and actually. It's subtle and haunting, even though it underscores all those big, loud colors. There are tones and moods similar to this throughout the movies (and it's why they work), but it never worked this good.

What gives a Jedi his power (What makes it cool)
To keep everything up to speed: I'm no Lord of the Rings fan. Nor do I really care for Harry Potter. Or The Matrix. No Hunger Games, X-Files, Dr. WhoWalking Dead, Buffy, or Battlestar Galactica either. Star Trek is bland. Marvel is white noise. Game of Thrones is NyQuil. As far as Geek Enterprises go, Star Wars, for me, has really only ever been it.
The easy answer (because everyone loves those) is that SW is: broad, universal, easy to follow. I've never argued against any of this. It always feels icky to side with Lucas, but he's always referred to them as 'popcorn movies.' And before we overanalyze what that means, the easiest definition (because everyone loves those) is 'films that appeal to a mass audience.' They're bubblegum pop song pornography; they're as important as McDonald's (which is goddamned important).
I didn't exactly intellectualize them this way when I as 4, so before we start getting too pompous, let us look at some of the broader, more universal, easier to follow attributes of this space opera.

10. Strength in storytelling
There's a difference between 'easy to follow' and artistic abstraction & a sense of mystery; the best installments pulled off both. (Logically speaking, the worst ones did not.) In fact, if we all feel like gettin' sassy, you can draw straight parallels from a 'balance in the force' to the secret formula of a decent Star Wars movie: it's always in flux and we're always hoping for the best.

9. Sound design
Any of us can peel off a list of films with great sound design. But how many of those films are packed with sounds unique only to that film, aaaaaaand are forever immediately recognizable as being such. These films were never not a collaborative achievement, but this army definitely had high ranking officers; Ben Burtt will forever be one of the Generals.

8. Costumes
Not unlike the sound design - I suppose it comes with the task or creating an entire fictional world. And also like the sounds, while everything is unique, it's also crazy, crackerjack, top notch. Sure, it steals from everything before it, but now everything steals from Star Wars.

7. Continuity
Nowadays everyone loves an origin story. A prequel. A spinoff. A reboot. Anything, as long as it somehow relates to something we already love & identify with. Familiarity. Everyone loves to be part of an inside joke - to get the 'references' as it were.
So very few films have been told in this serial fashion that weren't initially based on books or some other medium. People in the horror community still squabble about the finer inconsistencies in the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street series, as though the filmmakers had the same attention, and intention, as the makers of a SW movie.
Even for me, one of the greatest joys of watching the films is processing them as part of the larger story, surrounding them and binding them.

6. The 1970s
In fact, the continuity is so sharp, that in that particular galaxy during that particular time period, a lotta clothes, hairstyles, and set design were kinda like the 1970s here on the Earth System. It's been a refreshing signpost in each installment to make sure, somehow, we stay within that funky realm.
Frederic Raphael, the screenwriter for Eyes Wide Shut, criticized the decor of A Clockwork Orange for "anchor(ing) the movie in a period in which it was never intended to take place." Anyone who's read my commendation of The Wizard back in '09 is fully aware - agree or not - that a 'dated' film is an achievement in and of itself. God forbid if they'd try to make more films look like 1977...

5. Conceptual design
Hard to imagine Star Wars in your mind without... seeing it. Fortunate for us, Ralph McQuarrie saw it first. And even more fortunate was the fact that the transition from paper to film was (nearly) always uninterrupted - so much so that one could barely call it 'concept,' but rather 'scripture.'

4. The opening
We've been completely spoiled by this; after 40 years, 8 1/2 films (so far), and thousands of copycats & homages, it's tough to objectively appreciate what really has to be the greatest title card sequence ever conceived. It's more than enough to impress even a non-fan; you could replace the words "STAR WARS" with "FUCKING CINEMA" simply as a literal translation.
John Williams had a hand in that too.

3. The Score
What do you say about John Williams in his prime? (Granted, a prime that went on for a couple decades.)
I haven't given enough credit to Lucas throughout, who imagined his sci fi fantasy with a traditional, dramatic score over electronic sounds. That aside, I don't think it's entirely unfair to say that, what John Williams delivered was, sometimes, too good for the movies they permeated...

2. The lightsaber
Finally. Let's cut through all the pretentious bantha fodder & get right down to the hunky dory. More than the Tin Man's heart, Rod Taylor's time machine, Batman's utility belt, or Egon's PKE meter, I want a lightsaber. Luke's from ROTJ to be exact. And you want one too. And then we can have a laser sword fight in my backyard.

1. Darth Vader
The whole point of this list was to call attention to what was lacking from all the other nerd juggernauts of contemporary culture. And for sure, none of them have Darth Vader. In fact, most of the Star Wars movies don't have Darth Vader, and they suffer from it.
One of the greatest designs of the 20th century, in any medium (cars, art, appliances, fashion, etc.), he's the symbol of a multibillion dollar film franchise, a symbol of film itself, an icon of fear and evil as much as conflict and redemption, a branding logo as simple as the smiley face and as imposing as a skull & crossbones. More than Sgt. Pepper or the Golden Arches, he is the global symbol for Pop. All hail Lord Vader.

A boring conversation anyway (The Films)
Apparently they made some movies about this business.
I watched them all again, very recently, in the chronology in which they take place (I-III, Rogue One, IV-VIII), which is how I've always believed it should be done. And every time I test that belief, I find that I am challenged by it. It's never easy to be objective with something you know so intimately, but that's the joy - for me - of rewatching them. That, plus I need to be secure in this belief system if I'm going to show these to a child of my own. This is something I'll only get one shot at, and while it does present some problems, I feel, at the very least, it's a lesson in proper arithmetic. And Roman Numerals.

Up until very recently, I'd always thought Ep. II was the worst entry. I was wrong.
I, like most, will always remember it as being bad; a poor film compounded by disappointment. It isn't until I'm sitting there watching do I truly remember why I look back upon it that way. I'm often conflicted with the idea that, perhaps, my initial miscalculation of its potential is clouding my judgement. But, after this much time, at this age, when I've long passed the 'acceptance' stage of grief, I can see it for what it truly is.
The convoluted premise, the bizarre performances, the cardboard sets, the overall joylessness not only can't compare to, say, A New Hope (which is what everyone compared it to upon its release), but it's like nearly no other movie ever made. It's Ed Wood doing Jodorowsky, or Tommy Wiseau doing Michael Bay. And while there is not a single scene that doesn't feel unfinished, it always seems just out of reach of repair - as though the true "phantom menace" is the promise of better, real films down the line. It's a 2hr. 15 minute preface, nothing more.

Strong with this one: There is that lightsaber duel - even though it carries no emotional weight or narrative urgency - that makes the biggest promise of a brighter future.
Liam, as embarrassed as he sometimes seems, pulls off the quiet dignity of a Jedi more convincingly than, say, Sam Jackson.
The pod race is a marvel of editing and sound design and deserved a better movie wrapped around it.
Bad feeling about this: Like the entire film itself, we always remember Jar Jar as an aberration, but it's when you're actually watching it do you understand why.
The animation gets cheaper and even more intrusive with age, the pace is confusingly stammered, and the plot, well... It took two more prequels plus some outside reading to fully understand this C-SPAN nonsense. And once I finally figured out the all the back dealing and inner workings between the Trade Federation, the Separatists, and the Republic, I didn't care. D+

I will say, after Phantom Menace, the gentle hum of this snooze button seems that much less invasive.
The most upsetting thing about this one is that, unlike PM, everything that takes place actually is important. In fact, this should've been the weightiest one in the entire series: Anakin's gradual drift into the dark side, the discovery of the Clone Army, the declaration of the Clone Wars, and the union of Luke & Leia's parents. All watered down and sanitized into some Tom Clancy/Nicholas Sparks/Michael Crichton mutant of a children's book.

Strong with this one: Christopher Lee, while not the coolest looking Sith Lord, certainly brought much needed character and thunder to the table.
Jango Fett, with his ropes & rockets & seismic charges was cool for a second. And like most villains, underwritten & underused.
Less Jar Jar, less bureaucracy, less kids, less slapstick. Less, apparently, was a little bit more.
Bad feeling about this: I don't really know Hayden Christensen from anything else. But I will say that Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Samuel L. Jackson are all terrific actors, and they all sucked in this. So, in what direction do we point that finger? C-

I still compare it to Freddy vs. Jason; I was just so pleased that it wasn't entirely disastrous. But, still, even a casual fan with no knowledge of filmmaking could've concocted something a bit more worthy. This was the turning point; when our childhood met up with our adulthood. Like puberty x 10. After all, if Empire Strikes Back was the Empire Strikes Back of the OT, then Revenge of the Sith is the Empire Strikes Back of the entire saga. You dig?
But this is fine. This is, for once, an adequate first draft of a prequel to Star Wars. Most - most - of the set pieces work, but the holes in between are like chasms of despair that keep you mindful of your surroundings.

Strong with this one: Ian McDiarmid, who excelled in all the films, is utilized to the height of his ability, playing off his new monster makeup. And more than that, actually given some interesting dialogue (supposedly courtesy of Tom Stoppard) regarding some early backstory of the Sith. Miraculously, it was compelling and informative: two huge standard ingredients of the PT that were absent.
Ewan began to shine just in time, and the gravity of Anakin's turn/Order 66/the formation of the Empire was distinct and appropriately dramatic.
Bad feeling about this: Everything's still clunky and one-dimensional - that wasn't going anywhere.
Anakin's discovery that Palpatine is a Sith Lord has the intensity of a high school play -- as does the death of Padme.
General Grievous, who was supposed to be cool, is given yet another made-up accent in the tradition of all the other PT nonhumans (Watto, the Gunguns, Nute Gunray and Rune Haako), leaving him to sound like Yakov Smirnoff with emphysema.
The exceptional reveal of Anakin's transformation from man to machine will forever be undercut by his now infamous cry of "Nooooooooo!" B

As the prequels got progressively darker, this is a remarkable punctuation mark on the end of one series and a capital letter to start the next. Better put: the division of the slapstick silliness of the PT and the lighthearted banter silliness of the OT plays well with an intermission of some adult fare.
Gareth Edwards not only showed us what Star Wars is capable of being (whether that's what it needs or not) but he also crafted one of the better war movies to come along since Saving Private Ryan.
Gritty, handheld, realistic; these are the words that pop up in most every review of Rogue One - and that's fair. The remarkable thing is that: it's bold enough to make that choice & get it past the naysayers, but to execute in a believable, traditional, stylish way, that's where the bravura comes in.
Gone (for a moment) are the candy corn crayon drawings and Robin Hood confrontations -- now are seamless Star Destroyers and explosions and alien creatures and Peter Cushings in a real life war torn galaxy, finally showing us exactly what living under the Imperial regime is like, rather than just hearing about it.

Strong with this one: Masterful CGI is possible - or getting there at least. It's just being used so rarely, or, it's being used by amateurs. Nevertheless, they've done good here, and a better or more deserving place there is not.
Alan Tudyk as K-2SO is perhaps the least irritating droid in all the films. And maybe the coolest-looking.
Bad feeling about this: The drastic tone change is a way to go, but maybe not the way to go. It works as a film separate from the rest, which is good, because - that's what it is.
Too many characters. So many, in fact, that I didn't care to learn most of their names. Hell, I was even able to remember "Qui-Gon Jinn" for Christ's sake.
Additionally, some decent performances may've suffered due to the spillover of heroes & never enough villains (Ben Mendelsohn in particular). A-

The standalone story that started it all is still riveting for many reasons, including that very one: it doesn't rely on the help or knowledge of any other movie other than itself. Even the best of the best - Empire included - can't boast that attribute.
Because of its deliberate pace and connect-the-dots storytelling, each character and location and conversation and set piece is that much more effective and visceral and memorable. Watching it, it's very easy to see how & why it made such an impact. Sometimes cited for lowering the brow of cinema as a whole, by today's standards re. Star Wars movies or any kinda movies, it should be lauded for its simplicity and grace.

Strong with this one: Though it may be the "first," the events that come to pass fall right in line with the overall scope of the story.
Obi-Wan elegantly provides the exposition we need (even with the advantage of the prequels), which is actually exquisite screenwriting (+ the help of Sir Alec). And within that overall scope, we get a handful of principal characters unlike anyone we've been introduced to yet, and not only are they heads and tails above the rest, they're cinematic icons.
Bad feeling about this: Vader and Obi-Wan's showdown is a little stiff (even without the advantage of the prequels). And for the massive fuckaround that was the Special Editions, no one bothered to smooth over those plastic lightsabers?
For all its quiet pacing and character development, it does run a little dry in spots. Surprisingly, the weaker areas are some of the action sequences! How backwards is that -- never had or will a Star Wars film cause me to go, "I wish they'd get back to the dialogue..." B+

It's true: perhaps Star Wars wasn't the new textbook on how to make films. But, maybe for all time, The Empire Strikes Back is the classic exemplar on how to make a sequel.
Darth Vader, who was supposed to be scary, suddenly was. Lightsabers, which were supposed to be lethal weapons, suddenly were. This outer space arcade game suddenly became a war among the stars. And that's how it packs its punch; the stakes were as high as they could get, and our squeaky clean, untouchable superheroes fall, real hard. Welcome to the 80s.

Strong with this one: What else is there to say? If for nothing else, this is the first time the most important protagonist in the story actually interacts with the most important antagonist. The result is, at the very least, memorable.
Bad feeling about this: The middle does sag. Luke's 'Jedi training' which consists largely of some light jogging, and Han & Leia's extended getaway chase sorta serves as a thin bridge between the stronger first and third acts. Notwithstanding, A+

The Grand Finale now serves merely as the end of an era. But, an important era.
Always a bit underrated in terms of anything I've ever heard or read. The first act alone is better than that of any of all the films, and the juxtaposition of the forest moon and the gothic space station gives it a far-reaching range.
What it all boils down to is getting Anakin Skywalker alone in a room with his master and his son. It had an emotional poignancy in 1983, and way, way more so following the prequels. In either scenario, even without any level of magnitude, it's acted out like a well rehearsed play, mixed with a well choreographed dance recital.

Strong with this one: The now supposedly evenly matched Jedi vs. Sith was to make for an exciting rematch. This was also, once upon a time, the first time we got to meet the elusive Jabba, who, along with his palace of kooky creatures, did not disappoint.
Unlike anything in, say, Attack of the Clones, the exceptionally crucial moments towards the end actually convey the sentiment and significance that they should.
Bad feeling about this: Had the Ewoks been Wookies like originally intended, the whole idea of sticks and stones taking down the technologically advanced Empire wouldn't have been overshadowed by a race of Saturday morning cartoons. But there we have it.
Also, but far more upsetting, was the devolution of Han Solo, who, with the defeat of Jabba the Hutt, had lost all of his edge and, in terms of narrative thread, lost all purpose. For now, at least. A-

I suppose I could copy & paste everything said about A New Hope, but that wouldn't be fair to anyone - J.J. Abrams in particular.
But that is a compliment - if you squint hard enough, Force Awakens could be a movie all by itself. Trouble is, that goes a little unappreciated, because everyone wants to be in on that in-joke, but there weren't any to be had. It featured Luke & Leia & Han & Chewie & X-Wings & lightsabers & the force & the dark side. But it was new. It was the reunion we deserved, but apparently not the one we wanted.
For anyone who thinks it too closely mirrors the events of ANH, congratulations, you've uncovered a traditional story arc; everything repeats itself.

Strong with this one: Never again will we have Vader, so we need interesting ways to fill that void. Enter Larry Fucking Kasdan to run this circus the way it used to be. The film is tight, fast, and largely character driven by exceptional characters.
The smartest move for a movie sequel of this significance is to establish the idea that even the characters are aware of Star Wars, and they've chosen sides.
Bad feeling about this: If it ever feels tacked on, or like an afterthought, that's because it is. The story could've been over, & now it never will be. Fact is, we can only hope the freshness doesn't expire. A-

If Force Awakens is a return to intimacy, Last Jedi solidifies it. As both The First Order and The Rebellion dwindle in size, the front lines get closer, and we get familiar with more characters. More and more characters...
Also carrying over from TFA is the device that the events of all the previous films are at the forefront of characters' minds as much as they are ours.
Made for fans, by fans.
And so we get a few winks & nudges, but more than that, it's a unique opportunity to pull the rug out from under what people think it will be (or, in some cases, want it to be).

Strong with this one: Not adhering much to any real formula, just about every turn of events was a surprise. (TFA may've been more nimble, but it really was a rehash.) To call it 'unpredictable' is apt; none of the twists & reveals were anticipated by me or any website.
Luke's return hits all the right notes, including the final one.
Kylo Ren is no Vader, but Adam Driver's intensity sans mask is working overtime to make up for it.
Bad feeling about this: More and more characters. Even the prequels didn't have this problem (& it was a debit to Rogue One). Rose, DJ, and Holdo not only added nothing, they detracted from the characters they came in contact with, preventing more interesting progress.
Also, lack of progress; it plays out a bit like a sequel to Force Awakens, rather than a 'part 8' of a larger entity. B+

This long after the prequels, can we really have hopes as to what they can do with these? Jesus, some of these poor bastards actually have expectations! After all, ever since Empire in '80, no one's been fully prepared - or pleased. And thank Christ for that - how irritating would it be if the fanboys got the movie they wanted (whatever that would look like). And when that happens is when it should die.
But it won't.
I write this now as I realize there was no perfect time to recollect all this stuff, because it's always gonna be outdated 5 minutes later.
Solo is the least excited I've ever been for one of these, for a little list of reasons; are we in dire need of an entire film dedicated to a character who's already had four? The only worse idea is to extract the one thing that made the character exciting -- Harrison Ford.
Why not make a movie about Darth Vader as a little kid?

But I'll be there. You probably will too. Because, the one thing I failed to take note of, is that these movies have bounced back in a big way. No one cares to admit (or sometimes believe) that. It's easier & more fun to bum around the message boards and reminisce than to go on a new journey. This is when nostalgia is toxic.
Lucas believed no one liked his prequels because they were too infatuated with the OT. In regards to the New Trilogy, there's seemingly a whole community of people who've set out to prove him right, & that makes me anxious. Cinema is in rough shape, but these films are pulling together in an admirable way. I'm aware there are harsh criticisms against them that I don't care to investigate, so I thankfully don't have to address them here.
I will say I'm pleased with the replacement of Colin Trevorrow (who I knew from one lame movie) & the re addition of J.J. (who's made at least one good Star Wars movie. Oh, and Lost).
And my greatest hope for whatever comes next is that I have no idea of whatever comes next. In a track record ranging from A+ to D+ I have no expectations of anything ever. My only prescription to the makers is that you must do what you feel is right.

- Paul

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