Episode II: Not all bad.

As hinted at yesterday, today’s post is about Star Wars Episode II. When I was 9 years old this was everything to me. It has lots of fight scenes, insect people, lightsaber’s coming out of all its orifices and Yoda flipping about like a bouncy ball launched into a cupboard. How does 26-year-old me feel about it? 

Well as it happens, I didn’t think it was too bad. The film starts with an attempt on Padme’s life, and the trauma she goes through leads her to mistakenly marry an immature child she met 10 years previously and has had no contact within the intervening years. At least that is what I must tell myself to buy into any of the romance between her and Anakin in this film. There are poorly written lines in most films, but somehow George Lucas saved all his worst lines for use exclusively in scenes between Anakin and Padme, when they’re supposed to be falling in love.

That criticism extends to the next film in the franchise but more on that another time. As for this film, that whole story line with them falling for each other is what punches this film down to a 5 or 6 out of 10. The rest of the film is a fun time with some heavy plot convenience, but I found most of it to be forgivable.

Attack of the Clones introduces us to the prime Ewan McGregor Obi Wan we all remember, with that beard and that hair and that voice. He reaches his peak in Revenge of the Sith, but his step fatherly relationship to Anakin is where the film gets a relationship right for me. You feel he cares for his protege deeply and is struggling to be the teacher he wants to be at times, with his pupil showing some signs of teenage rebellion. This film makes me very excited to see the Obi Wan series coming out on Disney Plus in the next few years, as you just want to spend more time following McGregor around on his adventures.

The entire section of the film with him hunting down Jango Fett (#TheBetterFett) I found entertaining, and if that’s a hint at the kind of things we could get from an Obi Wan Series I am all in. Also, the sound design of those bombs (seismic charges I believe to the nerds out there) that are deployed in the asteroid field is just something else. What a boom.

Hayden Christensen plays Anakin with a lot of commitment but I think the direction he is given is just all over the place. I think what we were supposed to see is a character who is being torn between the various desires he has and knows what’s right but also can’t ignore his feelings like he should be able according to the Jedi. It’s a role that requires an actor to be able to indulge themselves and really develop it from within themselves. I think director and creator George Lucas, for all his creative genius, may have struggled to get the best performance out of Christensen here. It feels like he was told to stick to the script word for word and to say it exactly how Lucas wanted it to sound, rather than giving him the script and letting him understand the character.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it feels wooden and jarring. It goes back to my comments yesterday about Jar Jar Binks (Who does appear briefly in this film in an unoffensive way). It takes a strong personality to stand up to a director and say, “no I think it should be done this way”, especially when that director is George Lucas who created this entire franchise that may make or break your career. This is all just my read on it though, and maybe this is just the best Hayden Christensen could do.

Wooden Anakin aside, the film develops some of the characters we met in previous films quite a bit, with Mace Windu and Yoda the clear leaders of the Jedi. What I have been enjoying most about the prequels though is Palpatine. Perhaps as a child I just didn’t notice it, but this entire trilogy isn’t the story of Anakin turning into Darth Vader as it seems. It’s the story of how a senator called Palpatine manipulated and rose to power and building the foundation of the Empire that we saw in the original Star Wars in 1977.

Ian McDiarmid in the role of Palpatine is really something. When you realise, he is consistently playing everyone in the room it feels like a different thing all together. I would love to have seen these films focus more on him, give him a little more to do and let us see him planning it out behind the scenes. As it is these films almost try to surprise you that he is the emperor when it seems obvious to me. I am a huge Star Wars nerd of course, so perhaps I am not the one they are trying to get one over on.

The last half of this film, when Christopher Lee is introduced as the Classy Count Dooku, is just one continuous ramp up of the action. From Anakin and Padme fighting their way through a droid building factory, to the climactic battle, there is not a lot of time for us to slow down. and process what’s happening. It’s an action-packed finale and for the most part it works. There’s a lot of digitally created fights, with flocks of droids doing battle with battalions of clones, but it all adds to the sense of scale and if you can look past the dated special effects it’s a decent effort.

There are a lot of cool moments and situations, the monsters fighting Obi Wan, Padme and Anakin lead right into that moment. The point at which 9-year-old me lost their shit. When I see 100s of lightsabers ignite around the arena and think “Oh damn it’s on now!”.

After that, we get a curved lightsaber handle, that seems to add little to the weapon at all, wielded by Count Dooku as he frankly batters Obi Wan and Anakin. Anakin wielding a blue and green lightsaber at the same time is cool, but again he is just being played with by the bad guy. Here we get a situation where he could have easily murdered them both and been on with his business. Instead he toys with them long enough for a little green dude turns up and shows off his power.

The best moment of the film for me is when Yoda opens his coat to reveal his kid sized lightsaber, and then it whips through the air into his hand. He then proceeds to bounce around and the fight is rather hard to follow, but it does feature some excellent faces from Christopher Lee. The film kind of ends on a stutter, with a few things hurried through, including Anakin marrying Padme right at the death of the film.

All in all, I think my appreciation for the prequels is increasing, but I can still recognise that these films are just not that great. The world they’re set in, the characters and the story are all quite good, I just think this film has been executed poorly. The two best films in the franchise were written by Lucas and directed by other people. Perhaps that is the formula that should have been used for the prequels as I just think someone who’s skills were more attuned for Directing rather than creating like Lucas’ skillset is might have taken these films to another level.

Anyway, that’s enough about Episode II, I have Episode 3 in my head now and I will talk about that on Friday. I will give it a break from the Star Wars talk tomorrow!

‘Til then!

ChAzJS

 

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Prequel Problems

I settled down last night after getting home late because of train delays and making myself some dinner and began to flick through the various streaming services. For some reason I have had an urge to watch the Star Wars prequels for weeks. and suddenly there they were on Now TV, waiting to be “enjoyed”.

As Episode I began, with baby faced Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson with his glorious mane of hair, I was mildly optimistic I could find some more redeeming qualities in the film as I haven’t watched it for years. The opening 15 minutes are decent, not terrible by any means and some slightly dated special effects and questionable accents on certain aliens aside, I found it okay to watch. Then, they reach Naboo, Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon bumps into Jar Jar Binks (literally bumps into him) and within a minute I was fast forwarding to the pod race to get away from that unequivocal error of a character.

The pod race itself has always been a bit of a weird one for me. I loved it as a kid, but then I remember when I last watched these films, I thought it was an odd scene. Watching it again last night I kind of enjoyed it and I realise that it’s very similar to the dog racing scene in The Last Jedi, only in The Phantom Menace it has a purpose (to show Anakin’s abilities).

Speaking of Anakin, this is the first time I have watched these films and thought about the fact this 9-year-old child ends up marrying this 18-year-old Queen. The ages in the films are meant to be a bit closer but Natalie Portman looks the same in all 3 films, whereas Anakin ages up and changes a lot, becoming Hayden Christensen. I did also watch Attack of the Clones last night, but I will ramble about that later.

The scenes around the pod race are okay. Qui-Gon has some odd sexual chemistry going on with Anakin’s mother, and her line about Anakin being a virgin birth, a fatherless child, is bizarre but I think Rise of the Skywalker may well explain it. It’s been explained in other mediums of the Star Wars franchise, but never in films. The idea is that Palpatine, the good old Emperor himself, used the force somehow and created Anakin as part of his plan to take over the universe.

Ridiculous right, but this franchise isn’t known for its realism so who knows where they will go. Or if this will ever even be explained. It’s at this point there’s more talking, more trade disputes, more things I couldn’t care less about. So, I skipped ahead again. I managed to get to the final fight, the only part of this film I wanted to watch. Darth Maul arrives and Ray Parks in that make up just looks bad ass.

I remember being so amazed by a double bladed lightsaber when I was little. I grew up playing pretend imagining I had a blue, green, or red one, but anything beyond that was just not realistic to me. Then here this guy turns up with a double sided one. How outrageous of him to just change the game like that. Then they begin to fight, and again the 6-year-old me was just blown away.

The fight is less actual sword play and more a choreographed ballet of movement and colours. The cinematography doesn’t quite make the most of it, but you can follow what is happening and where people are. The film takes notes from Return of the Jedi and splits into 3 distinct fights. One with Lightsabers, one with blasters, and one with spaceships. Only this time the Spaceship fight is being done by the 9-year-old boy we met earlier.

He has no experience flying anything in space, but he absolutely nails it. People have problems with The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi because Rey picks up being a Jedi quickly. Well frankly there is no basis for this as apparently if you have it, you just have it. You don’t even need to be told how to use any part of this vehicle, if you got the force, the force got you and you’ll be blowing up space stations in no time.

Oh, I forgot about the other fight happening, the Gungans against the droid army. There is a reason I left this out, because Jar Jar is all over it and it should have been cut from the film. Nobody needs it. Nobody likes it. Get it out of my Star Wars. I want it gone. I want him gone. He’s a fucking diabolical choice by George Lucas. I know he created the franchise so had carte blanche to do whatever he wanted in these films, but why did nobody say “Uh George, yeah just a quick point on this Jar Jar character… He is fucking awful”. That’s all that needed to happen, but nobody back then had the confidence to step up to George Lucas and tell him what to do with Star Wars.

So, the film flicks between them all, and I skip through the stupid Jar Jar scenes, and I have to say I found it enjoyable. Even Anakin’s stuff in the ship is pretty fun, if a bit much when there are hundreds of trained, legitimate fighter pilots up there struggling to stay alive whilst he is doing his thing.

Everything comes down to the lightsaber fight for me though. With Obi-wan trapped he watched Darth Maul beat Qui-Gon and Liam Neeson bows out. Then Obi Wan comes out swinging and slashes the double bladed lightsaber in half, before doing the same thing to Darth Maul.

Important to note he does not kill Darth Maul. That’s right in the Star Wars universe having your legs and hips removed from the upper part of your body is but a flesh wound. Not to mention the fall down a huge shaft like the Emperor in Return of the Jedi. Darth Maul shows up in several cartoons and even at the end of the Solo spin off film. He has robot legs, and it’s the best stuff the character ever does. Even better than the various times in this film when he looks broodingly into the distance.

So, there you have it, an account of my first-time watching Star Wars Episode I in over 10 years. I did this so you don’t have to. Just go straight to Attack of the Clones. Which is what I did after managing to fast forward through enough that I watched Phantom Menace in around an hour. I will go into that tomorrow or another time though.

Until then thanks for reading!

ChAzJS