Episode III – The Best of the Prequels

I have always held this opinion. The third movie in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Revenge of the Sith, is a good film. It’s not spectacular and doesn’t get to the dizzy heights of Empire Strikes Back, but it is good. It’s prime Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan and continues from the previous two films in that it has just made me more and more excited for his solo series. 

Episode III opens with a spectacular space battle, one of the best looking we have seen, and introduces the best robot in the universe, General Grievous. The name is just incredibly on the nose, but it works, and his weird fleshy eyes and heart, the smokers cough and the voice all combine to make one of the most unusual villains in the Star Wars world. I normally know a lot about characters in Star Wars, but he is a bit of a blind spot. I don’t know where he comes from, I don’t know how he works, but he uses 4 lightsabers at once in this movie and that’s just Baller as fuck.

Hayden Christensen isn’t the best actor in the world, but he does give it his all in this film. There are only one or two awkwardly written scenes with Padme in this one, although it is still cringe inducing when they are supposed to be cute together. It has a key role in this film, but this romance is probably my biggest problem with the entire prequel trilogy. I don’t necessarily think it’s the actor’s faults, but any chemistry they have is smashed into touch by the dialogue.

It took some big personalities in the original trilogy to take what George Lucas gave them and turn it into the real emotional moments. Han Solo’s “I love you/I know” moment was created by Harrison Ford and Director Irvin Kershner not George Lucas, and moments like that are an example of what is missing from the prequels.

This film does have its own very quotable, and much meme’d line though. I didn’t even think of it as it was about to happen, but when Obi Wan dropped down behind Grievous on Utapau and greets all the droids with “Hello there” I laughed out loud. It is so perfect, so Obi Wan. It’s a dad taking the piss when things are about to get serious and he’s saying it purely to get their attention. If he doesn’t say those words at least once an episode in the new TV show I will have no choice but to brand it a complete and total failure.

We get some more political intrigue with the Emperor finally becoming The Emperor after he turns Anakin, and again Ian McDiarmid is just perfect in this role. I don’t know exactly what capacity he is going to be in The Rise of Skywalker but getting one last serving of McDiarmid is going to be a great treat in December.

When it comes to lightsaber fights, nothing has yet topped the end scene of this film within the entire franchise. Rey and Kylo Ren are great but they aren’t up to the balletic battle at the climax of Revenge of the Sith. Switching between Anakin V Obi Wan and Palpatine V Yoda absolutely blew my 12-year-old mind in 2005. Yoda walking into Palpatine’s office and knocking out the two guards with a nonchalant flick of his wrist tells us that here to fuck around, he is not.

How did I get into the third film before I wrote in Yoda’s voice?

After some force power dick measuring, Palpatine and Yoda literally whip them out, and begin fighting lightsaber to lightsaber. Both becoming well rendered video game characters leaping around. Before they end it with Palpatine launching half of space parliaments furniture at Yoda. It’s quite a poignant scene, as I think someone should go into parliament and launch chairs around in real life. Only do it with all the politicians still in their chairs.

Useless overpaid incompetent twats couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery let alone Brexit. I don’t care which “Side” you’re on, the whole thing needs to be torn up and started again.

Anyway, back on spicy hot drop Mustafar (that’s a Fortnite/Apex reference, I am down with the kids) Anakin has finished slaughtering politicians and is waiting for his wife whom he loves so much. She turns up, unknowingly bringing Obi-Wan with her, and before she can even say “I didn’t know he was there he’s a fucking space wizard” Anakin chokes her out. That’s her dealt with for plot convenience sake. Now we can have Obi Wan and Anakin get their duel on. There is no Force dick measuring here, it’s all about the swordplay.

They battle in rooms, on railings, climbing up huge structures, floating on robots above flowing Lava. It’s a beautifully choreographed scene but one does have to question why they felt the need to move around the planet so much. They could have had the entire fight on the platform where the ship was.

I am glad they didn’t though, as it leads to an interesting moment in the Star Wars franchise. Having duelled with nobody getting a clear advantage, Obi Wan gets the high ground. Anakin leaps to get over him, and Obi Wan fillets him. Both legs and an arm swished off like trimming wings off a chicken. It’s brutal.

I spent a lot of my life thinking this was a stupid end to the fight. Then my flatmate shared a bit of reasoning behind it that since then I have thought about a lot and I kind of wish there had been some way to show this in the film. Considering I watched this film 2 days after watching Episode I, the Darth Maul/Obi Wan fight was fresh in my mind. The jump Anakin tries to perform is the same one Obi Wan did against Darth Maul, only Obi Wan taught Anakin about it, so he is completely ready for it.

Obi Wan even says to Anakin “Don’t Try It”. In my head I like to think they have discussed that fight at length, and Anakin knows it is Obi Wan’s best moment. Being the egomaniac that he is, he wants to prove he can do anything Obi Wan can, so he tries to copy it. Of course, instead of landing behind Obi Wan and chopping him in half, Anakin gets butchered. It adds a bit more to the end to me, and I like to think that’s how it was meant to be.

All in all, the prequels are a brilliant story that isn’t done full justice by the execution of the movies. I can’t help but feel a little like the Sequel trilogy that ends with The Rise of Skywalker is the reverse of that. The new films look brilliant and are acted well. The dialogue is well written, and they’re directed expertly. There actual bigger story doesn’t seem nearly as well thought out or planned as the original or the prequels though. We will have to wait until December to find out.

‘Til tomorrow!

ChAzJS

 

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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

 

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