Star Wars retrospective: Revenge of the Sith

I said after watching The Force Awakens that I was going to watch and cover the first half-dozen Star Wars films. It has taken me a year to do it, but I finally re-watched Revenge of the Sith a week ago.

Revenge of the Sith is here we see a heel turn by the Jedi Order, and that heel turn leads directly to the establishment of the Galactic Empire. It was a needless turn that makes the Sith look sympathetic, which is not what you want to do in wrapping up the trilogy that plunges the galaxy into twenty years of darkness.

I will start off the review with a couple complaints: The droids are completely useless and a total joke. Why the Trade Federation (and later the separatists) did not build the much stronger super battle droids as their army is beyond me. It does not make the Jedi look heroic to easily mow down hundreds upon hundreds of walking toothpicks that are not intimidating in the least. Even worse, the droids had the drop on Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker multiple times and could have killed them, but did not. That makes no sense.

Second, Hayden Christensen has improved from the previous movie but he does not sell his concern for Kenobi well at all, either during the space battle or when he is carrying Kenobi out. Where he really shines is his facial expressions later in the movie. He sells his grief and pain without a single word spoken. His look has improved too, from the Padawan haircut to a mess of hair and wearing all black.

Third, while the romantic banter between Skywalker and Padme Amidala is not nearly as painful or cringe-worthy as the awful dialogue in Episode II, it is still very bad.

The most interesting thing in this movie is that there is so much moral ambiguity between the Sith and the Jedi. I am not sure if Lucas intended to do this or not, and I waver back and forth on whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. On one level, the villains should be understandable – not necessarily sympathetic, but not mustache twirling monsters who cannot wait to step on a box of kittens either.

It starts when the Jedi ask Skywalker to spy on Emperor Palpatine. (Ian McDiarmid is excellent again.) Skywalker correctly points out that he is asked to betray a mentor and a friend, is being asked to betray the Republic, and is being asked to betray the Jedi Code. This unethical move by the Jedi Council leaves Skywalker vulnerable to manipulation by Palpatine.

Palpatine takes advantage, telling Skywalker that the Jedi plan to betray him and rule over the Republic. The Jedi themselves enforce this belief when Mace Windu goes to “arrest” Palpatine and attempts to murder him instead. This was a strange and poorly set up heel turn, as Windu goes from saying Palpatine will be put on trial to trying to murder him in less than a minute. What changed in that sixty seconds?

Skywalker stops Windu, and Palpatine kills Windu. Skywalker asks himself, “What have I done?” Um, you stopped an act of treason, a murder, an attempt to overthrow the legitimately elected Supreme Chancellor of the Republic and the assassination of the head of state. In that moment, the Jedi were clearly wrong and the Sith were clearly right. There would be no due process for a defeated Palpatine. He would just be murdered. Anakin Skywalker upheld the Jedi Code in stopping Mace Windu.

This was a very well done movie, and while it has flaws it more than makes up for the failures of the previous two prequels. (Which I still like, in spite of their flaws.) It makes sense that the Empire started work on the Death Star at the end of Episode III, because a project like that – building a space station the size of a moon – would easily take twenty years. There is a big plot hole in that Princess Leia says she knew her mother, but Padme’s death could have easily been faked to protect her from Darth Vader.

Previously in the Star Wars retrospective, covering the first five movies:Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 of that series.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Continuing my retrospective of the Star Wars movies, I watched Episode II last week. This movie has its share of critics too, and it definitely has flaws. It is better than Episode I, if for no other reason than Jar Jar Binks’ role is greatly diminished. It does take a while to get from Point A to Point B, though.

We begin with an assassination attempt on Senator Amidala. She was queen in the last movie, but apparently on Naboo queens are elected and have term limits. This makes no sense. The assassination was not carried out by the person hired to kill Amidala, but by someone else. Subcontracting an assassination is rather strange.

Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi are called in to protect Amidala, and Anakin is really creepy. He immediately tells Amidala she is beautiful and talks to Kenobi about how he dreams of her every night. It does not help that the actors playing Anakin and Amidala do not have a lot of chemistry, so when Amidala tells Anakin to not look at her because “it makes me uncomfortable” it feels like an emphatic rejection. It is difficult to believe they will be an item later. The romance is very forced, to the point that Amidala might as well look at the camera and say “I love Anakin now because the script says so.”

It is good to see Yoda recognize the Jedi have become arrogant and complacent, but this is never followed up on. This should have been emphasized more strongly than it was, and the movie suffers for it.

We see some seeds of Darth Vader planted when Anakin and Amidala are speaking, and he basically supports a dictatorship because he feels democracy does not work. Unfortunately, this is mixed in with a bad scene. Anakin is writing verbal poetry to Amidala, which is incredibly emo to the point it is painful to listen to. The dialogue is absolutely terrible here, but Natalie Portman’s body language is really good. She is shifting uncomfortably in her seat, showing how much Anakin’s emo poem is creeping her out.

A few other random observations:

♣ – It is unusual for a non-Sith to go one on one with a Jedi and hold his own, much less win a fight. Jango Fett does that against Kenobi in the fight on Kamino.

♣ – Watto was a strong personality in Episode I, but is broken down and weak willed when we see him here. It would be interesting to see what happened to him over the last ten years.

♣ – Amidala should be completely horrified by Anakin slaughtering the sandpeople. She certainly should not be saying it is “human” to be angry after Anakin massacred children. This was a poorly written scene that should have played out with someone else, because it makes Amidala look as bad as Anakin.

♣ – R2D2 and and C-3PO are shoehorned into this movie and contribute virtually nothing to the plot. The slapstick comedy is out of place, especially during the final battle.

♣ – Why is no one in the Senate concerned that the clone army was created a full decade before the vote giving Palpatine the authority to create the clone army?

♣ – Why would Count Dooku spill the beans on the Sith’s plot? What if the Jedi had belived him? That was a huge risk. That scene should have been cut out of the movie.

♣ – Amidala and Anakin’s trip to the factory made me think I should pick up a controller. It is a quicktime event! This was obviously designed for a video game tie-in.

♣ – When a Jedi goes at totally nonchalant Count Dooku, Jango kills him and holsters his weapon like a gunslinger. That was really cool.

♣ – The Stormtroopers arrive in nick of time to save the Jedi because of course they do.

♣ – The fight between Yoda and Count Dooku is spectacular.

I like this movie, but it takes a very long time to accomplish very little. The main plot elements were Anakin’s slow turn to the dark side, establishing the romance between Anakin and Amidala, setting up the Stormtroopers, and establishing Palpatine’s emergency powers. It took way too much time to get four things done and it could have been much more efficient. That is why the movie drags at times.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

I said back in January that I would be re-watching and posting my thoughts on the first six Star Wars movies, after watching Episode VII. It’s taken a long time for me to finally get around to re-watching Episode I, but I did finish it. I will not be pointing out the flaws, as everyone has already done that. I will instead be pointing to things I liked.

Right off the bat, Darth Maul is awesome. He looks like a demon and Ray Park is amazing at his fight scene. We have not seen martial arts in Lightsaber duels up until this point, and despite that it fits in seamlessly. A Sith Lord that can take on two Jedi at once is very menacing, and the Lightsaber staff was great. Killing the character was a huge mistake, and it could have been a great motivation for Anakin and Obi-Wan to chase him in the next movie to get revenge for killing Qui-Gon Jinn. Such a wasted opportunity.

Jake Lloyd’s performance was by no means Oscar worthy but his acting was far from the only robotic performance. Samuel L. Jackson was very monotone, and Natalie Portman was very wooden at times too – especially when she is asking the Gungans for help. Lloyd did fine for what he was given, and honestly very few nine year olds (including the ones who criticize him most strongly) are going to do much better.

The CGI has not aged well and does look very fake at times. However, once you become invested in the film it does create a huge world that could not be built with practical effects. You can tell here what George Lucas wanted to do with the first three movies in terms of setting up this huge world.

It is especially noteworthy in how it shows the Jedi Council has become arrogant and complacent, allowing the rise of the Sith – including one serving in the Senate. Yoda especially comes off as a real jerk when he is berating a little boy for missing his mother. In many ways, the Jedi is responsible for its own downfall. That will become much more prominent in Episode III, when they are doing downright villainous things.

Yes, this movie has a lot of flaws, and I could go on at length about them. But, again, everyone else has already done that. If you can look past them, there is a lot of good here. This is the weakest film of the entire series, but it is still a Star Wars movie and in my opinion is very enjoyable.

Observations on "Return of the Jedi"

I am still working my way through the first half-dozen Star Wars movies. Here are my observations on the third part of the original trilogy. When I eventually get to the prequels, I will have some criticisms but (spoiler!) I am not going to rip them to shreds. I actually like the prequels – even The Phantom Menace. They are flawed, but still enjoyable.

I was surprised by how strongly the Stormtroopers were put over when I re-watched the first two movies, but this is where they turned into laughingstocks. They were physically overpowered and beat down by a bunch of three foot tall teddy bears. The Ewoks were a marketing success but they completely buried the Stormtroopers as a legitimate threat to the heroes. Burying the Stormtroopers also buried Rebel Alliance soldiers who were completely helpless against the army that could not defeat a bunch of three foot teddy bears with crude stone weapons.

The battle on Endor would have been so much better had the natives been Wookies like originally planned. The Wookies carrying crude stone weapons while Chewbacca is proficient with modern technology could have been explained. Perhaps Chewbacca was taken prisoner by Imperial forces when they occupied Endor and either escaped or was rescued by Han Solo. Imagine the Stormtroopers getting overwhelmed by hundreds of Wookies.

And where did the Rebel soldiers go during the big fight? We had Han, Leia, Chewbacca and the droids, but all of the Rebel soldiers went AWOL once the fight started. Way to fight for survival guys. Princess Leia ought to be Force-choking everyone after it was all over. She is storng in the Force, after all.

There was no legitimate reason in storyline bring C-3PO to the forest moon. C-3PO is completely useless in battle and there is no reason for the Rebels to think his interpreter skills would be useful in a military raid. Jar Jar Binks would have been more helpful. Yes, he got the heroes out of the situation with the Ewoks, but it was clear they could have fought their way out of it if they wanted to. Luke alone could have cut them all down with his Lightsaber. There is no reason the heroes should have allowed themselves to be captured. Wheat if the “savage” Ewoks had just skewered the heroes after they allowed themselves to be captured? The movie is over and the Empire wins. Idiots.

In Empire, Darth Vader and Luke were evenly matched in their Lightsaber fight when Luke was using two hands and Vader was using one hand. The minute Vader puts both hands on his Lightsaber playtime is over and so is the fight. In Return of the Jedi, Vader is using both hands from the beginning and still gets beaten down. The only reason the fight lasted as long as it did is because Luke did not want to fight. This is a great way to show how much more powerful Luke was as opposed to where he was in Empire.

The evolution of Vader’s character is well done too, especially the subtle change in his language. In Empire he was referring to Luke as “the son of Skywalker” but in Jedi he calls Luke “my son” several times. He even indicates he regrets becoming a Sith Lord but is trapped when he says “it is too late for me, my son.” That is an indication not of someone who is dedicated to the Sith cause but someone who is going through the motions.

Ian McDiarmid is by far the best part of the movie as the Emperor. You could tell he was having a ball playing a character who is so delightfully evil. The only problem is that he is so charismatic and just plain fun to watch that it is impossible to hate the character. It weakens the movie when you are almost rooting for the villain.

As a movie, Return of the Jedi is the weakest of the original trilogy. However, that is quite a high hurdle and almost an unfair comparison. This is still a great movie and fun to watch.

Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back

With the release of The Force Awakens, I have decided to go back and watch the first six Star Wars movies in the order they were released. I have made it through Episode IV and Episode V thus far. I am going to be posting some observations as I go through the movies. Here are my thoughts on the first two:

Star Wars

The first thing I noticed is that the Stormtroopers are actually formidable, described by Ben Kenobi as good shots and very precise – their shots were much too precise for Sandpeople. They were put over strong, not like the jokes they became later on. They overwhelmed the rebels in the opening scene.

I also found it interesting that the first two characters with speaking lines we see are droids. We spend a lot of time with R2-D2 and C-3PO before the story moves along to the main characters. If I had never seen this before and knew nothing about the story I would think the droids were going to be our main characters.

The Empire Strikes Back

Just like the first one, the Stormtroopers are put over strong. They were not hapless losers, and Lando had to resort to deception to beat them. Lando only stopped the Stormtroopers when he “betrayed” and ambushed them.

The Imperial Walkers are still awesome, though I am not sure why blasters that could not dent the armor when they were standing could destroy an AT-AT with one shot after it fell down. Maybe the fall opened a crack in the armor?

What is the big deal about Han Solo leaving the rebels? Who is to say Han will not come back to the Rebellion after he pays off Jabba the Hut? He seems to be committed to the cause, but having bounty hunters chase him is a pretty big distraction to doing his job. This is not him taking his money and running like he did in the first movie, this is him trying to get a death mark off his head.

Luke’s fight with Darth Vader starts off with the two fairly evenly matched even, but only because Vader is toying with Luke. Vader only has one hand on his lightsaber, easily fending off Luke, who uses both hands. When Vader puts both hands on his lightsaber, the fight is over pretty quickly. It is also interesting that it is Luke (not Vader) who strikes first, just like in the first movie when Ben Kenobi strikes first.