On the identity of Kylo Ren

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So, I watched The Force Awakens again recently; I maintain my original judgement, that it’s a fun film with great characters, but ultimately a very derivative plot. Interestingly, I’m pretty sure most of the people there were also rewatching it; there were no big laughs at any of the moments there were the first time around, so I’m assuming that was because the other people there were anticipating the jokes, rather than that they didn’t find it funny. Glad to see lots of people liked it enough to watch it twice (or thrice!), in any case.

There was, though, one sticking point for me, and that was the identity of Kylo Ren – or, more specifically, how it was revealed to us.

From this point on there will be spoilers.

Consider, if we jump back to 1980 for a moment, The Empire Strikes Back. Everyone is familiar with the twist which takes place at the end of the movie, of course – Darth Vader is Luke’s father. That’s thought to be one of the most impactful moments in cinematic history, and it’s certainly one of the most memorable; you’d be hard-pressed to find a person who doesn’t know that Luke is Darth Vader’s son. (Which, I suppose, is something of a shame, because it means it’s rare that people are able to actually experience the twist. But that’s beside the point.)

Part of the reason why this is such an effective reveal is the way we come to learn the information – it’s built up as a surprise, and delivered during an already tense moment. It was foreshadowed previously; Darth Vader and the Emperor have a conversation about “the son of Skywalker”, but they never get any more specific than that.

You can see it here. (Incidentally, there’s a rather clever moment where the Emperor says to Darth Vader “Search your feelings; you know it to be true”, which is echoed later on, as Darth Vader says the same to Luke upon revealing his identity as Anakin Skywalker.)

In any case, though, what’s crucial is that the Emperor doesn’t simply say “your son”, or “the son of your former self, Anakin Skywalker”, or anything that would pre-empt the coming reveal. The exposition is built up as a dramatic moment, rather than as a piece of throw-away dialogue (which is, notably, the problem in Revenge of the Sith when we learn Palpatine is Darth Sidious).

In The Force Awakens, though, we have an almost complete reversal of this scene – rather than saving the revelation of Kylo Ren’s identity for his confrontation with Han Solo on the bridge, Supreme Leader Snoke says something along the lines of (and look seriously spoilers!) “Han Solo… your father”. This is very much not a big reveal – there’s no big gasps from the audience, there’s no shock or surprise. It’s just not structured as a reveal.

I suppose in some ways that makes sense; in The Empire Strikes Back, this information was a reveal to Luke as well. Here, all the characters know the information already – it’s not a surprise to Snoke or Kylo Ren or Han. Why, then, structure it as such? Well… for the audience. After all, if it’s not going to be structured as a reveal to us, why Kylo Ren? Why not just tell us in the lead up to the movie? Announce Adam Driver as Ben Solo, Han and Leia’s son?

Because a twist reveal is just more fun, to be honest. But what we got didn’t really function as a twist reveal.

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So, let’s structure it thus: we remove any reference to Kylo as Han and Leia’s son until the final confrontation on the bridge. Prior to this, you can just keep it vague; Han can say things like “I saw him, Leia. I saw… Kylo Ren” and Leia can respond with “I wish you wouldn’t call him that”, to which Han responds “That’s who he is now. That’s all he is now” and suchlike. We don’t reveal who he really is until Han calls him by his true name on the bridge – and, hey, that becomes a cool character moment for Han too, because it’s a more overt symbol of how he’s trying to connect with his son, in that it’s the first time we see Han acknowledge Kylo as his son.

But… if we’re going to go for a big reveal, why not push it further? Let’s see if we can top The Empire Strikes Back.

You know what I thought was kinda silly? Naming Han and Leia’s son Ben. I could buy Luke naming his son Ben, but Han and Leia were more likely to call their child Lando or Chewy – Han barely knew Obi-Wan, and didn’t exactly seem to like him, and I’m not convinced Leia had even met Obi-Wan. It was fan service that didn’t really land properly, in terms of the actual characters.

You know what they might name their child, though?


So let’s run with that, and take a page from the book of the speculators and theorists: we’re going to have a fake out, and imply that Kylo Ren is Luke Skywalker, fallen to the dark side.

We’ll modify some of the earlier dialogue; Han can say things like “I thought I knew him” when Rey and Finn ask about Luke Skywalker. Han and Leia’s conversation would be more “To him, I was just family. But you were his best friend. You can reach him.” We’d also, I think, add in the idea that Leia doesn’t know exactly what happened to Luke, and make it seem that Han does – he can disparage the idea of looking for a map, saying that they might not like what they find, that sort of thing. Obviously Han doesn’t, but we want to preserve the eventual reveal.

Then, on the bridge, rather than calling out Ben, Han will say “Luke!”.

And everyone in the audience is shocked! They gasp! What a surprise… and how confusing it is when Kylo Ren removes his mask (it’d have to be the first time, so earlier scenes would need rewriting) and we don’t see Mark Hamill, but… Adam Driver? (Obviously, they wouldn’t have announced the casting of Adam Driver ahead of time.)

The conversation between Han and Ben Luke Solo will go similarly, but removing any outright references to how they know each other, until… this mysterious other Luke stabs Han. And as the music swells, and Han strokes Luke’s face, he says:

“I love you, son.” “I know, father.”

And then, with that callback to one of Han’s most iconic moments, we learn the true identity of Kylo Ren.

That, I think, is a lot more impactful than Andy Serkis’ throwaway exposition.


Star Wars Retrospective: Rewriting the Prequels

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

star wars the force awakens review episode vii logo jj abrams lawrence kasdan

And this is the new one. The film we’ve all been waiting for since 2013 when the Lucasfilm deal was first announced. The Force Awakens has, as I understand it, already broken several records with regards to pre-opening ticket sales, and I think it’s on track to beat Jurassic World as the biggest opening weekend of all time.

This review will, obviously, contain spoilers. They’re going to be fairly in depth in terms of an examination of the film, so beware of those. I don’t want to ruin Jar-Jar’s cameo appearance for anyone, and so on and so forth. The actual spoiler-y discussion begins after the read more jump; first up, I want to talk a little about my expectations and thoughts having gone into the film.

For a fairly long time, I was hesitant about the movie; my expectations were pretty low, and I was interested simply because it was Star Wars, rather than because I had any real or genuine expectations of legitimate quality. Over the course of the two year wait, though, and particularly in the last few months as new trailers began to be released, I began to get more and more excited. In the end, it was my Star Wars Retrospective rewatch that really got me immersed in this world again, and really looking forward to the new film.

So, as I was sat there watching the beginning of the film – the Lucasfilm logo appears, the music blares, the credits scroll – I ended up sat there with a great big stupid grin on my face.

And rightfully so.

Once again, I feel the need to stress – from hereon out, there be spoilers. If you are still reading at this stage, you’re an idiot, or you just don’t care. Regardless, make sure you know which you are before you keep reading.


The Force Awakens opens strong, with the attack on the village in Jakku. It serves as a great introduction to both Poe Dameron and Finn; rather effectively, we get to see the battle from Poe’s perspective, with the Stormtroopers doing all of these brutal things… before slowly moving across to focus on one of those Stormtroopers, with their conviction clearly wavering. This is, of course, Finn, who’s played by John Boyega, and he’s going to be one of our key focal characters for the rest of the film; after an extremely entertaining escape sequence, which does a great job of showcasing both Finn and Poe as characters, Poe Dameron gets a much more reduced focus. It’s a shame, to be honest; Oscar Isaac gives a great performance as an interesting character who has a lot of potential, and while I can understand the in-story reason for taking him out of the action, I do hope his role is bumped up a fair bit next time.

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Regardless, though, John Boyega as Finn is a perfect protagonist for this new movie. There’s a lot of heart to his character, and he has a great character arc; moving from First Order soldier to deserter, before eventually joining with the Resistance, and all because he has such a keenly tuned sense of right and wrong. I think Finn is, in fact, my favourite character across each of these movies; he’s a really compelling character, and John Boyega gives a great performance. I love the fact that he’s driven by a fairly simple desire to do what’s right, and by compassion for others; a fairly simple, small touch that was included, and I quite liked, was that at one point Finn is knocked out, and the first thing he says when he comes around is “Are you okay?”. His primary concern is Rey, and whether or not she’s alright. It’s a nice thematic thread which follows through the entire movie.

Rey, similarly, is a lot of fun as our other main protagonist. In many ways, she’s our Luke Skywalker analogue here; stuck on the desert planet, wanting to leave, before ending up on a strange adventure across the galaxy. Interestingly, though, there’s an added complication: she feels like she has to stay on Jakku, because of some familial obligation. She’s waiting for someone. It’s an odd little detail, added in presumably to build up to a reveal in the next movie, as we find out who her family are, and why they left her on Jakku. I’m guessing she’ll be Luke’s daughter, but perhaps they’ll surprise us.

Aside from that, though, Daisy Ridley gives an engaging performance as Rey. I really like her voice, actually. That’s an odd thing to pick up on, I suppose, but it stood out to me anyway. There definitely seems to be the basis of an engaging character here, and I’m looking forward to seeing her grow and develop across the next two movies. Certainly, Rey was a lot of fun to watch on screen, and her return will be welcome, regardless of whether or not we find out more about her background.

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I was also quite impressed by how the return of the Original Trilogy characters was handled, by gradually introducing them to the plot. We didn’t begin with Han or Chewie or Leia; first it was an X-Wing, then Stormtroopers, then the Millennium Falcon, and then Han and Chewie. By layering the reveals like this, it let each aspect have the opportunity to breathe, and have a much greater impact in its own right.

The Force Awakens also works, of course, as a showcase for the best of Han Solo – which is what you’d expect, really. They do a great job of reminding us of exactly what we loved so much about him in all the previous movies, and why Han Solo is such a cultural icon; it’s because he’s such a genuinely compelling and engaging character to see on the screen. It’s wonderful to see Harrison Ford back, and to get quite so many great scenes and fun lines. JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan really make us fall in love with Han all over again, before – well, I’ll talk about that in a minute. The point is, then, that Harrison Ford’s appearance here really elevates the movie, genuinely adding to it’s strengths.

Similarly, it’s nice to see Leia, C3PO and R2D2 back, each in their various capacities. Honestly, I think C3PO’s appearance was my favourite of these three; it was a genuinely funny little segment, and I appreciated the efforts made to introduce some humour into these movies. As nice as it was to see Carrie Fisher back as Leia, I did have a few problems with the fundamental nature of her role here, so… we’ll talk about that in a moment, anyway.

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One of the most interesting aspects of the new movie is our new bad guy, Kylo Ren. It’s a difficult thing to pull off for this movie – The Force Awakens is having to compete with Darth Vader, who is genuinely the best villain in movie history. Even the prequels never quite had that issue, given that they were the story of a young Darth Vader – here, now, we’re looking at a Star Wars movie that is almost entirely divorced from the story of Vader.

Whilst Kylo Ren isn’t quite on Vader’s level, JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan have managed to create the basis of a villain with a lot of potential to be explored in the future movies. They’ve written a villain who is genuinely conflicted, and Adam Driver has done an amazing of portraying this. Lines like “I can feel the power of the light calling to me” give the impression of the potential for an interesting examination of the dichotomy between the darkness and the light; for Kylo Ren, evil is something is aspires to, rather than something that comes naturally. He self harms throughout the final fight, constantly hurting himself in an attempt to tap into the dark side – Ren is demonstrably volatile, using his lightsabre to smash and destroy some display monitors as a result of some bad news, all in a pique of teenage rage. His instability is clear as well; even though he’s strong with the Force, it’s evident that this strength is not something he’s in complete mastery of. The creative team involved have managed to find a new angle from which to approach the idea of a force using bad guy, and I’m really excited to see where the story goes from here.

Of course, Ren’s identity was hotly debated before the beginning of the movie, with two theories starting to prevail. Quite a few people believed it could be Luke Skywalker (under the tutelage of Supreme Leader Snoke, also known as Darth Darth Binks)… but there was another. The other prominent theory was that Kylo Ren was, in fact, Luke’s former apprentice, and the son of Han and Leia. This was, of course, proven to be true. And then, of course, Kylo – or rather, Ben – eventually killed his father Han.

It was an interesting moment, but I’m not convinced of how well it was handled. The actual demise of Han worked very well (though I’d have preferred it if he had some final lines), and I think it’ll serve to emphasis the danger that Kylo Ren poses in later movies. I do think the actual reveal of Kylo’s identity could have been structured much better; the information is given across as little more than some throwaway dialogue, rather than built up as the seismic revelation it should have been. That is, I think, a bit of a failing on the film’s part – not a debilitating one, but certainly a notable one.

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That predictability, though, is something that hampers the film throughout. It’s two major moments were far from surprises – the identity of Kylo Ren, and the death of Han Solo, were both fairly obvious. Or at least, they were to me; the average movie goer isn’t going to have been sat theorising about the movie for months, considering whether Kylo Ren would be akin to a new Jacen Solo, or if Harrison Ford would finally have convinced them to let Han Solo die. So, in fairness, it’s difficult to honestly and legitimately argue that this is a serious fault or detriment to the plot.

No, the main issue with the plot is how derivative it ultimately proved to be. We’re watching a remake of A New Hope; the plot strays too far into nostalgia territory, and ends up dangerously close to being a perfunctory remake. We have something of a remixed collection of Star Wars’ greatest hits – a desert planet, an aerial battle over an ice planet, and even a brand new Death Star. It’s this last one that was, I’d argue, the worst – a huge superweapon was introduced, simply so that it could be destroyed in an essentially identical way to the original Death Star. There was little interesting to the concept – yes, it’s a planet, and yes, it drains stars, but so what? Essentially, all it is is a massive Death Star. They even make this comparison explicit within the story.

In fact, the only narrative purpose this Starkiller base serves is to destroy what appeared to be Coruscant; the new Republic has been destroyed, and our heros are reduced to a small group of ragtag soldiers with limited resources – the Resistance – fighting against a much larger and more powerful organisation, the First Order. Sound familiar? That’s because it is.

The Force Awakens is, in essence, hiding in nostalgia. For fear of alienating audiences in the same way the prequels did, they undid much of the development of the Original Trilogy to try and re-establish the status quo from A New Hope. I think that can only really be considered a mistake; the Empire and the Rebellion wasn’t what made Star Wars great, it was the struggle between good and evil. You don’t need to simply redress the originals to bring that back, particularly when it takes away the triumphant ending of Return of the Jedi. Leia’s role here, even though she’s a General rather than a Princess, is ultimately a regression.

I always kinda thought that the Yuuzhan Vong were a bit of a stupid idea – for those of you who don’t know, they’re aliens from another galaxy who, in the novels and EU, invaded some time after Return of the Jedi. They seemed to me to be too much of a departure from the Star Wars I knew, but I do think I appreciate them a lot more now – they were a new idea, and that’s important, it really is.

That lack of new ideas in The Force Awakens – in terms of the plot and general status quo, I mean – is a real disappointment. I do think the movie would have been strengthened had they approached it from a different angle; make the First Order the small, ragtag group this go around. Show that the new Galactic Alliance is struggling to succeed as a young intergalactic government. Emphasis the intimate, personal, small scale struggle caused as Ben Solo became Kylo Ren.

Just don’t give us reheated leftovers.

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Now, honestly, I really did enjoy The Force Awakens. It’s a stunning film, visually speaking – it looks amazing, moreso than any of the other Star Wars movies than preceded it.

And, even despite the issues I highlighted, the plot issues aren’t hugely noticeable whilst watching the film – JJ Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and all the actors involved did such a genuinely compelling job with the character arcs throughout that the plot problems almost just didn’t matter. Finn, Rey and Poe Dameron are a great new trio for us to be introduced to; Kylo Ren is an intimidating villain with a lot of potential, and it wonderful to see characters from the original trilogy again.

The Force Awakens is, undeniably, better than all of the prequel movies. And certainly in some regards, it’s better than the original movies. Not in all aspects, though.

As a reintroduction to the franchise, The Force Awakens does a pretty stellar job. As a movie, it does a wonderful job – I’ve emphasised, all throughout this review, how genuinely fun it is to watch, and that’s true. Seeing this movie is a genuinely enjoyable experience, and I’d really recommend it to anyone who enjoys fun movies.

I’ll likely have a lot more thoughts on this over the coming week (obviously, I’m going to watch it again) but for now, this is essentially where I stand. A hugely enjoyable movie, with one fundamental flaw.



Star Wars Retrospective

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Star Wars Retrospective: Return of the Jedi

star wars return of the jedi review logo episode vi george lucas original trilogy

Here we have, then, the thrilling conclusion to this saga. It’s the Return of the Jedi – after two films building up to this, we’ve finally reached the culmination of the trilogy, with the final confrontation between the Rebels and the Empire taking place.

And, more importantly, the final confrontation between Luke and his father, Darth Vader. It’s a tense prospect, particularly given how their duel went last time. After all, the bad guys won at the end of The Empire Strikes Back.

But it’s not time for that yet. Because first, there’s the rescue of Han Solo from Jabba’s Palace. Except, well, actually, no, that’s not first. First is the revelation that the Empire is building a new Death Star – right from the beginning, we’re emphasising the power of the Empire here, and the struggle that our heroes are going to face throughout this movie. That’s why we’re seeing them, in the beginning, on the back foot, trying to fight back against their losses in the previous film – and that means rescuing Han Solo.

It’s a great way to open the movie, because it’s establishing, once again, how our heroes work together in the face of adversity. There’s a nice, layered introduction of each character; mirroring A New Hope, we start with C3PO and R2-D2. Next, it’s Chewbacca and Lando, and soon the revelation of Princess Leia in disguise, freeing Han Solo. Finally, then, it’s Luke Skywalker – and his reintroduction is most powerful of all. Dressed all in black, and using the force to choke a pair of guards, Luke seems dangerously close to the Dark Side; they’re suspicions that are strengthened as we see him threatening to kill Jabba, and outright killing guards by throwing them into the Sarlacc Pitt. It’s a plot thread that we’ll return to later, but for now, it’s a tense way to start the movie.

It’s also quite an entertaining set piece, though; you sort of get the impression that there were a couple of different contingency plans, that all sort of fell apart before coming back together in the end. It’s very much a victory that they achieved by the skin of their teeth; as much as it’s a display of their ingenuity and adaptability, we’re reminded that these characters of ours are a little ramshackle, and more than a bit disorganised. It’s a genuine question as to whether or not they’ll really be able to defeat the Emperor.

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After a brief detour to Dagobah, which I’ll discuss shortly, we end up on Endor, which is where much of the bulk of the rest of this film takes place. Endor, or more specifically the Ewoks, are quite controversial, and subject to a fair amount of criticism – people point to them as the moment where George Lucas supposedly started thinking with his wallet first and foremost, and the starting point of the Prequels’ detriments.

I reject that premise, though. I actually quite like the Ewoks. (But I shan’t argue that they’re better than seeing the planet of the Wookies, I’ll concede that point.) They’re quite entertaining – there’s always something charming about being introduced to a new alien race, isn’t there? It is, admittedly, sometimes a little difficult to buy the fact that they can defeat the Stormtroopers, but it’s actually a really nice idea; the little carnivorous teddy bears taking down a group of trained soldiers. I think it might be a little more believable, frankly, if there were more Ewoks, so that rather than about 15 of them taking on the Stormtroopers, they actually significantly outnumbered them. But then, that seems unfair, to criticise the film for not being able to quite achieve things because of unavoidable limitations (after all, that’s the sort of thinking that might lead to a hundred CGI Ewoks being added into the film).

What’s important, though, is that we’re seeing the Rebels in the final, big confrontation. It’s something we know to be quite serious – there’s a new Death Star, and we’ve finally seen the power of the Emperor himself. It’s demonstrably, clearly, obviously something of high stakes.

And these stakes are heightened because, Ewoks notwithstanding, the Rebels are actually losing here. It’s not going well for them, not one bit. You can really see how fraught things are here; like I said in my not-quite-a-review of Guardians of the Galaxy, showing our heroes genuinely struggling is a great way to imbue the scenes with real tension, and convey quite how high stakes this is. It’s a very well done battle sequence, particularly when intercut with similarly fraught scenes in space, as Lando realises that the Emperor knew they were coming – as Admiral Ackbar puts it, it’s a trap!

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Of course, though, the key emotional core of this movie is the final confrontation between Luke and his father, Darth Vader.

As I’ve already said, from the beginning, we’re lead to believe that Luke might turn to the dark side, as his father once did before him. It makes the Emperor’s attempts to turn Luke that much more frightening – as far as we know, there is a real and genuine possibility that he might succeed. It’s something that becomes increasingly more worrying, though, as we see how filled with rage Luke is during his fight with Darth Vader; it’s one of the most emotionally charged duels we’ve seen in the series. Luke overpowering Vader isn’t the moment of triumph we’d expect it to be – it’s frightening and even sickening, because we’re seeing our hero getting ever closer to falling to the dark side.

In the end, though, Luke prevails. He throws down his weapon and chooses not to fight. He opts away from violence, and stands firm in his dedication to the Light Side of the Force. That is when the moment of triumph comes; not through winning the fight, but seceding it. It’s also a moment of final vindication, wherein we see Luke was right all along; there was still good in his father. Ultimately, then, we don’t see Luke fight and kill Darth Vader – we see Luke and Anakin Skywalker overthrow the Emperor, and finally bring balance to the Force.

Mark Hamill deserves a lot of credit for his work here, because it’s genuinely compelling, and makes these scenes come alive; the internal conflict within Luke is extremely well portrayed, and I think it has to be said that Return of the Jedi is Hamill’s best performance as Skywalker across all three films. We’re finally seeing the culmination of Luke’s journey from farmhand to hero; he realises that he’s not trying to be a warrior, but a Jedi Knight. It’s an ending that really, truly resonates, and it’s achieved with real success.

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The ending of Return of the Jedi is a lot of fun; it does a great job of conveying quite how happy everyone feels, and really making the audience understand how much of a triumph this is. Darth Vader has been redeemed. The Emperor has been overthrown. The Dark Side has been defeated, and peace can be restored to the Galaxy. I was watching one of the Special Editions of this movie, and I think the addition of scenes of celebration across the galaxy really added to the movie – there’s a very real, very genuine, sense of sheer elation here.

I know that, typically, Return of the Jedi is considered to be a somewhat weaker movie, but it’s honestly one of my favourites – and that’s all down to the scenes with Luke and Darth Vader. It’s what cements this story as one of the greatest in cinematic history; it’s such a well-realised depiction of Luke’s growth of a character, and the culmination of his arc across the series, as well as doing a great job of showing us the redemption of Anakin Skywalker.

In the end, then, I think this one gets another 10/10 the Original Trilogy is, I think, as close as one can get to three perfect movies.


Star Wars Retrospective

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Star Wars Retrospective: The Empire Strikes Back

star wars the empire strikes back review logo episode v george lucas ivan kershner lawrence kasdan original trilogy

The Empire Strikes Back! One of the earliest major movie sequels, and widely considered to be the best Star Wars movie of the saga. (I wonder if it’ll retain that title in a week’s time. Part of me thinks it will, but at the same time, I rather hope it won’t – wouldn’t it be nice if The Force Awakens really was that good?)

One of the more interesting things about the opening of this movie is that it’s actually set three years after the end of A New Hope; there’s something of an implied history there, between the characters we were introduced to in the previous movie, which is used to interesting effect here. There’s clearly been a lot of development and progress in their stories – and, once again, a wider world is being hinted at. For Luke, Leia, Han and Chewbacca, their story didn’t stop when the Death Star exploded; they’ve been out there, living their lives, fighting against the Empire ever since. It makes the whole world a little wider.

In fact, that’s something this sequel does a pretty good job of throughout, in terms of expanding the size of this Galaxy. Take, for example, Cloud City. We meet Lando Calrissian, an old friend of Han’s, now in charge of a mining colony; once again, we’re seeing glimpses of a whole other world. There are fleeting references to Han’s life, before he became a leader in the Rebel Alliance – he’s now Captain Solo, in fact – which serve as some impressive character development as well, by contrasting who he is now with who he once was. The Bounty Hunters too fulfill a similar role – they hint at a much seedier side to this galaxy, and also to the Empire itself. Before, everything has been a much more clinical, powerful depiction of the Empire – but now Darth Vader needs these people? What sort of madmen are they, so lacking in restraint they need to be specifically instructed “no disintegrations”?

Actually, it occurs to me as well that this is the first time we see the actual Emperor in the Original Trilogy (it’s a cameo by Ian McDiarmid, though I’m not certain if that’s from the original or a George Lucas edit). That was really fascinating – you can see, immediately, how big of a deal this character is when Darth Vader himself kneels before him, calling him master. The audience knows, right from the off, that this character is a very big deal, and very dangerous indeed.

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It is, of course, great to see all of the characters from the previous movie back once more – like I said, Han, Leia, Luke and Chewie have all evolved slightly from their previous appearance, but they’re still recognisably the same characters we got to love previously. Notably, though, their journeys and evolution continues throughout, as each character embarks on their own discrete arc.

Han and Leia, in this movie, get a lot closer to being romantically involved; it’s one of the most important relationships of Star Wars, I think it’s fair to say, and this film does a lot of work to show the beginnings of a relationship between them. It’s far better than that of Anakin and Padme in Attack of the Clones; although Han and Leia spend a lot of time being confrontational with each other, the movie manages to draw on the aforementioned implied history to demonstrate that this is conflict stemming from an actual bond the two share. You can see it in the beginning of the film too, where the pair of them both spend time looking across at each while they think the other can’t see them. It’s a far cry from “creepy teen makes woman he last saw ten years ago extremely uncomfortable, until she suddenly decides she likes him (and then he murders people)”.

Luke, of course, starts his training as a Jedi here – you can see at the start of the movie, when he’s in the Wampa’s cave, that Luke has been practicing with his command of the force, but there’s obviously still a lot for him to learn. (This is actually a nice, tense scene in the beginning, given that Luke is clearly exerting himself when trying to get the lightsabre – we’ve got just enough doubt as to whether or not he’ll manage it for the scene to be suitably tense.) It’s really interesting to see Luke’s journey and development into becoming a Jedi, under the tutelage of Yoda, and it goes a great way towards furthering Luke’s journey as a hero.

Yoda makes his first appearance in the Original Trilogy here, initially appearing to be little more than a strange comedic character – the Jar-Jar of his day, if you like. It’s a great bit of misdirection, and serves really well to throw us off balance with the introduction of Yoda; he’s so different to what you’d be expecting, after everything Obi-Wan has said and Luke has assumed, that when that strange little green hermit appears, there’s no way you’d ever assume that he was, in fact, the greatest Jedi Master of them all. It’s a great way to structure the reveal, actually, and challenges all the audience preconceptions of everything we think we know about the force.

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The most notable thing about this movie, though, is the work it does with establishing Darth Vader as one of the greatest cinematic villains of the 20th Century. Actually, in fact, not one of the, but the greatest cinematic villain of the 20th Century (only a Sith deals in absolutes!), with The Empire Strikes Back often cited for its impressive depiction of the villains.

Nearly every scene with Darth Vader works towards furthering his screen presence as a villain; it’s particularly apparent aboard the Imperial Star Cruiser, through his interactions with the ship’s crew. The “promotion” of Admiral Piett is a stand out scene, I think – seeing as his predecessor is force choked on the viewscreen is a nice demonstration of Vader’s power, given that it shows he doesn’t even need to be in the same room as his victims to kill them. Similarly, I liked the fear we see in one of the other officers, as he talks of the need to apologise to Lord Vader – we then later see Vader standing over his dead body, simply saying “apology accepted”. It’s a very chilling demonstration of how powerful a villain Vader is.

We also have that twist to discuss. It’s very difficult to see it in terms of its original context now, isn’t it? It’s an idea that is now so ingrained in popular culture, the number of people who watch Star Wars for the first time without already knowing the identity of Luke’s father must be very few indeed. You can see, though, that it’s been set up right from the beginning – in the opening crawl, they establish that Vader has been obsessed with finding Luke since the destruction of the Death Star, which in hindsight is clearly because he knows Luke Skywalker is his son. Another interesting moment is when we see Vader putting his helmet on, and catch a glimpse of his ashen, scarred cranium – it hints at a past life for him as well, but also reveals that Darth Vader isn’t just a robot, and there’s a man behind the machine.

In revealing his connection to Luke, though, we do have a pretty monumental twist. It changes everything we thought we knew so far, and it’s clear this is going to have huge repercussions going forward into the next movie. It’s a genuinely fantastic idea, and I’m really glad that George Lucas came up with it (even if that wasn’t the original plan!), because it gives the story a lot of resonance.

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The final ending is, ultimately, a defeat for our heroes – the greatest that we’ve ever seen them suffer. Han has been frozen in carbonite, and taken away to the vicious Jabba the Hutt. Luke has had his hand cut off, and it’s been revealed he’s the son of the most evil man in the galaxy. The rebel base on Hoth was destroyed, the rebellion dispersed, and we don’t know how many of them survived. Leia even kissed her brother without realising.

Truly, things are dark. And that means the ending of this movie is really, genuinely impactful.

The Empire Strikes Back is a really, really good movie. Again, I think I’d have to give this one another 10/10 (though I am not certain if, in terms of my own subjective enjoyment, I prefer it over A New Hope. I think A New Hope might just edge past The Empire Strikes Back, ultimately.)


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Star Wars Retrospective: A New Hope

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And now, I’ve finally reached the original.

It’s staggering to think, actually, that this movie is nearly 40 years old – and then even more so when you think about the cultural influence it’s had. This movie, filmed on a budget of eleven million dollars, spawned a franchise that sold for four billion dollars. It lead to a further 5 films, two television series, and hundreds of books and comics. There’s going to be another five films, the first of which will be released this Thursday, and then god knows how many more after that. It’s a film that’s ingrained in the zeitgeist, with a greater pop culture presence than any other single movie that’s come before or after it.

It’s actually, genuinely, slightly insane. This movie has had an impact on such a grand scale, it’s touched the lives of so many people across the globe. It has huge, huge numbers of dedicated fans. Honestly, genuinely, the achievements of Star Wars are exceptionally impressive.

Thankfully, it’s also a very good movie.

I think a lot of people will have commented on this before, but right from the beginning, George Lucas does a fantastic job of conveying the sheer scale of his universe – or, rather, his galaxy. We open with Princess Leia’s ship, which looks huge… but then it’s completely dwarfed by the size of the Imperial Star Destroyer following it! Immediately, within just a few moments, we’re introduced to a whole new world, which is clearly full of possibilities. It’s a hugely effective opening sequence; perhaps one of the best I’ve ever seen.

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And, honestly, it continues well from there. I genuinely don’t think there’s a single thing this movie actually gets wrong.

One of the biggest issues I highlighted with the prequel films was the pacing; there’s no such problem here. Star Wars is a really well-written film, that does exactly what it needs to do with its runtime. It’s consistently entertaining; I was never bored by it once. The plot moves along at a good speed – we dwell on each beat long enough for it to have a proper level of impact, but never long enough for it to drag. In short, it’s a supremely effective story, all well told and well presented.

You can see that at the start, beginning as we do with R2-D2 and C3PO. I was actually quite surprised by that, when I was rewatching this, because I didn’t realise quite how long it was that we spent on these two; there’s a significant chunk of this movie wherein the pair of them are essentially our main focal point. And this is never boring! That’s an achievement in and of itself, really, given that one of them doesn’t talk, and the other is very much a comedy character.

And, of course, this is maintained all throughout the two hours that the film is running for. It’s really, readily apparent quite how well this film fits together; the transition from space to Tatooine, to the Death Star, to the Rebel Base – it all comes together to create a brilliantly textured, lived in universe, which provides an excellent backdrop to this wonderful, almost mythic, story.

We’ve also got a wonderful host of fun, strongly drawn characters, who really breathe life into this plot. There’s a reason, after all, why these guys are in the zeitgeist now; they’re iconic. Of course, a lot of that comes from the way in which George Lucas played upon pre-existing archetypes, and drawing from different aspects of mythos; you’ve got the young hero, the wise old man, the rogue, the princess. Star Wars does, after all, follow Joseph Campbell’s idea of the Hero’s Journey, almost entirely to a tee.

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But Star Wars is much more than a paint-by-numbers, regurgitated plot. There’s something genuinely special here, and you can see why it touched the lives of so many people. Luke, the wide eyed audience surrogate, is a pretty perfect protagonist – everyone has felt listless and unfulfilled, searching for something new, the same way he has. Everyone has wanted to just fly away and be a hero (or, well, maybe that’s just me). It’s a great performance by Mark Hamill, who does a really good job as Luke.

The same is true again, then, of Han and Chewie, or Obi-Wan (known also as Ben, for reasons I am not entirely sure of). Harrison Ford and Alec Guinness were, I think, probably the best actors of the main cast – Alec Guinness was nominated for an Oscar because of his role as Obi-Wan, I think? That sounds right to me. They’re similarly impressive characters to Luke; Han, the rogue with the redemption arc, eventually coming back to help the rebels, is a real moment of triumph that stands out as you watch the film.

It’s also particularly interesting watching this film, and seeing Obi-Wan, in light of having seen the prequel movies recently. There are certainly discrepancies, which are obvious from the dialogue, in terms of how George Lucas’ plans changed between the making of the different films – my favourite is how Obi-Wan speaks to Darth Vader, calling him “Darth” as if it’s his first name. (Mental gymnastics to make that work: it’s almost a way of mocking him, reducing him just to the Sith title, not acknowledging any other part of him.) For the most part, though, I do think that having seen the backstory from the prequels does add to the movie; at the very least, they don’t significantly detract from them.

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We’ve also got an impressive, imposing villain in Darth Vader, who has some real and genuine screen presence. It’s interesting, actually, watching it back, because he’s a little different to how I remembered – weirdly, he speaks a lot more than I remembered. I’d always assumed that, in this movie at least, he was more of a silent villain, with the breathing being his distinct audio cue. But no, it is in fact James Earl Jones’ deep, booming voice that we hear here – and quite often, too. It was a nice surprise, actually, because that voice is one of the best parts about Darth Vader. It’s part of what makes him so imposing, and gives him such a commanding presence – in this movie, you can see the groundwork being laid for someone who’s going to be known as one of the greatest villains of all time.

Naturally, we can’t forget Princess Leia either, who’s really well played by Carrie Fisher. It’s an excellent performance – Leia is a great character, who’s a lot of fun. The fact Leia exists as a character is a pretty cool thing too; we’ve got a female character who leads the Rebel Alliance, and even though she’s captured, she in in fact demonstrably one of the most capable and competent characters there – arguably moreso than Luke and Han, even, who kind of blunder through the rescue attempt rather haphazardly (which, I must stress, is part of their charm!) before ultimately pulling it off. In any case, though, it’s a fun and engaging portrayal from Carrie Fisher.

The version I was watching was the… it was an edited edition, though I confess I’m not entirely certain when it was from. I’d wager it’s the 2011 set, which are most recent; if it helps anyone identify it, Han and Greedo shoot at the same time. Also, there are some weird animals walking around Tatooine, and one of them actually walks past in the foreground at one point, completely blocking the characters from view. I’d always thought the people complaining about the edits were overreacting somewhat – I’ve never seen the originals, and it’d been so long I didn’t really remember/notice the edits in the first place – but I do understand it a lot more now. They’re rather obtrusive edits, and one is lead to question the point of them; I can understand things like the inclusion of Jabba, which, even if not particularly well realised, was something George Lucas wanted the first go around. I question the wisdom of covering the entire screen with a CGI animal’s backside, however.

In the end, then, the first Star Wars movie is a very good movie. It is justifiably considered a classic, and it’s deserving of the reputation it has garnered over the years. Though there are certainly things I’d have liked to have seen it – more female or POC characters, Luke having a stronger/more sustained reaction to Owen and Beru’s (rather grisly) deaths, etc – that’s very much a case of me looking to find the sort of thing I’d want in a 2015 film.

Really, there’s only one score I can give this movie – and that’s 10/10.


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Star Wars Retrospective: Rewriting the Prequels

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It is a truth, almost universally acknowledged, that the Star Wars prequel trilogy suffered from flawed execution. There’s debate as to whether or not the actual basic plot is any good; personally, I think it is, and with some refinement, the movies could have been perfect.

With that in mind, then, we’re going to engage in a little bit of dramaturgery. It’s like “dramaturgy”, but with surgical elements, because we’re fixing the movie. In this instance, an important stipulation remains: I’m going to try and adhere as closely to what’s laid out in the prequels as I can, without making too many major changes. The idea is to adjust character arcs, and individual aspects of the plot, to give us a movie trilogy which could still believably have been something we’d see on screen. For the most part, then, my prequel trilogy will still mirror the originals; we’re not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as it were. (Mind you, if you are interested in some more dramatic departures and rewrites, I’d suggest checking out some of these reddit threads, which have some pretty cool ideas in them.)

The Phantom Menace

Primarily, the changes I’d make are ones which would impact the later films, in the hopes of bringing together a stronger prequel trilogy overall. For the most part, I did enjoy The Phantom Menace, after all. There are three key areas I’d want to change, though: Padme and Anakin, the Jedi Order, and the Trade Federation.

For Padme and Anakin, it’s largely just a case of simplifying and streamlining. I’d make Padme senator from the beginning, and excise the Keira Knightley plotline. Also, I’d try to make Padme a lot more proactive, as a character; there are elements of this in The Phantom Menace, but I’d want to play that up a lot more. Anakin I think should be aged up a little bit; it’s not that I had a problem with Jake Lloyd, but I think that an older Anakin (played by the same actor across all three films) will give us the opportunity to get to know the character much better. Anakin would need to be rewritten somewhat too – more Han Solo, less whiny brat – but I’ll cover that some more in Attack of the Clones. I also think it’s important for him to have some scenes with Obi-Wan, because their friendship is a really important thematic thread throughout the prequels. Anakin and Padme will need a lot of scenes together, too, to establish some chemistry and a close bond between them.

(Oh, and Anakin should build R2-D2, and C3PO should be one of Padme’s droids. That makes a little more sense.)

The Jedi Order, then. Two principal changes here, both of which are really presented in terms of Qui-Gonn Jinn. I’d emphasis the fact that Qui-Gonn is a bit of a maverick, and doesn’t necessarily agree with the Jedi council on a lot of things – or, really, anything. Perhaps he’s the only Jedi with the rank of Master who isn’t on the Council, because he consistently makes a nuisance of himself. It’s something that’s touched on a little bit, with his insistence over training Anakin, but once again, I’d want to emphasis it, just to make it a little more obvious. The second change would be in the presentation of the prophecy of the Chosen One; I actually like this idea, just not so much how it was used.

In The Phantom Menace, we’ll have prophecy as a secret; something Qui-Gonn knows about, and something the Jedi Council knows about, but it’s kept secret from the audience. When Qui-Gonn is trying to convince the Jedi Council to let him train Anakin, Obi-Wan and Anakin will be sat outside, and we can watch scenes of them bonding. Even when the council does eventually let Obi-Wan train Anakin, they don’t tell him why Qui-Gonn wanted to train the boy so much.

(Also, Mace Windu leads the Jedi Council. I’m not sure if Yoda would necessarily be in this film, but we’re positioning him more as… more Pope Emeritus than Pope, if you like. Yoda is trusted advisor and weirdo hermit, who’s trained lots of Jedi over the years, but isn’t the leader of the council. He has been in the past, but not for the last century or so.)

With regards to the Trade Federation… I’d alter the plot to make them Separatists. It establishes the basis of the conflict in the next movie, for one thing, and gives us a central plot across all three films: the Separatists vs the Republic. I think it’d also be worth changing Naboo to Alderann; Senator Amidala of Alderann is going to have a greater emotional impact, I think, given what we know from the Original Trilogy. Maybe we can introduce Bail Organa as leader of Alderann (I think Bail is a title rather than a name), and Palpatine can already be the leader of the Republic.

Oh, and Qui-Gonn isn’t going to be cut down by Darth Maul. He can lose, say, an arm or some such, and it’ll be heavily implied that he died, but all we’re going to see is him falling down the central shaft that Maul fell down. Also! Maul will appear to be working alone, without any appearances of a shady Darth Sidious type. Maul will be hunting Anakin; the implication at first will be that he’s hunting Padme, but it’s eventually revealed that he was after Anakin all along. This will serve to set up a bit of a mystery around Anakin; Qui-Gonn wants to train him, but won’t explain why. The Jedi Council don’t appear to like him, but won’t explain why. A member of a long thought dead Sith cult has appeared to try and kill Anakin, but it’s never revealed why.

The film will end with Anakin and Obi-Wan (firm friends by this stage), ready to embark on more adventures, and begin Anakin’s training… yet, at the same time, remaining in the dark about the mystery of Anakin Skywalker.

Attack of the Clones

It’s quite important to me, actually, to really emphasise that Obi-Wan and Anakin are close friends. I don’t think that Attack of the Clones did a particularly good job of doing this, so I’d want to open this film with the pair of them on some ridiculous adventure. Possibly on a jungle planet, something like that. It should take about twenty minutes tops – we’re essentially coming in at the end of another movie, watching their daring escape from whatever peril they were in.

When they’re back in their spaceship, laughing together, they can get their communication from the Jedi Council – they need to come back and help protect Senator Amidala of Alderaan, because it seems the Separatists are making attempts on her life, because of an important upcoming vote. Here we also learn of the existence of the mysterious Count Dooku, a shady figure about whom little is known, who has become leader of the Separatists in the three years since the end of The Phantom Menace.

Things proceed similarly to how they do in the actual movie for a while; attempt on Padme’s life, investigations, etc etc. It’s important that Anakin, Obi-Wan and Padme all get scenes together; I want the three of them to be close friends. Think of the scene in A New Hope, after the Death Star has been destroyed, and Luke, Leia and Han are all happy together. It’s also important, of course, that we pick up where we left off with The Phantom Menace; Anakin and Padme are both very attracted to one another. It should be obvious to the audience – bluntly, Anakin and Padme should be everyone’s OTP, as it were. Every single audience member has to be saying “oh they love each other so much, I hope they can have a happy ending together!”

We’ll separate the three of them at this point; Anakin and Padme are sent to Alderann together, back to her home, and Obi-Wan continues his investigations. It’s the same as the actual movie, basically. While on Alderann, Anakin is significantly less creepy to Padme, and the pair get much closer to starting their relationship. Padme can actually suggest a relationship, but Anakin turns her down; he loves her, he knows he does, but he has a Jedi code. Obi-Wan goes off to Kamino, and finds out about the Clone Army… which was, apparently, ordered by Qui-Gonn Jinn? Shocking revelation! Obi-Wan is horrified and confused, especially since he ‘knows’ Qui-Gonn is dead.

We’re going to cut the Tattooine arc with Anakin’s mother, and continue to follow Obi-Wan to Geonosis – the base of the separatists. Then, Anakin has visions of Obi-Wan being in danger, at which point he contacts Mace Windu to let him know. Mace Windu listens to Anakin, but doesn’t really give any indication he actually gives a damn. Padme wants to go, Anakin also wants to go, but at first wants to follow his orders. In the end, though, Padme convinces him to go with her to Geonosis, similarly to the original movie.

Cut to Geonosis, where Obi-Wan is listening in on a Separatist meeting. He realises he’s in the presence of Count Dooku, the leader; the Republic has never been able to identify him before, so this is pretty important. Count Dooku is speaking, Obi-Wan is reckless, and jumps down, threatening to arrest Dooku. “Who are you?”, Obi-Wan asks, and a voice replies… “I am your master.” Dooku steps forward into the light, and we see… it’s Qui-Gonn Jinn! Older, greyer, and with a robot hand, and yet unmistakably Liam Neeson. Obi-Wan attacks him, immediately, out of rage and passion and confusion, but Qui-Gonn has him disarmed and knocked unconscious with ease.

The scene between Obi-Wan and Count Dooku from Attack of the Clones plays out similarly, except with Qui-Gonn. We learn that Qui-Gonn survived, and due to the corruption of the Jedi and the Senate (hinted at in the previous movie) he joined the Separatists and slowly rose to be their leader. Obi-Wan feels completely and utterly betrayed, because Qui-Gonn seems to be the villain. He accuses him of trying to kill Padme, Qui-Gonn has no idea what he means, but Obi-Wan thinks he’s lying. Qui-Gon leaves Obi-Wan.

We don’t have the clones, yet; Padme and Anakin rescue Obi-Wan on their own. They get him out quietly, without any confrontation, and return him to the Jedi Council. We end up with a meeting between the council, our three heroes and Palpatine. Discussion turns to the Separatists; Mace Windu suggests using the Clone Army (which belongs to the Jedi now) to attack the Separatists. Obi-Wan and Padme are against it, Anakin is hesitant to commit either way, but Palpatine is ultimately persuaded by Mace Windu.

The Jedi launch an attack on Geonosis, then. The Separatists have their droids (this is important) and the Republic have clones. I’d like it if Anakin and Obi-Wan actually got to know a pair of clones in this movie; it’s really important to humanise the clones, the same way they were in The Clone Wars cartoon, to emphasise the fact that these are still real people living and dying.

On Geonosis, the clones and droids fight; the Jedi are also involved in the fighting. Anakin and Obi-Wan are there to lead an attack on one specific part of the Separatist base, but Obi-Wan sneaks away to find Qui-Gonn – and his best friend Anakin joins him. (This will be an important moment in terms of their relationship.)

They find Qui-Gonn, and the fight with him is not dissimilar to the original fight with Count Dooku. We’ll ask him about his motivations – Qui-Gonn thinks the Senate and the Republic is corrupt, wants to start a new government. (”You want to make yourself ruler of the galaxy?” “Perhaps”.) Crucially, though, Qui-Gonn won’t cut off Anakin’s arm. In fact, Qui-Gonn uses the force primarily, rather than his lightsabre – which is Darth Maul’s red one from the last movie, because he lost his green one in the fight. Qui-Gonn appears to be a Sith – and when he throws some Force lightning, this is borderline confirmed. For most of the audience, then, it seems like Qui-Gonn is to be the Emperor.

(“It is naive to think of the force in terms of light and dark, my old Padawan. You know I have always studied the ways of the Living Force, trying to find balance. There are depths of the force the Jedi have never studied, powers they have never known. The ability to bring life itself. But, then, surely your Padawan knows this, yes? After all, he is the Chosen One.”)

During the fight, Qui-Gonn reveals to Anakin and Obi-Wan the existence of the prophecy, explaining the mystery we set up at the end of the previous film. Both Anakin and Obi-Wan feel betrayed, and, given how shocked they are, start to lose the fight. Yoda comes in to save them; things proceed as they did in the original movie. When Qui-Gonn has left, Obi-Wan and Anakin ask Yoda if this is the truth. Yoda, wise old Jedi that he is, is able to shed some light on the prophecy of the chosen one who will bring balance to the Force. Maybe he was there when the prophecy was first made, that could be cool.

With Geonosis sorted out, we return to Coruscant. A few important scenes; Padme in the Senate, listening to Palpatine discussing the war. We’ll have a conversation between her and Bail, about the separatists, and the corruption in the Republic Senate. Obi-Wan and Anakin talking to the Jedi Council about the prophecy. Anakin is furious at Mace Windu, and has an angry (not whiny) outburst. He leaves; Mace Windu begins talking to Obi-Wan, who cuts him off, and says he thinks Anakin is right. Obi-Wan leaves as well. Mace Windu can talk to Plo Koon or Kit Fisto or someone… and it’s revealed that they, the Jedi Council, ordered the creation of the Clone Army. Why? We’ll find out in the next movie.

The final scene, then, is Anakin going to see Padme, just after his outburst. He explains that the Jedi, for all their moral code, are seemingly corrupt. Anakin and Padme begin their relationship at this point.

Revenge of the Sith

The first half hour or so of this movie can be essentially the same, with the mission to rescue Palpatine, but with a few slight changes. Qui-Gonn remains our Dooku figure, but General Grievous is cut; Qui-Gonn is going to take his role in the movie as well. We’ll have a second in command type figure, though, a humanoid that Anakin can kill. Not at Palpatine’s command, though – just in a fight on board the ship. Over the course of the Clone Wars, all the Jedi have had to do things like this. (Palpatine will ask Anakin to kill Qui-Gonn, but he’ll refuse.)

Anyway, when we return to Coruscant, Padme and Anakin can meet up, as in the original. She’s pregnant! Surprise. How wonderful. But it’s revealed that this is in fact their second child (Anakin: “Maybe it’ll be a boy this time. I like the name Han.” Padme: “Don’t be ridiculous, we’re not calling him that.”), because in the intervening years between now and the end of the last movie, Anakin and Padme have already had a daughter – Leia.

This is, I think, the most significant of the changes I’ve made so far, but hopefully it’ll be an important one, in terms of Anakin’s fall to the dark side. Most of the restructuring of this film that I’ll be doing is, essentially, to try and make Anakin’s fall to the dark side a little more organic and natural.

It does get a little complicated from hereon out, though. I think Palpatine’s revelation about the powers of the Sith come too early; he ends up being very suspicious, and Anakin starts to look like an idiot for not doing anything earlier. Also, I actually quite like the idea that, thus far, we’ve been suggesting that Qui-Gonn was to become the Emperor; hopefully Palpatine has seemed relatively innocuous so far.

Anakin can still have his visions of Padme dying in childbirth, but I think also we’ll include a vision of the death of Leia too. Remembering what Qui-Gonn said in the last movie, Anakin goes to the Jedi Archives, and starts checking out some Holocrons on the Sith. Initially, the Archives won’t let him – his access was restricted by another Jedi – but Anakin bypasses it with his tech skills. Perhaps the Sith Holocrons were last checked out of the Jedi Archives by Qui-Gonn Jinn, again indicating that he’s the Big Bad Sith.

From there, we’ll go to a droid/clone battle on some backwater planet. Anakin is leading the charge; when he’s in battle, fighting against the droids, you can see there’s a lot of fury in him, and rage as well. It’s clear that years of war have changed him. Soon enough, though, he finds himself in a position where he’s protecting some innocent family from a large army of droids. Just using his lightsabre isn’t enough; he needs to do more. And so, in a moment of desperation, he throws some force lightning at the droids, destroying them all in one go.

This is where Anakin starts to be seduced by the Dark Side, we can say; at the minute, he’s going to be quite conflicted about the nature of good and evil. He doesn’t trust the Jedi council, as he knows they’ve been lying to him about his position as the chosen one. And he knows that Qui-Gonn was once a good man, who he looked up to – if he’s tapping in to the dark side, is it really that bad? And, surely any power that brings life cannot be evil? And, again, if he is the Chosen One, then should he not be using all aspects of the force, in an attempt to bring balance?

After this, the movie can run similarly. Anakin returns, and is made member of the Jedi council by Palpatine; Obi-Wan goes off to find Grievous Qui-Gonn Jinn. Mace Windu asks Anakin to spy on Palpatine, which Anakin thinks is ridiculous; Palpatine is a friend of his, and a nice enough fellow, who’s clearly pretty stressed by the war. This drives the wedge between Anakin and the council further.

I want Padme to have a plot, though, because I didn’t feel like she had enough to do in this movie. So, we want some scenes of her and Bail Organa, discussing the war and the Republic. Padme, we come to see, is disillusioned with the Republic, and wonders if the Separatists did in fact have the right idea. Bail Organa finds her disillusionment quite interesting, and gets her to come with him in his spaceship – we don’t know where they’re going, though. (Baby Leia was left with R2-D2 and C3PO, which can be a good opportunity for humour.)

From there, we follow Obi-Wan to Utapa. It’s going to go similarly to the way it did in the original Revenge of the Sith; he ends up in a lightsabre duel with Qui-Gonn, his old master. The pair are relatively evenly matched, but Qui-Gonn is noticeably holding back – he doesn’t want to hurt Obi-Wan.

As with before, we’ll cut to Anakin and Palpatine talking. Again, as with the original, Palpatine will reveal himself to be a Sith – ideally though, this scene will be much more subtle, and it’s clear that it’s meant to be an attempt to manipulate Anakin, rather than just force his hand. Also, obviously, it’s a big surprise reveal – so far we all thought Qui-Gonn was the Emperor. Things run slightly similarly to what originally happened; Anakin flees, getting Mace; Mace tells him to stay behind, simply because he doesn’t like Anakin, but also because he’s arrogant, and believes he can take Palpatine without the help of the Chosen One.

The fight between Mace & his accompanying Jedi and Palpatine goes well for Mace at first; the four of them are very clearly winning, and Palpatine is only just holding his own. You’d intercut this of scenes with Anakin getting increasingly worried and conflicted internally; eventually, he goes to the Senate Chamber to watch. And that is when Palpatine starts to win the fight – he decimates Kit Fisto and Shaak Ti and the other one, fights Mace to a standstill, then electrocutes him, torturing him. Mace is writing on the floor in pain; Palpatine is using the force to hold Anakin against the wall, immobile.

Being tortured, then, Palpatine forces Mace to reveal that he resents Anakin and always has; that he deliberately kept details of the force from him (hence the restricted access in the Archives), and, finally, the revelation that Mace created the Clone Army. He can’t explain why, though, and that’s when Palpatine reveals he’s been influencing the Jedi council. At that point, Mace is killed. Thrown out the Window, beheaded, whatever.

Palpatine begins to spiel; “the Jedi are powerless against me”, and etc. He executes Order 66, and we have our cool montage. After several shots of dying Jedi (intercut with a grieving Yoda; I don’t know if he’s on Kashyyk, maybe just a meditative retreat), we cut back to Obi-Wan and Qui-Gonn, still mid duel.

The Clones begin to attack the pair of them; they try to hold them off, but can’t. They escape together in Qui-Gonn’s ship, and Qui-Gonn takes Obi-Wan to the Separatist base. Qui-Gonn explains some more about his politics and what the Separatists do, and Obi-Wan starts to realise maybe his old Master isn’t the bad guy in all this. (At some point, we reveal that the Separatists have been using droids to try and minimise the casualties of the war, emphasising that they’re the good guys here – after all, the Republic created life and treated it essentially as expendable, something we already have a problem with after having got to know the Clones in the last movie.) As they touch down on the planet, we return to Bail Organa and Padme; they’re on the ship together, heading to some planet somewhere. As they touch down, we realise they’re on the same planet as Obi-Wan and Qui-Gonn – the Separatist base planet. This is confirmed when the four meet, and Qui-Gonn and Bail begin to talk; Bail has been working with Qui-Gonn for a long time. It’s also revealed that this is Yavin IV – and we start to realise that the Separatist Movement now is also the basis of the Rebel Alliance. It might be nice to see a young Mon Mothma or Captain Ackbar hanging around, but that could be pushing it a little.

Back to Anakin, then. Palpatine is torturing him, and taunting him as well. He’s destroyed all the Jedi – that’s the power of the Sith. Palpatine reveals that he has a spy within the Separatist ranks; he taunts Anakin further, telling him that Padme and Obi-Wan have betrayed him, joining his sworn enemies. His best friend, and his wife – yes, Palpatine knows about that. But that’s not all he knows about:

Baby Leia is brought in, kicking and screaming, held by a pair of clone troopers. Anakin screams – but Palpatine keeps torturing him, laughing. I think perhaps he will fill Anakin’s mind with images of baby Leia dying painfully, that sort of thing – Anakin is being driven insane, and not necessarily cognizant of the full truth. We want shades of what happened to Luke in Episode VI, before Darth Vader stepped in; with no one here to save Anakin, and his whole world crumbling around him, having already felt the power of the Dark Side… he falls. I’d put a “NO” in here, but we want something blood-curdling and guttural and disturbed.

We cut to Obi-Wan, Qui-Gonn and Yoda now, all at once. Possibly three faces on screen at once. They all felt it – they felt the power of the dark side. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan begin preparations to leave at once; they don’t know exactly what has happened, only that they must head to Coruscant immediately. Unbeknownst to them, Padme sneaks aboard (haha, parallels).

Palpatine sends Anakin away to Yavin IV, to destroy the Separatists. When Anakin has left, though… enter Yoda. He’s emerged from the depths of the Jedi temple, in the hopes of rescuing the child and defeating the Emperor. The Yoda/Emperor fight proceeds similarly to how it did in the actual film; I’d take out the lightsabres, and emphasise their knowledge of the force. Yoda “loses”, in the end, when he realises he cannot defeat the Emperor and save Leia – he takes the child and runs. When he gets outside, two soldiers can approach him and say they’re from Bail Organa, sent to find Yoda, so they go off with them. Easy.

We cut to space, then; two ships, one belonging to Anakin, the other two Obi-Wan and Qui-Gonn. Short orbital battle, before the pair of them crash on a planet below – Mustafar. Emerging from the damage, we get Obi-Wan, Qui-Gonn, Anakin… and Padme. Things proceed similarly to before; Padme pleads with Anakin, but he force chokes her and tosses her aside. The final battle is essentially a mash up between the Duel of the Fates from the real version of The Phantom Menace, and the final battle from Revenge of the Sith; Obi-Wann and Qui-Gonn vs Anakin, before Anakin kills Qui-Gonn and it’s Obi-Wan on his own.

From that point on, then, the movie proceeds very similarly to how it did in the original. Obi-Wan, enraged, defeats Anakin, leaving him to burn; he escapes in one of the ships, bringing Padme with him. They get to Yavin; the film continues as normal from there on, Padme giving birth to Luke, Anakin being made into the Darth Vader we all know and recognise. Notably, there isn’t a “NO” here, to show that Darth Vader doesn’t care.

We end with the same Obi-Wan/Yoda/Bail Organa discussion from the original. Yoda will explain, though, that both Qui-Gonn and Anakin misunderstood what it meant to bring balance to the force; it’s not about unifying the Light and the Dark, but destroying the Dark. The Dark is a corruption, an unnatural intrusion; the Force is balanced without the Dark. They decide on the same plans; to hide the children, away from the Emperor. We have the same concluding scenes, essentially, though there’s one new one – the same soldiers who rescued Yoda bring the broken pieces of R2-D2 and C3PO along, explaining they found them in Padme’s home. (They couldn’t find C3PO’s shin, though, so I guess he’ll need a new silver one!) The robots are taken away to be repaired and placed in the employ of Bail.

And so the movie ends, with the Jedi destroyed, and the Empire established…

Now, I readily acknowledge this isn’t perfect. Looking back over this, I think it needs to be tightened up in a little places, refined somewhat, clarified to a degree. I have, after all, done it relatively quickly. I’m not 100% happy with the final resolution of Episode III, actually, but we’ll leave it for now.

Whilst I do think this is a better overarching plot than what we got in the prequels, it’s important to stress that it’s very easy for me to extrapolate and create new plots by refining that which was already available to me. It’s not the same as creating this whole cloth, which is what George Lucas had to do.

Still, though. I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into what might have been!


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Star Wars Retrospective: Revenge of the Sith

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This is an interesting one to have reached, because a lot of my own cultural zeitgeist understanding of Star Wars comes from this film in particular. It came out in 2005, and aligned with the peak of my own personal interest in Star Wars – or, rather, was responsible for the said peak in interest. Star Wars was able to have a constant presence in my life because of the buzz around this film; I collected the lightsabres in cereal boxes (still have the Anakin Skywalker one, actually), little Burger King toys, and, of course, the Panini Sticker Albums. Loved those sticker albums.

And of course, I was also looking forward to this one because it’s supposed to be the “good” prequel. By a lot of people it’s considered to be almost as good as some of the original trilogy; if you go by Rotten Tomato scores, it’s supposedly as good as Return of the Jedi. (They’re both at 79%, if you’re interested.) Now, that was interesting in and of itself, to see how closely my views would match the commonly accepted consensus… but frankly, I also just wanted to watch a movie that was just, like, good? After Attack of the Clones, and to a lesser extent The Phantom Menace, I was really sort of losing enthusiasm for these films. I was actually worried I didn’t like Star Wars anymore. Which would have been pretty shocking.

But, thankfully, Revenge of the Sith was actually genuinely pretty good. It was a real and significant improvement over its two predecessors, that’s got to be said. Right from the beginning, actually, it starts really well, with a really impressive opening sequence; an aerial space battle that has a wonderful visual feel to it, and still looks beautiful nearly ten years later. The CGI in general throughout this movie is typically pretty good, in fact, and the movie retains a nice visual feel throughout; in terms of the actual direction, it is markedly better than The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.

star wars revenge of the sith space battle opening sequence cgi hayden christensen ewan mcgregor obi wan anakin r2d2

As it happens, Revenge of the Sith does a pretty good job of picking up on and improving the issues that plagued the previous two movies. A flaw that I picked up on with both The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones was the run time; neither film was able to properly sustain their story for the full two and a half hours that they played for, and definitely started to drag on around the 90-minute mark. Revenge of the Sith was in fact much better paced than the prior prequel movies; it moves along surprisingly quickly (there were quite a few moments that I expected to happen later in the film than they actually did) and it manages to maintain a pretty high level of interest throughout. There’s never anything boring happening on screen, and that’s rather commendable; it’s a marked improvement over the previous movies, and a reasonable achievement in its own right.

The second improvement is the portrayal of Anakin Skywalker. Now, it wasn’t perfect, I’ve got to be upfront about that; I’ll be commenting on a few issues that I took with Hayden Christensen’s performance in a moment. But, for now, I think it’s worth acknowledging that he did a much better job in this film than in Attack of the Clones (where Anakin was, frankly, intolerable). He did a decent job of portraying an older, more experienced Anakin, and actually managed to maintain a commanding screen presence as ‘Darth Vader’. Christensen’s actual performance, after Anakin had turned to the dark side, had an impressive level of intensity to it, which I honestly didn’t think he’d be able to pull off, given his performance in Attack of the Clones.

In fact, Revenge of the Sith does a pretty good job of showing the sheer brutality of the eponymous revenge, but also emphasising the tragedy of Anakin’s fall. The massacre of the Padawans is actually quite distressing in some ways – a little detail that stood out to me is the fact that the young boy called Anakin by his name, “Master Skywalker”. Clearly the younglings knew him and trusted him… and then he kills them! It’s a fairly well presented sequence, with most of the violence relegated offscreen, and left implicit by the slow activation of the lightsabre. It’s a nice touch.

Similarly, the execution of Order 66 is really well presented; there’s an excellent musical score, playing over scenes of the Jedi being utterly decimated, all intercut with sequences of Yoda feeling their deaths through the force. I’d say it’s actually one of the best sequences in the prequel trilogy; it does a great job of conveying the scale of the destruction of the Jedi order, and quite how far they fell. Honestly, it’s quite an emotive sequence – effectively presented, and ultimately rather impactful.

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Admittedly, though, the movie is still flawed.

The principal flaw remains Anakin. In this instance, it’s the actual situation leading to his fall to the dark side. On paper, the fact that his love for Padme drives him to the dark side in the end is, actually, a pretty good idea; as with many of the good ideas in the prequels, though, the execution is lacking at best and fundamentally flawed at worst.

Anakin’s descent, and tragic fall, takes place too quickly; it should be far more gradual, giving us a depiction of an inexorable decline into darkness, rather than a ridiculous about heel turn. Throughout the whole movie, it’s essentially presented as Anakin going “eh I guess I’ll listen to Palpatine”, and then “huh that was kind of a bad idea”, until it finally becomes “sod it, I’m going to murder a bunch of 9 year olds”. Anakin comes across a naïve, confused… idiot. Too many of the choices he makes are dependent on his being too trusting of Palpatine (who straight up admits to being a Sith Lord) or just not really making any independent choices of his own. Essentially, Anakin spends a lot of this plot carrying around the Idiot Ball, as it were, and it means that when he eventually becomes Darth Vader, the whole transition is undercut significantly.

I was a little disappointed with how they handled Padme in this movie as well. It was nice to see her being a little more proactive, ish, but in the end she didn’t have a huge amount of impact on the narrative; her plotline in this movie was essentially just an extended Fridging. Her death – signposted from the beginning with Anakin’s visions – was only about Anakin’s angst, and her character arc in this movie was simply to die. I think there was a cut scene somewhere, at some stage, where her and Bail Organa start the rebellion… but given that’s not even in the finished movie, it must be sad, Padme (and Natalie Portman) was dealt a pretty poor hand across these three movies.

Dooku and Grievous are also pretty weak, as antagonists go. Neither of them really have the requisite amount of screentime to have any genuine impact; you would have been better off, I think, cutting Grievous and expanding the Dooku role. (Or… well, I actually have another idea which I think is even better. Follow me and check back later today for a post rewriting the prequel trilogy).

But, on the flip side, Palpatine is actually a rather impressive villain. Ian McDiarmid gives a really skilled performance; he’s definitely the best villain of the prequel trilogy, I’d say. The character is really effective, for the most part, and has a great screen presence. Admittedly, some of his impact is undercut by the script, and Anakin’s interactions with him, but we do get to see a rather manipulative, even Machiavellian, figure, which is an impressive move from Revenge of the Sith.

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The film’s denouement, with the final confrontation between Anakin and Obi-Wan, is actually fantastic. As a fight, it looks impressive – it’s well choreographed, and the CGI stands up well, making Mustafar an excellent setting for the climax of the movie – but it’s made much more effective by the fact that there is some emotional weight to it. We started the film with Anakin and Obi-Wan fighting side by side, and end it thusly, with the pair in a fight to the death. It does work quite well, even despite the aforementioned flaws with Anakin’s fall to the dark side.

Ewan McGregor, it’s worth noting, does some great work with these scenes. He’s was a little limited by the dialogue at times (it’s not great), but it does have to be stressed that his performance as Obi-Wan is one of the best things about this movie. I’d really like to see him appear as Obi-Wan again, actually; I’m sure with all the Anthology movies that are supposed to be coming out under the Star Wars brand, there’s room for an Obi-Wan Kenobi movies set between Episodes III and IV.

So, Revenge of the Sith, then. It is actually a genuinely entertaining and enjoyable movie; I don’t think that can – or should – be disputed. There’s lots of impressive little directorial flourishes (like Anakin’s rebirth as Darth Vader taking place inside the imperial symbol), and some genuinely clever and effective presentation of different sequences – like the execution of Order 66, or intercutting Anakin’s rebirth as Darth Vader with Padme giving birth to Luke and Leia. I do think George Lucas did a pretty good job of directing this movie (albeit perhaps not writing it) and it’s clear that he had learnt from mistakes made with the prior prequel movies.

I do think this film can get an 8/10, actually. I genuinely did enjoy it quite a lot. In many ways, though, it highlights the most fundamental flaws of the prequels; with a little more work, and a little more consideration, these three films could have been damn near perfect. They could have been the best films ever.

And the biggest shame is the fact that they weren’t.


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Star Wars Retrospective: Attack of the Clones

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I was watching an interview with Steven Moffat yesterday, where he was talking about the Time War, and why he thought it’d never be shown on camera – the version you see on screen could never live up to the version you’ve had in your head for all these years. Obviously, there’s a certain irony to that, but what was interesting to me was that he used the Clone Wars as an example.

You sit there thinking ‘wow, the Clone Wars, that sounds awesome’, and then you see it, and it’s all just bloody meetings!”

That was interesting to me though, anyway, because it highlighted the differences in how I’m watching the Prequels, and how a lot of other people would have seen them. I mean, I wasn’t born until a little before The Phantom Menace came out, and I definitely wouldn’t have started watching Star Wars until after Attack of the Clones had come out. I never had any grounding in these movies, or expectations that the prequels could let down.

In some ways, that’s akin to a point I’d touched on in my Phantom Menace retrospective, which I posted yesterday. But it’s particularly notable here, actually, and I think more worthy of comment, because it’s with this movie that the prequels really start to draw upon the iconography of the original trilogy. You have the Clone Wars, you have Owen and Beru Lars, you have Jango and Boba Fett, and so on and so forth. Moreso than The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones really is dependent upon the original trilogy.

And… well, in theory, that’s not actually such a bad thing. Drawing on something familiar, and presenting it in a different way, can be a great way to present an effective and compelling narrative – and it’s always exciting to get more information about the mysterious backstory from the originals.

Actually, to be honest, I think even in practice, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Flawed though the film was, the flaws didn’t come from the references to the lore of the original trilogy.

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Well, I say that, but that’s not strictly true. Because the biggest flaw with this film was Anakin Skywalker. This is not a new observation, nor a particularly original one. It’s a complaint I was very aware of going into the film, and actually assumed I wouldn’t really have a problem with – you know the internet, full of hyperbole. After all, I hadn’t found Jake Lloyd as Anakin to be particularly unbearable.

But Hayden Christensen as Anakin is The Literal Worst.

It’s difficult to say how much of it is down to his acting (a terribly wooden performance) and how much of it is down the writing (exceptionally bad dialogue, amongst other things), but it all comes together to create a character who is simply excruciating to watch. Anakin is a whiney, mopey teenager, who’s irritating at best and extremely aggravating at worst. Mostly, he’s boring – it’s very difficult to give a damn about anything he does on screen, because he is such a difficult character to actually like.

Weirdly, the other characters seem to act that way as well (with one exception, which I’ll get to in a moment). Obi-Wan and Anakin have a contentious relationship, to say the least; Obi-Wan doesn’t seem to actually like him, most of the time, and it’s clear enough that the rest of the council take a dim view of Anakin. Which makes sense, really, because he’s so irritating.

What’s worse, though, is that Anakin is exceptionally creepy towards Padme! That actually genuinely unnerves me. Their interactions together were just so deeply uncomfortable, and extremely poorly written. There’s just no natural progression to it whatsoever; we spend about half the movie watching Anakin be creepy and Padme feeling uncomfortable, and then it’s like a switch was flipped, and suddenly she’s okay with him being a creep. The whole thing is just distinctly uncomfortable in every way.

And that’s such a huge mistake! Anakin should be our hero here – we should really, really like him as a character. Frankly, he should be everyone’s favourite character… but he’s just so dislikable! It’s exceptionally poor.

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That’s just one problem, mind you. It’s far from the only one.

Like The Phantom Menace, this film is way too long. This is actually longer than The Phantom Menace though, and it’s even more painful to sit through it. I defended the CGI in The Phantom Menace, but that’s much harder to do with Attack of the Clones; it’s much more prominent in this movie, and somehow seems to have aged more poorly as well. As much as I still think we should credit George Lucas for pioneering this style of CGI in movies, Attack of the Clones really does show that it is genuinely overdone in some instances. It must have been a nightmare for the actors at times, actually, and it’s often very offputting – I’m pretty sure that there are several rooms in the movie that don’t even exist physically, let alone all the different characters who weren’t really there.

The villains are poor too – mostly Count Dooku, but the Separatists as a whole are weak. It’s because they’ve come essentially from nowhere, and then proceed to play a fairly limited role in proceedings; Christopher Lee is a great actor and all, but he has very little screentime, and there’s not exactly much character to Count Dooku at all. The whole plot is weak as well, actually – things just sort of happen, all the time. It’s not really a strict progression of cause to effect, more a string of unrelated incidents occurring – there’s no plot impetus or anything – which eventually results in a final confrontation.

And actually, speaking of the plot, there’s a huge gaping plot hole which actually annoys me in terms of how lazy it is.

When Obi-Wan goes to Kamino, he finds out that the Clone Army has been commissioned by a Jedi Master by the name of Sifo Dyas. This Jedi, it’s implied, is the fellow who erased Kamino from the Jedi Archives Data Bank. But none of this is ever addressed! Obi-Wan basically just rolls with it on Kamino, so do the Jedi Council when they find out, and then the Clones have become the army of the Republic – without anyone ever questioning their mysterious origins!

Sifo Dyas, of course, is a character we’ve never seen before. He died ten years ago – around the time of the Battle of Naboo. Are we supposed to think it’s Qui-Gonn Jinn? Possibly. Although maybe it’s actually Count Dooku, because he’s an ex-Jedi as well, and he’s definitely evil.

I googled it, and it turns out, Sifo Dyas is a typo. Originally, it was Sido Dyas, as in a corruption of “Sidious”, and the Sith Lord would have created the Army. Mace Windu would have explained there was never a Sido Dyas, and so on and so forth. Except at one point George Lucas accidentally wrote Sifo Dyas, preferred that name, and just sort of rolled with it. And clearly did a remarkably lazy job of rewriting the script! That’s the sort of thing that really annoys me, because it is honestly, genuinely, just laziness. (And George Lucas obviously did work really hard on these movies, I wouldn’t want to suggest otherwise… but there are definite areas of sloppiness.)

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I wanted to like this one, really. I was expecting to like it – not love it, true, but at the very least, I figured I’d enjoy it. After all, I thought The Phantom Menace was alright, and Attack of the Clones does have a significantly better reputation than its predecessor… so why wouldn’t I enjoy it?

Because it’s just an awful film. I’m sorry, but it is. Yes, there are good elements – Ewan McGregor remains a wonderful Obi-Wan, and it’s rather cool to see all the lightsabre battles at the end (with Mace Windu’s purple lightsabre ooh ahh) – but as a whole, the film is just sort of awful.

And that’s a genuine shame, it really really is.

This film gets a 4/10 – it actually really isn’t as good as The Phantom Menace, to be honest. Though, as with Phantom, had it been an hour shorter, I may have been willing to bump up the score by one point.


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Star Wars Retrospective: The Phantom Menace

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So, The Force Awakens is coming out in about a week’s time. I am rather excited, I must admit. It looks to be very promising, and I’m confident that it can deliver on that promise. I’m somewhat apprehensive, admittedly, but for the most part, I am in fact rather confident with regards to the whole affair. You could say I’ve got a good feeling about this.

I thought that now, then, would be a good time to rewatch all the previous Star Wars movies. Obviously, they’re films I love, but… it’s been a very long time since I’ve actually seen them all. I think it probably is about a decade since I have actually seen them – I was a huge fan around the age of 7, but then, also around the age of 7, Doctor Who returned to television. And so my allegiance shifted, from one sci-fi fantasy great to another.

There was actually some debate, internally, as to whether or not I should be watching the movies in their chronological order (Originals, then Prequels), or the story order (Prequels, then Originals), or perhaps even the Machete Order. Ultimately, I elected to follow the story order – the prequels have been around more or less my entire life, and I’ve always thought of them as following this order. It didn’t seem entirely accurate, in terms of my own personal Star Wars experience, to watch them out of order. (Though in hindsight I probably did watch the Originals first.)

As I was watching this movie (and I imagine this will be particularly true of all the prequels) I was particularly conscious of the reputation of this movie; The Phantom Menace is the most loathed of all the prequels, after all. But the thing is, I’ve always enjoyed it – at least, I enjoyed it ten years ago. (I didn’t even have a problem with Jar Jar!) So, I was interested to see whether or not, watching it now, as a much more critically minded individual, it would reach my lofty standards for different forms of media and whatnot.

Honestly? I actually thought it was alright.

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I mean, don’t get me wrong, I certainly had issues with it. (And I have ideas for how it could have been improved, which will soon form the basis of their own post, so follow me and check back in a few days for that.) It’s just that… none of my issues really aligned with the ones people typically point out?

The dialogue wasn’t awful – there were definitely clunky lines, and the script probably would have benefitted from an extra comb through during pre-production. I still don’t mind Jar-Jar, although having rewatched this movie I’m a lot less convinced of the Darth Darth Binks theory.  Lack of a protagonist isn’t an issue I really saw here (it’s an ensemble film, duh), and nor was an over reliance on the lore from the original trilogy – I quite liked Jabba the Hutt being in it, for example. (Also, rather hilariously, Jabba the Hutt is credited as playing himself in the movie. That made me laugh. I wonder if he has an IMDB page?)

In fact, you know, there was a lot to like and appreciate. The movie has a great design to it – it genuinely does look really impressive, and they do a wonderful job of making each of the three planets (Naboo, Tatooine, and Coruscant) all appear very distinct from one another, and imply very different cultures within each different planet. Even the CGI didn’t look awful to me, to be honest – certain bits had definitely aged poorly, but on the whole, it’s not actually particularly intrusive or anything. Physical models would likely have looked better, but they almost always do. Regardless, I think Lucas certainly deserves credit for pioneering this style of CGI use in movies.

The overarching story was actually rather impressive as well – or at least, I thought it was. Political machinations are a very different style of story to the precedent established by the Original Trilogy, but… well, duh? This is about the Republic, before it fell and became the Empire. By necessity, something like that will take a very different turn to the story of the rebellion. There were certainly aspects of the basic plot which were lacking, and at times the execution lead something to be desired, but honestly, I liked the general set up of the movie.

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Now, sure, on the flip side, there was stuff I didn’t like.

The Padme/Sabe “plot twist” was entirely superfluous at best, and verging on incomprehensible at worst. In case you’ve forgotten – which you may well have – there was a large chunk of the movie where they had Kiera Knightley pretend to be Natalie Portman, while Natalie Portman pretended to be Kiera Knightley. (Also, Natalie Portman dubbed over Kiera Knightley’s dialogue.) It’s a very weird little subplot, and as far as I can tell, it really doesn’t actually add anything to the story. You could definitely have taken that out, honestly.

(Plus… look, I know it’s cruel, but honestly, I can sort of understand why everyone thought Natalie Portman couldn’t act after this movie. I’m thinking the only reason Kiera Knightley wasn’t tarred with the same brush is because no one understood the whole nonsense surrounding her character. The pair of them are, rather obviously, the weak links in this cast, which is a huge shame.)

Similarly, I wasn’t so fond of child Anakin blowing up the Trade Federation spaceship in the end. Throughout the movie as a whole? Sure, no problem. Towards the end, though, the set of circumstances required to get him in the spaceship and flying around in space were completely contrived, and just not particularly effective. The sequence wasn’t exactly necessary either – with the pod race, we’d already established Anakin was an impressive pilot – and served only to make the other characters look stupid. (What exactly was Anakin even doing there? Why didn’t you just leave him on Coruscant, Qui-Gon?)

Really, though, the largest and most glaring problem with the film was it’s run time. It’s about 2 and a half hours long, and frankly, it’s about an hour too long. It could definitely be about 45 minutes shorter, at a minimum. It’s just far too slow paced (which has the added problem of making the instances where the pace picks up feel very disjointed from the rest of the movie) and the movie can’t sustain the runtime. Well, actually, that’s maybe a bit unfair. They do a reasonable job of having discrete phases to the movie, with different things happening in each… but it’s still way too long.

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Even then, though, there is a lot to like. The Duel of the Fates is a genuinely impressive lightsabre battle, which is really well scored by John Williams – it’s absolutely a stand out scene, however you look at it. And, you know, it works because it’s got three impressive characters in it – Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson both gave great performances throughout the film, which added a lot of weight to the final confrontation. And, of course, Darth Maul is a genuinely imposing figure throughout the movie – you can understand why he’s the one thing everyone always remembers of the movie. (Interestingly, Maul actually talks a lot more than I recalled. To be honest, I don’t like it. He should have been silent the whole time.)

So… yeah. Honestly, as a film, it’s not that bad. It’s alright. Bordering on good. Not great, sure. But it’s nowhere near as awful as people suggest. I think in part that’s the danger of overhyping these things. So many of the people watching The Phantom Menace for the first time had been building it up in their heads for… what, about twenty years? A huge, ridiculous length of time. Such a body of expectations had been placed upon the movie that it could never, ever have hoped to live up to those expectations, and that was the cause for the level of outcry at the movie.

Hopefully, with The Force Awakens, people will bear that in mind a little more. Expectations should be tempered somewhat, and maybe we’ll have a little more of a… rational response, I suppose. Let’s hope no one starts calling for J.J. Abrams’ head on a stick or anything. (Once, when I was 9 or 10, I read a news article about a Star Wars “superfan” who got a tattoo of Darth Vader holding George Lucas’ severed head, “for everything he’d done to the franchise”. Which seemed pretty weird to me: “What did he do to the franchise? He invented the damn thing!”, thought I. I would still maintain that fellow was slightly nuts.)

In the end, though, I’d give The Phantom Menace a 6/10. It’s an enjoyable movie, but not one I’d be in a hurry to rewatch. (Mind you, if they knocked an hour or so off of it, I’d bump it up to a 7/10)


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Film Trailer Thoughts | Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Brand new Star Wars trailer!

I am in two minds about this.

It is a little bit underwhelming, frankly. I’m not a fan of the “mysterious” voice over; without context, it doesn’t really do much to up suspense or anything. Vaguely worried, in fact, that it indicates they’re setting up some sort of Darth Vader substitute, complete with a distinctive voice style. I mean, I’m obviously extrapolating a lot from essentially nothing, but I do think that this film should try to be a little more it’s own thing than imitating previous installments. That’s a general sort of idea, mind you, which is independent of “oh my god there’s a voice that’s kinda like Darth Vader but not”.

But… I mean, look, this is brand new Star Wars. Before Doctor Who came back in 2005, Star Wars was pretty much my main obsession. And this evoked a lot of that. It was right on point, in terms of the visual style, and it had all of those things I used to love so much. Stormtroopers! TIE Fighters! Tatooine! X-Wings! The Millennium Falcon!

This is all of that, all of the things that so many people remembered, and it’s new, and there’s enough there for a pretty amazing story. It’s impossible not to be impressed by it, and have feel even a little excitement.

And so, Star Wars has awakened, and we all have… a new hope.

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