The Watchers

The Watchers

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Revisiting A Classic: The Star Wars Saga (Part One, Episodes I – III).

So, a movie marathon (the first for The Watchers)– and where better to start than the Star Wars saga itself? Some might say that the problem with a Star Wars marathon is that “there are too many of them” or that they “don’t like the look of this”? However, the main problem with doing a Star Wars marathon is the old debate of which order to watch the films in- original trilogy then prequels or vice versa?  Well, I’ve gone for the order of episodes as film maker George Lucas intended (well, for now- until he makes some new Director’s Supreme Edition).

So let’s begin, A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far Far Away……

Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.

The main problem with doing a Star Wars marathon is the order I’ve chosen is having to watch The Phantom Menace first- then again, it gets it out the way!

The opening of the movie is as ever impressive- you’re instantly into the universe of the saga. It sets the scene well with the Trade Federation blockade over Naboo and the invasion of the planet below. The film begins well, introducing a few important characters – namely Obi Wan Kenobi, even if Ewan McGregor’s performance within this film is wooden and flat to say the least.

Jar Jar Binks arrives in the film as the invasion begins and befriends our two Jedi Knights. The obvious debate- is he annoying or is he a great comedy relief? My opinion: by far the most annoying character to ever grace the saga and even (in some ways) cinema history. The excuse of the chance to create a fully generated main character in a “live-action” film for the first time was overused and the animators indulged and delivered unforgivable character quirks coupled with an annoying vocal performance by Ahmed Best. What you end up with is by far the most irritating character to grace the cinema screen. We’ll leave Jar Jar there, as we could rip apart his involvement within the film scene by scene – but I wont, as he just doesn’t deserve the mentions or my time. Forgive his creation? Never! Overlook him to enjoy the film? Of course!

Where the film can lack in characterisation and dialogue, it does evoke a real sense of universe. The landscapes and scope of the film is huge. For the time it came out (1999) nothing had been seen like it before and even now the general views of Naboo, Coruscant and Tatooine make you sink into a wider galaxy than the individual planets that the characters visit alone. Tatooine helps you re-immerse yourself into the universe after the gap between the two trilogies – it’s like you the audience are revisiting a familiar place yourself.

On Tatooine, we are introduced to the most important character of the saga – Anakin Skywalker. Unfortunately here he is played by the young Jake Lloyd, who has the screen presence of a door mat mixed with the essence of a wet dog! Seriously, between Jar Jar and Lloyd, this film struggles on so many levels. The child actor has an annoying way of speaking, walking and even breathing! So yeah the fact that he grows up to be Darth Vader is about as believable as George Lucas’s care for his fans!

The Pod Race: it’s like watching a futuristic version of the chariot race from Ben-Hur. Exciting, well-paced and just pure Star Wars. This scene manages to pick the film back up in quality and you almost forgive the drivel that got you to this point within the film.

The film builds into a much more rounded plot with the character arriving at Coruscant, the capital of the Republic – here we meet Yoda, Palpatine and of course Mace Windu (played by Samuel L Jackson). The scenes here show the back room bargains and politics of the universe – namely Palpatine’s puppetry skills in which leads him to become the President (this is who ‘the phantom menace’ is). The Jedi Council scene is intriguing in itself – giving us a look at the doubts and misgivings in training the young Anakin Skywalker and if he truly is the chosen one!

The final battle of the film is superb (as ever with these films!) – the usual cross between locations is used to great effect, where the action bounces from the fight between the Droid army and Jar Jar’s people, to the fight inside the palace, to the dogfight in space and of course the Jedi Vs Sith first encounter. Darth Maul (played by Ray Park) is a superb villain – the short screen time that he has is made up for by the sheer evil that is behind the eyes of the character. The light sabre fight is by far one of the greatest in the saga – you’re left breathless by trying to keep up with the action taking place, which comes at you from all angles.

So, all in all, the film is a mish-mash of good and bad. If we watch it for what it really is – a space adventure designed for the family to enjoy, and a stepping stone to a wider story.-then, yes, it does deliver. Leaving Jar Jar and Jake Lloyd’s acting aside, what we actually have is a film that has stood the test of time since the 1999 release- the effects look as fresh as they did then and the story (if a bit slow to get going) is a well thought out first chapter.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

After a quick shower and a fresh mug of coffee, we start again…

Episode 2: Attack Of The Clones

Originally released in 2002 and (unlike the others in the Saga) this one- and Episode III- were filmed at Fox Studios Sydney, Australia.

Within minutes of this film starting and the initial political intrigue scenes in Palpatine’s chambers, you know you’re in a more adult adventure. The saga is the story of Anakin Skywalker- The Phantom Menace was a film surrounding his childhood and the feel was a lot more childish in tone. With this one (Anakin is now eighteen and played by Hayden Christensen), we are in a dark toned universe, which is reinforced by the first third of the film being set on Coruscant – the capital planet. A planet that is one large endless city. We are treated to a Star Wars speeder/car chase through the depths of the citadel: fast paced, well edited and well performed by the actors (as they would have just seen green screens).

Already this small way into the film Ewan McGregor’s performance is what you expect from the actor of his calibre – the Obi Wan in this film is so much more rounded out and feels the same man as played by Alec Guinness in the later films of the saga.

The middle of the film is an interesting and somewhat strained affair. The middle of the film deals with Obi-Wan discovering a clone army being created for the republic – but the Jedi Council or senate know nothing of it being asked to be created. This is the interesting section which provides both a massive plot point – the clone troopers/storm troopers, which leads to becoming the army of the Empire. What’s nice is it’s very cleverly handled and under played and obviously a great nod for the fans when you first watch the film.

The strained affair I’m talking about is the romantic plot between Anakin and Padme, played by Natalie Portman.  The two characters are to fall deeply in love and as a fan we all know where ends – tragedy. But what’s strained is Christensen’s performance and the chemistry between the two actors is less than none, making it painful to watch the scenes- you’re literally thinking: where’s the fast forward button? Get to the action! (Which is a great shame).

The CGI in this film has not stood the test of time. It looks overly synthetic and there are obvious generated lighting effects. You can literally tell which scene was shot on green screen stage and which are shot in real lighting and real places. Also the CGI of characters is poorly handled; a lot of the animation of characters feels juddery and unnatural.

The major saving grace of the middle of the film is one character – well, two really! The Fetts are introduced: Jango and Boba Fett. The iconic characters added to the film could have easily been an easy trick to please fans – but what’s nice is how they are woven into the fabric of the plot. We learn that Jango is the subject that clones are cloned from and he is in fact in league with the dark side at work!

As the film nears its climax we have a few interesting scenes laid out for us- Christopher Lee as Count Dooku at a meeting with separatist leaders. What’s great is they are talking over plans of a new weapon- the Death Star. Of course, there is the tragic reunion between Anakin and his mother and then the vengeance he commits upon a village of Sand People. Slaying them all- men, women and children- this is his beginning to the dark side.  Most notable is the action scene with Anakin and Padme in the droid factory as they jump, fall and manage to survive a conveyer belt of obstacles!

The finale of this film lasts for over half an hour, starting with an amazing action sequence with our three heroes fighting it out gladiator-style in a giant arena against three large alien beasts, then the arrival of the purple light sabre and what follows is just geekgasm! Jedi battle on a scale never seen before! Twenty to thirty Jedi fighting outnumbered odds, with a showdown between Mace and Jango that’s just simplistic and sets up Boba for the rest of the saga- Mace swipes Jango’s head from his shoulders without breaking a sweat! A great way to show the power of a Jedi Master and the futility of this villain, Jango Fett.

Yoda arrives with the New Army of the Republic- the clone army- and the battle goes up a gear once again. Now not confined to the arena, a massive war field erupts. The finale ends with a light sabre dual between Obi-wan, Anakin and Count Dooku. Then Dooku goes against Yoda in what is either the most amazing fight ever or the most laughable. In some ways, I look at it as the first, but I feel as a fan I’m blinded. What this finale does is stamp this film as a Star Wars – this is what a blockbuster should be; all out brash (but with a decent plot) and helps you escape the world for a few hours.

This instalment brings us into the start of war with a bang, even if some of the effects don’t stand the test of time, and half the time you’re trying to figure out if this can be counted as a live-action film or a CGI film? All round good family fun with a hint of geekgasm!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

So after a break here we go again…..

Episode 3: Revenge Of The Sith

Twenty minutes into the film and I can catch my breath! Of all the films in the saga, this is the one I have seen the least – this is probably only the fourth time I’ve watched it! I had completely forgot the flip that Lucas did with this film- this film begins as the others end. A twenty minute sequence where we join the characters in mid-battle: we have a dog fight between space ships and a whole armada of two fleets battling it out, with scope and scale never seen before in any of the films. There are two light-sabre duels, the death of Count Dooku and the rescue of Palpatine – you don’t have time to process any of this and then you realise you’re only twenty minutes into the film and its only just begun! Outstanding; just outstanding.

And then we have the core of the film that falls flat again. The core of the film is a love tragedy – a space opera Romeo and Juliet. What falls short, yet again, is the chemistry between Portman and Christensen. The dialogue doesn’t help them, mind – with insipid lines like ‘love has blinded you’. Pass me the sick bag – we need Harrison Ford to write the lines again – ‘I love you’; ‘I know’!

On the other hand, the reverse can be said for the relationship between Obi Wan and Anakin – the chemistry of a friendship gaining cracks and falling apart between Christensen and McGregor is very well portrayed and written. It’s obvious that Lucas has real issues with writing and directing the romantic plotlines. This can be said also for the scenes with Palpatine and Anakin – it’s wonderful in these scenes that, as a fan, you’re watching Young Vader and Palpatine. As the film progresses, so Anakin progress into Darth Vader- which is great as he becomes him without the costume to make the man.

The CGI in this film seems to have stood well with time, it still has a annoying unnatural synthetic feel, but it has improved since Episode II - this is not surprising as it came out in 2005 and less time has passed by. It’s also fresh seeing Coruscant in daylight more, which gives the setting a fresh perspective.

The Obi Wan vs General Grievous sequence is a fantastic action scene – but also forms a midpoint; a line is drawn in the sand right here – this is where the film itself starts to turn to the dark side of viewing. A dark cloud begins to overshadow the rest of this tragic dark tale! There is a choice – a choice for Anakin and, with the death of Mace Windu, the choice is made and, once made, there is no turning back (well, until the end of episode 6!!).

The fall of the Jedi is not an easy watch and nor should it be – Jedi after Jedi butchered to death, with the eerie scene where Anakin ignites his light-sabre to kill the children at the height of your thoughts. Leaving your imagination running wild with how he killed those children… it’s not surprising this is the only film in the saga to be given a rating of 12.

The finale of this film sees Obi Wan pitted in fierce combat against Anakin – or should I say Darth Vader- what can only be described as the greatest light-sabre duel of the entire saga. The speed at which the fight takes place is insane and a wonder to watch. The bittersweet victory for Obi Wan and the death of Padme as Vader rises from the ashes gives this film the weight the prequels deserve.

A film that is truly the dark film of the series – this is an amazing midpoint within a glorious saga. This film can be forgiven for its badly written romance – this is what Star Wars is about. Love, Tragedy, defiance and here the rebellion is born.

So ends my Marathon of the prequels …… To Be Continued with Episode IV: A New Hope.

Rating: 4 out 5 stars


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