The Watchers

The Watchers

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Revisiting A Classic: The Star Wars Saga (Part Two, Episodes IV – VI.

And so we begin where we left off – munchies at the ready and time to begin….

 Episode IV: A New Hope

Not seen this in about two years! So, hairs on the back of neck already, the music fanfares us into what is the original Star Wars. The iconic massive starship flies over the screen and were aboard Princess Leia’s ship. The opening scenes with Vader are very different now after watching his back-story; you see he’s not just an ‘evil’ man, but a man who has chosen the wrong side, the side who happen to be in power. As with any dictatorship, Vader is a victim of his own choices?

The cut I’m viewing is the 2003 DVD Special Edition – and the picture quality is outstanding; you’d think it was shot a few years back, not thirty-four! Already though, the dialogue and actors involved are a class above the prequel trilogy – the words just seem to flow and are not forced.

What’s brilliant is how, in Episode III, Lucas built the Droids’ relationship up, so now when we meet the some twenty years later in Episode IV and they are bickering on the sand planet, Tatooine – they’re like the ultimate bromance! I feel already that with watching the prequels and now pretty much straight into this one- the back-story is heavily there and it influences you while watching the original trilogy in ways I hadn’t thought of or would expect myself to feel (like how the droids are a lot more rounded out by this point and how I know what’s behind Vader’s mask and he’s not a mysterious black knight as when I watched these as child). Lucas truly has given these films a new lease of life and viewing enjoyment – I heartily encourage fans to try this marathon – I would be interested in what others notice now watching these again with all the blanks filled in of Episodes I-III?

And we also have to give the film licence (or suspend our disbelief!) The droids arrive by chance at the Lars moisture farm, where a 3PO with a wiped memory was, many years before, with Anakin and Padme. Then of course, R2 knows exactly where he is and who Luke is! How convenient!

‘Ben’ Kenobi enters the film and Alec Guinness has such a presence to him, it’s uncanny and the transfer from Ewan McGregor to him is awe inspiring (a credit to McGregor’s performance in Episode III). What’s clever is how Obi-Wan recognises R2 when Luke’s unconscious and then makes out he doesn’t when Luke’s awake. The scene where Obi-Wan informs Luke of the half-truth of his father has much greater weight to it now we the viewer know the complete truth, also in Obi- Wan wanting Luke to study the force and train to be a Jedi (with the knowledge that Luke is the son of the chosen one).

“I find your lack of faith disturbing”… A classic line and still haunting to this day. Peter Cushing is fantastic as the Grand Moff Tarkin, commander of the Death Star. Cushing brings a gravitas to the role that brings the villains heads above the dangers of been cartoony or unbelievable. His performance brings a sincere sinister edge to a dark man.

The Cantina scene is a classis western saloon in space. What’s nicely woven across Episodes III and IV is Chewbacca and how Obi-Wan approaches him to get safe passage across the universe. Chewbacca is a trusted ally of Yoda. Then it’s ruined by Greedo shooting first – yes, the old debate. But my stand point is that Han Solo is a space pirate, a rogue; he would shoot first in this scene showing he’s the gunslinger. His story is he redeems his past by becoming a rebel fighter- he shouldn’t be a hero from the get go, that’s the whole point of him, yes?

“That’s no moon!” The Death Star is introduced in such a grand way – shot after shot to give it the scale it deserves. The space station is a character in the film by itself- you could argue that the Death Star is the villain of A New Hope. What does come to mind though – at the end of Episode III, we saw the Death Star being built and now it’s only been completed some twenty years later, but in Return Of The Jedi a new Death Star is nearly built in less than six years? Come now – this is a major flaw?

“Boring conversation anyway!” The cell-block escape, which leads to the trash compactor scene (a scene that, every time I watch the film, I find it unnecessary and a little too pantomime for my liking). Then, of course, the great running-around-Death-Star-corridors and the iconic swing across by Luke and Leia, which leads us to the rematch between Anakin and Obi-Wan, which feels very underwhelming after the prequel duels. What is heightened though is Obi-Wan transcending into the Force as Vader kills him and the knowing smile that his sacrifice will fuel Luke onto become the new hope for the Jedi.

The finale- the Trench, the X wings and the Tie Fighters! What makes this a fantastic sequence is it is made so simply. It takes moments from classic war movies- it treats the space battle as a fantastical dogfight. We are introduced to the pilots – Red 2, Red 3, Red 4 etc- we see them all, we know their faces and when they die, we do care. The trench runs- three in total- give us a great pace for the battle, also using that great rule of thumb in movies- great things come in threes! Vader being shot, rolling into space at the last moment, by Han Solo sets up Luke- and the Death Star is no more! Awards and credits!

This film is a classic – no one can say anything else to argue the fact. It is the original blockbuster – nothing comes close for its originality, its use of mythology to engage us within the characters and the universe. This film is as fresh now as it was thirty-five years ago. Let the Hollywood suits never dare to remake this film. This is the film I will show my kids and it will be the film I will watch and own until I die. Just perfection.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

The film opens with Luke trapped out on the Ice Planet of Hoth. Solo rescues him and then he is in the medical bay being repaired (which is because Mark Hamill had his face reconstructed after a car accident!) What follows this is the gut-churning, most horrific thing of the entire saga- the kiss. The incestuous kiss between Luke and Leia. Everytime I see it, I say to myself “No tongue, it’s all good, there was no tongue – was there tongue? Was there? NO, surely NOOOOO!!!!” So moving swiftly on… Of course there’s no tongue because Lucas had this al mapped out down to the final details when he wrote the original trilogy…right?

The battle on Hoth is by far one of the greatest of all the battle scenes in the saga- what I love is the Empire have the upper hand and the rebels are buying time for everyone to evacuate and re-group. The AT-AT walkers are a great piece of cinema and effect work for the time, hand-animated (using stop-motion) and they look great; the jerkiness of this animation actually lends some realism to the mass and size of the walkers, which sells their believability.

Our heroes on the Falcon escape and are under pursuit by TIE fighters- they end up flying through an asteroid field. John Williams’ score here latterly invokes a classic 
Hollywood feel, giving the sequence a romantic feel of adventure which brilliantly compliments the whole idea of a modern version of old cinema serial sci-fi adventures (like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers). Harrison Ford embodies Han Solo; he is perfect as the rogue smuggler and the blossoming romance between Leia and Han is superbly handled- delicately done and brilliantly intimate when needs to be.

The introduction (or now, should I say, re-introduction) of Yoda is genius, Yoda makes out he’s some eccentric recluse and then the character sweeps back into the Jedi Master. As the viewer, you forget you’re watching a puppet- Frank Oz brings an amazing life to this puppet; we look right into the puppet’s eyes and are completely immersed into the character and don’t doubt it for a second.

“This is no cave!” Yeah, that never gets old. The Falcon was hidden inside a giant cave-dwelling creature- they had landed inside its belly and then managed to fly out of its mouth! Right! A step too far, you say? No. Never. Never! Why? This is Star Wars; this is the Holy Trinity of cinema. We do not question the Holy Trinity. It just is; it just is right. Well, that’s how I rationalise this (it’s also how I rationalise Jake Lloyd and Jar Jar Binks!).

Now, meanwhile on Dagobah, Luke enters another cave! He enters a cave, Darth 
Vader walks towards him in this dark-side-of-the-Force cave and Luke slices his head off, Vader’s mask explodes to reveal Luke’s severed head within the mask! (Did I mention it’s all in slow motion?) OK? To this day I have no idea what this is about – answers on a postcard please (or email us at!

The training on Dagaobah has a nice slow pace, without falling for the training montage technique; instead we see Luke’s powers grow – lifting rocks while hand standing to lifting his X-wing (a little)! We also see Luke use the Force to see across the galaxy that his friends will soon be in danger and he cuts his training short – which leads us to discover that there is another new hope for the Jedi (but we already know that – now this is a six-part saga!)

Across the galaxy our heroes have found refuge on Cloud City and we are introduced 
to Lando – the token black guy in the universe. No, I’m not joking; this is pretty much why Lando is played a black actor – the studio received complaints about the fact that there were only white actors in the cast. Yeah, Star Wars is racist– never mind the green, the blue, the Wookies and all the other races in the galaxy who live as one large universe!

But, of course the refuge is shattered as Lando has made a deal with the Empire (now that’s something for those playing the racist card- the only black guy in the universe is a criminal!) Moving swiftly on! The film starts its way to the end and, as the viewer, you do recognise the signs of middle-act syndrome (where a trilogy of films has the second film as the middle act), or ‘we put our heroes in the darkest, most hopeless of escape places’. But this was the first trilogy of blockbusters, remember, and they are the blueprint!

So, the carbonite – by far, the most heart wrenching scene in the original saga. Brilliantly handled by the cast and by John Williams’ score. “I love you’; ‘I know”. Everything about this scene is handled with real passion for the story – the doom and the tragedy that Leia realising she loves Han at this moment.  Leia a small week figure surrounded in Chewbacca’s arms. He’s alive! “Skywalker has landed, my lord”; a report that things are going to just get worse as the film reaches its climax!

The light-sabre battle between father and son is visually exciting – I love the way they fight in a very dimly lit room that happens to add the visual presence of the sabres!  The fight is of course fantastic- but what makes it a step above is the underlining issues involved. Vader wants to bring out the fear, the anger within his son as they fight, leading him to the dark side. This culminates in Luke losing his hand in the fight and discovering he is facing his father. Vader wants to rule the galaxy as father and son and destroy the Emperor – this gives us a whole new dynamic to the saga. Luke leaps into the abyss of the inner workings of the city rather than take his father’s offer. Our other heroes have escaped capture – but failed to rescue Han at the hands of Boba Fett. They save Luke and we have probably the bleakest ending to a film ever (well, maybe second bleakest – anyone seen The Mist?)

The Empire Strikes Back is, by far, the perfect example of a sequel and a perfect example of a middle act of a three-act play/trilogy. Nothing compares to this film. Every time I go to see a sequel, this is the bar that I have set for the films. I can make a long list of sequels that has failed- The Matrix Reloaded to name one excellent example of a sequel FAIL! This film ticks so many boxes – you end up running out of boxes to tick. Again, just perfect – literally nothing wrong with this in any way.

Rating: 5 out 5

Right, watched them as a double bill, no break- so need a break now. After a coffee, I’m ready for more!

Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi

And so we face the final curtain! Once more into the breach my friends, and so on. We start the film at a much slower pace than Empire – we’re back to New Hope pace, building the tension at very nice ease –brining us the viewer back into the universe, as the droids are sent into Jabba The Hutt’s to see what happened to Chewbacca and Lando. We discover that Han Solo is still frozen in carbonite. Jabba’s palace is a dismal, dreary castle – a far cry from the imperial designs of the Death Star and star destroyers. 

And then- oh dear God, NO! I had forgotten about the travesty that is the sudden music number at the palace in the Special Edition cut- three letters to sum this appalling sight– WTF! What’s even worse about that godawful new CGI music scen is that budget could have gone on the next scene: Luke in the Jabba Banther pit. This creature effect has not stood the test of time- it’s blatantly a hand puppet meant to be a giant beast and if I’m honest, it’s laughable by today’s standards and even more laughable by the rest of the film’s superb standard of effect work. This is where the special edition money should of been spent!

What is still great today as it was then is the escape from Jabba over the desert sands. The heroes literally being forced to walk the plank is sweet nostalgia mixed seamlessly into a sci-fi setting. Luke shows in this opening action scene just how powerful he has become since we last saw him (three years ago on a cinema screen, of course!).

The Emperor arrives on the new Death Star greeted by Vader. What is great about this scene is the dialogue between the two of them has such a different slant now with the information we have from the first three films now in place in the saga. Just superb – you really see here how well written Episode III was?

“Do not… do not underestimate the power of the dark side…” Even at thirty-four, I still get a lump in my throat when Luke and Yoda talk of the truth of Luke’s father and Yoda passes away. “There is another Skywalker”

The speeder bike chase is a great bit of cinema – well paced, excellently edited and just a fab action sequence. Love it – never gets old and the effects do not look nearly thirty years old!

The Moon of Endor means Ewoks. Now, the Ewoks have split debate just as much as Jar Jar Binks does. Love them or hate them, they’re here and they’re here to stay for the rest of the movie. Personally I’ve always liked the Ewoks. They’re a great tribal edition to the already massive Star Wars universe. I love the fact that these little creatures beat the Empire using bows and arrows – it’s a great juxtaposed message.

Father and son together again. Luke gives himself up so he can see his father – in a amazingly well written and performed scene – which is surprising as one of them wears a mask. Poignant even more so now we finally know who really is under the mask.

“It’s a trap!” The finale of finales – a three way split. The attack on the shield generator on the planet below, the battle between the space armadas above and Vader against Luke on the Death Star. The mind games from the Emperor with Luke is fascinating – this is where the dialogue becomes more powerful than any blaster or light sabre could ever be: “Give into your anger”.

The battle rages on below- what makes this finale so much fun to watch, is it is so well made. The timing between battles- when the filmmakers choose to switch settings, the tragedy of Ewok Wicket dying, the dog fights – everything is just perfectly organised. So many blockbusters since this film have copied and even cloned the structure of final battle scenes.

“I am a Jedi, like my father before me”. The shield is destroyed and the second act of this finale begins.  To this day, I’m amazed that a mask can show so much emotion as the Emperor is about to kill Luke – you can actual see the conflict within Anakin.  But, what’s really well made is Anakin faces the same choice as he did in Episode III when Mace Windu was about to die – which does he save, the Emperor or his friend (and now his son)? Well, blood is thicker than water. We cut into the new trenches and the effect work here is just outstanding for the time the film was made. Ships weave in and out of construction pipes – explosions and small victories leading all the way.

“Tell your sister you were right about me”. The death of Anakin has never been more powerful now all the pieces of the jigsaw are in place – the tragedy, the corruption and finally the redemption. And so the Death Star is destroyed, with the Emperor dead, freedom once again comes to this galaxy far far away. Everything is great… until we remember that Lucas added Hayden Christensen as Anakin’s ghost at the end of this version! Oh well!

Jedi is a great swansong to the saga – serious, scary and villainous when needs be. Tongue in cheek, humorous and loving when it also needs to be. In all, a very well balanced masterpiece – this is the blue print for a blockbuster and has been cloned many times since.

Rating: 5 out 5

So this brings me to an end, after two six hour sittings, twelve hours of re-watching one of my (if not the) favourite movie franchises I have ever seen.

My inner child and fond memories of watching my VHS copies as a child has not been ruined by the tweaks and the changes by Lucas. These films have lived with my generation and they’re not going away. I will have my children on my knee watching these films and I’m sure grandchildren too. With the soon-to-be-seen television series (Star Wars: Underworld) which charts the time between Episodes III and IV, I don’t doubt we will see the rise of the rebellion and who knows when Lucas needs a retirement plan, we might even see Episodes VII, VIII and IX.



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