Monthly Archives: May 2015

Film Review – Star Wars Episode 6 – The Return of the Jedi

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When it comes to the Return of the Jedi, I have to admit that until very recently, it was my favourite of the Star Wars films. I’ve been swayed into considering The Empire Strikes Back as my favourite, but for the longest time, The Return of the Jedi had that honour for me. The reason being, I love R2-D2 and C-3PO in this film. The human characters, place a great deal of faith and trust in their two robotic companions, to help them defeat their enemies and overcome the obstacles in their path.

The relationship of R2-D2 and C-3PO in all of the films is something very special. They are barely companions in the prequels, and their roles are lesser in the prequels, at least C-3PO’s is not as developed. The explanation of his paranoia in the original trilogy, his fears of being taken apart and becoming useless to his masters are well founded when you learn that he has his memory wiped. He must know that it has happened, and it is hinted at in A New Hope that he vaguely remembers working on moisture farm before. Also there is no mention of what R2-D2 remembers from the prequels, and being described as eccentric by C-3PO probably stems from him mentioning what happened in the past that his friend can’t remember.

And that is what they are: they are friends. C-3PO frets over R2’s safety in battle, and offers parts to fix him when he’s damaged. His despair when he proclaims ‘Why do you have to be so brave?” on the forest moon of Endor can only be interpreted as an attachment to his companion; he is worried about his friend who charges into battle. It’s beautiful, and in the film the attachment that Luke has to them is equally as lovely to watch.

I don’t doubt that Luke is as concerned about the droids as he is about his living companions when they enter Jabba’s Palace. Leia trusts R2 to comply with her orders in A New Hope with completing a mission and protecting the Death Star plans, though she probably doesn’t expect the level of devotion R2-D2 give to his mission. It hints very strongly that he remembers exactly what his former master did and even recognises that it was wrong, and that with the addition of the prequels that determination is not simply his compliance with orders from a human. In Return of the Jedi Luke trusts R2 to be there in the crucial moments of the fight against Jabba. He also knows C-3PO well enough to know exactly how he would react to being given as a gift to Jabba, which makes the plot to get Han out all the more convincing.

The pair of droids are my far, some of my favourite characters in the entire series, and I love how their story and their rise to ‘god-like’ status culminates in the last film. I can’t wait to see how they are developed for the new films, because it wouldn’t be Star Wars without them.

Something else, though that has changed my opinion on the film, is the impact that prequels have on the character of the Emperor. The plotting and scheming to set up the rebellion in the trap, makes a hell of a lot more sense since the prequels. Of course he’s confident it’s going to work, he masterminded a civil war in the Republic in order to build armies and the mechanisms of his planned Empire, and destroyed the one threat in his way: the Jedi.

Of course he thinks that luring the rebellion into a simple trap is going to solve his problems. And Luke is right; his over-confidence is his weakness. The Emperor doesn’t see that having faith in his friends and the Ewoks is not weakness, but it Luke’s strength. He stays long enough to see that C-3PO had swayed the Ewoks into being their allies. He trusts that the Ewoks will help now, because of the importance they place on C-3PO and his position as a god. Given the Ewoks overpowered the rebels he knows they aren’t just a bunch of ‘teddy bears’ there to make the film appealing to children. They are fierce warriors in their natural environment who have accepted his friends as part of their tribe. He probably also knows that the Emperor, if he even knows about them existing, wouldn’t have anticipated their mark on his plans.

Having faith in the good man who was his father is Luke’s mission, even if he knows the redemption might cost him his life. It is a sacrifice he is willing to make in order to stand up for what he believes in and facing the Emperor is something no other Jedi can do.

The prequels also means that you know what it is that Darth Vader truly does in killing the Emperor at the end. He overthrows his Sith master, the one who tricked him down the path to the dark side. I don’t like the addition of Hayden Christenson’s Anakin at the end of the new editions of the film. I will admit it does make sense, because it was the father that saved his son, not the Sith Lord who killed his master. It’s nice to think, that he turned back into Anakin when he is glancing between his master and his son who is being tortured on the floor, by considering what Padme would have said and done in the same situation, and then he did it.

Film Review – Star Wars Episode 5 – The Empire Strikes Back

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*Spoilers though if you don’t know it I would like to know how you have avoided popular culture so far and why you’re now suddenly reading a blog about  an iconic part of film history*

The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the Star Wars films. It is a film where the good guys are losing. Admittedly this is what makes The Revenge of the Sith good as well, but in the Empire Strikes Back, the revenge of the empire is personal. It isn’t a generalised attack on the Jedi as a group, or the end of the Republic. It is a personal attack on Luke, Leia, Han and Chewbacca. It is character driven at the deepest level. Everything that happens, takes place because of the development of the characters, even Darth Vader’s.

The film is as well credited with having the best twist in cinema history, which is why it is crucial to introduce people in the order the films were made. Darth Vader’s revelation to Luke, is a key moment for his character, because somewhere in there is a man reaching out to another. Admittedly it is because he wants someone powerful at his side to rule the galaxy with after they overthrow the Emperor. That is the Sith way after all: apprentices seek to overthrow their masters. It is what the Emperor himself expects because that is what he did.

It is Darth Vader at the centre of this story from the very beginning that makes Empire Strikes Back a personal story. Fine he will be acting on orders because the rebellion managed to destroy the Death Star which was intended to be used to keep the empire in Line after the dissolution of the Senate, which had been the last remain piece  of the Republic to go. But he is on a mission of his own: he wants to find his son, because somewhere deep down inside Anakin Skywalker, the good Jedi who was driven to the dark side because of love and the fear of grief, has re-emerged. Luke feels the good that is still in his father.

It is what makes Yoda’s and Obi-Wan’s actions towards Luke seem all the more tragic. He is their only hope, and they deceived him about his father, because they felt the only way Luke could ever confront Vader, is without the knowledge of who he really is; they dehumanise the entire relationship. Once Luke learns the truth though, he begins questioning the Jedi Way. Admittedly he was doing that already, when being trained with Yoda. He asked why things are the way they are, and Yoda dismisses his questions, and teaches him that he needs to let go of his attachments.

It mirrors everything that went wrong with his father and his training. Anakin had the burden of being the chosen one on his shoulders, coupled with frustrations at being held back by a structured institution  and the grief of how his mother died. For me though, the Chosen One is Luke, who brings balance to the force, because he accepts that being a Jedi comes with some sacrifice, but to be devoid of feelings entirely, means you forget what it is to be human.

He embraces his feelings and tries to save his friends, because he knows in his heart he would never forgive himself if he didn’t try. Choosing to be detached would have been what might have turned him to the dark side in the end. He has known grief: he lost his Aunt and Uncle, and not knowing what might have happened had he been there as well, must have dwelt on his mind a lot. He begins to fight the empire because his family was killed. To stop doing that in Empire Strikes Back would nott have fitted his character.

Film Review – Star Wars Episode 4 – A New Hope

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I can remember the first time that I saw A New Hope was in the cinema when the film was re-released digitally re-mastered and with some added scenes. Oh my goodness, for the longest time I never realised how lucky I was to be able to have pretty much the same experience as people had when the film had been originally released. I got to be introduced to the magic of Star Wars in the arena it was originally intended to be seen.

I can remember my parents had watched it on television before then, but I had been too young or too full of myself and how uncool sci-fi was seen my by peers to consider joining them and watching it. I will never regret that I saw Star Wars first in the cinema, even though I do judge my younger self for caring a bit too much what others thought about me.

A New Hope, should always be the first Star Wars that anyone sees. Watch the original trilogy first, then the prequels, (and then whatever sequels Disney gets around to making later.) Watch them in the order they were made, and then you can enjoy in the episodic order later. And there is an incredibly good reason for this suggestion.

If you watch A New Hope after the prequels, you will miss the entire point of all of the characters. Luke is supposed to be the young, innocent and naïve farm boy that grows into the more mature, ‘ready to properly face his destiny’ man that he becomes. Leia is supposed to be the strong willed rebel fighting for the freedom of the galaxy, and losing her home planet in the process. It is so much better the first time not knowing that they are twins, that they are the children of Anakin Skywalker and the significance of that relationship. To truly enjoy the characters and the film for the first time, you have to approach it with wide-eyed innocence.

When you have watched them all, you then get to appreciate the true brilliance of the Star Wars films as the two trilogies are linked together by the 3rd and the 4th episodes. You get to see that Obi-Wan is still the good man, who refused to kill Anakin at the end of The Revenge of the Sith, to the extent that he is willing to sacrifice himself for Luke and the others. You could almost argue that it is because he still does not want to kill Darth Vader, because he had once been Anakin whom he had loved as a brother.

The thing though that I love the most about A New Hope is the introduction of Han Solo, the lovable rouge, who at first only cares about money and rewards, but does develop as a characters who at the ends wants to help his friends in their battles. His world though, is also not a clean, sleek, idealistic vision of the future. The world of the smuggler is rough, fraught with danger at every turn and his ship is literally falling apart around him, very much akin to Malcolm Reynolds in Whedon’s Firefly.

I came to Stars Wars with only Star Trek as a comparison seeing that sci-fi could be as dirty and as uncouth as the world around me felt more real. Coming at it with knowledge of the prequels and the slick universe created in those films, shows you the damage the rise of the Empire has caused.

The title A New Hope hints at what had been lost when you don’t know the prequels, and introduces the strength and the courage of the rebels fighting against a tyrannical force. Learning that evil can be fought and defeated give hopes to the audience, and is an importance historical lesson that no one should ever forget. Watching when you know the prequels, means that yes there is hope, and the galaxy desperately needed it because of the freedom of liberty had been destroyed, but that the rebels have a great deal further to go than simply destroying the first Death Star. There is Emperor Palpatine, somewhere out there in the galaxy, who took down the Senate and destroyed the Jedi.

Film Review – Star Wars Episode 3 – The Revenge of the Sith

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I have to admit the first question I always ask when it comes to this film, is revenge for what exactly? The title of the film is not really explained in the film, apart from the Jedi beat them in the war generations before even Yoda lived. That little irritation aside, of the three prequel films, The Revenge of the Sith is easily the best. It’s not perfect though.

In my review of The Attack of the Clones, I was incredibly critical of how Padme character is used. In this film, it is downright awful. She is nothing more than an object to be discussed and emotionally attached to, and the incubator for the children that become important later.  Her potential for interesting plot, when she is discussing political issues with the likes of Mon Mothma who helps found the rebel alliance, becomes a deleted scene. The one time she voices an opinion about separatist ideas with Anakin he shoots her down (verbally) and she becomes uncharacteristically submissive.

Thankfully she can be credited with having the one of the best lines in the entire Star Wars universe: ‘So this is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause.’

One of the most heart-wrenching, politically potent and soul destroying lines utterly by any of the characters, and certainly one of my all-time favourites from any film. Her world has just completely fallen apart around her. She then learns Anakin slaughters the younglings, bearing in mind she is pregnant with a child that will have potential with the force as well. She then learns Anakin really has turned to the dark side and wants to rule the galaxy as a dictator.

Quite frankly when you add all of that up together no wonder she loses the will to live.  Her death is tragic, but I like to think that she held onto life just long enough for Obi-Wan, who she still trusts a little bit, to get her to safety just long enough to protect her child, because she knows in her heart that she has used up every last ounce of her strength and determination fighting for a world that has been utterly destroyed by imperialism and evil.

The rise of the Empire though is spectacularly brilliant. It is a film, where the good guys really lose, and not just a battle, I mean everything. The democracy turns to imperialism; the Jedi Temple and the Jedi diaspora are slaughtered in their droves; strong characters who could help fight the good fight die; and Anakin becomes Darth Vader. Their misguided hope that Anakin was the Chosen One who would bring balance to the force betrays the good guys. Balance does not mean the good guys win.

The Jedi and the Sith are balanced by the end; Yoda to counter Palpatine, and Obi-Wan to counter Darth Vader. Palpatine though had his cunning and patience. He didn’t strike out quickly like I expect the Jedi had anticipated a Sith would; he was more like a Jedi. Patience, calm, rational; everything that the Sith of old, full of emotions and lack of discipline were not. He slowly gained control over the Republic and struck out when it was too late for anyone to stop him from turning it into the Imperial Empire.

Fine the confused political plotlines in episode 2 and 3 could have been clearer; the beginnings of the formation of the Rebel Alliance who see the direction the tide is turning could have more prominence in the film; and Padme could have had a better role. The fact the betrayal of the Jedi is awful to watch, the psychological ploys of the Emperor preying on Anakin’s fears help create Darth Vader, and the battles between the Jedi and the Sith are brilliantly played out by the characters, makes the film worth watching, despite it’s flaws.

The most powerful reason being that Obi-Wan refuses the kill Anakin not because Darth Vader is needed for the upcoming films, but because the character of Obi-Wan cannot bring himself to kill someone he loves, because he is a good person, a better person than a Sith. He still acts on his love, even after betrayal and doesn’t resort to killing a helpless man. That is not the Jedi Way, and even after his world has been torn apart he continues to be a good man, even if the universe would be a better place if he wasn’t. Killing Anakin who is left helpless after their battle would be akin to slaughtering a village of Tusken Raiders simply because they had wronged him.

Film Review – Star Wars Episode 2 – The Attack of the Clones

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I think when it comes to reviewing the Attack of the Clones, I must think about one of the main reasons why the film needed to exist: it was the arena for Anakin and Padme to fall in love. Unfortunately that failed completely, and instead the confused and overly-complex attempt at a political coup, where the Sith are playing the two sides against each other becomes the best part of the film.

Why does no-one consider the fact that Senator Amidala is being targeted for assassination because she is actually the biggest threat to Palpatine’s/Darth Sidious’ plans? Of course Palpatine needs to pretend to be concerned and have her sent away for ‘her own protection’ from herself and her ideas about how democracy should work because she gets in his way. When she was Queen Amidala in ‘The Phantom Menace’, she turned out to be a kick-ass warrior, politically savvy and someone that Palpatine cannot control, manipulate or even anticipate.

Why didn’t Darth Sidious emerge from a shadow and kill her himself. Why go through the convoluted line of Bounty Hunters to do something himself. It wouldn’t have been a surprise to the Jedi for the Sith to murder someone, so making it look like she died because she defeated his attempts to control Naboo would have made sense.  In truth it was amazing she was still alive by the time the Attack of the Clones is set in the Star Wars universe, because she is a genuine threat to his plans to form an empire. No doubt it is only because she outwitted her opponents that she survived as long as she did; she wouldn’t have survived a Sith Lord.

Instead, being assassinated becomes a bit of a side line in the film, because the impression I get from the film is that she is only there for Anakin to fall in love with because the film is a prequel and there has to be a woman involved somewhere in the Star Wars galaxy to give birth to Luke and Leia. It is something I don’t doubt the filmmakers and Darth Sidious decided to agree about; she couldn’t die because she was a threat, because it was more important that she was a mere love interest.

And there is a complete lack of chemistry in the romance. It was fine when Anakin was ten years old and he asked her if she was an angel because she is beautiful. It’s less okay ten years later when the Senator naturally comments on how a boy has grown into a man, and the only reply he can give is about how as a woman she has only grown more beautiful.

Fine, she should take it as a compliment, but I’m not surprised when her retort is that he will always be the little boy she once knew. He’s still talking like the little boy she once knew, he’s dismissive of her chosen career because he doesn’t trust politicians, perhaps with good reason, and is more than a little bit childish when she rebukes him for rejecting her own plans to protect herself once they reach Naboo. In truth I understand perfectly why he falls in love with her; who wouldn’t want to be with a strong and independent person capable of taking care of themselves, who is willing to stand by their opinions. Her physical appearance is merely a by-product of good genetics; while she dresses elegantly to a person like Padme, what she looks like matters less than how much a person respects her opinion and intelligence.

What I don’t get about the film, is why Padme falls in love with Anakin. He is immature and he doesn’t respect the opinion of his elders and their wisdom about his progress with the force. Fine he loves his mother, but his reaction to the Tusken Raiders who torture and kill her isn’t to be rational and seek justice via means that civilised people do, he becomes the monster that slaughters men, women and children out of anger and grief. She then justifies that as a perfectly normal human reaction. It might be a perfectly normal human emotion but it is not a civilised or rational reaction. And it certainly not the reaction of a Jedi; it is the beginning of his journey down the dark roads which she facilitates.

Apart from a fondness for the child she once knew, the only reason I can think that she does fall in love with him is because she trusts him.  She is part of a political arena (and has been since a young age) and her actions and relationships would be something that would be publically judged. She speaks of regret at becoming the Queen so young, perhaps it is because as she has grown she has learnt that being in the public eye does come with consequences and being targeted because she is very good at what she does is one of them. There is a distinct lack of people in her life that she can trust; Anakin despite his faults, is one of those people, and it is the only reason I can think of as the reason why she falls in love with him and ignores that he is perhaps not stable and entirely sane.

Obi-Wan is another who she trusts, which is why she isn’t being head strong and stupid for rushing to try and save him from the captivity of the political mess he’s uncovered. She is going to try and protect a friend, because she has few of those. The film though could have been so much  better if she and Anakin had been more strongly involved in Obi-Wan’s storyline. Her cunning and political savvy would have been very complimentary to Obi-Wan’s diplomacy. I guess then though, Anakin’s childishness would have been a great deal more apparent and she might have more wisely rejected her heart’s desires, and listened to her head which had been telling her that being with Anakin was not a good idea.

That’s the problem with prequels, they have to meet certain expectations, and wonderful characters end up making completely irrational and out of character decisions, because it has to fit the plot. Admittedly I’m not surprised that in the universe where the majority of women are only given prominence because the plot requires them to fulfil the role of mother, lover or scantily clad dancer, that it was an female character than needed to be compromised in order for the story to fit the original trilogy.

Film Review – Star Wars Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace

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The Phantom Menace, has been around long enough now for most people to know the plot and the characters, and how this film was the emergence of the Sith and the beginning of the end of the Jedi’s way of life. I don’t want to talk about that, I want to address two characters in this film who I think deserve a little bit more credit. This might sound a little bit controversial to most, but I really love The Phantom Menace; I don’t hate Jar Jar Binks, and the portrayal of Anakin Skywalker as a precocious child does make a lot of sense.

Jar Jar Binks is an outcast from his own society, because he is clumsy. Now admittedly he is extremely clumsy, and for the vast majority of the film he is in the way, a danger to others and just generally a nuisance. Even Qui-Gon Jinn at first finds him an annoyance because Jar Jar Bink’s natural response to a dangerous situation isn’t fight or flight, it is freeze. Obi-Wan’s reaction as to why he has been banished though is disbelief that a society would banish someone for being clumsy, even if it is in the extreme. This belief was so ingrained in Jar Jar that he justifies to the Jedi that his people were right to make that decision, perhaps even to the extent that he can’t belief that he can be a better person.

His character arc in the film is more interesting than what most people would imagine, because he is an outcast that does find acceptance, because a few people did believe in him, and gave him the benefit of the doubt, and without him the conclusion of the film wouldn’t have been possible. The filmmakers could have made the conclusion work without Jar Jar Binks being there, and links between the peoples of Naboo could have been made on scanty rumours the Queen had known about her planet anyway, and using technology or the force to find Gungan army. That wasn’t the decision made; they made that connection via a character.

A lot of the criticism of Jar Jar Binks was that he was solely there to make the films appeal to children. So what? Based on his character’s plot in the film, he is a fantastic role model, because it teaches children that no matter how awkward and out of place you feel, how rejected you feel by your society for being who you are, you can still be important. It is perhaps a shame that the only way Jar Jar Binks can be important is because others make him so, and he doesn’t learn self-reliance. Maybe that is a message for adults, that is you do teach your children that they are hopeless that they will eventually learn to believe it so much that they can’t think differently and won’t ever try to help themselves, which is a tragedy.

Looking at Jar Jar Binks from this perspective helps to make sense of Anakin’s character, because in a way while being the opposite he is rejected as well, but because he is a child it is a decision that is made over his head. Fine, he is a bit precocious, and that is perfectly normal; being precocious is not the same as being arrogant even though it does have that connotation. That judgement is made by people who are intimidated and insecure in themselves. People who are threatened by a ‘mere’ child being better than them. It isn’t just adults who are capable of being intelligent, talented and mature; and quite frankly it is about time that people should stop being surprised that children are capable of these things and separated out as weird and abnormal when they do display these traits.

Anakin was raised by his mother to be a good person; he was raised on inhospitable planet controlled by gangsters; and he grew up as a slave, devoid of freedom. Of course he is going to be more streetwise than most, of course he is going to be sensible when it comes to sand storms, of course he is going to help those that he has recognised as good people. He has gifts with the force that make him talented and special; just because he is a child with a voice described as whiny, simply because it hasn’t broken yet doesn’t mean the film as a whole is deemed lesser because of him.

Anakin is the embodiment of most children’s dreams: to be taken seriously by adults and not criticised because if they show a little intelligence, a little bit of maturity and more courage than most to help. That shouldn’t be discouraged in children. Their talents should be recognised and praised, but also explained to them in detail rather than just dismissed off hand when rejected. It should be explained in full to Anakin why the Council feels it is wise to reject Qui-Gon’s proposal to train him.

Anakin uses logic to explain why he is staying in the cockpit of the fighter; why didn’t the Council argue the finer points of why being too old to train in the ways of the Jedi is dangerous. In truth when you’re familiar enough with the Star Wars Universe, you understand why emotional attachment is not a good idea; he grew up loving his mother and fearing losing her. It’s not properly explained to him that being a Jedi isn’t like being like everyone else. I know that because I’m a sci-fi geek who has been watching Star Wars for as long as I can remember. Anakin doesn’t necessarily understand that, which is possibly why we end up with Darth Vader in the end, because while Yoda does explain the path to the dark side, he doesn’t explain how good feelings like love and affection can be the starting point on that journey.