Thursday, September 23, 2010

Episode VI: The Last One (at least, as far as the films are concerned)

Well, its taken me weeks to get the whole Star Wars Saga reviewed here, but I'm finally done.  I apologize for being so lax about writing, but lately during my down time I want to do anything but write.  Sometimes I wonder why I keep this blog going if I'm not gonna write in it...but then I'm reminded that I do have a small following and I owe it to them (you) to keep going.  Plus, I do love to write about my life and the films I love (or don't love in some cases...but I prefer to not vent negativity) so here I am, finally making good on something I started earlier this month.  So, for those of you who stick with me and keep this blog at 12 visits a week...here's the final part of the Star Wars film saga, Return of the Jedi.

Its not long since the conclusion of The Empire Strikes Back and Luke, Leia, and Lando are hot on the trail of Jabba the Hutt who has taken the captive Han Solo to his palace on Tatooine encased in carbonite. They manage to infultrate Jabba's palace and liberate Han, but not without a large effort and a huge action sequence.  Meanwhile, Darth Vader has traveled to the moon of Endor to oversee the completion of a new Death Star.  The superstructure of the massive weapon/station is still unfinished and full of gaps and the weapon itself is completely inopperative.  Vader tells them that they need to work even faster because Emporer Palpatine will be paying them a visit in the near future and "is not as forgiving as" Vader.  The Rebels get word of this and decide to mass a fleet for a planned attack.  Meanwhile, Luke and Company must head to Endor to mount an operation to take down the massive energy shield that protects the Death Star from any attack.  Soon, Luke is taken by Vader before the Emporer and father and son must battle for the galaxy while the Rebels fight to survive against the Imperial forces.

Return of the Jedi is and always has been my favorite of the series, though I realize that it often comes as second or third on people's lists.  Some believe that Jedi was the beginning of the end for Lucas' treatment of the Star Wars world given that it features more humor than the past two entries and includes the cuddly Ewoks, whom fans with hindsight of 20/20 think are a precursor to Mr. Unpopular (read: Jar Jar Binks).  I think it also stems from the idea that this was the end of the series and many would rather it kept going (this wish was granted in 1999 with Episode I, and most fans wanted to hand the gift right back).  For me though, Jedi plays as a perfect wrap up of the arc of these characters who we've been with since before they knew Luke was a Jedi or that Leia would end up with Han as a lover.  Everyone has matured and evened out into adult counterparts, compared to the compulsive children they appeared to be in the first installment, and the payoff is quite satisfying.  It also has several standout sequences such as the Sarlac Pit battle and the Speeder Chase, which are also quite satisfying.  Yes it has some pacing problems.  The tension simply dies after we leave Jabba's and transition to Endor, and aside from some interesting sections...its rather dull until we get to the final battle.  But yet I can't help loving this entry the most, since it is the end.  And I think that's all you can really ask for with a final entry, for it to stick with you.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Episode V: The Fan Favorite

This weekend was fun.  I went to Pride Night at Kings Island on Friday night with some friends and had a blast.  I hadn't been to Kings Island since I was in single digits, so it was almost like going for the first time.  I loved riding the rides and not having to wait in line.  It was amazing, we pretty much just walked onto everything, and some we even rode twice (in the dark!).  Then Saturday I made Bouef Bourginion again for Bond, who came to visit.  We ate and watched The Godfather Part III and Simone.  I guess it was just an Al Pacino kind of evening.  Then on Sunday, I rested.  The only thing I regret is not sleeping more...I just couldn't stop tossing and turning.  I never was tired though, so perhaps I just didn't need all that sleep.  At any rate, I survived to see another work week.  We're in week 4 now, and that means there are just 32 to go until next summer.  Haha, I'm not really that anxious to get to the end of the year, but it is a nice carrot to look forward to.  Speaking of summer, lets think back to a summer 20 years ago in that magical year of 1980.  The 70s had ended and ushered in a new era of filmmaking that was all about the telling of epic and fantastic tales of other worlds.  What better time then, to release the long awaited sequel to Star Wars.  Fans had clamored for it for years and George Lucas and 20th Century Fox were finally ready to unleash a new tale on the world where new characters would be introduced, secrets would be revealed, and a successful franchise's fate would be forever sealed.  So lets get Dark Side as we watch The Empire Strikes Back.

It has been some time since the destruction of the Death Star and the Rebel Alliance, while growing in power, has had to go into hiding once again while it is pursued by the evil Darth Vader.  Vader has become obsessed with finding Luke Skywalker, Leia, and Han Solo and has already ravaged many systems looking for them.  Meanwhile, on the ice planet of Hoth, Luke receives a vision from Obi-Wan Kenobi telling him that he must train with Jedi Master Yoda on Dagobah.  So when Vader's Super Star Destroyer attacks the planet, he splits off from the group with Artoo to seek Yoda while Han, Leia, Chewie, and Threepio are relentlessly perused by the Empire in a Millunium Falcon with no working hyperspace drive.  While Luke trains with Yoda, the group on the Falcon finds that they must take refuge on Bespin with Solo's old friend Lando Calrissian in his Cloud City.  Soon after their arrival, it is revealed that the whole thing is a trap set for them by Vader who plans to use them as bait to capture Luke with.  Luke, receiving a vision of them in pain, sets off to save them and ignoring Yoda and Obi-Wan's warnings to the contrary.  Soon Luke is locked in a life and death battle with Vader where an important secret is revealed and the fate of the galaxy rests on Luke's survival.

If A New Hope is good, then The Empire Strikes Back is great.  It expands on the story already set up in the original and then pushes it forward towards its conclusion in the next film.  Several staples of the series are also revealed in this installment, such as the love between Han and Leia and the true identity of Darth Vader (which, if you watch the prequels first you already know).  Plus, we have the first appearance of Yoda as the most awesome Jedi Muppet ever (once again, if you watch the prequels first, then its really his fourth appearance) and fan favorite Lando Calrissian played by Billy Dee Williams (what ever happened to him?).  Oh, and it has Boba Fett in it...who's popularity I still don't get.  I mean, the guy doesn't do ANYTHING between this film and the next and yet he's one of the most popular action figures and characters in the Star Wars series.  I suppose some of that comes from his appearance in the Star Wars Holiday Special and the books and comics that followed...but still.  He's so...dull.  There are characters who are far more interesting.  Anyway, there are other marvelous bits in this film such as the giant asteroid worm and the Wampa.  Oh, and lets not forget Han Solo's freezing in carbonite...the scene that was originally planned as a death scene because Harrison Ford didn't know if he wanted to continue playing Solo.  But really, there's little more I can say about this film that hasn't already been said.  It is definitely the best of the original trilogy, but not my favorite (that honor belongs to Return of the Jedi).  Go see it again, you'll be surprised at how well it still holds up even now.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Episode IV: The First and Best Remembered

So here we are, coming full circle back to the actual chronological beginning of the Star Wars legacy.  Its hard to believe that its been over 30 years since the original Star Wars opened in theaters and people are still talking about it.  In a way, its almost silly.  The film, while grand in scope in George Lucas' mind, is very much a simple cliffhanger-type film in the vein of Buck Rodgers and classic westerns.  If the film hadn't had innovative effects and a killer score by John Williams, I doubt if anyone would have taken it for more than a B-movie.  I suppose then that that is the true testament to how wonderful the quality of Star Wars actually is.  To be able to fool an audience into thinking that a film made for $11 million was actually made for $30 million is a pretty great feat.  Thanks to that legacy, people can conveniently forget that Luke was a hugely whiny character or that Leia's accent changes at least three times in the film.  I mean, sometimes the feeling one gets from a movie and the legacy it leaves can add up to more than the sum of its parts.  I'm gonna keep this one short since, I mean, do I really have to explain the original Star Wars to anyone?  So lets bullseye some wamprats in our T-16 and watch A New Hope.

It is a dark time for the Galactic Rebellion, who were formed from the remnants of supporters from the old Republic.  The troops of the Galactic Empire, ruled with an iron fist by the Emperor and Darth Vader, now polices the galaxy and the populace lives in fear.  At the start, an Imperial Star Destroyer is chasing a Rebel Freighter from Alderan carrying the Princess Leia and her loyal droids C-3PO and R2-D2.  Leia has stolen the plans for a new ultimate weapon, the Death Star, and she loads them onto Artoo (R2-D2) before blasting him and Threepio out of the ship in an escape pod.  Leia then takes one for the team and allows herself to be captured.  The pod lands on the nearby planet of Tatooine (remember that place??) and the droids are bought by Luke Skywalker, a teenage boy with big dreams and ambitions.  Luke discovers the hidden message inside Artoo and guesses that it was meant for old Ben Kenobi (Kenobi???  Do you mean OBI WAN???  WHOA!).  Upon meeting Obi Wan he discovers that his father was Anakin Skywalker and that Jedi blood flows in his veins.  Obi Wan takes it upon himself to train Luke as a Jedi and offers to take Luke with him on the mission to save Leia and destroy the Death Star (ok, that's not the mission as it starts...but we all know that's what's gonna happen :P).

Wow, this film always manages to entertain me even with its technological shortcomings and its corny bits ("I was gonna go pick up some POWER CONVERTERS (whine!)").  It starts slowly and takes some time to build, but once it reaches its Death Star battle conclusions, you can't turn away from the excitement.  I wish I could be a fly on the wall in a theater on opening night in 1977 just to see how people reacted to the movie.  I can recall having similar experiences in the theater seeing something for the first time and I can only imagine what unified joy was felt at the time.  Nay-sayers can nayyyyyyyy all they want about it, but there must be something there for it to have produced 5 more films, toys, books, comics, games, and everything else that Star Wars has begot.  Sure the later entries in the original trilogy are better, but there is something magical about it that you can't deny.  Go watch it again....seriously.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Episode III: The Hamlet of Space Operas (or EVERYBODY DIES)

So here we arrive at the end of Lucas' prequel trilogy and at a dark time in the galaxy, but lets talk about the weekend.  I had a pseudo four-day weekend.  Yes I had to be at work on Friday, but it was just sitting and listening to meetings all day without kids, so it felt like a day off.  I also went on a date with that new guy, which went extremely well.  Its almost a shame it went so well, because I haven't seen him since and he left for Kenya today for school.  He'll be gone until the 26th and I fear that any good the first date might have done will disappear completely by then.  Either way, I really like him and I'm trying to have hope and yet not set myself up for getting hurt.  Its a hard dynamic.  Saturday I went to Cedar Point by myself, and I discovered that unlike going to a restaurant or a movie by myself, going to an amusement park by myself is not something I ever want to do again.  It was cold, crowded, and expensive for something I didn't enjoy (which is sad because usually I love CP).  The expensive part really bugs me, mainly because I'm already strapped for cash and I've agreed to go on a trip to NYC with my mother that I'm still not sure I can afford.  So yeah, I guess I have a lot on my mind.  I suppose its fitting then that I'm about to discuss the darkest film in the Star Wars series, given my mood.  This was the movie that was to fill in all the leftover gaps in-between this half of the series and the original film now dubbed A New Hope and naturally...since we start with an orphan and all the Jedi dead...someone's gotta go.  So lets dive right in and shed a tear for characters we never knew were there in 1977 as we watch Revenge of the Sith.

The Republic is officially at war with the Separatists and Count Dooku has abducted Chancellor Palpetine from the Senate when the film opens, allowing for a spectacular scene where Anakin and Obi-Wan get to rescue him in a huge battle.  It looks as though the Republic and their clones will win the war and yet, General Grievous and Dooku are still hell bent on destroying what the senate has fought for.  In the background, the evil Darth Sidious is pulling strings on both sides.  The Chancellor is also causing problems, meddling with Jedi affairs and keeping his specially elected power and his term of office long after he should have been replaced by a successor.  The Jedi believe him to be a threat and so ask Anakin, an admirer of Palpetine, to spy on him.  Anakin begins to doubt the Jedi and also begins to consider studying the dark side so he can save his wife (he has begun having dreams of her dying in childbirth).  Eventually, when the Jedi are spread across the galaxy and distracted, Palpatine reveals that he is the evil Darth Sidious in disguise and, upon earning Anakin's allegiance, orders the Clone Army to kill all the Jedi.  It is then up to Obi-Wan to face the fallen Anakin, who now calls himself Darth Vader.

This is the prequel that is universally accepted as the best among fans and its easy to see why.  This is the episode with edge that fans had been wanting since Episode I and finally got.  This is the one they really wanted to see...not young Darth Vader or teenage love....just the death and destruction of the Jedi along with the rise of ol' Darth.  Its also the least complex of the prequels due to the fact that everything that happens in it was already set up in the other films, and that also makes it more audience friendly.  I suppose it is a testament to what Lucas set up in the other prequels that we felt genuinely sad when Anakin turned to the dark side and when Padme and the Jedi die.  Its also sad to see Yoda lose in battle against Palpatine, who is now Emperor of the galaxy, and to know that he must go live in a swamp.  Then there are the babies, the twins fated to become Luke and Leia in the original trilogy, who lose their mother and father as they are being born.  That is also sad, but bittersweet in that they are the New Hope that the next episode alludes to.  We know that everything will be alright in the end, but it still sucks that no one stopped it before it got to the point of no return here.  Much like a Greek or Shakesperian tragedy, we get to see everything start out well and then watch helpless as our leads are affected by their foils until they are either killed or turn into horrible people removed from who they once were.  Who knew Star Wars could be tragic?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Episode II: The Lovey Dovey One

I'm catching up and trying to write more in this blog, since I tend to forget all about it once I'm home for the day.  Frankly, I push everything out of my head in the evenings so that I don't have any worries or stress (with the exception of thoughts about new people I'm talking to...those I'm very guilty of).  Speaking of which, I have been talking with someone new since last weekend and I am pretty excited about it.  He is very intellegent, attractive, funny, and seem to not have any latent psychotic qualities so far.  I'm meeting him for coffee this weekend and I have butterflies in my stomach about it.  I'm sure we'll get along, but 'bad dates' seem to be my trend this year and I don't want this one to be another casualty of that bad luck.  On the other hand, if we meet and hit it off, we won't get to see each other for another three weeks or so because he will be in Kenya, Africa.  I actually think that's kinda cool.  Anyway, its good that I'm mentioning my love life because the second timeline film of the Star Wars films answers a question that had been nagging fans for centuries...what happens when a Jedi gets horny?  Let's get the crap kicked out of us by love as we examine Attack of the Clones.

The film begins 10 years after the phantom menace that is Darth Sideous tried to use the Trade Federation to kill Padme Amidala and thus created turmoil in the Galactic Senate.  In that time, Senator Palpatine of Naboo has become the Chancellor of the senate, Padme has become a senator for Naboo, Obi-Wan has become a Jedi Master and Anakin has become a hot teenage Jedi apprentice. There has also been a push by several groups to separate from the senate and form their own split groups.  These Separatists are being lead by the ex-Jedi Count Dooku and would love nothing more than to wage war on the Repulbic.  The senate begins to wonder if they shouldn't have a grand Army of the Republic to defend themselves against the great threat.  Along with that, a bounty hunter named Jango Fett has been making attempts on Padme's life and the Jedi are working to uncover who the assasin might be.  In the process of investigating Jango, they discover that a giant clone army has been built on the distant planet of Camino...an action that suggests that someone within the Jedi order has been working to betray the Republic.  Oh...and Anakin and Padme share a forbidden love...but that's not important.

Just like with Episode I, Clones is choc full of plot setup that won't be paid off until the next episode and so will not resonate as well with a viewer on a first viewing.  In fact, when I first saw Clones in the theater, I left feeling confused about what all the political stuff was setting up and wowed by having seen Yoda kick butt with a lightsaber.  However, once I saw Episode III and rewatched the the first two films, I could clearly see what Lucas was doing.  However, that doesn't help one much when one is trying to view a movie on its own merits...not as part of a larger whole.  I think that's why part two is my least favorite of the prequels, as I feel it is the most under developed of the three.  Oh, and then there's the love section.  Lucas is trying so hard to make the love between Anakin and Padme so serious that it almost becomes a parody of the feelings of love.  Anakin's expression of his feelings is almost as co-dependant and psychotic as Romeo's stalking of Juliet in Shakespeare's famous play that it always makes me uncomfortable to watch. Padme is also a problem, because she acts like the could return Anakin's feelings but isn't that into him.  Then suddenly, by the end she's willing to marry him in secret.  There is only one moment where she could have this sudden growth of feeling toward him, after he has massacred a bunch of sandpeople, and I would think that she would feel more inclined to push him away rather than embrace him for the angry psychotic he is becoming.  The only reason it happens is because, based on what needs to happen in the next trilogy, it has to.  I suppose I should be glad its not more hokey than it already is...but it will always bug me.  Still, Clones does have the epic battle of the Clones at the conclusion and Yoda kicking butt so it can't be all bad.  I just wish I enjoyed the experience of it more.

Episode I: A REALLY Long Time Ago in A Galaxy Far, Far Away...

I suppose it was inevitable.  You cannot run a film-related blog, news page, widget, or some other internet dingus without having to at some point talk about the Force, the Empire, and that dysfunctional Skywalker family. God, do I even need to do an introduction paragraph to one of the most successful, popular, and over-played sci-fi sagas in the history of American film?  Probably not, but I'm a long winded person so you'll sit there and read it and like it! Please...pretty please (I'd better make nice, I don't want to chase off my five readers).  Anyhoo, Star Wars isn't just a film or a franchise anymore.  Its become a way of life for so many people.  For some it is a cash cow and the means to keep their pockets lined (those people would be 20th Century Fox, the folks at Lucasfilm, the toy and video distribution companies, and the Dark Lord himself...George Lucas).  For others, it is a source of obsession...a compulsion to know everything, own everything, and experience everything that was ever fated to be stamped with that ever recognizable logo.  Some people even list their religion as Jedi (or Sith...shiver) on their tax returns now and know how to speak Gungan, or Tatooineese.  Its hard to fathom that such a fanatic lifestyle would sprout from a late 70s low-budget sleeper that no one believed would succeed.  Then again, the same sort of fanaticism would also bless (or curse depending on how you feel) Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter.  I guess people just live for fantasy worlds.  At any rate, last week I rewatched all the Star Wars movies in order...something I haven't done in a long long time.  So now I'll start with a look at the technical 4th film in the series, but first in the series timeline (and also probably the most hated)...The Phantom Menace.

The galaxy is in a state of tense peace, but under the surface a troubling conflict is looking to tear the serene calm of the Galactic Republic in two.  On the distent and lovely planet of Naboo a blockade by the Trade Federation is threatening to invade the planet and capture Queen Amidala, the 13 year old ruler of the Naboo.  Two Jedi Knights, Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentence Obi-Wan Kenobi, have been sent to resolve the conflict in a debate.  However, the Viceroy of the Trade Federation orders their deaths and they must escape to the surface of the planet below.  Qui-Gon suspects that there is more going on than a simple trade dispute and he and Obi-Wan manage to escape with the Queen and a Gungan named Jar Jar Binks before the Trade Federation can claim her.  They land on the desert planet of Tatooine and there they meet a boy who displays a remarkable grasp of the Force named Anakin Skywalker and decide that he must return with them to the city planet of Coruscant.  Meanwhile, it is revealed that the Trade Federation is working with a shadowy figure named Darth Sideous and he is the one pulling the strings.  He has a vested interest in disrupting the senate with conflict and taking over and he sends his apprentence, Darth Maul, to deal with the interfering Jedi.

A short summary of Episode I is not really possible, though its detractors would say otherwise.  There is a lot of complex set up and policial intrigue that makes more sense in the context of the three prequel films when taken as a whole rather than as a stand alone film and that contributes to why fans don't care for Lucas' vision for the prequel trilogy.  Fans also stated bad dialouge and annoying characters (*read* Jar Jar) as reason for further dissention.  They do have a point on the first complaint (it was complicated and not much happened) compared to the original where all they had to do was blow up a space station.  However, I've always felt that the original Star Wars had corny lines ("Governor Tarkin!  I should have expected to find you holding Vader's leash...I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board!") and annoying characters (C-3PO and Luke were whiny little bitches).  I think the biggest problem with the prequel films is that they were new and came after 20 years of fanboy entrenchment.  The fans were old and set in their ways and didn't want anything that didn't look like it was filmed in the late 70s or early 80s...so that means, grainy and with only puppet and rotoscoping effects.  On one hand, I can see that point because the prequels look so shiny and new that they seem like a fancy attempt to reference what had been done in the past rather than actually trying to look like they fit into the visual 'look' of the original trilogy.  On the other hand, however, these films also show a time of peace and prosperity in the galaxy, before the utilitarian and cold Empire, so it makes sense that things would look nicer and fancier.  You can go either way on the topic.  I prefer to just take a neutral position.  I like to just watch them and have fun, and not get bogged down in fanaticism that just makes people miserable and bitter.  I am a Star Wars fan from way back...from when I was a kid actually....but I don't need to base my personal happiness on how well the prequels represent what I remember or whether or not Lucas raped my childhood.  I like to keep my psychological hang ups on real stuff.  Oh...and I like all six movies...in case that wasn't clear.