Talking Movies [May the Sith]: Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

While May 4th is known the world over as Star Wars Day, many also choose to extend the celebrations of the course of three days, with one of them being the “Evil Star Wars Day” of May 6th (as in “Sith”). This year, I’ve been using the three Star Wars Days as the perfect excuse to go back over the Prequel Trilogy.

Talking Movies

Released: 19 May 2005
Director: George Lucas
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Original Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $113 million
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Matthew Wood, and Frank Oz

The Plot:
Three years after Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones (ibid, 2002), the Jedi are leading the clone army of the Galactic Republic in a large-scale war against the Separatists. Following the death of Separatist leader Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) is sent to eliminate the semi-cybernetic General Grievous (Wood) to put an end to the conflict. Meanwhile, though struggling with premonitions of his wife Padmé Amidala (Portman) dying in childbirth, Anakin Skywalker (Christensen) is tasked with spying on Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (McDiarmid); however, unbeknownst to all, Palpatine (secretly the Sith Lord Darth Sidious) is preparing a diabolical plot to destroy the Jedi!

The Background:
It’s safe to say that, by 2005, the Prequel Trilogy had struggled to live up to the lofty expectations set by George Lucas’ original three Star Wars films; Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace (ibid, 1999) was a financial success, Attack of the Clones didn’t fare quite so well at the box office and both films were subjected to scathing criticism. Despite having jotted down the outline of Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side decades prior, Lucas struggled to properly formulate Revenge of the Sith’s script, which went through a number of changes even in post-production. As in Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith featured copious digital shots and effects; still, stars Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor bulked up and underwent extensive and rigorous training with stunt coordinator Nick Gillard for their climatic lightsaber duel. Despite a copy of the film leaking online, Revenge of the Sith fared marginally better than its predecessor at the box office with a $86.4 million gross. Critically, however, the film fared much better than the previous two films; generally considered to be the best of the Prequel Trilogy, critics praised the film’s bleak tone and more action-packed moments though the dialogue and acting still came under scrutiny.

The Review:
As much as I enjoy Star Wars, I’ve always been more of a casual fan; since the Original Trilogy never seemed to be on television when I was a kid, my exposure was a bit limited compared to others who had VHS copies of the films. The Prequel Trilogy, and the release of the Special Editions, changed that and really helped to get me properly into Star Wars, but even then I was more about the videogames and Expanded Universe books. As a result, the first Star Wars film I saw at the cinema was actually Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith; I’m not sure why I didn’t see the first two episodes at the cinema but it may simply have been because I was too young to drive or get to our nearest cinema. In any case, despite how disappointing aspects of the Prequel Trilogy had been, my anticipation was high for Revenge of the Sith since it promised to finally show the emergence of the Galactic Empire, the downfall of the Jedi Order, and Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader.

Obi-Wan is devastated when the war turns his trusted ally and protégé into dangerous enemies.

Obi-Wan is now not only a member of the Jedi Council but also a battle-hardened General; his relationship with Anakin has progressed from teacher/student to equals and they work together to combat the Separatists. While Obi-Wan still despairs of Anakin’s more flamboyant and reckless piloting and battle strategies, the two are a far more polished team than in Attack of the Clones (thanks, presumably, to having been through many adventures in the Clone Wars) and even share a little playful banter with each other. This means that their rematch with Count Dooku goes far better this time as they work as a team, however cracks still exist and are formed in their relationship due to Obi-Wan’s distrust of Palpatine since the Chancellor has refused to give up his “emergency powers” and Anakin steadfastly defends the Chancellor, whom he views as a trusted ally and father-figure. Still, Obi-Wan has come to trust in his apprentice’s skills and abilities, as well as relying on the clone troopers under his command, specifically Commander Cody (Temuera Morrison). In both instances, he is ultimately betrayed but, even after seeing how far Anakin has fallen, he desperately pleads with the angry young Jedi to renounce the Dark Side to avoid battling Anakin, whom Obi-Wan views as a brother.

Despite appearing a stronger character, Anakin’s fears and resentment turn him towards the Dark Side.

Anakin, of course, takes on a far larger role this time; now sporting longer hair, a nasty scar from battle, and having grown into a fully-fledged Jedi Knight, war has largely tempered his immaturity from the last film and made him a far more capable Jedi. However, he still remains conflicted; now haunted by visions of Padmé dying in childbirth and continuing to harbour a resentment towards Obi-Wan and the Jedi Council, to say nothing of how easily persuaded he is to execute Dooku, Anakin’s perception of the Jedi and the galaxy begins to quickly unravel as he desperately tries to keep those he cares about alive after failing to save his mother, Shmi (Pernilla August) in the last film. This desire is the decisive catalyst Palpatine needs to finally reveal his true nature to Anakin and coerce him into turning to the Dark Side; while this turn is very abrupt in the moment, a great deal of the film (and the entire Prequel Trilogy) is devoted to showing just how conflicted Anakin is, which honestly does help to somewhat justify this. In the end, he pledges himself to the Sith Lord in a frantic desire to keep Padmé alive and is clearly tormented at the hideous acts he commits to attain the power he needs to facilitate this.

Padmé is absolutely heartbroken to learn of Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side.

Padmé has undergone quite the change from when we first met her in The Phantom Menace; having secretly married Anakin, she is carrying his children and growing increasingly concerned about the deceptive nature of their lives and love. Despite being pregnant, Padmé still remains an active member of the Galactic Senate but, distrustful of Palpatine’s intentions, colludes with notable names in the Senate and the Jedi to try and force the Chancellor to give up his powers, only to be left devastated when the oppressive Galactic Empire is voted into power “with thunderous applause”. Sensing that a far greater conflict is on the horizon, Padmé is equally terrified of the fact that both she and Anakin stand to lose everything if their marriage became public. So obsessed is Anakin with ensuring Padmé’s safety that she turns to Obi-Wan for comfort and support, which only enrages the newly-christened Darth Vader at the film’s finale. Consequently, despite being absolutely devoted to him, Padmé is so heartbroken at his turn to the Dark Side and everything Anakin has done that she literally cannot find the will to continue living.

Returning characters may not have much to do but be helpless and die but Mace finally gets time to shine.

From being a questionable addition in the first film to the creature responsible for Palpatine’s rise to power, Jar Jar Binks (Ahemd Best) is reduced to a mere cameo in this film, further making me question why he was even created in the first place. R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) return in supporting roles for Anakin and Padmé, respectively, but don’t really factor too much into the plot since Lucas’ focus is obviously more on depicting Anakin’s tumultuous final journey towards the Dark Side. Many of the Jedi we saw in minor supporting roles in the last two films return here primarily to die, though Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) finally gets some major screen time and a plays a pivotal role in the third act; suspicious of Anakin due to his relationship to Palpatine, Mace is ironically on the verge of trusting Anakin after he reveals Palpatine’s true identity as Darth Sidious and Mace even gets to have a decent lightsaber battle…only to be mutilated and blasted to his death in a scene that is played as dramatic but, thanks to Lucas’ awkward writing, comes across as a bit rushed and corny. However, despite many of the other Jedi not really being given names or prominence in the films, it’s still pretty tragic to see them being gunned down by their own troops or cut to pieces by Palpatine or Darth Vader, and to see strong and confident characters like Yoda (Oz) and Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) desperately fleeing from Palpatine and his clone troopers.

Dooku may die early but Palpatine has enough minions and gusto to more than make up for this.

Count Dooku briefly returns for a rematch with Anakin and Obi-Wan but is quickly beheaded by Anakin in service of pushing him further to the Dark Side. Thus the film introduces another new antagonist in General Grievous, a largely cybernetic creature who seems to be the extreme far end of Darth Vader; half crippled by a debilitating cough and obvious pain, Grievous is both visually striking and a formidable foe thanks to wielding four lightsabers. However, I still can’t help but think that it would have made so much more narrative sense to have Darth Maul (Ray Park) survive The Phantom Menace, torment Obi-Wan in Dooku’s stead in Attack of the Clones, and finally be killed in Revenge of the Sith. Obviously, Palpatine also gets a lot more to do here; his wooing of Anakin is more prevalent and he finally drops his façade, literally transforming into a twisted, cackling, demonic figure as he ruthlessly cuts down Jedi and embraces his new role as the Emperor. Similar to Yoda, I’m not entirely convinced we really needed to see Palpatine swinging a lightsaber but it makes for a pretty intense conflict to see the extreme good (Yoda) clashing with the extreme evil (Palpatine) and failing due to underestimating the sheer overwhelming power Palpatine now wields. If nothing else, Revenge of the Sith is enjoyable for McDiarmid’s scenery-chewing, meme-worthy performance; while he may go a little too far into pantomime with his cackling demeanour, it’s a joy to watch and actually makes a lot of sense since he’s finally through hiding and delighting in showcasing his true power.

The Nitty-Gritty:
One of the best things about The Phantom Menace  was George Williams’ incredible score; and this returns with a vengeance in Revenge of the Sith; not only is the “Imperial March” far more explicitly featured this time around, “Duel of the Fates” is evoked during Anakin and Obi-Wan’s climatic duel on Mustafar. Sadly, though, Lucas’ cringe-worthy dialogue still drags parts of the film down; however, for every scene where Anakin and Padmé bang on about love, there’s a chillingly ominous soliloquy from Palpatine to help get things back on track. Of course, CGI is still in high abundance but much better and less distracting than in Attack of the Clones, especially when showcasing massive space and ground battles; while green screen scenes involving live-action actors and some of the later creatures still look a little dodgy, it’s pretty impressive to see Grievous’ ship tilt and break apart in orbit before dramatically crashing to Coruscant.

CGI is still in abundance but used to far better dramatic effect this time around.

Despite there being a full-scale war going on, there’s actually not too much large-scale conflict in the film since it opens towards the end of the Clone Wars. Things start off with a bang to depict a massive space battle in the atmosphere of Coruscant and through to Anakin and Obi-Wan’s campaign onto Grievous’ ship, which is a fantastically realised sequence that really helps shows the scale and stakes of the conflict. It was great to finally see Kashyyyk but it also feels like this battle could’ve happened anywhere and was put in simply to shoe-horn a glorified cameo from Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) into the film. In addition to seeing the founding members of the future Rebellion coming together in defiance of Palpatine’s new Empire, we also get see a wide variety of interesting locations (some of which are free from Lucas’ trademark green screens) but we don’t really dwell on them too much since they’re just there to show the scale of the conflict. Consequently, Mustafar makes an immediate impression; Obi-Wan and Anakin battle on a planet that’s basically an active volcano and, since it basically resembles hell, this provides the perfect chaotic background for the final duel of the film.

Palpatine preys on Anakin’s fears and seduces him into turning to the Dark Side with promises of power.

Obviously, the story of Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side and the fall of the Jedi is a pivotal aspect of the film; terrified of losing Padmé, Anakin refuses to turn to even Obi-Wan for help or to listen to reason, and falls under Palpatine’s lure since the Chancellor knows exactly the right words to say to stoke Anakin’s ego and fears. Anakin is outraged not only when Mace Windu appoints him a seat on the Jedi Council but denies him the rank of Jedi Master but also when Obi-Wan surreptitiously asks Anakin to spy on Palpatine. Still, when Palpatine reveals himself to Anakin, the young Jedi’s first instinct is to arrest (or kill) the Chancellor and he even shares this revelation with Mace Windu is but ultimately driven to turn against the Jedi in order to attain the power he needs to ensure Padmé’s survival. Christened Darth Vader, Anakin immediately assassinates not just the Separatist heads and disables their droid army, he also goes on a killing spree on Coruscant, slaughtering  every man, woman, and child in the Jedi Temple. Though this clearly brings him no pleasure, he is left with no choice but to do as Palpatine commands and desperately tries to justify his actions as bringing order to the galaxy.

Anakin’s duel with Obi-Wan leaves him a wretched, tragic figure and more machine than man.

Of course, the main highlight of the film is the long-awaited battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin; thanks to seeing Obi-Wan match and overcome the multi-armed General Grievous earlier in the film, Anakin’s sheer power and skill are all the more impressive since he wields just the one lightsaber and pushes Obi-Wan to the edge throughout the battle. Unlike similar battles in the other Star Wars films, this dramatic and aggressive conflict is juxtaposed not by a space battle but by Yoda’s equally intense fight against Palpatine; however, this doesn’t detract from the emotion and intensity of this climatic conflict. Beginning on stable ground and crossing raging lava and explosive outbursts of the chaotic planet, Anakin and Obi-Wan are almost entirely evenly matched; while Anakin attacks with unbridled rage, finally giving in to all of his hatred and resentment towards his mentor, Obi-Wan matches him blow for blow despite being torn at having been forced into the conflict. Ultimately, Anakin’s arrogance in his powers is his downfall and, despite Darth Maul proving in The Phantom Menace that having the high ground doesn’t ensure victory, he is left a crippled, smouldering husk of a man with a few swings of Obi-Wan’s lightsaber. Heartbroken, but unable to deliver the killing blow, Obi-Wan leaves his former apprentice to die and, surely, Anakin would have died had it not been for his intense hatred and the timely intervention of Palpatine. As Padmé breathes her last, the Darth Vader we all know and love lumbers to life with an ungainly step and the booming baritone of James Earl Jones and Anakin is left devastated at having lost everything and with no choice but to remain at Palpatine’s side as the Empire consolidates its grip and few remaining Jedi go into hiding to await a new hope.

The Summary:
It’s pretty clear to me that George Lucas put everything he had into Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (even if his dialogue still desperately needs work); by its very nature, the film is the bleakest and grimmest of perhaps the entire saga and, while many elements remain unsatisfying (Anakin’s turn is quite abrupt and his Sith name seems to just be plucked out of thin air), it’s easily the strongest of the Prequel Trilogy. Seeing Palpatine finally step out of the shadows and shroud himself in the dark cloak of the Emperor, literally transforming into his more familiar, gnarled form is as haunting as his cackling, aggressive skills with a lightsaber. Seeing Anakin turn on his friends and go on a killing spree remains an emotional and uncomfortable watch since he is clearly tormented at having to kill children and there’s a definite sense that he has been left with no choice but to fully commit to his dark path, which ironically brings him only further pain. Seeing Yoda distraught by failure and Obi-Wan’s despair at having not only witnessed Anakin’s actions but also being forced to battle him to the death goes a long way to adding to the burden of guilt he’s clearly carrying some twenty years later and the entire Order 66 sequence makes for some of the most moving scenes in the entire franchise. Ultimately, it’s a shame that the entire Prequel Trilogy couldn’t have been this good but, as awkward as Lucas’ jump was, he definitely stuck the landing here to deliver a thoroughly satisfying and tragic finale.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What are your thoughts on Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith? Did you find it to be a satisfying conclusion to the Prequel Trilogy and how would you rank it against other films in the Star Wars saga? What did you think to the execution of Anakin’s final turn to the Dark Side; did you think it was too rushed and do you feel his actions could ever truly be redeemed? What did you think to Palpatine’s true nature being revealed and the slaughtering of the Jedi? Do you think Obi-Wan should have done a more thorough job in finishing Anakin off? Do you think Lucas made the right decision in killing Padmé’ or were you expecting her to survive to be with, at least, her daughter? Whatever you think, drop a comment below and let me know and thanks for joining me in revisiting the Prequel Trilogy over the last three days.

Talking Movies [Revenge of the 5th]: Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Although May 4th is known the world over as Star Wars Day, many also choose to celebrate the popular, generation-spanning science-fiction saga on May 5th as a play on the word “Sith”. This can extend Star Wars Day into three day celebration of the influential science-fiction series and, as a result, I am using each of these days to look back at the Prequel Trilogy!

Talking Movies

Released: 22 September 2019
Director: George Lucas
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Original Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $115 million
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Christopher Lee, Ian McDiarmid, Temuera Morrison, and Frank Oz

The Plot:
Ten years after the events of Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace (ibid, 1999), the galaxy is on the brink of civil war as Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) and his volatile apprentice, Anakin Skywalker (Christensen), investigate an assassination attempt on Senator Padmé Amidala (Portman) and uncover a mysterious conspiracy involving the creation of a clone army to service the Galactic Republic.

The Background:
Although The Phantom Menace made over $1 billion at the box office, the film was generally poorly recieved and, as a result, George Lucas was hesitant to begin work on the next chapter in his epic space opera saga and specifically wrote the script for Episode II to focus more on action rather than political intrigue. Unlike the previous Star Wars films, Attack of the Clones relied heavily on digital effects and CGI creations and went all-in with its use of fascist allegories in its depiction of corruption within the Galactic Republic. Despite Lucas’s insistence on swamping the film with digital effects, Attack of the Clones’ budget was exactly the same as its predecessor; however, the film made considerably less than The Phantom Menace, clocking in at just under $655 million. While I have come to regard the film as an under-rated entry in the saga, reviews have been less than favourable and criticised the script and line delivery (rightfully so, I’d say) and many weaker CGI and narrative moments, and it is is generally regarded as being one of the worst Star Wars films.

The Review:
I mentioned in my review of The Phantom Menace that it, and the Special Edition release of the Original Trilogy around the same sort of time, rekindled interest in Star Wars but I can’t really say the same for Attack of the Clones. The negative feedback from Episode I kinda killed any momentum and interest I and a lot of people had in the films, especially as they erased the popular Expanded Universe books, comics, and videogames from continuity and replaced them with material that was so far, far less interesting. Indeed, as far as I can remember, people were mainly interested in Attack of the Clones because of the trailer showing Yoda (Oz) in action, the nostalgia that follows Star Wars everywhere, and the vague hope that things couldn’t get any worse.

Now a more seasoned Jedi, Obi-Wan is troubled by Anakin’s recklessness and the conspiracy he uncovers.

Young, fresh-faced, and headstrong in the first film, Obi-Wan Kenobi has grown into a far wiser and more seasoned Jedi Master between films. Though he often despairs of Anakin’s recklessness, impatience, and bouts of insubordination, Obi-Wan and his Padawan have grown closer and their bond is analogous to an older brother with an impudent younger sibling. Much of Obi-Wan’s interactions with Anakin consist of reminding the youngster of his place, warning against the dangers of politicians and the shadiness of bureaucracy, and emphasising that Anakin needs to slow down, calm down, and focus his thoughts and feelings. Rather than dwell on the specifics of their partnership and see how their tumultuous relationship develops in the field, the two are split apart from the majority of the film as Obi-Wan investigates the bounty hunter Jango Fett (Morrison) and discovers not only that he’s formed the basis for a secret clone army, but also that former Jedi Count Dooku (Lee), using the Sith alias Darth Tyrannus, has brought together various villainous factions into a Separatist army.

Anakin has grown powerful but arrogant, impatient, and quick to fits of rage.

Far from the annoying, wide-eyed boy from the first film, age and experience have caused Anakin to become as arrogant as he is powerful; impatient and overconfident, Anakin is torn between feeling a genuine affection for his master (whom he respects and sees as a father) and his jealousy of Obi-Wan’s stature as a revered Jedi Master. Frustrated at constantly having to endure Obi-Wan’s lectures and teachings, Anakin finds his ego and prowess fuelled by Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (McDiarmid), who has taken a shine to the prophesised “Chosen One”. Eager to prove himself when he’s finally given a solo assignment, Anakin is equally excited and anxious to be reunited with Padmé; his schoolboy crush turning into complicated feeling of lust and desire, Anakin goes out of his way to try and impress and prove himself to her only to constantly stumble because his feelings clash with his strict Jedi teachings. Haunted by nightmares of his mother, Shmi (Pernilla August), Anakin soon sets out to find her on Tatooine and his tumultuous emotions are sparked into a furious rage when he finds her tortured to death by Tuskan Raiders; lamenting having given in to his bloodlust and tormented by his forbidden feelings for Padmé, Anakin is largely characterised as a powerful but petulant youth who isn’t in full control of his emotions, much less his vast Jedi powers.

Despite rebuking his advances, Padmé is torn between her love for Anakin and her duties as a senator.

Having moved away from her royal position on Naboo, Padmé is now a senator in the Republic and actively trying to steer the galaxy away from conflict by working within the Galactic Senate. Padmé is annoyed at being forced away from Coruscant by the threat to her life and treats Anakin with a mixture of contempt and empathy, which only further confuses the young Padawan. Despite rebuking his awkward attempts to flirt with her, Padmé is actually harbouring her own feelings for the young Jedi as she is extremely mindful of her diplomatic duties and Anakin’s loyalty to the strict Jedi Order. As much as I defend this film, I can’t say that I’m a fan of the idea that Jedi can’t fall in love as there never seemed to be an inclination of this “rule” in the Original Trilogy; however, this does add some layers to Padmé’s character as, for all her logic and reason, she still encourages Anakin to disobey Obi-Wan and head to Tatooine, comforts him after he slaughters the Tuskan Raiders responsible for Shmi’s death, and, against her better judgement, she confesses her true feelings to him regardless of the consequences of this admission.

Classic characters get an odd CGI face-lift and we’re introduced to some familiar faces.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Star Wars movie without old favourites like R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels); this time around, C-3PO gets a little more to do as he’s picked up by Anakin and Padmé while on Tatooine and tags along largely to provide awkward comic relief and be replaced by an obvious and uncannily awful CGI model. This was also the first film to render Yoda as a CGI character, primarily to make his big fight scene more diverse and energetic, but I’ll get into the CGI Yoda a little later. R2-D2’s role and capabilities are also greatly expanded to afford him a host of abilities that really would’ve been useful long before this movie (like, seriously, why not just have Artoo roll onto or take control of a floating platform instead of being able to fly with little booster jets?) Still, there are some positives: Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) is practically non-existent, boring political debates have been replaced with a far more intriguing mystery regarding the clone army on Kamino; and we even get to meet Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton), Beru Whitesun (Bonnie Piesse), and other characters who would form the backbone of the future Rebellion, such as Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits).

Palpatine manipulates minions such as Jango and Dooku to sow discord across the galaxy.

Palpatine continues to manipulate events both within the Senate as the Supreme Chancellor and behind the scenes in his guise as the Sith Lord Darth Sidious and, as discord has increased across the galaxy, Palpatine’s plan has grown far greater in scope and complexity. Thanks to orchestrating events to position the Separatists as a serious threat to order and stability, Palpatine is easily able to get himself appointed “emergency powers” and appears as a conquering hero when he immediately reveals his vast army to defend democracy while surreptitiously ensuring a stranglehold on the galaxy for himself. Since he’s still very much a puppet master (and Darth Maul (Ray Park) was stupidly offed in the last film), it falls to Dooku and Jango to shoulder the burden as the film’s primary antagonists. I never really understood why Lucas bothered to have Jango in the film; since we never see under Boba Fett’s (Jeremy Bulloch) helmet in the Original Trilogy, I feel like it would’ve been much simpler to just have Morrison portray Boba here to give the fan favourite character a bit more screen time and personality, but I guess it does tie into Lucas’ themes of the sins of the father and all that since young Boba (Daniel Logan) is raised to be a merciless bounty hunter like his father and sees his dad beheaded in front of him. While I think it would’ve been far better to have had Darth Maul survive The Phantom Menace and get more screen time in the sequels, you can’t go wrong with Christopher Lee and Dooku makes for an enigmatic and compelling villain; a former Jedi turned to the Dark Side by Darth Sidious, Dooku is a manipulative, loquacious snake who becomes a ruthless and bloodthirsty warrior when forced into combat.

The Nitty-Gritty:
One of the main things I disliked about The Phantom Menace (and which undoubtably brings down the entire Prequel Trilogy) is George Lucas’ terrible dialogue; nowhere are the flaws in Lucas’ script more evident than in Attack of the Clones, where Anakin’s attempts at expressing his love for Padmé come across as stilted and wooden and not in a way that you’d expect from an awkward, love-sick youth. Jake Lloyd might not be around to grate on my last nerve, but Daniel Logan isn’t much better, and once again Lucas seems to be happy to settle for inelegant, unnatural line deliveries and sub-par performances. Ewan McGregor, Temuera Morrison, and Christopher Lee are the obvious standouts in the film and even they seem to be struggling to make Lucas’ clunky dialogue acceptable.

I think I’ve seen less CGI in entirely animated movies…

Of course, it probably doesn’t help that the film is absolutely swamped with CGI; almost every single shot bar those on Tatooine seems to have been filmed on a massive green screen, which makes many of the scenes seem surreal as the live-action actors jut out from a cartoony, computer-generated environment and interacting with largely CGI characters doesn’t appear to have excited the cast all that much. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against CGI, especially in Star Wars and sci-fi films, but it’s clear that Lucas went way, way overboard here and the film hasn’t aged too well as a result. The sequence on Geonosis where Anakin, Padmé, Theepio, and Artoo get into all sorts of hijinks amidst an abundance of stupidly big and cartoonish CGI hazards stands out as one of the worst moments of the film, and the excess of terrible-looking CGI monsters in the coliseum are a far cry from the impressiveness of the Rancor or the Wampa. The overreliance on CGI may make for grander battles and a much bigger scope than was possible back in the seventies or eighties, and CGI’ing all the clones may have been faster and is technically impressive, but was it all really necessary? Imagine how well practical effects such as animatronics, miniatures, and puppets could have benefitted from Lucas’ technological innovations if he had just exercised a little restraint rather than dropping his actors into a massive green screen and clumsily splicing in dodgy-looking CGI creatures.

Palpatine strokes Anakin’s ego and he struggles with his commitment to the Jedi code.

A core aspect of the film revolves around Palpatine’s scheme to assume control of the galaxy through complex manipulations; not only is he manipulating the Jedi Council without being suspected (beyond his position as a politician being a source of distrust for Obi-Wan and the other Jedi), but he’s also been busying corrupting Jedi, erasing their records to cover his tracks, building his own private army, and orchestrating events to lay the foundation of the Galactic Empire and the construction of the Death Star. Palpatine delights in stroking Anakin’s ego and encouraging his ambitions; playing on the Padawan’s resentment towards Obi-Wan, his immaturity, and his desperate need to be all-powerful, Palpatine woos Anakin with promises of him one day achieving his full potential as the most powerful Jedi of all. Frustrated with being “held back” and eager to rush to that end, Anakin’s arrogance is matched only by his fear and anger. Despite Christensen being hampered by Lucas’ script, he does a commendable job of juggling Anakin’s many complex emotions; he’s meant to be this stroppy, volatile braggart and it’s genuinely interesting (if not down-right heart-breaking) to see him both hate and love Obi-Wan and both revel in and be disgusted by his slaughter of the Tuskan Raiders.

The lightsaber battles continue to be a highlight, with even Yoda getting in on the action!

One of the best parts of The Phantom Menace were the fight scenes and battles which, unlike other parts of the film, generally benefit from the advantages of CGI. Obi-Wan and Anakin’s pursuit of Zam Wesell (Leeanna Walsman) through the skies of Coruscant is very exhilarating, as is the chase between Obi-Wan and Jango through an asteroid field, though the first deployment of the clone army isn’t as impressive despite the scope of the battle being beyond anything achievable thirty years prior. Still, for me, this sequence and the introduction of the clones is all a little rushed; when the Clone Wars were first mentioned, I never imagined that they would actually (technically) be the good guys and I can’t help but feel like they should’ve been a much bigger part of all three films (perhaps set up in the first one, in full force here, and concluded in the third). Still, just as the lightsaber battles were one of the best parts of the last film, so too are they an endlessly entertaining aspect of this one; although the Jedi are small in numbers (for…some reason…) we get to see them in full force when Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) leads them in rescuing Obi-Wan, Padmé, and Anakin and, while some of them are killed off with a ridiculous amount of ease and the monsters they fight look terrible, the scene with them coming in, laser swords flashing, in the coliseum is pretty entertaining. Obi-Wan’s battle against Jango on the storm-swept landing bay is an intense fight scene as well and great for showcasing what Fett’s armour is actually capable of but, of course, the highlight of the film comes in the finale where Obi-Wan and Anakin confront Count Dooku. Here, Anakin’s recklessness cost him not only their advantage but also an arm and Dooku is easily able to best the two Jedi thanks to them being unable to get on the same page and fight as a unit. Thus, it falls to Yoda to battle his former Padawan in one of the most thrilling, if ludicrous, sequences in all of Star Wars. While I can understand the mindset that Yoda really shouldn’t even need to use a lightsaber since his command of the Force is that powerful, it can’t be denied that seeing him whip out a laser sword and hop all over the play like a crazy little monkey is incredibly entertaining and just serves to emphasise how desperate events have become where even Yoda is taking an active role in the rising conflict.

The Summary:
A lot of people hate on Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones and, honestly, it’s easy to see why: there’s too much green screen and too much CGI; the script, dialogue, and line delivery is down-right awful at times; the “love story” (and I use the term very loosely) is contrived, forced, and painfully awkward; and Anakin is overbearingly immature and petulant throughout. Yet, for whatever reason, I actually find myself enjoying it far more overall than The Phantom Menace and it’s probably my second favourite of the Prequel Trilogy. While handicapped by Lucas’s terrible writing, Ewan McGregor really shines in this film and looks to be having a blast; bringing in Christopher Lee was an inspired decision to add the same kind of gravitas that Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing brought to the first fourth film, and the escalation of the galactic turmoil is really interesting to see. I find it fascinating that Palpatine was able to so masterfully fool everyone into allowing him to simply usurping control of the galaxy by first sowing discord and then manoeuvring himself into a position where he was the natural choice to lead a war effort. While Jedi like Obi-Wan, Mace Windu, and Yoda suspect a greater, more dangerous threat, they are all completely blinded to Palpatine’s true and obvious motivations because he has them running around with limited resources fighting the likes of Jango and Dooku. While I never imagined the Clone Wars to be depicted in the way they are here, having them basically be the proto-Empire was a bitter irony as the people basically ended up causing their own oppression. Obviously, though, Attack of the Clones isn’t a perfect film by any means but I think it has more positives than negatives and is deserving of a little more credibility than it often gets.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones? Where does it rank against the rest of the Prequel Trilogy, and the other films in the Star Wars saga, for you? Do you agree that it is under-rated or do you think the script and green screen effects irrevocably ruin the experience? What did you think to the conspiracy sub-plot and the introduction of Count Dooku? Were you a fan of Jango Fett and do you agree that Lucas could have just used Boba instead? What did you think to the romance between Anakin and Padmé and Anakin’s chaotic emotions? How are you celebrating Revenge of the 5th today? Whatever you think, comment below and let me know, and be sure to check out my review of the final part of the Prequel Trilogy.

Talking Movies [May the Fourth]: Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace

May 4th is known the world over as Star Wars Day thanks to it acting as perhaps one of the most fitting and amusing puns ever devised (“May the Fourth be with you” in place of the traditional “May the Force be with you”). The first and most popular of what can easily become a three day celebration of the influential science-fiction series, the day stands as the perfect excuse for Star Wars fans to celebrate the beloved franchise in a variety of ways and, this year, I’ll be celebrating with a three day review of the Prequel Trilogy!

Talking Movies

Released: 19 May 1999
Director: George Lucas
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Original Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $115 million
Stars: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ahmed Best, Ray Park, and Ian McDiarmid

The Plot:
Thirty-two years before the Original Trilogy, during the era of the Galactic Republic, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Neeson) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) are assigned to protect Queen Padmé Amidala (Portman) during an interplanetary trade dispute. In the process, they meet Anakin Skywalker (Lloyd), a slave boy with an unusually strong connection to the Force, and find themselves under attack by the mysterious return of the Sith.

The Background:
Since its debut in 1977, George Lucas’ science-fiction “space opera” has become a near-unstoppable multimedia juggernaut that includes numerous sequels, prequels, spin-offs, novels, videogames, comic books, and more. Following the conclusion of the Original Trilogy, Lucas had little desire to return to the franchise; however, the success of the “Expanded Universe” series of books saw a revitalised interest in Star Wars and Lucas began developing the backstories he created for the saga and its characters back in 1977. Simultaneously, he produced “Special Edition” versions of the Original Trilogy in 1997 to be refamiliarise and prepare audiences for his new films and to refine the digital effects that would become so prevalent in the prequels. Infusing The Phantom Menace with themes regarding destiny and faith, Lucas also deliberately sought not only to appeal to a younger demographic but to bog the narrative down in political debate while, paradoxically, also containing some of the best action scenes in the entire saga at the time. Although many took issue with the film’s racial undertones and the script, The Phantom Menace was proof that Star Wars, as a brand, is destined to always be successful as, despite a myriad of lacklustre to average reviews (and even criticism from star Ewan McGregor), the film made over $1 billion at the box office.

The Review:
It’s easy to forget now but The Phantom Menace was a big deal back in the day. When I was a kid, I was aware of Star Wars but I hadn’t really ever seen it as the films never seemed to be on television so when the Special Edition versions of the Original Trilogy came to VHS, it was quite an exciting time for me to finally experience Star Wars and the long-awaited first entry in the saga had a great deal of hype in the playground. Merchandise (mostly all marketed simply as Star Wars: Episode I) was all over the place and I remember anticipation being at a fever pitch for it. And then the film starts and, once the opening crawl appears on screen, things get a bit weird almost right away; talk of taxation, trade routes, and politics leave a bit of a bad taste in the mouth but there’s no denying that finally seeing the “Episode I” title crawl past had a real impact at the time.

Headstrong Obi-Wan is still learning at the start of the film and is pushed to become a mentor.

The Phantom Menace introduces us to young, fresh-faced Obi-Wan Kenobi; at this point in time, Obi-Wan is a Jedi Padawan and still learning the ways of the Force during a period when the Jedi Order is at the height of their powers. Far from the wise mentor of the Original Trilogy, he is somewhat headstrong and defers to the council of his master, Qui-Gon Jinn, who is an advocate for the “Living Force” (i.e: being aware and in tune with the moment rather than being distracted by the past and future). Though a capable warrior, Obi-Wan is still young enough that he lets emotions such as anger and pride influence his decisions, and is somewhat dismissive of his master’s predication for befriending “pathetic lifeforms” such as Jar Jar Binks (Best) and young Anakin Skywalker, seeing them as mere distractions compared to more immediate threats. Qui-Gon’s teachings push Ob-Wan towards being more mindful of the potential and capabilities of other individuals and their society, and many of the events of this film serve to shape the man he would eventually become.

Qui-Gon is the wise mentor figure whose teachings and death shape Obi-Wan’s character.

Qui-Gon is every bit the wise and benevolent Jedi Master; a sage voice of wisdom, his views on the Force put him at odds with the Jedi Council and he’s very much a rogue and trend-setter in his own way. He believes so strongly in Anakin’s Force potential and destiny as the “Chosen One” that he basically threatens to separate himself from the Jedi Order to train the boy, and even Obi-Wan finds his master’s stubbornness exasperating at times. A capable negotiator, Qui-Gon is a master at influencing others (through both his words and the influence of the Force) into assisting him by speaking in clear, logical tones. When faced with the avaricious Watto (Andy Secombe), Qui-Gon is forced to rely on the will of the Force and Anakin’s unparalleled podracing skills rather than his manipulative abilities and is still able to tip the odds in his favour by taking advantage of Watto’s greed. Though an older man, Qui-Gon is more than capable in a fight; it’s clear that his intense battle with Darth Maul (Park) takes a toll on his body but he is able to employ meditation techniques to restore his energy. As much as I enjoy a bit of Liam Neeson, and Qui-Gon’s character, I do think it was a mistake to have him in the film; I think it takes away from Anakin and Obi-Wan’s overall story a bit and it would’ve been far better to focus on Obi-Wan, though there’s a clear indication that many of the subsequent events happen because Qui-Gon set an impossible example for Obi-Wan to follow.

Enthusiastic Anakin falls for Padmé, a forthright queen trying to keep her people free from oppression.

Since he lacks a father and idolises the Jedi, Anakin becomes immediately attached to and besotted with Qui-Gon; despite having grown up a slave on the desert planet of Tatooine, Anakin is an enthusiastic, energetic little child who is a capable pilot and masterful mechanic. He is absolutely devoted to his mother, Shmi (Pernilla August), and willing to help others with no thought of reward; he is immediately enamoured by Padmé and, though it breaks his heart to leave his home and his mother after Qui-Gon arranges for his freedom, he is nevertheless excited to be out in the galaxy and on the path to becoming a Jedi. Sadly, though, I don’t really agree with showing Anakin as an annoying, wide-eyed little kid and think the movie would’ve been better served with him as a cocky, Han Solo-esque teen, especially as Jake Lloyd is so cringe-worthy in this film with his talk of “angels” and endless chattering. As for Padmé, she is a stoic and logical monarch who spends the majority of the film defying Nute Gunray (Silas Carson) and Rune Haako (Jerome St. John Blake) of the Trade Federation and masquerading as her own handmaiden. Despite the fact that Lucas somehow manages to absolutely waste Natalie Portman and draws a stilted, wooden performance from her (and many of the actors), Padmé is a strong and forthright character who cares only for the safety and well-being of her people and has little time for the impotent bureaucracy of the Galactic Senate. However, despite Padmé being adamantly anti-war, isn’t afraid to take up arms to take up arms, but is adamantly against endangering her people with all-out war.

As contrived as many of the film’s cameos and inclusions are, Jar Jar was quite the insult to long-time fans.

As you might expect from a Star Wars movie, there a number of other supporting characters to help bolster the film and add to Lucas’ unique sci-fi world. Many of these are political figures who drone on endlessly about bureaucracy but we also get to see the Jedi Order at the height of the powers, with figures such as Yoda (Frank Oz) and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) basically lording up their position as peacekeepers and advisors to the Senate. They are, however, far too comfortable in their unchallenged position, which leaves them constantly blinded to the darker conspiracies (hence the title, the phantom menace) at work behind the Trade Federation. The film also features the first meeting of R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels); for some reason I’ll never understand, Lucas made the odd decision to have Anakin be the one who built Threepio despite the fact that he could have easily just been Padmé’s protocol droid or something, though he’s barely in the film so I guess it doesn’t really matter. Of far more consequence is Jar Jar Binks, a contentious character to say the least, Jar Jar is no Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) that’s for sure and I think would have greatly benefited from being either cut or completely rewritten especially considering how his role was significantly downplayed in subsequent films.

The Trade Federation and criminally wasted Darth Maul are pawns for the mysterious Darth Sidious.

Since the Galactic Empire has yet to be created, The Phantom Menace’s main antagonistic force is the Trade Federation, who command an army or quirky droids who are little more than terrible comic relief and cannon fodder to be smashed into pieces without fear of an unreasonable body count. The Trade Federation are, however, merely a distraction for a greater, far more subtle threat orchestrated by the mysterious Darth Sidious, who is clearly Senator Sheev Palpatine (McDiarmid) in a thinly veiled disguise that fools the characters in the film but never the audience. Like the film’s political sub-plot, though, this is clearly intentional; the idea is that all the endless debating of the Senate has overwhelmed, confused, and distracted even the Jedi from Palpatine’s true nature (however, I feel there could have been a more interesting way to convey this). Since he’s operating as the puppet master, Sidious sends his apprentice, Darth Maul, to take out Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon; a visually striking character, Maul makes an immediate impression with his horns, body paint, double-bladed lightsaber, and Ray Park’s impressive martial arts skills. Oddly, Lucas has Peter Serafinowicz provide Maul’s voice but the character might as well be a mute since he barely utters a word; even worse, Lucas made the bone-headed decision to introduce a ridiculous “rule of two” for the Sith and to kill Maul off, a decision that caused the sequels to suffer as they had to keep bringing in new Sith to replace him and the extended canon had to bend over backwards to bring him back despite there being no possible way for him to survive being slice in half!

The Nitty-Gritty:
Of course, you can’t talk about The Phantom Menace without mentioning the great midi-chlorian debate; when I first saw the film, I didn’t think much to this but, considering how quickly Lucas backpedalled on dwelling on midi-chlorians in the sequels, you can tell that it was something that irked a lot of people. Originally, the Force was depicted as a mystical energy that anyone could potentially utilise with proper training but, all of a sudden, Jedi became a bit like Saiyans and were the only ones who could properly utilise the Force because of some bullshit microscopic life-forms. Lucas’ subsequent attempts to parallel the symbiotic relationship between the Jedi and the midi-chlorians with the Gungans and the Naboo ultimately falls flat because it was a completely unnecessary addition. similar to how I didn’t need to know that Jedi didn’t simply return as Force Ghosts after death because of their connection to the Force before Qui-Gon pioneered the technique, I didn’t need any deeper explanation into the Force other than the one given in the first film. Still, on the plus side, George Williams is at his absolute best with the score here; the iconic “Imperial March” punctuates and serves as an ominous foreshadowing of Anakin’s ultimate fate and “Duel of the Fates” may very well be my favourite track from any Star Wars film.

Amidst themes of destiny and social class, we have unnecessary exposition like midi-chlorians…

Although it would get noticeably worse in the sequel, the direction leaves a lot to be desired here; as good as Neeson and McGregor and some of the other actors are, far too many of the performances are uninspiring, and the film greatly suffers without a roguish Han Solo figure and the appeal of the Original Trilogy’s characters and script. Although Lucas undoubtedly decided to cater to children with an abundance of cringe-worthy slapstick and toilet humour, The Phantom Menace still contains many poignant themes regarding destiny, corruption, and social class in this time of building discord. At the start, the Gungans despise the Naboo, who they believe think themselves superior to them, but the two different societies ultimately join forces against a common foe that disregards racial tension. Similarly, Padmé’ is shocked to see slavery still exists in the Outer Rim, where the Senate as little influence; however, while Tatooine is a crime-ridden cesspit, it is also home to perhaps the most selfless person in the galaxy in Anakin, who brings with him a great deal of fear and loneliness after leaving his mother behind (which I’m sure won’t factor into the wider saga at all…) to fulfil his destiny as the “Chosen One”. This aspect (and Shmi’s miraculous conception) are also a point of contention for me; just as the midi-chlorians could’ve simply been a measure of someone’s Force potential, they could have simply emphasised that Anakin’s potential means he could be very powerful (or potentially dangerous) without painting him as this destined saviour of the Jedi Order.

In a film full of CGI, the podrace sequence stands out as one of the most exhilarating.

Although Lucas swamps The Phantom Menace was an abundance of computer-generated characters and effects, the film still contains a fair amount of practical effects and, especially, locations compared to its sequels. Still, the sheer excess of CGI means that this film “feels” very different from the Original Trilogy, which is something that only becomes more noticeable in the second film. Regardless, The Phantom Menace features a couple of stand-out action sequences; the first is, obviously, the visually impressive and thrilling podrace sequence. Exhilarating and fast-paced, the podrace is pivotal not just to the plot but also in showing just how adaptable and capable Anakin is and is one of the best parts of the film (and the entire Prequel Trilogy) despite the annoying racing announcers. In what appears to be an effort to evoke the third sixth movie, the film also concludes with both a big space battle and a big ground-based battle that pits a fledgling or technologically stunted force against a far greater and advanced threat. Sadly, though, not only do these two battles distract from the far superior lightsaber fight between Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon and Darth Maul, they’re also largely robbed of a lot of their impact because of Jar Jar’s buffoonery, Anakin’s grating yelps and squeals, and how weak the droid army are.

The thrilling lightsaber fights are some of the biggest highlights of the film.

Undoubtedly, the film’s biggest saving grace are the intense and extraordinary lightsaber battles that set the standard for the Prequels and subsequent Star Wars films. As good as the lightsaber battles were in the Original Trilogy, they were of a much more subdued intensity; here, the laser sword action is slick, hard-hitting, and full of impressive flips, jumps, and stunts. Ray Park’s skills are phenomenal here and he conveys so much of Darth Maul’s hatred and character through his body language and the merciless way he attacks his Jedi foes. At the time, we had never seen Jedi fight in this way before and the climax is absolutely electrifying as a result; when Maul brutally murders Qui-Gon, you can literally feel the anger and need for revenge seeping out of Obi-Wan’s wild eyes and aggressive counterattack, which not only sees him triumph despite Maul having the high ground and sets the stage for bigger and even more elaborate lightsaber battles to come but also dictates Obi-Wan’s character development through his promise to his dying master to train Anakin in the ways of the Force.

The Summary:
Honestly, I’m not really one to dump on Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace. By and large, the Prequel Trilogy is a lot of misses with some memorable hits sprinkled throughout but, to be fair, there are quite a few elements of the Original Trilogy (and all of Star Wars for that matter) that are far from perfect. There are a lot of things that work in The Phantom Menace (the score, for one, the action and lightsaber battles for another); there are some talented actors here (though they’re often hampered by Lucas’ script and direction) and, while the CGI is in high abundance, it works pretty well (though I do miss the charm of the Original Trilogy’s puppets and animatronics and such). Ultimately, what spoils the film for me is Jake Lloyd’s performance and some of the odd decisions, such as C-3PO’s origin, focusing on bureaucracy and politics, and creating a prequel to Star Wars that feels incredibly disconnected from the Original Trilogy. Hindsight makes it easy to see where the film went wrong and Lucas was pretty quick to pivot away from what fans didn’t like, but I think the main thing that might have helped some of the weaker points of the entire Prequel Trilogy (and especially this film) is having someone else take a pass at the script. The Original Trilogy managed to appeal to audiences of all ages but, for whatever reason, Lucas dumbed things way down but juxtaposed this with dull political intrigue and, while the action and brighter parts of the film stand out all the more because of these negative elements, they’re not enough to completely overshadow them and result in an overall disappointing experience.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What do you think about Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace? Where do you rank it in the Prequel Trilogy and against the other films in the Star Wars saga? What did you think to the decision to show Anakin as a young child? Did you think the film wasted Darth Maul and would you have preferred to see him live to the next film? Were you a fan of Qui-Gon or do you think it would’ve been better to focus on Anakin and Obi-Wan? What are your thoughts on Jar Jar and the midi-chlorians? How are you celebrating Star Wars Day today? Whatever your thoughts, good or bad, feel free to leave a comment below and be sure to check out my review of the far-superior sequel!

Talking Movies [May the Sith]: Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (2019)

While May 4th is known the world over as Star Wars Day, many also choose to extend the celebrations of the course of three days, with one of them being the “Evil Star Wars Day” of May 6th (as in “Sith”). This year, I’ve been using the three Star Wars Days as the perfect excuse to go back over the Original Trilogy.

Talking Movies

Released: 22 September 2019
Originally Released: 25 May 1983
Director: Richard Marquand
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Original Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $32.5 million
Stars: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse/James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, and Ian McDiarmid

The Plot:
After rescuing Han Solo (Ford) from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt (Scott Schumann), Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker (Hamill) prepares himself for a showdown with his father, Darth Vader (Prowse/Jones) while Princess Leia Organa (Fisher) and the Rebel Alliance prepare for one final, all-or-nothing assault on the partially-constructed Death Star II in the hopes of ridding the galaxy of the Emperor (McDiarmid) once and for all.

The Background:
By 1983, George Lucas’s science-fiction “space opera” had developed into an extremely successful series of films and multimedia merchandise; yet, though the wave of books, action figures, and videogames that were released back then was prominent, it merely only hinted at the nigh-unstoppable reach of the franchise. After Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner, 1980) proved an incredible, if divisive, box office success, Lucas began financing a third film and looking at potential directors (including Steven Spielberg). Eventually, he settled on Richard Marquand but was frequently on set offering advice and assistance. Originally produced under the title Revenge of the Jedi, Lucas eventually altered the title and would clash somewhat with star Harrison Ford over the fate of Han Solo: Ford wanted Solo to die but Lucas was vehemently against it and, eventually, talked the former carpenter around. Although Return of the Jedi didn’t make quite as much at the box office as its predecessor, it was still an incredible financial success, making over $475 million at the box office and finishing first at the box office for six of its first seven weeks of release. The film’s critical reception appears to have been the opposite of Empire’s, with critics of the time largely praising the film and modern audiences generally regarding the film as the weakest of the Original Trilogy for its more child-friendly inclusions and derivative elements. As with the other films in the Original Trilogy, Lucas later revisited and augmented the film using modern technologies which has resulted in one of the most derided inclusions of all the alterations Lucas has made to his influential trilogy.

The Review:
I touched upon this in my review of Empire but when I was a kid, I knew about Star Wars and I liked what I saw but I hadn’t really ever had the opportunity to watch any of the films from start to finish; they never seemed to be on television (we only had the basic four channels back then) and the VHS tapes were quite hard to come by until the 1997 Special Editions were released. As a result, while I can recall snapshots and snippets of each film, the first one I remember sitting down and watching from start to finish (or, at least, enjoying all the way through) was Return of the Jedi and, for a long time, it was my favourite of the Original Trilogy until I came to find a deeper appreciation for The Empire Strikes Back’s bleak brilliance.

As good as the film is, I could have done without Jedi‘s more derivative elements

Still, there is a lot to like about Return of the Jedi; the effects, for one thing, are at their peak in the Original Trilogy and it represents the culmination of each character’s journey and arc since we were first introduced to them. Unfortunately, a lot of it is a bit redundant as we’ve already seen a fully operational Death Star before so returning to that well was a bit derivative and it lacks both the gritty, “lived-in” feel of Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope (Lucas, 1977) and the large scale impact of Empire but what we’re left with is still a pretty decent rollicking space adventure when you focus on Luke’s journey and the desperate battle against the partially-constructed Death Star II.

Leia puts her love for Han ahead of her commitment to the Rebellion and fights by his side.

When Jedi begins, the Rebel Alliance are in a bit of disarray; though the threat of a new Death Star lingers ominously in the background, Princess Leia risks everything to deviate from concocting an assault on the space station to infiltrate the sordid palace of the disgusting and nefarious slug-like crime lord Jabba the Hutt in order to rescue her beloved Han. I mentioned when reviewing Empire how, in the previous film, Leia’s militaristic and pragmatic façade was slowly and methodically stripped away as her more human, vulnerable, and emotional side came to the forefront through her burgeoning feelings for Han and nowhere is that best expressed than in her putting aside her commitment to the Rebel Alliance to rescue Han. Once he is safely back amidst the Rebel Alliance, she then steps away from her more diplomatic role as a co-ordinator and commander to join Han in the mission to knock out the Death Star II’s shield generator, now fully embracing both her proactive, action-orientated abilities and her softer, more empathetic side.

Luke’s powers and confidence have grown significantly but he’s still far from a flawless character.

Leia’s infiltration is just a mere part of the grand plan to rescue Solo, however, and it’s all been devised by Luke Skywalker. Now a far cry from the wide-eyed, naïve farmboy of A New Hope, Luke is garbed head to toe in black and Jedi robes, confidant in his ability to use the Force and sure that he has the power and ability to rescue Solo with a minimum of fuss. As impressive as Luke’s newfound abilities are, however, he’s not without flaws; he doesn’t bank on Jabba resisting his Jedi mind tricks or Han emerging from the slab of carbonite with temporary blindness. His concern for the well-being of his friend, particularly his treasured Leia, also causes him to receive a blaster shot to his cybernetic hand during the rescue though they are, nevertheless, successful.

Luke believes in his father’s good side so blindly that he’s willing to put his life on the line.

Somewhere between movies, Luke has grown considerably and, despite receiving only a crash course in Jedi training, is all-but a Jedi Knight when Jedi begins. However, upon returning to his wizened master Yoda (Oz), Luke learns that he must confront and defeat Darth Vader if he is ever to become a true Jedi. Luke is aghast at the suggestion, sure that he is unable to kill his father, and his doubts are further compounded when the spirit of his first mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), reveals that Leia is actually his twin sister. Rather than dwell on the romantic and sexual feelings and moments they shared in the previous films, Luke resolves to instead attempt to turn his father from the Dark Side and redeem him rather than kill him and is so convinced that Vader is in conflict between his good and bad feelings that he’s even willing to die in this attempt.

Though still a loveable rogue, Han has matured into a full-blown team leader.

After being freed from the carbonite and recovering from his vision loss, Han fully commits to the Rebel Alliance and their desperate crusade against the Death Star II; to show just how far his character has grown over the years, rather than simply laughing off or walking away from the Rebel cause, he voluntarily agrees to lead the ground assault against the shield generator and takes up a commanding position with ease and grace. He’s still the most charismatic of the characters and actors, however, and maintains that gruff, rugged edge that made him so likeable but he’s also clearly developed as a character, showing layers of vulnerability and leadership, respectively, where he previously only showed selfishness.

Lando has committed himself to the Rebellion, earning the rank of General between movies.

Han reluctantly hands the keys to the Millennium Falcon over to his former smuggling buddy Lando Calrissian (Williams); it’s not addressed onscreen why Han immediately trusts Lando considering he was betraying him to Vader and the bungling bounty hunter Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch) in the previous film but, regardless, Lando is now an accepted and integral part of the Rebellion and trusted enough with leading the head-on assault against the second Death Star. Still emitting a cool, smooth charm, Lando fulfils the role of a principal figure in the Rebellion as easily as Han, as though he was merely hiding from his greater destiny all this time.

The Ewoks see Threepio as a God, putting him in a comedic predicament.

Once again, our heroes are supported by the droids C-3PO (Daniels), R2-D2 (Baker), and the Wookie, Chewbacca (Mayhew); this time around, Threepio gets a bit more of the spotlight as he is revered as a God by the tribal-like teddy bears known as Ewoks and shines in his comedic contributions and an abridged, adorable retelling of the saga so far. Artoo, meanwhile, doesn’t really get a whole lot to do beyond being Luke’s unquestioning confidant and getting the Rebels into the shield generator stronghold and, similarly, Chewbacca is taken away from the space action to join Han’s ground party where he humourously bonds with the Ewoks and commandeers an All-Terrain Scout Transport (AT-ST) walker during the big forest battle.

Either Luke kills the Emperor or he kills Vader; either way, the Emperor wins.

Although the Emperor was retroactively inserted into Empire, he was first introduced in the flesh here in Jedi. After the Force and their kind were openly mocked and treated with scorn in A New Hope, its humbling and affecting to see that the Imperials fear the Emperor almost as much, if not more so, than Vader himself. A cackling, manipulative, wizened crone in a dark robe, the Emperor’s words are full of confidence and poison and he is so convinced of his victory that he willingly leaks information about the Death Star II to the Rebels in order to lure them into a trap. Seated in his enigmatic throne aboard the second Death Star, the Emperor taunts and cajoles Luke in order to fuel his anger and affect his turn towards the Dark Side; everything the Emperor says is designed to push Luke further and further and he even leaves himself completely defenceless, seemingly ready to die so that Luke can turn to the Dark Side and succeed him. His true motivation, of course, can be read through subtext; the Emperor wants Luke to battle, kill, and ultimately replace Vader as his apprentice and he (the Emperor) doesn’t really try to hide this motivation.

Vader secretly plots to turn Luke and overthrow the Emperor.

As for Darth Vader, he is at his most conflicted in Jedi; in A New Hope, he was a mere puppet, almost bored with the mundane routine of his life, but he was a driven, focused force of nature in Empire. In Jedi, we see just how committed and devoted to his Emperor Vader is; he willingly bows in the Emperor’s presence, speaks for him to the Imperial subordinates, and seems in awe (or fear) of the Emperor’s power and ability in the Dark Side of the Force. In Empire, Vader offered Luke the chance to join him so that they could overthrow the Emperor and you can tell, even with the featureless helmet and after shunning Luke’s assertions of his inner conflict, that Vader truly desires to unite with his son to displace the Emperor’s authority.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Return of the Jedi really ups the ante when it comes to practical and special effects; it’s truly a shame to see what a mess Lucas made of the Prequel Trilogy by relying so heavily on computer-generated characters and effects when the standards for the suits and puppets and stop motion work were so high in Jedi. Jabba makes an immediate impression thanks to being a huge, tangible puppet; slimy and disgusting, he’s little more than a lackadaisical slug but is so expressive and lifelike that you really buy into his presence and menace.

Return of the Jedi‘s puppets and practical effects were the best in the series at that point.

Similarly, the effects on the Rancor are still commendably impressive; a large, bipedal, nightmarish monster, we’ve never seen a character engage with a monster like the Rancor in the Star Wars films before and it’s very impressive the way the filmmakers pulled it off. Similarly, the integration of the Imperial Walkers into the more complex environment of the forest moon of Endor is equally impressive, marred only by the poor effects seen in the speeder bike chase.

The film’s desperate, climatic space battle is extremely impressive and exciting.

Return of the Jedi also features the best space battle of the saga so far as the entire Rebel fleet converges on the second Death Star and the second biggest twist of the series is revealed when the Death Star starts blowing up their frigates with its super laser. What follows is an intense, suicidal mission as the outnumbered and outgunned Rebels desperately engage with countless TIE Fighters and numerous gigantic Star Destroyers until Han’s group manages to bring down the shield and allow Lando to lead the assault into the space station’s superstructure. It’s a big, visually impressive space battle and leagues beyond the more gritty skirmish we saw in A New Hope; because of the sheer amount of ships and destruction happening onscreen at any one time, you really get a sense of the urgency and overwhelming odds that the Rebels are up against and that ths is their last chance at defeating the Empire for good.

Vader is overwhelmed and overpowered when Luke explodes into a relentless rage.

Ultimately, though, Vader willingly engages his son in the most brutal and emotionally charged lightsaber battle of the saga so far; like the Emperor, Vader taunts Luke, threatening his friends and sister to goad him into giving in to his hatred and anger. This works a little too well, however, as Luke flies into a rage and relentlessly pummels Vader, severing his cybernetic arm and rendering him beaten and helpless. Now held at the mercy of Luke’s lightsaber in a thematic reversal of the conclusion to their last battle, Vader wheezes helplessly on the floor, even holding a hand up as if to ward off Luke’s wrath and it is only when Luke compares his own cybernetic hand to Vader’s prosthetics that he realises how alike they truly are and he dramatically casts aside his lightsaber and refuses to kill his father. Insulted and angered, the Emperor unleashes his full power on Luke and reveals a peak at the true destructive potential of the Force; prior to Jedi, the Force was an abstract concept with a multitude of uses but never truly tangibly seen onscreen but the Emperor’s devastating Force Lightning changes that and it’s extremely unsettling to see him cackling away and taking such pleasure in roasting Luke alive.

One act is apparently enough to atone for a lifetime of genocide…

Darth Vader is deeply perturbed by these events; literally turning his head to his suffering son and his all-powerful master, physically evoking the conflict deep within his dark heart. Ultimately, Vader chooses to turn on his master, hoisting the Emperor up and casting him down a vast chasm to his death and absorbing the full, lethal force of his master’s lightning at the same time. Many like to argue that this one act redeems Vader (and Jedi goes out of its way to show this as the case as Vader, now restored to the form of Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), appears alongside Obi-Wan and Yoda as a Force ghost at the film’s conclusion, now content and happy) but I actually take issue with this. It’s a poignant and moving seen seeing Vader’s scarred and vulnerable true face as he has one last heartfelt moment with his son but does one act, no matter how pivotal, truly make up for the years of torture and genocide that Vader personally revelled in? I would argue that it doesn’t and that it takes the focus off of Luke who, for me, is the true “Chosen One” of the saga and that Anakin’s destiny was to sire the Chosen One rather than be it himself.

The Summary:
Many people like to rag on Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and I can understand why: the plot is largely derivative, the inclusion of the cute and cuddly Ewoks was a bit jarring, and it seems like a much shorter, far less intense film of the most part. For me, personally, I have no real issue with the Ewoks as they help to expand the Star Wars universe and tell a decent story of primitive cultures triumphing over superior forces (acting as a pretty on the nose allegory for the Rebellion itself in many ways) and the film’s intensity ramps up considerably once the big space battle and the culmination of Luke’s journey begins. No, for me, Return of the Jedi’s flaws lie in the disappointing trend it set for further Star Wars films to focus more on call-backs and redundant elements than trying something new; not only does the Death Star return, the first portion of the film returns to the bleak, barren, boring landscape of Tatooine and, while it does something new with this environment, it’s disappointing to me how many subsequent Star Wars films re-used this desert landscape or returned to the idea of a planet-killing super weapon. Still, that aside, there’s a lot to like in Return of the Jedi, particularly if you focus on the assault against the Death Star II and Luke’s emotional confrontation with his father and it’s easily the second best film in the Original Trilogy for me.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Where do you rank Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi against the Original Trilogy, and the other films in the Star Wars saga? What did you think to the inclusion of the Ewoks and bringing the Death Star back into the story? How about the Emperor; what did you think of him and of Darth Vader’s sacrifice in the film’s finale? Do you feel that one act redeemed Vader or do you agree that one act cannot be weighed against a lifetime of evil deeds? What did you think to the revelation that Leia is Luke’s sister? How are you celebrating May the Sith today? Whatever you think, drop a comment below and let me know and thanks for joining me in revisiting the Original Trilogy over the last three days.

Talking Movies [Revenge of the 5th]: Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (2019)

Although May 4th is known the world over as Star Wars Day, many also choose to celebrate the popular, generation-spanning science-fiction saga on May 5th as a play on the word “Sith”. This can extend Star Wars Day into three day celebration of the influential science-fiction series and, as a result, I am using each of these days to look back at the Original Trilogy!

Talking Movies

Released: 22 September 2019
Originally Released: 17 May 1980
Director: Irvin Kershner
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Original Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $33 million
Stars: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse/James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, and Frank Oz

The Plot:
Three years after destroying the Death Star, Luke Skywalker (Hamill), Han Solo (Ford), and Princess Leia Organa (Fisher) and the Rebel Alliance have been constantly hounded by the Galactic Empire. Having been driven from their hidden base, the Rebellion is scattered, with Luke journeying to refine his Jedi sills and Han and Leia relentlessly pursued by Darth Vader (Prowse/Jones).

The Background:
George Lucas’s science-fiction “space opera” was a near-immediate hit upon release and, almost immediately, talks began of producing a sequel. Despite the filming of Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope (ibid, 1977) proving a harrowing experience, Lucas wasn’t finished with his story and soon relented to the demand for a follow-up but had to navigate the minefield of sci-fi films and media that Star Wars had subsequently inspired. Having financed much of the film himself in order to maintain creative control, creating his own film studio in the process, Lucas turned directing duties over to Irvin Kershner, and filming began on 5 March 1979. Filming ran into a few snags when star Mark Hamill was injured in a car accident and Harrison Ford first voiced his desire for his character, Han Solo, to be killed off, both of which necessitated a number of rewrites. Conversely, the film’s now-iconic twist was kept a closely-regarded secret, with only a handful of cast and crew being in on the dramatic revelation, ensuring that audiences were shocked at the reveal. For me, even now, The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars film in the entire saga, with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Edwards, 2016) a close second. Fittingly, the film was massively profitable, making over $550 million at the box office but, interestingly, opinions on the film were divided when it first released, with many critics dismissing it outright. Since then, the film’s reputation was increased and it has, rightfully, been lauded as one of the greatest films ever made. Although Lucas would return to the film, restoring, augmenting, and remastering it, of the three films in the Original Trilogy it has received the least amount of alterations and changes, which, to me, says a lot about the standard to which The Empire Strikes Back was made.

The Review:
So I said in my review of A New Hope that, while I like Star Wars, I don’t really think that much of the first film Lucas released; it’s far simpler, narratively, and lot of its characters and concepts seem jarringly out of place with the rest of the saga. Today, I have another confession: I actually preferred A New Hope over The Empire Strikes Back as a child. If I’m being totally honest, Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (Marquand, 1983) was my favourite as a kid and was, as I recall, the first Star Wars movie I actually watched from start to finish (or, at least, the first one I remember enjoying). Over the years, however, my opinion has changed and I have come to regard Empire as the greatest Star Wars film of them all for its bleaker tone and the way it raised the stakes against our heroes.

Luke undergoes gruelling training in anticipation for getting his revenge against Darth Vader.

Luke Skywalker is back, a little older and a little less naïve than in the last film; now a Commander in the Rebel Alliance, he has attained a degree of notoriety amongst his peers (and the Empire) for destroying the Death Star and is no longer the wide-eyed, inexperienced farmboy we knew. That’s not to say that he’s become this battle-hardened soldier, though; Luke remains this adventurous, optimistic character through whom we are introduced to the complexities of the Force. Guided by the spirit of his deceased mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), Luke splits off from the Rebellion to travel to Dagobah and seek out another Jedi Master to further refine his skills. On the desolate swamp planet, he encounters the wizened Yoda (Oz), a curious little hermit of a creature who speaks in riddles and vagaries regarding the true nature of the Force and what it means to be a Jedi. Luke’s training is physically and mentally gruelling as he is forced to learn harsh lessons about his distracted ways and the anger boiling inside of him. Still, he learns much from Yoda and in a comparatively short length of time, certainly enough to motivate him to interrupt his training to rush to the aid of his friends. This, it turns out, proves to be his harshest lesson so far but, again, Luke’s motivations are clouded by his desire to help the ones he loves and to get a measure of revenge against the man who killed his father and his mentor: Darth Vader.

Through her growing feelings for Han, Leia’s pragmatic façade starts to slip.

Having undergone perhaps the most significant character arc in the last film, Han Solo’s arc in Empire is intertwined with that of Leia’s as both characters are now in denial of their true feelings towards one another. Luke throws a spanner into the works as he is still infatuated with Leia but, luckily (especially in retrospect…), the film doesn’t dwell on or descend into a bitter love triangle thanks, largely, to our main characters being separated for the majority of the film. Accordingly, though now a Captain in the Rebellion and actively aiding their cause, Han is anxious to leave to pay off his debts but finds himself fleeing the Rebel base on the ice planet Hoth with Leia in tow and forced into a dramatic cat-and-mouse game with the pursuing Empire thanks to damages to his ship, the Millennium Falcon. This will-they-won’t-they attraction between Han and Leia helps to flesh her character out a bit more, too; still a competent and devoted leader in the Rebellion, Leia’s outspoken nature and forthrightness is revealed to be a front for her true feelings. Having denied or suppressed her personal desires due to her complete focus on bringing down the Empire, her interactions with Han allow her façade to slip and show her as a more vulnerable and layered character. Ultimately, when faced with what could be Han’s death, she is unable to hold back her true feelings and expresses them with a passionate kiss and cry of “I love you” to which Han, ever the loveable rogue, simply replies: “I know”, indicating that they were both in love for a long time, perhaps forever, but unable to properly express it due to their nature and commitment to playing a certain role (the competent, unemotional leader and the daredevil smuggler, respectively).

While Artoo assists Luke, Chewie tries to repair Threepio and the Falcon…with mixed results.

Once again, our heroes are supported by the bickering droids C-3PO (Daniels) and R2-D2 (Baker) as well as the loveable Wookie, Chewbacca (Mayhew). Each play a pivotal role in supporting the main narrative and the arcs of the main characters: C-3PO is the awkward comic relief always ruining potentially romantic moments between Han and Leia and ultimately learns of a betrayal against his companions, R2-D2 is the blank slate Luke can convey his concerns and doubts to on Dagobah and later finally repairs the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive so the character’s can beat a hasty retreat, and Chewbacca is shown to be much more than a brutish, growling bodyguard as he desperately tries to repair the Falcon, puts his mechanical ability to better (and more comedic) use trying to repair the damaged Threepio, and explodes into anger and anguish when they are betrayed and Han meets a bitter fate.

A smooth talking charmer, Lando is in cahoots with, and screwed over by, the Empire.

This latter plot point is due to the film’s other new addition, Lando Calrissian (Williams), a smooth talking former smuggler turned respectable businessman whom Han is forced to turn to for repairs and shelter. Williams excels in the role, exuding a slick and flawless charisma while still appearing somewhat disreputable and shady due to the nature of his past and his business. Ultimately, of course, he is forced to betray Han and the others to the Empire to keep the Empire from interfering with his business but this immediately backfires on him when Darth Vader continuously alters the terms of their agreement. Similar to Han in the last film, Lando is then forced to re-align himself with the Rebellion and join their cause in order to remove the Empire from Cloud City and try to rescue his old smuggling buddy. That proves much harder than first anticipated thanks to Darth Vader employing the services of a number of unnamed bounty hunters, chief among them an individual who would go on to become one of the franchise’s most popular characters: Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch/Temuera Morrison). Now, I like Boba Fett, don’t get me wrong; he has a cool look, a cool voice, and is a very mysterious and enigmatic character but I’ve never really understand why he is so popular amongst Star Wars fans. Taken in a bubble, using only the two films he appears in as a reference, he is only ever portrayed as competent once and that’s in this film and largely because Darth Vader allows him that chance. Otherwise, he’s just a nameless, faceless grunt who pursues the Millennium Falcon and takes possession of Han’s frozen corpse by the film’s finale.

Vader is driven, focused, obsessed with getting his hands on Luke Skywalker!

Thankfully, however, Darth Vader is greatly expanded upon in Empire; no longer a mere puppet of the Empire, Vader is proactively leading the Imperials seen in the film and even has his own Super Star Destroyer, the Executor, which is, like, three times the size of other Star Destroyers. The obsession with finding the one responsible for destroying the Death Star has, apparently, reawakened Vader’s passion and he is a far more intimidating and threatening presence in this film. Quick to anger at the incompetence of his subordinates (and no longer on the leash of other high-ranking Imperials), Vader doesn’t hesitate to kill those who fail him (he even utters a dry quip while doing so at one point). However, Vader isn’t just a cold, merciless machine; he promotes Captain Piett (Kenneth Colley) and entrusts him with hunting down the Millennium Falcon and makes a point to order his bounty hunters (in particular Boba Fett) that he desires his prisoners, especially Luke, to be captured alive. When meeting with the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid),Vader is even able to subtly steer his master towards attempting to turn Luke to the Dark Side of the Force rather than kill him and all of this comes to a head when the film’s big twist is revealed. During his dramatic and engaging lightsaber duel with Luke, Vader is far more aggressive and competent as a swordsman than before and, in revealing the truth to Luke, reveals yet more layers to his personality; you get a sense that he is absolutely overwhelmed, almost addicted, to the power of the Dark Side and he appears visibly shaken when Luke escapes his clutches at the lasts second, all of which does wonders for expanding on what was previously little more than a one-dimensional character with a cool look and an intriguing past.

The Nitty-Gritty:
The Empire Strikes Back takes everything that worked about A New Hope and expands upon it masterfully; the galaxy is opened up much wider to include such locations as the desolate ice world of Hoth, the putrid swamps of Dagobah, and the beautiful copper-red skies of Bespin. Thanks to a far larger array of memorable characters and locations, we finally get a sense of the scope of Lucas’ galaxy; strange alien creatures don’t just walk the streets, they inhabit entire asteroids and take up such lucrative professions as bounty hunters, all of which only adds to the “lived-in” feeling of the world Lucas established in A New Hope.

Empire‘s effects and model shots are a dramatic improvement over the previous film.

Furthermore, the film’s special effects and action sequences are easily 100% better than those in A New Hope; the Millennium Falcon doesn’t just lazily list to the left during space scenes, it spins and darts and flies all over the place to outmanoeuvre not just the smaller, faster TIE Fighters but the massive Star Destroyers as well. Space battles are actually few and far between in Empire in favour of more character-building moments, lightsaber combat, and ground-based action, meaning that the Falcon is left to carry the entirety of the film’s space battles and, thanks to its improved manoeuvrability and the tension-building sequences in the asteroid belt, it does so wonderfully. I mentioned the ground battles earlier and I would be remiss to not spend some time talking about easily one of the film’s most impressive effects sequences, the battle of Hoth, in which the Rebel Alliance is set upon by gigantic All-Terrain Armoured Transport (AT-AT) and All-Terrain Scout Transport (AT-ST) walkers; these incredibly well-constructed machines are brought to life through a combination of models and traditional stop motion techniques and really make an impact, decimating the Rebel base and forcing them to flee into the vastness of space.

Yoda has some harsh lessons to teach Luke about patience and the Force.

Aside from Lando and Boba Fett, Empire also introduces another pivotal character to the saga in Yoda; a wizened old crone, Yoda reveals more about the intricacies of the Force and guides Luke’s training, however reluctantly. Like Obi-Wan, Yoda is clearly haunted by the mistakes and events of a vaguely-defined past and is continually disappointed by Luke’s impatience and conflicting feelings of attachment, fear, and anger. This comes to a head when Luke battles a vision of Darth Vader and, reacting out of instinct and emotion, sees himself literally reflected in Vader’s gruesome visage and, after Luke rushes off to help his friends, Yoda is left despondent but secure in the knowledge of “another” who could be trained to take Luke’s place.

Vader casually drops one of cinema’s all-time greatest plot twists!

Similarly, as mentioned, lightsaber combat is significantly improved in Empire; although we only really get one actual lightsaber battle, it is leagues above the plodding, awkward affair seen in A New Hope thanks to Luke’s youthful exuberance and desire for revenge. The fight has many layers to it, too, with Vader clearly toying with Luke in the early going and somewhat taken aback by Luke’s tenacity; in the end, though, while Luke is able to land a glancing blow on Vader, experience and ruthlessness allow Vader to easily (and literally) disarm Luke with a mere swing of his red-tinted lightsaber. It is in this moment, while Luke is in agony and overwhelmed by fear and anger, that Vader drops perhaps the biggest twist in movie history: not only did Obi-Wan lie about the fate of Luke’s father, Anakin, but Vader himself is Luke’s father! It’s a startling, shocking revelation given so much poignancy thanks to John William’s booming, iconic score (the unforgettable “Imperial March” debuts in this film, which elevates it even more in my opinion) and Luke’s agonising reaction. Shaken by this revelation, Luke willingly plummets to an unknown fate, apparently perfectly willing to die and only saved by luck or the will of the Force and the film ends with Luke’s hand being replaced with a cybernetic prosthetic, Han a prison of Boba Fett and encased in carbonite, and the Rebel Alliance in tatters. Luke’s faith in everything he was told is shaken and he and his friends gaze out into an unknown future, ending the film on an incredibly bleak cliff-hanger that masterfully sets the stage for the final showdown with both Vader and the Empire.

The Summary:
Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is still the best Star Wars film ever made. It just is and that’s all there is to it but, if you want to get technical, just look at what it offers: the effects are bigger and better, the score is more iconic and bombastic, the characters are more nuanced and layered, and the lore is greatly expanded upon to show that there is so much more than even the titbits we were fed in A New Hope. With its far grittier, more mature, and bleak atmosphere and ending, some of the saga’s most memorable characters and, of course. one of the greatest reveals in movie history, The Empire Strikes Back stands head and shoulders above its predecessor, offering exciting space and sci-fi action, an emotionally charged and engaging lightsaber battle, and far more intriguing themes regarding destiny and portrayals of the futility of battling against a superior force. Empire very much sets the tone for the remainder of the Star Wars saga and many of the subsequent films and spin-off media would take their cue from its revelations and direction, for better or worse, and its influence to the franchise cannot be understated.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Where does Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back rank against the Original Trilogy, and the other films in the Star Wars saga, for you? Do agree that it is the best film in the Original Trilogy and the saga or do you, perhaps, prefer a different Star Wars film? Are you a fan of Boba Fett? If so, what is it about his character as portrayed in this movie that you find so appealing? What did you think of the other characters introduced in this film, like Lando and Yoda, and the way existing characters were developed? What was your reaction upon hearing Darth Vader’s revelation for the first time? How are you celebrating Revenge of the 5th today? Whatever you think, comment below and let me know, and be sure to check out my review of the final part of the Original Trilogy.

Talking Movies [May the Fourth]: Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope (2019)

May 4th is known the world over as Star Wars Day thanks to it acting as perhaps one of the most fitting and amusing puns ever devised (“May the Fourth be with you” in place of the traditional “May the Force be with you”). The first and most popular of what can easily become a three day celebration of the influential science-fiction series, the day stands as the perfect excuse for Star Wars fans to celebrate the beloved franchise in a variety of ways and, this year, I’ll be celebrating with a three day review of the Original Trilogy!

Talking Movies

Released: 22 September 2019
Originally Released: 25 May 1977
Director: George Lucas
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Original Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $11 million
Stars: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse/James Earl Jones, Peter Cushing, and Alec Guinness

The Plot:
For twenty years, the galaxy has been held in the grip of the malevolent Galactic Empire. Although captured by the wicked Darth Vader (Prowse/Jones), Princess Leia Organa (Fisher) manages to spirit away the plans for the Empire’s superweapon. When unassuming farm boy Luke Skywalker (Hamill) unwittingly acquires these, he is suddenly swept into a conflict against the Empire and their all-powerful, planet-destroying battle station: the Death Star!

The Background:
Nowadays, everyone knows about Star Wars; the science-fiction “space opera” film has become a near-unstoppable multimedia juggernaut, branching off into numerous sequels, prequels, spin-offs, novels, videogames, comic books, and more. But, back in 1977, it was merely the brainchild of a very young director called George Lucas, who was just coming off of the commercial failure of his debut feature, THX 1138 (ibid, 1971). Inspired by pulp science-fiction serials like Flash Gordon (Stephani, 1936), Lucas’s initial drafts for The Star Wars held the nucleus for what would become a generation-spanning franchise but was, at the time, a low-budget, risky venture for film studios to bank on. After refining the script into something more closely resembling the film we actually got, Lucas formed his own visual effects company to bring to life his vision for an ambitious galactic conflict and managed to secure veteran actors Peter Cushing and Alec Guinness (who, paradoxically, so believed in the film that he signed on to receive 2.25% of the royalties but also disliked the undue attention the film’s success brought him), and filled out the cast with a bunch of relative unknowns (and some carpenter who I’ve never heard of…) Despite the pressure and stress of filming negatively affecting Lucas’s health, Star Wars made over $10 million at the box office and became a cultural phenomenon almost immediately upon release. The critical reception was overwhelmingly positive and the film won numerous Academy Awards. Star Wars would go on to have numerous sequels, prequels, and spin-offs but Lucas returned to the film numerous times over the years to use modern computer-generated imagery and special effects to expand, improve, and remaster his classic film. While these changes have been debated by long-term series fans, many of these changes have been for the better, such as restoring long-lost scenes and improving the film’s noticeably-dated effects.

The Review:
I’m going to kick this one off with a controversial statement: as much as I like Star Wars, I am not really the biggest fan of A New Hope. Of the three films in the Original Trilogy, it ranks the lowest for me because, as visually impressive and exciting as it is, it doesn’t quite feel like it “fits” in the overall saga because of the concessions Lucas made to consolidate his original ideas. Things like Darth Vader acting so neutered and out of character really stick out for me; I never get the sense that he’s supposed to be the “hero” of the franchise or really anything more than an intimidating, mysterious henchman of Grand Moff Tarkin and a lot of the film’s effects and lore are sub-par compared to what we see in later sequels. Crucial, for me, is the fact that the Death Star is destroyed at the end; this is the Empire’s greatest weapon, capable of destroying planets, no doubt staffed with thousands of their people, and it’s hard to really top that or believe that their forces are as formidable after it’s destroyed. Still, it is an appealing space/fantasy film and it works really well in a bubble; its themes and world were greatly expanded and improved upon in subsequent films, though, meaning that whenever I watch A New Hope (particularly in a Star Wars marathon) I can’t help but notice that it just sticks out a bit from the others and it doesn’t surprise me at all that Lucas added and expanded so much of the film in subsequent re-releases to try and better align it with existing continuity.

Though largely motivated by his libido, Luke eventually becomes a hero of the Rebellion.

Anyway, A New Hope is basically the story of Luke Skywalker, a wide-eyed farm boy from a back-water, desert world who longs to escape the monotony of his everyday life and find adventure and excitement out in the big, wide galaxy just like his long-dead father, whom he idolises with a naïve hero’s worship. Luke acts as the audience surrogate for the most part; cut off from the rest of the galaxy and ignorant to many of the greater conflicts and nuances of life, we learn bits and pieces of this world as he does and are drawn into the conflict alongside him, and view the majority of the film’s events through the eyes of this unassuming farm hand. Luke is primarily motivated by his libido; after stumbling across Leia’s holographic plea for help, he becomes immediately infatuated with her and, though torn between his desire to meet and help her and to explore the galaxy and his duties to his uncle, Owen Lars (Phil Brown), he jumps at the chance to accompany Obi-Wan Kenobi (Guinness) on his journey to assist the Rebel Alliance after the Empire slaughters the only family he has ever known, turning his motivation also into one of hatred and revenge for the Empire and everyone in it. Accordingly, the minute he infiltrates the Death Star alongside his newfound friends and gets a blaster in his hand, he is more than happy to blast away at the myriad of nameless, faceless Stormtroopers and the first one to jump into the cockpit of an X-Wing to take on and destroy the Death Star to deal a crippling blow against the Empire he hates so much.

Obi-Wan’s sacrifice pushes Luke towards his greater destiny.

Obi-Wan (posing as an old hermit with the ridiculously paper thin pseudonym of “Old Ben Kenobi”) acts as Luke’s wise old mentor and father-figure; having fought alongside Luke’s father, Anakin, in the “Clone Wars”, Obi-Wan is Luke’s sole remaining (and strongest) link to the father he never knew. Obi-Wan talks of Anakin with reverence and respect, passes his lightsaber down to Luke, and is extremely enthusiastic about training Luke as a Jedi so that he can follow in his father’s footsteps. Though old and clearly haunted by events from the past, Obi-Wan is a patient and sage character, able to use the Force (the mystical energy that binds the galaxy together and can be manipulated by Jedi and Force-sensitive individuals) to influence (or manipulate, I guess) the minds of the “weak minded” (which, arguably, also includes Luke…) and resorting to conflict only when absolutely necessary. Obi-Wan also adds to Luke’s motivation not only by fostering and encouraging his desires for adventure but by fuelling his personal vendetta against the Empire through his self-sacrifice; aboard the Death Star, Obi-Wan has a confrontation with Darth Vader, a former pupil of his who he claims betrayed and murdered Anakin, and the two have a…lacklustre duel that is absolutely devoid of the hatred and animosity that there is supposed to be between these characters, which is disappointing when you consider the calibre of later lightsaber battles in the saga. Still, the point of this duel is to kill off Obi-Wan so that he can ascend to a higher state of existence and to push Luke further towards his destiny and it remains a surprisingly affecting scene as Obi-Wan is one of the most compelling and interesting characters thanks to the backstory he hints at and Guinness’s quiet, veteran screen presence.

Leia assumes many roles and is more than capable of holding her own in a fight.

As the only prominent female character in the film beyond Luke’s Aunt Beru (Shelagh Fraser), it falls to Leia to carry the film as a strong-willed, independent female character. Though she appears to be a mere helpless damsel in distress who is dependant on a gaggle of misfit men to rescue her, she immediately takes charge of their escape from the Death Star, berating Han Solo’s (Ford) recklessness and immaturity and throwing snark at him, Luke, and even the mighty Chewbacca (Mayhew). Fully capable of holding her own in a firefight, she’s also human and sympathetic enough to console Luke after Obi-Wan’s death and respected and influential enough to be a commanding figure in the Rebel Alliance once they finally reach the Rebel base on Yavin 4. We don’t really learn a huge amount about her (truthfully, we don’t about any character save Luke and vague hints of life prior to the film from Obi-Wan) but her actions speak louder than words; she’s clearly a very complex and layered character as she has deceived the Empire (and Darth Vader) into thinking she is a loyal supporter of their cause while actually being a principal figurehead in the Rebellion and her commitment to bringing down the Empire drives her character through and through.

Star Wars is populated by a variety of memorable characters.

The linchpins for the film’s entire plot are, of course, probably the most famous droid duo in cinema history, C-3PO (Daniels) and R2-D2 (Baker); Threepio is an overly polite and helpful protocol droid who has no time for drama or adventures but is swept up into perhaps the biggest space adventure ever, whittling and complaining and despairing the entire way, and Artoo is the unsung hero of the film (and the entire saga) whose entire personality is brought to life very effectively despite the fact that he can only communicate through “beeps” and “boops” and at Threepio’s discretion. For the most part, they exist as mere supporting characters and the film’s comic relief but, without them, the movie couldn’t happen; similarly, Chewbacca, despite his great size and communicating only through growls or Han’s translation, isn’t much more than a supporting character but makes an immediate impact thanks to his unique design and screen presence.

Han is easily the film’s most appealing protagonist thanks to his loveable, rugged charm.

Speaking of which, easily the film’s most likeable character is, of course, Han Solo. World-weary and cynical, Han is a loveable, self-serving rogue who is only motivated by the money and has little time for the Rebellion’s futile efforts against the Empire or “hokey religions” like the Jedi and disparate concepts like the Force. Where Luke is young and naïve, Han is well travelled and has experienced the very worst that the galaxy has to offer; it helps that Ford brings a natural, relatable, and likeable charisma to the role and that, as a result, Han is the most “normal” of the film’s heroes and his “Everyman” persona is immediately appealing. His character arc is, obviously, that he comes to sympathise with the Rebellion’s plight and you really get the sense that he comes to care for Luke as a surrogate younger brother and it’s still a fantastic moment when he dramatically swoops in in the Millennium Falcon to clear Luke’s path in the film’s finale, proving that he has a moral compass and a heart of gold after all.

Though a threatening, impressive presence, Vader is little more than Tarkin’s puppet.

Finally, there is the film’s antagonistic force, the Empire, represented by Tarkin and, of course Dark Vader. Tarkin is the voice of “the Emperor”, an unseen figurehead who is behind the Empire and their iron grip on the galaxy; with his straight-laced, officious tones, Tarkin immediately commands and demands respect and attention from all of his peers…and that includes Darth Vader. Of course it helps that Tarkin is masterfully portrayed by the late, great Peter Cushing, whose screen presence and veteran ability commands attention; when Tarkin walks into a room or speaks, you pay attention and the film does a great job of showing how disconcertingly quiet and sadistic he is through his unwavering decision to torture Leia and destroy her home planet without hesitation. In the end, though, pride is Tarkin’s downfall; like many of the other Imperial officers, he believes so completely in the Death Star’s power and impenetrability that he refuses to heed the warnings and is killed alongside countless others when the Death Star is destroyed. Which brings us, at last, to Darth Vader…and this isn’t the complex, terrifying character we would come to know in subsequent sequels. Though he cuts an intimidating figure with his cold, emotionless suit and booming voice and wields mysterious powers that the ignorant cannot comprehend, Vader is little more than Tarkin’s puppet in this film. There are attempts to show him as a threatening presence and a malevolent force through the way Obi-Wan talks about him and his callous murdering and terrorising of those around him but it seems as though Vader is overwhelmed by apathy and boredom in this film (perhaps understandably so, in retrospect). He seems to lack the passion and drive we would see in later films and is a hollow character for it; thankfully, his personality, characterisation, and backstory are expanded upon significantly as the saga goes on but, for me, Vader sticks out the most as the film’s most out of place personality.

The Nitty-Gritty:
For a sci-fi fantasy that deals with a conflict that spans galaxies, A New Hope is surprisingly limited in terms of its locations; thanks to the film’s small budget, we only really spend any significant time on one alien world and it is, for me, the worst kind of environment to see in a film as it is little more than a dry, arid, boring desert. As soon as our heroes dramatically escape from Tatooine and head towards the Death Star, the film really picks up and gets interesting and that’s a bit of an odd thing to say considering how bland and uniform the Death Star’s grey and black corridors look. Still, it’s way more visually appealing than a desert and we get to see a lot of different locations on the Death Star before joining Luke and Rogue Squadron for their thrilling assault on the space station.

Star Wars has some of the most iconic starships in cinema history.

Although the effects in A New Hope are probably the most dated of all of those in the Original Trilogy, even after all of Lucas’s re-edits and digital tweaks, it’s still commendable and impressive how detailed and visually interesting all of the film’s models and ships and such are. Everything has a very practical, “lived-in” feel to it, as though it’s been around for some time and characters have had to make do or the focus has been placed on purely practical, military equipment. The standouts are, obviously, the Millennium Falcon and the Death Star; probably one of the most, if not the most, iconic ship in sci-fi history, the Millennium Falcon is as rugged and crude as Han and you really get the sense that it is just barely holding together despite Han’s boasts and its impressive capabilities. Compare that to the sleek, quiet ominous Death Star, which hovers against a blanket of darkness and stars like a foreboding eye. The Death Star’s planet-destroying power is a terrifyingly immediate threat and one that, I feel, was perhaps too great for the first (or fourth, whatever) film in a series but that is, again, the benefit of hindsight; if you watch A New Hope as a standalone feature, it works really well and the film even ends with the suggestion that the Empire has been irrevocably crippled. As part of a saga, it then works as the first real, decisive blow against the Empire but the Death Star’s threat was never really topped in subsequent films, only duplicated and expanded, such is the influence of that impressive battle station.

A New Hope takes the first steps into a much wider and more complex world.

Finally, we have the film’s more disparate elements and world-building; it is primarily through Obi-Wan that we learn of the Force but both Tarkin and Vader also provide a few snippets of insight into this abstract concept. The suggestion is that those who can truly harness the power of the Force were once known as Jedi Knights and that the Force’s power renders even the capabilities of the Death Star obsolete; we don’t really see any of that in the film (or any Star Wars film, to be honest) but that’s mainly because the Jedi are all-but-extinct and the Force is largely perceived as an “ancient religion” that has died out, become a folk talk, or is a source of derision. Far more proactive and useful than simple blind faith, the Force allows Obi-Wan to manipulate the minds of others, move objects with his mind, feel the death of Leia’s home world, and ascend to a higher plane of existence from where he can continue to advise and direct Luke. Trusting in the Force over his targeting computer and more tangible senses allows Luke to make the all-but-impossible shot that destroys the Death Star, thus putting him on the path towards his destiny of following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a Jedi Knight.

The Summary:
There is a lot to like about Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope; the world-building and concepts introduced and hinted at are intriguing and Lucas presents just enough to both wet our appetite for expansion of this lore and tell a simple sci-fi fantasy with a beginning, middle, and end. The characters are all distinct and likeable in their own way, with each one hinting at having a particularly interesting and exciting life prior to the film except for Luke, who longs to be a part of an interesting and exciting life and, through the will of the Force, gets his wish in more ways than he could have bargained for. And, yet, for all the respect and praise I have for A New Hope, it remains, for me, the weakest of the Original Trilogy and one of the weaker entries in the entire Star Wars saga. It’s just too simple, is the thing, too limited in its scope and so at odds with the films that come after it. As a standalone movie, it absolutely works but it’s as though Lucas struggled to fit A New Hope into his wider narrative in retrospect as the film’s portrayal of Darth Vader, the Force, and the groundwork it lays for the Clone Wars are all decidedly at odds with what we later experience and was unsatisfactorily waved away by a throwaway line from Obi-Wan in the third (sixth? Whatever!) film. It may be a classic piece of cinema but the sequel takes everything that worked about A New Hope and expands upon it in ways that make it, and even subsequent follow-ups, superior in many ways as the narrative has been clearly established rather than being distilled into one single film.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What do you think about Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope? Where do you rank it in the Original Trilogy and against the other films in the Star Wars saga? Do you think I’ve committed a cardinal sin by expressing my dislike of the film over others in the saga or do you, perhaps, agree that it’s a weaker entry compared to its sequels? What do you think about Darth Vader’s portrayal in this film and the way the Force and the Clone Wars are presented? Which character was your favourite and why? How are you celebrating Star Wars Day today? Whatever your thoughts, good or bad, feel free to leave a comment below and be sure to check out my review of the far-superior sequel!