THE STAR WARS SAGA SO FAR… (PART 1)


star_wars_logoWith less than a week to go until the release of Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens, we are going to take look at what nEoFILM thought of the saga so far. Today. it is the Prequels, tomorrow the Original Trilogy.

All have been posted before but as nEoFILM gives way to its equally epic celebration of the one of cinema’s greatest sagas, I thought that a little context may be helpful before Thursday…

EPISODE I

star_wars_episode_one_the_phantom_menace_ver21999 (Theatrical Version) (VHS/Laserdisc)

1999/2001 (Uncut) (DVD)

1999/2001/2011 (3D Version)

1999/2001/2011 (Blu-ray Enhanced)

DIRECTOR: George Lucas

May Contain Spoilers!

Dreams shattered. Never has a film or a film maker been subjected to such castigation as The Phantom Menace or George Lucas for adding to their own body of work like this.

Alarm bells rang out once the title was announced. The Phantom Menace… What do that even mean? It was not The Clone Wars or Rise Of The Sith, or anything that we had come to expect, instead, like the entire contrived screenplay, we were subjected to a campaign of “This isn’t gonna be what you think it is.” (Or want, apparently!)

The problem here is that if you wait 16 years to begin a three film prequel arch, then you better have one hell of a story up your sleeve and maybe you should have been a little more selective over the vast array of tie in novelisations, comic books and computer games, all of which seem to have used the best elements and plots for Star Wars.

What’s left? Well, nothing except for what we would expect, but is that bad thing? No, not really. We all knew that the Titanic would sink but that did not prevent a film about it becoming a top grosser in 1998. The problem here is Lucas himself.

He believes and I am sure that the entire company of sycophants which he surrounds himself with would agree, that Lucas is a fantastic director and screenwriter. WRONG! He is a decent, and no more, decent producer and visionary as to visual effects and the infrastructure of film making, but nothing more. His work to advance sound and picture quality with his THX standard is worthy, as was his now seen as rather hypocritical stance against colouration in 1980’s, only for him to butcher his own films and reissue them in 3D later! (This included)

I feel that he thought that he could give his loyal audience a new and fresh take on his saga, whilst tying it in to the established back story. That’s before the more cynical me would suggest that he also wanted to secure his toy and merchandising industry for decades to come, and sort out any plot complications by re-editing his treasured originals until they fit the new mould, something which first reared its ugly head in 2004 with his second Special Edition versions for the DVD’s.

But here we are in 1999, and the opening titles appear on the screen. Words such as“Trade Federation” and “Taxation” began to appear. Gone was the standard opening of an Imperial Star Destroyer and welcome some tiny rubbish looking spaceship, as it approached a fleet of little Death Stars.

Soon we meet Qui Gon Jin (Liam Neeson) and Obi Wan Kenobi (Ewan MacGregor) and the childish adventure begins. My first thought as a 20 year old was,‘Was Star Wars really this childish? The answer: No. It was a family adventure and it was not as high brow as many fans would like to believe but it was not anything like this either.

Jar Jar Binks was a prime example of where this film went wrong as per the tone, as was the entire Gungan plot; Pointless. Eventually we finally end up on more familiar ground, Tatooine and we meet an 8-year-old Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd). The future Darth Vader was far from the villain which we all wanted but it could have worked if executed better, but instead this was cynical move to add something more relatable to Lucas’ key demographic, the toy buying children.

Is this what we wanted. No. But does Lucas care? No. What he seems to think is that we should swallow whatever pills he gives us and we will, quite frankly, but he is hardly doing himself any favours in then process. Star Wars has become his own personal toy to tinker with at his leisure and this was phase two for him, after his Special Editions in 1997.

The main problem is here is the back story. As I said earlier, he did not seem content to give us the most plausible and thematically relevant version of events before A New Hope, instead in an attempt to give us something new, he contrived a story out of elements dismissed on never even dreamed of by others.

And there’s a good reason for that, because it’s crap! It seemed that Lucas was intent on having Anakin turn to dark side in Episode III, which is fine, so he needed to build a story to work towards that. But he never really archives this and starting here, 30 years earlier when nothing will have a direct influence on Anakin’s motivations to turn, seems to be waste of time.

And then there’s the lack any real villain. Granted we have the double act of Darth Sidious (Get it?) and Darth Maul (Ray Park), who is without a doubt the best character in this and they kill him off! For a franchise which delivered one of cinemas greatest villains in the form of Darth Vader to ignore this most basic need, was ludicrous. Maul was a wasted character and would have made the subsequent prequels better with his inclusion, I have no doubt about that considering what we were given. Sorry Christopher

To me, this film should have started the franchise with something closer to what Episode II’s was in terms of plot, if it were, as with The Empire Strikes Back, making the second part the pivotal one, with the introduction of Darth Vader in the second film, leaving an entire third film to Darth doing what was quoted in A New Hope, “Hunting down and destroying the Jedi”.

This just seems a long, long prologue and extended filler. But as filler goes, there’s no arguing with some of the sequences here, particularly the Pod Race, based on Ben~Hur’s Chariot Race, even down to the hero and villain’s flag colours and the march of charioteers homage. And then there’s the lightsaber battle at the end, which in spite of many complaints about it being unfair, two on one and all that, I don’t care, it was cool!

Overall, it would appear that Lucas still has a flare for the visuals, but lacks any real story telling ability and anyone to edit his rubbish, but that’s not to say that if you let it wash over you and watch it with the children, it can’t be a reasonably enjoyable two hours especially, the Pod Race and The Final Duel.

But in an attempt to be clever and outsmart his own fans, he lost sight of his own intriguing back story which he penned over 20 year earlier, one in which Darth Vader was a pilot, not a smart-arse kid who raced jet engines around sand dunes and The Clone Wars sounded pretty cool.

And the two plotting styles of trade disputes and Jar Jar Binks style comedy just did not work well together. But I think it’s fair to sum up this film with one question:

To start with, for this example, there never was an original trilogy. It’s 1999: A film called Star Wars: The Phantom Menace comes out as a tent-pole summer release. The director was previously responsible for flop Howard The Duck and this film has a plot which is as all over the place as this. Would there have been a sequel?

If the answer is no, then you can surely agree that this is not the film to start one of cinema’s greatest and most successful franchises and there would never have been episodes IV or V, let alone VI. In real terms, this must be one of the most success films to be derided by its own fans in movie history. What kind of accolade is that?

 

EPISODE II

star_wars_episode_two_attack_of_the_clones_ver2_xlg2002 (Digital Theatrical Version) (DVD & VHS)

2002/2011 (Blu-ray Enhanced)

DIRECTOR: George Lucas

May Contain Spoilers!

Three years on from the omen of foreboding which was The Phantom Menace, I doubt that I was on my own when I was hanging the fate of the entire Star Wars franchise on this film redeeming itself, and not replicating the first major mistake of the saga. The big question is, did it work?

No. But it could have been a lot worse! Lucas seems to have taken his true premise and motives from the first film, by creating an even bigger universe of exotic characters, but selling any form of narrative cohesion or integrity down the river.

The effects became more pronounced and there was a change in the aesthetic from the Episode I, which for all it’s faults, was grounded and a more reasonable blend of visual effects and real life than this. A major misstep in a film by shot with green screen, and it shows.

It would take James Cameron the rest of decade to perfect this with Avatar, and you would think that if Lucas with all his wealth and power behind him, could either had waited or worked within the limitations of what was available at the time, because trust me, the technology that he was using, just simply wasn’t up to it. The matt paintings from his original trilogy were leagues better than most of the CGI effects here, but that’s not to say that they were all bad.

The sound design worked very well and effects such as the chrome starships from Naboo likewise, but I do feel that Lucas was again “inspired” by other sources for his production design, such as Courasent for example, which was basically is right out of Blade Runner.

But enough about the VFX, sound design and plagiarised production design, what about the narrative? What about it; The story is, without being distracted by the contrivances meant to convince us that this is a real grown up drama, that 10 years after The Phantom Menace, Anakin has grown up and fallen in love with Padmé, now a senator for Naboo.

Obi Wan Kenobi had continued his training, though little interest is show in developing this plotline, it’s just stated, and the pair of Jedi Knights are assigned, like two New York cops, to investigate an assassination attempt on Padmé.

Is this what you think of when you think Jedi Knights? I didn’t think so. So they separate, with Obi Wan winding up at the Planet Kemino, a planet of cloners (Hey up! Wink!) where he is introduced to the Stormtrooper army Mk1 and the clone army’s father, Jango Fett along with his son, a direct clone of him, Boba.

It’s this wish-fulfilment Fan-boy plot which pits Jango, who is basically Boba Fett for all intents and purposes, and Obi Wan against each other. They engage in a physical battle on a landing platform, in which Jango escapes only for them to fight again, this time in the rings of a planet.

This and many sequences in this film hark back to better days in the Star Wars franchise, in this case, the asteroid chase from The Empire Strikes Back, but it all plays out quite well. Meanwhile, Anakin and Padmé are falling madly in love in the corniest way possible and as part of  some of the worst scriptwriting that I have ever seen.

The acting isn’t much better either, something which we should be surprised about from the Oscar winning Natalie Portman, but that’s the same story with everyone in these prequels. There’ no flair, no Harrison Fords, just good actors being green screened to death!

Then, as their forbidden love is on the brink of being explored, Anakin has a dream, a recurring plot device to move characters around in the prequels and mush return home to find his mother. She is killed by the Sandpeople, so Anakin “Kills them all” but whilst teetering, still fails to turn to the darkside, seemingly brushing this incident to the back of his mind as they set off to rescue Obi Wan, who has been captured by the Trade Federation and Count Dooku. Yes, they’re back.

So, after a computer game styled sequence in a Droid factory, everyone is captured and they must battle a series of monsters in an arena… blar, blar.

So, it’s come to this we’re thinking, when suddenly “begins, The Clone Wars do”. The action kicks off, Anakin looses his arm, bad guy, this time in the form of Christopher Lee’s, Count Dooku, gets away for the next film and finally, the rubbish is out-of-the-way, and the story which we actually want to see is almost upon us.

Just three years later, and 22 years after Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi, we would finally see the creation of Darth Vader in a film, whilst far from what we would have hoped, was certainly more in tune with fans that these two.

On a plus note, the nod to fans that Jar Jar was now relegated to a supporting role was much appreciated, though I’m sure that many wanted him dead. But how well would a death scene have gone with Jar Jar anyway, it was probably best to simply cut their losses, tough it was nice to see his stupidity set up Emperor Palpatine in office, ready to take over the galaxy, thanks again, Jar Jar!

Overall, like the first film, not a bad watch as a glossy entertaining film, but not on par with the originals, lacking any real weight, with a screenplay which would not have passed any rigorous form of editing, and no theatrical of creative flair what so ever; Confirming that Lucas is the Ed Wood of our generation, only through one great film,Star Wars, and one of his most well judged decisions not to direct of write the screenplay for the sequel, and the best film of the franchise, The Empire Strikes Back, has been managed to become something that the famed “World’s Worse Director” (Ed Wood) couldn’t and make a ton of money in the process!

But I’m back with the same question. Would a film of this quality, after the last one, have spawned another sequel? If it was up to these two films, then we would never have seen Anakin become anything more that a piece of the scenery, let alone the iconic Darth Vader.

 

EPISODE III

Star_wars_episode_three_poster22005 (DVD Release)

2005/2011 (Enhanced Blu-ray Edition)

CANDLES 7

DIRECTOR: George Lucas

After 22 years of waiting, since 1983’s“Return Of The Jedi”, we were sat in the auditorium ready to witness the epic moment when Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker would finally turn on one and other and Darth Vader’s conception would be complete.

As the ‘Clone War’ came to a close, the Jedi had been all but wiped of the face of a galaxy far, far away and Chancellor Palpatine had ascended to become the emperor of the newly formed ‘Galactic Empire’, that moment had finally arrived. Was it worth the wait?

Well, since the bar had be not so much lowered, but obliterated by the the first two prequels, measured with those in mind, then yes, absolutely! In fact, it does stand up well, and on the initial viewing, it was outstanding. A visual feast or choreography, visual style and epic art direction, everything you would expect from the man who had changed cinema forever, 28 years earlier.

The only issue is that even though the fans wanted nothing more that to see this duel, the rest of the prequel franchise was merely filler, and a series of plots designed to delay the inevitable battle and to give the audience anything but what they had expected. But after a ridiculous 22 year wait, there was almost no good ideas left that hadn’t been explored in two decades of fan fiction,  leaving all the bad ones to be included in Lucus’ second, no rather third rate scripts!

We had been told that he was waiting for the technology to make these films, but what was he waiting for exactly? The technology to animate the, perhaps? The visual effects in these films, though sparkling and perfect in its details, are hollow and do not match the standards of the original films, and  begs the question as to why not?

Four years since the release of “Revenge Of The Sith”, James Cameron would finally release a film which he had being developing the technology for, for over 10 years,(“Avatar”) and the result: Groundbreaking cinema, in both the 3D and Mo-cap tech, raising the bar, as “Star Wars” had done three decades earlier.

But this film had restored something which the franchise had all but destroyed with episodes one and two. This finally felt something like the original films and was a joy to watch, even though it still falls short of the mark. The acting is poor in all the prequels, which account to Lucas’ directorial style, favouring green screen and CGI over acting. But John William’s score is first rate, as it has been throughout the entire saga, but this was both classic and moving, a score truly in touch with the audiences love and feeling towards the films, sadly devoid in most other aspects of the production.

That’s not to say that technically this was well produced, because on paper, in the computers, and certainly in sound editing suites, it was perfect, with  levels of audio visual detail to die for and the scope was awesome. But in the end, it is a hollow shell of what it should have been. “Episode III” though, is the most fulfilling of the three, but all of them rely of the decades of loyalty given to them, because without it, these would probably be laughed out of the auditoriums.

But having said all that, I enjoy this film, as a part of the saga, and still look forward to seeing it, and some of the sequences in this film , though far from perfectly realised, are fun and enjoyable. This is leagues below “Star Wars” and the superior “The Empire Strikes Back”, but still worth a watch.

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