May 25, 2005

The Star Wars Review

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at May 25, 2005 9:21 PM

It's been my experience that when bloggers (myself included) promise to post something later, there's about a 90% chance that they don't actually do it. Despite this trend, I present my comments on Star Wars Episode III—the spoiler-free part first, and the spoilers below the fold.

As I said in the earlier post, it's only incrementally better than episodes I and II. The improvements mainly arise from the darker subject matter (which give Lucas fewer opportunities to indulge in Jar Jar style silliness) and the more battle-heavy plot (which gives the characters fewer opportunities to speak at any length). The writing is still terrible; Tom Stoppard was supposedly consulted on the script but his influence is nowhere in evidence. The acting is still wooden—Natalie Portman is the worst offender, and the fact that she is reportedly a good actress in other contexts (e.g. Garden State, which I still haven't seen) leads me to believe that Lucas has replaced her with a robot in the style of noted Star Wars geek Warren.

All these flaws were really pretty fatal; since I didn't find the characters believable, I didn't care much what happened to them, and so the numerous fight scenes didn't create much suspense. Sure, they looked good, but I might as well have been watching a well-crafted screensaver. Oh well. At least I've got my DVDs of the original trilogy. How long until Serenity comes out?

SPOILERS FOLLOW.

Something that annoyed me in the opening space battle was that the camera was always focused on Obi-Wan's squadron, and there was no hint of what was going on at a larger scale (except that it was obviously a big battle). Maybe this was meant to be immersive, but I just found it confusing. A large-scale shot of the battlefield showing the forces involved would have been nice.

Every time they showed Anakin's mechanical hand, I couldn't help thinking that maybe the real problem is that it's evil. Then he could make a speech to the Jedi Council when he turns, saying "I've got what it takes to be a Sith Lord: an evil hand. You do know you gave me an evil hand, right?" But Joss Whedon doesn't write for Star Wars.

Did anyone else find the scene transitions really distracting? It seemed like each one used a different, conspicuous wipe effect: venetian blinds, then checkerboard, etc. Like somebody who just figured out how to use the slide transitions in Powerpoint, and puts all the flashiest ones in his presentation. Knock it off, Lucas! (I know there's some of this in the earlier films, but it was somehow more noticable here.)

A little thing I liked was when Palpatine tells Anakin the story of Darth Plagueis, Ian McDiarmid plays it in a subtle way to indicate that Palpatine himself is the apprentice who killed him without ever saying anything directly. (Apparently this is backed up elsewhere in the Star Wars universe.)

I thought the best scene, in terms of emotional impact, was after Obi-Wan defeats Anakin (well, the Black Knight might disagree with that assessment), and just starts shouting at him in anger and sorrow. "You were supposed to be the chosen one!", etc. I thought that was effective.

Unfortunately, the fight preceding that scene seems to devolve into a platform game. Hey Anakin, get the mushroom and then stomp on his head! I seem to recall Anakin played a platform game in Episode II as well, there were conveyor belts involved.

I guess over the 18 years between this and episode IV, Darth Vader learns a certain amount of dignity. Because he certainly didn't have it when he first put on the suit. This made it difficult to feel any resonance with the original trilogy: he may look like Vader, but he doesn't really act like him.

Apparently there was a lot of stuff taken out of the original script, including a whole plot thread about the formation of the Rebellion. Gary Farber has lots of the deleted dialogue on his blog here, and in the three posts following that one.

So what did you guys think?

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Comments

*SPOILERS SOMETHING FIERCE*

Aside from the terrible acting and dialog, I thought it was great. I agree with pretty much everything you said, but I walked expecting certain things to be very bad--they were, and so I was pleased to find things that were very good.

The big space battle at the beginning--wow, I loved it, but I agree more of a feel for the whole thing would have been nice, and I would have been happy if they'd devoted 15 minutes or so just to the battle as a whole, but I also disagree with you in that I thought it did a fine job of just creating a context for the actual plot with General Kenobi (I love it when the call him that!) and little bitch Ani. I couldn't help but think, however, about how similar it a combination of cinematics from Homeworld, specifically Homeworld: Cataclysm, which opens by following a pair of fighters zooming through a capital ship battle as the Taidani fleet clashes with the Kushani forces above the newly discovered Kushan homeworld. That battle would have gone so much quicker if they had a couple Soomtaw destroyers and resource managers at that point, total pwnage, let me tell you...

But I digress!

To me, the defining *good* moments of the movie are:
- The opening, with the fleets fighting about Coruscant. (sp?)
- Palpatine's interactions with Ani/Vader.
- The confrontation between Yoda and Sidius.
- The confrontation between Vader and Obi Wan, particularly the very end as Vader lies there burning with Obi Wan in tears.
The sucktastic moments:
- Landing the nose of a battleship... how?
- Any scene with Ani and Padme together. *shudder*
- WATERFALL of f-ing LAVA. omglol!

Really though, there is one scene that I can't stop thinking about. Something that, every time I think of this movie, I'm sure to recall. You may even be wondering about it's omission from the above list, if you've seen the movie yourself.

Darth Vader, reborn of machine nad tortured flesh, steps forward from his Frankenstein-esque operating table, raises his fists slightly and yells, "NOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

Posted by: Lemming | May 25, 2005 11:00 PM

What's wrong with people who use flashy transitions in Powerpoint!?! (Guilty as charged, but I can't help myself.)

I did notice that in the movie, but I only considered it a minor negative which was hardly a blip compared to other things.

The "Noooo" annoyed the Hell out of me too.

The whole Ani/Padme thing sucked too, although at least we didn't get a repeat of their scene running through the flowers (though they referred to it). Notice how her fake accent from Episode I is long gone... (Actually, I don't think it was there in II either.)

The transition from "What have I done!" to "I'll do anything you want." (slightly misquoted, but you know which line I mean) was so ridiculous that it continues to gnaw on me. The second line was said in a way that it didn't come off as resigned (etc) but came off as 'I wanted to kill padawans for you this whole time.' That actor is annoying anyway. At least Natalie Portman can say she was in "Mars Attacks!".

I liked the part from the end with Obi Wan that was foreshadowed earlier (the vision Ani was attempting to avoid), and I still get warm, fuzzy feelings seeing Yoda fight. Jar Jar had no lines, which was always obviously good.

Anyway, despite it's many flaws, I enjoyed the film (and the flaws were unsurprising, so I was already braced for them---the fact that the film met my expectations instead of failing to do so obviously helped me deal with the flaws).

Posted by: Mason Porter | May 25, 2005 11:59 PM

As for the scene where Anakin finally turns, my interpretation was that he's psychologically in shock at what he's done, and grabs the nearest rationalization: that Palpatine is right about the Jedi, etc. So it made a certain amount of sense that he would pledge himself to the Dark Side as a reaction to his horror over the situation. I don't know if that's plausible or not to anyone else.

As far as I can tell, the audience at the showing I went to (late Friday night in Berkeley) was mainly composed of people expecting the movie to suck (admittedly, I belong in this category). I base this on the fact that the reaction of the crowd to the worst dialogue (widespread laughter) was stronger than its reaction to the various applause points (for instance, Yoda beheading the clone soldiers who are coming up behind him, which earned scattered clapping—probably the strongest positive response of the evening).

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | May 26, 2005 2:49 PM

Oh, one other thing--the gratuitous screen transitions, while annoying, are easily rationalized. Those same transitions from the first movie, though used in moderation, have become cinematographically a trademark of the original films. Just like Star Wars would be out of place without lightsabers, wookies, and sexy aliens with tubes coming out of their heads, it would also be out of place without said transitions. Of course, I'm not saying they weren't misused, just that it resulted from them trying too hard to cash in on things memorable from the first trilogy.

Posted by: Lemming | May 26, 2005 4:23 PM

Yoda beheading the clones was _way_ cool.

I need sleep. My circadian rythym is still screwed up from Taiwan. (As fun as last week was, it really hurts right now.)

Posted by: Mason | May 26, 2005 10:31 PM
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