More, More, More
My feelings toward Star Wars are jumbled and confused. So this review is, too. Please bear with me.
A little background before the review:
A few weeks ago, I was bummed to find out that I had to be on a plane for work at 6 am on May 19, the day the new Star Wars movie was to premiere. No way to see it where I was going. I'd have to wait at least two days - TWO DAYS! - to see it when I got back. Then, I realized that I could catch a midnite showing, which would get out around 2:30 am, giving me enough time to drive to the airport, park, catch a shuttle bus and board my plane by 6. Bumness receded. Then the new Star Wars toys came out, and bumness high-tailed it out of there, until I realized that the toys weren't that cool. I felt the design work simply wasn't as interesting as that in the first trilogy. Bumness advanced. Then the mediocre reviews trickled in. Oh no. Bumness in front of me, bumness behind me. I resolved to work myself into a state of extreme unbumness when I waited in the ticket line for seven hours (not crazy enough to camp out for days or weeks or months). I got tickets for a 12:30 am showing - still enough time to catch the plane. Take that, bummosity! Then I psyched myself up again to drive all bummy thoughts from my head as I hung around the movie theatre for 6 hours playing Scrabble and fooling with light sabers with friends before the movie actually appeared on the screens, this the first Star Wars movie in sixteen years. The question was: how bummed or un-bummed would I feel during the film?
Let me backtrack. I should tell you who I am. I am 34 years old, which matters, because how much you love Star Wars depends on your age when it came out. Like many of us, I grew up with Star Wars. It gave me a big impetus to do the artwork you see on this website.
More background. I have friends who didn't want to know ANYTHING about this movie before they saw it on the screen. I'm the opposite. Stems from childhood. For some reason, my parents would let me spend money on science fiction movie magazines but wouldn't let me see science fiction movies in theatres. I could see them on TV, but they wouldn't take me to theatres. Maybe they were just too damn cheap. Star Wars was the culmination of everything I loved, everything I wanted in life - science fiction, spaceships, robots, cool effects, alien landscapes - and damnit, I couldn't convince my parents to take me. Hosers.
So, the summer Star Wars came out, I had all these SF magazines - I knew all about the different ships and droids and could draw them in exacting detail - but I'd never seen the movie. I knew the plot and much of the dialog, but I still hadn't seen the movie. Star Wars came out in May and in those final weeks before summer vacation, kids would constantly ask me, "Have you seen it? Have you seen it?" No, no, no. My parents are hosers. Then summer came and went, and my parents still wouldn't take me. The disco version of the Star Wars theme was on the radio ALL THE TIME. What a freaking long summer that was. Then the fall came, we went back to school, and I was asked, "Still haven't seen it, huh?"
At the time I had a copy of Bjo Trimble's Star Trek Concordance, which had plot summaries, cast lists and a glossary of spaceships and characters from every old Star Trek episode. I was compiling something like that, but it would cover EVERY SCIENCE FICTION MOVIE EVER MADE. It was based on what I could see on TV. But how would I, this twelve-year-old, complete this, my life's work, if the greatest SF movie of all time, the centerpiece of the science fiction cinema world, was out of my grasp? There was a run-down theatre not far away showing it, but I didn't get an allowance and my parents had forbidden me to walk that far. And still they wouldn't take me. What had to happen for me to see this movie - did someone in my family have to die first?
I didn't see Star Wars until later that the fall. I remember the day. We picked a matinee and I said, "Hey, it's time to go to the theatre." I knew exactly when the movie was supposed to start, exactly how long it would take to get there. "No, Frank, wait for me to finish my coffee." So I waited and waited as precious minutes ticked by. And ticked by. Finally we went and we got to the theatre- AND THE MOVIE HAD ALREADY STARTED. Just a little bit, we only missed a little bit - the shot where the phrase "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" appears. But at the time all I knew was that we'd missed part of the main cultural event of my generation and I didn't know how much. Because someone had to drink his coffee. I was so mad. I knew my dad would never take me again. I knew I'd never ever ever see this movie again. The words "STAR WARS" filled the screen and John Williams music started up as I stood in the aisle and we groped around in the dark for seats. I wanted to kick my dad for getting us there late. (To this day, he's never apologized.)
During the movie, as others stared, their eyes glued to the screen, I took notes. For my encyclopedia, you know. I thought I knew every alien and droid from reading dozens of magazine articles about Star Wars. But there were many I'd never seen! They appeared for just a moment, on the streets, in the cantina. I had to do quick sketches as they flashed momentarily on the screen, as I knew I'd never see them again. (Little did I know that all of these droids and aliens would appear as toy figurines in the ensuing years.) While I sat there in the theatre, spellbound by this amazing movie, taking notes as quickly as I could, my father fell asleep.
Let me backtrack again. One of the reasons that Star Wars was so popular was that it was released at the perfect moment in history. It was 1977. Americans (and Star Wars, just like the westerns it is modeled upon, is a quintessentially American frontier movie)... Americans were feeling pretty crummy about everything. We'd just lost a war for the first time ever. Nixon had resigned in the aftermath of Watergate. His successor, Jerry Ford, was a bozo who took too many head shots playing football. Remember Ford? He used to fall down the steps getting off airplanes. He used to wear a pathetic little button on lapel that said "WIN," meaning "Whip Inflation Now." Remember the word "stagflation"? Remember the Arab oil embargo and gas prices flying through the roof while long lines of ridiculously huge American cars formed at the pumps? Things were grim and desperate. People were getting shot at gas stations. Then this wimpy peanut farmer became president. Heaven help us.
In that atmosphere of hopelessness came a movie where all your problems could be solved by a well-placed laser shot. A guy with a blaster could go anywhere, do anything, solve any problem.
Star Wars was the fantasy that every American wanted to believe. It took us out of the wretchedness of the time to a place where we all wanted to go, where we could be the heroes.
Now, in 1999, things are completely different. Politically, things are a bit of a mess, but economically a lot of people are doing really well. Gas prices are up again, but not as much and nobody's getting shot over it. Despite some concern about the Y2K problem, people feel pretty good about the future. And, if you don't, there are plenty of fast and fun movies and video games to use as escapism.
The new Star Wars movie (I suppose my review technically begins here) really doesn't speak to our times. Doesn't take us someplace new. Our lives have become so overloaded with activities, commitments, things, and information. Our lives have become turgid.
Turgid. (TUR jid) adj. Excessively ornate or complex: turgid prose.
Into our turgid lives comes a turgid movie. The Phantom Menace is an excessively complex melange of STUFF. I remember a scene from the old Dennis the Menace TV show where Dennis wins a contest and is given the chance to spend one minute alone in a store. Whatever he can take out of the store in that minute is his to keep. He races through the store aisles, throwing everything he can into a hammock. Just as the timer goes off, he pushes the hammock - filled to bursting with toys and STUFF - out the door.
George Lucas had a specified amount of screentime - every Star Wars movie has been about 2 hrs to 2 hours and 10 minutes long. He had a canvas of a defined size, and he proceeded to jam as much STUFF into that canvas as he could. In The Phantom Menace, there is a bewildering assortment of new aliens and new ships, new droids, podraces, new human characters, new villains, new planets, new cities, new dangers, new environments. Crammed into the backgrounds, into the streets, into jarring little shots. So much STUFF.
Let me give you an example. In the final battle in Star Wars, there is really only ONE arena for fighting: rebel ships attack the Death Star. It's simple: Blow up the big ball.
In Empire Strikes Back, there are TWO arenas for the battle on Hoth: 1. Rebels fight Imperial Walkers; 2. Meanwhile, other rebels run like hell.
In Return of the Jedi, there are THREE arenas in the final battle: 1. Rebel ships attack the new Death Star; 2. Rebels and teddy bears fight on the forest moon Endor; 3. Luke duels his dad. It's complicated, but it all sort of works together.
In climactic Phantom Menace battle, there are FOUR arenas: 1. Rebel ships attack the big bad battleship; 2. Gungans (e.g., Jar Jar Binks) fight droid army on planet surface; 3. Queen Amidala and friends run around shooting; and 4. Darth Maul fights Qui-Gon (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor). It's a little jumbled, and the pre-battle briefing rushed and muddled. I can't imagine how many different fights are going to happen simultaneously in Episodes 2 and 3. Life is confusing enough - I want my movies to be fun, not WORK trying to keep track of what all the fighting is about.
What Lucas did to to his masterpiece in the Special Editions should have warned us. Before there were just two or three stormtroopers in an empty desert environment, with lots of pretty blue sky and lovely sand dunes. Now the sky and sand are covered up with more troopers, plus walking dewbacks, plus airborne droids. He took this beautiful thing, Zen-like in its directness and simplicity, and filled in all the empty spaces. He did that for the new movie, too. No empty spaces, so the thing can't breathe.
That said, the next question is, OK, so there's a lot of stuff in the new movie, but is it GOOD STUFF? Well, I think it's a mixed bag. So I'll break down a comparison of the new with old. (Of course, much of the following is completely personal and subjective):
SW: 10 ESB: 9 ROTJ: 7 TPM: 9
Some reviewers complained about excessive choruses, but I liked the choruses - something new and interesting in my Star Wars movie. I appreciate that. The best of TPM's music (the fight music like "Duel of the Fates") is as good as anything in any other SW movie.
SW: 8 ESB: 10 ROTJ: 5 TPM: 7
Some of the dialog is stiff in TPM and the movie loses points every time Jar Jar Binks speaks, but overall I liked it. However, I was disappointed that some of the best lines in The Illustrated Screenplay didn't make it into the final movie. Example: a droid says, "I'm not made to think." (I feel like that every day.) Another example: One of young Anakin Skywalker's friends is an alien that looks like Greedo who is, in fact, Greedo. Greedo accuses Anakin of cheating during the pod race, and they fight. Another character tells him, "Keep this up, Greedo, and you're gonna come to a bad end." (See The Illustrated Screenplay, p. 81 - 82.)
Some of my favorite lines that did make it into the movie:
C-3PO: "Sell me?"
Obi-Wan: "I have a bad feeling about this."
Qui-Gon: "There's always a bigger fish."
C-3PO: "My parts are showing? Oh, my goodness. How embarrassing!"
Favorite moment in the movie: Jabba signals the beginning of the podraces by biting off the head of a frog and spitting it at a gong.
Style (costumes, spaceship design, art direction):
SW: 10 ESB: 9 ROTJ: 7 TPM: 8.5
The amazing thing about SW was that everything, everything in the movie had a new and interesting look. From the Jawas' sandcrawler to the power droid to the main characters and ships. Some of the work in ESB seemed less inspired. The rebel transport ship and medical frigate seemed clunky, as if designed by engineers and not artists. When I first saw the Imperial Walkers (AT-AT's, or all-terrain attack transports), I thought they were, well, silly. However, Boba Fett's Slave 1 is, I think, the coolest ship anywhere in a SW movie. Some of the designwork in TPM is breathtaking. The underwater Gungan city, Darth Maul's tattoos, the destroyer droids (the ones which unfold from spheres) are among the coolest visuals in any SW flick. I also liked the fact that the twin engines of the pod races were connected by electrical charges, which can't be believably represented in a small toy.
Much of the design work, though, just seemed uninspired. The skeletal battle droids aren't that interesting (not as nifty as, say, a stormtrooper outfit). The C-shaped battleships aren't as menacing as the wedge-shaped Star Destroyers. The streamlined, polished Naboo fighters and Queen Amidala's ship aren't as interesting as the boxy, beat-up X-wings and Y-wings. Maybe it's just a preference.
Another thing: In Star Wars, the most successful designs were mixtures of round and rectangular or wedge-like shapes. The designs in TPM seem based on either round or rectangular shapes, but not a mixture, and this is why they are less successful.
SW: 7 ESB: 9 ROTJ: 8 TPM: 7
A lot has been written about the acting in TPM, and it was a little stiff. Whenever Ewan McGregor or Liam Neeson smiled, it was a relief. The problem, I hear, is that Lucas would only let the actors do one or two takes, and that was enough. The actors were also working with bluescreens much of the time, so they couldn't get a rhythm going or have a sense of the flow of action. Still, it's not terrible, and Anakin Skywalker wasn't as bad as we feared. And the acting isn't that great in the first SW movie, either.
[Jim Terman has some interesting thoughts about the acting below.]
SW: 10 ESB: 10 ROTJ: 8 TPM: 10
The pod race and the light-saber battles with Darth Maul are the most amazing thing in TPM. As exciting as the Millenium Falcon diving through an asteroid field or Luke Skywalker piloting through the Death Star trench. Way more believable than the herky-jerky motion of speederbikes in the forest of Endor. An excellent moment in the duel between Qui-Gon and Darth Maul: they are separated by an electron ray gate. They can see each other, and are inches apart, but can't touch or fight until the gate rises in a few seconds. During those seconds, Maul paces back and forth like a caged tiger, while Qui-Gon meditates, leaping up and into action as the gate opens. Amazing.
Deductions for excessive cutesiness:
SW: 0 ESB: 0 ROTJ: -5 TPM: -4
Jar Jar Binks isn't as annoying as Ewoks. Almost, but not quite. Whenever Jar Jar opened his mouth, I found myself pretending not to hear or looking at the scenery. And, of course, there was plenty of other stuff going on to look at whenever he spoke. So, it wasn't THAT bad.
However: Seeing Qui-Gon grab Jar Jar's tongue, and thinking about Jar Jar almost getting his hand sliced up in an engine turbine neutralized many anti-Jar Jar feelings.
Deductions for schmaltz/undue sentimentality:
SW: 0 ESB: 0 ROTJ: -5 TPM: 0
I'll never forgive Lucas for making us watch a dying Darth Vader whimper that he wanted to see Luke with his own eyes. Groan. Terrible, unbelievable line. I thought the scene in which Anakin leaves his mom was quite touching and sad - especially in contrast to his parting from C-3PO. When his mother Shmi says, "He was in my life for such a short time," it's heartbreaking.
Deductions for unconvincing aliens:
SW: -2 (Garindan - goggled alien in Mos Eisley that rats on our heros; Labria - "devil" in cantina);
ESB: -1 (Bossk, reptilian bounty hunter - don't his forearms look funny? I didn't find Yoda particularly believable the first time I saw ESB - and it took quite a few viewings to get beyond his funky sentence structures.)
ROTJ: -10 (Max Rebo, blue rubber elephant - looks plasticky; Gamorrean (pig-face) guards; Bib Fortuna, squidhead; Oola, squidhead dancer; Ewoks - fake fake fake)
TPM: -3 (Jar Jar Binks)
SW: 10 ESB: 10 ROTJ: 6.5 TPM: 7.5
This ranking is completely subjective.
SW: 53 ESB: 56 ROTJ: 21.5 TPM: 41
There it is. I pretty much thought of TPM the way a lot of us did. A good flick (maybe 3.25 out of 4), with some annoying bits. The acting's a bit stiff but what did we expect? Jar Jar wasn't as annoying as feared. Plot? What plot? It's a SW movie, you'll get plot in the sequel. Maybe. Overall, I liked it and I was definitely NOT bummed when I left the theatre. But, since it is so densely packed with material, I think I need to see it again and again to really appreciate it all. Now that the hype is wearing off and the initial mix of hope/fear/expectation is gone, after another few viewings, I'll be able to relax and see it for what it is: a darn good Star Wars flick.
Comment from Jon Harvey:
In my opionion viewed as a *silent* movie in the tradition of the best work of D.W.Griffith & Serge Eisenstein, it holds up quite well. Nonetheless, it has fundamentally less interesting character *chemistry* than the original Star Wars trilogy. There we had the romantic banter between Han & Leia, the bickering between C3PO and R2D2, and the master-apprentice relation of Obi-Wan and Luke as ongoing background. Here we have much less of that.
I also have mixed feelings about the extra layers of special effects. In some ways, I think less is more.
From a cinematographer's point of view, this is great. But I think it is the weakest script of the SW series.
Comments from Jim Terman:
Hmmm. I never thought about it as a silent movie.
I thought it had a real serial feel. Like Flash Gordon with a high budget. You were sort of thrust into the middle of the story, had non stop action with several plot threads and then it ends at a pause in the action.
Sadly, it was like Flash Gordon right to the acting. The story did not have a lot of human development in it, but what little there was undercut by the wooden performances. Since the cast all has a fine reputation, I'm afraid that Lucas just did not do as many takes as he should have. He's sort of like Ed Wood with a digital studio.
I do have some questions though:
What happens to C3PO's memory? Does he forget he was built by Anakin Skywalker ne Darth Vader. I was also going to say that he forget about Obi-wan Kenobi, but actually he never meets him in Phantom Menace. Still C3PO could have mentioned to Luke that his father built him.
Didn't Kenobi say in Empire that Yoda trained him to be a Jedi?
Comments from Joe Hartford:
Did Darth Vader even encounter C3P0 in Episodes 4, 5, & 6? Seeing as how he created C3P0, this could have been interesting...
Does anyone have any plot sketches of the remaining 3 movies? Will Episode 2 be the training and wooing by the dark side of Anakin, and Episode 3 be the Clone Wars and the downfall of Anakin? Or is that total BS?
Also, a couple good points I read off the web:
When Lucas did Episode 4, he didn't know that he was going to be making any sequels. This resulted in a tighter, more self-sustained movie. With Episode 1, he knows he's going to make 2 more, so he can be a little more introductory/setup oriented.
We saw Darth Maul die, but remember what big, galaxy shattering war is coming up? That's right, the Clone War......
Last question: do we actually have *proof* that Senator Palpatine, Darth Sidious, and the Emperor from Episode 6 are the same person? Do we know that any 2 of them are the same person? Was the name Darth Sidious even used in Episode 1, or any of the others for that matter?
(okay, so that was more than one question...sue me...)
May The Force Be With You!
Comments from Kevin O'Connell:
Saw it last Thursday--pretty great! I wasn't as amazed as I was by the first one, but then I was 14, and Episode IV was revolutionary for its time. I think this first one is only evolutionary; we're runniny up against expectations and the limits of the technology.
But first the stuff I didn't like:
--Jar Jar Binks. Stoopid accent! In fact I thought it was a little too, well, Amos and Andy-like, y'know? The cute half-witted alien who inadvertantly saves the day? He even eats fruit in a messy fashion. I'm being overly PC, I know, but I didn't like him. And hard to understand, and while the details of his image were good throughout, his motions were a little jerky; I think they intended to give him a funky walk, but it looked like poor animation instead.
--Too little development of Darth Maul/Sith/the bad guys. It still felt like we were entereing in the middle of a story. Certainly the characters have a history prior to episode I, but a little more establishment would have been nice.
--Too many characters to develop in the time slotted. Or maybe the acting/writing wasn't what it could have been. Natalie Portman is a better actress than Carrie Fisher, I suspect, but I still cared less about her than I did about Princess Leia. I'm not sure why that is, other than the fact that I'm now 36 years old. I think Princess Leia had more balls, and was more consistent. The part was played with worse acting but more passion. The transitions between geisha ice-queen of the Naboo and lovable, plucky princess weren't believeable for me in this movie.
--Not clear that Amidala contacts Naboo, providing the means for Darth Maul to find them on Tatooine. We sort of assume this happens because Maul shows up, but then again, they are ordered not to make signal by Qui-Gon and everyone says, yup, ok. Hm.
--Either too much Obi-Wan, or not enough. See above. I would also have liked more mystical Jedi stuff. The council was boring. They are also a kind of priest, right? Why not show them in some sort of liturgy? If the Force is to be used for good, let's see the Jedi use it for something other than battle!
--More Yoda! Nuff said. See above.
--Too much time devoted to the pod race. I know that Anakin is supposed to be great and all, but why not show he's great by other more mystical signs? So he can drive a pod thing--eh. Of course it does provide a plot device used to free him by gambling, so that works. But in principle I dislike "precocious kid saves the day" plotlines. Same problem I had with Jurassic Park.
--"Naboo"?? Well, okay, I guess, but Lucas is capable of digging up MUCH more interesting names. Naboo is silly, and reminds one of Spiro Agnew's nattering nabobs.
Okay, now the stuff I liked:
--Lightsaber dueling MUCH better than in the first trilogy. They finally got some training and probably some Kendo masters to get them up to speed.
--Bad-ass Darth Maul. In the media blitz he's everywhere, but very little of him in the movie. He's not so much a Darth-Lord-Sith whathaveyou, but a devil assassin guy. HE could have used more developing.
--Great special FX. But then, we're coming to expect that, right? My earlier comments about reaching a plateau in the technology come in here. Pretty soon we'll be able to make animated characters that look *just* like filmed humans. Then you'll be able to do away with actors entirely! Just call up the Harrison Ford simulacrum, dress him up, give him his lines, and off you go to the box office. What I'm saying is that we now take for granted that just about anything that can be imagined can be made to look absolutely real on-screen, so sfx are going to be less and less amazing as time passes. Only scale will seem impressive, as in the construction of a what, 1/3 scale mock Titanic?
--There WAS a chick in (something approximating) a bronze bikini! Jabba the Hut did have a bikini chick next to him when he opened the pod race.
--A major character *did* die! Qui-Gon Jinn bites it totally. However, Obi-Wan gives over to anger right away and still emerges victorious, just as Luke does in Return. Seems a lot of good Jedi get to get enraged and beat the crap out of the bad guys while somehow managing to avoid falling into the dark side, quite against everything they say a Jedi is supposed to do. I wonder then just how Anakin will be seduced by the Dark side, eh??
--Budding romance between Anakin and Amidala? He's still a kid of course, and she's a woman ripe for well, anything. There are looks traded between them that suggest to me that she's the mother of Luke and Leia, and when A. grows another 10 years, he's gonna have a little lightsaber for *her*. Or perhaps not so little! The Force is with him, after all... :-) In any case, that bit of seeming impropriety was pretty cool.
--Virgin birth of Anakin. I don't know if it's true or if his ma is tripping. Neat, but really Obi-Wan is the Christ figure in the saga, no? Anakin's reformation at the end of Return is happy, but it's no Resurrection.
--Great design. All the ships were just beautiful. One gripe--Amidala's cruiser was an obvious ripoff of an SR-71.
--The combat droids. Cool design. Reminded me of the animated skeletons from the Sinbad movies! The Borzhoi faces were cool too. I only wish they'd been a little more menacing; the Jedi make mince of them every time.
--Good score. Nuff said.
--The parliament chamber was great--I loved the fact that it has a zillion little ship-y things, and is immense--it *is* galactic, after all, and the modular part about the entire ship moving to a "podium position" was great. Too bad more of the movie doesn't take place there.
--The trade baddies were pretty cool too. However, they aren't as believably menacing as say, the Dune navigators were. Ok, so Star Wars is really a sweetness and light movie under it all, and has to be kid-suitable. As an adult, I like my bad guys a little higher-octane.
Good beat. Dancable. I'll give it an 85 and likely see it again.
More comments from Kevin O'Connell:
[About the midichlorians:] AAAAAAHHH!! I forgot about that part. I blocked it out. What a load of tripe. The whole *point* of the Force is that it's a mystical thing. Why should these thingies have *anything* to do with it?? It's like those Bible apologists who say "this is the way the fiery furnace was built, and so Abednigo et al. could have survived, really". What crap. The point is that they survived by the Hand of God. Same with the Ark and those folks who built models based on what they thought a "cubit" was, so they could test it in a wave tank. Get a clue!! The old saying still rings true: for those who have faith, no explanations are necessary. For those who do not, none will suffice. Qui-Gon just should have known by feeling, by signs and portents and stuff.
Hell, at least Star Trek fell back on having 23rd century tech when the Romulan needed a ribosome transplant. At least we could smile and say,"How quaint! Aren't they trying to be nice and high-tech about it by tossing in the word "ribosome!"
Grrrrrr. Did you ever read Madeleine l'Engle's book about the Farendolae? Charles Wallace is sick and his Farendolae aren't working. Well, it's soon apparent that what they mean are his F1/F0 ATPases in his mitochondria. They shrink down to size and hang in the mitochondria and convince the enzymes to go back to work. The worst part is that l'Engle totally reams the biochemistry, for which there was NO excuse. She could just as easily have made it accurate and not detracted from her story one jot, and avoided annoying every biologist who reads the thing. Grrrrrr.
[About the Darth Maul/Qui-Gon light sabre duel:] This was a key moment in the movie for me. I now am reaching the conclusion that episodes 1/2/3 should have been conceived as a history of the Force. Sure, total action could be there too, but the Force is the thing that, er, surrounds it all and binds it all together.
That moment of meditation should have been highlighted. IN FACT: get this. Better would have been to have Qui-Gon *not* meditate, get his ass skewered (he *is* the impetuous one who contradicts the other Jedi, etc etc). *Obi-wan*, scared, alone, grieving, anguished...pulls *his* ass together, meditates, harnesses the Force/lets the Force flow, *then* splits Maul from chops to nave. Well, ok, side to side, but you know.
I especially like your Zen image. The uncarved Block. Yes yes.
The first movie had an epic feel despite the "self-containedness" of it. The desert scenes (backed by the Jedi suite in the score) had a very Lawrence-of-Arabia feel to them--the immensity of the desert, the galaxy, the problems Luke faced, and the smallness of himself, his imagination, his experience as a farmboy on a shithole planet. The other two carried some of this forward (altho MUCH less in ROTJ) because of the story continuity. Lucas missed a big chance to reestablish that grand emotional sweep here. When Obi-wan was struck down by Vader, I was shocked and dismayed. Partly this was because he was played by Alec Guinness of course. Neeson is great, but hey. And his death, while just as unexpected, isn't emotionally framed by the story to be a shock and tragedy. Even tho we know Obi-wan continues and becomes great himself, there was an opportunity to develop a strong "damn--what do we do NOW?" mixed with grief feeling that was lost.
Crab crab crab. I'll go see it again anyway.
I really wanted to come away *loving* the characters, but didn't. One last gripe--I read a review recently that lauded MacGregor's performance as his best to date. Evidently that reviewer didn't see Trainspotting. Did you?? If not, RUN, don't walk to the video store and check it out. NOT for the weak of heart.
Comments from Bob:
Hi Frank, here's my response to your review of SW:TPM as well as some comments directed towards the other readers of your fine page (how much can I kiss up before I get to the first period?). In reading the review, there's a reference to that fact that too much is going on at the final sequence and that in comparison to the previous movies, the audience can't quite follow everything that's going on. I think Lucas did this intentionally (at least, I'd like to think he did it intentionally), so that when the audience got to the end and was exhausted by trying to follow all the action, they would overlook one major event, that Senator Palpatine had been elected as the head. Now, I'm sure everyone in the theatre saw that part, but what I think many people missed, and what I also missed until I read a comment from a movie-goer on another site (yes, it's true, I visit other sites, please forgive me!), is that with Palpatine becoming Chancellor, he, the bad guy, in essence, has WON. So while on the surface, while the good guys won, destroyed the Galactic Destroyer, killed Darth Maul, saved the Gungans, etc, etc, etc...all of Palpatine's covert machinations got him exactly where he wanted to be, right under everyone's noses. Palpatine was truly devious and used EVERYONE as his pawns, from Darth Maul to Queen Amidala. If anyone doubts Lucas' ability as a storyteller or his ability to create strong plots, then they didn't watch closely enough.
In terms of style, Lucas, during the creation of his starships, had to keep in mind the evolution of the starships to their final form in ANH and he wanted to keep the designs deliberately ambiguous so that the audience couldn't tell how the ships evolved. Also, in the general style of the movie, Lucas wanted to make sure that the audience was aware that the era that the movie was set in was a much more peaceful era and that was reflected by the less menacing ship designs and frequent costume changes. The frequent costume changes were supposed to be a reflection of the wealth available to the Queen, synonymous to the wealthy aristocracy prior to a depression/recession which is then followed by a war, which is the trend seen in the United States own history.
Music was done by John Williams, recommended by Spielberg when Lucas was doing ANH because Lucas told Spielberg that he wanted someone who understood traditional orchestral arrangements, scoring and the potential to move the audience. Williams fit the bill and now 22 years later, Williams can still move the audience. Choruses were probably chosen for appropriateness to give a near-cathedral quality to the scenes, and as Joe Faust pointed out to me, the subtleties in the music added even more to the movie. (Joe pointed out that during scenes with just Darth Maul, there is soft, menacing, incoherent chanting that makes Maul that much more creepy. Of course, I totally agree with your choice of giving ROTJ a 7 for the music. I mean, what the hell was going on with the Ewok Song? The only thing that impresses me about that song these days is that Joe knows the words and Michael Chen knows how to play it on the guitar.
In response to Joe's comment on the Clone Wars, I have to say he's all wrong. It's not the Clone Wars, it's the Cologne Wars. The plot of the Cologne Wars is that Calvin Klein, no longer able to put up with poor sales versus Drakkar Noir makes an uneasy alliance with Tommy Hilfiger. But Drakkar Noir has built a more powerful fragrance, capable of smelling up whole sections of Nordstroms with a single spray from the atomizer. At the powerful climax of the movie, the peaceful planet Ambergris is blown apart as our heroes make their way there.
More comments from Bob:
Bunch of things I forgot to mention. Remember how everyone was a little perturbed by the fact that Qui-Gon didn't disappear when he got skewered? In replaying that scene in my mind, it occured to me that Qui-Gon doesn't die until later, after he tells Obi-wan to train Anakin. Did he disappear after that? I don't remember, but he probably didn't cause people were still irritated by the lack of disappearance (like watching Highlander and NOT seeing a Quickening).
About the midichlorians...as Jim mentions, with the Madeline l'Engle, yes there is a reference to mitochondria and farandolae. Also, in the game Parasite Eve, mitochondria play a substantial role when dealing with supernatural abilities. I don't think that Lucas went into anything too outrageous since this concept has been around for a while. Would it have been better for him to come up with some totally non-scientific methodology for identifying Anakin's potential? "I feel that the boy has great potential..."
"That's a gas, Qui-Gon, next time, don't drink the water." I think Lucas wanted to bridge science and religion (that little tidbit I remember Liz saying) and having something examinable within the human body was the best way to do it. If they had pulled out a Kirlian camera and took a picture of his "aura" I'm sure that would have garnered more groans from the audience...I think that's all I have left to say...more nits later...
Comments from Xanthippe Yorick
Hi Frank, (and the others)
I read the reviews and comments here with interest and would like to add few thoughts of my own. I agree with you that Jar Jar Binks is an inferior character and that overall, "The Phantom Menace" is too busy and convoluted. Sometimes that happens when you get all the money you want- too many things get added to what is better off remaining simple.
I do think that people our age tend to get dissatsified with characters like Jar Jar and the movie because we secretly hope and expect the film to awe us the way it did when we saw the first one in Jr. High. That's simply not going to happen. Not only that, but the movie is still directed at kids; Lucas simply aimed his film at the new generation and didn't try hard enough to keep us entertained too. My son enjoyed TPM, but not as much as he enjoys the first three SW movies, though. I think that's rather telling, don't you?
Did Obi-Wan kill the Sith in rage? He was hopping behind the force field in TMP, yet, he seemed to be in control, to me. Perhaps I have trouble seeing a Brit get overly emotional, I dunno. :)
I have more to say about TPM and I wrote about it for Mephistopholes Magazine, which is translating it to German and will post it soon. For an English version, I posted one myself (I felt it was too long to put here: I didn't want to be a bad guest on Frank's site, lol.)
the link is here.
Let me know what you think if you feel like reading yet one more review, lol. I was still thinking along the lines of character development versus special effects that Frank discussed with "The Mummy."
Oh- I thought the midi-clorian idea was extremely contrived, by the way. Did it seem to you as if Lucas was apologising for "the Force" idea the first way he presented it? Like Frank, I didn't have any trouble accepting it the first time. What's wrong with a bit of mysticism in Sci-Fi?
Comments from Michael Davies
Subject: make hay, but of what nature?
I found your thoughts on SW even more interesting after last nights premier of the Phantom Menace...I might be crying in the rain here but if someone doesn't let Lucas in on the secret shame that must be growing in all self respecting SW fans, that this story's got no soul (to say the least) then what kind of Emperors (pardon the pun!) New Clothes can we expect to see in Episode 2? Hope this mail ain't too hostile but I was a bit insulted by what I saw. I wondered if it would be as lacksidazical as ROTJ or as original as New Hope, I think I was off the mark on either of those expectations and just suffered in a way I hadn't expected..just a 'numb' feeling...
But indeed what can we hope for in the future of Sci-Fi, I really do wonder. It would be nice to hope that some of us making short films around the world can find our way towards a budget to lift some new ideas into the theater. I also share your thoughts on Sci-fi with the Horror genre, but of course...miKe :)
Comments from Ben Lethbridge:
TPM , special effects overkill, baseless (or non-existent) plot, wooden acting.
Apart from the seamless special effects, the movie is a flop, yes it is aimed at the subteenager but that does not mean it has to be transparent to older generation does it. Would have liked to have seen the origins of the Jedi knights developed (an Arthurian theme would have been good), but all that seems to be possible to work out is that it is a multi species thing, who have been infected by micro-symboints called meta-chlorines (I've noticed several spellings of these beasts, I like the chemical twist to the name). Has any one worked out the significance of the FORCE manipulated dice roll to decide the fate of Annakin in the spaceship workshop. " God does not play dice" quote Albert Einstein, readily springs to mind. Is the Force messing with quantum probability amplitudes rather than simple probabilities, does the dark side really represent the manifestation of the antimatter universe. Perhaps the movie is not that simple after all !!!! (more like an overstimulated imagination on my part I suspect)
Ben Kenobi (May the FORCE make a better sequel than TPM)
Comments from Phil Wiebe
Quick response to Joe Hartford:
Yes we do know that Palpatine and the Emperor from episode 6 are the same. If you have access to an unopened Emperor action figure from the original trilogy, you'll see that his full name all those 20 years ago was Emperor Palpatine.
Comment from Frank Wu:
The Essential Guide to Characters spells out very clearly that Palpatine and the Emperor are the same (p. 122-125).
Comments from Marv Email:
Just stumbled across your website whilst searching for something else on the web.
I thought I'd share an observation I made when I first saw the first movie in 1977. While sitting in the theater, about half way through the final battle sequence, I remarked to my companions, "It's '633 Squadron.'"
A short time afterwards, I had the opportunity to play both films simultaneously on two VCR's. You can switch back and forth between the two rather seemlessly. Flying up the slot footage, ack-acks, crashes, dialog, headquarters shots... all the same save for Obi-Wan -- though nowadays I heard "Use the Force, Luke" in my mind when Cliff Robertson opens the bomb bay doors.
Perchance someone on the Lucas crew found some discarded storyboards while they were filming in the UK. :-)
Keep on reviewing!
Marv, I really think you're right. Gary Kurtz, the producer of the first Star Wars movie, once said, "The passes the fighting airships made at each other during our air battle scenes were determined from patterns we recorded by splicing together sequences of dogfight scenes from fifty old war movies." (Starlog 9, p. 73).
Back to Science Fiction Art
Back to Kitsch Tour U.S.A.
Back to Official Frank Wu Homepage