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Old 03-01-2024, 12:39 PM   #21 (permalink)
Born to be mild
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Join Date: Oct 2008
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III: If at First You, um, Succeed, Try, Try Again

Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi

As I noted or at least alluded to earlier, there’s one serious problem I have with what was, at the time, the final movie, and which, even now, with six others in the can, still stands as the end point and conclusion of the entire, now fifty-year story. The problem is that it’s almost unnecessary. Return of the Jedi is indeed a return, in so many ways. It’s the return of the bloody Death Star (didn’t we blow that thing up already?), the return of Darth Vader, last seen watching Luke fall to apparently his death, minus one hand, and no doubt thinking “****ing ungrateful kid! I offer him the galaxy and what do I get?” and even the return of the bloody victory parade and awards ceremony! It’s really hard not to see it as being a copied, slightly tweaked (and I mean slightly) version of the first movie, and to be fair, after waiting six years for the “final part”, I think we had a right to expect something better than a rehash of the first one. But that’s what we got.

This would, of course, be the final movie to feature the full original cast. To my knowledge, the only one to go on and have a part in the later movies would be Han Solo (I think played by Harrison Ford, but we’ll see; I haven’t even seen the “third” prequel movies once) with our hero Luke Skywalker, his sister, the two droids and indeed Darth Vader (as we knew him) all written out. This is of course due to the fact that Lucas goes back in time, so if the first trilogy was set “a long time ago” then the other six take place in a time even further back, all of which we’ll come to. But the point I’m making here is that the characters we had grown up on and come to love and even identify with (yes, even you, Vader, one of the truly great evil characters of science fiction, or indeed of any drama) bow out in The Return of the Jedi, and for me, they kind of make a bit of a balls of it.

Not that that’s their fault, neither actors nor characters. That’s all down to George, and why he couldn’t have made the effort to end the series better is a question I guess we’ll never have the answer to. My own belief is that, having scored big with the first two movies, he sort of took his foot off the pedal and cruised through to the end with a final movie that, in my opinion anyway, far from deserves its reputation and disappointed me as a conclusion to the story.

But before I get too down on this movie (really, Trollheart?) let’s be fair here: there is a lot to love about it. The daring rescue of Han from Jabba the Hut - the appearance of, and rather quick disappearance from existence of said Hut, who up to now has just been mentioned as a kind of shadowy underworld crime boss figure (given his size it’s quite a considerable shadow he casts, too!), Luke’s final face-off with his father and the surprising turnaround which almost saves the soul of Anakin Skywalker (oh come on now! You already know: how is that a spoiler?) and does for the Emperor, the death of Yoda (with much cheering, at least from me) and the reappearance, if only as a ghost, of Obi-Wan, to say nothing of confirmation of the relationship not only between Luke and Darth Vader but between him and Leia, and of course the return of everyone’s cocky hero, Han Solo. Oh, and Chewbacca is in there too somewhere, but who cares?
Spoiler for Picture too big yadda yadda:

It would be grossly unfair to say the movie is a copy of the first one (hey wait a minute, TH! That’s literally what you said a moment ago! - don’t you have somewhere else to be, pal?) though it does reuse and recycle a lot of plot elements; after all, it would not get away with just being a clone (sorry) now would it? But I just wish there had been, for instance, a new threat rather than the tired old Death Star being hauled out of retirement and, rather like the bowl of petunias in Douglas Adams’ The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy groaning, “Not again!” or even, hell, a different end scene! And don’t even get me started on ****ing Ewoks, the chilling first tendrils of merchandising directed at the really young market touching the franchise, fingers which would soon be all over the next movies, with characters that could only be explained by saying they had been created in order to sell toys, and not the other way around.

Let’s also nod to the brothers of the galaxy while we’re at it. Two of them. Two. Or, if you only count the first three movies, one. One. A single black man. Talk about your Token Black, huh? One thing Lucas certainly did not have a handle on, at least in the 1980s, was the idea of inclusion, affirmative action, or just the simple premise that the galaxy would not be run, exclusively populated and staffed by white people! We’ve already noted his male-dominated universe, but it seems white male privilege is at a premium, or was, a long time ago and far, far away. I don’t know if this led to any sort of boycott of, or disinterest in the movies by an African-American audience. I guess probably not. Our soul brothers and sisters were already used to being overlooked at this point, unless for comedy effect or in the case of giants such as Poitier, Pryor or James Earl Jones, chosen simply due to the weight of their fame, and luckily later in the 1980s and further on we would get bigger stars such as Washington, Smith and Elba coming up, as well as - finally - some female ones, but in the bleak early eighties there wasn’t much room for - some would say call for - black actors, and whether this figured into Lucas’s idea when casting the first trilogy or whether it simply didn’t cross his mind that there would be “black people in space”, all three - indeed, all six that I’ve seen - movies suffer very heavily from a white imbalance.

I suppose you can give this film some small credit for having a few more women in it, though in fairness we’re talking about exotic dances and slaves/hookers here, so not exactly breaking the glass ceiling and not quite the strong intelligent type of woman, in fact really, featuring the kind of women we get to see fawning over, performing and dancing for a big fat sweating mound of blubbery flesh is pretty much only reinforcing the stereotype of female character that even by the late 1970s was beginning to be cliched and phased out in favour of stronger, more serious ones.
Spoiler for Ever heard of a resize option, dickwads?:
tmdb/films/1892/images/bvJOpyHYWACDusvQvXxKEHFNjce.jpg?ar=16%3A9&fit=crop &crop=top&auto=format&w=1440&q=80[/img]

More, I guess, on that later, but for now let’s also look at the somewhat unsung heroes of the first three movies, the droids. Of course, you can’t have an ancestor if you’re a walking hunk of metal, but it’s kind of sad to see there was no room for C3Po and his beeping friend in the prequel movies. After all, they could have been built decades, even centuries ago (is there such a thing as planned obsolescence in Lucas’s world? How long is the warranty on a translator droid anyway?) so it might have been a nice link had they been in the other movies. Hey, maybe they are: as I say, I’ve seen - suffered through, let’s be honest here - the first, or rather, second three (parts I - III) only the once (and never had the desire to repeat the experience) and the final three I have not seen at all, so perhaps, as usual, I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. Might be as well to hold onto that thought till I at least re-watch the second three and get my first taste of the third.

I hope they are in at least some of them though, because since droids don’t really age (remember Marvin the Paranoid Android? “The first ten thousand years was the worst. And the second. The third ten thousand years I didn’t enjoy at all. After that, I went into something of a decline.” ) there’s scope for them to have been in the service of, oh, maybe Obi-Wan Kenobi or even a young Anakin Skywalker at some point. Would they, then, remember their old master when they were sold to his son, I wonder? Might be awkward. Oh yes, sir! You’re the one whose father became the Dark Lord Vader, and is a Master of the Sith. Sorry, sir: have I said something wrong?

Okay but seriously, is this not taking it a little far? The opening scene is almost identical to that of (sigh, all right then if you insist) A New Hope. We see the by-now-familiar words scroll up in yellow letters, then the camera angles downward, this time to the still-under-construction Death Star II: The Next Generation, and then that star destroyer does its pass over the screen. Admittedly, this time it’s not chasing a rebel ship but dropping off Lord Vader for some much needed r&R (no, not rock and roll - rest and recuperation) or at best a surprise inspection of the new deadly battle station. Anyway, as I may have mentioned, ROTJ becomes the first science fiction movie, possibly even the first movie of any kind to follow directly on from its previous incarnation, becoming in effect part two of a two-part movie. In many ways similar to the original four-movie arc that wound through the second, third and fourth Star Trek movies, ROTJ and TESB can almost be viewed as one long film, as to some extent can ANH, but as I already noted, that can be viewed as a standalone movie, whereas these two very much depend on each other.

The rescue of Han Solo is handled well, and it’s good to see Luke has really been practicing those Jedi moves, though again Chewbacca is there pretty much as bait, while Leia forms a sort of bait herself, enabling her brother to come in and rescue them all. I have to wonder (and I cant’ remember; I’m watching it as I write) if the “rescue” was all planned to fall apart so that Luke could get into Jabba’s palace? I mean, if not, it was a pretty poor one, wasn’t it? How did they think they would get away with it? Yeah, has to have been a kind of false flag operation to open the door to the Skywalker kid, no other explanation. Man, I hated that little alien dog thing Jabba had, the one that kept laughing like a hyena. Hey! The big monster in the pit is called a rancor! No, I’m going to do it, just watch me - so if he’s out one day, is the cave without rancor? Sorry, sorry. I do think the idea of one of Jabba’s henchmen crying over the death of his pet is a bit silly. I mean, humanise monsters all you want, but what’s wrong with a dog, cat or a budgie?
Spoiler for Sigh. You know the score by now:

There is a touching scene when Solo and Chewbacca are reunited, though I’d have to say the way the Wookie paws him it looks more like he considers Han to be his pet than his friend. Here’s a point though: if Luke is such a powerful Jedi Knight, why did he have to hurl a rock at the control to close down the big portcullis on the rancor? Why couldn’t he just have used - oh, what is it again? That force that binds all living - oh yeah: the Force. Why couldn’t he just have willed it closed? Some Jedi master. I will say, it’s good to see Tattooine again, and those Banthas. Haven’t seen any Sandpeople yet. Hey at least Leia gets to act out the fantasy of every poor girl enslaved and/or abused by a scumbag. Choke on that, pal!

Kind of hard to imagine though that Luke had, as he says “taken care of everything”. How could he know exactly how things would turn out? Does the Force allow you to see the future? And what’s with the Sallac? Luke lived on this planet and never mentioned a huge alien venus flytrap thing that lives in the desert! Look, I’m sorry: I know it’s meant to be moving, but the death of Yoda does nothing for me. Never liked him, never will. Hey, is this the first appearance of the emperor? I think it is. So now I guess that thing in the cave, where Luke was fighting himself, makes some sense: he has to face his father, as well as the dark side of him, in a battle that will decide once and for all yadda yadda yadda right I get it now. And they even recreate the swinging-across-on-a-rope scene from the first movie. Sigh.

Oh look! Another woman! And this time she’s not dancing around in a skimpy costume. Well, I guess they might frown on that sort of thing over at Rebel HQ. Yeah, for once - and perhaps the only time so far, with the exception of one princess who’s lost her planet - it’s a woman in charge. She’s telling the boys what to do. Ah but she doesn’t last long. I think this may in fact be her only scene. Oh, and if you’re going up against the might of the Imperial fleet, it’s always been my strategy to follow a fish. Step forward, Admiral “It’s a trap!” Ackbar. Can I get an Allah stuck onto the front of that? No? All right then: just an idea.

Here’s a question though: last time we saw them, Lando Calrissian had sold out Han Solo in Cloud City to Jabba. Now, without, so far as I can see, much of an explanation, they’re the best of pals again. As they used to say in the seventies probably, what gives, daddy-o? Speaking of that, what’s with Vader suddenly going all medieval? “What is thy bidding O Master?” Huh? Surprised Palpatine doesn’t turn around and say “what the f**k you talking like an extra out of Game of Thrones for? Not that I would know what that is, as it hasn’t yet been televised, but seriously dude, what the f**k?” Think Lucas got a little carried away there!

The landspeeder/hover bike thingy chase through the forest is pretty cool (though you’d seriously have to ask yourself where Leia learned to ride like that; surely her daddy the king of Alderaan wouldn’t have allowed his precious little girl to have one of those dangerous things?) but you can again see the idea of marketing this to the video game market. This, again, something new: Star Wars was probably the first movie, never mind science fiction one, to spawn a whole slew of merchandise beyond the standard lunch boxes, posters, figurines and comics. I’d be willing to bet my completely inconsiderable salary that this was the first time a computer or video game was derived from a movie. Now, it’s common practice, but back in the seventies and eighties, not so much. Mind you, that might have been because there were still hardly any personal computers, but even in video arcades you had the standard Space Invaders, Frogger and Pac-Man, but I doubt there was one game based on any movie before this franchise came along.

Of course, after all that fast-paced excitement there had to be a comedown, and it arrives in the form of the thrice-damned Ewoks, which for me means that halfway through the movie it’s time to go to the lobby unless you fancy watching ****ing teddy bears down in the woods today (and are you gonna get a big surprise!). Clearly put in not only for the kids but to test the characters out for their own (sigh) short-lived (hooray) series of mini-movies, you’d also have to say that they’re a pretty racist creation. I mean, does nobody draw a parallel between those Ewoks (all dark-skinned, you’ll notice) carrying their captives on poles to their native village? Really? Nobody? Clear as day to me. Oh, and they just happen to elect the big golden robot (a figure of white authoritarianism if there ever was one) as their, um, god. Right.

I see Chewie proves his worth again by getting them all trapped in a net because he’s, as Han says, thinking with his stomach. I like it when Luke says “Han, can you reach my lightsaber?” I keep hearing “Uh, Han? That’s not my lightsaber!” Time for Luke and Leia to share an awkward moment when he tells her who she is, and more to the point, what her relationship to him is. Come to think of it, how did she become a princess of Alderaan? Was she fostered out? Who ever heard of a foster princess? Aren’t they usually all anal about bloodlines and lines of succession? And is Leia really going to be the first female Jedi? Did that storyline ever go anywhere?

Well, to be fair, Leia does have a lot more to do in this last movie than she did almost in the other two combined. Once she gets out of those chains of course. Bit more of an action heroine this time around. It’s interesting how Luke approaches the emperor in black, just like his father. And indeed Palpatine himself. It might have been too much of a cliche for him to have been in white, but is it a case of his being susceptible to the Dark Side if he doesn’t watch it, that he’s not such a goody two-shoes? Okay, so Chewie is some help after all, commandeering the walker, give him that. Nice to see a reversal too of the last words Han and Leia originally spoke, with him saying “I love you” and she replying “I know.” A reversal too for Luke and Vader, as the son pays the father back for taking his hand. You know, an eye for an eye, a hand for a hand?

The climactic fight between Luke and Vader lives up to its promise, and to give him credit, Lucas does a very good job turning what has become one of the all-time movie bad guys into a sympathetic figure at the end, no easy task. I do wonder though how Vader managed to carry the emperor and throw him down into the shaft when he was missing a hand? Hah: bet Palpatine hadn’t foreseen that! The usage of the same theme for Luke’s solo (sorry) vigil at Vader’s Viking-style funeral as when he first watched the twin suns of Tattooine set and dreamed of glory and adventure is a really nice bookend, though if I can sound a note of cynicism here, the funeral pyre could also symbolise the death of the franchise. With the passing of Vader, even though they’ll go back into his history, I think the series lost its main anchor, and remembering that the next six films would be Luke-less, I think in many ways you could say this was the end of an era.

And maybe they should have left it at that. What am I saying? If there’s money to be made, there’ll be sequels. Just look at Speed 2. Or rather, don’t. This idea would then lead to another six movies which, let’s be honest, I really doubt anyone needed. I did enjoy Revenge of the Sith but the other two I distinctly remember as blowing big time, and as I say the final three I did not bother with. For me, and I think for a lot of people, this trilogy was almost perfect: a beginning, middle and end. But we all know how Hollywood works, and in fairness to Lucas it would be another twenty years almost before he would unleash the first of the six prequels upon us. Personally though I’ve always regarded these as the “core” movies, and had little time for the ones that followed.

Nevertheless, they did follow, and so must we. Therefore, in the next instalment, we take you even further back in time, an even longer time ago, but still the same distance away, to a time before empire, and back to the Old Republic.
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Old 03-02-2024, 11:25 AM   #22 (permalink)
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Interregnum I: Star Bears?

Rather unfortunately for me, who has made no secret of his disdain for the goddamn Ewoks, it seems someone had the bright idea to make not only one movie about them, but two. How I wish I didn’t have to suffer through this, but sadly it’s as much a part of the Star Wars story as is a TV series about our two favourite droids, so I can’t avoid it. I wonder how they managed dialougue, given that the damn furry bastards don’t talk in English? Perhaps that will turn out to be a blessing. All right then, may need a few stiff drinks for this one. And I don’t even drink! But maybe after this, I will.

Title: Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure
Year: 1984
Format: TV Movie
Broadcast Chronology: After Return of the Jedi
Universe Chronology: Dunno, or care
Basic premise: Ewoks help some kids find their lost parents, or something
Starring: Warwick Davis as Wicket W. Warrick (seriously?), Aubree Miller as Cindel Towani, Eric Walker as Mace Towani, Fionnuala Flanagan as Caterine Towani, Guy Boyd as Jeremitt Towani
Directed by: John Korty
General reaction: Negative
Personal reaction: Negative
Rating: 4/10

Right well clearly there’s only one way I’m getting through this, and that’s by unmercifully ripping the piss out of it. Which is what I will do, and I anticipate there being many opportunities for such derision and scorn. Look, I had to BUY this damn thing! Yes, it was only a buck fifty, what’s your point? I still had to purchase a movie I have no real interest in seeing. I couldn’t download it, the Y had only trailers, what’s a guy supposed to do? The suffering I go through in the name of my art, honestly. So the least I can do is have some fun with it, which I hope I will. So on the forest moon of Endor (duh) two concerned parents look for their kids, who have vanished after I guess they crashed here. As they search they’re attacked by some sort of big monster with an axe, who probably wants to know where Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are, and what this pile of crap is supposed to be?

I mean, it’s more like a Disney live-action adventure from the 1960s than anything to do with Star Wars, and it’s of course not long before the annoying Ewoks show up, one of them doing a Laura Ingalls across the field, another getting ready to fly off in his machine (how have such primitive creatures managed to master flight, when it took us nearly two thousand years?) in search of his missing kids, whom he finds, and then finds - anyone? Yeah, the missing human kids. At least one of them has balls. And a gun. Looks a little like a very young Luke Skywalker really. He’s quickly overpowered and taken to the camp, where no doubt the stupid Ewoks will regale him with tales of when they took on the mighty empire and helped the Alliance. Puke.

The kind, grandfatherly voice of Burl Ives doesn’t help to make this any more bearable, as if anything could, and the youngest kid is like a poster child for Cherubs R Us. Double puke. There’s a tiny little part of the Star Wars fanfare there, as if it’s embarrassed to be caught where it is, but otherwise there’s little to indicate this has anything to do with the greatest saga ever to sweep the galaxy. There’s a certain sense of racism - well, speciesism I guess - when Mace, the older kid, describes the Ewoks as animals, while the younger one, Cindel, sees them more as friends.

Not very clever to head off into the forest of an unknown moon at night, and in pretty short order they’re being hunted, on the menu for some hungry beast. They take shelter in the trunk of a tree and have to be rescued by the Ewoks the next morning. Tell me this: why is it, when people realise the person they’re talking to can’t understand them, that they talk very slowlyyyy as if somehow that is going to make them be more intelligible? Looks like the local witch doctor has located their parents in his crystal ball or whatever, and now they’re captives of some giant. Well of course they are. So now they’re off to see, and slay, the giant, which I suppose is a kind of a metaphor for Luke and his friends taking on the gigantic power of the empire. Or something. God, even Burl Ives sounds bored. I know I am.

So now the Caravan of Cunts, sorry Courage is on the way. Maybe they’ll all get eaten by wild beasts. No? Guess not. Kids’ film, so not exactly expecting much in the way of violence, death or gore. In fact, it’s very Disney, with even its own little version of Tinkerbell. Jesus! Come on! Bring on the giant! Time to grind some bones to make his bread. Preferably Ewok bones. Hey, has anyone noticed that Ewok is just an anagram of Wookie, minus two letters? How lazy. Hah! Good to see that no matter what far-flung future (or, you know, past) you’re in, or how far into space, the answer to all of life’s problems can be found in the hands of a kid with a gun. Makes you feel all sort of warm and Republican, doesn’t it?

Seeing a lot of elements of Lord of the Rings here - long journey, quest, fellowship, magical items, underground chamber, dwarves, giant spider, evil giant - well I guess it’s a good turnaround. The parents are now helpless and the kid has to save them. Also the idea of small creatures being able to outwit and outfight a much larger but slower opponent. Tell you what though, that giant bears more than a passing resemblance to a Klingon warrior! More of the triumph of little things over big when Tinkerbell distracts the giant and he ends up going on a really bad trip, man.

And of course we end on a fucking Ewok dance and party. Basically Jack and the Beanstalk, without the beanstalk. Or the magic harp. Very definitely for kids and not likely to appeal to anyone over the age of maybe six or seven. Still, you know, to be fair, this movie has really given me a new insight into these little guys and made me think about them in a completely different way. Oh no wait, it hasn’t. I still hate the little bastards, maybe more than I did before. Oh well, at least it’s over.

Title: Ewoks; Battle for Endor
Year: 1985
Format: TV movie
Broadcast Chronology: After Caravan of Courage
Universe Chronology: Dunno
Basic premise: No idea. I’ll assume they battle for Endor.Okay I checked and apparently most of the cast, all of the family from the previous movie, bar the girl, die, and then there’s some sort of inter-tribe war over the engines of a starcruiser or something, and some human whose presence there doesn’t seem to be explained in the synopsis, and I don’t care. Thankfully, despite diligent efforts (no really!) I can’t get my hands on it. What a disappointment.
Starring: Warwick Davis as Wicket W. Warrick, Aubree Miller as Cindel Towani, Eric Walker as Mace Towani, Paul Gleason as Jeremitt Towani, Wilfred Brimley as Noa Briqualon, Carel Struycken as Terak, Sian Philips as Charal, Niki Botelho as Teek
Directed by: Ken and Jim Wheat
General reaction: More or less negative
Personal reaction: n/a
Rating: n/a

Now be fair! I looked online, I tried YT, I was even willing to bite the bullet and purchase the cursed thing (as long as it wasn’t more than a buck fifty) but taste prevailed apparently, and it’s available nowhere. So it with a heavy heart I can’t review this, but I doubt it’s any loss. I do note that though the father is in it (and dies) he’s played by another actor - assume the original one said no fucking way am I doing that shit again - while Fionnuala Flanagan, who had little to do in the first movie other than wander around the forest and then spend time sitting in a cage, although at least she did get to shoot the giant, correctly believed her talents would be better utilised elsewhere, and her character isn’t even in it. I didn’t like either of the kids, but if I was forced to watch one I think it would be my choice to have the watch Mace, the boy, however here the movie concentrates apparently on little cherub Cindel, so thank the great maker I don’t have to suffer through it. We move on.

Interregnum II: Cartoon Wars: Star Wars Comes to the Telly

While we waited - most of us with extreme skeptism - for the continuation of the story in the much-mooted prequel movies, and paid exorbitant sums to therapists to help us forget the damned Ewoks, the next natural progression for Star Wars was for it to make its transition to the small screen. After all, TV shows are a lot cheaper to make than movies, and you have a ready-made captive audience, not to mention that if the series is any good, chances are you’ll have them watching every week. Naturally, animated was the way to go, though in recent years the first live-action series have begun to appear, but the restrictions of the latter versus the former, both in terms of securing actors, sets and stage time and also in the area of special effects and budget, makes animation always the more attractive prospect. Also, as originally Star Wars was produced, or seen as being produced for kids, it made more sense to appeal to that market. Adults might go to see a movie they’d been told was great, but the chances of them sitting through a whole television series were, at the time, remote. This being the 1980s, people wanted shows about cops, lawyers, soaps and the like; there were science fiction and fantasy shows on the telly - most notably Star Wars’ biggest rival franchise - but apart from the dedicated fans of those shows, they were not considered huge draws for adults.

But hey, kids always love cartoons right? And even if it had been somewhat commandeered by adults, kids pretty much unilaterally loved Star Wars, and kids loved TV, so it should really have been a match made in Heaven. Two characters surely ready-made for their own adventures were of course the first two we see in the very first movie, and so the scene was set for the first spin-off of the franchise.

Title: Droids
Year: 1985 - 1986
Format: TV Series
Broadcast Chronology: After Return of the Jedi
Universe Chronology: 4 years after Revenge of the Sith, 15 years before A New Hope
Basic premise: The adventures of R2D2 and C3PO before they meet Luke Skywalker
Number of episodes: 13 (plus one special)
Status: Finished
Starring: (The voices of) Anthony Daniels as C3PO, Ben Burtt as R2D2 (wait, what?)
Directed by: Ken Stephenson, Raymond Jafelice
General reaction: Meh
Personal reaction: Meh
Rating: 4/10

Let’s be honest: we’re not expecting very much here, are we? This is essentially for kids, so I don’t imagine we’ll have any great galactic concepts or sweeping sagas, but hopefully it will be less than R2 learning that it’s nice to be nice or some shite like that. Let’s hope the show has at least something about it, and can hold its head up rather than cringe in the corner and wonder why it was born. I’m not looking for miracles, and my expectations are very low, but if I can come away from this not feeling embarrassed for the show, then that will be something.

Yeah, well two episodes in and I’m ready to haul ass out of here. The music is annoyingly limp-wristed and insipid, there is at least a basic plot arc revolving around the theft of a super weapon from galactic gangsters, and it’s not entirely cartoony, but there is an element of something like Scooby-Doo about it. It’s hard to care, and I don’t. Probably, to be fair, a little better than I had expected, and even though I would prefer to avoid the (groan) Ewoks, who are up next, I’m not prepared to watch any more of this. So while it’s not a pile of Sarlacc crap, it’s not something I want to get into in any sort of serious way.

And speaking of things I do not want to get into…

Title: Ewoks
Year: 1985 - 1986
Format: TV animated series
Universe Chronology: Prior to A New Hope and also prior to Caravan of Courage
Basic premise: Adventures of Ewoks
Number of episodes: 26 (2 seasons)
Status: Finished
Starring: (Voices of) Jim Henshaw, Denny Delk, Cree Summer, Jeanne Reynolds, Erik Peterson
Directed by: Raymond Jafelice, Ken Stephenson, Dale Schott
General reaction: Meh
Personal reaction: Puke
Rating: 1/10 - no, fuck it: 0.5/10. Doesn't deserve the 1.

Given that I’ve already suffered through the bloody Caravan of Courage, and further, given my already noted dislike of these pointless characters, you’ll understand I hope that I’m not about to sit through two fucking seasons of this rubbish. I read, anyway, that it was more seen as a marketing ploy to sell toys to kids (never! You do surprise me!) than a serious attempt at a series, so I doubt there’s going to be much there. I’ll check out one episode, see what it’s like, and we’ll move on to more serious, important stuff. Okay, well first they look more like chipmunks or something than Ewoks, and second, they’re speaking bloody English! Sigh. And they have their own song. Of course they do. Did kids fall for this?

Well, according to the comments on YouTube, yes, they did. Lot of fond memories, apparently. Not for me though. Music sounds a little like the Mister Men to my ears. Well I guess give them credit for having the big spiders and the sparkly Tinkerbells from the movies. Yeah I lasted about ten minutes then lost interest. It was as poor and bland as I expected. How in hell did this ever get two seasons? Oh yeah: the Star Wars brand and the merchandising. Right. Well, we will be returning to the TV later, when Star Wars got taken a bit more seriously, but for now, speaking of serious, it’s time to return to the main franchise, the movies, as Lucas finally got up off his arse and wrote, and had released, the second trilogy.
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Old 03-02-2024, 11:48 AM   #23 (permalink)
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Part II: What Rough Beast - The Second Coming of Star Wars

As I said, we had waited a long long time for the “new” movies, almost as long as the third Boston album or the rebirth of Doctor Who, and most of us probably thought they would never happen. Afterwards, we probably wished they hadn’t. Well, in fairness I’ve seen each of these movies only once, but I remember being singularly unimpressed with all of them, bare the last. I think the whole point about the “prequels” was that they were totally new, with new characters (well, some of the same but younger) and none of the ones we had by now become familiar with. No Luke Skywalker, no Han Solo, no Princess Leia, not even Darth Vader, though we would see how Annakin Skywalker became the galaxy’s most feared and well-dressed villain, and of course a young Obi-Wan Kenobi was there too, but it was a real cosmic shift for most of us.

Prequels in every sense of the word, the new movies took place during the time of the Old Republic, and before the rise to power of the empire. Hell, we even got to see a young emperor, though he wasn’t exactly pushing kids around the playground with the Force or anything. In fact, he was only a senator, but then, every megalomaniac has to start somewhere, right? In my opinion, if you look at the three movies as a sort of lead-up to one of the most interesting backstories in the Star Wars universe, the origin of Darth Vader, they’re just about necessary, but you have to wade through some crap to get to the good stuff, and a lot of it, if I remember, especially in the second movie, is damned boring.

Be that as it may, I suppose we were all stoked to see a new chapter of the Star Wars story, though I seem to remember I wasn’t that bothered. Hey, it was nearly a quarter of a century ago, you know! My memory is not what it was. But I don’t remember the kind of excitement going through me that I felt when the second and third of the original movies were released. As well as that, the novelty value of having - at the time - unknown actors play the main parts was gone. Now that Star Wars was big business it needed big stars, and so we had the likes of Ewan MacGregor and Liam Neeson taking the roles of the Jedi Knights, with Samuel L. Jackson eventually becoming the one and only black Jedi in the second movie. Time, and the franchise, had certainly moved on.

Speaking of having moved on, seems Lucas was finally dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century (almost) as he was forced to admit that there were in fact more than a handful of women in the galaxy, and so we get, finally, some proper female characters with heavyweights like Natalie Portman and Keira Knightley able at last to show that even a long time agao in a galaxy far, far away, sister were in fact doing it for themselves. There were also, despite my comment above, a few old favourites. Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker reprised their roles as the two lovable droids, Frank Oz stuck his hand up Yoda’s arse again and we even had the orignal actor who played the emperor, Ian McDiarmid, come back to play his younger self.

I: Birth of a Jedi, Birth of a Sith Lord: The Path to the Dark Side Begins

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Title: The Phantom Menace
Year: 1999
Format: Movie
Broadcast Chronology: After Return of the Jedi (if two decades after...)
Universe Chronology: Set 32 years prior to A New Hope and 13 years before the rise of the empire
Basic premise: The planet of Naboo is being blockaded and Jedi Knights come to negotiate, stumbling onto a full-scale invasion. They end up on Tatooine and hell you know the rest.
Starring: Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn, Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Natalie Portman as Queen Padme Amidala, Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker, Anthony Daniels as C3PO, Kenny Baker as R2D2, Ian McDiarmid as Senator Palpatine, Ahmed Best as (sigh) Jar Jar Binks
Directed by: George Lucas
General reaction: Lukewarm (sorry)
Personal reaction: Meh
Rating: 4/10

Okay, let’s be honest here (yes I do that a lot, what of it?) - when the familiar “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” comes up, the logo and the fanfare, you kind of think YES! But compare the scroll to any of the first three movies. Then, it was a time of galactic civil war, with the brave rebels taking on the evil empire. Now, it’s, well, it’s a trade war. Taxes. Embargos. Battleships are mentioned, sure, but only in a blockade kind of way. Negotiations? Tariffs? Agreements? Congress? Endless debates? These are hardly the elements that comprise an exciting science fiction/space opera movie, now are they? Hell, the words even look guilty and embarrassed as they slink up the screen, their older brothers in the original trilogy scoffing “My how times have changed! Is that the best you can do?”

Not a good start, but it should get better. Shouldn’t it? Well there’s a half-hearted attempt to link back to the original movies when one of the first sentences, which comes out of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s mouth, is “I have a bad feeling about this.” You and me both, pal. Okay, well give it its due, like the previous movies it’s fairly quickly right into the action, and it is good to see two Jedi Knights at the peak of their powers take on a bunch of robots. Also good to see Obi-Wan as other than a doddering old fool. Guess Han Solo wouldn’t be so smart now huh? Well, he’d be making ga-ga noises, wouldn’t he? Might not even be born yet.

Let’s also take time to sneer at the title. I mean, what? The Phantom Menace? Doesn’t that sound like every horror or science fiction B-movie you’ve ever watched? “You’ll scream! Your heart will freeze! You’ll run away in terror from… THE PHANTOM MENACE!” Christ. Not that the second movie’s title was any better. But come on: Lucas says it refers to the machinations of Senator Palpatine (soon to be seen falling down a power shaft near you, trailing ectoplasmic electrical tendrils of Force power) as he moves the pieces behind the scenes, setting things up for his rise to emperor and the destruction of the Republic. Well all I can say about that is bollocks. Makes no sense. This title is rubbish, and frankly, not worthy of a Star Wars movie.

Battle droids, eh? That’s cool. So is the invasion fleet. What’s not cool is that Qui-Gon Jinn (I’m just gonna call him Jinn, Neeson’s character, Obi-Wan’s Jedi Master) saves what will turn out to be the most hated Star Wars character ever, as we are forced to meet, and unfortunately not bear witness to the - preferably gruesome - death of Jar Jar Binks. What were you thinking, George? How to possibly manage offending a whole culture with one character? How to bring proper racism into your universe? How to ensure you got banned from the Caribbean forever? Well at least the underwater city is good.

It’s quite a clever move really. WIth droids the only things being destroyed you can’t really class it as violence or carnage or even murder; you can enjoy the lightsaber attacks (can’t call them fights; the droids just get knocked apart) without agonising over any deaths or feel you’re revelling in mindless violence. It is in fact almost funny, given the metallic voices of the droids.This is I think the first we ever hear of the Sith, the, for want of a better phrase, dark Jedis. In the original trilogy all we were told was that Vader had turned to the dark side. Now it seems the dark side has its own Jedi knights, and they’re called the Sith. We have Darth Sidious and Darth Maul, which also shows us that Vader’s first name is a title rather than any sort of, um, first name. I guess it’s analogous to lord or master, so every big cheese in the Sith is Darth this or that. Interesting.

Strange to see R2D2 on his own, separate from C3PO, but I guess they haven’t met yet. More racism in the character of the trader Watto, who has an unmistakably prominent nose and speaks, and acts, pretty like a caricature of a “greedy Jew”. Here we meet Anakin Skywalker for the first time, just a kid, having been lost in a bet to the Hutts, the gang who control Tatooine, a planet we have not seen since the last movie. Whether Jabba the Hut is here or not I don’t know; no idea how long these people live. Oh right, he is: there he is, opening the race. I have no idea why Binks had to accompany Jinn into Mos Eisley (is it Mos Eisley? Not sure) - he was no help, got in the way, nearly got himself killed, and the only slight advantage of his being there was to get Jinn introduced to Anakin, leading to our meeting C3PO for the first time. Seems Anakin built him, to help his mother. And so the two droids are introduced to one another.

Now we get this pod race, another godsend to the computer video game industry, and the only part of the movie I actually remember. It is good to see that Anakin is being brought up by his mother on her own, whereas Luke had both uncle and aunt looking after him. A real modern interpretation. Okay so wait just a damned minute here. C3PO was created on Tatooine, yet he didn’t realise, when he was brought back and bought by the descendants of the boy who built him that he was home? He must have known what planet they were on, and even if he didn’t, how many families named Skywalker are there that live on desert planets in the arsehole of nowhere?

I have to say, whether it’s the role she’s been given, or her acting ability, Kiera Knightley as the Queen’s decoy comes across as about as emotional as a service droid. Flat, toneless, expressionless - I mean, this is a woman, a ruler who is supposedly watching her people die under an enemy occupation, and she seems as upset about it as a hangnail. Not, to be fair, a lot for Obi-Wan to do either; Neeson steals all the best scenes and the film revolves pretty much around him. I suppose it’s easy to say it when we know what’s going to happen, but you can see how Amidala is being manipulated by Palpatine into elevating him to power, and we know where that leads. Yoda’s right too: Anakin is all ready made for a trip to the dark side - I wonder how Samuel L. Jackson feels about that phrase?

It’s ironic, and hubris of the greatest kind that Jinn goes against the advice of the Jedi Council, who see all too clearly what Skywalker is destined to become. Well, not clearly but they have an idea. Even Obi-Wan thinks it’s a bad idea. Everyone will have cause to regret the Jedi’s decision in the years to come. Can’t say I agree with the idea of making the Force dependent on these midi-chlorians or whatever. It was supposed to be all mystic, godlike, divine; now it’s a scientific process? Meh. Teaming up with the Gungans smacks to me of Ewoks from the second movie, and is I guess a lame attempt to show people that the “whites” have to rely on or team up with the “blacks” in order to defeat the bad guys. Again I say, meh. The revelation about the queen not being the queen is a good one, though. But the Gungans’ relationship to some wild African tribe is further reinforced when the Jedis and the queen and the rest of the party come to their “sacred place”, which looks like nothing so much as a native settlement in the jungle, complete with wooden huts. And not Jabba ones either.

I must say, the Gungans’ force field isn’t much use is it? The droid army just walk through it. Now we get the classic battle between Darth Maul and Jinn and Kenobi. I do like his lightsaber staff, very cool. Again though, the idea of almost exclusively droids being shot and killed is I think a step backwards, perhaps a concession to those who believe movies of this type are too violent, but in ways I think it is a self-defeating move, desensitising kids to violence and making all the battle scenes more like a video game. At least in the original it was real men, stormtroopers and rebels, who got killed. Here it’s like, so what? They’re droids. Who cares? Also, their less than human aspect does raise a troubling issue here: if something looks that mechanical is it a life or is it just a piece of machinery to be destroyed? What, I wonder, would Data say?

Another question: how are the two Jedi jumping as if it’s zero-gravity almost? They’re not superhuman, no matter how well trained they may be, but Obi-Wan Kenobi just made a jump UPWARDS of at least fifty feet! How did he do that? Jinn’s death at the hands of Darth Maul was a little telegraphed, especially when he got cut off from Kenobi, but it’s basically a retread of the fight years later between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader isn’t it? Not quite sure why Jinn knelt down when the force field went up; maybe he was gathering his strength? Praying to the Force? Needed a breather? Looked weird anyway. A good foreshadowing when Palpatine looks at Anakin and says he will watch his career closely. Another viking funeral I see, and an ending that very closely mirrors the end of the first movie. Think they might have done something different.

Overall, what do I think now, after having watched this for only the second time? Admittedly, it’s not quite as bad or forgettable as I remember (so to speak), but is it a worthy successor to the original trilogy? Was it worth waiting for? Did it whet my appetite for more? In my case, the answer to all three questions is no. I think the main issue I have - and perhaps that many people had - is not just that these were mostly new characters and not the ones we’d known for , at this point, twenty-two years, but that even the one we did know, albeit a younger version, had really very little to do in the movie, the whole thing being concentrated mostly around a new guy we had no history with. Not taking anything from Lliam Neeson’s performance, which was great, but you know, who was this guy? Sure, we’re told he was Obi-Wan Kenobi’s master, but we haven’t heard of him before, and so when he dies (and as I say above, it’s no great surprise after the death of Kenobi) it’s not the same emotional shock as it was in the first movie, not to me.

The attempt to inject too much humour into the movie annoyed me too, mostly because it’s orchestrated through the figure of Jar Jar Binks, and for me it never ever works. His patois is annoying, his clumsiness even more so, and the idea of his being elevated to a general in the Gungan army is, frankly, about as easy to swallow as a beachball. The young Anakin works well, though for a child I think it’s also a little hard to believe he can not only fly a spacecraft but also destroy the home base of the Federation, but the fact that we know what’s coming tended to have me waving at the screen and saying “No! No! Don’t train him! Listen to Yoda and Mace Wotsit!”

I did think we might find out something about who Anakin’s father was. His mother says “there was no father”, but this is just her speaking metaphorically, I have to assume: she didn’t get herself pregnant, so who did? I feel if we knew that, then surely that might be a major piece of the puzzle and the solution to the mystery as to why he’s so loaded up with, well, Force fuel, as it were. Maybe it goes into that more in the next two movies. As I say, I remember little if anything of either. I also have to wonder why, like C3PO and R2D2, if he grew up on Tatooine, Anakin in the guise of Darth Vader doesn’t recognise the planet when he returns there in the first movie, and why he doesn’t have any connection to his brother and sister. Sure, he’s evil now, but still. A lot of plot holes there, methinks.

It’s building a backstory, of course I understand that, and the introduction of the Sith is at least something interesting, as is the rise of Senator Palpatine to the eventual role of emperor, and it will be good to see how the Republic collapses and the empire comes into being, but though it has its good points, I just felt mostly the film felt, well, flat for me. It wasn’t the return I’d hoped to see: in fact, I was one of those - and pretty much remain so - who believed the original trilogy should be left as it was. If Lucas wanted to have other adventures for other, unconnected characters in the Star Wars universe, fine, but he should have left our heroes alone.

I think the second movie only reinforced that belief in me.
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Old 03-02-2024, 12:04 PM   #24 (permalink)
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II: Into the Arena: The Tears of a Clone
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Title: Attack of the Clones
Year: 2002
Format: Movie
Universe Chronology: Set 10 years after the first prequel movie, so therefore 22 years before A New Hope and barely 3 before the birth of the empire.
Basic premise: The Republic is being shaken by upheaval, in the middle of which a discovery is made that an army of clones stands ready to attack, and that they are controlled by a dark faction within the Jedi.
Starring: Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Natalie Portman as Queen Padme Amidala, Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker, Anthony Daniels as C3PO, Kenny Baker as R2D2, Ian McDiarmid as Senator Palpatine, Ahmed Best as (sigh) Jar Jar Binks, Christopher Lee as Count Dooku, Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu, Frank Oz as Yoda

Directed by: George Lucas
General reaction: Meh
Personal reaction: Not bad
Rating: 5/10

Well, Liam Neeson is brown bread, so at least that leaves us to concentrate on Obi-Wan as the head Jedi, and Anakin has by now shot up, no longer able to fit into one of those pod racers back on Tatooine. Queen Amidala has, for reasons which may or may not become clear, become Senator Amidala now, and there should be a touch of class and gravitas thanks to Christopher Lee. Will more droids get shot to pieces? I’d be willing to bet yes, they will, and possibly - though this is just a guess, you understand - a whole bunch of clones too. So once again, for the now fifth time, we open on space with a camera move - up this time, rather than down, just to give a little variety, if not much - and a ship - or in this case ships approaching a planet.

I mean, surely anyone who says “I guess there was no danger” should expect something nasty to happen? Guess that’s the end of the senator then. Oh no: yet another decoy. Kind of clever how now Anakin looks like Kenobi did in the last movie and Kenobi kind of looks like Jinn. Also good how McGregor looks sort of like Alec Guinness might look at this age. Nice link. Not so sure about the idea of a romance between Anakin and Padme though. Pretty much action all the way again, and we even get a car chase, if a hover car chase. Reminds me of The Fifth Element. Very well done though. I like the in-joke when Kenobi asks Anakin “Why do I get the feeling you’re going to be the death of me?”

I do like the way they show how hot-headed and impatient Anakin is, how quickly he angers, and Yoda has him sussed. It’s easy to see how he turns to the dark side. Of course, the problem here is that we know how this ends, so it’s kind of hard to be surprised. His political ideas are decently developed; he’s a fascist in the making. And he’s blue-eyed and blonde. Hmm. So Boba Fett is a clone of his father, eh? Hey: that ship there looks like Deep Space 9! More fodder for the game market as Obi-Wan and the Fetts fight it out in an asteroid field. And now Anakin is back on Tatooine looking for his mother. Reunited with C3PO too. There’s that theme again as Luke, sorry Anakin sets out to rescue his mother from the Sandpeople.

Enter Christopher Lee as the villainous Count Dooku, who’s all ready to take on those pesky Jedi and kick the Republic up its arse. Poor old Mrs. Skywalker doesn’t look too well: think the Tuskens have been doing more than just having her wash the dishes and mend their clothes. And now she’s dead. What was that Jinn said to Anakin: a Jedi uses the Force for defence, never for attack? And never for revenge. Hmm. Guess the future Dark Lord skipped over that part of the Jedi manual, and those Tusken Raiders are going to be sorry they messed with his mom. There’s of course something tragic about Anakin carrying the corpse of his mother back to her home, but there’s something terrifying too. The look in his eyes: it’s like the thought of his mother was the only thing holding him back, and now, like a certain dictator popular in the 1940s, with the death of his mother all traces and vestiges of humanity - mercy, love, kindness, pity - are gone, and the man is a walking machine, bent on revenge and death. Anakin Skywalker is, to all intents and purposes, gone now, and Darth Vader waits to fill the void. Usage of the Vader theme really underlines this.
Spoiler for GAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!:

OKay, is Count Dooku a bad guy or not? Seems he’s a Jedi, and not just any Jedi, but the one who trained Jinn. He appears to be ready to take on the Dark Lord of the SIth, Darth Sidious, whom he says is controlling half the senate.Is there some smart subtext to the fact that Anakin and Padme fall onto a conveyor belt, as the franchise gets ready to become an unstoppable behemoth which will churn out movie, TV series and spinoffs, cartoons,games, comics and merchandise, to rise to be perhaps the largest and most profitable ever? Hey! I didn’t know R2D2 could fly!

To answer my question in the last paragraph, yeah, it would seem he is, as our friend Dooku is presiding over the arena-style thing in which he hopes to see the Jedis and Padme die. And he’s pally with the viceroy and Jango Fett too. Oh look! A full-on multiple Jedi fight. Now this will be cool. Ah, looks like poor old Jango quite lost his head. Sorry. I like the misplacing of C3PO’s head on a battle droid body: now that’s how to inject comic relief into the movie, not via a stupid annoying klutz like Jar jar Binks, who thank my various gods is hardly in this much at all. Hmm. Don’t those soldiers Yoda brings to the rescue of the Jedi have a distinctly stormtrooper look? Yeah and those ground assault vehicles look like precursors to the empire’s AT-ATs.

Another fight to the death between a Jedi with a blue lightsaber and one with a red. Is Lucas trying to make a political point here? Oh, and another arm sliced off. Jedis are nothing if not predictable. Ah, good to see Yoda actually fight like a Jedi instead of just being an annoying teacher. I like the way they bring the Death Star into it, too. Hold on a mo though: is Darth Sidious the emperor or is it Palpatine? The Sith Lord sounds, and looks, much more like the ruler of the empire we hate, but I’m pretty sure it’s Palpatine who rises to that station. Oh right, I see: they’re one and the same. How did I miss that?

Overall then, I’d agree there’s a marginal - though only marginal - improvement on the previous movie, with better and more appropriate comic relief provided by the droids, especially C3PO, and more action. It’s hard to argue with a fight scene that contains multiple Jedi fighting, after all. I was a litlte confused, and still am, at the plot though. The clones were being developed by or on behalf of Dooku, but then the Jedi took them and used them against him? So where does the Clone War come from? Are we to assume the clones - which I always took as being the enemy when they were mentioned - are on the side of the Republic? And who is the Republic? Again, I always took it the Republic was the enemy of the Empire. Did Dooku also get his clones, and are both now to fight against each other? What’s with the droid army? Where does that fit in?

I imagine it’s pretty obvious that when Anakin and Padme do the horizontal bop, she gives birth to Luke. Maybe that will be shown in the third movie, can’t remember. I do find it telling that, other than the opening credits, each of these three movies (well, two so far) have ended with very un-Star Wars-like themes, almost as if Lucas is trying to distance himself from the original trilogy. But then there are so many callbacks to that, so it’s hard to know if it’s just coincidence. Or maybe he’s just tired hearing the damn thing. I do think Anakin’s character is handled very well; once you know what happens in the future, it’s easy to see how it happens. Anakin Skywalker is a Jedi time bomb just waiting to go off and take half the galaxy with him, and Palpatine knows, and intends to profit by the young Jedi’s insecurities and grievances against his master and the Jedi Council.

Again though, the death of Jango Fett aside, we’re still talking about droids being killed here, and it does tend, for me anyway, to lessen the impact of so much violence. I suppose with the clones now operational the next movie will have more human deaths, but Lucas has used more droids here in these two movies than in any of the other three. I'd say this one is truer to the spirit of the original trilogy, with three heroes - one of which is a woman - fighting together against a dark force. Nevertheless, I don’t think I’ll ever change my stance that none of these are a patch on the originals, and I’m still not sure if it was a good idea to make them.

Well, apart from the final one. Maybe.
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