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Hitchhiking the Galaxy, One Last Time

It was around Monday afternoon when I decided it might be a good idea to go get tickets to see Episode III if I wanted to get in on opening day . . . and I did want to. I know what you’re thinking (possibly) . . . I had to hear it from a few different people already when I mentioned my plan.

Well, I enjoy Star Wars, and until fairly recently I was something of a fanatic. But I’ve never been on an opening day. Return of the Jedi came out almost exactly three months before I was born. I didn’t even see Star Wars for the first time until some months after the Special Editions were released in theaters. The Phantom Menace was released here while I was in Guatemala (I guess that would have been the summer after 9th grade), and it was released in Guatemala shortly after I came to the US for the duration of the summer. I was faced with the same problem when Attack of the Clones came out the year I graduated from high school. Revenge of the Sith was my first and last chance to watch a brand-new Star Wars movie along with the rest of the world, and I took it.

I was pretty big into Star Wars for about a five year period, as detailed here, and I am still on the fringes of that, in many ways. Sure, I’m way too much of a film and literature geek now to have much in the way of interest or resources left over for Star Wars anymore. However, at the very least, you don’t just watch five movies out of a series of six and ignore the middle chapter that ties them all together.

Anyway, I drove by Hollywood 9 on Monday to grab the tickets for self, Rachel, Ashley, Audra, and Randy, and spotted Longview’s lone fanatic (a heavyset, twenty-something female complete with Jedi padawan costume, tent, various and sundry creature comforts, and a few proud relatives snapping pictures before leaving her there until the Thursday morning release). That’s one depth I’ve never really sunk to, although I have vague memories of once wearing a bathrobe that had a toy lightsaber attached to the belt when I had an all-day Star Wars marathon at home.

But I digress . . . Let’s skip to the movie before I get further off-track. ‘Ware the evil spoilers ahead. I saw it Thursday evening, and I think it was the first Star Wars movie which I’ve been able to watch with some sort of objectivity since I saw the very first one eight years ago. Speaking of which, the following is my attempt to rate all six movies, having finally seen the sixth.

Episode I: The Phantom Menace – 71% C-
Episode II: Attack of the Clones – 77% C+
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith – 89% B+
Episode IV: A New Hope – 95% A
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – 97% A+
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi – 91% A-

RotS was a giant step in the direction of the feel and quality of the original trilogy, but the chasm between the two trilogies was, ultimately, just a teensy bit too wide. Overall, I really liked the movie, but a number of details just stuck in my craw. Lucas had literally painted himself into a corner by the end of AotC, and it really showed here. The inconsistencies and leaps of logic flew thick and fast, almost (but not quite) smothering the plot. The reason they do not is because Episode III, pretty much by default, is granted the happy circumstance of transcending plot entirely.

In ANH we find Artoo and Threepio aboard the Tantive IV in the employ of Captain Antilles. Obi-Wan is a hermit on Tatooine. Leia Organa is a princess of Alderaan and Luke lives with his aunt and uncle on Tatooine. Emperor Palpatine has been the leader of the Galactic Empire for some time and has just dissolved the Senate. Darth Vader is his widely-feared enforcer. We discover Yoda in exile on Dagobah in TESB, and there do not seem to be anymore Jedi anywhere. Padme is apparently dead. When Obi-Wan and Vader square off on board the Death Star (a fight which makes them both seem geriatric compared to the lava-leaping madness in RotS) we know this is not their first showdown. And, although it is not described anywhere in the original trilogy, Star Wars fans have somehow known for decades that Obi-Wan fought with Anakin over some sort of lava pit and burned his body horribly when he won. The list goes on and on . . .

But AotC ends a looooong way from the beginning ANH, how on earth did the characters get from point A to point B? Why didn’t Threepio remember having been on Tatooine? How and why did the Skywalker family split in all directions? How could Palpatine have stepped into absolute power and eliminated practically all of the Jedi? RotS is a movie which exists primarily to bridge a gap and tie up all of the loose ends. And although it doesn’t entirely succeed, as we watch it we don’t notice as much that the plot is unlikely and inconsistent because almost every scene manages to explain something that fans have been wondering about since 1977 (or whenever they first saw ANH).

Palpatine is deformed by his own force lightning in a showdown with Mace Windu. Threepio has his memory wiped so he’ll keep quiet (something he would never do otherwise). The twins are split up in order to be less noticeable (presumably in the Force). Hundreds of thousands of clone troopers who are genetically hardwired to obey receive the order to eliminate their Jedi officers. And when that crucial lava fight appears on the screen after so many years of speculation, we are completely lost in the spectacle.

And so, I think the movie works beautifully in a way that pleases fans. The biggest weakness of the prequels thus far has been in their atmosphere. The original Star Wars movies suffered from cheesy dialogue, bad effects, and even wooden acting from time to time, but they had heart, and somehow they managed a seamless, timeless escapism. Made during two of the decades most notorious for churning out tacky pop culture, the original movies emerged almost unscathed. Not so, the prequels . . . from fast-talking sports announcers to fifties diners, somewhere along the way I lost the feeling that I was watching something “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” If that sports announcer had one less head, or that diner owner had two fewer arms, they would be stereotypes that we know all too well.

RotS minimalized this and other problems to enough of a degree that I felt like I was watching a true Star Wars movie again. It isn’t perfect, but if TPM had been at this level and the trilogy had worked up from here, imagine what a trilogy we’d have! My only complaints about the movie as a fan are fairly minor ones . . . like R2-D2. Why does he suddenly become Inspector Gadget for one movie only? I mean, I love Artoo, and that stuff was really awesome, but . . . internal consistency, George? And what’s with him taking out two super battle droids single-handed? It’s one thing to wonder about the quality of battle droids when the Jedi slice through approximately 37.2 a second, but when Artoo (as cool as the little bugger is) can take out two of the big ones with very little effort, we begin to wonder how the Separatists can even still be in the war. Little inconsistencies like that mar an otherwise enjoyable movie.

The time element borders on ridiculous. Without any way to really tell for sure, the movie seems to be taking place over the course of (at most) two weeks . . . But somehow Padme flies through several months of pregnancy during the interim. Maybe I just need to watch more closely a second time. Additionally, the planet of Mustafar is said to exist in the Outer Rim, while Coruscant is very near the center of the galaxy. In the books, a journey from one to the other would take days, possibly even weeks. Even from within the movies we know that a journey of that magnitude would take a bit of time . . . but Palpatine seems to make it there in about five minutes once he figures out that Anakin is in trouble. Suspension of disbelief for the purposes of stream-lining the plot is one thing, but all too often Lucas plays fast and loose with the rules so he can make something “work.”

On the other hand, it’s obvious that Lucas saw the big sign as he approached the screenplay for this movie: “Last Chance for Merchandising Here.” In the original trilogy there are a fixed number of planets, aliens, droids, vehicles, and so forth which every Star Wars fan is quite familiar with. They have been picked apart, hashed, rehashed, and analyzed for every possible piece of information they might reveal about the SW galaxy. The first two prequels did their fair share in expanding that galaxy, but I would say that RotS alone just about doubled it. Lucas and his concept artists really went wild on this one, unleashing a barrage of new concepts which serve to make the galaxy that much larger. Star Wars fans will have plenty to talk about for years to come. From the odd Quetzalcoatl-type creature that Obi-Wan chases General Grievous on, to the strange planet covered in giant tropical flowers where Aayla Secura (the blue, Twi’lek Jedi) dies, to those crazy dragonfly helicopters that Wookiees fly around in, I loved what I was seeing. Those, among other things, were really cool ideas, and I was quite pleased on that level.

From the beginning, the movie was moving too fast. It lacked focus, and the plausibility suffered because there was just so much to get done. The scenes between Padme and Anakin are still, as a rule, the worst written in the movie by far. I continue to assert that no actor could save those lines. However, the closer the movie gets to the end, as things become clear and the pool of characters narrows, things begin to come together. I couldn’t help noticing during some of my favorite scenes (Yoda squaring off against the Emperor, the birth of the twins juxtaposed with the construction of Vader’s suit) that there is still some genuine movie-making talent behind these productions. George Lucas is a competent director (although he makes a better producer) . . . It’s just too bad he doesn’t realize he’s such an absolutely abysmal screenwriter.

There’s a lot more I could address, but this review is already directionless enough. I thought the movie ended on just the right note, and I had a good time watching it. Everyone should know better than to expect more than that out of a Star Wars movie.

I think I’ll go see it again.

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~ by Jared on May 19, 2005.

5 Responses to “Hitchhiking the Galaxy, One Last Time”

  1. Your dad made opening day of Return of the Jedi with four of his FFA students in Waco, so you were sort of there. Mom was working or I’m sure she would have brought you. We were at the front of a rambunctious crowd of some six other fanatical fans…

  2. Heh, yeah…went to see it Saturday. Hm…. I have to say, it was fun to watch, visually impressive, very much so. But…. dang…, there’s SO much to complain about!! I REALLY wanted to see more force powers…, and, Yoda’s nowhere near as cool as I once thought…*sigh* Mace Windu on the other hand, heh, that was just cool. And, for those SW geeks among us, we already knew, or knew the rumors (which turned out to be true) about Anakin’s fate, as well as the twins, and other characters. *shrug* I dunno, I wasn’t expecting much, but the reviews have been SO good.

    Ah well, at least we still have the books, good and bad as they may be.

  3. Yes…complicated it is.

  4. Good review, Jared. Sure, the love scenes in Episode III aren’t perfect due to poorly written lines, but they are far better than those in Episode II. And even those are better than love scenes in movies such as “Jane, Bobby, Jane, It’s Me, Bobby”–with terrible lines such as, “I’m sorry I couldn’t live longer to love you, my love!” (despite awful screenwriting, the romantic chemistry between the actors in “JBJIMB” is undeniable, as I’m sure you will agree).

  5. Can we still be friends even after that last comment? :-)

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