Friday, September 19, 2014
Here is the sixth article on moral ambiguity found in the STAR WARS saga:
"The Moral Landscape of the STAR WARS Saga"
I had pointed out in a previous article that it would seem difficult to discuss moral ambiguity for the STAR WARS character, Padmé Amidala. Many fans of George Lucas' franchise seemed to regard her as an ideal character. And if I may be honest, I sense that many fans seemed to harbor similar feelings her son, Luke Skywalker.
The three STAR WARS films released between 1977 and 1983 did not hesitate to reveal Luke's character virtues and flaws. But whenever his character is discussed on many Internet message boards and forums like TheForce.Net, his virtues are consistently focused upon and his flaws are either ignored or given lip service. More importantly, Luke is routinely compared to his father, Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader - usually to the latter's detriment. Many fans tend to use this comparison and his "moral triumph" in the 1983 film, "STAR WARS: EPISODE VI - RETURN OF THE JEDI" as reasons why Luke should have been regarded as "the Chosen One", namely the one character destined to bring balance to the Force. In fact, it seemed as if Luke has more or less become theSTAR WARS Saga's "Golden Boy".
Many fans would probably claim that Luke deserves the title. From the moment he was introduced as a Tatooine farmboy in 1977's"STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE" to his final confrontation aboard the second Death Star with his Jedi-turned-Sith father and the latter's Imperial master, Emperor Palpatine aka Darth Sidious; Luke has accomplished a good deal. With the help of the older Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi and smugglers Han Solo and Chewbacca, he managed to save Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan from execution aboard the first Death Star. He used the Force to successfully blow up the latter. He rose to the rank of Commander and squadron leader after three years as a Rebel Alliance pilot. Luke served with distinction in many battle, including the Battles of Yavin and Hoth. He trained to become a Jedi Knight for a few months under the aging Jedi Master Yoda. And with the use of Obi-Wan's training manual, he completed most of his training on his own. Luke plotted and led the rescue of his friend Han from the clutches of the Tatooine gangster, Jabba the Hutt. But Luke's biggest triumph in the eyes of fans was his ability to overcome his own anger in the face of the Sith and avoid succumbing to evil - something his father had obviously failed to do. I suspect that many would find themselves asking what would be the point of discussing the moral ambiguity of a character like Luke Skywalker?
Senator Padmé Amidala Skywalker gave birth to Luke and his twin sister, Leia Organa, on the moon of Polis Massa at the close of the Clone Wars. Following the twins' births, she died while declaring her husband's potential for good. The witnesses to Padmé’s death - Obi-Wan, Yoda and Prince Bail Organa of Alderaan - deemed it necessary to separate the twins and hide them from their father and the Emperor Palpatine. Bail decided that he and his wife, Queen Breha of Alderaan, would adopt Leia. Obi-Wan decided to hand over Luke to Anakin's stepbrother and sister-in-law, Owen and Beru Lars, on Tatooine. He also remained on Tatooine to keep an eye on the boy. Luke grew up learning very little about his father and nothing at all about his mother, thanks to the Lars. During his boyhood, Luke not only became a talented pilot thanks to practice runs through Beggar Canyon, but also his uncle's farmhand.
Judging from one particular scene in "A NEW HOPE", I got the impression that Owen had hoped Luke would follow in his footsteps and become a moisture farmer. In other words, he had hoped Luke would take over the family farm. But Luke had no desire to become a farmer. From the moment he entered his teens - probably earlier - he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and become a pilot. During an argument with Owen, he even expressed a desire to join the Imperial Academy. During a period of time, Luke and Owen seemed to be engaged in some kind tug-of-war regarding their personal desires. In the end, Owen's purchase of a pair of droids from a group of Jawas finally settled the matter. With tragic circumstances.
When the saga's first movie hit the screens, audiences were introduced to Luke's personality flaws. He proved to be restless, impatient and at first, incapable of going against Owen Lars' wishes in order to follow his own path. It took the deaths of Owen and Lars at the hands of Imperial stormtroopers searching for R2-D2 and C3-P0, the droids that Owen had recently purchased. But manySTAR WARS fans claim that despite these flaws, Luke was basically an ideal or near ideal character. In fact, they usually claim that one of Luke's more admirable traits was his healthy attitude toward personal attachments. Unlike Anakin, Luke seemed more capable of letting go of his emotional attachments and facing the death or possible deaths of those close to him. His reaction to Owen and Beru Lars' deaths in "A NEW HOPE" has been constantly used as a prime example of this virtue on his part. After my latest viewing of the movie, I feel that I cannot agree. I believe there was a reason why Luke took their deaths with so little turmoil. I suspect that Luke's emotional connection to Owen and Beru was not as strong as many like to believe. Think about it. Unlike Queen Breha and Prince Bail Organa, who gave Leia their surname; the Lars never did the same for Luke. And Owen did his best to manipulate Luke into remaining on the farm, despite the latter's desire to leave. I suspect that Luke may have been saddened by his uncle and aunt's deaths. Yet, I also believe that a small part of him was relieved that he could finally leave Tatooine and follow his own path. And furthermore, I believe one should question Luke's reason to pursue Jedi training. I suspect that Obi-Wan's revelation of Anakin's past as a Jedi Knight and his own desire for knowledge of a father he never really knew, led him to consider becoming a Jedi Knight, instead of any serious consideration of this path.
One of the true reason why I believe Luke's reaction to the Lars' deaths was not a strong argument for his ability to let go of attachments . . . was his reaction to Obi-Wan Kenobi's death aboard the Death Star in the same movie. He had not taken the Jedi Master's death very well. Luke became very close to Obi-Wan, despite spending a brief period in the latter's company. When he saw Darth Vader strike down the Jedi Master during a duel, Luke reacted with surprise . . . and anger. In fact, he was so upset over Obi-Wan's death that he began firing his blaster at the Imperials in a blind rage, oblivious to the danger that surrounded himself and his companions. It took the voice of Obi-Wan's Force ghost to convince Luke to finally make a run for the Millennium Falcon, so they could all make their escape from the Death Star. Even worse, this would prove to be the first of several times in which Luke displayed his inability to let go of his attachments.
Obi-Wan Kenobi was not the only one to whom Luke had formed an attachment in "A NEW HOPE". By the end of the movie, Leia, Han, Chewbacca and the droids 3P0 and R2-D2 had become part of his new family. So whenever a member or members of this family faced danger from the Empire, Luke naturally reacted . . . but not in a positive way. Following the disastrous Battle of Hoth in"STAR WARS: EPISODE V - THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK", Luke continued his Jedi training under Master Yoda on Dagobah. His training ended on an abrupt note when he received visions of Leia, Han and Chewbacca facing danger on the Bespin mining colony. Despite warnings from Yoda and Obi-Wan's Force ghost that he was ending his Jedi training too soon and might be walking into a trap, Luke was determined to travel to Bespin and rescue his friends. So what happened? Well, Luke failed to rescue his friends. Han ended up frozen in carbonite and carted away by bounty hunter Boba Fett to Jabba the Hutt. Luke engaged in a lightsaber duel with Darth Vader, got one of his hands chopped off and discovered that the Sith Lord was his father, Anakin Skywalker. Oh . . . and it was Leia, Chewbacca and Han's old friend Lando Calrissian who ended up rescuing him from certain death. All of this came about due to Luke's unwillingness to accept the possibility of his friends' deaths or his belief that only he could save them. Also, some of Luke's other negative traits reappeared as well in "THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK". His impatience shone through during his first meeting with Yoda. His stubbornness revealed itself in his determination to leave Dagobah and rescue Leia and Han on Bespin. And his reliance upon aggression shone through during his time inside that cave on Dagobah.
By the time Luke's story picked up in "RETURN OF THE JEDI", his skills with the Force had increased, thanks to Obi-Wan's training manual. Luke seemed calmer, more patient and perhaps a bit wiser. This increase of wisdom and perception not only seemed obvious in his actions during the Rebel Alliance mission on the Endor moon, but also in his opinion of Lord Vader. One could say that Luke's view was influenced by blood connection. But Luke had made it clear to Obi-Wan's ghost that he had used his instincts and sensed the possibility of Vader's redemption. Only Obi-Wan refused to listen. As it turned out, the Force was not through with Luke Skywalker.
As I had earlier stated, the young Jedi Knight seemed to be at peace with himself in the 1983 film. And he was also determined to help his father find redemption, as well. And if that failed, Luke was willing to face death at the hands of Vader and Palpatine. However, two moments of emotional manipulation - from both Palpatine and Vader - exposed Luke's continuing weakness for attachments. Luke tried to resist fighting Vader before the Emperor aboard the second Death Star. But when the latter revealed that he had manipulated the events that led to Battle of Endor in the hopes of wiping out the Rebel Alliance for good, Luke raised his lightsaber in order to strike Palpatine. This act led to a second duel with his father. And when Luke refused to continue the duel, Vader taunted him with the knowledge of a twin sister (Leia) and his determination to recruit her to the Sith Order. Not surprisingly, Luke lost his temper and literally assaulted his father.
Luke seemed to be on the verge of beating Vader to death, when he stopped, tossed aside his lightsaber and declared himself "a Jedi", as his father had once been. This was the moment that made Luke the Saga's "Golden Boy" in the eyes of many fans. This was the moment in which Luke proved he could rise above his emotions and his aggression. This was the moment in which he proved his moral superiority over his father. And yet . . .
During my last viewing of "RETURN OF THE JEDI", I watched that scene two or three times. And something occurred to me after my last viewing. I realized that Luke owed a lot of his moral standing and decisions in that moment to the Emperor Palpatine. Perhaps I should say that he owed a lot to Palpatine's big mouth. Every time I watched that scene, I found myself wondering what would have occurred if Palpatine had kept his mouth shut. I do recall what happened when he opened it. Let us relive that moment . . . shall we?
VADER: You cannot hide forever, Luke.
LUKE: I will not fight you.
VADER: Give yourself to the dark side. It is the only way you can save your friends. Yes, your thoughts betray you. Your feelings for them are strong. Especially for...
(Vader stops and senses something. Luke shuts his eyes tightly, in
VADER: Sister! So...you have a twin sister. Your feelings have now betrayed her, too. Obi-Wan was wise to hide her from me. Now his failure is complete. If you will not turn to the dark side, then perhaps she will.
(Luke ignites his lightsaber and screams in anger, rushing at his father
with a frenzy we have not seen before. Sparks fly as Luke and Vader
fight in the cramped area. Luke's hatred forces Vader to retreat out of
the low area and across a bridge overlooking a vast elevator shaft.
Each stroke of Luke's sword drives his father further toward defeat.
The Dark Lord is knocked to his knees, and as he raises his sword to
block another onslaught, Luke slashes Vader's right hand off at the
wrist, causing metal and electronic parts to fly from the mechanical
stump. Vader's sword clatters uselessly away, over the edge of the platform and into the bottomless shaft below. Luke moves over Vader and holds the blade of his sword to the Dark Lord's throat. The Emperor watches with uncontrollable, pleased agitation.)
EMPEROR: Good! Your hate has made you powerful. Now, fulfill your destiny and take your father's place at my side!
(Luke looks at his father's mechanical hand, then to his own mechanical,
black-gloved hand, and realizes how much he is becoming like his father. He makes the decision for which he has spent a lifetime in preparation. Luke steps back and hurls his lightsaber away.)
LUKE: Never! I'll never turn to the dark side. You've failed, Your Highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.
Whew! That was close.
There was Luke wearing a demented expression on his face as he beat the living crap out of his father. The latter had just revealed his knowledge of the existence of a twin daughter and his intention to turn her. Luke attacked, until he finally managed to drive Vader on his knees. Just as he prepared himself to deliver the final killing blow, Palpatine opened his mouth to express his approval of Luke's surrender to rage. By comparing the two Skywalkers, Palpatine gave Luke the opportunity to take stock of his actions. I suspect that he came within an inch of fully succumbing to his anger and to evil. More importantly, he probably has Palpatine's big mouth to thank for edging him away from the abyss. I believe that deep down, Luke had the potential to succumb to evil as much as his infamous father or any other character in the STAR WARS Saga. And I suspect that many of the franchise's fans find this difficult to accept.
What else can I say about Luke Skywalker? As we all know, the events of "REVENGE OF THE SITH" will not be the end of his story. Luke will become one of the characters in the upcoming STAR WARS episode - "EPISODE VII" - due to be released in December 2015. Previous movies revealed that veteran Jedi Masters Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi (even as a Force Ghost) had more lessons to learn, despite their ages and experiences. If the producers and writers of this new movie are any true storytellers, perhaps they will reveal that a 50-something Luke has a few lessons to learn himself in the new movie.
So . . . am I willing to embrace the fandom's inclination to put Luke Skywalker on a pedestal? No. I cannot harbor an ideal opinion of him. I am well aware that he possesses a good share of virtues. But he also possessed flaws, as well. And considering how close he came to succumbing to his negative traits, I find it difficult to view him as morally superior to his father, Anakin Skywalker. Just luckier.
Sunday, May 18, 2014
"STAR WARS: EPISODE II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES" (2002) Review
The fandom surrounding the 2002 movie, "STAR WARS: EPISODE II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES" has always struck me as somewhat a fickle affair. When the movie first hit the theaters over eleven years ago, many critics and film fans had declared the movie a major improvement over its predecessor, 1999's "STAR WARS: EPISODE I - THE PHANTOM MENACE". Some even went out of their way to declare it as the second best STAR WARS movie ever made. Another three to five years passed before the critics and fans' judgement went through a complete reversal. Now, the movie is considered one of the worst, if not the worst film in the franchise.
Well, I am not going to examine what led to this reversal of opinion regarding "ATTACK OF THE CLONES". Instead, I am going to reveal my own opinion of the movie. Before I do, here is the plot. Set ten (10) years after "THE PHANTOM MENACE", "ATTACK OF THE CLONES" begins with the Republic on the brink of a civil war, thanks to a former Jedi Master named Count Dooku. Disgruntled by the growing corruption of the Galactic Senate and the Jedi Order's complacency, Dooku has formed a group of disgruntled planetary systems called the Separatists. the Galactic Senate is debating a plan to create an army for the Republic to assist the Jedi against the Separatist threat. Senator Padmé Amidala, the former queen of Naboo, returns to Coruscant to vote on a Senate proposal to create an army for the Republic. However, upon her arrival, she barely escapes an assassination attempt.
The Jedi Order, with the agreement of Chancellor Palpatine and the Senate, assigns Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi and his padawan (apprentice) of ten years, Anakin Skywalker, to guard Padmé. A contracted assassin named Zam Wessell makes another attempt on Padmé, but is foiled by Obi-Wan and Anakin. They chase her to a Coruscant nightclub, where they capture her. During their interrogation of Wessell, she is killed by her employer with a poisonous dart. The Jedi Council orders Obi-Wan to investigate the assassination attempt and learn the identity of Wessell's employer. The Council also assigns Anakin as Padmé's personal escort, and accompany her back to her home planet of Naboo. Obi-Wan's investigation leads to a cloning facility on the planet of Kamino, where an army of clones are being manufactured for the Republic and Zam Wessell's employer, a bounty hunter named Jango Fett. Not long after their arrival on Naboo, Anakin and Padmé become romantically involved, while aware of the former's status as a member of the Jedi Order.
I could discuss the aspects of "ATTACK OF THE CLONES" that seem to repel a good number of fans. But that would take a separate article and I am not in the mood to tackle it. There were some aspects that I personally found questionable. One of those aspects was the handling of the character Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas. When Kamino Prime Minister Lama Su had informed Obi-Wan that a Sifo-Dyas had ordered a clone army for the Republic, I assumed that Count Dooku had impersonated his former colleague, following the latter's death. It seemed so simple to me. Yet, a novel called "Labyrinth of Evil" revealed that the Jedi Master had been tricked into ordering the army by Chancellor Palpatine before being murdered by Dooku. Now, I realize that I am actually criticizing the plot of a novel, instead of "ATTACK OF THE CLONES", but every time I watch this movie, I find myself wishing that Dooku had ordered the clone army, while impersonating Sifo-Dyas. But I do have a few genuine complaints. Physically, Daniel Logan made an impressive young Boba Fett. However, it was pretty easy for me to see that the kid was no actor. Oh well. I also wish that Lucas and screenwriter Jonathan Hales had proved a longer scene to establish the antipathy that seemed to be pretty obvious between Anakin Skywalker and his stepbrother, Owen Lars. Instead, their scenes together merely featured some low-key dialogue and plenty of attitude from both Hayden Christensen and Joel Edgerton. Oh well. And if I must be honest, Count Dooku's lightsaber duel against Obi-Wan and Anakin on Geonosis proved to be rather lackluster and short.
Many fans have complained about the love confession scene between Anakin and Padmé at the latter's Naboo lakeside villa. Although, I have a problem with the scene, as well; my complaint is different. Many believed that the scene made Anakin look like a sexual stalker. Frankly, I have no idea how they came to that conclusion. It seemed obvious to me that Lucas had based the Anakin/Padmé romance on something called courtly love. However, it was also obvious to me that Christensen seemed incapable of dealing with the flowery language featured in courtly love. I am not stating that he is a bad actor. There were many scenes in "ATTACK OF THE CLONES" that made it clear to me that he is a first-rate actor. But . . . the movie was shot when he was 19 years old. It is obvious that he was too young to handle such flowery dialogue. He was not the first. I still have memories of Keira Knightley and James McAvoy's questionable attempts at the fast dialogue style from movies of the 1930s and 40 featured in the 2007 movie, "ATONEMENT". Like Christensen before them, they were too young to successfully deal with an unfamiliar dialogue style.
Despite the above flaws, "ATTACK OF THE CLONES" remains one of my top two favorite STAR WARS movies of all time. Why? One, I love the story. Many fans do not. I do. It has an epic scale that some of the other movies in the franchise, save for "STAR WARS: EPISODE V - THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK", seemed to lack. And I feel that Lucas and Hales did an excellent job of allowing the story to flow from a simple political assassination attempt to the outbreak of a major galactic civil war. During this 142 minute film, the movie also featured some outstanding action, romance between two young and inexperienced people, a mystery that developed into a potential political scandal, family tragedy that proved to have a major consequence in the next film and war. The best aspect of "ATTACK OF THE CLONES" - at least for me - were the complex issues that added to the eventual downfalls of the major characters.
Naturally, Lucas provided some outstanding action sequences in the movie. I mean . . . they really were. I would be hard pressed to select my favorite action scene from the following list:
*Coruscant chase scene
*Obi-Wan vs. Jango Fett fight scene on Kamino
*Obi-Wan tracks the Fetts to Geonosis
*Anakin's search for the kidnapped Shmi Skywalker on Tatooine
*Anakin and Padmé's arrival on Geonosis
*The Geonosis arena fight sequence
*The outbreak of the Clones War
Earlier, I had complained about Obi-Wan and Anakin's lackluster duel against Count Dooku. But . . . Dooku's duel against Jedi Master Yoda more than made up for the first duel. I thought it was an outstanding action sequence that beautifully blended the moves of both CGI Yoda figure and actor Christopher Lee's action double. More importantly, this duel between a Jedi Master and his former padawan beautifully foreshadowed the conflict between another master/padawan team in the following movie.
However, "ATTACK OF THE CLONES" was not simply an action film with little narrative. It had its share of excellent dramatic moments. Among my favorites are Anakin and Obi-Wan's rather tense quarrel over the Jedi mandate regarding Padmé's protection; Chancellor Palpatine's pep talk to Anakin before the latter's departure from Coruscant; Anakin and Padmé's conversation about love and the Jedi mandate; Obi-Wan's conversations with diner owner Dexter "Dex" Jettster, Count Dooku and especially his tense encounter with Jango Fett; Jedi Masters Yoda and Mace Windu's conversation about the Clone Army; and finally Anakin and Padmé's poignant declaration of love. But if I had to choose the best dramatic scene, it would Anakin's final conversation with his dying mother, Shmi Skywalker. Not only was the scene filled with pathos, drama and tragedy; both Christensen and actress Pernilla August gave superb performances in it. Many fans have complained about the Anakin/Padmé romance in the film. I suspect a good number of them have a problem with Padmé falling in love with a future Sith Lord, especially after he had tearfully confessed to slaughtering the Tusken Raiders responsible for his mother's death. Perhaps they wanted a modern-style love story, similar to the one featured in the first trilogy. Or they had a problem with the love confession scene. Although I had a problem with the latter, I definitely did not have problem with the romance overall. One, I never believed it should be an exact replica of the main romance featured in the Original Trilogy. And two, it featured other scenes building up to the romance that I found more than satisfying - especially Anakin and Padmé's Naboo picnic and their declaration of love, while entering the Geonosis arena.
When talking about the acting in any STAR WARS movie, one has to consider the franchise's occasional, yet notorious forays into cheesy dialogue. And if I must be frank, I have yet to encounter one actor able to rise above the cheesiness. But despite the cheesy dialogue, the saga has provided some first-class performances. They were certainly on display in"ATTACK OF THE CLONES". Ewan McGregor became the saga's new leading actor following the promotion of his character, Obi-Wan Kenobi, to Jedi Knight. And he did an excellent job as the straight-laced knight who continued to be wary of his padawan of ten years. McGregor also handled his action scenes with the same amount of grace he handled his performance. Instead of a stoic monarch, Natalie Portman's Padmé Amidala has become a Senator for her home planet of Naboo. This has allowed Portman to portray her character with more force and vibrancy, much to my relief. And Padmé's romance in this film allowed Portman to inject a good deal of passion into her performance. Hayden Christensen took over the role of Jedi padawan Anakin Skywalker with a great deal of criticism. Much of the criticism against him came from two scenes - Anakin's confession of love for Padmé and a comment regarding a dislike of Tatooine's sandy terrain. I do not understand the criticism about the sand line, since I have no problems with it. I have already expressed my complaints about the love confession scene. But I still felt that Christensen did an excellent job in portraying a 19 year-old Anakin, who lacked any real experience in romance and at the same time, harbored frustration and a good deal of angst regarding his Jedi master's tight leash upon him. And at the same time, the actor did an excellent job in conveying the more intimidating (and scary) side of his character.
"ATTACK OF THE CLONES" featured other first-rate or solid performances. Ayesha Dharker gave a solid performance laced with amusement as Padmé's successor as Naboo's ruler, Queen Jamillia. Ahmed Best returned as Gungan Jar Jar Binks, now Naboo's political representative for the Galactic Senate in a downsized role. Rose Byrne had a brief appearance as one of Padmé's handmaidens, Dormé. Frankly, I found Joel Edgerton and Bonnie Piesse's roles as Owen and Beru Lars equally brief. However, both Edgerton and Christensen still managed to convey some hostility between the two stepbrothers with very little dialogue. Jimmy Smits' performance as Prince/Senator Bail Organa of Alderaan, future stepfather of Princess Leia Organa, was brief, yet solid.
The more impressive performances from Samuel L. Jackson, who was given a lot more to do in "ATTACK OF THE CLONES" - especially in the last third of the movie. And if there is one thing about Jackson, once a director gives him an inch, he will take it and give it his all. He certainly did in the Geonosis sequence. Christopher Lee made his first appearance in the STAR WARS as former Jedi Master Count Dooku. He was elegant, commanding and very memorable in the role. I could probably say the same about Temuera Morrison, who was marvelous as the bounty hunter, Jango Fett. This was especially in the Obi-Wan/Jango confrontation scene on Kamino. Both Kenny Baker and Anthony Daniels returned to portray droids R2-D2 and C3PO. Baker did a good job, as usual. But Daniels was really hilarious as finicky Threepio, who found himself in the middle of a battle with crazy results. And I will never forget his line - "Die Jedi dog! Die!" Pernilla August returned to portray Shmi Skywalker and probably gave one of the best performance in both the Prequel Trilogy and the saga overall. I found her portrayal beautiful and poignant. Both she and Christensen brought tears to my eyes. When I first saw "ATTACK OF THE CLONES", I was surprised to see Jack Thompson in the role of Cliegg Lars, Shmi's husband and Anakin's stepfather. I must say that he gave a wonderfully gruff, yet poignant performance. And finally, there was Ian McDiarmid. Oh God! He was just wonderful. It is a pity that his role only made brief appearances in the film. I really enjoyed the actor's take on his character's subtle manipulations of others.
Watching "ATTACK OF THE CLONES", it occurred to me that it was one of the most beautiful looking films in the franchise. Between David Tattersall's photography, Ben Burtt's editing, Gavin Bocquet's production designs and the art designs created by a team led by Peter Russell, my mind was blown on many occasions by the film's visual effects. I was especially impressed by the work featured in the Naboo scenes (filmed in Italy), the Coruscant sequences and especially those scenes set on the water-logged planet, Kamino. And yet, there is one scene that I always found memorable, whenever I watched the movie:
But one cannot discuss a Prequel Trilogy movie without bringing up the name of costume designer Trisha Biggar. Her work in "ATTACK OF THE CLONES" - especially the costumes worn by Natalie Portman - blew the costumes she made for "THE PHANTOM MENACE" out of the water. For example:
The Hollywood movie industry should be ashamed of itself for its failure to honor this woman for her beautiful work.
What else can I say about "ATTACK OF THE CLONES"? It is not perfect. I have never seen a STAR WARS movie that I would describe as perfect. But my recent viewing of this film has reminded me of how much I love it. Even after twelve years or so. To this day, I have George Lucas to thank, along with the talented cast and crew that contributed to this film. To this day, I view "ATTACK OF THE CLONES" as one of the two best films in the franchise.
Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Below are images from the 2002 movie, "STAR WARS: EPISODE II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES". Produced and directed by George Lucas, the movie starred Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen:
"STAR WARS: EPISODE II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES" (2002) Photo Gallery
Thursday, March 20, 2014
"STAR WARS: EPISODE VI - RETURN OF THE JEDI" (1983) Review
The third movie and sixth episode of George Lucas' original STAR WARS saga, "STAR WARS: EPISODE VI - RETURN OF THE JEDI", has become something of a conundrum for me. It was the first STAR WARS movie that immediately became a favorite of mine. But in the years that followed, my opinion of the film had changed.
Directed by Richard Marquand, "RETURN OF THE JEDI" picked up a year after "STAR WARS: EPISODE V - THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK" left off. The movie begins with the arrival of the Emperor Palpatine aka Darth Sidious and his apprentice, Darth Vader to the Empire's new Darth Star, which had been in construction above the moon of Endor. Luke Skywalker, Jedi-in-training and Rebel Alliance pilot, finally construct a plan to rescue his friend, Han Solo, from the Tatooine gangster Jabba the Hutt. His plan nearly fails, despite help from Princess Leia Organa, Lando Calrissian, Chewbacca and his droids C3-P0 and R2-D2. Despite the odds against them, the group of friends finally succeed in rescuing Han and killing Jabba.
Following the Tatooine rescue, Luke returns to Dagobah to finish his Jedi training with Jedi Master Yoda. However, Luke discovers Yoda on the verge of death from old age. When the old Jedi Master finally dies, Obi-Wan Kenobi's ghost appears and verifies what Luke had learned on Bespin in "THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK" - that Darth Vader is his father, Anakin Skywalker. Obi-Wan insists that Luke has to kill his father in order to destroy the Sith Order, but the latter is reluctant to commit patricide. Eventually, Luke returns to the Rebel Alliance rendezvous point, and volunteers to assist his friends in their mission to destroy the the Death Star.
I was not kidding when I stated that "RETURN OF THE JEDI" was the first STAR WARS movie to become a personal favorite of mine. I disliked "A NEW HOPE" when I first saw it. It took me nearly a decade to get over my dislike and embrace it. "THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK" creeped me out a bit, due to its dark plot, the revelation of Darth Vader's true identity and Han's unhappy fate. The movie has become one of my two favorites in the franchise. But I loved "RETURN OF THE JEDI" from the beginning. By then, I finally learned to embrace Lucas' saga. And the positive ending with no potential of a sequel made me equally happy. And yet . . . my feelings toward the movie gradually changed. Although I still maintained positive feelings toward the movie, I ceased to regard it as my personal favorite from the STAR WARSfranchise.
"RETURN OF THE JEDI" did have its problems. One, the movie featured both a second Death Star and Luke's return to Tatooine. For me, this signalled an attempt by George Lucas to recapture some of the essence from the first movie, "A NEW HOPE". In other words, I believe Lucas used the Death Star and Tatooine to relive the glory of the first movie for those fans who had been disappointed with "THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK". And there is nothing that will quickly turn me off is an artist who is willing to repeat the past for the sake of success.
Tatooine proved to be an even bigger disappointment, especially since I have never been fond of the sequence at Jabba's palace. I never understood why it took Luke and his friends an entire year to find Han. Boba Fett had made his intentions to turn Han over to Jabba very clearly in "THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK". So, why did it take them so long to launch a rescue? Exactly what was Luke's rescue plan regarding Han in the first place? Not long after she arrived with Chewbacca, Leia made her own attempt to free Han from the carbonite block and failed. Had Luke intended for this to happen? Had he intended to be tossed into a pit with a Rancor? Were all of these minor incidents merely parts of Luke's plan to finally deal with Jabba on the latter's sail barge? If so, it was a piss-poor and convoluted plan created by Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan.
"RETURN OF THE JEDI" also featured the development of Luke's skills with the Force. Since the movie made it clear that he had not seen Yoda since he departed Dagobah in order to rescue Han, Leia and Chewbacca from Bespin; I could not help but wonder how Luke managed to develop his Force skills without the help of a tutor. I eventually learned that Luke honed his Force skills by reading a manual he had found inside Obi-Wan Kenobi's Tatooine hut. Frankly, I find this scenario ludicrous. Luke's conversation with Obi-Wan's ghost on Dagobah featured one major inconsistency. Obi-Wan claimed that Owen Lars was his brother, in whose care he left Luke. Considering Obi-Wan's unemotional response to Owen's death in "A NEW HOPE", I found this hard to believe and could not help but view Obi-Wan's words as a major blooper. Especially since Obi-Wan had reacted with more emotion over Luke's reluctance to become a Jedi and kill Darth Vader.
Many fans have complained about the cheesy acting and wooden dialogue found the Prequel Trilogy movies. These same fans have failed to notice similar flaws in the Original Trilogy movies, including "RETURN OF THE JEDI". Especially"RETURN OF THE JEDI". Mind you, the movie did feature some first-rate performances. But none of it came from Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. I really enjoyed Ford and Fisher's performances in "THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK". But I feel they really dropped the ball in "RETURN OF THE JEDI". They seemed to be phoning in their performances and the Leia/Han ended up rather wooden and unsatisfying to me. This was especially apparent in the scene in which Leia, after learning the truth about Vader's identity, seemed too upset to answer Han's demanding questions about her conversation with the departed Luke. Both Fisher and Ford really came off as wooden in that scene. When I had first saw "RETURN OF THE JEDI", I despised the Ewoks. My feelings for them have somewhat tempered over the years. But I still find them rather infantile, even for a STAR WARS movie. Although I no longer dislike the Ewoks, I still find that village scene in which C3-P0 revealed the past adventures of Luke and his friends very cheesy and wince-inducing. Unlike the past two films, the camaraderie between the group seemed forced . . . and very artificial. The Ewok village scene also revealed a perplexing mystery - namely the dress worn by Leia in this image:
For years, I have wondered why Leia would carry such a dress with her, during the mission to Endor. I eventually learned that the Ewoks created the dress for her, after she became their guest. And I could not help but wonder why they had bothered in the first place. Luke and Han did not acquire new outfits from the Ewoks after they became the latter's guests. And how did the Ewoks create the dress so fast? Within a matter of hours?
Thankfully, "RETURN OF THE JEDI" had plenty of virtues. One of those virtues turned out to be Mark Hamill, who gave the best and probably the most skillful performance in the movie as Luke Skywalker. Unlike the previous two movies, Luke has become a more self-assured man and Force practitioner, who undergoes his greatest emotional journey in his determination to learn the complete story regarding his family's past and help his father overcome any remaining connections to the Sith. He was ably supported by James Earl Jones (through voice) and David Prowse (through body movement), who skillfully conveyed Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker's growing dissatisfaction with the Sith and himself."RETURN OF THE JEDI" also marked the real debut of Ian McDiarmid's portrayal of politician and Sith Lord Palpatine aka Darth Sidious. Although the actor achieved critical acclaim for his portrayal of Palpatine in the Prequel Trilogy movies, I must say that I was impressed by his performance in this film. McDiarmid was in his late 30s at the time, but I he did a first-rate job in portraying Palpatine as a powerful and intelligent Sith Lord and galactic leader, whose skills as a manipulator has eroded from years of complacency and arrogance. Billy Dee Williams returned as ex-smuggler Lando Calrissian, who has joined the Rebel Alliance cause. Although his portrayal of Lando did not strike me as memorable as I did in "THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK", I believe he did a very solid job - especially in the Battle of Endor sequence. I finally have to comment on the Jabba the Hutt character, who proved to be very memorable thanks to Larry Ward's voiceovers and the puppeteer team supervised by David Barclay.
"RETURN OF THE JEDI" also featured some first-rate action scenes. The best, in my opinion, was the speeder bike sequence in which Luke and Leia chased a squad of Imperial stormtroopers on patrol through the Endor forest. This sequence was actually shot in the Redwood National Forest in California. The combined talents of Lucas, Marquand's direction, Alan Hume's photography, the ILM special effects, Ben Burtt's sound effects (which received an Oscar nomination) and especially the editing team of Sean Barton, Marcia Lucas and Duwayne Dunham made this sequence one of the most exciting, nail biting and memorable ones in the entire saga. But there were other scenes and sequences that impressed me. Despite my dislike of the entire sequence featuring the rescue of Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt, I cannot deny that the scene aboard Jabba's sail barge proved to be entertaining. Even the ground battle between the Imperial forces and the Rebel forces (assisted by the Ewoks) proved to be not only entertaining, but also interesting. The idea of the Ewoks utilizing the natural elements of Endor to battle and defeat Imperial technology provided an interesting message on the superiority of nature. And if I must be honest, I found the destruction of this second Death Star to be more exciting than the first featured in "A NEW HOPE".
Despite the barrage of action scenes, there were a few dramatic scenes that I found impressive. The best one proved to be the confrontation between Luke, Vader and Palpatine aboard the second Death Star. Luke and Papatine's battle of wills over Vader's soul not only provided some interesting performances from Hamill, Earl Jones/Prowse and McDiarmid; it also resulted in one of the most emotionally satisfying moments in the movie. Another excellent dramatic scene featured Luke's discussion with Obi-Wan's ghost regarding Vader's true identity. Both Hamill and Alec Guinness gave excellent performances in the scene. It also, rather surprisingly, revealed the flawed aspect of the Jedi's righteous nature for the very first time.
After the release of the six STAR WARS movies produced by George Lucas, I realized that I no longer regarded "RETURN OF THE JEDI" as the best in the saga. Unfortunately, I now rate it as the least most satisfying film in the saga, so far. Certain plot holes and some weak performances made it impossible for me to view it with such high esteem. Yet, I cannot say that I dislike the film. In fact, I still enjoyed it very much, thanks to a first-rate performance by Mark Hamill, who really held the movie together; some excellent action sequences and a surprising, yet satisfying twist that ended the tale of one Anakin Skywalker. Despite its flaws, "RETURN OF THE JEDI" still managed to be a very satisfying movie.