Windu into Battle

Twenty-eight year in the making, Star Wars has finished…yet again,
or How the Jedi’s get their kick with Order 66.

Like my previous Star Wars reviews, I figure that you already know if you are going to be seeing this film, and I certainly don’t intent spoiling the story for you.
As Episodes I, II and III are prequels, you already know “Who will survive and what will be left of them” (to quote the tagline of another 70’s classic – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) so hopefully I can mention bits of the plot without doing too much damage. As you are all higher education students I hope to give you some more complex reading of the films than you will get in the MX review.

The Little Green Terror

To give a brief overview of the story, there is a war going on. It becomes apparent that the Senate is actually maintaining the war in order to ensure that their leader maintains his position for an unusually long period of time, while also ultimately increasing its power, at the expense of democracy. This dictatorship is justified as needing to be done to create a safe and secure Universe. Now some may think that this is a completely unrealistic scenario, but they probably don’t watch the nightly news. It is never covered in the film, but I am sure that part of the Emperors’ plot involves having the dark lord Brendan Nelson increase the cost of education while also decreasing its quality. If you don’t agree then you are sounding like a separatist to me.

Revenge of the Sith is by far the best of the prequels, and certainly ranks with Jedi in it’s action sequences. It screams along at an amazing pace, with such detail in the background (literally and figuratively) that you will undoubtedly enjoy additional viewings where you can spot little details you missed the first time. Even at over two hours it is hard to image even ADD kids getting bored during the eye candy action sequences. Though the entire Star Wars series there are amazing effects, and they have been virtually faultless, but it is their increasingly virtual-ness that detracts for me. So much isn’t real that it sometimes takes me out of the suspension of disbelief that is required in cinema. That said, this movie certainly suffers from this far less than the previous two prequels.

The other issue that I have with this movie, and it may be more my problem, is that I don’t care too much about the characters.
It doesn’t have the rich character interplay. For most of these films we are presented with interesting characters, but they lack the emotional engagement of the buddy aspect of Luke and Han, the kind guidance of wise old Ben Kenobi, the caustic romance of Han and Leah. These were all character interactions that we reacted to and loved. In the Phantom Menace there is none of this. The relationship between the two Jedi (Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn) is very formal, with the roll of a master and apprentice taken seriously (though wether this is taken as far as the Ancient Greeks took this sort of relationship is never covered). This remoteness is shown again in the member relationships of the Jedi Council. And Phantom Menace had young Anakin and Jar-Jar who were more irritating than likeable. In Clones this is improved a little by the relationship of Kenobi to Skywalker, but given their fates, as covered in this film, the relationship is more or a tense one. That and Lucas inability to bring a strong performance out of his actors.

The Little Green Terror

This film is straight into battle. The opening scenes detail the space battle over Coruscant and the rescue of…opps almost went too far. Drawing on imagery like battleships at sea, broad-siding each other, these battles are epic (though dizzyingly realised with diving camera work following ships and brief glimpses of the other fights taking place in the background), all done within the confines of computer processors.
The Star Wars films benefit from not requiring a knowledge of all the miscellaneous tie-ins to follow the story. Warning: for the next few months you will not be able to visit many stores without being confronted with some form of Star Wars themed or related material, but more on that further on. Though there are numerous plot threads which are not completely cleared up, there is a neatness in resolution to this film that is reminiscent of the Luke and Leah being twins device used in Jedi. And if you are one of the many that questioned the C-3PO memory thing, then you know what I mean.

As is the Lucas style with these films, there are strong echoes of the previous films. At the end of the last film we were shown the technology that became familiar in the original trilogy and this continues with prototypes of speeder bikes, chicken walkers, tie-fighters, Imperial shuttles and what becomes the rebel blockade runner itself. The score by John Williams draws on the themes from the previous films, notable in the (literal) destruction of the Senate are the Emperors theme and the Dual of the Fates. In addition there are images like that of the Emperor in his chair watching Vader and Luke duel at the end of Jedi and Leah’s famous bun hairstyle from Star Wars 77 that are present here, as well as several lines like the inevitable “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”, matched with “Jedi Scum” and a few confrontations where the seeking of power is debated (albeit briefly). Unlike the original trilogy where the disembodied voice of Kenobi made the odd appearance, this film has dreamy echo’s of sounds from Anakin’s past, like the Tuscan Raiders howl, which is in keeping with what Lucas did in Clones with Qui-Gon’s voice (when Anakin goes mother lovin’ crazy).

We do get to see the Wookie home planet, and I am sure that fans are pleased to know that it is consistent with the way it was shown in the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special, though we don’t get to see Chewie at home with Malla, Itchy and Lumpy.

The Little Green Terror

This is the most graphic of the six films, with numerous bodies flying into space from exploding space fighters and highlighted by Anakin’s body pre-Vader suit. This brings into question Lucas decision to remove frames from Star Wars 77 for its 1995 Special Edition (for Special children) which showed the blaster hits to stormtroopers as explosive things. This slight shortening of this violence made the fights a tad more tame rather than the brutal things killings are.

The Star Wars is a long running space opera which started in the middle with mythic proportions. In William Shatner’s infamous Saturday Night Live sketch he jokingly refers to Star Trek as “an enjoyable little job that I did as a lark for a few years [that you’ve turned] into a colossal waste of time…It’s just a TV show” Star Wars was never that. Despite some ventures like the Holiday Special (which was as advisable as Shatner’s album Transformed Man) and the spin off Ewok movies, Star Wars has had an epic scope similar to Lord of the Rings from the outset. It is this difference that is the basis for science fiction fans to choose when they count themselves as predominantly Star Wars or Star Trek fans (and sorry about the digs, I do enjoy Star Trek).

There are themes that run through both series, but the recurring ones that crop up in Sith include Technology verses Nature and the Corruption through Power. It is no surprise to guess that the Emperor and his allies are seen as utilising bikes and gun wheels while the Jedi are seen astride giant goanna type creatures. When troop armys are portrayed there will be the delineation of droid armies or the machine like storm troopers against Ewoks, Gungans or Wookies. This is not always the case, but where it is, it is clearly a statement of Lucas’ that in this galaxy technological rationalization (as Herbert Marcuse calls it) runs riot on the dark side. An interesting contradiction to the technological breakthroughs that Lucas and his various franchises or Lucasfilm, Lucas Arts, ILM and Skywalker sound have made in creating them.

The other interesting contradiction in the Lucas world is his idea of the ideal society. There is little emphasis on the commercial aspects of the Star Wars universe. The ideal life that Lucas offers us has traders, but more on the level of almost medieval markets. No one goes to the supermarket, no thing has brand names and no one collects merchandising. Quite a difference to the reality that Lucas creates with one of the most heavily merchandised films in history. Lucas is able to give us the ideal of a perfect world where the characters fight elaborate battles, wear exotic costumes and yearn for tranquil forests while at the same time authorising the computer games, toy figures and forests of printed material emblazoned with the Star Wars logo. To see George Lucas now, it is harder to see the skinny kid from 1977 who one the back of THX-1138 and American Graffiti created this world. As much as he would like to portray himself as the classic mythmaker who broke the system with his unexpected vision, he looks more like the wealthy industrialist who is part of the system.

The Little Green Terror

It’s may now be over, but as Kenobi says to Anakin, “I have the high ground”. In the last film, to travel without attracting attention Anikin and Amidala travel on a refugee ship to Naboo. Don’t they know that they are just supporting the people traders by doing that? As the Howard government tells us, this sort of behaviour is just que jumping and they obviously should have found themselves in a Gungan detention centre. Of course this wont happen, and in fact we don’t even see the customs agents because this is a world “far, far away” from our own. The other interesting portrayal is of politicians themselves. Through the original trilogy, the leaders were either the blindly obedient or simply evil Empire or wise rebel leaders. Through the prequels the leaders are bureaucratics, who seem unable to make the decisions to keep peace. This view is actually spoken by Kenobi in Clones where he advises Anakin to not get too close to politicians. In Sith the great and wise leaders need to take a larger view, which is the justification of gaining a knowledge of evil, as portrayed in this film as the dark side of the Force or the Sith. This antiestablishment view would be natural for Lucas who grew up with the sixties loss of faith in leadership through the Vietnam War and Nixon’s Watergate.

The poorer side of Lucas vision is his multi-cultural view of Utopia. The first film in 1977 was populated with almost entirely White Anglosaxon’s, with token African Americans introduced in the sequels. Phantom Menace started with the trade federation, who characterizes of any stupid greedy race that you have an issue with (be it Asian or Jewish or whatever) and moved onto the equally stupid, but Uncle Tom like Jar Jar. It is due to the backlash that Lucas received that these characters had their rolls cut down in the sequels. Oddly the predominance of Maoris in clones cannot easily be explained. It may be that Lucas found them exotic looking to American audiences, dark, but not black. This is almost gone in Sith, though I think that with all the exotic planet names that Lucas has created, he could have chosen a better on than Mustafar (Mustapha) for the hell / volcano planet.

In the novelisation of the first movie back in 1977 gave a neat little summarisation of the events leading up to what is now called Episode 4: a new hope. Amazingly the main difference is that the Emperor is portrayed as a character who once he reached the ultimate power of President of the Republic then Emperor he shut himself away and was protected from the horrors that his Imperial governors inflicted on the galaxy “by the assistants and boot-lickers he had appointed to high office”. In the films the change in the structure of the Empire can be seen by comparing two scenes in the original trilogy. The conference room scene in Star Wars 77 where General Tagge confronts Vader with the accusation “’The Force’, don’t try to frighten us with your sorcerer’s ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient mythology has not helped you conjure up those stolen tapes.” Six years later and we have the Emperor established as the Sith Lord that Vader reports to, most obviously so in their discussion in Empire, where Luke’s power of the Force is troubling to the Emperor and his reign. This view of the mystical Force is consistent with its importance in all the subsequent films. That sort of overall plot is pretty impressive over the 25 year span of the series as it stands.

Ultimately the conclusion of the six film series can be equated to having a good shit. There is the feeling of satisfaction at the completion that comes from the resolutions involved. There is now a completeness that has impacted on the enjoyment of the previous two prequels that were merely the straining stages and the intervals before the movement is complete. Now that it is done we can wipe and move on, though in the knowledge that the action is always with us, ready to be experienced again, as a whole, when needed.

“And so it is” – Padme Amadala