Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Complete Star Wars Saga

So last week, Avon schools were on Fall Break. For the youth who were not going anywhere I held a Star Wars marathon, because there was more than 1 who had never seen a Star Wars movie. Fourteen youth participated in this event, but only five made it the whole night (technically if take out the people who dozed off I think only one made it the whole night with me.)

Watching all of the Star Wars movies in one sitting was a life goal of mine. Now that I have taken in the whole Star Wars story at one time here are some of thoughts about my favorite movies

1. The Original Trilogy is better
I have long been a defender of the prequel movies, especially episodes II and III, claiming they are not that bad and that episode III especially is quite good. However, when viewed from a story telling perspective and viewing both prequels as separate story arcs in the same saga, the prequel does not hold a candle to the original. The main reason for this, comes down to pacing. The prequel trilogy is to rushed in its pacing. For example compare Episode IV to Episode I. In A New Hope, there are three segments that feel roughly equal (even though time wise they are not). In a very rough outline form the plot progresses as such Tatooine (introduction)==>Death Star (rising action)==> Yavin IV (finale). Episode I though progresses as such Naboo (introduction)===>Tatooine (Introudction/Rising Action)===>Coruscant (Rising Action)==>Naboo (finale). Star Wars as always uses a change in location to push the plot along, and in the prequel movies they are changing locations to many times. Compared to the movies of the original trilogy the pacing of the prequels feels far to rushed and hectic.

2. The Best part of the story is not explicit
So when viewed as one story, all of the Star Wars movies together really do tell a good epic, with Darth Vader as the main character. The problem is that a lot of the major themes that are associated with Darth Vader's story are present but not explicitly presented. For example, a major part of the Darth Vader story is that he is the "chosen one" who will bring "balance to the force." However, the story never resolves if he actually does it (this is partly because Return of the Jedi was made 16 years before Phantom Menace, but regardless). Darth Vader does restore balance to the force, but the details are not told. Here is how it goes down. One of the MAJOR problems with the prequels is they never explain why the force is out of balance in the first place. Some references are made, and it is sort of revealed the jedi believe the force is out of balance because the sith still exist. However, this is not it at all. The force is out of balance, because the Jedi have lost focus of the light side. The jedi became to much of a political entity and focused to much on periphery concerns (avoiding attachment) instead of focusing on others unconditionally (which Anikan says is the point of the Jedi. Taking young children from their families, and commanding a slave army are not actions that a "good" organization would do without serious moral qualms. The fact that the Jedi did this show they had sort of lost their way. This is shown by how arrogant the jedi are portrayed (examples include the librarian from episode II, and Yoda saying that arrogance was becoming common in jedi) This is why their ability to use the force had diminished, and this is why the force was out of balance. Darth Vader and the Emperor swung the balance the other way, and plunged the galaxy in darkness.
However, in the end Darth Vader redeemed himself. One of the cool aspects of Darth Vader is the path that led him to the dark side was a selfish desire to save some one else, but the action that redeemed him was a selfless act to save someone else. This action left Luke the last Jedi or Sith in the galaxy. More importantly, as a Jedi he had learned to face his anger and hate without giving into them. This means that Luke, the sole force user, was balanced and this was brought by the actions of Darth Vader so he did fulfill the prophecy in the end.

3. George Lucas can not be trusted with technology
One of the biggest things the prequel movies show is that George Lucas gets carried away when he has access to computers that can literally do anything. Prime example of this is Jar Jar Binks, which reaches its climax in episode I with a juvenile and unnecessary fart joke. Even the original trilogy is tainted by this with the special editions. Going to far with technology is best seen in Return of the Jedi.

4. The music is awesome
Well actually this is a no brainer, but when watched together it is absolutly incredible how good of a job John Williams did at integrating some of the original trilogy themes into the prequel trilogies. This is especially true with the Imperial march, it makes a foreboding quick appearance in episode I, comes out in a bit more force in the other 2 prequel movies, only to be full realized in Empire Strikes Back. This music is used very well to convey the rise of Darth Vader and the Empire.

5. Timing is odd
This is a nitpick, but the timing of the movies across the board is odd. With the exception of Episodes I and II and the time between the movies is never stated, and I only knew them from outside the movie sources. Also some of the movies, especially Attack of the Clones and the Empire Strikes Back have internal timing issues. Basically, these movies have to be watched with the assumption that the events are being portrayed in the best story telling order but not necessarily chronological order, because if the events are shown in a strict chronological order, then some of then the timing is truly odd and off.

6. The universe is better than the Story

The appeal of Star Wars to me has always been the universe. George Lucas did create an exciting galaxy far, far away that is fun to get a glimpse into. When compared to other modern epics like the Lord of the Rings, story wise Star Wars does not get close. However, I would rather play a video game or read a book set in the Star Wars universe because the setting is much more compelling. Plus, with the exception of Episode I (and Episode II when I am being cynical) Star Wars is always FUN to watch and get lost in.


Blogger Justin Dohoney said...

Last winter break, I tried to get my brother and some friends together to watch all 6 movies in one setting, but we never quite found the time. I think we'll try again this winter, especially since it's been 2 or 3 years since I've watched any of them. Without having done so, I wanted to comment on your points, since I heartily agree with most and subtly disagree with some. I'll go through numerically.

1. The original trilogy is definitely better. It's taken me a long time to come to terms with how I feel about the prequels. I don't particularly like them but they do get better as they go, with Episode 3 really only being a few notches below the clunkiest moments of the original trilogy. There's certainly not much of the 17 year old fanboy in the Corydon cinemas left however. I think I've come to the judicious conclusion that the prequels are no where near as good as the die hard fanboys claim nor are they as bad as the most vociferous critics contend. I think one problem, besides the utter lack of chemistry between Padme and Anakin, is that Lucas tried to turn a back story into a main story and it just didn't take. And, if I may play director, I feel like Lucas simply did a lot of things wrong (foremost among them, deciding to write and direct them himself). He never seems to have picked a main character: it was really Qui-Gon in the Ep. 1, then slowly shifted to Obi-Wan, then was shared between Obi-Wan and Anakin in Ep 2. We really had to wait till Ep. 3 to see Anakin in the prime role. He shouldn't have introduced Anakin as a child, and we should have seen more of his training. It also seriously bothered me that Anakin and Padme "feel in love" just sitting around on Naboo doing NOTHING. The Han/Leia story was so compelling because they were on the run from the Empire. But this was the EXACT SAME CIRCUMSTANCES in which we find Anakin and Padme. They should have been jetting across the galaxy with bounty hunters on their tale, Anakin could save her life, and she could fall in love, or something, ANYTHING other than a picnic in a freakin' meadow. Sorry, I get worked up about that sometimes...

2. I agree mostly with this, though I do somewhat differ in your assessment of Anakin's falling to the dark side. I think Ep. 3 was a vast improvement on the previous prequels because you finally saw the anguish in Anakin as he vacillated between light and dark. I'm not entirely sure that his transition was smooth enough at the end. The problem was that he WAS being selfless in his turn to the dark side: after all he was doing it for Padme. This made him something of a Faust-like character to me--maybe this was the point. The transition from Chancellor to Sith lord was subtle and beautifully done with Palpatine, but with Anakin he suddenly went ape-shit on Obi-Wan and I was kinda left scratching my head. Vader's self-sacrifice at the end of Ep VI did make sense as an act of redemption, but he seems to have attempted to accomplish the same thing in Ep. 3 with Padme. Apprently, in the Star Wars universe it is the means not the ends that matter.

3. I agree 100% though the example you gave is not one of my least favorite moments of technology run amok. It goes without saying that the gungans fit this mold in prequels, but Greedo shooting first will remain for me the most ridiculous moment of the Special Edition trilogy.


8:31 PM  
Blogger Justin Dohoney said...

4. No argument here.

5. I've never really thought about this one, but you're absolutely right, the timing is really weird in these movies, especially in Empire Strikes Back. Presumably, Luke's training should take a lot longer than the amount of time it takes for the Millennium Falcon to traverse an asteroid field. Maybe he really didn't need that much training being a Skywalker and all. Or there was some relativistic effect in light speed travel....no, you're right it's just the storytelling.

6. I also agree, though my age and (dare I say?) maturity has taken me away from this universe. Perhaps I'll explore it again one day, but for now I'm content with my memories of Grand Admiral Thrawn and Mara Jade, tales of thousand year old bounty hunters and dark Jedi awakened from the dead. It is certainly an epic universe...

8:31 PM  

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