Tag Archives: Anakin Skywalker

“STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH” Review (✫✫✫✫)

anakin

Hate leads to suffering.

At long last, we finally have it: the first genuinely good Star Wars prequel film. Not just good, but exceptional. Took them long enough. After grudging through two movies filled with stupid characters, incoherent writing and just plain bad acting, we finally get a film that delivers on all fronts: an exciting, thrilling parable that has a surprising amount of purpose and meaning behind it. Like its early predecessors, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith defies expectations and sets new standards narratively and visually for the science-fiction genre. I have no doubt that many passionate fans will watch this movie and have fevered discussions long after the film’s closing shot.

The final part in what is the mostly failed prequel trilogy, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith takes place where the second one left off, in the heat of the Clone Wars. At the beginning of Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) are on a mission to rescue Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmind) from the clutches of General Grievous (Matthew Wood), the commander of the droid army. In the aftermath of the mission, Anakin goes home to his beloved wife Padme (Natalie Portman), where she reveals to him that she is pregnant. While he’s excited at hearing that he will be a father, Anakin keeps having visions of a terrible future that haunts him day and night. As Anakin keeps seeing these visions over and over again, he soon resolves to stop this terrible future from happening, no matter what dark consequences may come of it.

A Star Wars fan for a long time now, one of the things I love most about the series is its mythology. The light and the dark side, the jedi, the force, all of it builds up very interesting ideas of good versus evil, moral philosophy, and the power of belief. The fact that Star Wars is an exciting, entertaining, and visually spectacular franchise is one achievement. The fact that it has added context behind it makes it all the more powerful.

But one topic that’s always evaded me is how exactly Anakin became Darth Vader. His backstory was mentioned in the original movies, but was never delved much further beyond dialogue.

Then we watched the prequel movies, and we desperately wished that his backstory was limited to only dialogue. 

The Phantom Menace was a boring, useless insight into Anakin’s childhood, and Attack of the Clones provided a whiny, bratty Anakin that seemed like he belonged on MTV more than he did in a Star Wars film. But the Anakin in Revenge of the Sith is a much more visceral, passionate, mature portrayal of the young jedi. He’s much more believable as a character and as a soon-to-be Darth Vader than he is in any of the previous movies.

This is praise for both Christensen and writer-director George Lucas, who is finally back to his A-game that he demonstrated having in A New Hope. The first thing that I love about this movie is the moral dilemma that it presents. In each of the Star Wars films, the main character was a do-gooding, courageously heroic archetype that fought for moral reasons rather than personal ones. Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Phantom Menace. Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy. Shoot, even Anakin in Attack of the Clones felt more like a larger-than-life movie hero than he did as a grounded character. 

Here though, Anakin and his twisted arc is the central focus. There is no “light side” to his character. He’s not concerned about the ways of the force, the principles of the jedi, the balance of the universe, or anything like that. He is a very self-centered, arrogant, fearful character: one who desperately wants to change his future, but who ultimately feels powerless in doing so, no matter how hard he tries.

I am reminded of a quote from The Phantom Menace spoken by the wise Yoda (Frank Oz), one of the very few good lines in the film. “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” This film is, in many ways, the buildup and resolution of that dark path. Think of the scene in Attack of the Clones where Anakin lost his mother and lashed out in a fit of rage against the raiders who killed her. How powerless do you think he feels when he can see another loss like that coming, but he sees no real way of stopping it?

This makes Anakin much more relatable than just the movie protagonist: it makes him relatable as a human being, complete with his own needs, desires, and fears. Revenge of the Sith is, at its heart, a tragedy, a hero’s fall from grace not unlike what we see in Julius Caesar or The Godfather. The only difference between those tragedies and this one is that this movie has lightsaber duels, blaster fights, space battles, quirky droids, and John Williams, along with everything else you love about Star Wars.

There is only one other Star Wars film that I can think of that is better than Revenge of the Sith, and that is the iconic 1980 film The Empire Strikes Back. They are both masterful for similar reasons. Both are fiercely strong in understanding their mythology and message. Both are relentlessly exciting, climactic, and entertaining. And both show, very importantly, that the greatest enemy that we must overcome is not the Sith or the Dark Side. It is ourselves.

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“STAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES” Review (✫✫)

And more importantly, less Jar Jar.

What was it that Yoda said to Luke on the swampy lands of Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back? “Do or do not, there is no try.” It seems to me like George Lucas still needs to learn this lesson and should have paid a visit to Yoda himself. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones is not as much a trainwreck as its predecessor is, although the title certainly makes it sound like it. The mythos is sound, the visual effects amazing, and the pacing builds up well to what will eventually be the fall of Anakin Skywalker. That much is how Episode II improves upon the boring and fatally flawed Episode I. Lucas still can’t direct his actors worth a damn, though.

In this sequel to The Phantom Menace, Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman), now senator of Naboo, was the target of an assassination attempt by Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), a bounty hunter hired to kill her for reasons unknown. Fearing for her life, the Jedi council assigns Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his padawan Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) to protect senator Amidala from other attackers. As they continue their mission, they make a discovery that spurs on one of the darkest times in the Star Wars universe: the clone wars.

I’ll give Lucas this: he’s a great visual director. Everything visually based in this film is at it’s peak and prime, from the visionary locations to the epic battles. There’s no more butt-ugly, CGI-ridden aliens to look at like the God-awful Gungans from The Phantom Menace (Although Jar Jar still makes a cameo appearance, unbelievably). The visual scope of the picture is absolutely incredible, and if I had to pick my favorite moments from the movie, all of them involve the visuals in some way.

For instance, in the first act of the film, Anakin and Obi-Wan are engaged in a chase through Coruscant after an ally assassin of Jango Fett. The feats of the scene are something else to witness, as we’re seeing Anakin hot-wiring a vehicle, flying through the city, hovercrafts racing against each other while evading other vehicles, and eventually leading to Anakin leaping off of his hovercraft and actively fighting the assassin on her own ship.

I was thinking only one thing through this scene: “Man. Luke would probably already be dead if he had to pull this off in the original trilogy.”

The same standard of visual spectacle is kept up throughout the movie, and it was as exciting and enthralling to witness as the original movies were. The most climactic scene came from not when the clones appeared, or when Anakin and Obi-Wan fought a sith lord: it’s when the sith had to engage in a lightsaber duel with the jedi that we were least expecting to fight. (Hint: Strong with the force, he is.)

But besides these visual breaks, what else did the movie provide? The plot is still paper-thin and unfocused, and we sense that Lucas is more interested in building up the mythology of Anakin Skywalker instead of focusing on the current story. Obi-Wan is caught up in a whole mystery on where the clones came from, and goes through an uninteresting investigation as it leads him to a place we were all expecting. And then the romance builds between two characters, and…

Oh God. The romance.

I’m going to spoil something for you here, okay? If you don’t want a spoiler, skip to the last paragraph. You’ve been warned.

In the film, Anakin and Padme form a romantic love interest that is obviously forbidden, because as we are told, Jedi are not allowed to love. I find multiple issues with this. 1) Forbidding Jedi to love is as awful an idea as forbidding a priest to love. That didn’t work with the Catholic church. Why did you think it would work here? 2) Christensen and Portman are not meshing at all. They are not convincing. Their awkward stares, plastic kisses, and unbearably cheesy dialogue shows that this whole thing is staged. There is not an ounce of true passion or lust in these characters for each other.

But those aren’t even the biggest issues. 3) Wasn’t Anakin just a kid when he met an adult Padme in The Phantom Menace? And if he grew into an adult here, doesn’t that mean that she should have grown too, not stayed the same? Jake Lloyd was 10 years old when The Phantom Menace was released, and Portman was 18. That means these two lovers are eight years apart? Gross.

Granted, Lucas wrote the characters to be only five years apart in the original script, but the original script doesn’t matter. What matters is what we’re seeing on the screen, and on screen, Portman looks like she’s 20 and Lloyd looks like a child. Wondering how that transitions over into Episode II is just too complicated to think about, and it distracts from the badly-acted romance we’re already watching on screen. Either way, its poorly written and poorly executed, and there’s zero excuse for either.

Overall, I had more fun with Attack of the Clones than I did with The Phantom Menace, and we’re at least getting a better buildup to Anakin’s eventual fate that we all know is coming. But this movie did not learn from the mistakes of its predecessor. It’s still too much buildup and not enough payoff, with the script begrudgingly meandering on as we’re supposed to sit through this unexciting, uneventful story waiting to get to the next action sequence. I thought Star Wars used to recognize storytelling more over the action, not the other way around? Get to meditating, George. Looks like you’ve got a lot of it to do.

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“STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE” Review (✫)

Yousa in big doo-doo dis time.

Never again. Don’t ever let this happen to Star Wars ever again. When Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was announced, George Lucas’ fan base exploded with excitement, preparing themselves to witness the beginning of Anakin Skywalker’s story before he became Darth Vader. Oh, are they going to be disappointed. This movie is every bit as stupid as the title sounds and then some.

Dating back 32 years before the events of the original Star Wars, The Phantom Menace finds the elder Ben Kenobi as the young padawan understudy Obi Wan (Ewan McGregor), serving under his master Qui Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson). They are assigned by the jedi order to defend Queen Amidala of Naboo (Natalie Portman) from the vicious Trade Federation, a group of long-necked, bulgy-eyed aliens that are so bloated and ugly that a Jim Henson puppet would be mortified.

The Jedi meet an assortment of characters along their journey. A younger, more polished R2-D2 sits aboard a Naboo space ship. A C-3PO without any outer plating (or as he likes to call it, being “naked”) wobbles around in a tiny Tatooine hut. A clumsy, idiotic gungan named Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) bumbles and falls everywhere like a ragdoll. And, of course, a young boy named Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) wanders around the dusty sands of Tatooine, illustrated here as a messiah-like figure to the force and the galaxy.

When I watched Star Wars many years ago as a small boy in Brownsville, TX, the thing I fell most in love with was its characters. The adventurous bounty hunters and princesses, the wise jedi, the noisy droids, the sinister sith, all of them enchanted me with their uniqueness and peculiarity. So many sci-fi epics rely too much on special effects to provide their spectacle. With Star Wars, the humans, aliens, and droids were the spectacle, and the groundbreaking visual effects complimented their presence without taking away focus from the story.

The characters were the best thing to come out of the original Star Wars trilogy. They’re the worst thing here. Oh my God, are they the worst thing. These characters are so bland, dull, and uninteresting that they could have all been replaced by droids and we wouldn’t have noticed the difference.

Take Liam Neeson as one victim, err, example. Here we have a fine actor, demonstrating his finesse in performances for movies including Darkman, Michael Collins, and Schindler’s List, the last of which earned him an Oscar nomination. In all of those movies, he has demonstrated an ability to express fear, anger, disappointment, courage, heroism, and earnest in both big, showy scenes and small, personal ones. Yet here, his ability as an actor is almost completely erased, being asked to throw on robes and swing around a lightsaber in the place of a performance. We have nothing from his character to make us remember or even care about him. He has one, cold-hard emotion throughout the film, and that emotion is serious. There is nothing else about him to make him either fun or fascinating, not in comparison with the charisma and calmness we got from Alec Guinness in the original series.

But Neeson is not the worst part of the movie. Indeed, he is only one victim among an entire assembly line of failures. Portman is plastic and looks like she doesn’t know why she’s on the set. McGregor is functional, but doesn’t demonstrate much purpose beyond linking this movie together with the original. I’ll cut Jake Lloyd some slack since he’s only a child actor at 10 years old, but I will say he did nothing to service his role and make me believe he’s supposed to become the most feared force in the galaxy. That’s not as much his fault as it is others though. I’ll come back around to that in a bit.

The biggest catastrophe in this movie is Jar Jar Binks, and he’s so damaging to the picture that I have to dedicate two paragraphs to his stupidity. He’s supposed to serve as the comedic relief, but believe me when I say there’s nothing comedic about this cretin. He bumbles and trips everywhere like a drunken idiot, speaking in nonsensical English so distorted that it would make Yoda want to take grammar lessons. “Ooey mooey”, “mesa” and “yousa” are not beyond his flawed vocabulary, and his voice is so whiny and high-pitched that it makes me want to strangle him by his flappy ears.

Compare Jar Jar to 3PO, a successful attempt at comedic relief in the series. 3PO is funny because he tries to be serious and fails. Jar Jar tries to be funny and comes off as annoying. If 3PO tripped and fell on himself as often as Jar Jar did, he would dent up his entire body plating and probably damage his processing core. Maybe that’s what happened to Jar Jar: he fell on his head so many times that he forgot how to use it.

Despite my hatred of all of these characters, I don’t blame the actors for their representation. I blame writer-director-creator George Lucas, who arguably had the most involvement in this film as opposed to the previous ones. How could he have misfired with this film so badly? 20 years ago, he gave cinema some of its most cherished characters, and now, he’s given cinema some of its most hated. With the imagination and the ambition he’s committed to the sci-fi genre for years now, I cannot explain how badly he’s written and directed this cast except for sheer lapse of judgement. There’s no other reason to explain how dull and uninteresting these characters are, or how moronic and insipid Jar Jar is.

What of the visual effects? The cinematography? The editing? The score? Read my previous reviews. You know what I think of them. A potentially good movie can be produced poorly, but likewise, a bad movie can also be produced wonderfully. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is some of the best-looking garbage you’ll ever see. To quote one of Jar Jar’s companions in the movie: “Yousa in big doo-doo dis time.” In English, that means you’re in deep… well, you know.

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“STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS” Review (✫✫✫✫)

J.J. Abrams: the spiritual successor to George Lucas.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a sheer blast of nostalgia, meaningful and joyous from it’s opening scroll credits to when John William’s score crescendos in the last shot. We’ve seen an updated Star Wars for a modern audience before, and that was in the lopsided and disappointing prequel trilogy. Now we have The Force Awakens, and it’s so good that it’s eligible to compete with the original.

It’s 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. A new sith named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has arisen and is bent on taking over the galaxy. His pursuits lead him towards a troup of misfits who have become acquainted almost by sheer chance. A scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) lived on the desolate planet of Jakku before she got entangled into this conflict. Finn (John Boyega) was a Stormtrooper who defected for reasons unbeknown to us. BB-8 is a spherical droid who wants to get away from Kylo Ren for reasons also unknown. What is known is that these three figures have something that Kylo Ren wants, and he won’t stop at nothing until he has fulfilled his destiny.

It’s hard to talk about this movie without giving away any spoilers. One thing I will say without giving too much away is that the story is exemplary, and is reminiscent of the adventure and intrigue that made Star Wars iconic in the first place. The screenplay, written by Toy Story 3 scribe Michael Ardnt and polished up by Star Trek director J.J. Abrams and The Empire Strikes Back writer Lawrence Kasdan, is an active synergy of the old and new, incorporating elements that we are familiar with while at the same time introducing original content all their own. This is not just a strong Star Wars story. It’s a strong story, period.

For me, that was my biggest concern going into the theater, and the biggest relief coming out of it. This was the first Star Wars movie where its key subjects would not be featured. Yes, we have references to the older films, but we don’t have Darth Vader. We don’t have Yoda. We don’t have Obi-Wan. We don’t have any of the key figures that linked the whole series together, minus R2 and C-3PO. How would the movie hold up on its own?

Very well, as it turns out, and the new cast members do a great job servicing their roles and making them memorable on their own. Driver is menacing and malicious as Kylo Ren, an egotistical and maniacal presence that reflects both the chilling imposition of Darth Vader and the deepening paranoia of Episode III’s Anakin Skywalker. Boyega is both humorous and likable as Finn, a reformed spirit who is just trying to find new meaning and purpose in his life. Out of the entire cast, however, I am most impressed with newcomer Daisy Ridley. This is the first time she has acted in a feature film, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell that based off of her performance. She is both heartbreaking and intriguing as Rey, equal parts fascinating, sympathetic, and compelling as this character whom is a complete mystery to us. Even by the end of the film, we still don’t understand everything about her, and that’s the point. We’re not supposed to understand her history; we’re supposed to understand her. Ridley did an amazing job at bringing this character to life, and out of anyone else from the cast, she made me most excited for her journey in the future installments.

Do I need to go into the film’s visual and sound effects? They were the groundbreaking features of the very first movies, and they’re stronger than ever in this motion picture. Part of that is because Abrams takes a note out of George Lucas’ old playbook, reverting to practical effects and detailed costuming to bring authenticity to this universe. He still uses CGI, but he doesn’t rely on it. He only uses it when he absolutely has to, when X-wings are firing at TIE Fighters or when lightsabers are clashing against each other. Everything else is created through elaborate art direction and set design, while the CGI is used to compliment the visuals rather than serve as them. The result is the most visually authentic out of any of the films yet.

I have one gripe, and one gripe alone, and that is that there are plot elements that eerily mimic the storyline of one of the original films. I won’t spoil it by saying which one. I will say that even in the face of that criticism, The Force Awakens still manages to make itself unique and special in a series that is already unique and special by itself. We said goodbye to this universe a long time ago. Rejoice as we are once again reunited with the galaxy from far, far away.

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