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Friday, September 16, 2011

Five Things I Love About Star Wars

A few years back I celebrated the tenth anniversary of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace with a post about the five things I love in that film. I always intended to continue on and do similar posts for each additional film, but never got around to it.

I figured today's release of the entire saga on Blu-ray was as good an excuse as any to finally finish the project, so here are five things I love about the rest of the Star Wars films (and you can read my Phantom Menace post here, as well as Dr. Bitz's rejoinder here). 

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones


"Across the Stars" 
If Anakin and Padme's romance has any resonance whatsoever, it's largely due to John William's sweeping and sorrowful love theme that completely tells the story of their tragic and doomed relationship without cheesy dialogue and wooden acting.  I've often said that it would be fun to watch the Star Wars movie as silent films, with only score and sound effects. If that were the case and it was left entirely up to this theme to tell their story, Anakin and Padme might have gone down as one of the greatest romances in film history.

Anakin's Breakdown
After mercilessly slaughtering the Tusken Raiders who captured and killed his mother, Anakin returns to the Lars homestead, to the very same place that Luke will later see Princess Leia for the first time. His breakdown, in which he declares that one day he will be the most powerful Jedi, is underscored by a haunting rendition of the "Imperial March", and for the first time it is clear that moppet child /petulant teen Anakin will one day become Darth Vader

Battle of Geonosis


If Phantom Menace gave us our first look at highly skilled Jedi action in its climactic lightsaber battle, Episode II ups the ante by giving us dozens of Jedi simultaneously kicking ass, eventually spilling out into one of the saga's best and grittiest ground battles.

Yoda
It's become a bit played out, thanks to Episode III and The Clone Wars, but I can't deny that the first time Yoda drew his lightsaber and transformed into a whirling dervish of green energy I was filled with childlike glee and excitement.

"Begun, the Clone Wars have..."


As Chancellor Palpatine watches the launching of Star Destroyers while the "Imperial March" swells triumphantly, we realize that not only have the Clone Wars begun, but so too as the Empire.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith 


Palpatine


Ian McDiarmid owns this film, effortlessly shifting from the coolly manipulative Chancellor Palpatine, telling Anakin exactly what he knows Anakin needs to hear, to the twisted and frightening Darth Sidious, who can dispatch four Jedi masters in seconds, and finally to the cackling super-villainy of the Emperor, hurling Force lightening at Yoda.

Padme's Ruminations
So called for the title of the track on the soundtrack, the scene in which Anakin, having told the Jedi that Palpatine is a Sith, struggles with deciding whether to intervene and save the man he believes can save his wife while a worried Padme looks out over the setting sun, is my favorite scene of the film. It's the moment upon which the entire saga hinges, and it's handled with uncharacteristic subtlety, letting a mournful wail and some gorgeous lighting do most of the work. 

Jedi Purge
A genuinely sorrowful sequence, as we watch the Jedi cut down by their own troops, especially for those of us well-versed in the Expanded Universe who know some of those Jedi thanks to books and comics.

Anakin vs. Obi -Wan 
It's the fight that everyone had been anticipating for over twenty-five years, and it's a fight that was probably doomed to disappoint many, as there is no way it could match what's been envisioned in the imaginations of thousands of moviegoers in the years since the pair discussed it vaguely during A New Hope. Still, I rather like it, particularly the first half (before the lava rivers and hoverboards get involved). If the lightsaber duel at the end of Phantom Menace was a fight of skill and elegance, this one is, fittingly, more akin to a knock-down, drag-out barroom brawl. 

Luke is brought to Tatooine


The prequels come full circle as Obi-Wan delivers the infant Luke to his aunt and uncle, and the trilogy comes to end with a scene echoing one of my all time favorites, as Luke and his new family look out over the setting suns of Tatooine.

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope


The Opening
One of the best openings in film history, as the narrative crawl gives way to an empty star field quickly filled by a starship pursed by another starship so large, it swallows the first and fills the screen. And with that, Star Wars is upon us. 

Binary Sunset


My single favorite scene in the entire saga, as Luke, unknowingly on the cusp of realizing his destiny, watches the setting suns of Tatooine while the Force theme plays in its entirety for the first time. It is a scene that perfectly captures that feeling of youthful yearning, of seeking adventure and excitement and a life of consequence.

Princess Leia
Leia kicks ass throughout A New Hope, sassing Darth Vader and lecturing Tarkin and bossing around Han, but she really shines shortly after Luke pulls her out of her cell aboard the Death Star amidst an onslaught of Stormtroopers. She quickly takes charge of the situation, finding a way out for her would-be rescuers as well as herself, in one move single-handedly upending the archetype of the princess who must be rescued by the hero.

Battle of Yavin


The only Star Wars film to not end with a lighsaber duel of some kind, it almost makes up for it with a brilliant aerial dogfight in space, inspired by World War II air battles. By the end, it amps up the tension by mercilessly stripping away all of Luke's support (first the rest of the fleet is destroyed, then his wingmen, then his co-pilot) until it's seemingly down to just Luke, Vader and a one-in-a-million shot.   

Archetypal
A New Hope may not be the most action-packed or technically superb of the Star Wars films, but it is perhaps the most purely archetypal, in which Lucas' study of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, as well as his love of Westerns, Saturday morning serials and Akira Kurosawa, is most visceral. Luke as the Arthurian hero, Obi-Wan his Merlinian mentor, Leia the princess imprisoned in the evil fortress, Han Solo the cowboy/pirate, Darth Vader the fallen knight and C-3PO and R2-D2 as the Greek chorus. While all the films will follow through on these threads (and introduce additional archetypes of their own), never are they more pure and direct than in this one. 

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back 


Darth Vader
Appropriately enough, Empire is Vader's film, as he runs roughshod over allies and foes alike, unrelenting in his pursuit of the Millennium Falcon and Luke. In the end, he loses only because an exhausted and crippled Luke chooses death over Vader. In A New Hope, he was an enforcer beholden to higher powers; in Jedi he's an object of redemption. But Empire is the film that establishes Vader as one of cinema's greatest villains.

The Asteroid Field 
A thrilling action sequence as Han recklessly dodges TIE fighters and asteroids alike, with an energetic score that, whenever it comes on while I'm in the car, makes me want to speed up and dangerously weave in and out of traffic.  

Training on Dagobah
Much of my love for this movie comes from the training sequences on Dagobah, as Yoda spouts bits of Zen wisdom (and insults) at Luke as he races through the jungle. It all culminates in Yoda effortlessly raising Luke's X-Wing from the swamp. "I don't believe it," Luke says, prompting Yoda to sadly reply, "and that is why you fail."

Lando Calrissian


Boba Fett is the breakout star of Empire, but I much prefer the other major character it introduced, the slick and smooth Lando Calrissian. As Han Solo edges ever closer to respectability, Lando steps in and ups the scoundrel quotient, making passes at Leia and cutting deals with the Empire. And he does it all while rocking a pimptastic cape.

Luke Loses His Hand


I don't know if this makes me a sick kid or what, but for whatever reason I was endlessly fascinated by the idea of Luke having his hand cut off by a lightsaber and replaced with a robotic replacement.  

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi


Princess Leia's Metal Bikini


Duh. 

The Emperor's Dialogue
His enunciation having been parodied by Family Guy and pop culture in general ("something something something Jedi, something something Dark Side"), Jedi finds the Emperor at his scenery-chewing best ("the Death Star will be quite operational, when your friends arrive"), nearly spitting his lines at Luke, radiating malice and sheer contempt ("your faith in your friends is yours!"). It makes his lines as much fun to say aloud along with him now as it did when I was a kid.

The Battle of Endor
I could take or leave most of the business down on the planet, but the space battle surrounding the Death Star improves on the battle in A New Hope by giving us even more rousing space combat, drawing in everything from faster fighters to larger capital ships, and culminating in a rollercoaster ride through the bowels of the Death Star, capped off by Lando's triumphant "wahoo!" 

Luke Cuts Loose


My favorite scene of the film, as Luke, taunted with threats of Darth Vader turning Leia to the dark side, snaps out of his Jedi calm and goes batshit crazy on Vader, overwhelming the villain through the sheer force of his anger, only stopping when he realizes how much like his father he's become (and he's returned Vader's end-of-Empire gesture).

Vader's Funeral Pyre


Forget the Teddy Bear picnic, the "yub-nub" song (or the Special Edition's more dignified but less fun finale music), and Ghost Jedi (pre- or post-Hayden), the real end of the Star Wars saga comes as a somber Luke sets ablaze his father's armor. We hear the Force theme for the final time as Luke's journey comes to an end, echoing the first time we heard it, just as Luke's adventure was about to begin, as he gazed wistfully out at the setting suns.      

12 comments:

  1. I want to add what makes the Obi Wan/Anikin fight even better...they are really moving that fast. The fact the actors, which they talk about in the "behind the scenes" stuff, is they didn't want to disappoint the fans. They knew this was the moment everyone was waiting for. So they didn't want to screw it up and wanted to make sure it was all them.

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  2. Anakin and Padme might have gone down as one of the greatest romances in film history.

    Aw, who knew our little Teebore was a romantic? :)

    Remember the Rancor? That's a stupid question but the point is: my husband knew a girl in high school whose last name was Rancor. Isn't that awful? I wonder if Jorge Lucas (haha!) knew a Rancor who(m?) he hated?

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  3. @Kalus5150: So they didn't want to screw it up and wanted to make sure it was all them.

    Great point. I do love the fact that they both performed that entire sequence, without relying on CG avatars, and without needing to speed up the film. It really does help sell it.

    @Joan: Aw, who knew our little Teebore was a romantic?

    You have no idea. 16-year-old Teebore was such a romantic sap, *I* want to go back in time and slap him upside the head. Oh, the poetry. The awful, awful poetry...

    my husband knew a girl in high school whose last name was Rancor. Isn't that awful?

    That is pretty awful. Better than having the last name of "Jabba" or "Hutt", but not by much...

    I wonder if Jorge Lucas (haha!) knew a Rancor who(m?) he hated?

    Or, more importantly, does the the word "rancor", meaning angry and having antipathy towards, come from some clan of Rancors whom pissed off various townsfolk through the ages?

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  4. Or, more importantly, does the the word "rancor", meaning angry and having antipathy towards, come from some clan of Rancors whom pissed off various townsfolk through the ages?

    Aha! Very good!

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  5. I found the big lightsaber battle in Episode II, like those in the skies, to be chaotic rather than choreographed. War might be like that, of course, and, yes, I realize that they were indeed choreographed in detail on computer, but it just registered as haphazard razzle-dazzle to me.

    The hate that I just registered for Phantom Menace in a comment on your 2009 post on that film is slightly lessened in regards to Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, but only slightly — Jar-Jar has less screen time in II & III and Anakin has made the transition from wooden, petulant kid to wooden, petulant teenager, an improvement insofar as actual performance aside you can at least take the character seriously as Darth Vader before he was Darth Vader. But, really… Feh. Almost every minute of all three prequels, just feh.

    You're right that what we'd always imagined, and had long since given up hopes of ever seeing, probably couldn't live up to our imagination, but the stuff we'd never thought about that surrounded it was a mess, too. Even the timeline was screwed up; Obi-Wan aged a lot in those years of hermitage on Tattooine, and I never figured Darth Vader for such a young man in A New Hope.

    I really wanted to justify the prequels by saying, hey, at least we got new Star Wars films — and of course, George Lucas has the moral authority to rework, expand, and screw with his babies however he likes. But "at least" is really the operative phrase; the films fulfilled the old age of wanting something in the worst way and getting it in the worst way.

    Just when I thought that nothing could make the prequels less disappointing than they were on their own terms (although, given that Episodes II & III were better than Episode I, that was actually possible), along came the emotional, transitional end of Revenge of the Sith to demonstrate the lost potential that the prequels had and somehow make their failure to like up to their legacy even worse.

    I've long said that had Lucas foregone the trilogy of prequels in favor of maybe a 10-minute (if that) montage of new material on some 20th-anniversary DVD release of the original trilogy we'd all be praising him for his artistry and restraint. All we needed were the most fleeting sequences, perhaps narrated by Ewan MacGregor channelling Alec Guinness, tastefully showing some key scenes as an extended introduction to the initial three films, concluding with that lava battle; the birth of Luke & Leia; the exiling of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and the droids; and Anakin's haunting, lumbering birth as the respirator-suited Darth Vader. Can you imagine the wow factor? Yet instead, feh.

    VW: BackCo — The mail-order merchant for all your dorsal- and lumbar-support needs.

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  6. To leave on a positive note, though: What you praised about Episodes IV-VI is spot-on, with the "Archetypal" passage especially well done. I do love the original Star Wars trilogy, so I'm really sorry to spew bile at the prequels and then dash.

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  7. Thanks for using the original Star Wars poster, by the way... I'm old enough to have seen the first film in theaters on its original release in 1977 (at age 6; oh, it was a thrill) — as well as during its theatrical re-release the next year, in the days before even widespread cable or VHS. We used to get paper brochures showing what was, um, showing at the movies, and I vividly remember the banner in front of this poster image on the little folded-up, photocopied blue piece of paper that read "Star Wars held over for record 8th week!" (and on, as it just stayed all summer).

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  8. umm, i kinda want to see some of this teenage teebore poetry.
    I think i have a soft spot in my heart for Episode I, purely because we skipped school to go see it with our friends and because i love Ewan MCGregor and Liam Neeson and the lightsaber battle at the end was what i always knew Jedis could really be like if we only got the chance to see them

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  9. I tend to agree with all your points. I also went and read your stuff on Phantom Menace, a movie which I personally still enjoy. I realize there's a lot wrong with it, but I like that it's a much smaller story than Episodes II and III, with their huge, galaxy-spanning political plots and war. Qui-Gonn may be my favorite Jedi character. And it does have John Williams' strongest score of all the films.

    But since this post isn't about Episode I, I'll also say that my number one most loved thing about all the prequels is Coruscant. If it's not too ridiculously nerdy to have a "favorite planet" in Star Wars, then Coruscant is mine. I love the architecture, the constant air traffic, the landing platforms that just float in the sky, the spaceport from Episodes II and III, and of course the Senate and the Jedi Temple. The whole thing is just such an amazing visual accomplishment. I enjoy the episodes of Clone Wars set there more than most any others, just for the scenery.

    (I'm also a pretty big fan of Naboo, but we haven't really seen all that much of it.)

    And I'm glad to encounter someone else who listens to Star Wars music in the car...!

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  10. @Blam: I found the big lightsaber battle in Episode II, like those in the skies, to be chaotic rather than choreographed.

    I will admit to nerdily having watched, via DVD, most of the Star Wars lightsaber battles in something fairly close to stop motion just to study the choreography, so it stands out a lot more to me, but there's definitely, for better or worse, a chaotic-ness to the end of Attack of the Clones.

    But, really… Feh. Almost every minute of all three prequels, just feh.

    I left comment on my Phantom Menace post that isn't really a defense of the prequels, but more like an explanation for why, even though I like the originals better, I can still watch and derive some enjoyment from the prequels.

    Thanks for using the original Star Wars poster

    I adore the original posters, and they remain the posters by which I judge all over movie posters (I miss the days when movie posters were actually well designed and iconic; you just don't get that much anymore...). I'm also partial to Drew Sturzan's prequel posters. In fact, I have the Attack of the Clones poster hanging on my wall, not because it's my favorite movie but because it's one of my favorite posters and, like "Across the Stars" captures the epic, sweeping thrill of the story better than the film itself.

    I'm old enough to have seen the first film in theaters on its original release in 1977 (at age 6; oh, it was a thrill)

    Ah, I envy you "first timers" who got to see the originals in the theater. My earliest Star Wars memory is of seeing Jedi with my parents, but it would have to have been the '85 re-release (and my memories of it are vague, at best). Beyond that, my first experiences with Star Wars were all TV Movie/home video until the Special Edition releases in '97.

    @Sarah:think i have a soft spot in my heart for Episode I, purely because we skipped school to go see it with our friends

    Definitely me too. I have nostalgia of an entirely different sort for those Episode I days, and all the hype and excitement surrounding it.

    @Matt: Qui-Gonn may be my favorite Jedi character.

    Ditto, at least prequel era (I have a fondness for Obi-Wan and his shifty definitions of truth). Liam Neeson really pulled an Alex Guinness and lent some much needed weight to that first film.

    If it's not too ridiculously nerdy to have a "favorite planet" in Star Wars, then Coruscant is mine.

    Well, I certainly can't throw stones when it comes to nerdiness. :) I could always toss "Zonoma Sekot" or "Mandalore" out there as favorite planets, after all (not that I would).

    I don't know that I have a favorite planet. Even as a kid, the uni-climate planets bugged me, so I kinda like Naboo for being a generally Earth-like planet without one dominate climate, but I do like Coruscant, too (it's at least the most realistically uni-climate planet out there), especially seeing it on film after it being the center of so many of the novels.

    And I'm glad to encounter someone else who listens to Star Wars music in the car...!

    Oh yeah. Back in the days of mix CDs, I had a couple Star Wars CDs I had made that were an assortment of songs from the scores and random other bits of audio Star Wars ephemera, like Bill Murray's "Star Wars" song from SNL, a techno version of "Duel of the Fates" and Weird Al's "Yoda". They were pretty awesome, and I listened to them a lot, especially in the runups to the prequels.

    Nowadays I just have most of the scores on my iPod.

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  11. I think something us "first-timers" have going for us is the same thing that makes some of us reflexively dismissive of the prequels. For me, the gap between every film, the waiting, the anticipation was too much. Yes, I, too, can find things to enjoy in the prequels. But my first time seeing every film is spread out over 25 plus years, where as my kids can watch all 12 hours over a weekend.

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  12. @MOCK!:But my first time seeing every film is spread out over 25 plus years, where as my kids can watch all 12 hours over a weekend.

    Good point: the ability to watch them all now in one sitting (or at least on your own schedule) probably makes a huge difference.

    That said, while the waiting was, at times, a pain in the ass, I still remember fondly the time between each of the prequels, combing magazines for snippets of information, getting excited over released pictures from the set, watching the trailers again and again while making guesses about the plot, reading the novels that filled in the story between films.

    I was probably at just the right place in my life to be able to fully indulge in that kind of stuff (in college and shortly thereafter), and there will probably never be anything like it again in my lifetime. But I'll always remember that "waiting game" somewhat fondly.

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