5.24.2005

How to have a light saber duel

and wind up in the hospital:

1. Get yourselves two light sabers (long, cylindrical fluorescent light bulbs should do).
2. Fill them with gasoline.
3. Light them on fire.

While we're on this, anyone have any comments on Revenge of the Sith? I thought that -- once I gave the film a pass on the wooden dialogue and stiff acting (Lucas has only had nearly three decades to improve these) -- it was barely okay. I came out feeling satisfied that the series had filled the gaps, brought the whole thing rather poetically full circle, and explained much more than I wanted to know about why mannikin -- sorry, Anikin -- went all DV. However, the last two films had lowered my expectations nearly to the floor, so on balance, as a film per se, like any other film, I'd have to say it very nearly also sucked, though not quite. And it was nice to have the Senate nuclear option happen in a galaxy far, far away that is not called Washington, D.C. -- an 11th hour deal by moderates would have so ruined that climax.

11 comments:

semanticist said...

Sigh. When I saw a link, I was hoping against hope it was a photo circa 1977 of you and Gwarbot...

TLB said...

Well, Grendel, you heard my first reaction Sunday night, but I'd love to expound more (I always do). I should admit that I am a huge Star Wars dork and have often forgiven the original series just about everything, including the annoying Ewoks, the hammy dialogue and bad acting, because the story was so good. Farm boy leaves home and discovers his destiny. Yeah, Mark Hamill's acting is cheesy. But given the subject matter, really, did anyone expect Carvesque subtleties? No. It's a grand adventure on a Lord of the Rings scale. Good versus evil.

And that is the problem with the current series. Not one of the bad guys even came close to achieving the magnificent heights of the entrance of Darth Vader in the first film. They're not much of an obstacle. You don't know a thing about any of them or really feel much of a sense of menace about them. They all die off pretty easily. They seem to be a set of bowling pins set up so that Lucas can have his cool lightsaber battles. Without a sense that the dark side villians are truly difficult to defeat, the Emperor's rise doesn't feel like anything really terrible, despite the best work Ian McDiarmid's done so far. (He was pretty cool in Sith, but it felt wasted.)

There were too many characters, and none of them got the wonderfully careful development of the main characters in the first series. I mean, think how long Lucas took just getting the two droids to Luke's farm in the first film. He NEVER would have wasted that much time with the story in the second series. It would take time away from his lightsaber duels and introduction of pointless characters.

The story had so many disastrous and poorly developed subplots that the main story of Anakin got buried. The first movie should have followed him, or at least Obi-Wan Kenobi, in greater detail. Why the hell is it that there's been three new films and we don't know anything more about Obi-Wan than we did at the end of Episode IV? Couldn't we have gotten a little more about Padme, a little more about Anakin? Virgin birth? COME ON!

Finally, there were no a-ha moments. All the surprises were spent on the original series. The big secret, that Palpatine was a Sith lord, wasn't a secret to anyone watching the films, just to the characters in the story. With everything else that was going on, wasn't there room for a few surprises?

So although Sith didn't suck nearly as much as the first two films, I am still going to try to pretend they don't exist. I didn't want much from these movies--just a cool story--and that was the one thing they didn't deliver.

Grendel said...

Semanticist: Alas, here is the only photo I can find catching a young Grendel and Gwarbot at any kind of pyromania. Battling with flaming lightbulbs was right up our alley. This pic must be from 1971-1972, but it was a short hop from lighter fluid and charcoal brickets to aiming bottle rockets at each other, blowing up toys with ever-larger firecrackers, trying to get model rockets to explode in mid-air, and heading down to the drugstore armed with a handy encyclopedia recipe for gunpowder ("Here's your salt petre and sulfur, sonny. Charcoal's over there. Say, whaddya need all that stuff for anyway?")

TLB: You are so right on all that. Thank you for clarifying and expounding! One thing: wasn't killing stormtroopers also like knocking down dominoes in the early films? I remember being a little annoyed at how easily they died.

TLB said...

Yes, and it has it's own name, Grennie: The Stormtrooper Rule. The new films went a little *too* far in explaining that, IMHO>

Brando said...

TLB is the Jedi fucking Master of Star Wars criticism.

My view on Revenge of the Sith:

First half is an Yngwie Malmsteeen solo, all flashy notes and no originality. Yeah, it's technically brilliant, but it doesn't rock. (This applies to the first two movies in their entirety.) Second half is Eddie Van Halen, flashy but also catchy, maybe a little immature for these ears now, but at least pleasurable.

In total: it's Steve Vai. I give it a B.

Vampiro said...

I think I'm more forgiving of these last Star Wars films than any intelligent person ought to be. I'm a sucker for spectacle, and if Lucas can do anything (ok, one thing) well, it's spectacle. Yes, I giggle and groan through the "character moments." But I'm otherwise happy by the time I leave. (disclosure: I am also a big fan of all three Jurassic Park films, and I'll be first in line when this fourth one comes out) The spectacle factor of the third film is higher than that of the first two (my, oh my, that opening battle is quite an eyefull, and who doesn't love lava?), and the groan/cringe factor is slightly lower. Ergo, the ratio of cringe to joyous squeal is mathmatically superior in Sith. I therefore declare it an enjoyable movie. I'd even argue that the montage of Jedi slayings is the most moving moment in the entire trilogy.

But, trying to be a smarter person, I will say that I'm vastly disappointed by the whole project of these three films. Character development is passable, if not great, in the orignal series, but in those films the characters have a lesser distance to go from beginning to end. Lucas set himself a formidable challenge with the new films: showing the transformation of Skywalker into Vader in a more or less understandable (sympathetic?) light. Oh, and he's obligated to give us awesome space battles and freaky bad-guys.

But we really don't see a very convincing, character-driven transformation of Annie. Here's a dude who turns to utter and irredeemable evil because of his deep love for a woman. That's a pretty sweet-ass moral, ethical character dilemma. But there's no reflection or thought about anything. Either Annie goes through his character development offscreen (between movies--look how much he changed between between Ep1 & Ep2!) or he's simply presented with a choice and picks the evil one. There's a pretty big leap between a character, fighting for good, trained in the ways of self-discipline and zen-mastery, saying to Palpatine, "Yes, I want you to help me keep my lady alive" and him saying, "Sure, I'll hack the heads off some adorable children with adorable accents."

Basically, I don't think that I really got to see how Annie became Vader as much as I got to see the early history of the Republic (which was pretty cool). In the hands of a better writer this could have been volitile stuff, and I suspect it could be done without sacrificing lava fights and cool-ass spaceships. (Please, please don't accuse me of wanting this trilogy to be some touchy-feely, reflective, interior character study. But dammit, we want to see how Darth Vader was born. We don't want to see a couple crucial moments where he makes wrong choices for simplistic reasons.)

Vampiro said...

Shall I continue? Why yes, now that I'm AT work rather than running late for work, I shall.

Lest I be accused of, for example, saying to Gordo, "While I enjoyed the goblins who live in the toilet bowl, what do they [airquote] feel, what is their [airquote] world view," I'd like to roll out a contrasting example: has anyone, beside me and the King of the Franks, seen the new Battlestar Galactica series on the SciFi channel?

It's spectacular. I'd boldly say that it is far and away the best science fiction series ever put on television, but I'd also venture to rank it among the best of Lit-TV (Sopranos, Homicide, etc., etc.). The narrative arc of the season is as complex and engaging, if not more, than the arc of the best in new TV. You have a multitude of characters, each of them distinct, subtle, and compelling, each of them worthy of entire episodes. The conflicts on the show range from the personal ("It's hard being an alcoholic when there is a small and diminishing supply of booze left in the universe. And, oh yeah, my wife's a bigger drunk than I am and a flagrant slut.") to the big-idea ("Wait, wait...the human race is nearly obliterated, we're being hunted by a vastly powerful force, I've pretty much got things under control, and you want ELECTIONS?!") to the fantastical ("Perhaps I've been acting so funny because I'm actually a killer robot built to look like a human and I don't know it.") And all this incredible character work only adds to the big spaceship battles and running gunfights. The moral issues dealt with are complex and no decision made is unambiguous and possibly immoral, and yet there's plenty of action and spectacle. So, in short, it can be done and done well in this medium. And I wish whoever wrote BSG had written Ep1-3.

I'd highly recommend anyone with a sci-fi bone in the body to check out the series. It's the kind of show that it incredibly difficult to jump into mid-season, so you might want to wait until the DVD comes out later this year. There's a miniseries that launches the whole thing (which I have not seen because it's spent weeks at the top of my Netflix queue on "Long Wait").

End plug.

Charlemagne said...

I wholeheartedly agree with the Mexican drink. BSG is a fantastic television series. There are serious political events that happen that make you worried about your response. You can't believe that you are sympathizing with the military trying to block elections even though the show does a good job of showing that it is needed to have elections. There are not only moral and political issues that are dealt with, there are religious issues. These are issues that you don't expect. Issues that involve monotheism and pantheism. It is great stuff.

The show is not short of effects, but these battle scenes do not drive the show. When there are battle scenes. the "camera" work gives the viewer the impression that the camera itself is in a fast moving ship and is having trouble focusing on the action of other ships moving at a variety of speeds.

And, sweet Jesus, Edward James Almos. My god.

Grendel said...

This no-cable-having chump can't wait for the BSG DVD.

As for the Sith, Entertainment Weekly (Java House copy!) suggested what Lucas should have done was collapse existing contents of 2nd trilogy into an episode 1, and then have episodes 2 and 3 chart Vader's ascension from angry, robed burn victim to Death Star commander. As it is, we also miss Luke's childhood and Obi-Wan's development. I think I would have liked that better,

NicFitKid said...

Lucas is a sloppy storyteller. Period. I admire his imagination, but only the use of non-Lucas screenwriters and directors gave the original trilogy the cut and trim it needed to crank out a rousing space opera. With the prequels, he had complete creative control (mistake), and led us all on a long journey into nonsensical superFX land.

EpIII has too much going on, and doesn't even remain consistent with the orginal trilogy, let alone all the Expanded Universe material that Lucas has licen$ed off since Timothy Zahn wrote Heir to the Empire (for tortured fanboy debate on EU vs. movies, see any starwars forum).

Take for example General Grievous, the droid general with a bad case of bronchitis. Where'd he come from, what the hell's his story, and why does he keep coughing? Well, fanboys know him from season two of the Cartoon Network microseries Clone Wars by Genndy Tartokovsky, and they know that Mace Windu force-crushed his chest as he escaped with the kidnapped Palpatine in the last episode of the microseries, but the average movigoer isn't going to have a clue. The poor general's only function in the movie is to threaten Obi Wan with four lightsabers at once and then get his butt kicked.

Or how about the fact that Padme dies in childbirth, surrounded by supergizmo medtech, simply because this was the only lame plot device Lucas could come up with to push Anikan towards the Dark Side. Nevermind that Leia has a whole little scene in Return of the Jedi where she tells Luke she remembers her mom as a very beautiful and very sad woman who died when she was young. Also, what's up with Palpatine telling a newly minted Vader that his wife died, but failing to mention the children? How can Vader be searching for his son in Empire Strikes Back if he never knew Padme's children survived her death?

What ultimately doesn't work in EpIII is the Ani's conversion into Vader. Physically, yes, he's burned and and a triple amputee, so on with the Vader suit. But the audience should be drawn into Vader's perspective, and that never happens. There's no real betrayal of Ani by the Jedi or Obi Wan or anybody, so his conversion to Dark Side thinking seems more like whiny teen angst than Greek tragedy. Where's the passion?

This is the missing a-ha moment that tlb referred to. The audience knows that Ani goes Vader. They know that Senator Palpatine becomes Emperor and forms the Empire. What no one knows, and what should have been the relevatory moment, was what specific motive event Ani to the Dark Side? Mace Windu trying to kill Sen. Palpatine just doesn't work as the relevatory conversion moment for Ani to swear his undying allegiance to the Dark Side. Perhaps if the monastic, non-familial Jedi had taken away his children because they were considered too powerful in the force and because Ani, as a Jedi, wasn't even supposed to have kids, then the audience could understand his desperate drive to amass enough power through Palpatine and the Dark Side in order to get his kids back. It'd be like Darth Vader; he's all about the family.

My point is, what's Vader's motivation? That's the real reason I paid my seven bucks to see this movie, and Lucas's inability to put together a plausible, emotionally resonant motivation sinks the whole eneterprise. A 30 second appearance by a costume and some respirator breathing is no substitute.

TLB said...

ooh, yeah, courierblue, taking the kids away would have been SO much better as a motivation (though Anakin was only aware of one child), and would have fixed that pesky problem of Leia remembering her mother. Dying in childbirth is SO not part of a galaxy far, far away. How much more interesting would it have been, do you think, if Padme and Anakin had been enemies, forced to confront each other as such, instead of that lame-o half-scene on the volcano planet?

I didn't know that there was fanboy background on General Grievous. A lapse in storytelling--either the movie needs background to put the General in context, or he needs to come out.

I really think the first two movies should have been compressed into one and the third should have been two. Alas.