WARNING: THERE ARE LIKELY TO BE SOME "SPOILERS" IN THIS REVIEW/RANT
While I don't think the prequels were complete
garbage (and certainly the newest one is the best of them), since so many people are saying how much they love the newest one, I felt it was my duty as a die hard Star Wars geek (who grew up with the original films), to rain on the parade.
(or put better, to add some balance by offering the"other side.")
I was disappointed with the "prequels", and feel if anything they highlighted George Lucas' weakness as a director, and writer of convincing dialogue. These inherent weaknesses were only made worse by films which suffered
due to being (primarily) showcases for new/experimental computer FX technologies.
Thus, wedded to weaknesses in the writer/director's abilities, you had actors being filmed continually in front of blue screens (with an astounding lack of real sets and real locations) and being only given the script in bits and pieces (because it's all oh so super secret); IOW, all
of this created a situation where otherwise competent-to-great actors (like Liam Neeson or Ewan McGregor) come off looking quite badly.
The films also suffered due to George Lucas' "autonomy" this time around - for the original trilogy, he had a lot of limitations to work under, and due to them being studio films (20th Century Fox is now only the distributor - this time 'round Lucas is an empire unto himself, and really didn't need
their involvement as such), he was forced to work with people he may not have wanted to. And most significantly, the second and third films of the original trilogy (while scripted by Lucas) were not directed by George Lucas
. Agreed by most to be easily the best of the Star Wars films, The Empire Strikes Back
was directed by Irvin Kershner
, a very talented director, who brought a great deal of passion and personal depth to the 'Star Wars' saga. Kershner is a Buddhist, and a lot of the sensitivity and "feeling" that was associated with the Jedi/the Force, etc. is really the result of his direction and his input into what got onto the screen (including him ad-libbing dialogue at times, much to the chagrin of Lucas.)
It would be this film (Empire Strikes Back) which would deeply affect how it's sequel (Return of the Jedi; directed by Richard Marquand) turned out and "felt", and interestingly enough, totally coloured how people would interpret and remember the original 'Star Wars: A New Hope" (which if taken on it's own, while very innovative for it's time and entertaining, is pretty corny and has obvious limitations - not to mention it could have stayed a "stand alone film" had it bombed at the box office.)
While the new special effects are interesting, I wasn't as wowed as perhaps some people were - cgi technology is still
(IMHO) not at the point where it's flawless, and as such the cgi work in the new films is all over the place; some of it's fantastic, some of it's not so fantastic. The "fantastic" stuff isn't so much bad, as just not convincing - you know
deep down that what you're looking at is fake. The best cgi was the stuff done for Yoda in the second and third prequel, though not even all of this is consistantly excellent. I think the best approach would have been to use the strengths of different mediums; there is still
a place for model building and miniatures in special effects, the biggest strength of cgi being the ability to seemlessly and credibly intigrate these with live action shots in a way that wasn't possible in times past. The ships in the original came off as substantial, and "real" - even down to the wear and tear that flying through space debris and radiation would cause. The ships in the new film struke me as looking like something out of a really slick video game; visually exciting, but not convincing. And was there any reason why so many Storm Troopers and aliens had to be completely done in cgi?!!
I felt at times like I was watching a really elaborate cartoon - there is no good
reason for this - in fact it probably would have been easier and cheaper to create the actual Storm/Clone Trooper battle suits, and put them on real extras - and when you needed to create scenes with unfathomably huge numbers of soldiers, you use the computer technology to multiply those real extras, or fabricate them entirely for long distance shots.
Ultimatly, what this come down to is the films were being used by Lucas as a showcase for the cutting edge in CGI technology, as innovated by his long standing business/firm Industrial Light and Magic
(ILM). This annoys me, since I would have liked to have thought that the emphasis for something as "sacred" (to us geeks and closet geeks who grew up with the original Star Wars films) would have been on creating the best films possible
, and not on simply finding excuses to showcase new technologies, particularly when they're often inferior to existing/older approaches.
I guess these issues are contributors to my big, over riding problem with the new films - basically, that they were "souless". The originals, for all of their flaws, had a lot of soul; even their visual style expressed this (which once again, is in large part not something which originated with Lucas, but others.) These ones struck me as being very superificial, and the work of someone trying to imitate what the originals pulled off naturally.
Also, while some of the plot elements (which is perhaps Lucas' strong point, though I'm not sure if that's saying a lot) were pretty good in the new films, many were much less impressive, and some pretty weak. Weakest of all, were the inconsistancies with the original trilogy. Granted, the originals had some inconsistancies which were only excused by the most threadbare rationalizing (I don't buy for a second that Lucas had all of these films, prequels included, already mapped out and roughly scripted in a secret briefcase somewhere for the last 25 years...nonsense, and manifestly so), but they stood up pretty well. OTOH, there are some big continuity problems with the new films.
- the principles (Anakin as played by Hayden Christenson and Obi-Wan as played by Ewan McGregor) are way, way too young
to match up to their characters as portrayed in the original trilogy. We know this, because Luke and Lei are portrayed as new born infants at the end of Revenge of the Sith
, and they're both supposed to be just shy of 20 in A New Hope
. That means about 19 years separate Revenge of the Sith
and A New Hope
. Does Ewan Mcgregor look like he could be Sir Alec Guiness in 19 years, even as he's aged and made up in ROTS
, let alone have been a fresh face "Paduan" (Jedi student) only ten years before that in The Phantom Menace
? Also, it's pretty clear from Return of the Jedi
, when you see Darth Vader without his helmet on near the end (or when you see his ghost, as a redeemed spirit - though my understanding is that Lucas has messed around with this too in his new DVD edition), that he was probably only ten years (no more) younger than Obi-Wan as played by Guiness - in other words, somewhere in his mid 50's.
- in Return of the Jedi
(ROTJ) it's clearly stated that while Luke never knew his real mother, Leia did
- she says she remembered her/their mother, and that she was a sad woman, who carried a lot of grief (understandable), but that she died when she was "very young." I don't know about you, but I don't have those kind of elaborate memories about my child birth, which according to Revenge of the Sith
is where Padme (Luke and Leia's mom) died. The clear implication of the original is that their mother was taken with Leia to live on Alderan, and that she lived at least until Leia was a child old enough to have concrete memories of her.
- Making Anakin a native of Tatooine, with family there to boot (as portrayed in Revenge of the Sith) creates immense problems for any notion of Obi-Wan taking Luke there to "hide him". Yeah, that's swell - hide the son of an evil pyschic warlord (who is serving an evil more powerful and evil psychic wizard) in his home town, with actual relatives; even if said evil warlord wouldn't think you were so stupid as to do something that obvious (hence making it kind of clever), at the very least you'd think he'd head there to shake down the family residing there (his family
after all) to see if they'd had any contact with you, the "stolen" child, your wearabouts, etc. The only possible way out of this, is for it to have been clearly emphasized in Revenge of the Sith
that Vader had no clue whatsoever
that his wife managed to bear a child before dying, and to have really thought that his unborn child (since he didn't know she was carrying twins) died with it's mother. But even if this was so...still...that's a pretty risky (and hence crappy) place to "hide" the brat.
- The way Anakin becomes Obi-Wan's pupil, and Obi-Wan's relationship to Yoda, doesn't seem to line up between the prequels and the original trilogy. You also get the distinct impression from the dialogue in the original trilogy, that Anakin and Obi-Wan were much closer in age than is portrayed in the prequels (and this is born out in the original trilogy by the actor they used to show what Vader looked like "under the helmet".)
There are many, many more continuity problems than this, but I won't subject others here to my nerdom beyond the above examples.
It doesn't help that I also think that alot of the "Expanded Universe" (though certainly not all of it) stuff written previous to the prequels, was far, far superior
to what we got in the new films. For example, the explanation we get in Revenge of the Sith
for the Emperor's decrepit features and shriveled up face, is that he got zapped by his own "evil force lightning" when he attempted to kill Jedi Mace Windu (played by Samuel L. Jackson). I thought the "E.U." explanation that things like this (becoming ghoulish in appearance - pale, sunken eyes, deformation of the body, etc.) was better - namely, that this was what gradually happened to the body when one was consumed by the "dark side of the Force", the evil energies corrupting not only the soul by the body. Thus, the dark side destroys it's user, even bodily; thus requiring them to draw upon their powers to simply stay alive... which in turn only invites more harm to them. IOW, an endless, vicious cycle which can only end in ruin. This is why in the originals, Vader looks so awful under his helment - not simply because of the scars and wounds he received from his duel with Obi-Wan (which resulted in him being made into a cyborg), but because he kept himself alive in large part by "the dark side", and his use of those evil powers.
The same goes for the fate of the Jedi. While I thought it was really neat how the downfall of the Jedi was portrayed in Revenge of the Sith
(the Clone army numbering in the hundreds of thousands was genetically programmed/conditioned to suddenly "turn" on the Jedi, who they were fighting under in the various battles of the "Clone War" spread throughout the galaxy when the Emperor gives them a certain secret command; kind of like how certain types of attack dogs are conditioned to snap and become man eating machines when told a secret word or hearing a special whistle command), I didn't think it was enough to explain the near eradication of the Jedi - I mean, they're Jedi after all! In the "EU" stuff, it's made pretty clear that Darth Vader (and perhaps others) spent a lot of time going around the galaxy hunting down pockets of remaining Jedi, even warranting the construction of neato "Jedi prison ships" - essentially giant led boxes whose power supplies were dedicated to complex internal force fields meant to contain wiley Jedi prisoners being taken back for examination/termination (since anyone but another of their kind killing an actual Jedi was understood to be incredibly difficult
Ok, I think I've wasted enough time "nerding out." Continue on with your far more meaningful, nerd-free (or "in nerd denial") lives.