Monday, January 15, 2007

Soon he's gonna be a Jedi

I didn't mention it before, but my recent re-watching of The Phantom Menace was to kick off something that I'm sure all real Star Wars fans have done a long time ago: watching all six movies (plus the Clone Wars cartoons) back-to-back in chronological order. I've put off doing it for reasons that would bore you, but finally decided it was time.

I was surprised by a couple of things during the experience, especially once I got to the original trilogy (which I hadn't watched since the first time I saw Phantom Menace). Seeing Star Wars so soon after watching Revenge of the Sith made seeing Vader for the first time in Star Wars even more of a thrill than it usually was. I tried watching the original trilogy as if I'd never seen them before and I found myself looking more forward to the Vader scenes than usual. As flawed as they are in some points, the prequels did a nice job of investing me in the Anakin character. (I've never been one to criticize Hayden Christensen's performances as Anakin. I blame any weakness there on the script and directing. He's actually got some very nice moments as an actor.)

When Leia meets Vader for the first time in Star Wars I got another little thrill. "Oooh, that's your daughter and you don't even know it!"

I was also surprised at how easily explainable most of the inconsistencies are between the films. I'm not the kind of guy who needs for everything in serialized fiction to perfectly jive with everything else. I know that inconsistencies occur, and rather than get bent out of shape over them, I find it more fun to try to figure out plausible explanations on my own. For example, Artoo's leg-rockets that he uses all the time in Clones and Sith never get used in the last three episodes. I was actually looking pretty closely for times when they might have come in handy and didn't see any occasions in which they would've made a crucial difference in the story. In other words, he never really needed to use them, so maybe he just chose not too. Another explanation though is that both Artoo and Threepio are considerably worse for wear in Star Wars than they were at the end of Sith, so maybe the leg-rockets were destroyed or disabled at some point between the two. (Speaking of the droids, by the way, I love the fact that having them finish Sith and start Star Wars in the service of Captain Antilles takes that horrible Droids cartoon from the '80s and the just-as-silly Dark Horse comics that followed right out of the canon.)

I won't go into every apparent inconsistency -- because it's clear that Lucas made most of this up as he went along and there are a lot of inconsistencies -- but another explainable one is the conversation that Luke and Leia have in Jedi about their mother. Luke says he has no recollection of her, but Leia claims to have a general impression of what Padme was like. My theory is that Bail Organa and his wife were able to tell Leia stories about Padme that influenced Leia's childhood memories of her mom, whereas Owen and Beru wouldn't have been able to do the same for Luke.

Some of Obi Wan's references in Empire and Jedi to being trained by Yoda are hard to explain knowing that he never actually was directly trained by Yoda, but borrowing his "certain point of view" logic I can let that slide. Obi Wan obviously just likes to tweak facts in order to simplify whatever story he's telling.

Other things I noticed watching the films this way:

The duel between Vader and Obi Wan in Star Wars was much more powerful this time. As I watched it, I was reminded of their duel in Sith and I was able to feel a lot of latent anger and released frustration in Vader. Also, knowing that Obi Wan had learned about the Jedi afterlife from Qui Gon while on Tatooine made Obi Wan's "if you strike me down" claim make a lot more sense.

I like how you never hear Boba Fett's name in Empire, especially since he looks so much like Jango Fett from Clones. If you were watching these without any outside knowledge of the characters, you'd suspect that there might be a connection between Jango and this new "bounty hunter," but you wouldn't know for sure until Jedi. Unfortunately, the revelation of his name comes just seconds before he's anti-climatically killed.

As I expected, the scene where Vader tells Luke about their relationship loses a lot of power if you've seen the prequels. But there's still something important happening there as Vader suggests that he and Luke overthrow the Emperor. Before seeing the prequels, I thought it was possible that Vader was just lying about his goals in order to seduce Luke to the Dark Side. Now, seeing how conflicted Anakin was about joining Palpatine in the first place, I'm pretty certain that he meant what he said.

I love how every time I look at the Emperor now, I remember that it was Samuel L. Jackson who gave him that face.
The scene where Luke tells Leia that she's his sister is still the clunkiest, worst written and acted scene in the history of cinema.

I'll finish up with a word about tinkering. I've never blamed Lucas for wanting to mess around with and adjust the movies. With the exception of Greedo's shooting first, I've agreed with the changes Lucas made. I wasn't sure, though, when I started out on this little experiment, how I was going to feel about Lucas' putting Hayden Christensen in at the end of Jedi with Yoda and Obi Wan. Part of me just felt like enough was enough and that Lucas should just leave it alone. I was totally wrong though.

Putting young Anakin in was absolutely the right thing to do. With no disrespect to Sebastian Shaw (who played "Old Anakin"), that final scene in Jedi is infinitely more powerful seeing the now-familiar, young Anakin standing there, almost sheepishly, as if the character knows he's not really worthy, beside Yoda and Obi Wan. It's a beautiful, satisfying moment.

It was also satisfying to see Naboo added in to the montage of planets celebrating the Emperor's defeat.

And, was it my imagination, or was Temuera Morrison's (Jango Fett) voice dubbed in for Boba's voice in Empire? And the Emperor in Empire sounded a lot like Ian McDiarmid. Did they dub him in too, or do McDiarmid and Clive Revill (the original voice of the Emperor in Empire) just sound a lot alike?

Anyway, I like the tinkering (again, with the exception of Greedo's shot, but I can just blink during that scene and pretend that it never happened). I'm irritated by the complaining I've heard from fans about how certain actors' performances weren't used or were wiped out because of Lucas' changes. As if Lucas somehow owes these actors something.

I saw an interview with Johnny Depp once in which he claimed that there are many of his movies that he's never seen. The reason is that Depp understands his role in the making of a film. He's an actor, one contributor to a project that's got a lot of other contributors. He's hired to play a character and that's his one and only contribution to the film. If he starts thinking of himself as more than that, as if his contribution somehow entitles him to more than a paycheck, he'd go nuts the same way that these fans are going nuts. If he's worried about how his performance is going to be used in the final product, better to just not see it than obsess over what should've been done differently.

My point here is that Lucas hired a bunch of different people to play different aspects of Boba Fett, the Emperor, and Anakin/Vader. He paid those folks for their performances and he should be able to use or discard or change around whatever pieces of those performances that he likes. He doesn't owe any of those actors anything and the professionals among them would agree.

One last thing that watching all these movies together did was to reignite my interest in reading Star Wars novels and comics. I really do love the Star Wars universe and would love to spend more time in it. Unfortunately, I don't have time to do that and also read anything else in my life ever again (something that the publishers of Star Wars literature have very carefully seen to), so I'm just going to ignore the urge until it goes away.


West said...

You know a helluva lot more about the SW-verse than I, but I agree with most points that I understood - especially the "ghostly image" thing.

Interesting stuff. Wish I could contribute more.

houseofduck said...

You forgot to add in the holiday special and the ewok movies.... Now that is a true epic geekfest movie watching time.... Not for the weak stomached tough... fisher singing is hard on the soul.

And as long as I am here. If you want to sell some copies of your work, I will be at the New Hope Hot Comics this sunday (jan21st)all day working... or at least pretending to, just let me know how much it will cost so I can have cash on hand...

West said...

lol @ "hard on the soul"

Michael May said...

"You forgot to add in the holiday special and the ewok movies"

Ha! True. I've got the Holiday Special and I've seen the Ewok movies, but you're right about the price you pay for watching them. A little of my Star Wars love dies each time. :)

Do you work during the week at all next week? I live in Saint Paul, so I don't get over to Golden Valley much on the weekends, but I'm there every day otherwise.

houseofduck said...

I dont work during the week, I m a stay at home dad... I only work a couple weekends a month for sanity reasons. I could meet you there sometime during the week though if you want... otherwise I just notice the link to buy your stuff on the side of the page. I could always do that to...

Michael May said...

The link is just for people to email me and then we work something out via PayPal or through the mail. We can do it that way if we end up needing to, but I'd much rather meet you (again) in person.

I'll see if I can get over on Sunday. If I can't, we can go from there. :)

houseofduck said...

Sounds good to me.


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