Tag Archives: Attack of the Clones

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Spolier-Free Review)

Directed by J.J. Abrams, U.S., 2015

First let’s start out: The Force Awakens is good.  What follows is a  completely spoiler-free review.  Fortunately, in a previous post I already laid the groundwork for such a discussion.  However, if you wish to make a completely independent assessment of The Force Awakens, as I did, you should stop now.

Continue reading Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Spolier-Free Review)

Star Wars (or Relax Already it’s Going to be Fine)

Two weeks to go.

As some of you may be well aware, three of my favorite movies are Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983).  Two of my least favorite movies are The Phantom Menace (1999) and Attack of the Clones (2002).  Revenge of the Sith (2005) I could take or leave – it’s quite good in some ways and its association with the aforementioned prequels damages its reputation a bit unfairly.

So the Star Wars series, as it stands right now, contains two great movies (Star Wars and Empire), one very good movie (Jedi), one average to above-average movie (Sith) and two bad movies (Menace and Clones).  The issue that’s been on my mind since 2012 – when Mickey Mouse purchased Lucasfilm and announced (finally) a sequel to Jedi, is which of these four category The Force Awakens is going to fall into.    Let’s see:

1. It’s Going to be Bad (Menace/Clones)

The team that’s been assembled to create The Force Awakens means that there’s a low risk of it being as bad as Menace or Clones.  J.J. Abrams is a fine director, in fact he already basically made two Star Wars films already (Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)).  Lawrence Kasdan is a legendary screenwriter.  The original cast, including Harrison Ford, is back, along with a half-dozen highly-regarded young talents, including Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o.  The whole enterprise is being assembled by Kathleen Kennedy, one of the finest Hollywood producers working today.

Additionally, the first two prequels were written, directed, and produced by one guy – George Lucas.  There was no one to tell him no, which means numerous bad ideas made it into the films, especially the first two.  This risk has been mitigated by the level of talent surrounding the film, and Disney’s ability to be patient with it (bumping it’s premiere date out six months for instance).

Chances The Force Awakens will be bad: 5%

2. It’s Going to be Disappointing (Sith)

If all three of the prequels were as good as Revenge of the Sith, this would be a different conversation.  The handful of poorly executed scenes in Sith can be mostly cut entirely or tweaked a little bit.  I suspect the reason why these scenes remained in the film as-is was because of Lucas’ dominance.

There is a better chance that the Force Awakens is disappointing than outright bad.  J.J. Abrams has made a couple of movies that have underwhelmed audiences and/or critics after all.  That being said, I think the talent level involved still buttresses the movie against being disappointing.  For evidence of this, look at the trailers.

Trailers rarely tell the whole story, but if you compare the trailers for The Force Awakens to the trailers for the prequels, you will see the following elements that were missing from the latter.  First, Harrison Ford makes movies good.  Second, the dialogue seems well delivered, out of context sure, but not cheesy.  Finally, watching the prequels felt like watching a cartoon sometimes.  By using real sets, the trailers for The Force Awakens have a more tactile feel to them, which should help the tone of the film enormously.

Chances The Force Awakens will be disappointing: 15%

3. It’s Going to be Very Good, but not Great (Jedi)

With apologies to those who count Return of the Jedi as their favorite movie, I tend to agree with what seems to be the prevailing opinion of movie critics.  It’s a fine adventure film and a good ending to the original Star Wars trilogy, but it’s not quite a classic of its genre.  While I still believe the Ewok fight isn’t as crazy as it first appears, there are few other weaknesses in the film that just don’t give it the same “umph” as the first two.

That being said, by blockbuster sequel standards very good is actually a fine standard to hit.  For example, none of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels quite make this mark.  It is, however, hit by many well-regarded films like The Dark Knight Rises (2012), The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (2014), The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), and Abrams’ own Star Trek Into Darkness.

Here’s the problem: it’s really hard to make a great movie.  Even in a genre like the Hollywood blockbuster, where no one expects Academy Award level performances or deep thematic imagery, it’s really hard.  This is especially true when measured up to not only the classics of the genre on their merits, but when considering the emotional weight of nostalgia.  Most likely, The Force Awakens will be as good as Return of the Jedi, or slightly better, just because even with the talent assembled, “great” movies of any genre just don’t come around that often.  That’s part of the reason why they get to be called great.

Chances that the Force Awakens will be very good but not quite great: 55%

4. It’s Going to be Great! (Star Wars/Empire)

As a Star Wars fan, I hope The Force Awakens will fall into this category.  As a student of film history, I don’t think it’s likely.  The issue is that Star Wars and Empire are classics of their genre for very specific reasons that are unlikely to be replicated.

I just watched Star Wars yesterday.  Its technical innovations are often cited for the reason why it’s a great film, and this reputation is well earned.  However, for me the film is a masterpiece of pacing for an action/adventure movie.  It just has its own, unique momentum, which just tramples over its flaws.  Do we notice that some of the dialogue is silly?  Sure.  Do we care? Absolutely not.

The Empire Strikes Back is a classic of the blockbuster genre for very specific reasons as well.  First, you have to remember that it was really the first attempt to make a sequel in the way that we think of sequels now.  Sure there were sequels, but they usually were self-contained stories with the same characters, they weren’t an epic continuation of the first film’s story.  Second, it really is a great movie-movie, not just a great Hollywood blockbuster.  The story, themes, acting, and effects really are top notch.  Finally, it has one of the best endings of any movie – a gut-wrenching combination of plot twist and cliffhanger.

The Force Awakens won’t have intense technical innovations.  It won’t be the first modern sequel either.  Its chance for greatness is to replicate Star Wars’ sense of momentum and have an ending like The Empire Strikes Back.  Can it happen?  I guess we’ll see in two weeks.  For now I’ll be a bit more conservative in my estimate.

Chances The Force Awakens will be Great: 25%

Conclusion

Writing out this exercise made me feel a lot better.  I’m no longer worried that the movie will be bad or even disappointing.  At worst, it will be very good.  At best, it will be great.  Anyway – better get your tickets, I got mine!

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe

 

 

Game of Thrones Power Rankings Season 5, Episode 9

There are now quite a few dead characters in Game of Thrones who are still alive in the books.  The accelerated timeline and narrative changes mean that we have a much, much different story now, so it really has become impossible to guess where the show is going.  That said – power rankings.

Targaryen-2

1. House Targaryen (Last Week – #2)

The Sons of the Harpy thought they had Daenerys cornered.  They were wrong.  She is now plus one tamed dragon and minus one annoying Hizdaar.  Pretty good for one day.

Martell-2

2. House Martell (Last Week – #4)

Of the Great Houses of Westeros, the Martells are in the best shape.  Doran made clear to his brother’s girlfriend and daughters that he’s not going to take their crap, while at the same time has maintained stability in his principality.

The Others

3. The White Walkers (Last Week – #1)

They can’t be number one every week.  For now they’ve faded back into the snow.

Sparrows-1

4. The Faith of the Seven (Last Week – #3)

They’re inches away from creating a power vacuum in King’s Landing.  Do they have the ambition to make a play for filling that vacuum?

Bolton

5. House Bolton (Last Week – #6)

The Boltons are in a better position this week, having forced their enemies to commit unspeakable atrocities in order to have any chance against them.

Lannister

6. House Lannister (Last Week – #5)

Mission accomplished for Jaime.  At least for the time being.

Stark-2

7. House Stark (Last Week – #7)

Arya is conducting her own investigation.  She might still come back for the Thin Man, but she’s definitely about to cross a name off of her list.

Meereen-2

8. The Meereenese (Last Week – NR)

The Sons of the Harpy gave it their best shot.  It isn’t clear that they completely lost.  After all, who knows where Daenerys went on her dragon?

Night's Watch-2

9. The Night’s Watch (Last Week – #9)

How many people did Jon actually save last week?  Five hundred?  It certainly doesn’t seem like it was worth it, despite Sam’s assurances.

Baratheon-3

10. House Lord of Light (Last Week – #8)

There is no more House Baratheon.

Also receiving votes: House Tyrell, House Greyjoy, big guy vs. little guy, Ser Pounce, oysters, clams, and cockles.

 

Star Wars: Episode II – A Study in Pacing (or What Not to Do)

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

(2002, George Lucas, USA)

When Attack of the Clones (“AOTC”)  came out, I remember there being a collective sigh of relief among movie goers.  Every place where Episode I went wrong seemed to have been righted.  There was less of a cartoonish feel, no child actors, and (almost) no Jar Jar.  But once it had beat initial, and admittedly lowered, expectations, an examination of the movie reveals a structural problem responsible for its failure to meet its potential – the movie’s pacing.

When you break AOTC up in pieces, you’ll find some of the best action sequences in all of the Star Wars movies: the chase through the skies of Coruscant; the fight between Obi Wan Kenobi and Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) in the rain on Kamino; and the Battle of Geonosis at the end.  However, the movie never feels as exciting as any of the Original Trilogy or it’s successor, Revenge of the Sith (2005).

The movie begins promisingly enough with an assassination attempt on Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman), whom the audience was introduced to in Episode I.  The movie then slows to a crawl as her Jedi protectors are assigned (Obi Wan Kenobi (Ewen McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen)).  After that there is a tremendous chase scene.

Let’s compare this chase sequence from AOTC to one of the most exciting sequences from the original Star Wars (1977) to demonstrate.  The chase scene on Coruscant is preceded by heavy exposition and slow pacing.  Now, it is okay to shock the audience with a chase scene, raising the stakes and speeding up the film.  However the movie returns to its pre-chase scene pace immediately afterwards.  The movie follows this pattern for its remainder.

Now, take a look at the escape from Mos Eisley in Star Wars.  The Stormtroopers are closing in on Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Obi Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), and when they are found out the movie escalates immediately.  However, unlike AOTC, the movie never returns to its pre-Mos Eisley pace, and every action sequence continues to build on the sequence that preceded it.  Likewise, every post-action slow down never returns to the pace of the slow-down that preceded it.  You can’t say this about AOTC.

If it were up to me, AOTC would be shown in every film editing class as the best example of what not to do when setting up the pace of a movie.  It isn’t a horrible movie by any means, but it never quite lives up to the potential of its bits and pieces because of the disjointed way that they are put together.

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe