Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Director: George Lucas Cast: Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, Samuel L Jackson, Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid, Christopher Lee, Jimmy Smits

A few years into the Clone Wars and Senator Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious) is about to take over the galaxy. His final part of the plan involves luring Anakin to the Dark Side to take on as his new apprentice. Meanwhile, the rest of the Jedi continue to fight the separatists across the galaxy.

Last one of the prequels, and I’d say arguably the best (which by no way means it’s a great film, but it’s all relative). Most of the tedious Anakin whinging is out of the way and he finally gets around to some action- even if it does involve being duplicitous with the Jedi and killing children. By far, by far the best part of this film is the last half hour or so. We finally get around to seeing the ultimate events that lead to the creation of the best villain in movie history (a known fact), Darth Vader. There’s a bit at the end where they show infamous Darth Vader helmet finally being put onto Anakin, and he breathes through it for the first time with that legendary sound effect- absolute gold.

Throughout the prequels Obi-Wan has got increasingly more annoying, with a ton of stupid one-liners and generally not really doing much of note. However his character brings it back at the end as he starts taking things seriously and takes it upon himself to watch over Luke after being saddened not to be able to save Anakin from the Dark Side. The final fight between Obi-Wan and Anakin is a little long, but it’s actually almost moving to see them part ways- far more so than Anakin and Padme. Speaking of which, Padme ends her character arc on a terrible low point, having been a pretty strong female character in The Phantom Menace. She pretty much spends the whole film crying and just “loses the will to live” at the end- that’s her actual cause of death, what an anticlimax… However, the whole Anakin/Padme relationship has been unconvincing right from the start, so to be honest at this point who cares. It’s all about Anakin and Obi-Wan by the end.

Much like with Rogue One, as a Star Wars fan some of the best parts of this film were the nods to the original trilogy and how it sets up the following films in the Star Wars timeline. Towards the end of the film everything falls in the place, and fans will find themselves saying “ahhh, so that’s how that happens”. Although generally speaking the prequel trilogy has a lot of pointless plot points, finally we get to the real substance of what is effectively a Darth Vader (and Darth Sidious, to a lesser extent) origins story.

It’ll never be a cinematic masterpiece and is by no means on a level with the original trilogy, but it contains all the elements you need to nicely lead you into Rogue One/A New Hope and is good for providing context. If you only watch one of the prequels, watch this one for sure (and save yourself from much pain and suffering by skipping the other two).

3 stars

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Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Director: George Lucas Cast: Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Samuel L Jackson, Christopher Lee, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz

The films I sit through for the sake of this blog, I tell you. Set 10 years after the events of The Phantom Menace, Anakin is now well into his Jedi training under the guidance of Obi-Wan. After an attempt on Padmé’s life Anakin is tasked with guarding her, while Obi-Wan goes off to find the perpetrators and discovers a clone army in the making. Also the one where Obi-Wan hates flying and Anakin hates sand.

Easily the worst of all the Star Wars films, it’s hard to find any positives. If you thought the acting was bad in The Phantom Menace, think again. To be fair, the actors are again not helped by a poor script and jumpy storyline, but the outstanding characters by a long distance are Mace Windu and Count Dooku- Samuel L Jackson and Christopher Lee respectively (who can basically do no wrong in my eyes). Mace Windu’s purple lightsaber just about saves us from oblivion.

In terms of relevance to the Star Wars story arc, this is the film where we start to see Anakin’s temptation towards the Dark Side. As I mentioned in my review of The Phantom Menace, the Anakin in this film is pretty much a completely different person. I know people can change a lot over 10 years but this is just taking the biscuit. And why does he suddenly have a thing for Padmé? There was no inkling in that in the previous instalment, yet right from the start of Attack of the Clones it’s integral to the storyline. It just doesn’t make any sense I tell you!!

Plot continuity/realism aside, I do appreciate that his love for Padmé is vital to his eventual downfall. However, I can see much more evidence of his move to the Dark Side when his mother is killed by Tuscan Raiders and he slaughters the whole group of them in revenge. His anguish regarding his mother makes far more sense than his out-of-nowhere passion for Padmé, and therefore it’s more convincing in showing and explaining his downfall.

As for the rest of the film, not much else happens to be honest. It’s hard to follow who’s doing what and where and why and working on behalf of whom. Basically, the film takes more than two hours to show that: 1. Anakin is being drawn to the Dark Side (could be done with that one Tusken Raiders scene, 10 minutes tops); and 2. Palpatine is pretty much manipulating everyone to take over the Republic and become Emperor. While The Phantom Menace is quite good at kicking off the storyline that leads to the creation of the Empire, Attack of the Clones doesn’t really advance the process at all. In summary, most of the events of this film are basically irrelevant.

Is this film worth watching? To be honest, no. Even an avid Star Wars fan like myself can skip this one and won’t miss much of the geekery associated with the Star Wars universe. Don’t waste your time by putting yourself through the struggle of watching Anakin describe how much he hates sand.

1.5 stars (that extra half is for you, Mace Windu)

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Director: George Lucas Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz, Samuel L Jackson

The first of the notorious Star Wars prequels, The Phantom Menace kicks off Anakin Skywalker’s storyline that sets him on the path to becoming a Jedi, and ultimately a Sith. After a chance encounter with two Jedis on Tatooine, Anakin is taken to start training as a Jedi himself.  Meanwhile, Senator Palpatine plots to take over the Republic by provoking (and this is the really thrilling bit) trade disputes.

When I first saw this at the cinema as a kid, I loved this movie. Obviously now, however, my cinema palate has matured and I can see that it’s actually pretty rubbish, but to be honest I have to give it credit for giving me the same enjoyment that I had when I first watched the originals. The plot and particularly acting (with a couple of exceptions- more on that later) is pants but generally speaking the film does embody classic Star Wars elements- the sound effects, the screen wipes, the aliens, and it’s actually cool to see Yoda et al before the events of A New Hope.

I’ll start with the bad points to get them out of the way. My main issue is that I just can’t find it believable that the Anakin from The Phantom Menace goes on to be Darth Vader. Obviously there are two more movies before he finally gets there, but there’s just no hint at all of his susceptibility to the dark side, or to be honest even his Jedi skills. Qui-Gon just “senses” that Anakin is really powerful- but as a viewer I just can’t join the two together. Sure he’s a good pilot, but so is Han Solo and I don’t think his flying reflexes are evidence enough of his so-called powers. It makes the leap into the next instalment, Attack of the Clones, unconvincing as he’s basically had a total personality transplant. Darth Vader is such an iconic character and the whole point of the Star Wars saga is effectively the rise, fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker, but this movie just doesn’t build him up enough to become the badass but ultimately heroic character that we see by Return of the Jedi. It’s hard to tell if it’s the script or the acting that makes it not work (probably a combination of both), but either way Anakin is a let-down.

Other minor problems include the cringe-inducing script- the original trilogy is full of excellent lines that have become iconic in cinema, but can anyone remember anything from this? There’s also Jar Jar Binks- arguably the most universally hated Star Wars character but aside from his general grating personality, he doesn’t bring anything to the plot really so is surplus to requirements. There are a couple of casual racist stereotypes too, in the form of the trade federation reps and the Gungans. Finally, just the bad acting in general: too much stilted and unconvincing delivery, and I think the abundance of characters put quantity over quality.

The other main issue people have with this movie is the plot. Yes, it’s pretty dull but actually as a Star Wars fan I do think the events of this film are important. It paves the way to how we end up with the Rebel Alliance and the events of the original trilogy, and given what I’ve said above about the Anakin story-arc, the Senator Palpatine/Emperor story-arc actually works well in the prequel trilogy and is one of the trilogy’s overall redeeming features. As a kid I had very little idea of what was actually going on, but now as an adult I watch it thinking “ah, so that’s how that happened”. Perhaps it’s fair to say the key points are there but the execution fell short of the mark.

To end on a high note, the positives. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are super cool and it was good to have some context for Obi-Wan’s and Darth Vader’s relationship. While the script is terrible, both Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor manage to salvage their characters and they’re easily the highlight of the movie. (Mace Windu- Samuel L Jackson- is in this, but he doesn’t really get going yet until the next episode.) Darth Maul is also awesome, and while he only gets about three spoken lines (probably best given the rest of the script) he has some seriously cool moves in the final fight scene.

This isn’t the worst of the prequels but also I’d say not the best. In terms of storyline it’s good for Star Wars nerds for the general context/history of the Republic and the Empire, but for those who are lukewarm towards the originals I would say probably best not to bother as it won’t add anything for them.

2 stars

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

rogue-oneDirector: Gareth Edwards Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mandelsohn, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed

Set between Episodes III and IV of the Star Wars films, we follow the group of rebels that set out to find the plans to destroy the Empire’s Death Star in order to destroy it.

FINALLY, you must be thinking, it’s a review for Rogue One. I’ve been very very slow on this one- I’d like to say it’s because I wanted more time to really digest the film but in reality I’ve just been very very lazy. Anyway, I’ve now seen it twice so feel reasonably well-informed, and here we are.

First time around, I came out of the theatre thinking this was ok, pretty good, not as good as The Force Awakens, but enjoyable nonetheless. However, as time passed I started to appreciate more and more what this films adds to the cinematic Star Wars story, and now I think it was excellent. As many people have said, the first hour or so moves quite slowly as it takes time to line up all the tangents of storyline that are necessary for the second half of the film. Although it feels quite bitty, I’d much rather they did it this way than set aside a whole movie just to set up the actual subject matter of the film (as The Hobbit unfortunately did…). It was important to bring all the necessary elements together, so it’s worth sitting through.

Once we’ve got all our characters established, the film really gets going and it’s uphill from there. We have just enough back story of the main characters to feel sympathetic towards them, and we start to see how all this is heading towards the events of Episode IV. We see a side of the rebellion that isn’t really explored in the original trilogy, one that is more violent and involves *gasp* actual death. Plot-wise it all makes sense, and it fills the crucial plot hole that was why on earth did the Empire allow such a weakness on the Death Star that allowed the rebels to destroy it with relative ease. Well now we know, and no more sleepless nights for Star Wars fans.

The part that made me appreciate this film gradually was the use of Darth Vader. He only appears for a very short time, and if you’re not really a Star Wars fan I think much of the Vader sub-plot in Rogue One would go over your head, but it really builds upon his characterisation as the villain. We see Vader in his castle on Mustafar (the volcanic planet where Obi-Wan chopped off both of Anakin’s arms and legs in one legendary swish of his lightsaber), showing how much Vader is consumed by his pain and suffering from the past- which is what keeps him on the Dark Side of the Force. His spell in the bacta tank is a short relief from his physical (and mental?- deep) pain, emphasising his continuing struggle with being pulled between both sides of the Force. The final Vader scene was probably the most epic 60 seconds of cinema I have seen in a long while, cementing his place as my number one favourite villain (and even movie character?!) of all time.

Vader obsession aside, there are soooo many nods to the original films. I liked seeing Senator Bail Organa again (one of the few redeeming characters from the prequels), and the sound effects of X-Wings and TIE fighters will never get old, among many other little cameos.

Rogue One is absolutely a must-see for any Star Wars fan as it fills in a lot of holes and only adds good things to the wider Star Wars universe. If you haven’t seen the originals, probably not worth it (but then I would obviously recommend watching the originals anyway…). Family-friendly, fairly easy plot to follow, and of course Darth Vader who will only ever be awesome.

4.5 stars