Monday, May 30, 2005

Indulging a Star Wars fantasy...if only George had talked to me...

Okay, now that I got the really sentimental reflection of Revenge of the Sith out of the way, I can be a little more cynical. Now that I know how George Lucas did the prequels, I’d like to indulge myself in a little fantasy where Lucasfilms approaches me in the mid 90’s to help write the prequels.

Now I have my issues with Return of the Jedi as well, but I was still in elementary school when it came out. I likely wouldn’t have been much help. But in the mid-90’s I was old enough to be writing, and while I make no claim that I would have done a better job, since that’s far too subjective a categorization, I’d like to enunciate what I would have done different. This is not meant as disrespect to the work of George Lucas. Sooner or later, someone will remake these films, and when they do, I hope they give me a call, not because I hate them, but because I love them!


1. Inasmuch as I thought Jar Jar was funny, he’s unnecessary. Let’s face it, Jar Jar was an experiment on the part of ILM to try making a completely CGI character who shares a lot of screen time with real actors. The Gungans are fine, but Jar Jar goes.

2. Darth Maul should have been around a lot more and presented a greater threat. He mostly looked cool and then got hacked in half. Knowing where the series heads, I would have suggested that you go ahead and let Obi Wan beat the shit out of Maul in Episode I, but that he then get rebuilt as General Greivous for Episode II, giving us even more of the prototype concept of Darth Vader. More on this idea in Episode II.

3. No midi-chlorians. Annakin’s immaculate conception does not need an explanation. You don’t need to have little scanners to tell you how high his midi-chlorian count is. You just need his mom to tell us that she conceived without any male assistance. Mystery is a good thing, and the Force always works better as a mystery.

4. Annakin would have been played by the same actor from the get go. No little kid to start with. I know this complicates the Jedi thing a little, but I’m pretty sure this could have been skirted by having him display some Jedi-abilities in a ‘wilder’ sort of fashion. A young teen podracing seems a lot more feasible. Never mind that it doesn’t leave a huge age gap between him and Padme.

5. Everything else about Episode I is fine. I think it was a good start that needed a few revisions.


1. Where do I start? In a nutshell, I’d have tossed everything about this film except the fact that Annakin and Padme fall in love, and Palpatine ascends to power in the Senate.

2. So essentially, keep the basic story arc but ditch Dooku. Maul as Grievous would have been a better idea. Also, don’t waste your time with Jango Fett. Go straight to Boba. Redeem the galaxy’s most notorious bounty hunter by explaining his untimely demise in the Sarlaak pit at the hands of a blind man as old age! If Boba Fett was in his prime here, then we have a reason why he was such an inept bumbler in the original trilogy. Of course, then Mace Windu wouldn’t have had his cool decapitation moment, but that scene would never have taken place in my version because…

3. I’d introduce the whole clone deal in the opening roll-up. No need to make this army secret. If it’s going to stop the Trade Federation, go ahead and clone an army already! Then, the movie could have started in the middle of the Clone Wars.

4. Throughout this picture, Palpatine would have poisoned Obi Wan’s words in Annakin’s ear, breeding the suspicion and contempt necessary for Annakin’s final transformation in Episode III. This would have eliminated the nag Obi Wan was in Ep2 and helped develop Palpatine as a threat earlier.

5. I would have really played up an element of Jedi arrogance, so that the lie that the Jedi wanted to overthrow the Senate would have a kernel of truth to it.

6. Basically, I’d have done the first half of Sith as the last half of Clones, complete with Padme announcing she’s pregnant. The movie would have ended with the same way the original Clones did, on Naboo with Annakin and Padme wondering about their future.


1. This film would pick up 7-8 months after the last, with only weeks before Padme is to give birth. Seeing as I’ve taken the first half of this film and made it into another movie, how would I start here? I’d begin with the start of the betrayal of the Jedi, where Obi Wan and Mace Windu are away on a mission and Palpatine has ordered their assassination, at the hands of Boba Fett leading a group of clones. They survive, of course, but are stranded on the far side of the galaxy. Why isn’t Annakin there? Because he’s laying his mother to rest on Tattooine, where she has died of natural causes. Yoda still gives the everybody dies speech, but that’s not good enough for Annakin.

2. Thus, Palpatine’s promise of power to prevent death becomes a speech woven into the prophecy. “I’m the chosen one and I couldn’t save her,” might be the tag line for Annakin. Palpatine invokes the prophecy but twists it, asking how he can possibly bring balance to the force and wield the sort of power necessary to preserve life when he doesn’t know anything about the dark side. How can he bring balance if he only knows the one side?

3. If I have any beef with Sith, its there. Annakin’s choice to go to the dark side should have had a more noble motivation. If Annakin is persuaded to dabble in the Dark Side to bring the balance the prophecy states he should bring, then his fall is all the more tragic--as Aristotle said, real tragedy is the result of hamartia, the fatal flaw that is linked to virtue, not vice. Annakin initially refuses, but when Padme falls ill and her fate and his children’s are at stake, Annakin attempts to bring balance. Of course, he fails, and is more possessed by the dark side than Sith implied.

4. Struggling to regain his control, Annakin goes to Palpatine for assistance, only to find the Jedi there to “bring him in”based on Annakin’s accusations, ala the actual film. The seeds of Palpatine’s lies going all the way back to Episode II come to fruition and the scene is played out largely the way it occurs in Ep3.

5. The rest of the film is, as I’ve said, pretty damn good as it is. I wouldn’t make any changes beyond there, save maybe to show Yoda arriving on Dagobah. But maybe that’s in the special edition.

Now there’s a thought that makes me smile. The minor plot holes of Episode 3 may be the result of the dastardly cutting room floor. Here’s hoping there’s as many deleted scenes for Sith as there were for Clones.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Reflections on Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith

Standing in the line at the theatre, I overhear the ticket clerk asking the guy in front of me “For what movie?”
“I’m finally going to see Star Wars Episode 3,” the guy replies.


At midnight tonight it will only have been a week since Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith was released. I mention the man’s foible to Jenica as we take our seats, but upon reflection, wonder if maybe the word finally was more in reference to how long people who saw Star Wars back in 1977 have been waiting to see the roman numerals preceding the Episode IV: A New Hope.

As a kid I had no concept that the original Star Wars was episode "anything." It was just Star Wars, and I loved it. In my youthful zeal, I collected the cards, the comics, the action figures. I helped bankroll the other films. In so doing, I also learned the origin of Darth Vader. I don’t remember when the revelation came, but I know that by the time Empire Strikes Back was released, we knew that Darth ended up in the suit as the result of an apocalyptic lightsaber battle with Obi Wan Kenobi. The overactive imagination of a creative child wondered at what Darth really looked like under the mask, and what had lead him to become this terrible villain.

I know that’s what I would mean by the word finally. As the 20th Century Fox logo came up and John Williams’ iconic fanfare blared out through technology whose legacy is wrapped up in the history of these films, I pondered that this is finally it. As Darth Vader said to Obi Wan in Star Wars, “The circle is now complete.” It’s been nearly 30 years since I first heard that music and saw that logo. There’s a sense of history here, and I took a moment to reflect upon it.

For my sister and father, there is also a "finally, we get to hear what Mike thinks." We took the Star Wars journey together; our whole family enjoyed the films, but we were the trio who could mimic Yoda and act out the scene where Luke first meets the wizened Jedi Master on Dagobah. I thought of them both many times as I watched the movie, wishing they were there with me. So I’m dedicating this article to the two of them.
So finally then. What did Gotthammer think of George Lucas’ final offering in the Star Wars’ saga?
First off, I’ll say that I enjoyed it. I loved the opening with a massive space battle, something sorely missing from Episode II. The first ten minutes were great fun, before the film settled into the more serious business.

The movie exists in two acts, and while the aforementioned opening of Act I was superb, the remainder vacillated between some of the best moments in the prequels, to the same sort of superfluous action that dominated Attack of the Clones.

The first act concerns the seduction of Annakin to the dark side of the Force; in short, visions of Padme dying in childbirth drive the young Jedi to acquiesce to Palapatine’s offer of power through the dark side. On the surface, this works really well. In fact, if Annakin was the same Jedi we’d left off with in Episode II, I’d have bought it. But the motivation seems strained, given that he’s a really obedient and noble Jedi in most respects. Sure, he’s still angry and headstrong, but he’s not really a bad guy. The transformation from Annakin to Vader was a little too swift, and not entirely convincing for my taste. Even if his action to save Palpatine could be justified as being in the heat of the moment, his subsequent decision to swear allegiance to the flag of the Emperor felt, pardon the pun, forced. I think there were really two films here, and Lucas could have used a lot of it in Clones.

Thankfully, the second act is ushered in with such visual strength that we forget completely that Annakin was ever a good guy, that he used to be a cute kid who pod-raced on Tatooine, or that he ever told Obi Wan that he was thankful for all his teaching. Herein lies Lucas’ trump card: like David Lynch, Lucas excels at making great images, not stories: I wondered if, between the scene where Annakin and Padme are shown awash in a palette of warm colors watching the sun set on Coruscant, and the montage of the Jedi massacre, Lucas wouldn’t have done better with no dialogue whatsoever in this film. The movie is often at its strongest when we’re left with nothing but the image and John Williams’ soundtrack, which blends the best themes of the prequels and original films to masterpiece effect.

If all there was to Sith was the second act, it would be a ten. Once Annakin becomes Vader, the film never falters. The questions of motivation are laid aside as the movie begins to gain inertia towards the inevitable. My objections to lack of motivation are cast aside given the Wagnerian scope of the final battles, primarily between Obi Wan and Vader.

I don’t know that I could say I love this film. How can you love a film where the hero will shortly be a villain? I’m not sure I love any of the prequels like I love the original trilogy. But there have been elements about them I love, and that remains true here as well. I love Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan Kenobi, a combination of the heroic youth from Episode I and the wise old man Alec Guinness immortalized. I love Ian McDiarmad as the Emperor, serpentine and deadly. I love the way General Grievous foreshadows Vader, and I loved how dangerous a villain he was, triple the threat Count Dooku ever was, or while we’re on the subject, Boba Fett.
There are still many things to pick at, but that has been part of the Star Wars legacy since Return of the Jedi for me. Anyone who’s been subjected to my tirade on Ewoks will know what I’m talking about. At the end of the day, it’s George Lucas’ movie, and while I didn’t like everything on the tour, I have to say the journey was well worth it.

I wasn’t as sad as I thought I’d be at the end, which is Lucas’ bow to us as fans at curtain call. Following the entombment of Annakin within the death’s head mask of Darth Vader, we are given a vision of the Death Star under construction, foreboding the “dark times” Obi Wan will one day speak of to Luke. But then, in all the digital glory that ILM can muster, we see doomed Alderaan, where the Organas cradle an infant Leia. We are then treated to what is the most powerful homage to the original film the prequels provided. When Obi Wan leaves Luke with Owen and Beru, they are standing in the same spot Luke stands at the outset of Star Wars, watching the Twin Suns of Tatooine set.

For me, this was more than just a film experience; it’s a reflection upon my life, from the first time I saw Star Wars in a theater in Penticton BC in the summer of 1977, followed by the days when I imagined myself as Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, playing in my living room while the soundtracks spun on the turntable; of standing outside the theater in Medicine Hat with my sister, waiting to get in for our eleventh viewing of Empire; of reading the comics and books; growing up and growing a little distant, the toys sold and the comics lost, until my college roommate watched Empire Strikes Back nearly every day for a month, and spoke Wookie to a cashier at McDonald’s; until the Special Editions were released in theatres and I sat beside a woman who’d never seen Star Wars before, granting me a window I’d never had into how funny the droids are, or how gripping the story is. Of flying an X-wing of my own, playing Rogue Squadron on the N64, staying up late with friends to get the knack of flying a snow speeder around an AT-ATs legs in order to bring them down. Of seeing Episode I and experiencing some of that initial excitement all over again as an adult; disappointed with moments during the prequels, but glad to have the franchise back. And now, at the end of the road, looking back, I realize that for my generation, we can probably tell you what year it was by which Star Wars movie we were seeing that year.

I think that’s why many of us will love Revenge of the Sith, not necessarily because we love the movie itself, but because we love where the story has taken us. Being at the end of a journey means you can look back on it, and say, "Finally."

So, kudos, and thanks George. It’s been a great journey.