SWD: Risque Business

After not writing for a week, I am ready to jump back in the thick of Attack of Clones. When last I left the intrepid heroes, they were chasing down a bounty hunter, a pursuit that ended with a crash and burn. Sadly, the good writing crashed and burned along with Zam’s speeder.

Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones (00:21:01-00:31:33)

The action continues as Anakin chases Zam through what appears to be one of Coruscant’s red light districts, while Obi-Wan observes from overhead. Eventually Zam the Assassin ducks into the Outlander Club, and Obi-Wan lands to join Anakin’s attempt to find her. They meet up outside the club so that Kenobi can berate his padawan, giving Zam plenty of time to hide or find the back door and escape. Kenobi tells Anakin to take a breather because he thinks Zam went into the club to “hide, not to run” (00.21.57). I don’t know why he assumes this. Perhaps Kenobi has visited this club before and already knows that there is no back exit, but I doubt it, because I am pretty sure the back door is what they use to leave the club in a few minutes. I don’t know why Zam doesn’t leave through the back door, either. She clearly has opportunity as Kenobi spends his time at the bar throwing back a shot instead of blocking the exit(s) or finding the assassin.

I take a moment to pause here and ponder a paradox. Yoda clearly tells Luke that the Force is to be used for “knowledge and defense, never attack” but Kenobi upbraids Anakin for losing his lightsaber because “this weapon is your life” (00:22:03). Huh? A lightsaber is so powerful of a weapon that, even wielded defensively, it is an offensive weapon (blocked laser fire ends up being deflected, not absorbed, so unless the Jedi is really careful, that laser beam ricochets rather nastily). Making the lightsaber the focus of a Jedi’s training (what other definition fits with “your life”?) ensures that the Jedi learns to be offensive, which seems to contradict the Jedi’s target nature.

Before continuing with the scene, I give you the stupidest line of the film, what I like to call the Bigger Fish line: “Why do I get the feeling you’re going to be the death of me?” (00:22:08). No further comment.

Once inside the club, the viewer is made witness to the most risque part of the six Star Wars films. Leia’s gold bikini in Return of the Jedi made a big hit in 1983, but here Lucas amps up the skin. Ordinarily, I ignore most nudity or near nudity in movies, because it is almost always gratuitous (and I don’t care), but I make a point of it here because the Phantom Menace was fairly obviously a kid’s movie, and most of the kids who loved it were going to be even more excited about seeing Attack of the Clones. So then why put so many bare backsides, mesh pants, and cleavage in the sequel to a hugely popular kids movie?

Anakin and Kenobi glance around the club for a long moment before Anakin clues his master into the fact that they are chasing a changeling, to which Kenobi responds “in that case, be extra careful” but he sounds sarcastic (00.22.34). I wonder if that is deliberate, because under normal circumstances, finding out that a person you are chasing may not even look like the person you are chasing tends to make things more complicated. Kenobi then compounds my confusion when he tells Anakin to “go and find her” because he is “going for a drink” (00:22:44). What? My guess is that Kenobi is trying to lull the assassin into a false sense of security, or is trying to lure her into attacking him, both achieved by using Anakin as a hound to flush her out, but that makes little or no sense at all. Once she sees Kenobi at the bar and Anakin kind of half-heartedly looking around, why not just slip out the back, or out the front, since neither Jedi seems to be paying that much attention? The only explanation I can think of for this odd behavior is that the script demanded such odd behavior.

While drinking, Kenobi utilizes a Jedi Mind Trick in a manner other than directed: “you don’t want to sell me death sticks….you want to go home and rethink your life” (00:23:08). He preys upon a drug dealer for nothing more than a private, cruel joke. Sure, the scene is funny, but it is wrong. Messing with anyone’s mind, drug dealer or not, is unethical. Kenobi smirks as Elan Sleeze-bag goes home to rethink his life (the dealer’s name really is Sleezebaggano). Obi-Wan clearly enjoys the power he has to make even the most weak-minded bow to his capricious whim. Shouldn’t a “guardian of peace and justice of the galaxy” protect the weak minded most of all?

While all of this happens, Zam decides to break with all rational thought and tries to shoot Kenobi in the back. Having seen her botch the assassination of Amidala twice, I already think she is a lousy assassin, but this scene confirms it. She has a clear shot at his back at twenty paces, but never fires, even when she stupidly enters the blood range of his lightsaber. She does not do what any dumb assassin would do, and shoot with clear line of fire (or better yet, not kill unless you are getting paid) and this is the definition of Bad Writing: making people act as people do not act. And she pays for it, first with the loss of an arm, and then with the loss of her life.

Kenobi and Anakin help Zam out of the club (leaving her severed arm behind), and proceed to interrogate her in the dark alley behind the club (see? there was a back door). She almost tells them Jango Fett’s name, but Fett kills her first with a toxic dart (00:24:27). I find it next to impossible that Fett could be hanging around outside the club with his toxic dart gun just waiting for Zam to show up in the arms of the Jedi. He just conveniently happened to have followed them there, and been waiting in the right place for the right time. Nope, I don’t buy it.

But, one good thing comes of all this: the Jedi Council finally decides that it would be a good idea to track down and apprehend the second bounty hunter, and in the process discover who wants Amidala dead and why. In the mean time, they decide (without discussing it with her, or the Senate, or anyone) that it would be a good idea to have Anakin force her back to Naboo. Why? “She’ll be safer there” (00:25:16). Huh? Didn’t they learn their lesson from letting her stay in her apartment after the first attempt on her life? Amidala, after surviving a bomb, didn’t alter her routine at all, and went to sleep in her own bed, and the assassin found her. Going back to her home planet is the next obvious place to look (especially areas with which she is very familiar). The only reason Jango doesn’t find her there is because he inexplicably stops trying to kill her. Also, they are not to use “registered transport” and they are to “travel as refugees” (00:25:20). I guess that there would be refugees of the most overcrowded city ever hoping for a bit of green and open spaces on Naboo, but this little subterfuge is made meaningless as soon as Amidala takes an extended leave of absence from the Senate and makes Jar Jar the official representative in her stead. No point in hiding the fact that you are leaving when you announce that you are leaving. Unless the Galactic Senate works differently than the American Senate, there is no way Amidala could have left secretly under any circumstances, especially if she was the leader of a very vocal opposition to the creation of a Galactic Army.

In the midst of all of what I don’t like in these ten minutes, I love the scene in which Anakin talks with Palpatine. John Williams uses a single horn (?) in his scoring to give this scene a sinister, momentous feel, and the long camera angles cloak the characters in shadow, hinting at the darkness to come. Palpatine craftily works on Anakin’s vulnerabilities, making him more susceptible to his later seduction. In fact, Lucas will fairly clearly mirror this scene in Revenge of the Sith, when Palpatine reveals to Anakin that he is, in fact, Darth Sidious.

(But why does Anakin call the Chancellor, an elected official, “Your Excellency”?)

Next, Amidala packs for her long journey. After telling Jar Jar to get to work, she tells Anakin that she would rather not leave on the eve of a very important, galaxy changing vote. Anakin replies that “sometimes we must let go of our pride, and do what is requested of us” as if pride had anything to do with votes that change the very nature of a galaxy spanning Republic. “Anakin, you’ve grown up” Amidala says, which is condescending, but also blatantly untrue in every way that matters (00:28:14). (To be fair, for the briefest of moments, Anakin did seem out of character, i.e. mature). What follows is a “conversation” in which Anakin whines loud and long about Kenobi’s oppressive teaching style, and the fact that Anakin feels like he isn’t as powerful as he should be. Kenobi is clearly failing to teach Anakin anything because a Jedi shouldn’t be so preoccupied with power and achievement. Kenobi was well into his 20s before he was thought ready to be a Jedi Knight, and anyway, this diatribe is a very eloquent argument against promoting Anakin. He is still way too childish and immature to handle the responsibility, something that Kenobi brought up a few minutes ago with Windu and Yoda. Speaking of which, the senior Jedi again mentioned the concept of Anakin being the “Chosen One” who can “bring balance to the Force” without ever stating what that means (00:27:17). Since that is why they are trusting an unpredictable Anakin with an important assignment, it might have been helpful to provide a least a little explanation.

Also happening in this scene is the love starting to grow between Anakin and Amidala, though how an older, experienced, responsible Senator could ever find such a whiney clearly-still-fourteen-years-old Jedi attractive is beyond me. Especially when he looks at her in creepy ways, and then when she asks him to stop, doesn’t understand why, and continues giving her a creepy smile that says “when you say No, I think you mean Yes” (00:29:45). The condescending continues when Amidala combats the whining by saying “don’t try to grow up too fast” which is something a mother says, not a twenty-four year old (00:29:26).

Amidala finishes packing, despite the fact that she is going home where she probably has clothes, and despite the fact that few refugees would dress as richly as her anyway (and in ridiculous head things). For some reason Amidala thinks that her handmaiden is in danger “take good care of Dorme, the threat’s on you two now” (00:30:06). Why? Why would this even occur to her? Dorme is not pretending to be Amidala, she never was going to pretend to be Amidala, and she never will. Why would anyone bother her at all? If, instead of Jar Jar taking over, Dorme was going to pretend to be Amidala and still try to vote as Amidala in the Senate, this concern might make sense, but Amidala just sounds stupid saying what she does. (My personal theory is that Lucas intended for Dorme to be a decoy a la Phantom Menace, but changed his mind, but forgot to change the dialogue). Dorme starts crying (which seems out of place to me). Amidala sees this and says, “you’ll be fine” apparently thinking that Dorme is crying about her own “danger.” Amidala acts the part of a parent comforting a child, which is condescending and strange for an adult speaking to another adult (00:30:13). Dorme tries to explain that she is in fact not a self-centered person, but is concerned about Amidala because “what if they realize you’ve left the capital?” (especially since Jar Jar just announced to the Senate that he was taking over Naboo’s representation due to Amidala’s extended leave of absence)(00:30:19).

This scene is just wrong.

Finally, Kenobi tells Anakin to not do anything “without consulting either myself or the Council” (00:30:29). Such micromanagement would make anyone angry. Far from Kenobi making small mistakes with Anakin, it appears that he is screwing up galactically. If I thought that Lucas was intentionally writing these scenes to show Kenobi’s abominable failure, I would be happier right now, but I think we are supposed to agree with Kenobi and disagree with Anakin. Hold this thought, I will return to it after Anakin murders the Tusken Raiders later in the movie.

Cue awkward laughter. (“We have Artoo with us” gets second place for the Bigger Fish line.)

Typho and Obi-Wan share a parental moment, and the refugee starship blasts into space.

(00:30:33).

SWD: High Speed Pursuit

It is a good thing that the Jedi checked security, because someone is very determined to snuff Amidala and their hired bounty hunter’s hired assassin tries again that night. I like Attack of the Clones very much because it is an homage to the film noir detective stories of days gone by, complete with sleuthing, car chases, fights, conspiracies, and rain. The next ten minutes is almost entirely the car, ahem, speeder chase.

Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones (00.10.30-00:21:00)

The action shifts to a mysterious person meeting with another mysterious person in familiar armor. They discuss the previous failure to kill Amidala, and then Fett hands Zam a glass tube containing something “very poisonous” in hopes of more subtly killing the Senator (00:10:43). Fett then, apparently, leaves the assassination in Zam’s hands. The scene shifts to Amidala’s apartment, where Kenobi has returned from a perusal of the building. Anakin comments that he doesn’t like “waiting here for something to happen” to Amidala (00:11:04). While contemplating what he means by that statement, I recall something that Yoda said to Luke on Dagobah: “Use the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack” and it would seem that Anakin’s natural tendency to head off problems has left him in a position at odds with the more defensive nature of the Jedi. Already this has been shown, as Kenobi is content to hang around and protect Amidala and simply wait for the assassin’s next move, while Anakin chafes at not being more active.

Amidala covered the cameras in her room, probably for the completely natural response of not wanting to be watched by a 19 year old who is infatuated with her, but she thinks that this is an ok way to survive an assassination because R2-D2 has been programmed to warn the Jedi in the event of an intruder (00:11:13). This is laughable. Given the size of Amidala’s room, by the time an intruder intrudes it will be too late for a warning to matter, but since Anakin has an inflated view of his Jedi abilities’ ability to alert him to danger, it sort of makes sense that he would allow her to do so. Apparently, all of this is being done in an effort to catch the assassin, and Amidala is “bait” (00:11:25). I don’t understand this at all. If someone is the target of an assassination, they are not bait, they are a target. You don’t need to bait their assassin because the assassin is already gunning for them. Secondarily, all of this is predicated on the assassin physically entering Amidala’s room to kill her, perhaps knowing that the cameras are turned off making it easier to gain entry. How is an assassin supposed to know that the cameras are off? Furthermore, what makes the Jedi, or anybody, assume that the assassin will try physical entry? The previous attempt at murder was done from a distance, probably by remote detonation. Especially considering the fact that they are in Amidala’s known residence, would it not have made more sense to defend against some sort of arial attack through her rather large window – like a missile, gunman in a speeder, or flying droid? The last thing I would expect would be an actual intrusion, because it seems highly unlikely a profession hit person would be so stupid as to try it. Well, it was “her idea” and Amidala obviously hasn’t got a clue, and because Anakin is silly with love, that means neither of them is thinking clearly, so I will let this bad bit of writing pass (00:11:27).

Zam loads up her specialized delivery system, and back at the apartment, the Jedi are discussing Anakin’s mother issues, which still haven’t been resolved. It is revealed that he hasn’t been sleeping because of bad dreams he has been having about his mother. I already wrote about this in my Phantom deconstruction, but I don’t know why the Jedi did not at least go back and free Anakin’s mother and give him a bit of closure in that part of his life. It is one thing to leave as a boy, but quite another to stay away for ten years. I maintain that if the Jedi had done something about this, rather than letting such feelings fester, they could have avoided a whole mess of problems with Anakin. Sure, attachment is forbidden, but what does that even mean? Obi-Wan was clearly attached to Qui-Gon, and now to Anakin (and Anakin to him) so why not make a special case for the one Jedi that knows his mother and is bound to have strong feelings about her? It obviously is disturbing him, but all Obi-Wan can say is that “dreams pass in time” (00:12:22). With Anakin? Doubtful.

But, because they are on the subject of Anakin’s attachments, he jumps to talking about his infatuation with Padme. Kenobi says it is Anakin’s “thoughts” which “betray” him (00:12:33). I don’t know why Kenobi would say that, considering that Anakin just said that being around Amidala “is intoxicating” (00:12:30). One doesn’t need to read minds to know what is going on, but then, maybe Kenobi is being ironic or euphemistic. Because Amidala is a politician, Kenobi begins one of his frequent diatribes against politicians, making them all out to be unscrupulous characters. While certainly the Senate is, at this time, very corrupt, it nevertheless seems questionable to lump them all in the same category (which Anakin calls him on). At any rate, the discussion, heard while the flying droid is delivering its deadly payload, it interesting and, to my thinking, fairly realistic.

I have my first real problem with this scene at this point: after cutting a hole through the glass, and delivering the poisonous centipedes, the droid hangs around. I have no idea why. It seems unlikely that it is waiting for the centipedes to return. Are the centipedes supposed to be somewhat sentient (they do hide when R2 activates for a routine sweep of the room) or capable of scaling curved glass? The only reason I can postulate for the droid’s persistence is so that Kenobi can jump through the window onto it. Convenient, but that is not a good thing when that is the only explanation.

Right before the centipede killers attack, the Jedi “sense” it (00:14:11). Sense what, exactly? Can the Force give them an message of warning? If so, why did it not do so when the centipedes first entered the room? Why right before attack? Did the possibly-sentient centipedes suddenly think “aha! we have her now!”? I don’t know what they could have sensed, but the Jedi run off and Anakin slices the centipedes while Kenobi dives out the window. Just before Obi-Wan makes the jump, the droid behaves oddly: it backs off slightly when it scans the Jedi, and then starts to run. Like I said, I don’t know why it hasn’t already left. It is possible that Zam wanted it to record confirmation of the death, but then you have a fairly large bit of evidence waiting to be found if someone stumbles into the room before the centipedes strike.

The next few minutes continue to stretch credulity because the sequence is dependent on Anakin taking time to find a speeder, then find Kenobi, then catch Kenobi, and then find Zam and give chase. Given that the city is massive, the droid small, and the three dimensional nature of the traffic, it is highly unlikely that Anakin could actually find Kenobi, much less Zam. Sure, there is the Force thing, but I would think that it would be nearly impossible, even for someone of Anakin’s power, to easily locate one mind among trillions. However, the Force is powerful, so I will give Lucas the benefit of the doubt here.

At 00:15:49 Zam shoots the droid putting Kenobi into freefall. She then jumps in her speeder and speeds off. Anakin then has to focus on safely recovering his falling master while Zam makes her getaway. He does so, but then somehow, and rather quickly, locates her (out of trillions of beings and thousands of speeders) despite the fact that she went left and he went down. Even if you grant that Anakin could find Kenobi with the Force, it seems highly unlikely that Zam is a Force user, and therefore on the Jedi’s special radar. How did they find her? The story dictates that they must.

Chasing ensues through three dimensions, around flaming posts, and for some reason through a large electrical discharge, instead of over. The dialogue during these moments sounds bad, but my estimation is that most of it is delivery, because to me it sounds like the casual banter between friends with whom this is not their first chase.

Now, for the biggest unlikely coincidence of them all. At 00:18:13 Zam takes a hard left into a tunnel through a building, and Anakin goes a different way, believing it to be a shortcut, but instead of cutting Zam off when she emerges from the tunnel, Anakin stops at a point several hundred/thousand feet above her and jumps out his speeder and lands on top of hers. What? I am sorry, my willful suspension of belief was revoked a few minutes ago, and I have none left for this. This doesn’t make sense, or even seem remotely possible. And then, while he is on top of Zam’s speeder, he shoves his lightsaber down through her cockpit and jiggles it around wildly, and somehow manages to avoid cutting her in half. Why would he even do that? Grabbing her gun hand makes sense, but he only does that after he loses his lightsaber. I think that Lucas didn’t have a good idea how to end the chase and decided to use the “crouching speeder, falling Jedi” gag one too many times and it wasn’t a good gag to begin with.

Regardless, errant blaster fire fries Zam’s flight controls, and the speeder goes down, tossing Anakin into the alley way while Kenobi watches from above.

(00:21:00)

I have avoided mentioning the aesthetics of the Star Wars films, mostly, but to offset all my negative comments, I will say that the color and level of detail in this sequence (and the next) is quite stunning. This may just be the most colorful part of the entire Star Wars saga, and I love the depth that this scene gives to Coruscant, and the universe of Lucas’ films. One can easily forget the illogical nature of what is happening if they focus instead on all that is occurring around the chase. I have watched this part of the film many times, and each time I find something new going on in the background action. Thumbs up to Mr. Lucas for that.

SWD: Setting the Stage

I am very excited to begin my analysis of Attack of the Clones. I enjoyed breaking down the Phantom Menace, though I was disappointed to discover that more of that movie made less sense than I originally thought. As far as writing goes my initial estimation is that Clones fares much better, but the real failing of Clones is in the acting. The performances seem wooden and one dimensional, but the point of my deconstruction is to see beyond that to the story, and the story is fun.

Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones (00.00.00-00:10:29)

The film opens, after the obligatory logos and tagline, with the familiar opening crawl. This crawl is perfect. It tells us who the major players are, provides the backdrop for coming events, presents the present conflict, and tells the audience what is happening right now as the words fade into infinity. The only problem I have here is the film’s title: Attack of the Clones. The title, like Star Wars itself, is a riff on the old adventure serials in the 50s, but the title refers to an event that happens at the very end of the film, and isn’t descriptive of the film itself. Every other Star Wars title is a descriptive one: Phantom Menace (refers to Sidious, and the coming of bad events), Revenge of the Sith (refers to Palpatine’s eventual victory), A New Hope (refers to Luke rising to prominence to turn the tide of the Rebellion), Empire Strikes Back (refers to the Empire’s strike on Hoth, and Bespin, and Vader’s “triumph” over Luke), Return of the Jedi (refers to Luke becoming a full Jedi, also of Anakin’s redemption). Attack of the Clones does not accomplish as many things as perhaps it should. If, as I suggest, this were actually the first film of the prequels (with the Clone Wars being the second) I would probably parallel A New Hope as Revenge of the Sith parallels Return of the Jedi and call this The Chosen One or something similar. That title would refer to Anakin as the Jedi’s hope, as Palpatine’s recruit, and could also refer to Jango Fett as the template for the Clone Army. I am not saying my title is the best, but I think it works better than Attack of the Clones.

The camera pans up to the planet of Coruscant as Amidala’s spacecraft soars majestically into view and comes into landing on a cloud shrouded platform. The dialogue inside the spacecraft, “Senator, we’re making our final approach into Coruscant,” only serves to fool the audience (coupled with the fact that the decoy aboard the ship speaks in Natalie Portman’s voice 00.02:20). In the world of the film, those aboard the ship would obviously know that the “Senator” is not Amidala (the decoy does not wear disguising face paint and is not a close enough resemblance to fool anyone) and wouldn’t address her as “Senator”. This is a tiny quibble, but I think that if one is going to go to the effort to make a movie, one should do so as accurately as possible.

Captain Typho speaks too soon, “there was no danger at all”, because as soon as he finishes- BOOM! the spaceship blows up. Padme rushes over to her fallen decoy, and Corde, while dying, mumbles something about “I failed you, Senator” (00.03.22, 00.03.50). I don’t see how this is true. The line might work coming from Padme (as in, “I’ve failed you as a friend by making you die in my place”), but Corde is dying know that she did not fail in her duty as bodyguard and decoy. In dying she saved Padme’s life.

Typho then spends the next minute or so convincing Padme to move from the scene of the assassination. In real life, important figures under guard 1, have more protection, and 2, are not allowed to argue with their protection. Secret Service will grab and hustle their charges away from a dangerous situation and worry about etiquette later. But, this is only the first instance in which the assassination threat isn’t being taken as seriously as it should be.

Also, Corde was apparently not wearing shoes, which is odd. Mythbusters “proved” that you can’t blow shoes off with an explosion, any explosion likely to do so would blow off the feet as well, but in all honesty I only noticed her bare feet after the fifth viewing of the scene. Speaking of oddities, I don’t know why seven Jedi need to be present for a simple conversation with Palpatine.

The writing in the scene in Palpatine’s office is actually quite realistic. Palpatine sounds like a political leader, and Padme presents as someone who is determined to get things done despite minor things like (failed) assassination. I like that she doesn’t put much confidence in the Jedi’s report of “disgruntled spice miners” but why she fingers Dooku is a bit of a mystery (00.05.49). As Windu says, Dooku was once a Jedi, and as Ki-Adi-Mundi suggests, he is an unlikely suspect as a murderer. Furthermore, if Amidala is coming to Coruscant to vote against creating a Republic Army, then Dooku would likely want her to succeed. If he does want to secede from the Republic, the last thing he would want is a military force capable of stopping him. No one knows that Dooku is a Sith, or that he is in league with Sidious, at this point, so, Amidala makes a logical leap based on the plot of movie, but not the facts at hand. It is bad writing when characters in the movie have premonitions based on the movie’s plot.

When Palpatine suggests Jedi protection for Amidala, Bail Organa objects, asking if it is a “wise decision under these stressful times” (00.06:18). This doesn’t make sense. The Jedi protected Amidala once before, and it seems like something that they do well and often, in fact. Under stressful times the leap to Jedi for protection might actually make more sense than regular security, especially seeing as beyond local police there is no larger military body capable of providing such protection, which is precisely why certain factions in the Republic want to create an army in the first place. As a practical matter, it seems no other protection exists outside of hiring mercenaries or professionals. In either case, the decision to make the protection Obi-Wan Kenobi makes sense, for the reasons Palpatine states (he is an old friend). This illustrates a common occurrence in Clones that was so sorely lacking in Menace: things happen naturally, not coincidentally.

The scene cuts to later in the day as Kenobi and Skywalker ride the elevator up to Padme’s top floor apartment. This is a very natural exchange between a father-figure/mentor and a nervous, lovestruck teenager: the awkward laughs, the shared memories, the familiarity. Mostly the reunion between the Jedi and Amidala works well, except that Padme’s line “my goodness, you’ve grown” belongs to a grandmother, not a twenty-four year old woman who has a secret crush on the person she is addressing (00.08.22). Anakin is perfectly awkward around her, not knowing how to talk to a woman he has dreamed of romantically for ten years. Even Typho and Kenobi shuffle their feet and seem embarrassed, knowing how obvious Anakin is being and perhaps sighing at his demeanor, but it is completely what one would expect.

The Jedi and the Senator get down to business, and with it comes the biggest confusion of the entire ten minutes: Padme says “I don’t need more protection, I need answers” and that sparks an argument between Anakin and Obi-Wan about the nature of their Jedi mandate – letter or spirit of the law (00.08.53). Anakin, like Amidala, wants to investigate her assassination threats, but Obi-Wan has been given the directive to protect, and he won’t exceed that. The question is as Anakin puts it: “protection is a job for local security, not Jedi” (00.09.23) – why assign Jedi to a task like this for mere protection? Anakin is wrong to argue with his Master, especially in a meeting with Amidala, but his point is not a bad one. The decision to not have the Jedi investigating at this juncture may or may not be bad writing, I can’t decide. On one hand it seems like Lucas, through Anakin, knows that they should be (and after the second attempt, the Jedi Council finally charges Kenobi to investigate), but on the other hand this could just be realistic: without immediate threats or leads, most governing bodies do little (the Jedi Council included). Only when the Jedi see an armored man and have physical evidence (the sabre dart) do they start hunting for answers. It could go either way, depending on one’s point of view. However, the scene is written authentically, showing Anakin to be headstrong and not that concerned with towing the party line, Amidala to be frustrated that no one wants to do something, and Kenobi and Amidala nonetheless trying to be as diplomatic as possible. The characters are full and real.

Despite the surface being smooth, there are fundamental questions with the location of the scene: Amidala’s apartment. If a person is under threat of assassination, and has already survived one attempt that day, why not move her to a more secure location, one that isn’t part of her normal routine? Keeping her in her own room is even questionable, especially since that is the exact place the bounty hunters look for her later that night. Also, just as the Jedi arrive, Amidala is seen standing on her balcony, in full view of thousands of people. If someone were watching the apartment, they could have sniped her from long range. Usually, when under threat of death, it is a good idea to avoid windows and open places. These are relatively small concerns with the film’s settings, but easily taken care of if one pays attention while writing them. I wouldn’t say this is bad writing, but it is clumsy.

The scene closes as Anakin focuses on the negative, and both Jar Jar and Kenobi tell him to cheer up a little. Pleasantly life-like, despite the CGI character. The Jedi then check on security…

(00.10.29)

SWD: Mind the Gap

I have watched Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones all the way through in preparation for beginning the second round of my Star Wars: Deconstruction series. I find that watching the film as a whole sets up the context for each ten minute segment. If I were to start with small bits, I think I could easily become lost in the minutiae.

However, as I watched, I noticed something disturbing: there really seems to be very little connective tissue between the Phantom Menace and the Attack of the Clones. One could definitely watch Clones without having seen Menace and not miss a single thing. All of Menace is an unnecessary prologue to the real story of Clones.

Consider what happens in Menace: the Trade Federation invades Naboo, during the struggle a boy of immense Force potential is discovered, Palpatine becomes Chancellor of the Republic, and Queen Amidala reclaims her planet from hostile invasion while Anakin begins his Jedi training. Phantom Menace begins with a struggle that is said to be of great importance to the entire galaxy, but nothing galaxy-altering comes of it. The net movement during the film is zero, and while it might be interesting to see exactly how Palpatine came to power, or exactly where Anakin came from, or exactly who Senator Amidala is, nothing of the Phantom Menace is vital to the audience’s understanding of the rest of the Star Wars saga.

What is rather important to the Star Wars universe is what happens after Attack of the Clones but before Revenge of the Sith: the Clone Wars. Anakin, Obi-Wan, Amidala, Palpatine, and the Jedi live and fight during the most galaxy spanning conflict in a millennium, and as far as the films go, the audience sees little of it. What dark places does Anakin go to, emotionally, during war? How does Obi-Wan manage to continue growing as a wise and powerful Jedi while fighting a war? What devious dealings does Palpatine work out behind the scenes while everyone else is focused on winning battles? None of this should have been delegated to a second-rate TV show. This should be an entire movie itself beacuse of the huge impact it has on the characters and the way it alters their lives.

In my opinion, Attack of the Clones does a much better job of setting the stage for what happens in the life of Anakin Skywalker than the Phantom Menace ever could hope to do. Lucas should have started the prequels with Attack of the Clones, ended them with Revenge of the Sith, and put the Clone Wars in the middle (as a live action movie with way more intelligent writing than the TV show is receiving). The nature of the story and the dramatic scope of the Star Wars universe practically begs for this arrangement, and yet Lucas chose to start the story 10 years before anything happens and he completely ignores the biggest event in his hero’s life. This is such bad writing and poor story planning that it is almost unforgivable. This is why, for me, the prequel trilogy will always fail in presenting the whole story of Anakin Skywalker.

Giving the world the Phantom Menace is like what would have happened if Lucas, instead of starting with A New Hope, told the story of a nine year old Luke Skywalker having some adventure on Tatooine while elsewhere in the galaxy Boba Fett hunted down a contract and Darth Vader oppressed a planet and then skipped ahead to the Empire Strikes Back. Such a story might be interesting, and the background on Boba and the cruelty of Vader would be nice to know, but it would be a failure because none of that is important to the Saga. What is important is to see how the Empire destroys Luke’s life, Luke reunites with Leia, joins the Rebellion, and wins the first real battle against the Empire (which is what we get in A New Hope). Similarly, Clones shows how Palpatine has influence over Anakin, puts Anakin and Padme together, and the Clone Wars begin.

There are many flaws in the prequel trilogy, but as I say, I think most of them are the result of poor planning, and a broken foundation. But, as films go, Attack of the Clones is much better than the Phantom Menace, and I will start my deconstruction of the second episode next!

SWD: Death and Credits

In which I discuss the last five minutes of the film, and wrap up the first part of my Star Wars: Deconstructed series.

Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace (02.05.14-02:16:05)

The scene opens with an official Republic ship landing outside of Theed. Everything here is fairly standard, straightforward wrap-up. Palpatine shows up and imparts that he will begin watching Anakin’s career “with great interest” (02:06:07). Palpatine’s relationship to Anakin is complex, but with Maul killed, Sidious is no doubt in the market for a new apprentice and he is at least intrigued by Anakin’s potential. Kenobi’s history lesson in Return of the Jedi implies that Darth Vader turned to evil of his own accord, and then joined forces with the Emperor, but here Lucas starts a revision of history by showing that Palpatine had a very active role in seducing Anakin to the Dark Side of the Force. I very much like this because Anakin probably would have been a troubled Jedi, given what he goes through, but he still would have needed a reason to go bad. Unless Lucas wrote things brilliantly, it would have been a hard sell that the selfless good little Ani would just turn evil on his own. The addition of Palpatine as a dark mentor does not even contradict Kenobi, because Kenobi never knows the full extent of Palpatine’s involvement, and Kenobi blames himself so fully that, in his own mind, he probably completely discounts Palpatine’s influence anyway.

Palpatine suggests that he and Amidala will “bring peace and prosperity to the Republic” and this seems odd because Amidala is still Queen, but it is at least a hint that she will become Naboo’s new Senator (02:06:23). Oh, and behind Amidala are most of the top men at Lucasfilm. I guess if you are going to make a movie, why not put yourself in it somewhere?

Next the focus shifts to Yoda and Obi-Wan, which is the only real interaction the two have in the film. Yoda reveals that Obi-Wan’s actions are enough to win him the title of Jedi Knight, and that Yoda has a serious problem with Anakin being trained. Yoda speaks: “the Chosen One the boy may be, nevertheless, grave danger I fear in his training” (02:06:52). I really wish that they went a little more in depth about the Chosen One, the prophecy, and what exactly he means to the Force and the Jedi and the galaxy. To some extent Anakin’s potential is a bit of a MacGuffin, the object which everyone strives to possess in a film, a quest that drives the film’s narrative (in this case, the Saga) and as such, he doesn’t require a whole lot of explanation, but a bit more would help. Consider the Indiana Jones movies, and you see what I mean. Indy goes after the Ark of the Covenant, the Shakara stones, the Holy Grail, and the Crystal Skull, and while the objects themselves are not really that meaningful, they are least explained fairly well, usually in scenes of dialogue while Jones pours over old manuscripts or paces in his house. The audience is given a straightforward explanation why it is vitally important that Dr. Jones risk life and limb to recover said objects. Nothing of the sort happens here, and I think the audience could benefit from a bit more talk about the Chosen One. It just helps show why Anakin’s training is so important to Qui-Gon and others. Otherwise, it seems a little arrogant and/or dumb to disregard the advice of the oldest living Jedi Master, and arguably the greatest Force user in the galaxy (for good, anyway). You would think that he would know what he was talking about, and if a guy like that has premonitions of “grave danger” one would be wise to respect his opinion.

But a promise is a promise, and Yoda finally relates that the Council has already granted permission for Anakin’s training as a Jedi.

The penultimate scene of the film is the funeral pyre of Qui-Gon Jinn (necessary because he didn’t vanish like Obi-Wan) and I think this adds a nice symmetry to the saga as, in Jedi, Luke holds a similar funeral pyre for Darth Vader (though Lucas has stated that Anakin actually vanished as well, and Luke was just burning the suit).

Mace Windu turns to Yoda and reveals that the Jedi have decided that Maul was a Sith, and they wonder whether Maul was the Master or the Apprentice because apparently there are only ever two Sith. I won’t go into why this is a dumb assumption to make, especially when they already were assuming the Sith were destroyed forever and were proved wrong. Disregarding the Expanded Universe explanations (and since Lucas never gives any in the films), I just wonder how, outside of a clever Order 66, the Sith would have ever had revenge if there were only two of them. Seems like a very one sided fight that is doomed to fail. Fortunately, Sidious has a plan, but it doesn’t make the Rule of Two any more sensible.

My last comment to make on the film is that is seems very haughty of the Queen to make the Gungans march into her city for proclaim formal peace. She is still acting a little racist, but at least she is making strides toward full racial equality on Naboo. Oh, and Padme shares a long loving look with a nine year old.

Roll credits.

(02:16:05)

In conclusion to the Phantom Menace, looking over the entire film, it appears to me that most of Lucas’ writing faults comes from a lack of creativity when it comes to giving his origin story. He had all the pieces, characters, and ideas, and he knew where they needed to be in ten years, he just didn’t have a very good idea how to start. As a writer myself I know that often the beginning is the hardest bit to write. Most of the twists and turns of the plot seem clumsy because they are, which also helps explain why characters act unnaturally or nonsensically. When a writer forces things, that is what happens. As a first draft, Phantom Menace is great, but first drafts require much revision and polishing, and it seems like Menace never underwent hard rewrites. Lucas appears to have hammered out a story and went with it, and because the world was hungry for Star Wars and Lucas was already hailed as a visionary, no one questioned him, at least, not much.

Secondarily, it seems that the Phantom Menace was always intended to appeal to a much younger audience than the rest of the Star Wars films, and that is a good explanation for the overly simplistic plot and the lack of logic. Compare Phantom Menace to the two separate animated Clone Wars series and it lines up rather nicely in terms of the writing. The Clone Wars is hugely popular, but mostly with the under 15 demographic (as is Phantom Menace); that can hardly be a coincidence. However, when you write for children you get lower quality story telling unless you do it very well, and Lucas does not.

I still have fun watching the Phantom Menace, and it has plenty of exciting sequences, and I don’t mean to suggest that the Phantom Menace is not an enjoyable part of the Star Wars saga, but it is disappointingly written. I expected better, not because of any pre-conceived ideas about what should happen (in fact, I had very few based entirely on what Kenobi said in Return of the Jedi) but because Lucas had done such brilliant work with the Original Series and that didn’t carry over to the Phantom Menace.

However, what we have is all that we will have, and I love it because it is Star Wars.

[This concludes Part One of my Star Wars: Deconstructed series, but stay tuned because I will shortly beginning Part Two: Deconstructing Attack of the Clones.]

SWD: The Battle of Naboo Part 2

In which the Battle of Naboo concludes, with nothing therein making any sense whatsoever.

Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace (01.55.35-02.05.14)

The action continues with the Jedi fighting Maul in the power plant. Ten seconds in at 01:55:45 Darth Maul misses a prime opportunity to cut the legs out from under Qui-Gon Jinn. Literally. Jinn punches him in the face, knocking him down to a lower platform. Jinn then stupidly jumps straight down after him. Stupid stupid stupid. Maul then kicks him away before getting up when his lightsaber is perfectly poised to cut Jinn in half. This makes no sense whatsoever. Don’t take my word for it, watch it yourself. Kenobi, having fallen some time back, plays catch up for the rest of the fight. This is actually very good writing in order to get him out of the way so that the balance of power in the fight is shifted back towards Maul and he gets the upper hand to wound Qui-Gon.

Meanwhile, back on Naboo, the droids have penetrated the Gungan shield and destroyed a link in their shield, causing it to collapse and a sensible retreat is called seeing as the droid artillery can now cause extreme causalities. More slapstick action ensues around Jar Jar, apparently because Lucas felt that by now only eight year olds would be watching or caring about this battle. With Jar Jar being the only main character here, I don’t see why anyone would care about this battle. It has no objective nor goal to accomplish; it is very one sided; and it is filled with goofy action. Most people who love the Original Trilogy hate the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi, but at least there they had smart battle tactics, and the audience had Han, Leia, Chewie, Threepio, and Artoo to care about when they got tired of angry teddy bears. Jar Jar simply does not have the necessary invested interest to carry a fourth of the ending by himself and no amount of silliness will add it back. When watching these scenes I mostly can’t wait to get back to the lightsaber fight because at least that is intense, and isn’t accidental, like Anakin’s flying.

Speaking of which, Anakin’s starfighter gets hit and while out of control he accidentally flies into the battleship’s main hold. I don’t know why the Royal Naboo fighters didn’t try this back when they discovered the shields were too strong for blasters. As a matter of fact, I have no idea what the rest of the air corps is doing at all, except flying around shooting droids. They certainly have no plan to actually take out the ship because Anakin does it by accident.

Good writing (and the only piece in this ten minutes): Qui-Gon meditates while waiting for the shield dividers to cycle off in the Naboo power plant. This is obvious, but Lucas has missed the obvious before, so I give full credit here. Believe me, he needs it, because when Qui-Gon gets stabbed at 01:59:54 it is without a doubt not a lethal wound. Lightsaber’s cauterize their wounds, which is a well established Star Wars fact, so a simple thrust through the midsection, which given the location of the thrust misses all major organs, cannot kill Qui-Gon. Some guy once blew a hole clean through his digestive tract and lived to be a help to doctors who studied his internal anatomy. Cows sometimes have holes put in them for precisely this reason. The most damage I can see this blow inflicting would be if Darth Maul had happened to hit dead centre and severed Qui-Gon’s spinal cord, making him a paraplegic. That would have actually been a fascinating occurance to explore in the Star Wars universe, but Lucas hasn’t that much imagination.

Darth Maul missed two clear opportunities to kill Qui-Gon already, and here misses his third because this thrust shouldn’t kill him. But it does. I can only guess that the only reason Qui-Gon even dies here is because Obi-Wan dies in A New Hope, but their deaths are so different, as are the circumstances, that there is no comparison. This is more bad writing. (As is the fact that Lucas kills all dramatic tension in the scene to cut to a stupid “Doh” line back on the Gungan field of battle 02:00:29).

Despite having no army, and few enemies, Queen Amidala keeps blasters in her throne. Convenient.

Finally, back to Obi-Wan, whose Force unleashes on Darth Maul. According to the behind the scenes, Lucas considered slowing down the footage because Ewan McGregor moves so fast, and I can well believe it. He is so ferocious in fact that I am slightly surprised that he doesn’t kill Maul, but Lucas can’t let another opportunity for Maul to miss an opportunity to kill to go by.

Proof of Anakin’s lack of brilliance: 02:02:42 “Oops!” He fires a few torpedoes by accident, and destroys the droid control ship by accident. Anakin is not Luke Skywalker: Luke destroyed the Death Star on purpose with the Force. Anakin pressed buttons at random and shouldn’t even have been there.

Please, someone, tell me why Maul is swiping his lightsaber at the ground and throwing down sparks? That is something a kid would do, not a Sith Lord. He is also too dumb to consider that Obi-Wan is going for Qui-Gon’s lightsaber (which he didn’t kick down the bottomless pit because that would have been the smart thing to do.) Obi-Wan force calls the lightsaber and jumps straight up, past Maul and his lightsaber and Maul misses the best opportunity yet to cut Obi-Wan in half which he would have done if he were an actual Sith Lord bent on revenge against the Jedi. Instead, Obi-Wan helps him part ways with himself, and the fight ends.

Qui-Gon is not quite dead, but just enough to force Obi-Wan to promise to train Anakin. It is all heroic, but it is also direct contradiction of Star Wars lore. In Return of the Jedi, Obi-Wan states that he thought he could train Anakin as well as Yoda, but in fact, Yoda was never going to train him, and had Qui-Gon not conveniently died, Obi-Wan would never had trained Anakin. Incredibly, unconscionably bad writing.

Qui-Gon dies ending the Battle of Naboo.

(02:05:14)

SWD: The Battle of Naboo Part One

Well, no matter how the film got to this point, plot twists and illogical happenstance, it is here: the Battle of Naboo, the War among the Stars. Despite having stated at the beginning of the film that she would not “condone a course of action that will lead us to war” Queen Amidala has decided to do just that. In her defense she has been shot at, been the target of her first assassination attempt, been ignored in the Senate, been used for political gain by her Republic representative, and been denied any and all aid. If I were her, I would be looking for a rumble too.

Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace (01.45.05-01.55.24)

For all that it promises, the Battle of Naboo does not really deliver much on the battle. The cutting together of the four (count ’em: droids vs Gungans – Royal Naboo Air Force vs Federation battleship – Jedi vs Sith – Padme vs droids) four separate plots lines is unnatural and clunky. Three of the plot lines ostensibly deal with the battle to retake Naboo, but the final lightsaber battle is completely disconnected. The pacing of the cuts makes watching the battle(s) a little confusing, and dramatically little ties one cut to the next. A perusal of the special features on the Phantom Menace dvd reveals that Lucas felt the same way when he first cut the movie together, but by that time it was too late to do anything about it before the film was set to release. The audience is moved from scene to scene with little emotional connectivity and the battle unfolds rather mechanically.

Viewed sequentially from A New Hope, the Star Wars films got increasingly complex in the final act: Hope had one plot line (Rebels vs Death Star), Empire had two (Luke vs Vader, Leia vs Troopers), and Jedi had three (Han and Co. vs Shield, Lando and Co. vs Death Star, Luke vs Emperor). I think that the four plot lines of Phantom simply overloads things, and Lucas apparently pretty much felt the same way because by Attack of the Clones he had settled on two final plot lines. In Clones they are sequential, not concurrent: first the Arena battle, then the lightsaber duels, which are also sequential. Revenge of the Sith also has two, this time back to being concurrent: Yoda vs Sidious, Anakin vs Obi-Wan. Much simpler, and much easier to connect with and follow. Phantom’s end game was a failure of writing, and fortunately, one that Lucas learned from.

The battle begins with the Gungan army emerging from the mists of the swamps onto the verdant field of battle, heralded by the call of the didgeridoo [DID-jury-doo which looks like a two pronged Gungan instrument in the film]. I love didgeridoo music, find some – it is fantastic. Anyway, the Gungans brought with them shield generators, obviously the same technology that separates the water from their submarine city, which proves to be helpful against the droid laser barrage.

Speaking of technology, the only real element in the Gungan vs Droid battle is the grass and some of the sky. Everything else is digital which sparks the trend that Lucas made from location shooting to green screen shooting which, in my opinion, was a very bad move away from maintaining realism. What made the beginning of Empire so visceral was the fact that the set was a sub-freezing glacier, and you simply cannot achieve the same effect on a hot stage with potato flakes. CGI is a very powerful tool, but one that Lucas overuses with time.

Moving on, I wish, for the life of me, that someone could present a logical and reasonable reason why Qui-Gon Jinn thought it was in any way a good idea to bring an nine year old child along for a tactical assault. Why is Anakin there, besides the fact that he needs to jump into a ship so that he can save the day? One simply does not include a child in a military operation. He was Qui-Gon’s responsibility, but nothing about that dictates that he could not have been left somewhere secure. The Jedi might not have had many options, but there are at least Gungan women and children still hiding at the sacred place where he would have been safe. Telling him to find cover minutes before engaging in battle is stupid and reckless endangerment. I do not care about Anakin’s primitive Force ability or the fact that he was Skywalker, it makes absolutely no sense for him to accompany the Jedi into battle where, in a real situation, he could end up very much dead, especially when Jinn, Kenobi, and Padme summarily abandon him to fight their own battles. This is child abuse, criminal negligence, and just plain wrong beyond simple bad writing.

The Naboo, despite not having an army, do have weapons-equipped speeders. Might not some of these aided the Gungans in their outmatched battle? Another small evidence that the Queen did not care about Gungan casualties. And, the droids only guard the exit of the main hangar with one tank. Obviously they weren’t expecting anybody to be coming to fly the starfighters, but then, why not have simply disabled the ships to begin with? There are easily any number of ways that could have been accomplished, especially with unlimited mechanical minions. But, this starts the long chain of accidents that is Anakin’s “heroic” saving of the day: R2-D2, for whatever reason, happens to roll beneath precisely the same fighter than Anakin chooses for cover and is pulled into his socket by the automated ship’s systems. Why is Artoo there? he obviously wasn’t a part of the palace assault, because no one missed him while he was joyriding with Anakin. Oh, right, to get the fighter off autopilot so that Anakin could save the day. Why is the ship already programmed to fly them to the Federation battleship in orbit? Conveniently bad writing.

After taking the hangar, the insurgents briefly discuss their plan of attack. Wouldn’t a better time and place to do that be before they started the offensive? Amidala guesses that Nute Gunray is “in the throne room” (01:50:13). She guesses? What if he isn’t? What if he isn’t even on the planet? Amidala apparently doesn’t know, or else she would (and should) already know where he is with her “well conceived plan”. He is, of course, but he shouldn’t be. In the very beginning of the film Jinn called the Federation stooges “cowards”. Once the shooting started, Gunray should have hightailed it back to his orbiting ship or at the very least headed somewhere other than the one place Amidala would guess to look for him.

Once they decide where to go, Darth Maul shows up. And the Jedi abandon their ward Anakin and their charge Amidala to simply fight him. Let’s back up: their mission was to draw out the Queen’s attacker and learn his identity. They say nothing. Maul says nothing. They just start fighting. It is only after they kill him that Mace Windu says that “there is no doubt that the mysterious warrior was a Sith” (how could he have known that without interrogating him?) but at this point he and the Jedi Council are still doubting the Sith’s return (02:08:06). So, they fail their mission.

I really love this duel (with three exceptions) but this duel is nothing beyond a flashy clash of lightsabers. Every single lightsaber duel in the Original Trilogy, all three of them, happened for reasons beyond the mere fight of it. One can barely call the Obi-Wan vs Vader duel on the Death Star a duel, more a desperate attempt on Kenobi’s part to give Luke a fighting chance to escape by occupying Vader. Kenobi wasn’t even there to confront Vader: he had no idea that Vader would even be on the Death Star. But, once begun, the duel was more about the conversation than the fight. The combatants spent more time talking than fighting, and only when Kenobi surrenders does Vader move to strike. In Empire, Vader goes out of his way to avoid fighting because his objective is not to win a lightsaber fight in which he obviously has the upper hand already but is to goad and tempt Luke, which, again, is why he spends most of the fight talking. The duel on the Second Death Star involves slightly more fighting, but only because Luke loses control and only once he has been pushed to do so by the Emperor (after which point he hides) and then Vader, but he stops as soon as he realizes that fighting is not the answer. In short, the lightsaber duels are never about the lightsaber duels. They are punctuation in the larger conversation of the scene. While mesmerizing, the Theed lightsaber duel is just a fight, and therefore, badly written because it adds nothing to the conversation. To put a cop-drama-noir-film flair to it, the Jedi summarily kill their only witness and it costs them dearly (and I am decidedly NOT talking about Jinn’s life).

Because the Queen gets pinned down by droids with shields, Anakin decides to do something about it. He fumbles about the cockpit looking for a trigger, and accidentally launches the fighter while closing the cockpit (conveniently), and only eventually finds what is most obviously the trigger. Anakin supposedly knows flying contraptions better than I do, and he can’t find the trigger. Hmm. But he does, and blasts the droids, and then, because his fighter is somehow on autopilot, he blasts into orbit, and he doesn’t even know where he is going (despite having been at the pre-mission briefing) until he makes visual contact. It is like Lucas did not even think about what he was writing, or even read through his draft a second time to miss something so obvious. The only real thing about this is that Anakin treats it like a game, which any nine year old would do.

At 01:52:08 Darth Maul shows off his acrobatic skills for the audience, because it is a very stupid thing to do while fighting with weapons that can cut through almost anything against two opponents wielding such weapons. Even as a kid, watching this movie for the very first time, I thought it was lame that Maul danced around while Vader never wasted a movement. Seriously, see how much of the lightsaber duels Vader fights while standing rooted to one spot. Maul also spends an inordinate amount of time twirling his saber for no reason at all. Pointless eye candy this is, but nothing approaching what will be seen in Clones and Revenge. Seriously, here, less is definitely more. After a bit he then jumps somewhere, but because the audience hasn’t seen where the battle is going, they have no idea where he jumps to, which is a failure in setting the scene. To this day, after so many viewings of this battle I’ve lost count, I have no idea how in the world the Jedi get from a one story hangar to a multi-story power plant, especially considering that the outside overview of the hangar shows nothing of the sort in the vicinity, and certainly not in an upward-jumping location. At 01:52:40 Darth Maul backflips from one platform in the power plant to another, and, instead of flanking him, at 01:52:42 the Jedi jump after him. What is completely flabbergasting about this is the fact that Darth Maul hops backward in order to let the Jedi land. For the love of the Sith, why?? He could have simply extended his arms and cut them both in half as they dropped in for landing on the exact spot on which he stood. Clear as day, watch it yourself, and you don’t even need to do it slow motion. Right here Maul could have killed them both. The Jedi were stupid to jump, and Maul should not have let them land. Bad writing and worse choreography.

Next it becomes obvious that, despite Amidala’s “well conceived plan” there are still very many droids in the palace keeping them from Nute Gunray. Despite some slapstick routines, Jar Jar stays among the living. Oh, and Anakin has a convenient child-sized helmet. Good thing he picked the kiddy-trainer starfighter. I love that R2-D2 tries to get him to go back to the planet. That is amusing and touching – and part of why Artoo is one of my favorite characters in the entire saga. Fortunately, the Bat-Squad has been altering the Royal Naboo blasters because they come conveniently equipped with grapple guns.

Panaka and the Queen’s protectors ascend to another floor of the palace, and the Battle of Naboo comes to a middle.

(01:55:24)

SWD: Battle Plans

Amidala has landed on Naboo, and draws up plans for the battle to retake what is hers. They don’t make much sense.

Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace (01.38.29-01.45.04)

I have not said much at all about staging, blocking, or the way scenes are set from an acting/production point of view, but I do want to say that not paying attention to little details can skew the way a scene is perceived. George Lucas does his staging in a pretty straightforward way, and he has talented people on his crews that help his films, and it works well. However, in the first scene of this section, a dialogue between Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, the way that Jinn is standing makes him look ever so haughty. I think he is supposed to be looking off into the distance, perhaps watching for something, maybe on guard, but his posture evokes a more arrogant disposition, especially when he barely looks at Obi-Wan. What he says is even worse that how he stands.

One gets the feeling that the Jedi have been maintaining a cold silence throughout most of the trip from Coruscant to Naboo, born out of their early arguments. Kenobi makes the first overture here, which is hardly surprising because Jinn is not the type to ever apologize for anything. He makes a report, then asks Jinn’s opinion of Amidala’s plan to exploit the Gungan army. Jinn responds that the “Gungans will not be easily swayed; and we cannot use our power to help her” (01:38:40). The first part of the statement only sounds good until the Gungans are easily swayed a few moments later. The second part of the statement makes Qui-Gon sound uncaring and evil. Qui-Gon very conspicuously used his Jedi mind-tricking to make Boss Nass do what he wanted early in this story, basically give the Jedi a lift through the planet core and make Jar Jar Binks their slave, that is, nothing too important that the Jedi could not have worked out another way. Now, when the fate of an entire planet is at stake he sniffs, almost literally, and refuses to do anything about it. My gripe here is not that Jinn should have simply mind-tricked Nass into an alliance, he should not (the alliance between the Gungans and the Naboo is absolutely something that they should work out themselves free from any mental trickery). My gripe is that Jinn is being petty and self-serving; he expends effort only when it is convenient for him to do so.

After Jinn continues to ignore Kenobi, Obi-Wan charges ahead with an apology, saying that it “was not my place to disagree with you about the boy” (01:38:48). This is big of Obi-Wan, to admit wrong-doing and seek reconciliation. It takes a bit of ego assuaging, “I am grateful you think I am ready to take the trials,” before Jinn praises Obi-Wan as an apprentice and concedes that he is a “much wiser man than I am” (01:39:02). This would be a huge concession on Jinn’s part if he hadn’t been staring off into the distance while making Kenobi grovel and pander to him.

I dislike the blatant foreshadowing because it is blatant foreshadowing. I think it is really lame writing, in a prequel to the world’s biggest saga, to make very obvious statements about the greatness of key characters. It is just clumsy. Granted, the job here of writing the back story when the ending is already known is very difficult, but it can be done: the Planet of the Apes (Heston era) did it fairly well; JJ Abrams’ Star Trek movie did a great job of bringing together characters that everyone knew were going to mesh as a crew; and X-Men Origins: Wolverine showed the relationship between Stryker and Wolverine that played off of their encounter in X-Men 2 very well without clobbering the audience over the head with it.

Next, Jar Jar takes the Queen and Co. to the shores of Otoh Gunga only to find that it has been deserted in the wake of a battle. He then leads them to a more secret “sacred place” to which the Gungans would have retreated. The Queen-decoy starts negotiations, but Nass interrupts to blame the invasion on Amidala and the Naboo. From his point of view, this certainly makes sense because, while the Naboo obviously had bad relations with the Gungans the mostly left them alone, the droid army was indiscriminate. At any rate, Amidala figures that her decoy won’t be able to get the job done and she steps in, to the surprise of everyone in the movie.

I am not sure about other viewers, but I figured out the decoy business the first time I watched the film, and having analyzed it rather heavily in recent weeks, I have noticed that Lucas dropped enough hints to rip the ears off a gundark. I have waited until now to bring this up, but I don’t see the point of a decoy at all, either in-universe or from a writing point of view. From all accounts Naboo is a peaceful, quiet planet in the back part of the universe not far from Tatooine. They have no army, and until the Federation invaded, no enemies. So why would the Queen need a constant bodyguard/decoy? Normal secret service types like Captain Panaka should have been plenty. From a writing point of view, a bodyguard isn’t required by the story except for two clumsy reasons: 1, so that “Padme” could accompany Jinn on Tatooine when otherwise he wouldn’t let her thus facilitating her meeting and falling in love with Anakin and 2, so that she could pull a bait and switch on Nute Gunray during the taking of the palace. Seeing as the Queen always wore heavy makeup and elaborate costumes, it would have been easy for her to pretend to be a handmaiden without a pre-arranged decoy for the Tatooine stuff, even if she had a valid reason for leaving the ship (by the way, curiosity about the planet is a very lame reason. I am sure a Galactic Encyclopedia exists). As for the taking of the palace, there is absolutely no need for a full on tactical breach, so no need for a decoy, but I will get to that later.

In either case this decoy business just makes her negotiations with Boss Nass that much more awkward. He has not encountered her before this, and has no prior experience with her decoy. All he knows is two human females have just claimed to be Queen and I doubt such things matter to him. What Amidala says about her decoy is all for the benefit of those watching the film up to that point, which is why she reveals her true identity anyway. Lucas is saying “in case you missed it!” because none of what she explains means anything to Boss Nass.

But, back to the negotiations. Amidala says that the “Trade Federation has destroyed all that we have worked so hard to build” and for emphasis she makes her voice sound a little sad, which just sounds pathetic (01:41:12). In fact, this is simply not true. Having seen Theed, the Naboo capital, from the air several times the viewer knows that there has been little to no damage whatsoever. Even according to Jar Jar Otoh Gunga is still intact, just deserted. All the Naboo populace is in camps, while the Gungan populace is in hiding. So, what was destroyed, exactly? “All will be lost forever” — hardly (01:41:13). C’mon, Lucas, have her say something TRUE! I apologize, but when characters spout things that are so obviously false, it is bad writing. The Empire destroyed things, ways of life, and all that people worked hard to build, and we saw it! We saw the busted Jawa sandcrawler, the smoke gushing from the burned out homestead, the charred bones of Owen and Beru, the sparkling atoms of Alderaan. Not one single verdant blade of grass on Naboo has even been disturbed. No, nothing is in danger here.

But, back to the negotiations. Amidala sounds insincere and drops to a knee begging for help (I know she is supposed to be sincere, but she does not sound like it or act like it). Boss Nass laughs at the absurdity of the situation, and generations of prejudice are wiped away once he makes sure that Amidala doesn’t think that she is “greater than the Gungans” (01:41:51). If only Marin Luther King, Jr. had such an easy time of it. This happens so easily as to make a joke of long years of racism, but then, Lucas has neither the time nor the patience to write a dramatic and realistic presentation of what this would actually look like.

Now, Amidala’s plan is this: 1, the Gungan army draws the droid army out of Theed to do battle 2, Panaka and her handmaidens will invade the palace seeking Nute Gunray and 3, her pilots will fly up to destroy the only remaining battleship which also controls the droids. Qui-Gon Jinn nods sagely and says that her plan is “well-conceived” (01:44:20). Hardly.

This plan only works because Sidious goes all evil and decides that committing genocide is funny. Also, it hinges on not caring about the Gungans at all, because they are technologically and strategically outmatched by the droid army and their weapons. Tell me this: if knocking out the droid control ship will immobilize every single droid on the planet, why not start there? Destroy the ship, or infiltrate it and send a shutdown message. Then, walk into the palace and take Gunray hostage. Under normal circumstances, no army is going to abandoned a well-fortified and strategically important city to fight a battle on the nearby open plains (especially not when the enemy has air superiority). Urban warfare is the most brutal and costly form of fighting there is, so it makes no sense to go the enemy when you can make the enemy come to you at great risk.

Also, I highly doubt that there is any worry that if Gunray managed to escape that he would simply return with another droid army and invade all over again (which Kenobi states is an “even bigger danger” (01:44:31).) Two reasons why this is dumb: 1, a droid army that big is expensive and probably hard to come by and seeing as how Gunray has expended alot of money to run this campaign, he would be hard pressed to finance another and 2, how would he be able to fool the Republic again when Amidala can make a transmission from her newly won planet and show irrefutable proof that Gunray was there and is a war criminal?

Lastly, Amidala says that “without the Viceroy, [the droid army] will be lost and confused” (01:43:52). Really? A bunch of robots designed purely for combat? This would be laugh out loud funny, except that it is sadly bad writing.

This could be excused by saying that Amidala is an inexperienced commander of troops and has no idea what she is doing except that Panaka (who is against the plan already), the Jedi, and Boss Nass all go along with it thinking that it is a well-conceived plan.

Sidious says it best: “She is more foolish than I thought” (01:44:44). Also, anybody else notice how short Darth Maul looks next to Gunray and his lieutenant? About as short as this film is short on logic.

But, the battle is about to begin…

(01.45.04)

SWD: What Tangled Webs

I apologize in advance to my more sensitive, Phantom Menace loving readers because I believe the next ten minutes are the worst of the entire film.

The day on Coruscant is ending, and with it comes the conclusion of what has turned out to be a very short visit. Given all the headaches, gambling, podracing, droid killing, and Sith evading that it took to get to the capital, one would think that our heroes would stay a bit longer, but they are off before a full day has passed. When Amidala was considering leaving Naboo in the first place it was because “Palpatine will need your help” but once she got here it seemed that everyone and no one cared that she was there, and Palpatine only needed her help to call for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum, because apparently leaders from mid Rim planets can walk into the Senate and summarily demand the Senate leader be removed from office for no reason whatsoever. I know that is a really long sentence, but read it again. That is exactly what happens, and that makes no sense. Consider it this way: Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California, could possibly be able to get into Congress and make a plea for help in California because he was being invaded, but I doubt that if he was interrupted by the representative of his invader he could then call for the Vice-President to be tossed out. A governor has no say in how the Senate is run. Granted, apparently the Constitution of the Galactic Republic allows for this, but my point is that this is a really, really dumb way to run a galactic legislature. Such a political system would have collapsed long before the time frame of the Phantom Menace, I guarantee it.

Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace (01.29.54-01.38.28)

This section picks up right as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn are arguing outside the Jedi Council chamber while inside Anakin is being “tested” by the Jedi Council, which apparently consists of a mind-reading or ESP quiz and an interrogation. I have serious problems with the questions the Council asks, by which I mean Yoda Windu and Ki-Adi-Mundi (because, like the Senate, everyone else is apparently a spectator). Their entire inquisition, and reason why Anakin is unsuitable, hinges on the fact that Anakin is afraid, that is, afraid to lose his mother. Yoda insists that “see through you, we can”, but I think that the Council is looking for reasons to reject Anakin (01:30:24). Either that or they have no idea what to do with a non-indoctrinated child. Anakin retorts to Yoda’s assertion that he is “afraid to lose [his mother]” with a just question “what has that got to do with anything?” (01:30:38). This is a just question because the Jedi Council seizes upon the most upper level, immediate concern that a little boy only a day or so removed from leaving his mother, for all he knows: forever, and use this a basis for his unsuitability for Jedi recruitment. Seriously? What eight year old kid who just left home wouldn’t be concerned about the fate of his only parent? Why is this not an admirable quality: Anakin is caring, loving, and loyal to family? And why can the Council not see beyond the immediate emotion? Eventually Anakin could learn to get on without his mother and probably be just fine if the Council had not made such a big deal out attachments. Given than Anakin is so Force-strong, and obviously could be a great asset, if trained properly, why would the Council not simply negate Anakin’s fear of loss by freeing his mom and employing her somewhere where Anakin could know she would be safe? Problem solved, right? No, because the Council is so inflexible that attachment cannot be condoned and they force a child who needs loving support to have no emotional support.

Which is why Yoda insists on a weird philosophy in which “fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering” or in other words: human emotion is completely misunderstood (01:30:49). This is stated like an empirical fact, when it is, in fact, blatantly untrue. That is, it might be true for one individual, but it is certainly not applicable to every sentient being everywhere, much less, all humans. Yoda, being over 800 years old, definitely should have so much experience with humans that he should know better. And even if it were the case, this is only the case because Anakin fears to lose his mother, the Jedi Council forbids him from ever thinking about or seeing her again, which makes him hate them, and his hate leads to their destruction and their suffering. Talk about a self-fulfillling prophecy that could have been avoided completely. However, Anakin’s downfall actually has little to with his mother in the sense that one person is never so simple. George Lucas’ apparent desire to make things simplistic forces him to write badly. Gone is the great scene in Empire Strikes Back when Luke fights Vader and sees his own face in the helmet. There, Yoda’s “Hmm” was so much more communicative than all his psychobabble blather here. If this were written to show how Yoda learned through exile I could love this scene, but it is definitely not written that way as Lucas lacks the necessary subtly, depth and foresight.

Night falls, and the scene shifts to a morose Amidala waiting in Palpatine’s office. Jar Jar has his best scene in the entire film, one in which the Gungan articulates intelligently, is perceptive and realistic. He is so different that I would almost be inclined to think he is a different character altogether. He is wrong about the racial prejudice of the Naboo, but only because he cannot guess that Gungans are so far beneath the Naboo that they didn’t even know about the Grand Army that the Gungans possess.

And, while Jar Jar is so good, Amidala looks bored or completely checked out, almost stoned. She has zero emotion in this scene, and throughout the next few minutes. Only her eyes move, generally, which paired with her pasty makeup makes her kind of creepy. Apparently her 15 minute trip to the Senate completely drained all the life from her, along with her sanity. Panaka enters to present the “surprising” news that Palpatine has been nominated to succeed Valorum as Chancellor. Palpatine tries to play it off, but Amidala doesn’t buy his dumb act. I think this is more evidence that Lucas can’t write and that Palpatine is a bad politician. (Also, the line “If I am elected I promise to put an end to corruption” might be fine for a campaign trail, but not a private meeting between a Queen and her representative (01:31:56).) He should be proving that he can turn events to his favor and that he is astute at the political game, not that he is the recipient of fortuitous circumstances. The former says “I can do” and the latter says “place no faith in me” something no politician would ever allow to be thought of him. I kind of like that Amidala ignores Palpatine’s posturing throughout the entire scene, but again, it seems like she just doesn’t care more than she is wise to his act. Palpatine again says something completely ridiculous when trying to steer the conversation back towards himself: “I have a feeling our situation will create a strong sympathy vote for us” (01:32:07). Really?? The situation that got exactly one senator not involved in the situation interrupting your plea and slamming the door for aid on you? The situation that apparently no one else even knows about because they didn’t shout down the call for evidence with “what, you need MORE evidence”? That situation? Either Palpatine is a complete moron or Lucas fails to pay attention to anything he writes and no one on his crew called him on it. I will let you decide.

Amidala says something about “controlling bureaucrats” that is more at home in an Empire than a Republic, but then goes on to fear that “there will be nothing left of our people, our way of life”, probably still deluding herself into thinking that the Trade Federation is completely trashing her planet and murdering everyone even though that makes absolutely no sense for them to do and is completely unproven (01:32:17). She then decides to go home to wage war. In a desperate move to salvage the situation, Palpatine brings up his treaty, which makes no sense for him to say in his role as a Senator because such a treaty is illegal and nonsensical but Amidala ignores him anyway because she is trying to be heroic. This is actually a larger problem than a dumb line, because this is a problem with having the film’s main villain be the same guy who is behind the curtain pulling the strings. It means that situations like this can appear making the film’s villain impotent. He actually needs Amidala away from Naboo because she could do exactly what she wants to (ie, free her planet), which would ruin Palpatine’s plans to swoop in and save the day, but he can do nothing about it without revealing that he is evil. (This is why Vader was the main villain of the Original Trilogy and why Lucas fails by not having a Vader in this trilogy despite three excellent candidates in Maul, Tryrannus/Dooku, and Greivous.)

(Blink and you will miss Palpatine’s evil smile. His dialogue is dumb, but McDiarmid’s acting is superb.)

Next, Qui-Gon is completely shocked that Obi-Wan was right and the Jedi Council did not just bow to his wishes. In this scene Liam Neeson’s acting is so over the top that he makes Qui-Gon seem like a buffoon. He also whines “he is the chosen one…you must see it” which is arrogant condescension and an insult (01:33:29). He rebels blatantly against the Council’s decision, and they respond by quoting rules, as if it would work. Jinn’s endorsement of Kenobi, far from being gracious, is nothing more than a bid for his own way, but then, insulting inferiors is something Jinn does all the time.

While on the landing platform waiting for Amidala to change clothes again, Kenobi resumes his argument with Jinn and Jinn just orders him to shut up. Next, Jinn tries to explain the Force to an obviously confused Anakin. This scene is supposed to mirror Yoda explaining the Force to Luke, but it fails, mostly because Anakin does not understand a single thing said to him (01:36:21). Jinn also contradicts Kenobi’s instruction from A New Hope when he states that the Force speaks its will to the Jedi. This is not an ideological difference, or else it would mean that there should be two Forces, one evil and one bad, and that has way too many problematic ramifications for this whole midichlorian thing and the fact that a person can choose to be evil or good. This is just bad writing. Furthermore, the pacing, timing, and mood of this scene is completely different than the Dagobah exposition scene: Jinn has just had two arguments and come off as decidedly not wise and inscrutable; this is a transition scene, not a character building scene (which means too much is happening); and the mood is unsettled, not a quiet, serene swamp discussion. Incidentally, this entire exchange is an argument against a child Anakin. Some things only really work with adult characters.

Why is the end of this scene triumphant-feeling? I could understand Jar Jar being excited because he really doesn’t understand what is going on, but the music means for it to be triumphant, which means Lucas means for it to be. Why?

Next, Panaka and Jinn try to persuade Amidala that she is not acting rationally and she responds by exploiting Jar Jar and planning to exploit the Gungans, which shows that while viewers thought she was being enlightened and learning to treat Gungans as equals she was in fact not growning at all. Thus Lucas destroys any real character development he had going with Amidala’s character.

Finally, the Queen arrives at home once again to discover that the Trade Federation blockade has apparently disappeared. I have no idea why Amidala doesn’t turn around and come back with a fleet (hired, borrowed, or Senate provided) with which to destroy the droid control ship and retake her planet the smart way, except that the film is not written to be sensible. And, since there is only one ship, the pilot is stupid enough to fly straight through its sensor range instead of approaching from the opposite side of the planet.

In either case, Kenobi says “we haven’t much time” and I agree. This movie is failing fast.

(01:38:28)