Star Wars Rebels – Season 2, Episode 16 – “Shroud of Darkness” – Mysteries Revealed

     “Shroud of Darkness” is more great quality from “Star Wars Rebels.” In this questions are answered and we learn just how amazing the Grand Inquisitor was and is. I like that he hasn’t been forgotten as he was one of the characters who got me into the show in the first place. We also see the Inquisitors acting somewhat effective, which is always good.

     The episode was directed by Saul Ruiz and written by Henry Gilroy.

      The story involves Ahsoka, Ezra and Kanan returning to the Lothal Jedi Temple as the Inquisitors continue to find them wherever they go and they want to find out why by reaching out to Yoda. From here the story unfolds as a new layer to the Temple is revealed.

The Pros: The Action – The action is great in this episode! From Ezra and Kanan fighting the Inquisitors, from Kanan against the Temple Guards and the Inquisitors rising the Jedi Temple from the ground. This episode is great at showing just how powerful the force is.

The Jedi Temple – The Jedi Temple is really fascinating, as this time it revealed another room and with it more secrets. Curious to see how Sidious and Vader use it to their advantage given all the history within it.

Yoda – Yoda appears in this episode and offers great advice as we get an idea that he sensed but didn’t understand what was coming and from that warns Ezra of how fear can be healthy but that can corrupt when it turns to anger. He also reaches out to Ahsoka to show he’s proud, which is a sweet moment.

The Inquisitors – The Fifth Brother and Seventh Sister are great in this episode. The Seventh Sister finds the Temple and together they do a great job in their fights. Their will only breaks when the Grand Inquisitor appears in his uncorrupted form with the other Guards to face them. It’s a powerful scene.

Ahsoka – Ahsoka is dealing with her anxiety over leaving the order and missing her Master Anakin. In this episode she learns what happened as Anakin’s spirit is angry at her for leaving him and that now he is greater and stronger as a vision of Darth Vader appears. It’s really well done and I like that she still has his training videos. She also doesn’t see herself as a Jedi, which is powerful in it’s own right.

Ezra – Ezra’s drive is to protect his friends (hello Luke) and Yoda cautions him against letting fear for his friends control his actions. He may have understood but Ezra is such a cipher sometimes that it is hard to tell. I’m glad he got to see Yoda at least.

Kanan – Kanan’s journey is letting go of Ezra and letting him make his own choices and from this he earns the respect of the light within the Grand Inquisitor, who appears in his uncorrupted form showing the Temple Guard fell to the Dark Side and that is the reason the Inquisitors have double bladed light sabers. This was one of my favorite parts of the episode and my respect for the Grand Inquisitor grew. What a great character.

The Grand Inquisitor – The Grand Inquisitor was once a Temple Guard and the light side within him counsels Kanan that he has to let go of Ezra and let him make his own choices, even if he turns. It’s powerful and he makes Kanan a Jedi Knight. Seeing the good that he was once was before becoming the Grand Inquisitor is powerful, especially since his spirit and those of the other Guards turn on his apprentices the other Inquisitors, stalling them for our heroes escape.

Hints at Things to Come – Vader arrives to visit the Inquisitors and he mentions his Master will be greatly interested in the Temple, and when the Inquisitors give their warning he voices that he plans to use the growing power of the Jedi to turn them to destruction and their end. Please don’t mess up Vader writers…do this right, let him win.

   This was a great episode and is easily one of the best this far. The fact that we get the Grand Inquisitors story and Ahsoka learns the fate of Anakin are powerful scenes and I do hope we see Ezra turn, though I don’t know how it will be tun…he’s too good, though I do hope he turns. The Empire and Dark Side need some wins, Season 2 has been a lot of neutral fights or Rebel Wins.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

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The “Star Wars” Films – Worst to Best

Star Wars Films

    Now that I have watched all the Episodes of “Star Wars” it is time for rating them from worst to best. In these summaries I’m going to briefly go over what worked and what didn’t, as well as what made a certain episode better than another. I will also be posting links to the actual reviews, which I will post to each summary will contain the spoilers. George Lucas really did create an amazing world, 7 films, countless shows and spinoffs and more films, games, books and comics to come. What an amazing ride through both great and horrible storytelling this Episodic journey has been. The only films being reviewed here are them in relationship to their theatrical releases as I hate what Lucas did to his art with the Original Trilogy special Editions and Prequeling them up and the deleted scenes add nothing to the Prequels. This is only the films as they appeared in the theater and the only way I will watch them.

Attack of the Clones

7) Episode II: Attack of the Clones

      “Attack of the Clones” is a jumbled mess of reference that makes no sense and has no coherency or focus. There isn’t a main character to speak of and the character of Anakin is just a winy brat, creepy stalker and murder and with that we see none of the friendship he was supposed to have with Obi-Wan. To go with this the dialogue related to the love story is crap and the acting is wooden from everybody. There is no reason to watch this film as it isn’t needed in regards to Anakin’s fall (Only Episode III is needed) and in it Obi-Wan was the only character I liked.

Final Score: 3 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/star-wars-episode-ii-attack-of-the-clones-2002-a-story-ruined-by-excess-and-horrible-dialogue/

The Phantom Menace

6) Episode I: The Phantom Menace

     The reason “The Phantom Menace” isn’t lower on the list is due in large part to performances by Veteran actors like Neeson and McGregor. Darth Maul is a pretty great Dragon for Darth Sidious too. What keeps it from being good though, as it is still a terrible film are some of the issues all the Prequels have. The dialogue feels stilted and unnatural, the tone is all over the place and serious scenes are ruined by Jar Jar being contrived comedic relief and a supposed hero in nearly every scene in the film. Without the performances by the great actors this film would be worse than “Attack of the Clones,” and that is saying something. This was George Lucas’s warning to us that when he’s in charge of a project, the film will most likely suck as there will be no one to reel in his tendencies like in the Original Trilogy.

Final Score: 5 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/11/05/star-wars-episode-1-the-phantom-menace-1999-an-unfocused-mess-ruined-by-child-actors-and-comedic-relief/

Revenge of the Sith

5) Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

   “Revenge of the Sith” isn’t good but it is fun. It is here there are echoes of great ideas and there is finally focus as well follow Anakin and witness his fall to become Darth Vader. What brings it down though is I still don’t believe the love story and Anakin’s transformation is way too quick. The problem of excess and tone is on full display too as the final fight goes on way too long and General Grievous, who is supposed to be the big bad Separatist leader is a joke who is impossible to take seriously. McGregor does put in another great performance as Obi-Wan, just as Ian McDiarmid clearly has a lot of fun in the role of Darth Sidious. This is the Prequel film that feels the most like the Original Trilogy, even if it can’t fully capture what made the Original great.

Final Score: 7.3 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/11/18/star-wars-episode-iii-revenge-of-the-sith-2005-best-of-the-prequels-but-still-an-idea-not-fully-realized/

Star Wars Episode VI Return of the Jedi

4) Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

   “Return of the Jedi” is when George Lucas’s prequel problems begin. We spend way too long in Jabba’s palace which makes the Empire seem useless, especially since Darth Vader is ordered to just sit around and the Empire stupidly builds another Death Star that is even more vulnerable than the one prior, and the Empire’s greatest troops fall to Ewoks. What keeps this one from being worse than “Revenge of the Sith” though are the character moments. We get to see that Luke has come into his own as a Jedi, Darth Vader’s redemption arc is completed, the Leia and Han relationship is completed and Luke and Leia’s relationship changes with the new revelation Luke discovers at the beginning of the film. These great moments just put it above “Revenge of the Sith,” and keep it from being a total mess like the Prequels.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/star-wars-episode-vi-return-of-the-jedi-1983-there-is-good-but-prequel-problems-begin/

Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens

  3) Episode VII: The Force Awakens

     “Star Wars” is great again! “The Force Awakens” has some of the best new characters in any science fiction (Kylo Ren, Rey and Finn) and manages to set up great arcs for them and made me invested in what happens to them. The First Order actually feels like a threat and the action, dialogue and story are all solid. What keeps it from being better from being higher on the list is it is derivative of the Original Trilogy, from the First Order having a Super Weapon to countless other things. The villains outside of Kylo Ren were pretty weak too and didn’t really do much in relationship to our heroes. It is really those factors that keep it from being perfect, though I am excited to see how this new Trilogy unfolds. J.J. Abrams has set the stage for so much more to be explored in regards to the world and characters.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/12/19/star-wars-episode-vii-the-force-awakens-2015-a-return-to-star-wars-strengthened-by-new-characters/

Star Wars A New Hope Poster

2) Episode IV: A New Hope

    “A New Hope” truly is a classic and is the hero’s journey done right. Luke is the orphan pulled into events outside of his control who steps up to become a hero when the Empire destroys what reasons he had to stay where he was. From here things unfold as we see Grand Moff Tarkin played by the amazing Peter Cushing destroy Alderaan and torture Leia and Darth Vader arrive and show  just how powerful the force and the Empire’s power is. We also meet Obi-Wan who is the old wizard avoiding the world until Leia and Luke pull him back into it and Han Solo, the rogue who becomes a hero over the course of the film. This is the film that inspired so many other Sci. Fi. films (Including “The Force Awakens”) and is a classic. The only issue is we spend way too long with the droids at the beginning and Leia could have gotten more character development.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/11/24/star-wars-episode-iv-a-new-hope-1977-a-heros-journey-and-a-classic/

Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back

1) Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

   “The Empire Strikes Back” is where we see the Empire’s full might in action. Whether it is crushing the Rebels on Hoth and chasing them to the ends of the galaxy or Darth Vader completely destroying Luke in their duel and his capture and torture of Luke’s friends…the tone here is dark and in the dark we see hope and wonder as Luke is trained by Yoda in the ways of the force and Han and Leia’s friendship naturally becomes a romance. The film is perfect as every new scene advances characters and their relationships and the Empire and Darth Vader show why they are the villains as they succeed in almost everything they do. In this our heroes only win when they survive, and that adds stakes to all the events that occur. The writing and cinematography are also the best “Star Wars” has ever been and thus far it is the only perfect “Star Wars” film.

Final Score: 10 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/12/01/star-wars-episode-v-the-empire-strikes-back-1980-a-masterpiece-of-betrayal-family-and-the-philosophy-of-the-force/

    It was a joy going back to watch these in the lead up to “The Force Awakens,” and I look forward to Disney’s eventual re-releasing of the Original Trilogy in it’s Original Theatrical form. George Lucas created something wonderful and inspiring with this Universe. There will no doubt be countless more Episodes and films so eventually I will be returning and making another list like this. But until then, may the force be with you, always.

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) – There is Good but Prequel Problems Begin

Star Wars Episode VI Return of the Jedi

     I enjoyed “Return of the Jedi,” but it has really serious problems that Prequels have on full display. Whether it is spending way too long with characters that don’t matter, having our villains be toothless and useless and going for cutesy kids stuff to sell toys and referencing better films (Let’s build another “Death Star”), there is a lot bringing this film down. It is still good, but only just. It isn’t great like the two Original Films that came before…and if I was reviewing the “Special Edition” than “Revenge of the Sith” would be better as I’d have no patience for the changes that were made and problems that were exasperated as most of the changes Lucas made to his films ended up creating (Throwing young Anakin into the film, the CGI singer in Jabba’s Palace, etc.). I’m not reviewing the Special Edition of “Return of the Jedi” though so the score will be higher.

      “Return of the Jedi” was directed by Richard Marquand and written by George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan and produced by Howard Kazanjian.

      The story involves Luke and our heroes rescuing Han from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt and confronting the Empire as the Empire builds it’s Second Death Star to finally bring an end to the Rebellion.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – John Williams continues to be awesome and creates a haunting score in the Vader and Luke rematch. His score gives us joy, tension and sorrow and he continues to show on why these films would not have been as unforgettable if not for him.

Luke’s Entrace to Jabba’s Palace – Luke’s entrance to Jabba’s palace really shows how powerful he is. He forces the door open, he force chokes Jabba’s guard and uses Jabba’s own second in command to enforce his will on Jabba. Jabba is an actual antagonist though so he can’t force Jabba to do what he wants.

The Rancor Fight – The Rancor fight is pretty great. Luke is forced to think on his feet and he doesn’t use the force or his lightsaber to win. It is small but it shows that Luke has grown in self awareness that he doesn’t depend on the force for everything.

C-3PO and R2-D2 – These two actually serve a purpose in this! C-3PO gets the Ewoks on their side against the Empire when they worship him as a God and R2-D2 is key in freeing our Heroes from the clutches of Jabba.

Admiral Akbar – Akbar is a great guy and we see how deeply he is invested in the fleet. He actually wants them to retreat once they learn the Death Star is operational since he knows they are outmatched and can’t do anything with the Death Star’s shield up.

Lando – Lando’s arc begins with him seeking redemption as he is putting all his efforts into freeing Han from Jabba. This almost leads to him dying from the Sarlac and in the end and Han are friends again. We also see he is firmly for other now and flies The Millennium Falcon in the final battle against the Second Death Star and with Biggs destroys the reactor, defeating the Empire. Billy Dee Williams does a fantastic job.

Yoda – Yoda dies of old age and it’s easily one of the best scenes of the film. He shows Luke that no one escapes their own mortality and how important it is that he complete his training by stopping Vader before he becomes one with the force. He later appears as a force ghost at the end of the film. Frank Oz is fantastic.

Obi-Wan Kenobi – Obi-Wan’s ghost has a good scene with Luke where he shirks responsibility on not telling Luke the full truth of who Darth Vader is but still manages gives us the stakes as Leia could be turned if the Emperor learned of her existence and that Vader is still the greatest threat to peace in the galaxy and must be stopped.

Han – Han spends the first half of the film needing to be saved, but once he has the chance to fight he is the Rebel General entering onto Endor’s moon to destroy the reactor that is powering the shield around the Second Death Star. We see him grow and mature a lot and get over his entitlement and will die for his friends. It’s Harrison Ford and though he is at times a bit too smarmy in this film and feels more like Harrison than Han, he still is great.

Leia – Leia’s is chained up for a third of this film though thankfully she rescues herself and kills her captor who enslaved her after she freed Han from the carbonite. I wish we could have seen more of her as the leader of the Rebellion but instead bland Mon Mothma is back in charge and Leia is another soldier on Han’s infiltration mission. She is good though and manages to get out of a lot of scrapes and she takes the knowledge of Luke being her brother and Vader being her father pretty well…it takes her about a day to take it all in. I wish we could have got more on what those relationships mean to her though. Carrie Fisher is awesome.

The Emperor/Darth Sidious – The Emperor is the big bad and a powerhouse as initially the battle is one-sided in his favor until the Ewoks and Vader change the course of events. He’s arrogant and powerful and felt like a good threat, though I would have liked to see more of his ruthlessness early on in the Trilogy and this film. He still feels more like a symbol, even with the Prequels behind him…which is a shame as Ian McDiarmid is a great actor.

Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker – No Hayden Christiensen, his being thrown in ruined this film for me when I saw the Special Edition since it made no sense as Luke had never met young Anakin and Old Anakin was not Young Anakin. David Prowse was perfect as the redeemed fatherly figure. Prowse and James Earl Jones gave vulnerability to this character and though I hated the fact that Vader doesn’t do much this film he has a great fight with Luke and he is the one who destroys the Emperor in the end, not our hero Luke. That is powerful and shows that this monster did have good in him making the complicated and complex fallen hero.

Luke – Luke’s arc gets completed in this as he goes full Jedi and doesn’t kill Vader or Sidious. He lets go of his hate and embraces reason…which is contrasted with the fact that force is what made it possible to save Han. In the end he is able to let all of that go and even risk his life so that his father can find Anakin within again. In this Luke is worthy of the title Jedi and we see it in all his actions throughout the film. We also see him finally get over his romantic feelings for Leia as they develop a relationship as siblings without any of the awkward romantic tension from the last two films.

Okay: Jabba the Hutt – He was threatening but we spent way too long with him. He felt stronger than the Empire and that is bad in any Star Wars film, especially the Original Trilogy. He’s a gangster not a Galactic dictator…in this way I could never take the threat of Jabba seriously, Empire had already shown that the Empire was greater…though we never really see that this film. Jabba is a consistently bigger threat to our heroes during the film than the Empire and that is sad.

The Cons: Endor and the Ewoks – Part of defanging the Empire and making them not feel like threats is the Battle of Endor. Little Teddy Bears with spears have enough power to take out the Empire’s strongest, the 501st…in what universe does this makes sense? The tail of Star Wars getting ready for the Prequels apparently. These aliens feel designed to sell toys for small children (which is strange given how dark Jabba’s palace was with enslaving and molesting Leia), which plays into how the tone was a bit broken in this.

Problem of Tone – Anytime we are on the Second Death Star with Vader and the Emperor and darkness contrasted with the kiddy battle of the Ewoks who worship 3PO…okay, these two tones clash. This was a problem on the Prequels had but that “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back” did not have.

Another Death Star – We’ve already destroyed one and this one has a bigger hole in it? Forgive me if I don’t feel like this one is a threat, the other Death Star destroyed a planet, this one isn’t even finished. Sorry, not a threat. Move along.

Too Long with Jabba – We spend way too long with Jabba and it makes him feel like a greater threat than the Empire, this is a problem as Jabba is not the final boss. I blame Lucas mostly for this as the Leia slave outfit and overdoing it with Muppets rather than story are a completely Lucas thing to do.

Vader’s Lack of Action – Vader doesn’t do anything but pick up Luke and fight Luke…this is weird given how driven he was in the last film and didn’t quite fit his character. If the Emperor was smart he would have let Vader do his job since he chased the rebels into oblivion in the last film and managed to capture and freeze one of our heroes. Not having him do anything took away from him feeling like a threat to Luke in the final fight.

The Empire Never Felt Like a Threat – This is due to what was done above, the Ewoks weren’t threatening, we spent way too long with Jabba, Vader didn’t do anything and we were given an unfinished Death Star when the rebels already had one destroyed under their belt, and the clash of tone took away from them being a world ending threat. You can’t do this to your primary villains.

    The characters are what really save this film. Luke is finally a Jedi and feels like a true Jedi Knight, Leia turns every chance she gets caught on it’s head and protect Han and Han Solo grows up into a leader and embraces his role in the Rebellion and his love for Leia. Most importantly we also see Vader’s arc come to a close and Anakin is found again when he sacrifices himself because he loves his son. It’s powerful and these moments help balance out the corny making this a good but not great film. There was so much potential if these character arcs hadn’t been bogged down by excess.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) – A Story Ruined By Excess and Horrible Dialogue

Attack of the Clones

   “Attack of the Clones” is a film that could have been and wasn’t dead from the beginning like “The Phantom Menace” there are good ideas here…a Galaxy on the brink of war, forbidden love as well as the chance to explore politics and philosophy…sadly we don’t get very much of any of this at all. There are inklings of all these ideas here but the script fails to execute them choosing instead to focus on fight and chase sequences that go on way too long and just bring the film down.

      “Attack of the Clones” was directed by George Lucas who also co-wrote it with Jonathan Hales and was produced by Rick McCallum.

     The story involves strife in the Republic as a faction of the Republic looks at leaving while an assassination attempt is made on Senator Amidala (Natalie Portman) leading Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) and his apprentice Anakin (Hayden Christensen) to investigate the assassination attempt and protect her.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise is great. Love in a time of war, politics of grey and a mystery to be solved as a huge point of the plot is discovering Jango Fett’s origin and why the assassination on Padme happened. Sadly the same cannot be said for the execution of the premise.

 Ewan McGregor – I’m not putting Obi-Wan down because his character is not written consistently (sometimes calm and collected, other times more reckless than Anakin), but Ewan McGregor really does a wonderful job with all the dialogue and lines he is given. He gets into it fully and he is never boring to watch.

Palpatine/Darth Sidious – Ian McDiarmid is wonderful as Palpatine as we get to see him deftly manipulate everyone around him once more. He is good at playing it sad when he is given an army and when he talks to Anakin there is warmth there showing just how great of a sociopath Sidious is.

Okay: Padme – Padme was okay, she is there teach Anakin empathy and does a good job of it as she is the one calling him out on things (except when he kills the Tuscan Raiders). Sadly her motivations are never shown and we never get to see her faction in the Senate or her interact with them. This was a shame as it could have established Bail Organa as more than just a cameo and given us motivation. I had no idea why Padme made the choices she did.

 Contrast – One thing that was pulled off decently was contrast. Padme came from wealth and was from a beautiful world and had a family, Anakin’s world was desolate where he lost everything and had no support. Already they have trouble relating to each other which sets up the failed relationship better later on. It wasn’t great due to dialogue and things that were written but the idea and the contrast shown was decent at least.

The Cons: The Republic – The Republic never shows us the players outside of Palpatine, Jar Jar and Padme. All we get is the Naboo story and we never see the political factions, even the one Padme is a part of and what they are doing to fight for peace and keeping the Republic from militarization. It never gets past the idea and tell phase, we never see show.

The Jedi – The Jedi are also an idea when they aren’t cops or superheroes, which is a shame. War is going on and except for Yoda saying that they haven’t won and the the Clone Wars has begun we see nothing to really understand or know the Jedi. They come off as bland, faceless bureaucrats, just like the Republic and Separatists.

The Separatists – Dooku says the reason they are leaving is because the Sith are controlling the Republic, ironically he is one too but I never got that the Separatists were anything more than selfish businessmen using robots to fight their wars. This faction isn’t humanized and is simply there to be shot at. So much potential lost to show us complex players since this is supposed to be an era of grey that completely fails.

Sword as Life, The Death of the Jedi Philosophy in the Prequels – Obi-Wan tells Anakin “Your sword is your life.” This is messed up and unbalanced as Jedi are supposed to be more than the tools they use. Sadly the tools are all they are as we see Yoda pull out a lightsaber and fight Dooku when in “Empire” he tells Luke that weapons and war do not make one great and that size doesn’t matter. This entire film counters that as we see him use a tiny lightsaber…whatever happened to the philosophy of the force? I guess stupid action is easier.

Editing – “The Phantom Menace” had decent editing, this one has a lot of very awkward scenes that end before jumping somewhere else. It breaks up the flow of the film and was really distracting.

The Dialogue – I don’t need to say much here. Lucas can’t write romance and it really shows. Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen aren’t bad actors but the dialogue is bad they just come off as unnatural and stilted. There is nothing to believe and it isn’t just them.

Excess – Excess is a major theme of the film, especially excess of action. The Battle of Genosia goes on way too long, the chase to catch the Bounty Hunter Jango Fett hired goes on way too long, Jango hunting Obi-Wan goes on way too long, the droid factory is just thrown in there and countless other events that I could point out. They seem to be there because visually they might look good, but it doesn’t mean anything. All we get are pretty colors and it doesn’t mean anything at all. Also Anakin killing the Sand People and wanting to stop death…excess and everything being over-dramatic really brought it all down.

Questions and Things That Didn’t Make Sense – Why did Jango hire a Bounty Hunter? Didn’t his boss hire him to kill Padme? Was Sidious always planning the Clone Wars since the army was ordered 10 years prior? Who is Sifo-Dyus? Why did Dooku leave the Jedi order? Who are the factions in the Senate? Why do the Separatists want to leave and why would they trust the Trade Federation after Naboo?

Reference – “The Phantom Menace” had this problem too but it was bigger here. Jango being Boba’s father, certain scenes shot to be like “Empire” it was like George was afraid to just give us a story and had to tie everything to the Originals even if it didn’t make sense.

  This was a film that could have easily beat “The Phantom Menace” but fails to hold up under scrutiny. There are fewer pros in this one than “The Phantom Menace” but the cons are overwhelmingly worse. So often it felt like I was watching a videogame that I could not play and was expected to believe things I was told while never being shown the actions. The opening was meant to give us complexity but all we get were bland heroes and villains who left no impact.

Final Score: 3 / 10

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) – An Unfocused Mess Ruined by Child Actors and Comedic Relief

The Phantom Menace

    Before I say anything specific about “The Phantom Menace,” I have to admit now that I’m not looking forward to “Attack of the Clones” and can fully understand why George Lucas lost the rights to “Star Wars.” I wanted to like this film, it’s “Star Wars” after all and a part of my childhood, but nothing can save this mess of a film and script. No amount of nostalgia can change the bad ideas that lead to the creation of certain characters and how they were portrayed and this film is easily a net negative versus net positive neutral in overall quality.

     The film was directed and written by George Lucas and produced by Rick McCallum.

     The story involves the Trade Federation blockading Naboo to force a treaty that favors their monopoly leading to Chancellor Valorum sending the Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) to resolve the dispute. Manipulations of the Sith soon complicate things leading to the Jedi on the run as they seek to protect the Queen (Natalie Portman) and save Naboo.

The Pros: The Universe – The Old Republic is fascinating and there is so much we could have been shown instead of told. The Republic is corrupt and the Sith are clearing manipulating a lot behind the scenes but we don’t get any of that…we don’t even know how the Trade Federation really works and they are the main antagonists besides the Sith. Still, a lot of good ideas here just poorly executed.

The Soundtrack – It’s John Williams, you can’t go wrong with the soundtrack and even with very crappy dialogue and characters we still have a soaring score that works really well, especially in the fight with Darth Maul.

Qui-Gon Jinn – I actually liked this character. He is very much the maverick and a bit of a sociopath in how he manipulates others but it makes him compelling. I wish we had gotten more on why he clashed with the Council and the reason behind his focus on the prophecy. He is very much the chaotic monk and it makes him a lot of fun. Liam Neeson does a great job too. I actually cared that Darth Maul killed him and I wish he’d done something about the slave trade on Tatooine as the Council was clearly doing nothing.

Darth Maul – Darth Maul is wonderful and really should have survived this film. He has the same threatening feel as Vader did being the Emperor’s dragon and keeping him around would have given the chance to grow his threat and establish him as the corrupting influence on Anakin and even Obi-Wan. He is the enforcer and a truly terrifying character with an awesome character design. I know he was brought back in the “The Clone Wars” but he deserved that same chance in the films as the mystery of his character gives so much to explore.

Palpatine/Darth Sidious – The guy is surrounded by idiots and manipulates them so well. From setting up Padme to call the vote of no confidence leading to him becoming Chancellor to never revealing his intentions and remaining cypher so he can use all the factions of the senate. Ian McDiarmid is fantastic and is one of the interesting characters in the films as it really is about his rise to Emperor.

Obi-Wan Kenobi – Ewan McGregor was a great casting choice for young Obi-Wan and we see echoes of who he will become as he is cautious and tends to go with the Council versus Qui-Gon who could care less. In this we already see the Lawful Good Jedi Master he will become. He is also cold in his own way too as he talks about how Anakin should not receive training to Qui-Gon in front of Anakin…so he isn’t prefect and we see how his duty to the Council and Qui-Gon is why he decides to become Anakin’s master in the end. He also avenges his Master and is the one to defeat Darth Maul.

Okay: Tatooine – The Pod Race is cool but useless in the end as they could have found another way since all they had to do was get in contact with the Capitol, though we do get some good exploration of Padme, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon at least.

Padme – She’s a cipher and she doesn’t approve of a lot. In the end she makes peace with the Gungans and is shown to have humility (learned from the Jedi?) but that is about it. She’s okay as a character but not great.

The Cons: The Jedi Council – These bland folks are not fleshed out at all and are oblivious to the corruption around them. It’s a sad state but we are never able to fully see just how corrupt and inept they are because they are heroes simply for being Jedi. I hated Windu and Yoda in this as they are just tools who fail to see past the Temple and never send any help out even when they know a Sith is probably going to be on Naboo. They are useless.

The Senate – The Senate like the Jedi is useless as we see that everyone is either a tool (Valorum) or a manipulator to their own ends (Palpatine). Like the Jedi they are a useless organization and how they got that way is never explored at all.

Naboo – Naboo is a blank slate as the Gungans are just aquatic rabbits and the people are people we never interact with or see. We hear about their suffering and dying but never witness any of it. We have to take everyone’s word on things when we have no reason too given the corruption established in the opening credits.

Midi-Chlorians – The force is not physical, Yoda establishes this in “The Empire Strikes Back,” I remember that and I haven’t watched the film for years. The very existence of these things cheapens the force and turns Anakin into “The One” which misses the point of the force being something that binds “All” of us together and is always with us. If only special people have it, than it ceases to be what binds us together it becomes something no more than genetics.

Anakin Skywalker – I’m sorry Jake Lloyd, but you can’t act. His lines all fit the “perfect child” syndrome that is a problem in a lot of movies and making him “The One” gives him plot armor enough to destroy a Droid Base in space when he’s never flown a ship before…and it all happens by accident! If he’d been a young adult at least there would be the excuse of him having experience from delivering stuff for Watto or the huts like Luke got experience playing with his friends.

Jar Jar Binks – Comedic relief and bad comedic relief at that. There is no point to Jar Jar as he is there for fart jokes, poop jokes, his stupid voice and mannerisms and trying to appeal to kids. Yet he is made core to the plot! He hooks up with Qui-Gon and is there through the entire film distracting from whatever is going on and making scenes worse. There can’t be a serious tone when Jar Jar is around so it makes all the other threats moot. This idiot was made core to the film which was one of the worst decisions George Lucas made. He gives nothing to scenes and only makes them worse as his jokes break the tone, his mannerisms and voice are incomprehensible…and yet he is made to be one of the heroes alongside the Jedi…

The Ending – Anakin destroys the reactor and there is peace on Naboo. The only interesting thing that kind of works is Obi-Wan adopting Anakin as his apprentice and the final fight with Maul. The Celebration at the end doesn’t mean anything because the people of Naboo are invisible to us. We never saw their struggles only heard about it. The planet was nothing more than statistics.

The Writing – The writing was the biggest problem. From having Anakin be a child, to Jar Jar being core to the plot and from the motivations of the Trade Federation, Senate and Jedi being big giant question marks. No one’s motivations are clear except Obi-Wan and Palpatine which is sad given how large the cast is. There is so much that could have worked if this script had not been written George Lucas as his world is compelling, “The Clone Wars” and “Clone Wars” are living evidence of this…but not so for “The Phantom Menace.” When George Lucas wrote and directed this story he killed whatever promise there was with a lot of poor writing and directing decisions.

    Anakin should have been a teenager already or Luke’s age, Midi-Chlorians should have never been a thing and Jar Jar should not have been in this film and Obi-Wan should have been the character we were following with Qui-Gon along as a rogue Master. If these things were done this film would have actually been good, even with the stilted dialogue as the circumstances of these changes would have forced a greater exploration of the world like the corruption of the Senate and the ineptness of the Jedi Council. Instead we got very bad comedy and mostly uninteresting characters in a world that didn’t feel lived in. The CGI isn’t the problem I remember, the problem is the script and the character choices that were made. You take away those things and we would have had a good film where what happens in the film would have felt real, had stakes and in the end, meant something. I get why Disney owns “Star Wars” and George Lucas no longer does. The choices made in making this film are ample evidence that George Lucas clearly had no idea what he was doing.

Final Score: 5 / 10. 50%, the reason it isn’t lower is because of Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Ian McDiarmond and the fact that Darth Maul was used very well as a Dragon.

Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003): A Truly Epic Tale of the Clone Wars and the Fall

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   Tartakovsky’s “Clone Wars” is one of the greatest things to come out of the “Star Wars” Universe and shows us just how great the Prequels might have been with vision, direction and the consequences of War fully explored and realized. This is a series where even the minor characters are given moments to shine and we see just how powerful the Separatists truly are as well as Sidious’s endgame and watch him put all the pieces in motion for Anakin and the Republic’s fall.

      The series was written and directed by Genddy Tartakovsky and produced by Sam Register and George Lucas.

      The story involves Anakin’s fall as the planets continue to fall to General Grievous and the Separatist forces as the Jedi fight against them, making their forces thin. Elsewhere Dooku and Sidious plot while the war continues leading to a large scale attack on Coruscant.

The Pros: The Animation – The animation is beautiful and reminds me of “Samurai Jack.” Genndy Tartakovsky did a great job and it is beautiful watch as he uses his strength in this animation style to capture the wonder of these worlds and Universe.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is beautiful and feels very “Star Wars.” It captures the epicness of battle or the individual fears and struggles as the characters wrestle with the Dark Side in opponents or themselves. James L. Venable and Paul Dinleter did a great job.

The Writing – Tartakovsky and his writing team did a great job on this script. The main focus is on Anakin and how different worlds fair against the threat of Dooku and the Separatists and we see an overall narrative leading to the Climax of the battle of the Episode III with Grievous’s invasion of Coruscant and the capture of Palpatine. It’s powerful and there is so much showing rather than telling, clearly George Lucas did not write this script.

The Universe – The “Star Wars” universe is rich and we get to see so many worlds in this. From the homeworlds of the Mon Calamari to the Capital Coruscant…and many Separatist worlds. Each one is distinct and rich.

The Organizations – The Separistists and the Republic both get development, as do the Jedi as we get to see their philosophy.

The Separatists – The Separatists don’t have the complexity they recieve in “The Clone Wars,” but they feel like a threat the entire time. Their generals manage to defeat and kill many Jedi and their superweapons are pretty well designed and are usually only taken out by Jedi Masters.

Asajj Ventress – Ventress wants to be a Sith and bests all the contestants in Dooku’s competition. She is just evil in this and isn’t as complex as she is in the “The Clone Wars” but she achieves a similar purpose in driving Anakin to the edge as his obsession to try and kill her and defeating pushes him closer to the Dark Side. She is an awesome threat and Grey DeLisle (Azula) does a wonderful job.

Count Dooku – Dooku defeats all his Generals and apprentices and even Grievous who we have seen kill multiple Jedi at once can’t hold his own. Dooku is fully in control of the War and working with Sidious is making the Jedi spread thin so that their attack on Coruscant will most likely succeed and the Jedi will fall. Corey Burton does a great job voice acting.

General Grievous – This is the General Grievous I expected in Episode III and “The Clone Wars” and only found disapointment. This Grievous is scary and is a warrior with honor who can take on multiple Jedi at once and kill them. He’s a Jedi killing machine and nothing can stand against him, you get why he’s a general and Dooku’s apprentice and he’s always one step ahead. John DiMaggio does a great job adding threat to his voice too and he is the scariest enemy in this series…it’s a shame that this is the only place you will find a Grievous worthy of his name.

The Republic – The Republic is interesting though we don’t get much development of side characters who aren’t Jedi (similar problem “The Clone Wars” had though they were better at developing senators) we still get a glimpse of an Empire about to fall as they are cut off from the war until it arrives on their doorstep and the populations of the Republic are far too dependent on the Jedi to protect them. In this we get to see Padme in action as she helps rescue a few times and goes on mission with Yoda.

The Jedi – The Jedi are interesting in this but I’m going to focus on the ones who I felt got special exploration and were more compelling because of it.

Master Luminara and Barriss Offee – These two give us the philosophy of the Jedi as Barriss is making her lightsaber when Dooku attacks the Temple with some cloaked droids leading them nearly dying even though they manage to take out a lot of the droids. It is only when Padme and Yoda arrive that they are rescued showing just how threatening even the non-organics of the Separatists can be.

Yoda and Windu – These two are powerhouses and they earn their stripes as Master in this. It is very superpowered in some ways but given the mystique surrounding these characters it was great to finally see how powerful their connection to the force was in action. Yoda is extremely entertaining too as he has a great sense of humor to balance out Windu’s seriousness. He feels like the wise sage in this.

Obi-Wan Kenobi – In this we see how great Anakin and Obi-Wan’s friendship is as Obi-Wan goes against part of the Council to promote Anakin becoming a Knight. It shows that he knows Anakin is prideful and an outsider but truly values him as a friend and companion. We see Obi-Wan’s patience too as he fights an enemy who refuses to die (Durge) and is the calm to Anakin’s passion in their adventures when Anakin is Knighted. Obi-Wan is also always the diplomat as he learned countless languages from his time with Qui-Gon.

Anakin Skywalker – This series really shows Anakin’s fall as we see his obsession with winning and defeating his enemies lead to him chasing Ventress to a world where his troops are all killed by her and he is nearly killed as well driving him into a rage where he leaves to her die as he is consumed by his darkness. He later has a vision quest on a world where he seeking the warriors of their people and sees that he will someday become Darth Vader. This doesn’t stop him from saving the twisted warriors and bringing an end to the experiments showing that even in his rage, Anakin and Vader have some semblance of honor to what they do.

    This was a show that took it’s characters and worlds seriously. We see countless people die to the different forces and see just how much of a threat the Separatists truly are. It was a shame that “The Clone Wars” and “Episode III” turned Grievous into a joke (though I appreciate how much development it gave Ventress), the story is self contained and doesn’t feel like it is 2 hours long as it the action, animation and character development keep the story going to the point that you want to see more. In a way the biggest downfall is that we don’t get enough of Tartakovsky’s vision…we get a wonderful glimpse and story within the world he made but there is more that could have been told.

Final Score: 10 / 10. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes Star Wars or his past works.

Top 5 Episodes/Arcs of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”

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     “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” was at the end of the day a really good show. When it had arcs and stories that mattered it us some of the best that has come out of animated television here in the United States. These 5 episodes and arcs I will be listing are the ones that stood out the most and that I’d recommend. There are many more favorite episodes and arcs I have on this show, but the best deserve special recognition.

Epguide310 Heroes on both sides

5th Place

“Heroes on Both Sides” – Season 3, Episode 10

  Written by Daniel Arkin, this episode showed us that there were Separatists that wanted peace and showed how Dooku was using their idealistic dream of a government that respected them and their beliefs existance was as much a tool as the Republic. We see Padme go against the Republic to try and open up talks and even see Ahsoka make a friend and learn that the Separatists aren’t all Droids and Grievous and showing the Jedi aren’t all faceless soldiers willing to kill for their supposed greater good. It is really great and we see the chance for peace stifled by Palpatine and Dooku and how Ahsoka’s prejudice changes as she sees the people and no longer just the enemy faction. The main reasons it isn’t higher on the list is we still see mostly humans as the good face of the Separatists (Padme’s friend) and the fact that it contrives a romancish for Ahsoka.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/05/26/star-wars-the-clone-wars-season-3-episode-10-heroes-on-both-sides-the-complexity-of-the-separatists/

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4th Place

“Children of the Force Arc” – Season 2, Episodes 1-3

Cad Bane is one of the best characters to come out of this series and this where he is introduced and we see him be one step ahead of the Jedi as he is kidnapping force sensitive children for Darth Sidious for payment and how he will sacrifice anyone to get the job done. He is brutal and it takes a lot to bring him down. Also once he is trapped by Anakin and Obi-Wan he quickly escapes when he lures Mace and Obi-Wan into a trap where he is holding the Jedi Holocron that has the information on the current force sensitive children in the Galaxy. This episode is good in that Palpatine and Bane outsmart the Jedi and still win even though the end plan is stopped.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/05/17/star-wars-the-clone-wars-season-2-episodes-1-3-children-of-the-force-arc-the-sith-agenda-and-the-amazingness-of-cad-bane/

Star Wars The Clone Wars Trespass

3rd Place

“Trespass” – Season 1, Episode 15

“Trespass” is a great episode as it is one that the Jedi aren’t really the focus at all. Anakin, Ahsoka and Obi-Wan are there to offer guidance but it is really a story of sovereignty and respect for native populations as the Imperial Pantora must deal with their internal politics and come to respect the natives who are already on the moon and find a way to speak to them without being annihilated. The stakes are high and the Senator and the Minister are complicated…as are the native population of the Talz. I’d highly recommend this episode as it shows that the writers don’t need the heroes from “Star Wars” to tell a story that is one of the best to come out of “Star Wars.”

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/05/13/star-wars-the-clone-wars-season-1-episode-15-trespass-sovereignty-and-imperialism/

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2nd Place

“The Clone Conspiracy Arc” – Season 6, Episodes 1-4

 This is the arc that explores Clone Identity (a major theme of the series) really well as we see Fives resisting his programming and seeking the truth, even as he is losing his mind and has been labeled an enemy of the state. This arc showed that the Clones don’t get a happy ending. They are programmed to turn on the Jedi, even if the Jedi have become friends and no one will stand by them because in the end they are property. The arc is really tragic and brings an arc that has been going on for 6 seasons (Fives’s arc) to a close as he finally finds peace in death as well as giving us the truth of the nature of Order 66.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/06/18/star-wars-the-clone-wars-season-6-episodes-1-4-the-clone-conspiracy-arc-when-the-only-freedom-is-in-death/

Epguide516

1st Place

“The Lawless” – Season 5, Episode 16

This episode made a bad decision (bringing Darth Maul back) go somewhere! In this we see that there are 3 Factions now in the Clone Wars. The Separatists, Shadow Collective and the Republic and in the process this war tears apart Mandalore and ends in the death of Duchess Satine is Maul murders her for Obi-Wan defeating him. From here things fall into chaos as Death Watch turns on Maul and Darth Sidious arrives, ending Savage Opress and making Maul his weapon again as Death Watch asks Obi-Wan for Republic help…spelling doom for Mandalore, one of the strongest Neutral worlds that will now be under future control by the Empire.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/star-wars-the-clone-wars-season-5-episode-16-the-lawless-the-dynamic-of-power/

The episodes didn’t make the list because I had so many others that were in competition but I’d check out any Asajj Ventress episodes as well. Her arc is one of the strongest in the series, and she is one of my favorite characters. She is complicated and changes over the course of the series as she loses so much but endures. Also any Mandalore episode is good too, that planet and people were handled really well in this show.