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

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Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977): A Hero’s Journey and a Classic

Star Wars A New Hope Poster

         It was really difficult finding the original unaltered “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope,” but it was worth it. The bad CGI in the Special Editions completely took me out of it when I tried watching one of them first and the old organic feel to the Original gave the series life and made the world feel lived in. The only thing that really needed to be changed was just polishing up the picture as some shots didn’t look as great as they could have due to the film at the time…but it was worth it. “A New Hope” is easily one of my all time favorite films after watching it again after not seeing it for years, and I’ll get into the reasons why.

      The film was directed and written by George Lucas and produced by Gary Kurtz.

       The story involves the Rebel Alliance stealing the Death Star plans from the Empire leading to the ship’s capture as Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) hides the plans in R2-D2 who escapes with C-3PO to Tatooine. It is there Luke (Mark Hamill) buys them and finds himself pulled away from his life on the farm when the Empire kills his Aunt and Uncle and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guiness) and he must escape and get the plans to Alderaan.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – John Williams’s score is part of what truly makes this film a classic. Tension is always rising throughout the film and it happens from his use of sound to add mystery and shock when we are Tatooine to the threat of the Empire whenever Vader or the Death Star arrive on the scene. If there had been no dialogue and only this score it would be a favorite film.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful! Whether it is the opening shot of the Star Destroyer chasing down the Rebels or the final Death Star run the scenes are filmed in such a way that tension is created and our villains and heroes are clearly illustrated.

The Special Effects – The practical effects are what make this film work. From models of space ships and actual explosions that in the process gave us actual stakes, which sadly has been forgetten in so many films that are overdependent on CGI (Hello Prequels).

The World – The World is ,awesome! There are clear sides (The Rebels and Empire) but outside of those sides there are threats all around. If you are droid you could be captured and sold by Jawas and if you are a farmer killed by Sand People and the Imperial Influence is everywhere. Even if you are in the outskirts of Tatooine (like the Lars were) they will find you and kill you.

The Galactic Empire – The Empire is an awesome threat! We have the Emperor dissolve the Imperial Senate firmly establishing that the Governors like Tarkin now control their sectors of Space and the Death Star to enforce terror on any revolting populace. Darth Vader is the hand of the Empire too and we see him deal with threats easily, only being stopped by a surprise ally to the Rebels in the last battle.

The Rebel Alliance – These guys are small and use planets like Alderaan as safe havens since they can’t take the Empire on militarily. We see this when they are quickly dispatched in the opening and at the end when Vader kills most of the X-Wing Pilots who are attempting to destroy the Death Star. They are flexible though and driven as we see Leia sacrifice her home of Alderaan when she lies to the Empire about where the Rebel base is.

The Characters – The characters are amazing and feel fully fleshed out. They have wants, needs, desires and trials. Honestly after watching the Prequels it’s hard to imagine that George Lucas actually wrote this script. It’s quick, understands people and has heart to even the small characters like droids.

R2-D2 and C-3PO – These two are the odd couple with R2-D2 being fully in with the Rebellion while for 3PO is just doing his job as an interpreter. They care for each other though and any time they get separated you see the joy they feel at being reunited again. These  two go through a lot…from discrimination in Mos Eisley, near capture by the Empire at the beginning, captured by Jawas and in R2’s case nearly destroyed by Vader.

Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru – Knowing what happens in the future I get why they were so protective of Luke. They knew if he left he could face the same trials as his father and end up corrupted and lost. Sadly what they didn’t realize is that no one is safe from the Empire as a Stormtrooper group kills them. I liked their dynamic with Owen as the disapproving father figure and Beru as the supportive mother.

Chewbacca – Chewie is a small role but he is wonderful as Han’s support. We see him willing to risk himself as a prisoner to infiltrate the Death Star and see how deadly he is on countless occasions. He is the only one who tends to accurately hit Stormtroopers most of the time. Our other heroes are as accurate as the Stormtroopers themselves.

Grand Moff Tarkin – Peter Cushing is great as Vader’s boss in this as we see him kill an entire planet (Alderaan) just to make a point to Leia that the Empire doesn’t have compassion and that the only way to rule is through fear. He doubts the power of the force (due the Jedi being hunted to near extinction no surprise there) and even his arrogance isn’t misplaced. He only dies because Luke destroys the Death Star at the final moment when they are about to destroy the Rebel Base on Yavin. What an awesome villain.

Han Solo – Han Solo is the rogue who has an arc from being a very selfish guy (only being in it for the money and doing the good thing to survive and not out of any kindness). He changes over the course of the film as Luke’s idealism rubs off on him and when he realizes that he can’t leave the Rebellion to die (after experiencing how deadly the Empire was first hand there was so much selfishness there too). Harrison Ford owns this role and this is one of his most memorable characters. He is funny, witty, sarcastic and the only one who able to match wits with him is Princess Leia who he starts out having an antagonistic relationship with (like Luke) but who in the end he becomes friends with. Han is ruthless and smart as we see him kill the Bounty Hunter Greedo before Greedo can collect the bounty on Han’s head.

Princess Leia – Leia is a tough character who I wish we could have got to know more. Her homeworld of Alderaan gets destroyed, she is tortured by Vader and the Empire…but she never gives up the Rebels. She is also a quick thinker and helps Han, Luke and Chewie escape when the Imperials have them pinned. Carrie Fisher is fantastic in this role.

Obi-Wan Kenobi – Alec Guiness plays the wise, old mentor role really well in this and was my favorite character in the film besides Darth Vader. In him we see a tired old man broken from time, the Empire’s rise and the loss of his friend Anakin Skywalker. It is in Luke he finds hope for the future though so he teaches him the ways of the force and in the end sacrifices himself so that our heroes can escape. We see his goodness and nobility throughout and that he does have an awareness of the bigger picture, as he doesn’t even leave a body behind when he faces his old pupil Vader showing that he has become more powerful than Vader can imagine.

Luke Skwalker – Mark Hamill plays the winy farm boy who grows up over the course of the film. He is the idealist who just wants to do right by his Aunt and Uncle (he rejects being trained by Obi-Wan at first because of his obligation to them) but when circumstances force him on his quest he embraces it. This is Luke’s heroes journey as we see him use the force that Obi-Wan had taught him to destroy the Death Star, and it is his reminding Han of the good in people and in Han himself that leads to Han Solo saving him from Darth Vader and giving him the chance to destroy the Death Star. Luke goes from selfish to selfless, just like Han and changes this world for the better.

Darth Vader – James Earl Jones was perfect for the voice of Vader and Darth Vader is one of my all time favorite villains. We see that he is a man from the past (a former Jedi who goes into combat himself to fight unlike Tarkin safe behind the Death Star) and that he is a force to be reckoned with. When he sets the Empire on someone (the droids) they cause a path of destruction in their wake. Vader is that destruction and force and even the higher ups in the Empire (all the Admirals) fear him, and for good reason as we see him strangle a man who dares to question the power of the force. It is his courage and drive that make him a survivor to as when the Death Star is destroyed he is the only one who escapes as he was killing the X-Wings who had made the run to destroy the Death Star in the first place and as he escapes it’s hard for the victory celebration at the end not to feel empty. The Death Star was deadly but Vader was more-so…wherever he went, death followed.

The Force – The Force is what binds all beings together and allows those in touch with it to manipulate things around them, be they objects or minds. We see it in how Obi-Wan gets Stormtroopers off their back and when Luke forces the Torpedos down the shoot leading to a victory for the Rebellion. We also see Vader use it on countless occasions to destroy.

Okay: Leia’s Development – Leia loses her planet but we never see what that means to her. She has lost her parents as far as we know and that is never dealt with beyond her pleading for the life of Alderaan. Adding at least one scene could have fixed this.

Too Long with the Droids – The time with the Droids on Tatooine could have been cut in half. All it establishes is their odd couple relationship and that Tatooine is deadly, which we learn later anyway when the Sand People attack Luke. Adding Luke into the story earlier or giving Leia more development is what should have been done instead.

   This is a classic and one of my all time favorite films. Watch the Original version if you can. It is beautiful and there isn’t distracting CGI like in the Special Editions. It is fully focused on the characters and organizations being filmed which lends power and focus as we witness Luke’s Hero’s Journey as he helps the Rebellion win their greatest victory against the Galactic Empire. This film is part of what make “Star Wars” as a universe unforgettable.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Star Wars A New Hope

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.

Upcoming Reviews – The “Star Wars” Films

Star Wars Films

    With “The Force Awakens,” coming out in 6 Weeks I am going to begin reviewing the “Star Wars” Film series. I am only r reviewing Original Theatrical Releases as I’d rather not see them marred by what George Lucas did to them later in regards to the Original Trilogy until I can dedicate some to just describing everything he changed. This also I think gives the fairest comparison between the different films as I will be watching the Theatrical release of “The Force Awakens” not the “Special” or “Extended” Edition of “The Force Awakens.”

     It has been a while since I’ve watched these films though “The Empire Strikes Back” and “A New Hope” are two of my all time favorite films and I’m curious to see how they compare now that there is so much distance from when I originally saw them, as well as the Prequels.

      My approach is going to be like the reviews I’ve done in the past, listing the pros, cons and what was okay. I know humor isn’t my strong suit and if you want to see some comedic takedowns of the prequels there is always Redlettermedia or if you want to see a defense of Episode 1 there is Moviebob’s look back. These films are such a part of our cultural mindset and have already been creatively taken down in so many ways that I just want to talk about them with my own voice and perspective given how long it has been since I’ve watched them and fully explore the pros and cons of each of the films.

     I’ll be starting with “The Phantom Menace” and working my way up to “Return of the Jedi.” So here we go. I’ll be reviewing around a film a week with “Return of the Jedi” being reviewed the week before opening week of “The Force Awakens.”

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

Star_Wars_Clone_Wars

   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.

“Star Wars: The Clone Wars” Retrospect – There Were Amazing Stories But Star Wars Prequel Problems Haunted This Series

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  “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” is a show that is a favorite. It had a lot of problems that could have killed the series for me, but when it had strong episodes and arcs…it gave us some of the best stories on television. Politics and war are complicated as are issues of identity and when this show was at it’s best it did that. It was far superior to Episodes I-III because it took it’s subjects serious and gave us complexity that made even Anakin a compelling character who was worth investing it.

      The series was created by George Lucas with the main developer, head writer and director being Dave Filoni (from “Avatar: The Last Airbender”)

        The story is about the Clone Wars, where we learn of love lost, Clones and their identities, adventures with Droids, Anakin’s descent to the Dark Side and the plots and manipulations of Count Dooku and Palpatine and the story of those caught in the middle who weren’t on the Separatists or the Republic side and how they are faced with choices as the Clone War is forced upon them.

The Pros: The Animation – The animation is fantastic! Lucasfilm animation really did a fantastic job on giving life and diversity to the characters and worlds that made up this series. Each alien race was unique and even the Clones were shown to be distinct in their personalities and identities as shown through the animation.

The World – The world of “Star Wars” gets so much exploration in this! From droids, to Clones, to Neutral Worlds, to Republic and Separatist worlds and also Senate Politics, Bounty Hunters and so much more. I’m glad it went for 6 Seasons and in many ways wish it had gone longer.

The Cost of War – The cost of war is huge in this and we see that the Separatist Parliament is as much a pawn as the Galactic Republic’s Senate. So many die, from countless Jedi, to Clones we come to know…the neutral worlds that are pulled in and destroyed in the war. There is also a loss of innocence too as the war drives Anakin to greater extremes and the Jedi Council is shown to be both incompetent and rather corrupt.

Politics of War and Sovereignty – Sovereignty is a major issue of this series that is explored in detail in the stories of Mandalore and countless other Neutral Worlds that are pulled into the conflict and are torn apart from within by it or consumed by it when the Separatists usually attack, and even the worlds that are saved lose their sovereignty to the Empire later.

Nationalism – We see Nationalism exploited by Palpatine to control the populace but also see it used by Viszla, Padme and Satine to try and get their agendas on what they want for their people passed as well. We also see Toxic nationalism too in the assassination of a Senator when an aid was angry that he had joined the Republic.

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Clone Identity and the Clones – I really like the Clones. Fives who is the rebellious Clone who is nervous at first but risks all to find out the truth that they are slaves to a chip set to go off when the time is right and with the murder of the Jedi…we see him lose his Brothers and end up as the last one of the Clone Cadets still standing. We also see Rex face a Clone who has left the force and respect his choice and the fact he is fighting for his family. There are others too but Rex and Fives best represent development over multiple episodes throughout the series as a whole.

Clovis – This is a great minor character who is Padme’s ex and a Separatist spy who in the end tries to re-write that wrong by saving the Banks but ends up a pawn once more and loses everything because he had the willingness to hope in the good of others and in his trying to do the right thing, ends up dead.

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Asajj Ventress – Ventress goes from Dooku’s apprentice, to seeking revenge to finding her own path as Bounty Hunter who is neither good nor bad. She protects Ahsoka when the Council turns on her when she is framed and we see that she is no longer Sith as she trusted Dooku but he turned against her the moment Sidious asked. At this point she knows revenge isn’t possible as every plan fell to Dooku and she opened up another enemy in the war by corrupting Savage Opress and turning him into a monster, something that it seems to imply she regrets as her quest for revenge lead to the loss of all her people, the Nightsisters.

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Cad Bane – I really like Cad Bane. He is the best original character to come out of this series as he is a dark shade of grey. He will kidnap children and kill anyone for enough money but he also respects those who save him and are efficient in their mission, which leads to a mutual respect of Obi-Wan when Obi-Wan is undercover. He has also broken out of prison multiple times and is truly the best Bounty Hunter in the Galaxy as he can hold his own against any Jedi and only lose from being outnumbered. He had a great character design and was part of some of the best stories in the series where we see him turn losses into wins.

Savage Opress – Savage is voiced by Tom Clancy and is wonderful as a boy who loses his innocence in Ventress’s quest for revenge. He is a protector of his brother but in the end kills him after he is pumped full of Dark Side magic. He later carries on this protector role towards Darth Maul even though he is unstable from all the magic coursing through him and has gone kind of crazy. In the end Sidious kills him when he and Maul briefly form a 3rd Faction in the Clone Wars, The Shadow Collective. I really liked this character.

Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus – Dooku is fantastic in this series and I really respect him as a character after this. He is one of the core manipulators of the Jedi and we even see him try for Sith Master a few times until his weapon of Opress turns against him. It is really his loss of an apprentice that dooms him to Anakin in Episode III. If he hadn’t turned against Ventress he would probably still be alive as she won him many battles, as Grievous was not the best of antagonists or generals.

Palpatine/Darth Sidious – Sidious is evil and loves it and Palpatine is really good at using people’s honesty against them. He turns Padme’s idealism into a weapon, Anakin’s affection into jealousy and makes possible through his planning with Dooku, the invasion of countless worlds by the Republic. In this way he never loses and this series lays the ground work for Order 66 and the rise of the Empire. Ian Ian Abercrombie and Tim Curry did a wonderful job.

Mandalore and Death Watch – Iszla was voiced by Jon Favreau and played a Mandalorian extreme Nationalist who wanted to bring back the Warrior Mandalore. He faces off against the pacificist Duchess Satine and even wins at one point when he aligns with Maul’s Shadow Collective, but loses when Maul turns against him. Satine also fails in creating a Neutral and peaceful Mandalore as she is killed by Maul as Maul recognized Obi-Wan’s love for her. He later uses the corrupt Prime Minister as his pawn until Bo-Katan and the remainder of Death Watch start a Civil War to retake their world and ask for Republic help.

Obi-Wan Kenobi – Obi-Wan is someone who chose duty or love and in many ways has some regret as he knows he isn’t the prefect Jedi and in it fears failing Anakin. He loses Satine his ex-lover and friend to another’s hatred and revenge and we see him unable to deal with Anakin’s dark side actions either as Anakin kills many times for the final end and doesn’t even allow the chance of a peaceful solution. This dilemma is part of what makes him compelling.

Anakin Skywalker – Anakin is shown to be very flawed in this. From jealous, to attempts to be controlling, but also someone who will risk everything for another…whether it be one of the Clones, a civilian or a Jedi. In this we see Palpatine feed his ego and how the Council’s own misconduct drive him towards hating and distrusting them as he feels more and more isolated as the lie he is living with Padme as their marriage cannot be open weighs on him.

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Ahsoka Tano – Ahsoka is Anakin’s apprentice and is stubborn and egotistical, much like Anakin but also more of a Jedi than Anakin as she never kills and no matter how difficult things get she stays true to herself. Her jumping into things gets her into trouble many times though as does her attachment as she nearly gets the Republic involved in conflicts they shouldn’t be in because of her emotional investment. She is also a grey Jedi too as she leaves the Jedi Order after they turn on her when she is framed and goes her own way, which ends up saving her from Order 66. She was one of my favorite characters in the show.

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The Cons: Jar Jar Binks – He’s just as annoying as he is in Episode I and II and nothing can save him. It doesn’t matter how many times you make him a hero, it is an embarrassment to any serious conflict going on as he takes away from the drama with his stupid jokes and ways.

General Grievous – This guy is an embarrassment to the Separatists for most of the series and spends the majority of it running away and even getting captured and beat by the Gungans of all people. He is better in the last few episodes he is in but all he is really good at is running away. When Episode III roles around he isn’t much better. We only know he is a threat from what the narrator tells us, not from his actions during an episode.

Bringing Back Darth Maul – Darth Maul should have stayed dead as all he did Opress could have done under his own power and for Maul even when he learned about his brother. All his being brought back does is look like a cheap move for profit given how iconic the character is. He is handled well in “Lawless” and the “Shadow Collective Arc” but that doesn’t change the fact that bringing him back was a mistake.

Boba Fett – Fett is a punk kid who loses everything he gets into. He doesn’t get revenge on Mace and I never believed that the older Bounty Hunters had any reason to follow him until his last episode he appeared in. This character like Maul worked better as a mystery.

Blank Pacifist Species – Too many to name but they are the faceless victims of the Separatist and are there just to show that Dooku and his generals are bad. Beyond that they serve no purpose.

Blank Slate Jedi Masters – Plo Koon, Mace Windu and a few others are just as blank as they are in Episodes I-III and have no flaws. They are fortune cookie philosophers and in the end the conflicts they are put in are only compelling because they might die. This was a missed opportunity of the series to show them as flawed individuals not Perfect Avatars of Peace.

This is a series well worth checking out. I wouldn’t watch the Jar Jar episodes or Boba Fett episodes again personally and some of the Droid episodes are pretty weak but anything with Cad Bane, Clone Identity or politics and war are some of the best writing on television, especially for a kids show. This is a show that shows death, corruption and destruction and isn’t afraid to shy away from the evil that people are capable of…nor is it afraid of showing courage and strength of character as so many of our heroes go their own way and make their own path in the Galaxy far far away and so long ago…

Final Score: 8.5 / 10. One of my favorite shows and worth checking out. It isn’t as good as “Star Wars Rebels” Season 1 but it is still good quality overall.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 6, Episodes 10-13 – “The Immortality Arc” – Yoda Against the Darkness

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  There is a lot I want to like about this arc. We get to know the force more, we visit Moraband the Homeworld of the Sith…we learn at least some of what happened in regards to Sifo-Dyas and we get to spend time with Yoda, this really is his arc at the core. The problem is we don’t get to know him all that well. Yoda never had the vulnerabilities that Anakin and Obi-Wan did and that made the temptations he faced not feel as strong as they could have been, Yoda also asks with wisdom the entire time so the arc once we leave Sifo-Dyas doesn’t feel like it really has stakes. I’ll get into that more though.

    “The Lost One” was directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell and written by Christian Taylor who also wrote the other episodes in the arc. “Voices” was directed by Danny Keller, “Destiny” was directed by Kyle Dunlevy and the final episode “Sacrifice” was directed by Steward Lee.

  The story begins with the search for Sifo-Dyas as Anakin and Obi-Wan visit the Pykes to find the missing diplomat who was traveling with him while dealing with the threat of Dooku who has to silence the last missing link. This sparks Yoda’s vision quest as Qui-Gon is communicating with him to help him achieve immortality so that his life force can live on to train the one who will bring balance to the Universe.

The Pros: “The Lost One” this is a really great episode. We get to see the former Chancellor Valorum and see Dooku being strangled by Sidious for not killing all the missing links to the Clone Creation. We see Anakin and Obi-Wan and the Pykes attempt to stop him and Dooku show why he is Darth Tyranus as he kills the Pyke leader and escapes from Obi-Wan and Anakin after suppressing the only person who knew what had happened. It is a great arc and shows some wonderful dynamics between Palpatine and Yoda and Dooku and Obi-Wan.

Score: 10 / 10

Anakin and Obi-Wan – When they are investigating Sifo-Dyas’s disapearance and death they have some great conversations and we see how powerful they are Jedi too as even the gangster Pykes respect them. They don’t succeed in their plan but they do a good job to try and succeed.

Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus – Proves once again why he is a Sith Lord. Kills the leader of the Pykes who was trying to kill him. kills the Chancellor Aide who had been traveling with Sifo-Dyas and manages to escape from the Pykes, Obi-Wan and Anakin as well as helping Sidious attack Yoda later.

Darth Sidious – This guy is evil and knows it and we see him moving forward on his long term plans while still having the patience to wait. After Yoda gets out of their trap he recognizes the power of Yoda and the Jedi and knows that their plans cannot be rushed. He’s a smart powerhouse.

The Philosophy of the Force – Minus how often they bring up Midi-chlorians, which has always been a stupid idea…the relationship between the living force and cosmic force is really cool. The living force feeds the cosmic force which gives back and keeps balance in the Universe. Yoda learning all of this and making peace with his death and all he will lose is powerful.

The Cons: The Force Priestesses – These five are all different personalities and being that still have their being even though their bodies are one with the force. They are archetypes so not really characters, which was a shame.

Moraband Was Underwhelming – For the homeworld of the Sith this place was pretty boring. Darth Bane is revealed but they don’t do anything with him and for all the talk of the Dark Side they do not do enough with fear and temptation…the fact this is Yoda makes it so there are not stakes either.

   The show got canceled at this time, which was a shame as Grievous was just beginning to become an actual threat, Mother Talzin’s overall agenda is still unknown, Darth Maul is missing and we have no idea what became of the Separatist Parliament. For an ending this could have been a lot better, but I appreciate that they attempted to answer the question of Yoda becoming a Force Ghost. I’ll have a write up on the series as a whole later as well as my Top 5 Episodes/Arcs. Suffice to say though, this has been a fun journey.

Final Score: 8 / 10