“Star Wars Rebels” Season 2 – A Great Beginning, Character Episodes and End but Overall Lack of Focus

Star Wars Rebels Season 2

   “Star Wars Rebels” Season 2 was a season that started with a lot of promise. “The Siege of Lothal” is one of the best episodes in the series and the promise of it being “The Empire Strikes Back” of the show was a very big claim that initially looked like would be successful executed. Sadly the shows lack of focus, clearly showing the threat of the Empire and poor setup of big payoffs brought the show down overall, making it weaker than Season 1 for me. This doesn’t discount what works though and this show is still a favorite. So without further ado, here is my overall assessment of the show.

The Pros: The Animation – The animation continues to be amazing and flow beautifully, especially in regards to the action sequences and giving us what the planets look like. This has never been an issue with the show and continues to be one of the strongest points within it.

The Action – The action when it happens is fantastic. The duels between Inquisitors, fights between the Rebels and Empire and any fight that involves Darth Vader is awesome. My biggest issue is the action wasn’t all the tight so that brought it down.

Hondo – Hondo is back and one of the few elements of comedic relief that works as we see his mercenary nature rub off on Ezra and help push him to the dark side in small ways as in helping him and when he helps the crew it shows an ends justify the means mentality that illustrated Anakin’s fall.

Captain Rex – Captain Rex is a pretty amazing character and I’m glad they brought him back into this Universe. I’m still hoping he dies so he can get the warrior’s death that would fit his character arc so well…his arc is great in that he and Kanan grow to have a respect for one another as they are both mentors for Ezra.

Yoda – Yoda makes an appearance in this and it is awesome! He recognizes his past mistakes with the Jedi order and helps our heroes make peace within themselves. He even reaches out to Ahsoka and is happy to see you. He really was handled beautifully this season.

The Crew of Ghost – The crew of the Ghost continues to be where the strongest characters are as we have a “Firefly” type relationship between this crew of survivors as they find themselves pulled into a larger story that they are only pieces in. For this reason, the glimpses of the Universe we get are all the more profound and how it impacts the crew.

The Crew of Ghost – The Crew continues to be the strongest part of the show as I’ve come to care about the drama they go through and what motivates them in what they do.

Chopper – Chopper is shown to be complex in this! He helps liberate an Imperial droid, we learn he fought in the Clone Wars and the cares deeply for the crew and those around him even though he’s a bit insane.

Sabine – We learn more about Sabine’s Mandalorian side and her willingness to do anything to achieve ends even if it means killing. The only reason she doesn’t kill is because she learns from Hera and Kanan who become like a father and mother figure to her. She is a lot of fun and could have done with some more exploration, especially tied back to the Empire.

Kanan – Kanan gets some great exploration in this as we see his relationship to Hera’s father who he fought with in the Clone Wars and is a hero and from that how deeply he cares about her. We see him rise in power in this and go through his arc of letting Ezra go and knowing that he can only give Ezra so much training. He connects with the light side of the Grand Inquisitor too which is pretty amazing.

Hera – In this we see that Hera is looked down upon by her father who is a hero of his people for fighting in the Clone Wars and is willing to go any means to win. It is Hera who shows him that wider perspective of how allies are their best bet to win the war. She really is a great character and we see her abandonment fears when Kanan is going off to face the Inquisitor as she has already lost her mother to war and in a way her father too. Her character is tragic and strong.

Zeb – Zeb is my favorite character in the series and in this he becomes the Hero of the Lasat as he works with the Elders to help them find the original Lasat homeworld. We also see his growth when he connects with Agent Kallus and helps them survive on a dangerous moon. He is a character with depth who manages to bring strength and humor to any situation and is easily one of the wisest characters on the show now.

The Empire – I still really like the Empire in this though I feel the writers spent most of this season making them feel weak. This was bad on their part as we were promised “The Empire Strikes Back” of the show and I didn’t feel that at all. If anything, it was more of “The New Hope” based off the Finale.

The Inquisitors – The Inquistiors have a cool look and start out strong but become weaker over the course of the series. When Ahsoka easily beats two of them they never recover for it and end being slaughtered by Maul in the Finale. I like the idea of them but they could have been handled as a threat a lot better (same with the Empire as a whole).

Agent Kallus – In this season we learn Kallus was a grunt who lost his men to a Lasat Mercenary and that is why he hates them. We also learn the slaughter of the Lasat was not what he thought would happen and he carries guilt over it. By the season’s end he is questioning and alone as he realizes he is being lied to and is just a cog in the Imperial Machine.

Darth Vader – Darth Vader is awesome and is the best part of “The Siege of Lothal” and “Twilight of the Apprentice.” His arc ends with him once again killing Anakin so that he can destroy Ahsoka and all his connections to the past. He beats her but we don’t know if she’s dead or not (I hope she is). This season we get glimpses of the light in the overwhelming dark of Vader.

The Old Master / Maul – Maul is back and he is awesome! In this he acts as Ezra’s teacher in the Dark Side and is responsible for killing the Imperial Inquisitors and blinding Kanan. He is after power and wants Ezra as his apprentice. It is great to see him again as he’s lost everything to the Jedi and Empire and now only has hate and vengeance to drive him. He survives the destruction of the Sith Temple and is out there still too.

Ahsoka Tano – Ahsoka’s arc in this is making peace with leaving Anakin and the Jedi order as we see her fight to avenge Anakin to destroy the monster he’s become in Vader. In the end she chooses to stay with him too as her spirit is broken as she sees the monster consumed by rag and power that Anakin has become. She really is a great character and I like how she never feels comfortable being a teacher because she is a free agent and not a Jedi, just a force user who uses light sabers and the light side of the force. I hope she died, she deserves an awesome death which she got.

Okay: Commander Sato – Sato is another character with potential, though I wish he’d die this season. He is the face of the larger Rebellion that connects to the crew and he even gets captured once. Sadly this doesn’t go anywhere as he is rescued and it establishes his respect for Ezra. He is a symbol of Rebel power and that is about it.

Ezra – Ezra has great moments when we see him tempted by the Dark Side but he is so overpowering at times that he feels like a Mary Sue at times. It is far to easy for him to save the people and the crew and he doesn’t go through any trial I felt until the final battle at the end. There was a lot of missed opportunities for this character.

Other Minor Characters – Sabine’s friend a few others are pretty weak. All they exist for is to show the crew has more allies, and in the process make the Empire even more weak as they can’t seem to kill people who should be dead. At least Ezra’s parents aren’t alive.

The Cons: Lack of Narrative Focus – We have fillers, we have a lot of bottle episodes for characters and some episodes that don’t involve the Empire at all. The Empire is set up to be THE threat with the Inquisitors in “The Siege of Lothal,” but it doesn’t go anywhere until the Finale and I blame that on the lack of focus.

Filler Episodes – We get a whale episode, an episode where we meet a mercenary who worked with Sabine and a few others that just feel like baggage. All they end up doing is make the Empire look weak and expand the size of the Universe.

    This season was not nearly as strong as last, though the First and Finale episodes of the season were on part with the best from last season and sometimes better. It was these episodes where the core drama between Darth Vader and the rebels really got explored and the Empire felt like a threat. Outside of that they spent most of this season being beaten by the rebels at every turn. Seriously, the Inquisitors became useless by the end leaving me to wonder how Dave Filoni is going to fill in a new threat for them as I worry making Vader the main threat will just make him as useless as the Inquisitors, which I don’t want. If this show ruins him I’m going to hate this show. That didn’t happen this season at least, and for all of the problems it had, there were some great moments of gold.

Final Score: 8 / 10

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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

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 V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – A Masterpiece of Betrayal, Family and the Philosophy of the Force

Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back p

      “The Empire Strikes Back” is truly the best of the Original Trilogy. It has the tightest story, it is desolate, there are stakes and it still manages to have hope. We also see why Darth Vader is the primary villain of the Trilogy as this one allows us the chance to see what it is like when Vader is charge and not reporting to Grand Moff Tarkin. It’s one of my favorites and the change that was made in one of the Special Editions of putting Ian McDiarmid in as the Emperor was good, though the new dialogue isn’t so good and the cgi Tie Fighters that were put in post production are distracting. The Original unchanged is still the strongest and that was the one I saw, like “A New Hope” and like I’ll be seeing “Return of the Jedi.”

      This film wasn’t directed by George Lucas and he was only one of the three writers behind it.

    The director was Irvin Kershner and written by Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasden and George Lucas, while being produced by Gary Kurtz.

     The story involves the rebels on the run, having escaped to Hoth to hide from the Emperor as they are still strong after the destruction of the Death Star. Darth Vader is hunting them, hoping to destroy the Rebellion for good and capture and turn Luke Skywalker to the Dark Side.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is wonderful and John Williams captures the fear and terror the Empire so well as we are given the most desolate situation for the Rebellion as Darth Vader is successful in whatever he sets out to do.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful, especially the Battle of Hoth and the Duel between Luke and Vader. The use of mist and shadows to increase the fear and tension among our characters and heroes is done masterfully. Peter Suschitzky did a great job.

The Writing – The script is tight and fast and you can tell that Lucas was not the primary writer, though Lucas did do a great job on the script for the original version of “A New Hope,” to his credit. When he’s on a team he seems to be do better though.

The Empire – The Empire is powerful in this and we see Cloud City, the Rebels on Hoth and the pursuit of the Millennium Falcon. Part of the reason I enjoy this film so much is the Empire feels like a threat and they never stop feeling like a threat. They force our heroes to escape the Galaxy and no longer have a home base as the Empire has chased them away from all their safe havens, captured on of their Captain’s and friends (Han Solo) and injured one of their leaders (Luke). The Empire has a firm win, even if it isn’t a total victory. The stakes are raised in this.

The Rebellion – The Rebellion shows how resilient they are in this. We see that in the end, no matter how hurt they are (so many die in the Battle of Hoth) that they will keep going and resisting the Empire, and that is what makes them interesting.

The Battle of Hoth – The Battle of Hoth is my favorite “Star Wars” battle besides the assault on the Death Star. The AT-ATs are beautiful machines that are deadly and take a lot to take down. We also see how deadly the Empire is again as they walk all over the Rebels as above we see Star Destroyers from their fleet.

The Millennium Falcon on the Run – Han and Leia’s escape is a great arc. We see them forced together because they stuck around to make sure all the other Rebels escaped first and as a reward they are pursued by Vader himself through an Asteroid field and eventually by Bounty Hunters hunting them too. Through it Leia and Han fall in love as we see that they are both stubborn but have a huge respect for one another and notice how aware they can be with others. It is during the run we see Han grow up and stop pushing people away.

Cloudy City – Cloud City is a great location. It’s Lando’s base and business and is neutral in the war until Vader goes back on his deals with Lando and we see Cloud City join the Rebellion and resist Imperial oppression. It is a great arc as we see Cloud City is a selfish place but there is good here too when Lando saves our heroes and tries to save the friend he betrayed.

Luke’s Training – Luke’s training continues his heroes journey as we see him grow to look beyond appearances when Yoda reveals he is the Jedi Master and that his size does no matter as he raises Luke’s X-Wing out of the Swamp. In this we see Yoda is always forcing Luke to face himself and learn to let go, which Luke is not able to do as Darth Vader’s torture of his friends leads him leaving Dagoba even when Obi-Wan’s ghost and Yoda warn him how dire of a mistake it will be.

Dagoba – Dobaba is a fantastic location! It is dark and smoggy and full of life. You get why Yoda chose this place when he explains how the force flows through all life forms. It is foreboding but beautiful in it’s own way too.

The Characters – The Characters and their arcs are what make this film a classic and a favorite. More is done with them than in “A New Hope” and we see the choices they make that change them and help them to grow.

Obi-Wan Kenobi – Obi-Wan is back as the mentor sending Luke to Dagoba and warning him about the challenge of facing Vader when he is not fully trained (which he would know having failed to kill his friend). There is a sadness to the character too as he can’t do anything a ghost but communicate with those already in connection with him.

Yoda – Yoda is awesome and Frank Oz owns this role. He’s a compelling character, unlike the CGI one-dimensional pillow sitting Master we got in the Prequels. Yoda is a trickster yet full of wisdom as he pulls Luke out of his comfort zone and forces him to confront himself and what it means to use the Force. It is this film that made Yoda one of my favorite characters, and we never see this level of depth from the character again.

Lando Calrissian – Billy Dee Wililams is awesome as the gambler who turns on his friend Han to save his people. He’s complicated and when you see the operation he runs you get why he made that terrible decision as he no doubt saw it as one life versus many. By the end he realizes he’s been tricked though and joins the Rebellion and tries to save Han to begin to atone for his betrayal. I really liked this character, he’s smooth, suave and owns his own city.

Boba Fett – Fett is great. I really like his original voice as it shows someone who has been through a lot. His voice is raspy and we get an idea how deadly he is when Vader orders capture only and no disintegrations to Boba. Boba is the one who figures out how the Falcon escaped the fleet and tracks them to Cloud City. In the end he succeeds and is able to bring Jabba Han’s frozen body.

Princess Leia – Leia is more passive in this after the Battle of Hoth than she is in Empire but we see she never stops being the one who figures things out first. She doesn’t trust Lando and we learn she is right to do and she comes around to Han showing that at this point Han has become a good person. She also tries to warn Luke, though Luke doesn’t listen and walks into Vader’s trap in Cloud City. She also saves Luke when Luke communicates through the Force to her.

Han Solo – Han is the main character of this film. He goes from the guy who is still selfish and just wants to have his old life back again, but each time rises to help the Rebellion, whether it is saving Luke in the Blizzard or finding the Imperial Search Droid. This eventually leads to him protecting Leia as slowly they fall in love as Han begins to show more awareness towards others from doing insults to treating Leia and C-3PO with only respect. Han learns to listen and in the end he is frozen in carbonite as he has finally found love with his partner Leia.

Darth Vader – Vader is driven in this and we see soon learn why as Luke is his son. Everything he does is to bring Luke to him so he can turn him to the Dark Side so he will no longer be alone. There is a sadness to the character in this as we see his scarred body when his helmet is being put on, which gives him vulnerability, though he never stops being ruthless. Whether is is taking over Cloud City, destroying the rebels on Hoth, the torture of Han and Leia to bring Luke and the cutting off of Luke’s hand. Vader is destruction contrasted with vulnerability and it makes him one of the most compelling villains of cinema.

Luke Skywalker – Luke grows up a lot in this as we see him discover the Force is not easy to learn and that he has so many hangups he needs get over. In the end we see him mature though as he loses his friends, the Rebellion (when he seeks Yoda for training) Han and in the end his hand and his innocence as he learns he is the son of the Dark Lord Darth Vader. This breaks him and completes the destruction of his worldview that Yoda began when he showed him size and appearance has no bearing on the force. In it he experiences betrayal from Obi-Wan and not telling him the complete truth and the realization that they were right, he was not powerful enough to kill Vader and now he doesn’t know if he ever can as he no doubt still lives his test in Dagoba where his killing of Vader in the forest revealed himself underneath the helmet. That vision hits much closer to home now. Vader is blood and family and was once a powerful Jedi who turned. If Obi-Wan’s best friend turned, than what hope does Luke have? None of this is outright stated but it’s implied in the scenes and drama that unfold in the Duel.

The Duel and Reveal – The reveal of Vader as Luke’s father is powerful as is the lead up to it. In it we see how Luke has learned a lot but everything Vader says about the Dark Side being more powerful seems to be true. He walks all over Luke, using the environment against Luke and getting into his head with the final reveal of that vulnerability we saw when Vader was without his helmet. “Together we can rule the Galaxy as Father and Son.” Vader does care even though he is this ruthless machine who sees life, whether it is Imperial or Rebel as expendable…he makes an exception for Luke because there is good in there. The duel is beautiful too as the Lightsabers are light in the dark and mist that covers the areas of Cloud City they fight in. It is my favorite duel of the series without a doubt because it isn’t just great action, it is great action with a purpose.

Philosophy of the Force – The Force is all about letting go. It is when the illusions of size, appearance and strength are mastered that you can master the world. This is shown in starting with the basics where Luke’s mind and body and strengthened but he isn’t able to let go as it is fear for his friends that leads to the loss of his hand and in the end he loses one of his friends anyway, showing that Yoda and Obi-Wan were right that leaving would change nothing.

The Ending – Han is captured by Jabba, the Rebellion has been chased out of the Galaxy and is on the run and has no safe haven and Luke is left to consider the words of his father and is given his first dilemma…can he kill Vader to save the Galaxy or is that price to high? The Rebellion has a new ally in Lando though as Vader is left to deal with the loss and escape of his son.

Okay/Pro: The Droids and Chewbacca – The Droids are alright, same with Chewbacca. They are support roles with R2 saving the day in the end when he fixes the ship so the Falcon can jump to Light Speed. They weren’t bad but compared to all the other characters I found them distracting at times, with the exception of Chewbacca and R2 sometimes. C-3PO was largely annoying.

The Emperor – He pops up once to show that Vader reports to a higher power but I never felt threatened by him in any version. He’s a force in the background but we’ve seen the things Vader has done. The Emperor in the Original Trilogy is just there as the symbol of the Empire’s power. He was used much better in the Prequels and his rise, I’d have liked to see him do more but he wasn’t a con.

    This is my favorite of all the “Star Wars” Films and I’ll be very surprised if “The Force Awakens” manages to beat it. So much is accomplished in this film and we learn so much about all our characters as they are put through their greatest tests and from those tests humanity and growth is revealed. This film is one of my all time favorite films and is beloved by so many for many for the reasons I describe above. Watch the Original if you can, the Ties are distracting in the “Special Edition” as is some of the added dialogue. Less is more and that is what the original version captures as it is wholly focused on our characters and their struggles. Suffice to say, I highly recommend this film.

Final Score: 10 / 10. The things that are okay do not bring down the score in this instance as everything else is solid.

Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005) – Best of the Prequels But Still an Idea Not Fully Realized

Revenge of the Sith

  “Revenge of the Sith” is the best of the Prequels and this isn’t just because episode I and II are so terrible. “Revenge of the Sith” at least has a focus and mission, which can’t be said for “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones,” which were muddled messes each in different ways. “Revenge of the Sith” is also the only film you need to see to understand “The Original Trilogy,” The Clone Wars and Anakin’s fall are the focus of this story and George Lucas actually does an okay job…though the ending is bad, the middle is really strong and for a moment Lucas seems to understand that you show events, don’t tell events. I’ll get into more of what I mean further down.

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

     The story involves the end of the Clone Wars as General Grievous does a last ditch effort with Dooku (Christopher Lee) to capture Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). Things soon go wrong for them when Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) arrive though all is not as it appears to be as after the battle Anakin finds himself being isolated around him and being offered a path to save the woman he loves through his friend and mentor Palpatine.

The Pros: The Action – The action in this is actually really good. Whether it is the battle to save Chancellor Palpatine or the attack on Grievous’s base we see that George Lucas does know how to shoot an action sequence when he is up for it, even the weaker battles like that between Dooku and Anakin.

Obi-Wan Kenobi – Obi-Wan shows why he was made Jedi Master in this as we see him walk the line between supporting his apprentice and trying to look out for the well being of the galaxy. Ewan McGregor does a wonderful job and I felt for him at the end as the pain in his eyes at leaving his friend who had turned to the dark side felt real and had much more love in the acting than any scene between Anakin and Padme.

Yoda – Yoda has some great Jedi Master moments too as he forces Anakin to give up his attachments or to face losing them (which is the Jedi Way, much like Buddhism) and we see how the deaths around the galaxy touch him. Thankfully he doesn’t fight with a lightsaber that much (he like Sidious should be beyond using swords whether they are lazer swords or not) and him losing was after a tough fight. He was stupid in that he went alone. Palpatine could not have taken on Obi-Wan and Yoda together. I do like that he figured out how to train to immortality too via communion with Qui-Gon, that was a nice touch.

Anakin’s Choice – This is a great scene, the music is beautiful and we see Anakin thinking of Padme and dealing with the fact that Palpatine has been right about the Jedi so far, but how they are also his friends and he knows whatever choice he makes there is no going back. There is no dialogue and the scene is all the more powerful for it.

Anakin’s Fall – Anakin’s fall is a pro as we establish he’s already a bit of a sociopath (hello the Tuscan Raider massacre) and he has major anger and ego problems tied to the fact that I don’t think he loves Padme, not really. She represents his mother as she is safety and freedom which are two things he’s never had his entire life. She is a closeness and familiarity and he chooses that for understandable reasons as he would do anything not to lose her and he is a sociopath, so killing the Jedi though it would be hard. Anakin is already an established fascist so killing those going against the order (Palpatine) he supports is a tough call but in the end one he would make.

Order 66 – This was really well done. From Anakin’s march on the Jedi Temple and slaughtering the Younglings (Jedi Children and going to call them that from now on), which by the way is his second time doing this so he’s been a messed up murdering soldier for sometime. We see the Jedi fall on each of their operations as Palpatine had manipulated the war so well that there were so few to stand against him.

Palpatine/Darth Sidious – This guy is wonderfully evil and brilliant in a world where no one asks questions (no one does, not Anakin, the Jedi Order or even the Senate). So given this fact of course he rises to power and in the end helps the Sith reign supreme. The only scenes to watch in the Prequels prior are the Palpatine ones as he never stops being an interesting character and you get an idea of just how powerful of a Sith he is. He is one of the greatest if not thee greatest Sith for a reason and this film is his victory.

The Cons: Padme and the “love” story – The love story didn’t work unless they are both super co-dependent. Hayden and Padme’s acting doesn’t work either and the love story only works as an idea to bring about the fall. It’s more believable in both of the “Clone Wars” shows but for this film the crappy dialogue and sadly horrible acting more so coming from Natalie Portman is what brings it down. Her no longer having a will to live after Anakin turns on her doesn’t help matters either. She just feels more like a plot device meant to be fridged to finished Anakin’s fall.

Tone – There are still moments where slapstick is in with intense war scenes and it took me out of it in those moments. Lucas reeled it in at least and it doesn’t get as bad as past films.

General Grievous – What a joke. This is supposed to be our big bad? He is just bad as he is in the 3D Clone Wars. I never felt threatened by this guy and didn’t understand why anyone would make him a general.

Non-Characters – Dooku’s death felt meaningless and I feel bad for Christopher Lee because of it. Mace Windu also felt invisible. There characters never felt like characters, just ideas and plot devices for Anakin’s fall…like Padme and Anakin’s love in this film which wasn’t real but had to be there due to plot.

Excess – This really comes out in the final fight between Obi-Wan and Anakin…the fight lasts 20 minutes and there is no reason for any one on one fight to go on that long. It took me out of the moment and emotion behind the characters and made only pointless action. The only symbolism we had was the fact that Mustafar looked like hell. The tell not show dialogue didn’t help matters either in these scenes.

The Dialogue – The dialogue is still bad, especially at the end. At least there are moments where Lucas remembers to show and not tell us so that’s a win! Sadly his dialogue he has Vader makes the ending worse.

No!!!!!! – This scene. Vader should not say “Padme” it sounds weird and all it would have taken was a simple “No.” There was no reason to ham it up at all. It made no sense and I don’t understand why it was there. We already know Anakin is broken we don’t need it turned up to 11 to see that.

    I actually listed quite a few pros this time around as this isn’t a bad film, it just isn’t an especially good one. There are moments where Lucas actually knows how to write! Sadly rather than just showing the story he continues to tell us it, especially at the end. After I finish rewatching all the films I’ll do a write-up on the Prequels as a whole and a comparison with the Original Trilogy. Much of this film was made better for me because I got to see a lot of the show in both “Clone Wars” tv shows and that made the story here stronger as characters actually mattered, Jedi weren’t just faceless blank slates who used the force, they were people and monks who had ideals they were fighting for. I would probably have not enjoyed this film as much as I did without that context because it does make scenes stronger.

Final Score: 7.3 / 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

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.