Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Star Wars Saga Has Legendary Qualities, But Is Far From Perfect!

The Good: Great story, Pretty awesome special effects, Generally decent acting
The Bad: Moments of character and acting.
The Basics: There is a timeless quality to the Star Wars Saga, but there are serious enough issues that make it anything but perfect.

I love Star Wars. I have the figures, I have the movies, I've gotten autographs of many of the obscure stars (Michael Sheard just months before his death, as it turned out!), and I do enjoy the mythological sensibility to the story of the fall. But, for one who grew up on it and one who enjoys the universe, I am prepared to commit the ultimate heresy that every other reviewer knows, but few fans admit:

The Star Wars Saga is not all that great.

Sure, it's good. It was groundbreaking at the time, but have you actually watched it? If you've never actually sat down and watched the Star Wars Saga in order, it is the saddest collection of clueless law enforcement officers running around getting slaughtered by a military force that becomes more inept over twenty years leading into a rebellion of people who are willing to give up at the drop of a dime. Seriously. The sheer number of times characters say something is "impossible" or "can't be done" or whine about the state that they are in before actually trying is shocking. And for those looking for a great hero story, we all know that the quality of the hero is judged by the quality of the villains. Who are the villains in the Star Wars Saga? A bunch of people who look pretty cool, but are even more inept than the heroes! Darth Maul? One kill and dead. Darth Tyrannus? One arm and dead. General Grievous? One kill, nope that's been edited out, one escape and dead. Who is the villain in the Star Wars Saga? A one thousand year-old geezer and his robot apprentice.

But I jest. When the Star Wars Saga works, it works because it tells an essential character story of how easily good may be perverted into the forces of power and control and how hope may lead to the redemption of that corrupted soul. It tells the story of how common plight leads to romance and how sidekicks can be universally annoying be they amphibian or droid. The Star Wars Saga illustrates that when you push the boundaries of what is known, you may create a work that will capture a generation simply by being ambitious and daring.

Cinema has lost that. Arguably the most original attempt in recent years, The Chronicles Of Riddick Saga (reviewed here!) was thwarted from continuing by commercialism. The Star Wars Saga tells a pretty universal story set in a distant galaxy populated by humans, aliens, robots and an astounding array of creatures. But, like The Matrix (reviewed here!), a full series was created based on a decent original idea. Unlike the disturbingly constructed The Matrix Saga, George Lucas - the creator of the Star Wars Saga - had the first trilogy constructed before the first film was filmed. While he had the prequel trilogy conceived, he had not fleshed it out, resulting in a six-film Saga that tells the story of Anakin Skywalker, but is plagued by minutia between the two trilogies that do not quite add up. The inconsistencies are disturbing enough to stymie even the Star Wars loyalists, but not enough to drive it into unwatchable territory.

For those unfamiliar with the Star Wars Saga (now available on Blu-Ray), the six movies that comprise it are:
The Phantom Menace
Attack Of The Clones
Revenge Of The Sith
A New Hope
The Empire Strikes Back
Return Of The Jedi

The Phantom Menace explores a galaxy far, far away that is brimming with conflict. After a thousand years of peace, the Galactic Republic is in turmoil when the planet of Naboo is besieged by the capitalist forces of the Trade Federation. Republic negotiators, two Jedi named Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, arrive to try to lift the Trade Federation blockade but they are nearly killed. Escaping Naboo with the planet's Queen, the Jedi make it to Tatooine where they discover a young boy, Anakin Skywalker, who is powerful with the Force, the mystical power utilized by the Jedi. Amid political machinations that insinuate that the Jedi's enemies - the Sith - have returned to the galaxy, Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon and Anakin return to try to liberate Naboo.

Ten years later, Padme Amidala, former Queen of Naboo is returning to the political capital of the Republic to vote on an important bill when she is almost assassinated. The Jedi Anakin and Obi-Wan are assigned to protect Amidala as the Republic heads toward war with Separatists who wish to leave the Republic. Obi-Wan searches for the bounty hunter who put the hit on Amidala and discovers a clone army being built for the Republic that no one knew about. As Obi-Wan becomes embroiled in political and military machinations that were directed by the Sith, Anakin and Padme fall in love.

Revenge Of The Sith begins two years later as the Clone Wars rage on and Anakin and Obi-Wan have to save the Supreme Chancellor from a powerful Separatist general. As the Jedi try to end the war and uncover the Sith Lord who has evaded them for the past decade, Anakin is seduced by the power of the Dark Side of the Force using his secret wife, Padme, as the tool of his undoing.

Twenty years later, A New Hope finds the galaxy under the control of the Galactic Empire where a small band of rebels fights against the forces of power and control. When Princess Leia acquires the plans to the planet-destroying Death Star weapon, she tries to get the plans back to the Rebellion, but is intercepted by the Empire's forces, most notably Darth Vader. Leia manages to get the plans into two droids who end up on Tatooine in the possession of Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Luke and Obi-Wan try to get the plans back to the Rebellion, but are intercepted by the Death Star and must save the galaxy from the massive weapon.

The Empire Strikes Back has the Rebellion fleeing from the might of the Empire as Darth Vader scours the galaxy for Luke Skywalker. As Han Solo and Princess Leia try to evade the Empire, Luke Skywalker goes to a remote world where he learns to use the power of the Force. But Darth Vader is intent on luring Luke out and he uses his friends to entrap the young man.

The Saga concludes with Return Of The Jedi wherein Luke and Leia try to rescue Han Solo from the gangster Jabba the Hutt. As the Rebellion goes on the offensive against the new Death Star - which is still under construction - Luke, Leia and Han journey to Endor for a final showdown with the Empire and Darth Vader.

The Star Wars Saga has essentially two groups of characters in the two trilogies, but when viewed together is the story of the downfall of Anakin Skywalker from the Jedi with the most potential to a tool for the Empire. George Lucas, who wrote the Saga (at least the story), does an excellent job of telling the story of Anakin using pretty standard mythological storytelling. Anakin begins as a boy of mysterious origins with the insinuation of incredible powers. As he refined his powers, Anakin illustrates an impatience which is a pretty classic tragic flaw and he develops with the potential to be the most powerful instrument for good. The forces of evil, of course, seek to exploit that and the Star Wars Saga illustrates well how the feelings of love may be used by malevolent forces.

What does not work when the Saga is viewed together is how loss keeps Anakin under the thumb of the Sith Lord. In The Empire Strikes Back, the Emperor reveals - through new scenes added into the film - that he has essentially lied to his apprentice for twenty years and there is no significant character reaction. Given that the character's tragic flaw has much to do with seething rage, it is virtually unforgivable that the character has none of that evident when the truth is revealed.

This, of course, is a problem with the fact that the story was retroactively created. The prequel Trilogy has to explain how Anakin Skywalker fell from grace and when it fits back into the original Trilogy, there are dramatic inconsistencies. On the character level, this seldom works. This is also why the Prequel Trilogy neglects the spiritualism of the original Trilogy. In the first (or second, depending on perspective) Trilogy, the Force is a powerful field and belief that empowers the Jedi. In the Prequel Trilogy, thousands of Jedi are completely duped by a single Sith with many of the Jedi revealing tragic flaws that - according to the later installments - would have led them to the Dark Side. In other words, the principles of using the Force to create a policing body work out philosophically, but not in a practical application.

The Star Wars Saga pioneered all sorts of special effects and on Blu-Ray, they look absolutely incredible. From stop-motion model work through computer-generated characters, the Star Wars Saga is a visual masterpiece from George Lucas and the other directors in the Star Wars films.

As for the acting, the Star Wars Saga utilizes some pretty incredible talents - Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and James Earl Jones - exceptionally well. It also introduced many new talents who deliver as well as they can. Hayden Christensen, for example, performs somewhat stiffly in Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith. Where the Saga succeeds on the acting is how the performers completely invest in the universe being created. All of the actors look like they believe in their setting and with the virtual characters, they interact with complete seriousness, making it easy to invest in the galaxy.

On Blu-Ray, the Star Wars Saga includes commentary tracks for each film and featurettes on the creation of each movie and the Saga as a whole. There are also forty-five deleted scenes and animatics which are kept separated from the films. For a Saga that George Lucas has so continually tweaked, it is almost ridiculous that the movies do not have the scenes actually integrated into the new versions of each movie.

This leads to the exploitative quality of the Star Wars Saga. George Lucas is a shrewd businessman and while this is the first time the Saga has appeared all together on Blu-Ray, the films have been available in at least two different forms on DVD. Most people will not have the equipment needed to get the additional value out of the Blu-Ray versions. More than that, beginning in February, the films will be rereleased theatrically in 3-D. Will Lucas add new scenes for the 3-D release? Will he integrate deleted scenes into the 3-D release? Who knows? What is virtually undeniable is this: even if the only change is that a 3-D print of the Star Wars Saga is created, those 3-D versions will be released after the Saga is once again completed as 3-D Blu-Rays undoubtedly with more bonus features to exploit the same customer base for their hard-earned dollars for what is essentially the same product.

In other words, the Star Wars Saga is complete now. It has been for more than half a decade and the change in technology has not fixed the problems that the Saga has had. Instead, those who already have the six DVDs are not truly going to need to reinvest in the Blu-Rays and until a complete reimagining including a complete rewrite, much like the new Footloose (reviewed here!) completely remakes the Saga from the original, is created, there is no real need to buy the new boxed set.

For other cinematic Sagas, please visit my reviews of:
The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy
The Back To The Future Trilogy
The Indiana Jones Trilogy


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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