Tuesday, 4 May 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 230 - May The Fourth Be With You

It's Star Wars day in the (500) Films of Empire challenge. All the films on the list bar Empire Strikes Back will be watched today... and yes that means Phantom Menace!

449 - Star Wars: The Phantom Menace - 1 star
Surely it couldn't be as bad as I remembered could it? The film that, as Simon Pegg so eloquently put it, "raped my childhood".

No it wasn't. If anything it was worse!

I admit I got that goosebump tingle when the title card of 'A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away' but it soon faded when the prologue started harping on about trade federations and taxation routes.

It brought back the angry memories of queuing for hours to secure my ticket for the midnight screening, then the crushing disappointment at what followed.

George Lucas said that he didn't make this for the fans who grew up with the original trilogy but for a new generation of fans but were children really all that entertained with this? It moves at a very slow pace, has poor dialogue and bad acting due to people having to act against CGI. Not to mention that one of the all time great screen villains is introduced as a whiny little brat who is constantly called Annie and yells "Yippee" a lot.

Lucas was so concerned with advancing special effects and merchandising opportunities that he sacrificed character and storyline.

It is no coincidence that the best film in the saga The Empire Strikes Back was directed and written by someone other than Lucas.

At only one point did it really feel like a Star Wars film and that was during the 3-way lightsaber fight between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Darth Maul with John Williams' best musical cue of the prequels Duel Of The Fates (and even then it kept cutting between two other battles). The final showdown where Ewan McGregor and Ray Park go at it with such speed and venom is the lightsaber at its peak. It makes you wonder what the original trilogy's fights could have been if they hadn't featured a 70 year old man and a guy in a clunky suit!

Having said that, the lightsaber fight is the only highlight in a film that having to sit through is like having a dog swallow your wedding ring and spending two hours sifting through a pile of shit to find it.

330 - Star Wars: Revenge Of The Sith - 3 stars

A vast, vast improvement on Episode 1 but still missing the magic of the original trilogy.

Christopher Lee generates more genuine menace in a brief appearance than in the whole Phantom Menace; Ewan McGregor finally looked like he had accepted the way the films were being made and started to have fun again; the final fight has a fair amount of emotion to it, but the Frankenstein's monster-esque "NOOOOOO!" ruins it.

"You are so beautiful", "It's only because I'm so in love", "No, its because I'm so in love with you" *sticks fingers down throat as he is so sick* "I Know" this is not!
What elevates this film above the other prequels is the performance of Ian McDiarmid. Check out the scene where he tells the story of Darth Plageius. He plays Palpatine as if he is performing Shakespeare... but let me make it perfectly clear, Revenge Of The Sith is definitely not Shakespeare as this particular exchange between Anakin and Padme illustrates:

"You are so beautiful", "It's just because I'm so in love", "No, its because I'm so in love with you". *puts fingers down throat as he feels so nauseous* "I know" it isn't.

91 - Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi - 3 stars

This is more like it. Actual sets that were built, proper alien costumes, some shots that contain zero CGI. This is how Star Wars was supposed to be!

However watching it just after the prequels illustrates just how badly Lucas managed to screw up the continuity between trilogies, like when Leia apparently remembers her mother being "kind but sad" when she only saw her briefly when she was born, and Obi-Wan's terrible explanation to Luke over the fate of his father for example.

It moves from one big action sequence to another before ending with a giant fight between some guys in white uniforms and cuddly bears.

Aah the bloody Ewoks. They really annoyed me, particularly the moment when one dies and its little buddy sobs at being unable to move him. And people get upset by this... did nobody care about the thousands of stormtroopers that died over the course of the trilogy?

22 - Star Wars: A New Hope - 5 stars
If there was an award for the film that I seen the most in my lifetime then this would be it. I've seen it over 100 times. So much so that I had a video of the film taped off ITV and knew exactly when the adverts break would come. I once recited the whole movie (including many sound effects) during a double period of chemistry while at school.
One of my most memorable experiences at a cinema was when my friends and I went to the old Odeon on Justice Mill Lane in Aberdeen to see the 1997 release of the special edition version.
We queued up outside the cinema while dozens of people had lightsaber fights and cars drove up and down the street with the music playing on the stereos. An unforgettable experience.
I actually watched the original '77 version as I didn't want to see Greedo shoot first, and it remains perfect the way it is with its blend of action, western, sci-fi and mysticism.
Its influence over Hollywood and pop culture in general is unsurmountable.
It created the lightsaber which had kids on every playground doing the action and noise (whum, whum) and also spawned the career of Harrison Ford whose cynicism towards the material helped Han Solo become the coolest character and the one that all the kids really wanted to be.
I had nearly all the toys. I still only need around a dozen to complete my set of all the original action figures.
Sure the prequels have slightly tarnished my memories of the saga and George Lucas but seeing it again it still holds an amazing power over me.

Days remaining - 135 Films remaining - 161

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