Wednesday 30 May 2018

Star Wars - A Look at the Prequels [TV&Film]

As part of Star Wars month, I thought I’d do this review of all the films. I’ve talked Star Wars a lot. I’ve reviewed the newest films, reviewed the closing of The Clone Wars and opening of Rebels, but aside from mentions of the original and prequel trilogies, I haven’t ever given full thoughts about them. I know there’s lots of reviews – both serious and parodical – that give a variety of different opinions, and I doubt there’s much I can add that hasn’t already been said. However, Star Wars is my number one core franchise, so it only makes sense I finally review all six films. I’m adding the new ones to the list as well, though they won’t be in full.

I’ve always said that The Phantom Menace is my number one film, and nostalgia has nothing to do with it. Okay, so a bit of recognition of elements might have come into it – especially with Maul – but that’s the same for all six films. Especially when I’d been playing Battlefront 2 pretty much non-stop since being introduced to it. I started with the original trilogy the same as most, and while I enjoy the originals, there’s something about Phantom Menace that inches it above the rest.
In terms of the plot – I admit if you look into it there are plenty of things wrong. Just as with most films though, logic goes out the window if spectacle is coming to play. Or something was just overlooked. I’m not one to say. Nearly every scene doesn’t overstay its welcome, and while those scenes on Tatooine can feel stretched, it more than makes up for it with the pod race. Oh, I love the pod race, with the audio effects giving it real energy, along with the sense of speed thanks to the cinematography. And that really goes for all the action involving vehicles. Even in ground battles the audio and visual elements work really well to create some stunning scenes.
As for characters, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan work well together, as do Anakin and Padme. There’s a great sense of chemistry between the two pairs, and all these interactions really shine on Tatooine. Anakin and his mom feel like a real family, and Anakin’s friends even from the small while we see them feel a diverse group. Jar Jar isn’t a curse of existence for me. He’s here, and to me he’s just an excitable goof who’s fumbling around in a wider world he’s been introduced to. Same can be said of Anakin once he leaves Tatooine. The Jedi Council… They’re certainly an interesting bunch, and I can see where the characterisation of the council as a whole comes from when you get into the story. You get hints of it within Phantom Menace – what with their refusal to believe the Sith have returned. They keep the peace, and want nothing to break it. While they deal with the things that happen, they’re ignoring the larger problems, and in the next two films we see exactly the depth of that problem as they fail to see things right in front of them. As for the Sith, I really feel Maul could have been used more. It’s unfortunate he gets killed at the ending battle, but at least he goes out with a cool fight between two Jedi. That ends because it feels the need to… I get being surprised, but this is just one major part of all the prequels that shines the brightest. Watch the ‘saber fights, and look for the point that it ends. Someone will easily manage to win just because it needs to end. Of course, that fits under the idea of logic being shelved for the sake of spectacle, and as such easy to overlook.
Overall, everything comes together fine. Palpatine is a master of his craft, managing to do a lot of behind the scenes work and taking advantage of any situation that arises. There are a few slow moments that manage to fill in some of the world building, such as Otah Gunga. Speaking of the underwater world, that is just one other area where this film shines. It might seem like another pointless scene, but just as with the pod race, it manages to show off just what the world is all about. The music is also another strong point, but that goes for all the films.

Attack of the Clones is the weakest of the prequels and all the films. The first hour just seems to drag even when action is involved. I’ve said my piece about logic disappearing to create a fun scene, and while this film takes that to new heights, I’m not saying any more about it. Once the film reaches Geonosis and Tatooine, that’s when the good starts to come through.
It paces itself well at the start, getting through the first assassination attempt quickly and moving on to show Palpatine performing more of his gentle nudging and subterfuge in getting Anakin and Padme back together. Then we get the speeder chase through Coruscant which gives a good look at this city-world we haven’t seen much of aside from the Jedi Temple and Senate. If there’s one thing Attack of the Clones does good at, it’s introducing new sights to old places. The Naboo-Kamino segments are where it drags the most. Naboo for obvious reasons. Kamino is harder to place, but I feel it might be more to do with having to share the time with scenes on Naboo rather than anything wrong with the story of Kenobi. The Jedi vs droids battle, and the battles that come before and after are favourites of mine. Dooku vs Jedi… not so much. But the film as a whole does well in showing how much arrogance the Jedi now have. Yoda even admits it, but seems to find he himself doesn’t have any.
Anakin and Obi-Wan have a good relationship with each other. It might be undercut by the differing opinions of the two, but it is obvious there is some respect. Anakin and Padme works. Yes, the scenes are not the greatest, the dialogue is awful at times and it certainly feels the romantic partnership is forced to happen by necessity of the original trilogy. But it works. It might not be the greatest relationship in the galaxy, but Padme knows he’s troubled and wants to help. I could go into greater detail, but this is a general review and not an ultra-specific character analysis. The Jedi council are still blind to the world around them, failing to see the real problems. Jar Jar has no real point here, it was just easy to use him as an unknowing pawn of Palpatine’s larger game. Along with Palpatine pulling the strings, we have Dooku acting as leader of the splinter group that forms as the Confederacy of Independent Systems. We also have Jango Fett, the clone donor on Kamino for the Grand Army of the Republic. There… really isn’t much to them. Jango is the better of the two, giving the film a great battle of the mind and later of brawn against Obi-Wan, but then he gets spoilt on Geonosis by getting beheaded like a complete chump. As for Dooku, the only things he really offers are those that take place behind-the-scenes that are hinted at within the scenes he’s in.
Audio and visuals are great as ever, with Kamino being a favourite of mine. As mentioned above, world building in this film is as great as ever, with the Kaminoans and Geonosians looking great. Coruscant proving to be a diverse city-planet with industrial and retail sectors to go along with the upper-class lifestyle. And while we don’t get to see much of the fighting, the clones and the droids doing battle is absolutely masterful, with a variety of units placed on the field and moving about.

Revenge of the Sith has great pacing, but the characters here are worse for the most part. The opening battle in space and assault of Grievous’ cruiser provides some great action, with the battle between Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Dooku being just under that par. There’s some powerful moments later in the film, such as Order 66 and the End of the War scene [mixing Palpatine’s speech with Anakin’s murder of the Separatists], and the Windu-Palpatine duel had some good moments, but while the action is good, the characters mar the scenes with… it’s difficult to put into so few words. Padme has so little to do that her strongest qualities seem to have disappeared. Anakin continues his struggles of internal conflict except for the fact he no longer seems to do so. Instead he just flits between light and dark. Obi-Wan seems mostly in character, and the only one who hasn’t suffered is Palpatine – who continues being masterful in his interactions. Dooku is his usual self, and while he gets put out of action pretty quickly, it serves as the set-up for the later plot. The Jedi council I feel have hit the point where they would have decayed had they not been decimated. That set-up has been strong throughout all three films. Grievous is the new one here, and comes across as both threatening and comical at the same time. He is a force to be reckoned with, but it just seems he’s downplayed in terms of actually being a threat here. The book Labyrinth of Evil, The Clone Wars TV series [and the Tartakovsky Clone Wars series], and even the Revenge of the Sith novelisation all manage to portray a more menacing vision of this great droid general.
The greatest part of Revenge of the Sith would be seeing a host of new worlds. There’s Coruscant, much the same as it’s always been. Kashyyyk is introduced, as are Utapau and Mustafar, and all give variety in their looks. Even the planets we see little of – such as Cato Neimoidia and Felucia – have a diverse look to them. Even in space or inside facilities or cruisers, the concept of differences is present.
There’s good here, and I certainly enjoy it, but there’s also the bad. As I said, most of that comes from the characters, but there’s also other things. I’ve mentioned the opening as a standout part, and I count Obi-Wan vs Grievous as another great part. The final two duels lack impact for me. Palpatine vs Yoda, and this is probably me having a preference for the novelisation over the film again, feels awkward. It starts fine with a clash of the Force, but the lightsaber battle feels empty and the entire fight has no meaningful conclusion [which is where my preferring the novelisation comes into it with Yoda releasing he can’t win the fight and needing to make a getaway]. Meanwhile, Anakin vs Obi-Wan sounds great in concept but also falls flat by trying to be the greatest duel put to film. These are two characters who have been pretty much side by side for years. They have shared experiences that are not easily forgot. Yet the duel has no character. Anakin is dark, making the bond these two have for each other somehow mean nothing. It’s just another empty duel that not even the ending can alleviate. Once again I’ve been spoilt with the novelisation on this, and I just know that thanks to the stronger writing of it the film feels flat in comparison. Neither The Phantom Menace’s or Attack of the Clones’ novelisations manage to do what Revenge of the Sith’s has done, and while I try not to judge a single entity based on the entire series, it’s definitely hard in the case of film vs novelisation for Revenge of the Sith.

I’m ending this here for now, with the Original Trilogy and the Sequel films getting covered in July [I’m expecting E3 to keep me busy with content in June].
As I said in my review back in 2016 for the film, Rogue One provided a great amount of character and exploration of a darker side to the Rebellion we hadn’t really seen. Jyn’s story is really effective, along with Cassian getting a whole questioning his morals and how it affects people he knows. The Empire elite work in one-upping each other, and Krennic serves a great purpose in the film. The action of the film is some of the best seen, especially the battle of Scarif. The references are strong, as is the film as a whole.
My opinion on it hasn’t really changed upon repeat viewing. It stands as a great example of characters defining a story. There’s great set-pieces, some interesting worlds, and Vader’s presence is minimal but fully felt.

This is coming to a close for now, as it’s reaching the same point a season of Power Rangers would. The Original Trilogy and Sequel films will get covered in July. As I’ll be saying in the June monthly update, I fully expect E3 to be keeping me busy with content throughout the month, so there will be little but gaming posts during that month. I was waiting until I’d posted this to bring forth another post. This one is focused on Attack of the Clones, and if you remember a post I did with Sonic Forces, I’ll be doing the same with the second of the prequel trilogy.