Thursday, 30 August 2018

Star Wars - A Look at the Originals and Sequels [TV&Film]

It's coming two months after it was meant to, but better now than never. I started with the Original trilogy in terms of films, and say I prefer them over the prequels – Phantom Menace aside. The sequels have a special place having both released near my birthday. While my ordering of the originals on their own probably wouldn’t cause too many problems, when the sequels are added, then things start to get interesting. If you haven’t already, go and read my thoughts on the Prequel trilogy, then continue with my thoughts on both the originals and sequels here.

It can be jarring going from Rogue One to A New Hope in that the visuals are a definite downgrade between films. I never let the visuals deter me from enjoying a film, but with A New Hope there’s nothing really to call out. It’s effectively same world new style, and if you’re really going to get hung up on the visuals then there’s quite a lot you’ll miss.

The original that started it all, then. I really don’t have much to say. It favours style over substance in its set-pieces while at the same time making sure it fits the necessary detail about the world in-between. It’s a tale of a nobody finding their destiny but realising on their journey they had something special within them. It takes its time to build up what it needs to for a satisfying conclusion.

Luke is wanting a life outside of what he has. It’s clear he’s craving adventure. But he is held back mostly by his uncle. He gets a chance at adventure, but the loyalty – I call it that as Luke still has the bond to his family – isn’t allowing him to break it. It’s the Empire that breaks it, and Luke’s story is set. For Leia, she’s already active against the Empire, but has finally ran out of luck. Vader has her captured, but she remains strong in spirit. Up until the last moment, and even beyond then. I have no doubt that the destruction of her home planet only strengthened her resolve to strike against the Empire. It’s that set-up within the story that leads to the satisfying conclusion.

Han is definitely in it for the money. But I guess there’s something within Luke he sees that starts to eat at his sense of right-doing, shall we say. He believes he’s making a stand against the Empire in his own way and getting rich from doing so. He doesn’t need no hero’s honour. Even with Leia, I suspect he definitely sees something within her that he himself has – which is why the two don’t appear to get along. Of course, Leia won’t realise that until the next film, but we’re not there yet.

There’s a history between Obi-Wan and Vader, and it shows. Nearly everything about ‘the old times’ is all explored in the prequels, so having seen those first gives a different impression on these scenes. That impression is one of finishing what they started – which is obvious even without the history of the prequels.

A New Hope is just a standard fare for me. It’s always going to be. It’s a serviceable film, and it works the plot to give that great end. It’s the first hour of the film though. It offers a few bits of action, introduces the characters, and enough world building. But all the scenes on Tatooine drag on just a slight bit too long. Even more than Phantom Menace. Once the Death Star becomes a major part of the plot, things pick up, and maybe the slow pacing makes the ending feel better than it would had everything remained at the same pace.

The Empire Strikes Back takes the connections made during A New Hope and puts them to use. With the rebels found out on Hoth, they have to evacuate, though the Falcon gets into trouble without the ability to use its hyperdrive. Meanwhile, Luke is on Dagobah learning how to be a Jedi. Everyone comes together for a showdown on Bespin, where we get introduced to Lando.

Luke here seems a bit slow. As though he isn’t trusting anything about himself. Not even his Force sensitivities. Even on Dagobah, he fails to grasp the lessons being taught. Once he gets challenged by Vader, I see it as more his fear of the dark side and the true identity of his father that makes him let go and drop down the many levels of Bespin to what should have been his end.

Han and Leia are more interesting, and not just because of the romantic bond between the two. Han remained with the Rebels despite saying he would leave, and it’s clear he is only staying because of Leia. The two are still at odds, and there’s definitely the sense of this being pretty routine for the two. When they’re surviving within the asteroid field, the bonding through hardship is there, the closeness is there as the two continue to bicker but care what happens to the other. Then Bespin comes and the future uncertain makes them finally admit their feelings to each other with just a few simple words. It’s a progression that works, and something that Attack of the Clones could have used very well – despite the fact it already did copy the entirety of this romance plot but forgetting the key part.

Yoda is reintroduced here, and right from the start is testing Luke. However, even Yoda hasn’t learnt his lessons, it seems. Nor has Obi-Wan. Here the two are saying the future is always uncertain, there’s no way to predict what might happen, yet also insist that if Luke were to go he would be putting his friends in danger and destroy everything. They both have their own fears they don’t want to come to pass. Isn’t that what Yoda was always teaching – let go of everything you fear to lose? Yet here they are trying to keep Luke around for fear of him being turned.

Lando – from the little we see of him – is a different form of Han. He now has responsibilities but is clearly wanting the rush of not knowing what comes next. He has a different form of smoothness to Han, and the history between the two is shown mostly though these similar but different characteristics. He seems to protect and look out for only himself, but Han’s assessment that he doesn’t like the Empire is true enough that he risks everything to protect what he can of Han’s crew and undertakes the mission to find Han.

I find The Empire Strikes Back a lot better paced than A New Hope, with a lot of character interactions that barely seemed present in the latter. The action and impact of scenes is also better presented, with the final connections between Luke and Vader along with all interactions between Han and Leia being the strong points. Both of which being big parts of Return of the Jedi.

As much as I love The Empire Strikes Back, I find myself preferring Return of the Jedi slightly more. The Tatooine section of the film doesn’t drag with the build-up being executed well for that final payoff. There’s payoff for Dagobah in which Luke learns the most important lesson of all. Then we get to Endor and the end of the trilogy – which itself has been what the wins and losses of both sides have been leading to.

As I said, Han and Leia is a big part of Return of the Jedi. It marks the point that Han starts looking out for others rather than himself, having seen his friends risk everything to rescue him. And Leia played an important role in that, which he notes. Then come Endor and Leia is missing, Han leads the search for her. The two have some great interactions while together, with the bond between them solidifying during the Endor battle.

The other big part with Luke and Vader is the two finally realising the greatest lesson of all. Yoda’s death signifies one major lesson that at first Luke is unwilling to accept. That fear only works against you when you work against it. It was something Yoda had tried to teach both in different ways, but together the two finally understand the meaning. For Luke it is that he never gave up in his beliefs, even when it looked like his end was in sight. For Vader it is the understanding of his abilities and the choices he took that lead him to his current situation. He feared loss and tried to fight it. Thus, he made things worse. Now he instead uses that fear to his advantage to save someone instead.

The film is paced well with none of the dragging of A New Hope. The music works wonders here in setting scenes and giving character to the situations. And despite what some might say is the one with the least amount of plot, it doesn’t really need it when the characters are the driving force for the finale as a whole.

Despite the fact most of the plot elements are lifted straight from A New Hope, I actually feel The Force Awakens is more similar to Return of the Jedi. Yes, there’s just one current arc throughout, but the interactions between characters are what makes me say that.

Poe and Finn are the first pair I’ll highlight. Poe Dameron is an ace pilot of the Resistance, sent to Jakku to retrieve the piece of map to Luke Skywalker’s location. Finn is just a nameless Stormtrooper who sees the First Order for what they are and wants to run. The temporary alliance between the two to escape from the First Order bonds them together and cements that bond upon their separation. While we don’t see Poe’s journey off Jakku, Finn’s journey puts him into contact with Rey.

Both have been missing the bond of a real friendship. Rey has nothing but her own survival skills against a much tougher crowd. Finn has just had one friendship taken from him and now is placed into contact with a new friend – one he aims to protect. There’s also a similar situation to Han and Leia from Return of the Jedi where one of them saves the other which is then returned in a future event.

Han Solo. The weight of the galaxy on his shoulders. The feeling of being run down in a new era of lawlessness and chaos. He ran away from Leia when their son turned dark, ran away from his feelings and let them get the better of him. But the same can be said of Ben. Except Ben is emotionally vulnerable, as seen when he lets his anger overwhelm him and lashes out at whatever is available. Not people, though. After all, there’s still some good in him. Even his murder of his father works to the opposite effect of what he wanted, and by the end of the film, despite the fact he gets bested by Rey there the clear sense of him being a dangerous wild card in future events.

There’s a lot of great interaction in The Force Awakens, with maybe a few weak spots around. The callouts of Finn being a traitor – even though technically he is – hold no merit when there is no history in the film to say why this needs to be a big deal. The weak spots don’t detract from the overall film for me, with enough depth to the characters to carry the film themselves.

I still stand by what I said about The Last Jedi in terms of the characters. They are the most important part of this new trilogy, with every lead getting the focus and development they need to drive the story – even if the plot of this one could do with some work. And I say that not because of what most others have said. Think of it like this.

You expect the enemy to be toying with the good guys. That’s just what villains do. With The Last Jedi, how much focus on that particular point is there? It doesn’t just run through a scene or two. It pretty much is the whole movie. Everything is lead by the First Order toying with the Resistance. And that is the major gripe I have with it. As above, the characters remain strong, but when tied with a plot that could easily have been wrapped up as a win for the enemy and moved on to something else it leaves most of it feeling about as dry as the Tatooine wastes.

For the order, I hope this was made clear during the reviews, but for easier understanding I’m going to list them out.

The Phantom Menace
Return of the Jedi
The Empire Strikes Back
Rogue One
The Force Awakens
A New Hope
The Last Jedi
Attack of the Clones
Revenge of the Sith

And that concludes my look at all the Star Wars films. Solo isn’t included here as it is the latest film, but also because I was specifically waiting for the home release of it. As I said, all three of the new films have released very near my birthday, and without that incentive of celebration – even despite the fact it’s Star Wars – I probably wouldn’t have gone. Cinemas just aren’t my type of place to be for watching things, and aside from the new Star Wars films the only other film I watched at one was Power Rangers. As such, with the home release of Solo: A Star Wars Story next month, it’s possible a review from me will come.