Monday, September 7, 2009

Star Wars II

I watched episodes three and four, "Revenge of the Sith" and "A New Hope," with my family this weekend. I hate the fact that the original movie is now "episode four" and has a new title. I didn't go watch "A New Hope" 30 years ago, and I don't know why Lucas would want to change the name. As for series numbering, if he wanted to be really geeky (and appeal to his primary fan base), he could have used -2, -1, and 0 for the first three. More realistically, he could have done something a little creative and called the first three episodes a, b, and c.

Add Darth Sidious and General Grievous to the list of Lucas's lame names.

Episode 3 was pretty good, but I found 2 to be my favourite of the prequels. Nothing really convinced me that Anakin would go over to the dark side. Saving his wife would have been sufficient cause, but it just wasn't carried out in such a way as to make me believe it. He was, after all, fiercely loyal to the jedi.

The transition from democracy to empire was handled very credibly, I thought. We only see it in the broad outlines, but the principles were there. The good side changes completely between episodes 2 and 4, from the central government to the rebels, and my kids took a little time to get used to that. I like it, because it will help them understand when I explain that the rebels were the good side in the American Civil War. The one problem with the whole transition is that there doesn't seem to be enough time. Luke only looks about 20 years old, but Obi-Wan seems to have aged far more. The Empire Strikes Back has a more serious problem, because it appears that Luke's entire jedi training occurs during a period of a day or two while Han Solo and company are fleeing from Darth Vader.

I still think the original Star Wars is the best movie of the series. I'm sure I'm biased because it was the first one I saw, and I was 8 and impressionable at the time. But I can make a case for it. There is something about beginning the story in medias res, with a hostile boarding, and figuring out the story as you go along. Also, none of the other movies had the talent of Alex Guiness (except for a brief shot in episode 5); he really made an impression in that movie. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher were also excellent. None of the acting in the first three movies approaches their performances. Another winning feature of Star Wars is the attempt to destroy the Death Star. The shots of the rebel pilots as they approach the enemy, alternately determined and scared, are captivating.

My kids commented on the slowness of the light saber fights in Star Wars compared to the three prequels. They are right, but then, they also seem a bit more real -- more fighting and less dancing. The light saber is one of George Lucas's great creations. Here's one where he nailed the name perfectly. How much lamer would it be if it were called "light sword"? It's especially amazing considering the limited special effects Lucas had to work with back in 1975 when he started the first film. The crackling sound from crossed sabers came from magnetic interference that one of his colleagues accidentally discovered and decided to use.

The light sabers in the prequels all seem to be perfectly round, like the toy ones you can buy for kids, but I swear in Star Wars they have an edge. It's not a perfectly sharp edge like a real sword, but there is a distinctively thin side to go with the flat side, and you can see it as they turn. One good thing about light sabers: no blood, presumably because they cauterize the wounds as they create them. At least, no blood in the prequels. When Obi-Wan Kenobi kills the bully in the bar, there is definitely blood visible. I presume that George Lucas made a conscious decision to have no blood with light sabers, but he must have made it after the first movie.

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