Every Star Wars – Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Out of excitement over the release of Rogue One, Travail Journal is doing a breakdown of every Star Wars film in chronological order.

Watching Episode III: Revenge of the Sith must be what it’s like for a cat in a bathtub. One has some vague awareness that a small benefit might be derived from the act, but one really needs a forceful coercion to go against powerful instincts that scream get out, get out, you will hate it, and it will be cold and painful for hours upon hours that will feel like years upon years. The task of repairing the damage done by Episode II requires nothing short of once in a lifetime inspiration. The kind of inspiration most fans were certain Lucas exhausted making the original Star Wars trilogy. Those fans were right.

The mistakes begin with the very first word in the opening title crawl: “War!” It’s a Saturday morning cartoon. The crawl should have followed up with a parenthetical (Yes, you’re at the right theater screen. This is Star Wars, not the live action G.I. Joe.).

The visual spectacle of the opening space battle is admittedly something to behold and it’s nice to see the fighters looking like precursors to X-Wings and Tie-Fighters. It’s also nice to see R2-D2 get a duel of sorts with mini-droids attempting to eat holes through Anakin’s fighter. However, the pure CG shots, the colors of the ship thrusters and lasers are so bright and random, the scene looks more like something out of Halo than Star Wars. 

A large opening portion of the film is dedicated to Obi-Wan and Anakin making their way through a battle ship called the Invisible Hand, to save the kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine. Along the way they do the usual Jedi thing, slicing through useless battle droids like butter. As if said droids weren’t pathetic enough, this film completely utilizes them as comic relief. They bumble around delivering stupid lines in a series of mini Three Stooges style skits. When the Jedi reach their destination, they encounter Count Dooku and essentially finish the duel that started at the end of Episode II. It’s unclear why this could not have been wrapped up the first time around. At least the film is still doing good work from a soundtrack standpoint. The entire scene is shot free of music, giving the duel a respectably empty and eerie feeling.

After an epic crash landing, the Jedi make their way to the Jedi temple. When they arrive, the iconic Millennium Falcon can be seen in the background of the landing shot, a cool nod to the original trilogy.

Padme Amidala’s character is completely ruined in this film. She has been changed from an integral, active, lead woman role, to the cliché romantic interest waiting helplessly at home as the men sort out the future of the galaxy. She is no longer assertive in her idealistic, quick decision making. Instead she regularly turns to Anakin for advice in fearful tears. The dialogue between the lovers has no chemistry or originality. Nothing unique distinguishes it. They are teenagers arguing over who loves who more:

Anakin (expressionless): You’re so beautiful.

Padme (smiling wistfully): It’s only because I’m so in love.

Anakin (Laughing. Because he can’t help it?): No. No it’s because I’m so in love with you.

At least the film still has Yoda, who, despite all the destructive force the prequel trilogy has on Star Wars characters, manages to find a few shining moments. He continues to deliver the occasional great line filled with wisdom derived from real world presence and meditation based spirituality: “The fear of loss is a path to the dark side. Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed that is. Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”

The Boga that Obi Wan rides on the planet Utapau is something I would describe as a giant peacock lizard. It’s cool. What’s not cool is when Obi Wan intentionally leaps into the middle of a bunch of hostile battle droids, and instead of shooting him they all take a page out of the James Bond Villain Handbook and stand by to watch him lightsaber duel General Grievous. How did Obi Wan know they would be so kind? Or so stupid? The duel itself is great, with grievous wielding a ton of lightsabers at the same time.

On the dark side of the things, Episode III has one or two flashes of something Star Wars fans might have hoped for when the prequel trilogy was announced. Anakin joins Chancellor Palpatine to watch some strange live performance, which is never shown on screen in a way that fully explains what the spectacle is about. It looks like a space version of Cirque du Soleil, except the performers are seemingly swimming (In a bubble?). Palpatine anticipates that the Jedi have asked Anakin to spy on him, then proceeds to tell Anakin the eerie tragedy of Darth Plagueis. All the while a deep droning chant rolls through the score without pause. Another good dark side scene is Anakin meditating on whether or not to betray the Jedi as Padme can sense this from a distance. There is a long silence and silent tears from both parties. Additionally, the very first Darth Vader breath when Anakin is masked is spot on. These scenes feel like something appropriate to the development of Darth Vader, but they are buried in a mountain of laughable and awkward Anakin scenes.

Nothing of much note happens outside the aforementioned scenes as the film disintegrates. When the obligatory space battles rev up, one of them features the Wookie army. This is something Lucas had been interested in doing since the creation of the original Star Wars trilogy, as the Ewoks were originally intended to be Wookies. Here is a good continuity question: Why in Episode IV does Chewie not recognize Obi Wan? In Episode III, Chewie is good friends with Yoda and watches many of Yoda’s conversations with the Jedi council, which include Obi Wan.

Anakin does things in complete contradiction to his motivations, suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere. He pledges loyalty to his new master, Palpatine with ease. The whole allure of the dark side is that it might give him the power to save Padme from his visions, yet he’s willing to kill a bunch of youngling Jedi to obtain that power. He has to know how Padme would feel about that. Then, after all the ado about saving her, he essentially force chokes her to death. I’m not saying the once good can’t tragically fall. That is indeed what this trilogy is supposed to be about. The problem is the makers had three films to develop this fall, step by believable step, but they smash the whole journey from light side to dark into the final minutes of the last film. Even the symbolism is clunky and heavy handed. The order to kill the Jedi is “order 66.” A cliché symbol for evil, but satanic evil, as in the number of the beast. Where’s Iron Maiden in the soundtrack?

At least the final duel is visually epic and entertaining. Obi Wan and Anakin balance precariously on debris floating through a lava flow as the cross sabers. However, it’s not very Jedi of Obi-Wan to leave his long time padawan, who is essentially his responsibility, to burn on the edge of the flow.

Vader’s final word in the trilogy do an excellent job of summarizing what the audience likely feels about the entire affair. It’s a long giant cheesy cliché “Nooooooooooooooooooo!”


Every Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Every Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones

In celebration of the release of Rogue One, Travail Journal is doing a breakdown of every Star Wars film in chronological order.

Episode II: The Star Wars film in which clones launched on attack on the integrity of the Star Wars film franchise. I recall people swearing they would never watch a Star Wars film in theaters again after viewing this reckless handling of the galaxy’s most beloved series. The film that was supposed to steer the prequel trilogy away from the dark path Episode I started down, instead, led the trilogy into eternal darkness.

The opening shot of the Nubian royal starship cruising through the clouds of Coruscant has a somewhat darkening affect. As soon as the ship lands there is action as an assassination attempt is made on Padme Amidala, who is now a galactic senator after serving her term as queen of Naboo. What a crappy job it is being Amidala’s decoy? Her job is to be a lightning rod for all the life attempts made on the senator and in general, to die in her place.

When Obi Wan and Anakin make their first appearance there is a glimmer of new hope for the trilogy as they quickly establish, through an elevator discussion, a developed mentor-padawan friendship full of banter and backstory. This is immediately destroyed when Hayden Christenson puts his trademark whining onscreen for the first time. How does Obi Wan not comment on Anakin’s creepy overly-attached obsession with Padme? I mean the holdover strength of this childhood crush is something that would dictate an everyday person check in for professional counseling, let alone a Jedi in training, seeking unparalleled internal peace.

As is in all three prequel films, one of the saving graces is some interesting new space creatures. The assassin slugs (Kouhun), which might be called giant centipede maggots, that are dropped in Senator Amidala’s room are more than sufficiently disturbing. On the other hand, their desire to seek out and bite humans for no reason is not aligned with anything scientifically known about nature. I know this is a movie about laser swords and wisdom filled little green men, but I prefer at least a little bit of “sci” in my sci-fi.

There are little flashes that make one want to like this movie so badly, no matter how impossible that is. The films are congruent in portraying Anakin’s love and aptitude for piloting. In the first chase scene Anakin makes a big ado about which speeder he’s piloting, laughing as Obi Wan quips over his outlandish flight stunts.

It’s a mystery why the assassin the Jedi chase down reveals her identity by temporarily shapeshifting as Anakin dangles precariously on the outside of her ship. Why? What reason does she have to do that, other than making it easier for the Jedi to track her down?

Obi Wan must have a thing for slicing people up in bars. He does this as an old man in Episode IV, and he does this to the changeling when she attempts to hide in a Coruscant bar. It’s interesting to finally see Coruscant at ground level. The scene reminds me of settings from better sci-fi films, like Blade Runner.

It’s also inexplicable why, as the Jedi interrogate the assassin that the bounty hunter Jango Fett assassinates the assassin (try that one three times fast) from a distance, but never targets the Jedi, which solve a lot more problems from his perspective.

When it’s decided that Padme should hide on Naboo for safety and Anakin should accompany her as a bodyguard, Anakin says “Don’t worry. We have R2 with us.” This should not be a joke. I’m sure there’s more than a few internet nerds who’ve already counted up the number of times R2-D2 saves Star Wars protagonists, and therefore the future of the galaxy. Film titles like The Phantom R2 Unit, Attack of the R2 Unit, Revenge of the R2 Unit, Rogue R2, R2’s Hope, The R2 Unit Strikes Back, Return of the R2 Unit, R2 Awakens, or The R2 Unit Awakens, don’t have the same ring as the actual Star Wars titles, but they’re surprisingly reasonable given what R2 accomplishes in each film. At a restaurant, R2 even rolls through the food line with a tray to get Padme and Anakin their food. He gets yelled at because the restaurant doesn’t serve droids. This also happens to the droids at the bar in Episode IV. Can anyone explain to me what this whole not serving droids theme is about? Where does it originate? Why do people get so mad about serving droids? Are the film-makers trying to say something about discrimination? If so, what is it?

Meanwhile the diner scene with Obi Want and his friend Dex is a good attempt at a new setting with similar gritty intrigue to the iconic bar scene in Episode IV, but interesting characters like Dex always come and go too fast with little purpose in the prequel films.

Admittedly, there is no shortage of interesting looking scenes in Episode II, regardless of how they fail to compound in to a decent film. The scene in which Yoda leads Jedi “younglings” through a mental exercise to help Obi Wan find the missing planet of Kamino, is superb. After Yoda teases Obi Wan about losing an entire planet, the room darkens and a beautiful three-dimensional projection of stars surrounds the characters as Yoda elicits a simple explanation from one of his students: The planet is “missing” because someone erased it from archive memory. All I know is when I was roughly the age of Yoda’s students from this scene, it would have been a dream come true to take that class with Yoda. This is the best moment in the entire film, and perhaps it’s unfortunate that it’s not the only moment in the entire film.

Back on Naboo, Anakin starts the long arduous process of putting the moves on Padme. The W.T.F. face he makes after she rejects a kiss from him is beyond classic. He looks like he just drank a cup of coffee with a turd in it. I can’t believe it hasn’t become an iconic meme:


The film then cuts back to Kamino which provides the backstory for Bobba Fett. For fans who love the bounty hunter character, this was perhaps the biggest reason for anxiously awaiting Episode II. None of those fans have been able to explain to me what they were expecting or hoping for, but all I’ve heard is that the whole thing was a major letdown. The duel between Obi Wan and Jango Fett on the landing pad made one thing clear. Jango has atrocious aim. This might explain the aim of the clones and any Storm Troopers that were clones. As Jango Fett escapes and Obi Wan Chases him across space, they end up in a piloting duel among the asteroids in a planet ring. Jango uses cool sonic charges that sound like an interestingly distorted guitar.

The film cuts back to Tatooine where Anakin and Padme have gone to find Anakin’s mother after he has a prophetic nightmare about her death. I mentioned this in the breakdown of Episode I, but force sense must not work for droids, because once again Anakin spends a significant amount of time around C-30 in this film, yet in the original trilogy, he’s unable to sense C-3PO’s presence multiple times. In the breakdown of Episode I, I describe a t-shirt made to promote the film that featured and imagine of the child Anakin leaving Tatooine while the shadow cast behind him is in the shape of Darth Vader. I’m not sure if this shirt had anything to do with using the same move in Episode II, but Anakin’s Vader-looking shadow is cast on a sandy Tatooine wall and shot in isolation with Padme’s.

It seems that no matter how terrible a Star Wars film is, somewhere the composers manage to make some brilliant musical moves. “Duel of the Fates” from Episode I is an example. In Episode II, the first time Anakin for lack of better terms, loses his crap and throws a tantrum, the imperial theme is layered lightly into the score. If there’s anything Christensen’s good at it’s throwing onscreen tantrums.

The Episode II casting of Christopher Lee as the villain Count Dooku paired with the Episode IV casting of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin, leaves little doubt about Lucas fanboyship when it comes to Hammer Films’ Dracula which starred both. Unfortunately the standards for Dracula were much higher than the standards for Episode II. The moment Dooku makes his first appearance is the moment the Star Wars prequels descend into hopelessness permanently. From that moment forward Episode II explodes into a hodge-podge of randomness that would make even Episode I blush in shame.

The worst part of this has to be C-3PO’s impossibly cartoonish and slapstick head-swap with a battle droid. C-3PO’s head is knocked off and just happens to land in place of a battle droid head on an assembly line. Not only are the automated arms that assemble the droids able to re-align the head properly to a battle droid body, they are able to mechanically attach it and it works?! Ugh. No. No. NO. Facepalms all around. To make things worse C-3PO’s incessant one-liner joking about the situation goes far far beyond the charming prattle the robot makes in the original trilogy.

When Anakin, Padme, and Obi Wan, end up captured together, Episode II has a James Bond moment, in which the villains do not simply kill the captives, but inexplicably decide to make them the spectacle in a gladiatorial battle that all these Geonosian bug aliens are somehow readily available to attend. I guess bug aliens don’t have much to do on the daily. Even the Vice Roy from Episode I is there screaming to just shoot the captives. When Star Wars Episode I is in your movie as the screaming voice of reason… All I can say is go home Episode II, you’re drunk.

Of course if any of this weren’t nonsensical enough, the entire scene is interrupted by a Jedi assault led by Yoda commanding clone troops. Yoda commanding an army goes against everything the character was created to be. Fans complained endlessly about his lightsaber duel with Count Dooku, which I actually found somewhat entertaining and inconsequential, but I’ve heard almost no complaints about Yoda playing war general. In my mind, that was the ultimate mistake and the final coffin-nail on the prequel trilogy. Maybe the “darkness” of the film is supposed to be meta in the way that it leaves viewers in despair over the film’s existence.

Every Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace

   Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace: The film Star Wars fans love and hate, or love to hate. The film that brought new hope to the galaxy for continued Star Wars brilliance, but instead lived up to the latter part of its subtitle, menacing a once grand film franchise.

From the moment the title crawl finishes, the film establishes the prequel trilogy’s cartoonish feel, as a cheesy looking CG ship lands on a trade blockade filled with buzzing moronic battle droids designed with the most fragile conceivable toothpick limbs. Apparently it’s not impossible to conceive evil minions more pathetically useless than storm troopers (see ).

On the upside, one has to love the name of the first villain introduced in the series, Nute Gunray, an obvious heavy handed reference to former U.S. Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. What a great, albeit cheap way to evoke disgust and anger in American audiences.

Phantom wastes no time pulling referential material from the original films. The famous (Infamous?) “bad feeling about this” line is delivered by Obi Wan Kenobi in the first exchange of dialogue (For those who don’t know, the line is written into every Star Wars film with ironic self-awareness. Rogue is somewhat of an exception, but more on that in the article about Rogue.)

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the protocol droid resembling C3PO is the first Star Wars droid with a woman’s voice to appear in a Star Wars film.

Many fans got some of what they wanted up front when multiple Jedi-wielded lightsabers appear onscreen simultaneously for the first time when Obi Wan and Qui Gon draw (activate?) lightsabers as a duo.

The entire prequel trilogy is filled with under-utilized acting talent, ranging from Liam Neeson, to Natalie Portman, to Ewan McGregor. How were awards not chucked at this trilogy left and right? Oh yes, atrociously written dialogue and stock directing. Silly me. Natalie Portman is the most shocking career survivor post Star Wars. Padme Amidala was so cardboard I thought Portman was toast, but the actress has bounced back strong, with a stunning career (rapping on SNL couldn’t have hurt).

The droidekas, or as I call them, the rolling roach bots, were a respectable creation. Perhaps the battle droids should have been scrapped altogether in favor of the droidekas.

The Gungans’ underwater bubble city was inventive. Though the bubble membranes must inexplicably dry people off. No one is wet at all when they reach the city after diving under water to find it. Then again the entire concept of the city is ruined when one hears the dialect of the Gungans, which sounds too much like juvenile American English.

The submarine trip through the Naboo planet core is an inventive alien terrain. What’s not to love about all the giant sea monsters, reminiscent of space-monsters from the original trilogy?

The pacing of the film in general is quick and entertaining, but painfully linear, as if someone were telling the audience the story saying “and then…and then…and then…” never changing it up.

I personally remember having goosebumps when Tatooine returned to the bigscreen.

I believe R2-D2 and C-3PO are the only characters who appear in all eight Star Wars films. If you can prove me wrong, please do. It’s also revealed that Anakin not only spent a ton of time with C-3PO, he made the droid. Why then can Vader never sense C-3PO’s presence in later films (chronologically)? Does the force only penetrate, surround, bind, and generally woo-woo around the living?

Episode I did do it’s job in providing some memorable lines. I remember kids reciting Wattoo’s bartering lines: “what you think you’re some kind of Jedi waving your hand around like that? I’m a Toydarian. Mind tricks don’t work on me, only money.”

Easily the best part of The Phantom Menace is the pod races. The creators have unapologetic determination to halt the plot for an extended amount of time for a giant dangerous hover-craft race, because they just knew it was cool. I think even most prequel haters can agree, the pods were entertaining. Video game and toy companies made a killing off selling them to people anyway. Someone had to like them.

Last I checked, it’s not the Jedi way at all to leave things to chance, nor is outlaw violence. This makes me want to know what Qui Gon’s contingency plan was if Anakin lost the pod race. One could argue Qui Gon essentially bet the future of the galaxy on it.

One of the few entertaining plot moves in Phantom is the way Qui Gon persistently teases Padme, who is disguised as her own handmaiden, in order to follow him around Tatooine. It’s clear Qui Gon knows who Padme is and every time she tries to evoke the “queen’s” expectations, Qui Gon essentially says the queen doesn’t need to know, with a sly smile.

Is there any line more painfully expository and horribly delivered in cinematic history than wee little Anakin’s spirited attempt to identify Sebulba as a “dud”? His “are you an angel” speech to Padme, perhaps? The kid tries so hard, bless him. It’s hard not to believe the immortalized embarrassment is not a significant part of the reason actor Jake Lloyd went flippin’ crazy. Obi Wan felt the need to call Anakin a “pathetic lifeform” before the two even meet, and I’m convinced it’s because the force was warning him of said lifeform’s inability to deliver dialogue.

The image of Anakin leaving Tatooine with his backpack slung over his shoulder will forever remind me of this great image I once saw on a shirt. It’s a depiction of the scene, but Anakin’s silhouettes is Vader and the shirt reads “Don’t look back,” which is symbolically perfect, given the fact that looking back to that past life is ultimately what drives Anakin to become Vader. It’s a tragedy that few, if any, will ever wear the shirt for embarrassment of promoting the prequel trilogy.

Remember Yoda’s wisdom “Fear is the path to the dark side”? “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering”? That’s and Empire Strikes Back quote, right? Not so. Sadly, one of Yoda’s best lines is stuck in the purgatory of Episode I.

There is a TON of ado in the Jedi council about what to do with this newly discovered boy with a midichlorian count so high that he might be the chosen one sent to bring balance to the force. Can someone please explain why? WHY?! Is he immediately sent back to Naboo with Queen Amidala on an extremely dangerous mission? With decision making like that, it’s no wonder the Jedi order fell into ruin and allowed the kid to become one of the worst evil overlords in history. In Jar Jar’s horrible words, “Whatsa Theysa thinking?” Did I get the spellings correct? Who knows what Jar Jar’s ever saying anyway?

The Naboo cruisers are lame banana ships that wish they could be as amazing as X-wings.

The “Duel of the Fates” theme is hands down the best thing to come out of the entire prequel trilogy. So much so, I think fans subconsciously pretend John Williams wrote it for the originals. It’s playing when Luke duels Vader, right? It has to be.

As the film closes with a signature cheesy Star Wars celebration scene, there is still enough time for the creators to squeeze in one more confusing moment. There is non-diagetic music that sounds like a chorus of children playing in a scene filled with instruments. For those who don’t know film-making terms, diagetic music is that which takes place in the scene and is heard by the characters, while non-diagetic music is only heard by the audience. Like most of the creative choices in The Phantom Menace, I don’t understand it.