“Twenty eight years, I worked it out” said the guy next to me as we sat and waiting for the movie to start. For those of us who saw, and loved, the original Star Wars trilogy this has been a long wait, and the journey over the past few years an extremely disappointing one. So when the music began and those famous words appeared, my excitement and expectations could not have been any higher.
Firstly, let me pitch where my review is coming from. I did love the original Star Wars, and I thought that Episode I was awful, it should have been just twenty minutes of a real movie, and the excellent baddie of Darth Maul should have been made much more of. Episode II, for me, didn’t fair much better, and if you asked me now what I liked, I find it hard to remember much other than the closing scene.
I’ve avoided the reviews, even those on the MovieBlog, and really tried to see it for what it is. Before I delve in, let me just shout out a big thanks to Craig at the Vue Cinema for inviting me to the press screening. What I’ll do is try to write as generally as I can about it and then enter a spoiler thick zone, so for now, here goes with the safe to read.
The words appeared and the scrolling tomes with the music booming and the camera panned down through the stars…
The first twenty to thirty minutes had me really worried. I thought that this was going to turn out to be another Clones, with huge battles and every droid or non-human creature that was encountered spoke with a stupid childlike voice. Excuse me for one moment, if I’m going to build an army of robots, or even just a few to maintain a space ship I’m going to make absolutely sure that they have decent voices that wouldn’t cause my troops to shoot them in the face after days of space travel. Anyway, my worries grew, and my expectations fell through to the floor.
That soon changed though. The movie picks up pace, brings together the crucial parts of the story that let you see exactly where it’s going and set various events in motion to produce some stunningly satisfying moments. All except for one that is, one crucial pay off moment is done so badly and looks so wrong it ruined it for me. There are some exceptionally cheesy moments too, and these tend to be at the points where various strands of the story are brought together and a revelation or pay off moment is about to come.
However, for the most part the movie builds the darkness in Anakin slowly, and you are shown the gradual change of him moving from the light to the dark side. You can actually see how hard some of the decisions are that he faces in order to walk his path, and there are decisions, not just one moment of a choice. What you also see is that his decisions are not clear cut, they are hard and tortorous, it pains him to travel to the dark path. You also see just how brutal and evil the dark side is, but also that even the Sith believe, in their own ways, that what they are doing is for the good of the Galaxy. You actually have some understandings of their motives and the light and dark are not the polar opposites you may have once thought.
The acting range is huge here. Both the Emporer and Anakin are played superbly by Ian McDiarmid and Hayden Christensen, despite the odd cheesy piece of dialogue, whereas Ewan McGregor does feel like he tries too hard to be Alec Guinness and seems stifled and restrained in his more human moments. For me the two baddies are by far the best acted, along with that of Yoda. Despite being funny in his previous fight scene of Episode II, in this movie he really is the flag carrier for the Jedi and his scenes are huge stealers. This time you believe he’s the strongest Jedi.
I can’t go without talking of the battle scenes. They are amazing, the effects and the CGI work is truly stunning, and Lucas and his team have really excelled here. The huge swooping scenes, scale of battles and ships, camera movement through the CGI, etc. it’s a wonderful sight to behold, and this time it doesn’t overtake the story. Even the Jedi fighting scenes are a huge improvement, there are more, they seem slicker and involve the use of more powers. The fight scenes with General Grevious are superb, only bettered by the final battles of the Jedi masters.
Okay so what did I think of the movie? Well, after those twenty eight years it has a lot to live up to. It has to complete the circle and bring the audience who grew up with the originals right back to that point, it also had to cater for those new generations that Lucas had pulled in with his kiddies Episode I and teens Episode II. Most importantly though, he had to get the adults back. For me, he’s done it. Yes, there are faults, and there are some key scenes that are destroyed but there are some amazingly strong ones.
The scene where Anakin looks out across the city to Padme’s palace, and she looks back towards the Jedi temple, is surprisingly strong, and perfectly positioned. The decisions and actions have led to this point and now Anakin faces his toughest choice, and the movie reflects this. It’s perfectly timed, it carries the weight of the movie and the tipping point is reached, the decision made. You can feel the tension and the heartache in those moments, and then C3PO walks in. At least he doesn’t say anything. It’s at moments like this you can see the brilliance in these movies and in Lucas, but now and again something brings it down, although thankfully this really does stop in the latter half of the movie and it just gets darker and darker, and bleaker and bleaker.
So before I go too spoiler thick, what do I think? I’d love to give it a 5 out of 5 because of the entire journey and now knowing where we have come to, but I can’t. The poor moments and the hugely ruined scene just can’t let me. I’m going for an 4 out of 5.
Now, let me go spoiler thick and talk about some of these scenes. I know for a lot of you now this means you’ll be leaving, but please come back after you’ve seen the movie and read, then comment and put me right!
Obviously the opening sequences of the movie annoyed me to the point of thinking this was another Episode II. Every robot and creature appeared with some silly voice and childish actions, hugely overdone. The creatures attaching themselves to Kenobi’s space ship, the droids talking to each other when they arrive on Grevious’ ship, they all add up at the start. It’s not so bad when there’s a small light moment, for instance later on in the movie, before Darth Vader appears to the Seperatists and destroy them, he is preceeded by a bunch of small droids, scattering out of his way, a brief respite from the darkened moments.
The build up to Anakins first decision towards the dark side is superb, you feel the tension and struggle he is having, and at every turn his decisions seem confused. Then when he makes the choice to cut off the arm of Windu and prevent him from killing Palpatine, you are torn and that is where the lines of good and bad are really blurred. That’s something that Lucas has managed to convey excellently. However, just after Windu is killed and the Emporer talks of his plans, Anakin just meekly kneels and accepts everything far too easily. I really felt that for all the confusion and torture he’d been going through that was a huge moment for him, he kills a Jedi and looks to the Emporer, but he’s not fully decided, and he just kneels and accepts. That was just a bit too easy.
Also his speech to Padme when she confronts him with Kenobi seems overrated and suddenly wildly over the top. Perhaps it is what he’s feeling and he’s clutching at straws to keep her and give her what she wants by using his new found powers, but it seems too much again. However, it does lead up perfectly to the fight that follows.
The fight between Kenobi and Anakin is a huge payoff. It’s fantastic, epic, wild and filled with emotion. I could sense myself getting tense as I watched them battling, wondering how they were going to come to the conclusion that I knew had to be round the corner. Then it comes, and that’s another huge payoff for all the fans, nevermind the older fans making the connections. This Jedi battle is closely cut with that of Yoda and the Emporer, which is where Yoda really makes his presence felt. Gone is the giggling at yoda leaping about, and the power he commands is really felt in these scenes, he really does prove to be a Jedi Master. You can almost taste the disappointment and failure that Yoda feels as he says “I’ve failed”.
Then the biggest payoff of all comes, and the lead in is done wonderfully as well. I think this might become a true moment of cinema lore. While Anakin truly becomes Vader and the machines rebuild him and attach his plastic suit, Padme struggles and simply gives up on life as she gives birth to the twins of Leia and Luke. The connection between them in this scene, and of the one I mentioned earlier in the review, are incredibly strong and hugely fulfilling. These were the strongest scenes of the movie.
The weakest, and the most disappointing for me, is the scene when Vader is in full suit and raises towards the camera, the cinema is silent and the tension is huge. The platform is raised, the camera comes back, and Vader looks like way too skinny and small in his plastic suit, there really is something wrong with the way he looks in that scene, and the staggered walk, overacted scream, it’s just far too cheesy and weak. The Emporer has a wonderful moment there though when he completes the transformation of Anakin to the Vader we all know and love with the line that Anakin himself has killed Padme. Superb.
You know, to step back for a moment, one other scene that does well to hit you emotionally is the slaughter of the Jedi. This was surprisingly strong, the shots of them leading the Stormtroopers to battle who suddenly revealed their hidden orders – how had we forgotten their true purpose – and their point blank betrayal of their Jedi leaders is really cold and hits you hard. The various shots of Jedi’s fighting in far off battles and being murdered in cold blood convey the sadness and helplessness of their destruction and pave the way for the feelings of despair that the dark side has won, even though you know ultimately they will lose! When Anakin walks into the last refuge of the Jedi temple to the innocent children who ask him what they should do, and his plain answer is the powering on of his lightsaber is surprisingly shocking for such a movie, and it’s scenes like these that show why it was rated strongly.
There, those are the spoiler scenes I really wanted to talk about in the review! Okay, so now you’ve seen it, what do you think? What scenes stood out for you? Did you get the same feelings above? Good, bad, indifferent? Are you a new fan, an old fan? Get talking!