Kenobi – Episode 2 – A Complete Disaster

This review is only going to be about the first fifteen minutes or so of the episode, because that’s all I could stomach watching. I couldn’t watch any more – it was that bad. It’s rare that I can’t finish watching an episode of a television show if I intend to review it, but this episode was so bad it was repulsive.

Let’s dissect this episode moment-by-moment.

Kenobi lands on a city-planet called Daiyu. It’s like Coruscant, but not. As soon as Kenobi comes out of the spaceport terminal, he looks around at the busy environment as though slightly scared of it all. Already, this is bollocks. Obi-wan Kenobi has been in environments like this for most of his life. He’s spent a huge amount of time on Coruscant; he’s been all over the galaxy as a Jedi Knight, to countless different planets with different peoples, cultures, and technologies. He would not be scared of a busy street. ‘But he’s been living in isolation on Tatooine for ten years! He’s changed!!!’, I hear the Twitterati scream. No. When you’ve had that much experience of all these kinds of places, ten years on Tatooine is not enough to make you scared of it all again. What is this bizarre obsession with diminished characters that Hollywood and idiots on Twitter have nowadays? They relish in the idea of making great characters shit. It’s grotesque. Kenobi is a Jedi Master – he didn’t stop being that just because the Jedi Order was disbanded. He should still be an extremely powerful Jedi. He does not have this timidness at the end of Revenge Of The Sith; he doesn’t have it at the start of A New Hope. This is bollocks.

Kenobi goes and asks a random person about a ship he’s tracking. Why? Why does he go and ask this person? It isn’t apparent. And then we get some more insanely expository dialogue – the person replies ‘You’re in Daiyu now. All signals in or out are blocked. People like their secrets out here.’. This is just pathetic. A real person, in this setting, would not talk like this. This line reeks of the writers wanting to say something to the audience, but not having the talent to do it in a naturalistic way. The line is also performed in a way that only Hollywood actors can do – as though this one line is going to be their big break into television, if only they can perform it with enough over-the-top American brashness.

We see a lingering shot of a street on this planet. It lingers too long, suggesting that this street is somehow central or important – it’s one fucking street on a city planet – this street is not important. We see Kenobi wandering down the street, looking at the others on it. The framing of the shot and the primary-school-level acting of the other actors make you painfully aware that this is just a set (somewhere in Los Angeles, I assume). It’s a caricature of a ‘bustling street’ – makes you wonder if the writers and directors have ever even been down a busy street. (Perhaps this is enduring effects of America’s car-centric, non-walkable cities.) Kenobi just wanders around – you’d have no idea he was on a time-critical mission at all.

There’s a homeless clone army veteran at the side of the street. This allegory isn’t just on-the-nose – it’s kicking me in the head, I collapse, unconscious, and then it’s kicking me on the ground out of baseless spite.

A lot of people nowadays accuse television shows of being ‘political’. Now, this isn’t really a correct use of the word ‘political’, which ought to mean ‘having to do with polity’, where ‘polity’ means ‘the organisation and governance of human society’. This is a television show – it has nothing to do with organising society. But I know what these people mean – the term their looking for is ‘social commentary’. This is social commentary – it’s making a comment about society.

Now, I’ve written many allegorical stories in my life. In some of them the allegory is very obvious – deliberately so – and in others it’s a bit more obscure – also deliberately so. Now I would hope that my stories have never come across as preachy or patronising. (I would like to think that I could tell if that were the case, and edit that tone out, but it might be that when one is writing an allegorical story, one just can’t tell if it’s going to come across that way.) Because it is bad when stories or story elements come across as preachy. I think it’s particularly bad when the message is something that’s so obviously true (yes, it’s bad that there are so many homeless people – this isn’t a revolutionary thought), and when so little effort is put into the metaphor (I mean, here, they just have a homeless veteran in the street – that’s it – that’s the extent of the allegory – put some fucking effort in). It comes across as someone thinking their a genius for coming up with something everyone already knows and putting in very little thought or effort.

I think it’s fine for stories to have social commentary in them, but if it comes across as preachy, it completely pulls you out of the story, and you realise you’re just hearing the opinions of the writers. And I think in order to not be preachy, it’s got to be more deftly done than this.

We are 1:30 into the episode, and there has already been THIS much wrong with it.

Some Stormtroopers walk along the street saying ‘Clear a path.’. Why?

Then we get an absolutely disgusting scene. A random person comes up to Kenobi and says ‘You wan’t some spice, old man?’. This is very obviously a reference to the ‘deathsticks’ scene in Attack Of The Clones, but this time, rather than Kenobi instantly telling this person to go away and rethink their life, this person just gives him one of the substances she’s selling – Kenobi doesn’t even agree to take it – she just puts it in his pocket.

The sheer arrogance of the writers to do this. Apparently they were so insulted by a scene in the prequels telling a drug dealer to maybe stop selling that shit (I would guess because some of these writers are obsessed with consuming a particular intoxicant themselves), that they wanted to put in a new scene where instead Kenobi is just given some of this shit – doesn’t even get a choice. I have had the misfortune to meet a lot of very arrogant people in my life – I have never seen arrogance like this. It’s pathetic, disgusting, and grotesque. To be so self-obsessed, smug, and self-righteous that when given the opportunity to write a sequel to another writer’s work, all they can do is think about how they can undermine and displace what that writer did, to put their own vapid, self-centred, immoral worldview into every corner of it. There are few things in this world that I have been more revolted by.

We are then introduced to a fake Jedi who is some kind of people-trafficker. This allegory is harder to not notice than a used dildo in a public library. This scene tries to be funny, but it’s a style of humour that is very un-Star-Wars.

Kenobi then goes through some kind of drugs factory – again, this allegory is harder to not notice than a condom in a bride’s hair. This scene looks more like something out of a contemporary Marvel action show than something out of Star Wars.

Kenobi then finds his way further into the building / complex. It’s not really very clear where he is (other than a film studio somewhere in California). It’s a bit weird that the first street he tried on this city planet just happens to be the one with the building where Leia’s being kept, but that’s what happens when the writers are thinking more about shoving a message down the viewers’ throats than worldbuilding.

Kenobi is immediately found by some goons. They fight. We see that Kenobi has gotten a bit out-of-practice. Again, what the fuck is this obsession with diminishing characters?! This guy is a very skilled Jedi Master – taking on two goons should be piss-easy, even after ten years. Why? Because this guy is an incredibly skilled force user, and that doesn’t diminish with age (see Yoda). Bizarrely, Kenobi doesn’t use the Force or his lightsaber at any point in this fight, despite both being available.

There’s another fight. Kenobi continues not to use the Force or his lightsaber, for no good reason. Another goon comes in; there’s some pointless dialogue. Then the goon says ‘You’re not a Jedi anymore, Kenobi.’, and here once again we are hearing the voice of the writers, not the characters. The writers are thinking about Kenobi as ‘no longer being a Jedi’ – that thought was in their head when they were writing this show. But this just shows how utterly misguided they are. You don’t stop being a Jedi just because the Jedi Order has been disbanded. That would be like saying you stop being a Christian if the Vatican shut. Jediism is a way of life, and a belief system. As long as you continue to live the Jedi way of life, or continue believing in its tenets, you are still a Jedi.

We see a bit more of the Inquisitor – not the main one – the other one – Reva, I think she’s called? This actress has absolutely no ability to come across as menacing or threatening whatsoever. (And this time it can’t be put down to bad writing – she has some very short, simple lines, that should be easy to deliver well, but they are weak and ineffectual. This is what happens when your understanding of evil is merely a caricature of evil.)

Kenobi finds Leia, and once they’re out in the street again, Leia says ‘You seem kinda old and beat up.’ – once again, this is just the thoughts of the writers. This is such basic shit – I don’t think I have ever seen such bad writing in a television show. (I might even include the ending to Game of Thrones in that.)

The inquisitors talk to each other for a bit – the main one and Reva, with a few throw-away lines from the others. The whole thing comes across like an annual review in a big corporation, not like two dark side users talking to each other – it’s quite comical. The main inquisitor guy tells Reva that she’s the ‘least of us’ because she ‘came from the gutter’ – for fuck’s sake – when have force users ever cared about class? Dark side users care about one thing: the accumulation of power for its own sake. Your status is determined by your power, not your class. They don’t give a shit about where you came from.

The main inquisitor guy then puts Reva on leave, promising that HR will speak to her later.

And that’s it. That’s the first fifteen minutes. I couldn’t watch any more, and won’t. I mean, bloody hell, almost every frame of those fifteen minutes had an issue. It’s so bad it’s almost nauseating – I feel like throwing up.

This show is quite possibly the worst television I have ever seen, and I will not be watching any more of it. This isn’t Star Wars, or even remotely connected to it. This is artistic defilement.

Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi – Review

As with the last two posts, this post isn’t going to be about meticulously analysing this film in order to explain why different things work or don’t work – it’s just going to be about making observations.

I think this is a lot of people’s favourite film out of the six. I think this is the most variable out of the original three – there are some moments that I really like, and some that I really don’t like.

I like a lot of the world design in the opening sequence. Jabba the Hutt being a giant slug was of course a change from the first film, and I think it was an excellent change. Jabba is delightfully disgusting, and even though he’s just made of rubber, they manage to add a lot of expression to his movements. I also like the fact that, when they’re on the leisure barge by the Sarlacc pit (the Sarlacc is another great bit of world design), and chaos erupts, at the first opportunity Leia strangles Jabba with the chain she was restrained by. She doesn’t wait to take action – she sees an opportunity and takes it.

The Mon Calamari are also good world design – a very unusual-looking alien, but again, they manage to make the Mon Calamari very expressive. (This was something I really liked about Rogue One too, where I assume all of the Mon Calamari were pure CGI. They really managed to make the Mon Calamari expressive in that film, which just shows what you can do even when limited by a non-humanoid face.) Though it is funny that ‘Mon Calamari’ is literally ‘my squid’ in French.

I think one of the real stand-out aspects of this film is the Emperor. We learn early in the film that the Emperor is coming to the new Death Star, and the general nervousness that the other characters have about this builds the air of power around the Emperor, and builds the tension. Later in the film, of course, we get the first scenes with the Emperor. I like the fact that he appears as this old, cloaked man. The fact that he does not try to show how powerful he is through his appearance makes us realise that he must be very powerful. It also makes it look as though he has been around for ages – that he is this immovable, mystical being who has dominated the galaxy for millennia. (Of course, we know that it’s only been a few decades – the point is the aesthetic shows a kind of permanence.)

Ian McDiarmid is of course brilliant as the Emperor – as he was (or by the point of view of when this film was made, will be) in the prequels. Every line he delivers is excellent. I’m very glad that he was able to be in both sets of films, as it makes for great continuity.

As for the things that I don’t like about this film, one of them is the speeder chase through the forest. The whole thing feels like filler. It goes on for a long time, and the entire time, we don’t really get a sense of where the Stormtroopers are actually trying to go. They never seem to escape the forest, and they change direction so many times that they must have gone in a circle by the end. This is also a world where they have long-distance telecommunication – I’m not sure why they needed to jump on speeders and go and tell someone in person. The whole thing seems unnecessary, and I don’t think it really adds anything to the film.

I also dislike the Ewoks. I’m sort of amazed that there aren’t more people who dislike them. A lot of people can’t stand Jar Jar Binks, and yet I think the Ewoks are far more annoying. A lot of people dislike the obvious merchandising of Star Wars too (I myself don’t mind it too much), and the Ewoks are an entire merchandise species. A LOT of time in this film is spent with the Ewoks, and I think the only thing I like about it is C-3PO’s interaction with them, being ordered to pretend he’s a deity.

All of the Star Wars films have missing or wrong character reactions – the prequels have more of them, but the originals have them too. In this film, I think Leia’s reaction to finding out Vader is her father is not strong enough. Leia was a member of the senate for years, and Vader was her enemy throughout. Vader imprisoned and tortured Leia. I’d’ve thought after all of that, her reaction to finding out he was her father would be a lot stronger.

The way they talk about good and evil at the end of the film – in the scene between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor – is quite daft and un-thought-out. It seems to boil down to ‘being angry is evil’ – which is a rather stupid notion. Discussion around good and evil was actually something that the prequels were far better at.

And finally the reveal of Vader’s face at the end was perfect – a mystery set up with A New Hope, now finally revealed. It is only once Vader is redeemed by finally destroying the Sith that he has become human again. The way these films did the masked character trope should be thought of as the template for all other films that try to do this trope. (The Disney films tried to do a similar trope, but to minimal effect, because Kylo Ren takes off his mask in the first film.)

So this film probably had more things in it that I dislike than the previous two films did, but it still had plenty that I liked. All of the films in this series have their flaws – none are perfect – indeed, a lot of them have the same flaws. Missing or wrong reaction shots and stilted dialogue exist in all of the films. I’m not sure which film I like the best – I like all of them pretty much to the same degree. I think it would be a great series to remake one day – perhaps as a long-form television series – a lot of detail and continuity could be added to the story through doing that. But I don’t think that could be done by Disney – they have shown themselves to be completely incapable of managing the franchise – I don’t think they could remake the six Star Wars films without making the same kinds of mistakes as they did with their attempts at making sequels.

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope – Review

On to the originals. My posts about these films aren’t really going to be reviews, so much. Almost everyone already agrees that these are good films, so there’s no need for me to go through them and point out the good things in them. Instead, in these posts, I’m just going to make some observations about the films, and point out that some of the things that the prequels are criticised for also exist in the originals, but a lot of people are much more forgiving of them.

Watching the films in the order that is chronological for the internal universe really highlights that the original Star Wars films were very simple films. The prequels are a lot busier by comparison – a lot more happens in them, over far greater scales, and it happens a lot faster. In fact I think the complexity of the prequels is part of the reason why a lot of people don’t like them (not that I ever really hear anyone say that), whereas the simplicity of the originals is partly why they are so successful. The originals don’t try to do too much – why, in Episode V, Han, Chewbacca, and Leia spend most of their time just trying to avoid capture. In this way the originals are also unlike the main Disney films. Those films are also very busy – it seems to be a very common thing with modern Hollywood films – they don’t like to have a scene with just two characters talking or trying to solve a problem – they like to have five characters all talking to each other while trying to solve one problem while walking to another location where there’s another problem.

An example of the simplicity of this film is right at the start. When C-3PO and R2-D2 land on Tatooine in their escape pod, they land in the middle of nowhere. This is very likely, given that Tatooine is mostly desert. Their first objective is to find their way out of the desert. Even this goes wrong, and they end up being captured by the Jawas. They do eventually find Luke and get to Obi-wan, but all of this takes quite a bit of screen time. If this were a Disney film, I expect the droids would land right outside wherever it is that Obi-wan lives.

In the original films, C-3PO and R2-D2 get a lot more to do, and are a lot more interesting. They don’t get as much to do in the prequels – partly because those films are just so busy – and they are merely accessories in the Disney films. The banter between them is much better in the originals – it’s great that R2-D2 plays the fool in order to get his way, and that we can tell that simply from what he does and what C-3PO says.

Peter Cushing is just amazing. He has such extraordinary presence. Just from the way he walks into the room in his first scene, you can tell that he’s in charge – the way he walks is brisk, confident, and assured, but not arrogant – which is what you would expect from someone near to the top of the empire, and who has a lot of power and authority. Despite there being other people playing similar parts in Star Wars films since then, no-one has managed to equal that portrayal – no-one else has had that presence.

Even though it was actually different in the original version of A New Hope, when it came out in cinemas, I really like the concept of Jabba the Hutt. I really like the idea of giant slugs being the mobsters of the universe. This shows the raw creativity that went into the original Star Wars films. Again, if this were a Disney film, Jabba the Hutt would probably have been humanoid. The Disney films seemed to be very against having any characters that deviated much from humans.

As with the prequels, there are some bad reaction shots in this film. In fact there’s one particularly egregious example, and that’s Luke’s reaction to seeing his aunt and uncle incinerated. This reaction is nowhere near strong enough. This reaction is so underplayed that the first two or three times that I watched this film (many years ago now – back when I was about twelve or something), I didn’t even realise that those skeletons were his aunt and uncle. I just thought that they were two other random people who happened to be in the area – precisely because Luke’s reaction isn’t very strong. Luke is looking at the bloody skeletons of his aunt and uncle, and his reaction is to just slowly look away. It’s not strong enough.

There are also several bad lines in this film. The dialogue between Luke and Han when Luke tries to convince Han to rescue Leia is a bit unrealistic. And the dialogue between Luke and Biggs is – I dislike the word ‘cheesy’, but that’s the only word that really describes it. The performance of that dialogue is amateurish. It’s bad in the same way that some of the dialogue in the prequels is bad.

They convey the sense of scale in this film very well. This is something I’m very interested in with films that have very large objects or environments in them. In this film, the Death Star genuinely feels big. This is something that they failed to do in The Force Awakens – in that film, Starkiller Base did not come across as something planet-sized. Conveying scale well is all about physics. Large objects in large environments work differently to everyday-sized objects. Another example of a film that failed to convey scale well was Jupiter Ascending. In that film, ships go in and out of Jupiter’s Red Eye storm. The ships are shown as being comparable in size to the storm itself, but in reality, the Eye of Jupiter is 1.3 times the width of planet Earth – far bigger than the ships.

Part of how the scale of the Death Star is conveyed is the final battle of the film. The final battle has a lot of screen time, and we see a lot of the surface of the Death Star in it. This close, the surface of the Death Star appears flat. This is what shows its scale – we’ve seen that the Death Star appears spherical from afar, but when you get close to it, it’s so big that you can’t tell at all – and we see lots of positions in between these two extremes throughout the film.

This final battle also shows the simplicity of the film – which is part of its success. The rebels make multiple attempts to blow up the Death Star, and several of them fail. This raises the tension. As the battle goes on, fewer and fewer ships remain to make the attempt, and the more times they fail, the harder we understand it to be. The fact that the film takes its time in this battle is what makes it successful.

And finally, my favourite scene in this film is the final one – for one reason: the music. The music in the final scene is just fantastic. Of course, this film being the first Star Wars film, it gets the credit for all of the main music in the series, but I particularly like the music in that final scene. It’s not just triumphant, but a true finale.

So this film is good, but not without its flaws. Its main success over the prequels comes from it giving enough time for the various scenes and sequences – it doesn’t rush anything. In terms of raw creativity, world-building, performances, music – this film and any of the prequels are roughly equal, I think.