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.

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones – Review

So, Episode II. The objective with this review is going to be the same as with the previous one. The objective is to examine some of the main flaws of the film (some, but not all), but also to point out some of the good things in it.

To broadly summarise the problems with this film, while its overall structure moves things in the right direction (in the sense that it sets up many of the things that it needs to for Anakin’s fall and Palpatine’s rise in the subsequent film) it again comes across more as an outline than a story. Many crucial scenes are too short, and crucial reactions are wrong or missing. Many of the scenes do not develop the tension as the story progresses. Because of this I’m going to have to go through the film in (mostly) chronological order.

The first scene of interest is the scene where we see Obi-wan and Anakin in the elevator. This is when we first see the older Anakin, and when we see how much time has passed between the previous film and this one.

This scene attempts to set up the relationship between Anakin and Obi-wan. This scene tries to show us that even though Obi-wan is Anakin’s mentor, and is senior to him within the Jedi Order, they are friends, and have had many off-screen adventures. They have – dare I say – a bit of banter. (It’s pretty weak, early-2000s banter, but it is banter.) This is supposed to show how well they know each other, but it’s actually a bit off. I wouldn’t describe the dialogue in this scene as rigid, but it doesn’t really sell it. This scene comes across – slightly – as two actors acting, rather than two people who know each other very well talking as they realistically would. It’s not very convincing. This is a problem, because the final battle between Anakin and Obi-wan in the next film is made much more significant if we are convinced that these two people have known each other for a decade and were friends.

This is, I think, primarily a writing problem. The dialogue that’s been written for this scene is not easy to perform. It’s quite minimal – it includes only what it needs to in order to convey the facts of the story and no more. This is a problem with A LOT of the dialogue in this film. It might have been good, in this part of the scene, to let the actors improvise, but of course it’s very difficult for actors to improvise if the story takes place in a very different universe (because they don’t know what the reference points would be).

This scene also attempts to set up that Anakin is nervous to meet Padmé, which it does quite well. I actually think that Hayden Christensen performs many of the lines in this scene very well. (It’s mainly Ewan McGregor’s lines that are a bit off.)

After this, Obi-wan and Anakin meet Padmé, who is now the senator for Naboo. This is the second scene of interest (well, really it’s the same scene as the previous one, but for simplicity let’s call it the second scene). This is also a crucial scene.

This scene tries to show us, again, that Anakin is nervous to meet Padmé, and that this is because he hasn’t stopped thinking about her since they met ten years ago. This is an often-criticised scene. A lot of people complain that this scene is wooden or awkward. But I think this criticism is incorrect. Anakin is supposed to be awkward when he first meets Padmé in this film, because he is nervous. Anakin has spent the last ten years living and training within a religious order – he has no experience of this. I think Christensen performed this in the right way. I think the problem with this scene is that we don’t get the right reaction shots. We don’t get any reaction shot of Obi-wan, who is standing right next to him, and who must have seen and heard the whole thing. We needed a reaction shot from Obi-wan expressing ‘What on earth are you doing?’. We also needed a slightly different reaction from Padmé. While Padmé’s reaction does suggest that she’s noticed how awkward Anakin is being, it’s not strong enough, given just how awkward Anakin is being. A third reaction shot from one of the other characters in the room would also have been good. So the problem with this part of the scene is that we the audience don’t get the sense that the characters have realised the same things we’ve realised, even though they should.

The same problem happens later in the scene. When they’re all talking about what Obi-wan and Anakin are there to do, Anakin cuts in and promises more than what they’re supposed to do, and Obi-wan has to walk things back. This moment is in many ways quite good – it shows that Anakin is headstrong and will argue back with people who are senior to him in the Jedi Order. These are traits that lead to various events in this film, and to his eventual downfall. However, again, in this part of the scene, we don’t get the right reaction shots and we don’t get enough of them. Anakin arguing back against a senior Jedi – which he’s not supposed to do, and everyone there knows it – should make the whole conversation tense, and we should see this in reaction shots from the other characters, but we don’t. This gives the whole interaction less of an impact. However, as I say, it does show the essential traits of Anakin.

The third scene of interest is shortly after this. It starts with Anakin and Obi-wan standing guard outside the room where Padmé’s sleeping. An assassination attempt is made, and it leads to a speeder chase through Coruscant at night.

At the start of this scene, there is some dialogue between Anakin and Obi-wan. Anakin says how he would like to dream of Padmé, and for the first time in the film we get some indication that Obi-wan has realised that Anakin is attracted to Padmé. He reminds Anakin ‘You have made a commitment to the Jedi Order – a commitment not easily broken.’.

This moment is crucial. In this moment, we the audience are informed that Anakin must not fall for Padmé. It’s important that we understand the magnitude of this – we must really get a sense that this must not happen. Without that sense, we will not get a strong enough sense that Anakin and Padmé’s romance is a forbidden one, and we won’t get a sense of foreboding as we watch it happen. We don’t really get this sense strongly enough in this scene – because it’s only one line. In this moment we really needed to get a sense of what would happen if Anakin were to fall for Padmé – we needed a stronger sense of what the consequences to that would be. We needed more of an idea of how the Jedi Order – the institution – would react, and we don’t really get that.

Another important aspect of this scene happens during the speeder chase. I get a sense that a lot of people don’t like the speeder chase. I myself have never minded it, because I have always found that it is the other things that are happening that are more interesting and important.

During this chase, we see even more examples of Anakin being headstrong – he does several dangerous manoeuvres, despite Obi-wan’s warnings (and the fact that Anakin succeeds at those manoeuvres shows how he has become used to his extraordinary powers). But we also see, many times, another important aspect of how Anakin and Obi-wan interact. Obi-wan often berates Anakin (‘If you spent as much time practising your saber technique as you did your wit, you would rival Master Yoda as a swordsman.’, ‘I thought I already did.’, ‘Only in your mind, my very young apprentice.’) and Anakin often apologises to him. This is crucial.

The fourth scene of interest is shortly after this, and is the scene between Anakin and Padmé just before they leave for Naboo. In this scene, Anakin says how he finds Obi-wan frustrating. (‘It’s infuriating. He’s overly critical; he never listens.’) However, he then says that he does actually appreciate having Obi-wan as a mentor. (‘I am truly thankful to be his apprentice.’) Anakin first says that he finds Obi-wan frustrating, but then, knowing that he is supposed to follow the customs of the Jedi Order, and show deference to his teachers, he expresses that despite that, he is grateful for Obi-wan’s teaching. This is what we saw in the previous scene (and what we see throughout this film): Obi-wan berates Anakin, and then Anakin apologises, because he must follow the Jedi way, and show deference to those senior to him within the Order.

This scene between Anakin and Padmé is one of my favourite in this film. It shows – very well, I think – someone who has been brought up in a martial, religious order, which has a hierarchy, and customs and traditions associated with it, and a moral code, but who is also exceptionally gifted, and who is constantly frustrated by the constraints of that religious order. This is someone who has been told – for the last ten years – that he is the Chosen One – that he is expected to be a great Jedi – but every time he actually uses his exceptional gifts, he is berated for it. He is constantly expected to be the Chosen One, but is frustrated because his teacher and the Jedi Order are preventing him from achieving it. This is why I really like this scene. I think Hayden Christensen performs it very well.

Around this point in the film we get several scenes set in the Jedi Temple. Getting to see more of the Jedi Temple is one of my favourite parts of this film. I really enjoy seeing the Jedi Order at its height. One of the frustrating things about the Disney films is that we never got to see any kind of new Jedi Order. I like just seeing inside the Jedi Temple – the cavernous hallways – it’s incredibly immersive.

I really like the scene in the Jedi Archives – with one of my favourite characters in the series: Jocasta Nu. Jocasta Nu is basically the Jedi’s head librarian. Obi-wan is in the Jedi Archives, trying to look up Kamino, and Jocasta Nu comes over to him, and says in a very fusty tone ‘Are you having a problem Master Kenobi?’. After Obi-wan shows her that Kamino isn’t showing up on the main computer, she insists that therefore Kamino does not exist, and then bustles off to help a young padawan. I really like this – I like the idea of a fusty librarian in the Jedi Order who’s not afraid to tell Jedi masters that they’re talking nonsense. I like that this reminds us that the Jedi Temple – as well as being, essentially, both a shrine and a military command centre – is also a school, and that lots of young Jedi spend their lives there. We see this even more as, after Jocasta Nu has finished dealing with Obi-wan, she goes off to help another young student. (And also, since Jocasta Nu is quite a lot older than Obi-wan, she might well have been a librarian even when Obi-wan was a young student or a padawan.)

We get another scene set in the Jedi Temple shortly after this – the scene where Yoda is teaching some very young students. I really like this scene too, despite the fact that it doesn’t make sense. Obi-wan has gone to Yoda to ask why the planet Kamino – which he trusts does exist – wouldn’t show up in the archives. Now, Obi-wan already knows the coordinates of where the planet’s supposed to be, and he knows that all the stars around the star system are being affected by gravity from something that’s there. If you know all of that, it doesn’t take much to realise that the data has been deleted, and that if you just go to those coordinates, you’ll find the planet. But seemingly, Obi-wan and Yoda need to ask some six-year-olds. This doesn’t really make sense. (In fairness, Yoda might have realised the answer, but just saw this as a teaching opportunity for his students, and Obi-wan might have had such strong conviction in the completeness of the Jedi archives that he just didn’t think it would be possible for anything to have been deleted.)

However, there are many things that I like about this scene. I like that we get to see Yoda teaching, and we see that Yoda – grandmaster of the Jedi Council, figurehead for a galactic religion (basically the equivalent of the Pope but for the religion of the Force), and quite possibly the most powerful Jedi of all time – still sometimes teaches the beginners. It really sells the idea that the Jedi Temple is a school, and that even Jedi like Yoda, who has Jedi Council meetings all the time, and often meets with important figures like the chancellor of the republic, are still involved in the day-to-day running of a school. Again, it’s incredibly immersive.

I also like how Yoda and Obi-wan speak to each other in this scene. Yoda essentially ‘performs’ for the students, pretending to admonish Obi-wan, as though he were another student, even though he’s another teacher to these six-year-olds. This reminds me a lot of what teachers would do in my secondary school – if one teacher came into your German class and had to ask something of your German teacher, the teacher coming in had to talk in German, as though they too were part of the class.

In this part of the film we’re cutting between scenes with Anakin and Padmé and scenes with Obi-wan – the film’s A and B plots – though one of the problems is that it’s difficult to tell which is the film’s A plot and which is the film’s B plot. These films are about Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side, so in a way, the plot with Anakin and Padmé should be the A plot, but the plot with Obi-wan seems to get far more screen-time, even though it’s a lot of action scenes and CGI. Again, I wonder if this is because George Lucas was too focused on the bigger picture of the events leading up to the clone wars.

We get a scene between Anakin and Padmé as they are travelling to Naboo. I really like this scene, because we get to learn more about the Jedi Order – what it’s core precepts are – and also what Anakin thinks of them. This is something that I would have liked to have seen more of in Star Wars – what is it really like to be a Jedi, to live in the temple? What’s it like growing up in that system? What are the rules? How do young Jedi respond to those rules? As it is, I like this scene, but it’s a bit short – it cuts off in a bit of an odd place. While we learn some interesting things about the Jedi in this scene, nothing happens apart from that. It should probably have been merged with another scene later or earlier, so that the whole thing could be a bit slower, and a bit more in-depth. As I say, one of the problems with the prequel films is that many scenes just aren’t complete.

We get some great world-building at this point in the film with Kamino – what looks like a planet that is entirely covered by ocean. The Kaminoans look distinct from the species’ we’ve seen so far, and they seem to have a distinct culture and customs as well. At the same time, in the other plot, the location that they chose for that part of Naboo – which is Villa del Balbianello on Lake Como in northern Italy – is just stunning. This one location choice is better than anything we got in the Disney films.

We also get some great music with Across The Stars – probably my favourite piece of music in the whole series. As a theme, it’s used for Anakin and Padmé’s romance, and it’s absolutely perfect for this. The piece is sweeping, epic, romantic, but also tragic, because this romance will lead to the fall of Anakin, and the rise of Palpatine. This one piece of music is better than everything produced by Disney.

It’s at this point in the film that we get the infamous line ‘I don’t like sand.’. People who despise the prequels seem to think that this line is proof that the prequels are the worst films ever made, but watching this film back, this line is completely forgettable. The reactions to this line are completely over-the-top. (And the same people seem to have no problem with ‘I saved you, dummy!’ from the Disney films, which is infinitely worse.)

Shortly after this, we get a scene between Anakin and Padmé where they’re just sitting in a meadow, talking about politics. What I like about this scene is that it shows Anakin’s naïveté when it comes to politics. The system he proposes as an alternative to the current one is completely un-thought-out – when Padmé questions him on it, he has no good answers to the questions. This is good because it shows that Anakin can be easily manipulated by Palpatine. Anakin is not savvy enough to realise that Palpatine might have ulterior motives for doing things, or might be deceptive. The idea that Palpatine is both secretly fuelling the separatist movement, and fighting it, in order to justify being given more power, is well beyond the level of political thinking that Anakin is doing.

This scene is one of several intended to show the developing romance between Anakin and Padmé. A lot of people criticise Christensen’s performances in these scenes, but I think if you watch closely, they’re very good. The problem with a lot of these scenes is that they are too short, and that prevents them from building any romantic tension. As an audience, we must see that this romance is going to happen before it does. This gives the storyline suspense, and this is what makes it engaging. I think doing this requires having longer, slower scenes, and having the right reaction shots at the right time – which, as I’ve said many times already, is one of the things that these films often get wrong.

One scene that I think Christensen performs exceptionally well is the scene between Anakin and Padmé at the Lars family home on Tatooine after Anakin has attacked the sand people. I don’t know how anyone could think that that scene is badly performed by Christensen. The reactions from Padmé are lacking – whether this is due to the way Portman chose to perform it or direction from Lucas is difficult to tell here. Padmé doesn’t seem at all shocked by what Anakin tells her, despite everything us knowing about the character suggesting that she should be.

But this scene really sells Anakin’s frustration. He wants to be a great Jedi, and he knows he can be, but killing the sand people puts that in jeopardy. There is a great expectation on him to be the Chosen One, but it’s all going wrong. He needs a mentor who is not going to berate him, in the way that we’ve seen Obi-wan do the entire film. Obi-wan might be very good at teaching Anakin the more practical aspects of being a Jedi, like using the Force and wielding a lightsaber, but he’s not very good at helping Anakin deal with attachment and impulsiveness. At this moment, Anakin needs a mentor who is not Obi-wan, but he doesn’t have access to anyone at that moment, and even when he gets back to Coruscant, there will be very few people – if anyone – within the Jedi Order who can help.

We then move into the final part of the film. The world-building of Geonosis is excellent. This planet looks different again to what we’ve seen before, with the distinct Geonosian architecture. The Geonosians are unlike anything we’ve seen before in appearance, and their language is distinct, and relates to their particular biology. We also get Christopher Lee as Count Dooku. As I’ve said before, many of the lines that Lucas wrote are a bit off – they’re a bit obvious and cliché – but even these lines Christopher Lee manages to pull off, showing just what a great actor can do even with a bad script. (Although sometimes a script can be so bad that even a great actor can’t perform it well.)

When Anakin and Padmé arrive on Geonosis we get an action sequence of them in the droid factory. This I think is the worst part of the film. This action sequence does nothing. It happens by accident, and Anakin and Padmé achieve nothing from it. On top of that, they could have avoided the machines just by stepping to the side at any point – the conveyor belts have panels on the side that you could stand on. Or even easier – just walk along the conveyor in the opposite direction to that which it’s moving in, then you won’t get hit by the various robotic arms. This sequence takes up A LOT of time considering it adds nothing to the story.

This is actually true of several sequences towards the end of the film. The fight above Geonosis between Obi-wan and Jango Fett is similarly pointless, and also quite long, though I do give the film points for showing us a different kind of space battle to what we’ve seen before – taking place in an asteroid field, and having Obi-wan and Jango actually use the asteroids to their advantage. That’s more than we got from any of the Disney films.

The sequence in the arena is also over-long. It starts with Obi-wan, Anakin, and Padmé being chained to the pillars to be executed. The Geonosians release the different beasts, which are swiftly killed. The Jedi turn up to take down Dooku, and there’s a big battle between them and the droids. Then Yoda turns up with the clones from Kamino. Most of this adds nothing to the story, and it takes up a lot of time. This sequence also has no tension. At no point does it really seem like Obi-wan, Anakin, or Padmé might die. It’s just not established that this situation is in any way all that dangerous.

A way to streamline this part of the film would have been to cut out the battle in space between Obi-wan and Jango Fett, and instead give them a battle in the arena. They’ve already had one fight in this film, of course, so it might be too much to have another, but Jango Fett goes down a bit too quickly.

One thing I did like about this sequence is that when Anakin and Padmé are brought into the arena and tied up, the first thing Obi-wan does is berate Anakin, and Anakin apologises to him, despite Anakin coming there to rescue him, reinforcing again just how completely unsuitable Obi-wan is as a mentor to Anakin at this point.

As I say, the action sequences in this part of the film are too long, and do nothing. It would have been far more valuable to give some of that time to the scenes between Anakin and Padmé, as their romance is a crucial part of this trilogy and the hexalogy as a whole. Many of their scenes are too short. One in particular is the scene just before Anakin and Padmé are taken into the arena, where Padmé finally says that she loves Anakin. This should have been a big, big moment in the film – if anything the moment that everyone comes away from the film talking about and remembering most vividly, as it is utterly crucial to Anakin’s storyline. As it is, the scene is too short, and there is no tension. In this scene, we should really have gotten a sense that these two are in danger – that they really are about to be executed. This could have been shown by Padmé’s fear. (Anakin would be unlikely to be fearful in this situation, as he will have been used to using the Force to get out of situations like this by this point.) The greater we sense Padmé’s fear, the bigger the impact that her saying she loves Anakin has – because we understand the importance of the sentiment at that moment. (The fact that this sentiment lacks impact in the film is also – and in large part – due to not enough focus being given to the romance storyline up to that point.)

As for the battle between Obi-wan, Anakin, and Dooku, I quite like it – it shows Anakin’s flaws very well. As for the battle between Yoda and Dooku, I know a lot of people don’t like it. I like the fact that we get to see just how agile Yoda can become when necessary, by channelling the Force into his movements, and Christopher Lee is brilliant as always, but the fight certainly seems to lack a distinct choreography. None of the camera angles used seem to be particularly satisfying angles to see the fight from. I think the first time we see Yoda use a lightsaber, we ought to be able to describe it with more adjectives than just ‘fast’.

So, to summarise, like the last film, many of the scenes in this film are incomplete. Many of the scenes are too short and lack the right reaction shots. There is an overemphasis on action – particularly towards the end of the film – and an underemphasis on the crucial plotline of this film, which is Anakin and Padmé’s romance. There is some excellent world-building, some sublime music, some brilliant actors, some great performances, and we really get to understand Anakin’s flaws, the frustration he has being the Chosen One, and how it is both the wrong guidance from Obi-wan, and the wrong guidance from the Jedi Order as a whole, that lead to his fall.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace – Review

One of the things that I like to do over Yule is watch films. I find it’s essential for making it seem like Yule. And I don’t watch films in the way that I usually do either – usually I do something else at the same time while watching a film, but over Yule I like to sit and watch films, and focus on them completely. That’s a much more relaxing way to watch a film, and relaxation is an essential part of Yule.

This year I decided that I would rewatch the six Star Wars films over Yule. I’ve been rewatching one a day – I’m now half-way through. This is actually the first time that I’ve gone back and rewatched the Star Wars films since the Disney films came out.

The three Disney films that were meant to follow on from Return of the Jedi – The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker – were shit. The Last Jedi is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, and The Rise of Skywalker was about as bad. Before watching The Last Jedi, I didn’t realise that it was even possible for one film to destroy an entire series of films, but that’s what it did. (Incidentally, since that film came out, we’ve seen this sort of thing happen (at least) two more times with other sci. fi. and fantasy titans – Game of Thrones was completely annihilated by its final series (no-one talks about Game of Thrones anymore – that’s the extent to which that franchise was destroyed), and the most recent series of Doctor Who tried to retcon its entire history.) After seeing The Last Jedi, my interest in Star Wars completely dissipated. I only went to see The Rise of Skywalker out of a sense of morbid fascination – I wanted to watch the franchise completely collapse as a result of the stupid decisions that had been made. I did not see the Han Solo film; I have not watched any of The Mandalorian. The only thing that could bring my back to the franchise is if Disney were to officially announce that their sequel films are not canon, and will have no bearing on things they make in future.

However, now that there is some distance between the Disney films and the six Star Wars films, I find I can go back and watch them, and still enjoy them.

This time, I have started with Episode I. There is much debate as to the best order to watch the films in – I tend to vary it, sometimes starting with I, sometimes starting with IV. This time I have started with the prequels.

Now, there are some people who absolutely despise the prequel trilogy. I myself have always liked them. I am aware of their many flaws, of course – I do not pretend that they are perfect – but they do have many good aspects to them. For the entire time that I’ve heard people complain about the prequel films, however, I have found their complaints to be disproportionate. They seem to focus on aspects of the film that are highly inconsequential, and take up only a few seconds of screen-time – like the odd bad line. And this focus seems to be at the expense of the many excellent aspects of these films.

Coming back to these films after having now seen the Disney films, I am now struck even more how out-of-proportion some of the complaints about the prequel films are. Many of the people who abhor the prequels adore the Disney films – the number of people who I see claiming that The Last Jedi is a perfect film – not just good, but perfect – is astonishing.

So, I’ve decided that as I rewatch each of the Star Wars films, I’m going to write reviews of them. I don’t intend for these reviews to be exhaustive – I’m not going to go through every aspect of each film and analyse it. The aim is just to point out the main flaws in each film, and just how many good things each film has in it.

So, Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way.

One of the problems with this film is that many of the scenes are ‘incomplete’. Actually a better way of describing this is that in many parts of the film (many, but not all), there simply are no ‘scenes’. Many times the film cuts to one set of characters, in one location, who will say only one or two lines, and then it cuts to a different set of characters, in a different location, who will again only say one or two lines, and then it will cut again. There is no ‘scene’ – it’s just clips. It’s enough to understand the events of the story, but no more. This makes the film seem more like a synopsis than a story – just a list of things that happen and in what order. This is a problem that all three prequels have, and is probably a result of George Lucas focusing a little too much on the overall plan for the prequels. (That focus has paid off in other aspects of the films, however – the overall structure of the prequels (as a set of three films) is excellent.)

A related problem to this is that there are many missing reaction shots. It is often said that all good acting is reacting. One reaction we don’t get is Anakin’s reaction to learning that Qui-gon Jinn has died. This, I would think, is quite an important reaction. Qui-gon is the first Jedi that Anakin met, and the person who got him freed from slavery. Anakin expected Qui-gon to be his teacher, and Qui-gon would probably have been a better teacher for Anakin than Obi-wan. Anakin found Obi-wan frustrating – he thought he was overly critical and didn’t listen to his ideas. Qui-gon’s more laid-back style of instruction would probably have complemented Anakin’s over-confidence well. (Indeed, one could argue that Qui-gon was meant to find and teach Anakin, and if he had, Anakin might not have fallen to the dark side – making Qui-gon’s death a crucial moment in the series.) However, as an author, I have the luxury of being able to put whatever I want in my stories. Qui-gon’s death is quite late in the film, putting Anakin’s reaction in there might have made the pacing of the ending of the film a bit odd, which is why we only get Obi-wan’s reaction, which does not require a separate scene.

Another problem that Episode I has is that it doesn’t really have a main character. Many people might say that Anakin is the main character, but Anakin doesn’t appear for quite a while in the film – not until they go to Tatooine. Also, Anakin is only tangentially involved in the ending of the film. He does blow up the droid command ship, but he does this by accident – it’s not something he intends to do, and it is not a particularly important moment for Anakin. Qui-gon and Obi-wan are main characters, but neither is the main character. The same is true for Padmé. This is unlike the original trilogy, where even though Leia, Han, Obi-wan, Yoda, et alii, are all main characters, Luke is the main character.

Related to this is that we don’t really get a strong sense of what the characters personally want. We know that Qui-gon and Obi-wan are trying to fight back against the Trade Federation, but they are doing this because they have been told to by the Jedi Council, not because they personally want to. (That’s not to say that they don’t want to do it – it’s just that their main reason for doing it is shown to be because they are told to by the Council, rather than personal motivation.) This is one of the difficulties in writing about Jedi – especially ones that are part of a Jedi Order at its height. Jedi are supposed to be detached. They are not supposed to fiercely want to fight – they are not supposed to fear losing the fight. Their personal motivation isn’t supposed to come into it.

However, this problem of not having a clear sense of what characters want extends beyond Qui-gon and Obi-wan. It’s true of Padmé too. We know that she does want to fight back against the Trade Federation, but this comes across in the film as not much more than the duty of the monarch. We needed a stronger sense earlier on in the film that the Trade Federation is a great threat to Naboo, and that Padmé knows this, and resolves to fight back against it. (A lot of this stuff is just covered by throw-away dialogue in the film – it needs to be more than that.)

And it’s also true of Anakin. Anakin almost has the opposite problem, in that he wants too many things. He wants to do pod-racing, and he wants to win in the pod-race that Qui-gon enters him for in particular. He wants to travel the galaxy; he wants to become a Jedi; he wants to free the slaves. The focus for this film should have been on getting off Tatooine, and becoming a Jedi so that he can free his mother. That needed to be established earlier and more strongly, and then we would have understood why Anakin was doing anything he was doing.

So there are flaws with the film. The ones I’ve mentioned are not structural in the sense of the events that happen, but they are structural in the sense of what we know of the characters, when we know it, and whether it affects the subsequent events of the story.

One of the things that people often complain about with this film is the dialogue. A lot of people complain that the dialogue is wooden. They often focus on Jake Lloyd, who played Anakin, and complain that many of his lines weren’t delivered well. Personally, when it comes to very young actors, I always give them a pass. Jake Lloyd was about 9 or 10 years old when he played Anakin – it’s extremely unusual to find people of that age who are great at acting. (I’ve only ever seen one, and that’s Iain Armitage, who plays Sheldon Cooper in Young Sheldon – and he is such a good actor at such a young age that it’s actually quite unnerving.) As a society we should generally expect that if we put nine-year-olds in films, that there is a limit to what they’re going to be able to do, and that’s fine.

I will also say, though, that many of the odd lines that Anakin says in this film are due, I think, to the writing and the direction. For some of Anakin’s odd lines, it’s very obvious that what was written in the script was odd, and that Jake Lloyd was just doing it as written (which is what we should expect from a nine-year-old – I don’t think we expect them to improvise). Twice in the film Anakin says ‘Yipeee!’ – now, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone ever actually say that in real life – people don’t say that in real life. That’s why it comes across as an odd line – it’s very unrealistic. But I suspect that was just what was written in the script, and Jake Lloyd just read it out.

For Anakin’s lines, George Lucas seems to veer between lines that are clichés of what children say, and lines that only older people would say. This is a problem that a lot of writers have – they forget how children talk. So I think some of these odd lines are due to George Lucas not having a strong sense of how people of different ages talk (which is a problem, I think, that film directors tend to have more often than novelists, because film directors tend to think more about camera shots and the composition of scenes, rather than words and styles of language).

Many of Padmé’s lines are often called wooden too. I think this is primarily a direction problem. It’s apparent that, when Padmé is speaking as a queen, Lucas wanted her to come across as forceful and somewhat remote. This works well in some scenes, but not others. I think in some of the scenes, Natalie Portman should have been directed to do the performance more casually. (Indeed, she may have done some takes like this, but these were not the ones that were chosen in the edit.)

More importantly, though, the bad lines in the film are few in number, and take up a very small amount of screen-time – the complaints about them are very disproportionate. Furthermore, while Jake Lloyd does do some lines not so well, he does do plenty of lines very well, and I think this is often overlooked.

Oh – I might as well get the Jar Jar stuff out of the way. A lot of people complain about Jar Jar – I have never understood this. I find Jar Jar a completely ignorable character – my focus is never on Jar Jar when I watch this film.

Something else people complain about is the pod-racing. A lot of people seem to just wish it weren’t in the film. The existence of pod-racing is, I think, very good world-building. We were introduced to speeders in the originals – speeders, of course, have some kind of anti-gravity mechanism in them, as they float off the ground. (Anti-gravity technology must be very cheap in the Star Wars universe.) Pod-racing is just what you get in answer to the question ‘What if we add some jet engines to a speeder?’. You would end up with something that could move extremely fast, because only air resistance is slowing it down, and that would naturally become a sport. This is good world-building – figuring out what the consequences of different kinds of technology are. If both anti-gravity speeders and jet engines exist in a universe, then pod-racing exists in that universe. And besides, is pod-racing really worse than all that stuff on Canto Bight in The Last Jedi? Absolutely not.

That’s some of the bad stuff; now for some of the good stuff. On the subject of world-building, this film is a masterpiece of world-building. There is more great world-building in the first ten minutes of this film than in everything produced by Disney since they bought the franchise.

We get several new species: the Neimoidians (the species that seem to run the Trade Federation), the Gungans, the Dug (Sebulba’s species), the Toydarians (Watto’s species), the Cereans (Ki-Adi-Mundi’s species), the Zabrak (Darth Maul’s species), and what seems like hundreds more. And what’s more, characters of these species aren’t just standing in the background, as is often the case in the Disney films – the characters of these species in the prequel films actually have lines.

The Gungans get even more world-building. The Gungan cities are completely unlike anything we’ve seen in Star Wars before, with a unique and distinctive style of architecture. The Gungans also have a distinctive military, and technology which is unlike what other species and factions in Star Wars use.

The planet of Naboo gets a lot of world-building overall. The fact that the planet has no solid core, and is just water all the way down, is something we’ve not seen before in this series. The Nabooians also have a distinctive culture and their cities have a distinctive architecture.

In fact many planets get a lot of world-building in this film. Tatooine becomes more than just a moisture farm and Mos Eisley, with Mos Espa and its grand pod-racing arena. We get the entire planet of Coruscant – a planet that’s one giant city – Coruscant alone is more than we got from all of the Disney films. Coruscant has the senate building and the Jedi Temple, both of which have unique designs. In the Disney films, the most we see of anything like Coruscant is a few seconds of Hosnian Prime before it’s blown up.

We get new, and distinctive, ship designs, with the Nubian starships and Trade Federation’s control ships – both unlike anything we’ve seen so far in Star Wars. We even got new droid aesthetics – most of the droids in this film, and all of the adjacent technology that they use, are completely different to what we saw in the originals. The battle droids have a design that shows they were intended for mass production – they appear to be made of something like plastic – something that is cheap – because all these droids have to do is carry a weapon. They don’t have to last; they don’t have to endure; they just have to fight, and then be disposed of.

And the Jedi themselves have had a lot of development. We get a Jedi Order at its height, with Yoda as grandmaster of the Jedi Council. We get Mace Windu – a fan favourite. We get the very concept of padawans. We get the Jedi clothing and customs.

Some people don’t think that world-building is important, but it’s incredibly important. A rich, highly-developed, convincing world is essential for something to be immersive. When I watch a film, I want to be transported to another world, and I want to be convinced that it could be real. World-building is essential for that. The real world is complex and detailed. For a fictional world to be believable, it must be complex and detailed too.

But if you wanted a more simplistic argument for the importance of world-building, notice that it is the stories and franchises with the best world-building that have the strongest fanbases. Notice how there are entire YouTube channels dedicated to the worlds of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, and Star Trek. These channels don’t just focus on the characters – they are able to make entire videos about seemingly minor aspects of these worlds, and people are interested in them. World-building matters.

We get some fantastic music in this film – most notably Duel of the Fates. Duel of the Fates alone makes the prequels far better than the Disney films. We also get some great actors in this film, and some excellent performances. Liam Neeson is outstanding as Qui-gon Jinn; Ewan McGregor is fantastic as Obi-wan Kenobi (though he doesn’t get too much to do); Samuel L. Jackson is outstanding as Mace Windu (although he didn’t get much to do either); Ray Park was brilliant as Darth Maul; and of course, Ian McDiarmid was sublime as Palpatine. There are even some minor characters who I think were done very well. Brian Blessed is perfect as Boss Nass, and I think Pernilla August plays Shmi Skywalker very well.

This film also sets up the trilogy, and the hexalogy, very well. Anakin is shown to be headstrong, and over-confident. He believes he can win the pod-race, despite never completing a race before. He deliberately stays in the Naboo starfighter, knowing that he can join in the fight while also technically following Qui-gon’s instructions. He also has a determination to change the world around him – he talks about dreaming of freeing the slaves – he wants to change the way the world works. And he also has a strong attachment to his mother. These traits all lead to his downfall.

This film also sets up Anakin’s interaction with the Jedi Order. When he first meets the Council to be tested, he finds them hostile, and he finds their questions to be irrelevant. Later, he is told by the Council that he will not be trained as a Jedi. This immediately sets up the Council as being an obstacle to Anakin – something that connects to Episode III, where he believes that the Council does not trust him, and wants to hold him back. He sees the Council as something that will prevent him from doing what he wants to do.

As I’ve said, this episode also shows how it might have been better if Qui-gon had been Anakin’s mentor. Obi-wan only just becomes a Jedi Knight at the end of the film, and as Qui-gon says, Obi-wan still has much to learn of the living force, and it’s Qui-gon’s understanding of the living force that gives him his laid-back way of doing things, which is probably what Anakin needed in a mentor. So this film sets up very well this idea of how even though Anakin was the chosen one, who would destroy the Sith, if the Jedi didn’t do it right – if they didn’t have the right person training him – then Anakin might not destroy the Sith in the way they expected. This is why Yoda says that Anakin’s future is clouded – it’s clouded partly because it’s dependent on whether Qui-gon lives or dies.

So those are some thoughts on this film. It has its problems, but it has an extraordinary number of great aspects to it – far more than all of the Disney films combined. As I said, this review isn’t exhaustive – there are many things that I’ve left out (which I might return to later). I think that all of the prequels might actually have been better as a television series, rather than films. There are many reactions and scenes that it would have been good to see in the films, and if all of them had been put it, they would probably have been too long as films. I’m not keen on the big time jump between episodes I and II, but that was necessary to fit everything into three films. But on the other hand, the idea of long-form television series’ with film-quality effects is something that didn’t really exist in the late 1990s and early 2000s – that’s a trend that’s appeared later as special effects have become easier and cheaper to do. It’s only nowadays that the boundary between film and television has ceased to exist. So I think these stories would only ever have been films.

Dramatic Dissonance

In my reviews of Star Trek Picard, I’ve started using the term ‘dramatic dissonance’ to describe something that we’re seeing on-screen. This particular phenomenon or quality may already have a term to describe it – if it does, I don’t know what it is, so for now I’m going to use ‘dramatic dissonance’ (to mimic the phrase ‘dramatic irony’). And while I’ve started using this term in my Star Trek Picard reviews, it’s something I’ve seen in lots of other shows too – like Star Trek Discovery and recent Doctor Who – so I thought I’d write a blog post about it in order to define it more clearly.

Dramatic dissonance is when the reactions of the characters to each other, or to the events of the story, are different to the audience’s reaction to the characters or to the events of the story.

Here’s an example of this: one character says something, and several other characters around them consider it a very awkward thing to say, or a faux pas, but the audience doesn’t think that it’s an awkward thing to say.

Here’s another: one character does something (it could be anything), and all of the characters around them think that this character is a genius for doing it, but the audience isn’t impressed by it at all.

This second example is one we’ve seen a lot in both Star Trek Picard and Star Trek Discovery – in fact this second example is often a way of determining whether a character is a Mary Sue. (Other characters will just think that they’re brilliant no matter what they do.)

Dramatic dissonance is a bad quality for a show to have. It is, by its very definition, unrealistic, and if a show has it, the audience will sense something is amiss, even if they can’t quite put it into words. The audience can sense it because things in the show don’t seem to make sense.

I’m not sure I could exactly say what the origins of dramatic dissonance in a show actually are, but I don’t think it’s an acting problem – I think it comes from the writing. It may come from writers thinking too much about ‘How do I want this character to react?’ rather than ‘How would they react?’.

Star Trek Picard – Series 1 Episode 5 – Picard is not Picard and Seven is not Seven

Hmm. I wrote five pages of notes for the last episode; for this episode I wrote six – this is not a good sign.

This was not a good episode – for many reasons. Over the course of the series so far we’ve seen various problems: a lot of the dialogue is very unnatural; many of the characters are played over-the-top; the characters just exposit their backstories to each other or to holograms; alien races have lost all of their distinctive qualities and are now just space thugs. Many of these problems have been somewhat ignorable, because they’re only very apparent in one part of the episode, and this is the start of a new series anyway, and new shows tend to take a while to get going.

But in this episode we saw many of these same problems again, suggesting that these are going to be problems throughout the whole series, and this episode revealed some very big character problems. This episode also shows that the mystery of the Mars incident is not progressing well – I was amazed to find out that this series is only going to have ten episodes in it – this episode marks the half-way point, but the mystery has really only just been set up – nothing else has happened with it. By this point we should have found out something important about the mystery, but we haven’t. The ‘gang’ is still just wandering around the galaxy, looking for some sort of starting point. (Also, consider that it was only in episode four that the ‘gang’ first all assembled, with Elnor ‘binding his sword’ to Picard’s ‘quest’.)

I’ll get to the main problem with the episode in a few paragraphs, but first let’s get the simpler stuff out of the way.

Firstly, this episode was very gory. I personally am not a fan of gore – many people like it (and indeed, horror as a genre is often thought of as being part of a set of related genres with sci. fi. and fantasy), but I don’t. I detest the gory and the grotesque. (Anyone who’s read my books will have seen that while I don’t mind the gross (all of the trolls in OTSOT are described as being disgusting), I never describe gore, even when quite violent things happen in my stories.) This is just my preference, and I don’t hold it against the quality of the episode, because I know some people do like that stuff. However, I will say that this is yet another departure from the style of classic Star Trek. Classic Star Trek was not gory (or rather, there was an upper limit on how gory it was willing to be – a limit that was a lot lower than in this show). Other episodes in this show have had moments of gore too – like when we see doctors taking the implants out of Borg on the Artefact – it’s clearly a deliberate decision by showrunners to make the show more gory.

The show continues to have character problems – so, so many in this episode. The character of Raffi (whose full name is apparently Rafaela Musiker – interesting choice) continues to be an obnoxious mess. Firstly, Raffi has just become every single expert who’s normally on a Federation starship. Throughout the course of this episode we see that she is an expert hacker, an expert spy, a cultural expert, a chief medical officer, and a chief engineer. Throughout the ‘mission’ that they go on in this episode, she is the only one who knows anything about anything – all of the other characters are clueless and just listen to her tell them what to do. She has a detailed knowledge of the culture and technology on Freecloud, and how to infiltrate them. She knows enough about medical science and human physiology to create a substance that can block the special abilities of the Beta Annari. And she is apparently the only person who knows enough about transporter technology to give instructions on what to do to everyone else. This is unrealistic – it is not possible for one person to know that much about that many things. One of the good things about classic Star Trek is that the different skills of the different characters meant that no single character could solve every problem, and they had to work together. At one point Picard even says to Raffi ‘This is going to be very much harder without you.’ – Yes! Because she literally does fucking everything!

As a side note I really don’t care about this new thing with Raffi’s son. It just seems like some desperate attempt to tag on a ‘personal storyline’ to Raffi’s character, but it doesn’t seem to have any relation to anything else that’s going on in the show or anything to do with Raffi’s personality. It’s just a cliché of writing – you’ve accidentally created an overpowered character so now you have to tag on some ‘tragic backstory’ bollocks. A character’s own story arc should be interwoven and relevant to the main fucking story arc of the show – this is basic fucking shit.

That’s Raffi; now Elnor. Elnor so far has been completely fucking useless and has no personality. I mean really, what do we even know of Elnor at this point? What does he want? Why is he there? What does he really think of Picard? He chose this ‘quest’ because he thought it was hopeless – does that mean he thinks he’s going to die? How is he preparing for that? Or is he thinking of ways that he can make this ‘quest’ succeed against all odds? The show has not even begun to answer any of these questions.

At this point, the only personality trait that Elnor has is that he’s awkward. That’s it. But even that is not as concrete as it might superficially seem, because while we see lots of scenes where the other characters around him think that something he’s said is awkward, it’s actually not. Because of the very unnatural dialogue of the show, many of the things that other characters say are actually far more awkward than the few things that Elnor says. This results in what one might call ‘dramatic dissonance’, where what we are being told by the dialogue or the script or the writers is different to what we are being shown and what the audience thinks. All of the characters act as though Elnor is really awkward, but this is madness when every other character is actually more awkward.

Next: Agnes Jurati. This character is all over the place, but I will say that this character is much better in the serious moments than in the ones that try to be funny or matey. Alison Pill is actually an extremely good actor – her performance as Jurati kills Maddox is extraordinary. But she keeps being given crap lines to perform in the less serious moments.

As a side note: Maddox. Firstly, why is Bruce Maddox being played by a different actor? This character was a minor one-story character in TNG, and completely obnoxious. Why bring back a character like that if you’re not going to at least maintain the consistency and get the same actor? More importantly though, shortly before Maddox is killed, he says to Picard ‘Dahj is dead, isn’t she?’. The show deprives us of seeing his reaction when he learns this by having the character already know it. This is a thing that seems to happen a lot in modern television (and film) – where we just don’t see the reactions of characters to new information – and it’s bad. Stop it. If all good acting is reacting, how can we get good performances if we never see the bloody reactions! (And this was particularly annoying on this occasion because it’s so bloody unnecessary!)

But okay, let’s get to the big ones – the problems that really condemn this whole episode and this whole show: Seven of Nine is not the same character that we saw in Voyager, and Jean-luc Picard is not the same character that we saw in The Next Generation.

Seven of Nine is completely different. There are almost no similarities between this character in this show, and the real Seven of Nine from Voyager. They are two separate characters with the same name played by the same actress.

Now, some people may argue that characters change over time, and it has been, what, 20-ish years in-universe since Voyager? That’s a long time – people can change a lot over that time. Firstly, I disagree with this premise – I actually don’t think people change as much as some like to think – this idea that people change radically over the course of their life is a cliché – some people do, but most don’t. But even if people did change a lot over 20 years, I don’t think this is a good thing to do in fiction. This does not make for a good narrative – in fact it’s quite nihilistic. In most narratives, characters have some obstacle to overcome – some challenge to succeed at. Changing a character off-screen essentially involves giving them a new obstacle or challenge (or, as is the case in a lot of contemporary television and film, giving them no obstacle or challenge at all), which most of the time is not related or connected to their previous challenge. This means that essentially their previous challenge and success is meaningless and irrelevant – it didn’t matter whether they overcame the obstacle or not, because now they’ve just been given a new, different one. If characters are defined by the obstacles they overcome, then giving them a different obstacle makes them a different character.

So it is bad to outright change a character from a previous series. Even just from a pure entertainment point of view it makes no sense – people liked the old character, so why are you just replacing it with a new one that the audience may not like?

And the character of Seven of Nine has changed – quite drastically. Just look at any clips of Seven from Voyager, and you can quickly see that these are not the same character. Seven of Nine from Voyager is meticulous and diligent. She is no longer part of the Borg, but she does not outright hate them – she sees the advantages to some of the things they do, and thinks some of the things that humans do are strange. She gradually learns how to be more human, and enjoy human things, but it is not tragic. Seven of Nine from STP is a vigilante. She’s abrasive, and ‘doesn’t play by anyone’s rules’. She’s a space cowboy who’s tragically haunted by her Borg past. These are completely different characters. (Seven of Nine in STP is also selectively moronic – why, WHY, even though she is completely prepared to kill Bjayzl, does she allow Bjayzl to stand there monologuing for several minutes?! It’s Austin Powers levels of unrealistic incompetence!)

And now the big one: Picard. The character of Jean-luc Picard in this show is not the same character as Jean-luc Picard in The Next Generation. Considering that he’s the main character of the show, that’s pretty bad.

So far in this series I’ve been somewhat tolerant of the disparities between the two Picards – I’ve put it down to badly-written dialogue and the show getting started. But no – this episode shows that the two Picards are different characters.

Let’s look at the examples. Firstly, when Picard is talking to Seven, he says ‘You are taking the law into your own hands.’, referring to her being a vigilante. This line is ridiculous because Picard knows that no law is being enforced in this part of the galaxy, and he would know that in such a situation you have to follow your own principles and be strategic. Picard never just considered ‘The Law’ to be outright correct, and thus any violation of it to be automatically incorrect – many times he disagreed with what the law was, and deliberately went against it. He would not be an advocate for just following non-existent law for the sake of being lawful. He would have known that lawful and good aren’t always the same thing.

The Picard from TNG was the ‘philosopher king’ archetype – a character who is both an authoritative leader and a moral teacher – a difficult archetype to do right and one that’s not done often nowadays. The reason it’s not often done nowadays is because lots of film and television writers nowadays lack the profundity to have the character say anything with any real moral value. In this episode, the writers of this show tried to mimic this philosophical Picard from TNG, but lack the capacity. The result is that Picard is no longer a moral teacher, and is just as stupid as the rest of the characters.

Not only is the ‘philosopher’ part of Picard’s character missing, so is the ‘king’. This is connected to Raffi’s all-powerfulness. In all of these episodes, Picard is just standing around, asking other people to do things for him. He does not lead anyone at any point. You’d hardly even know he was an admiral at all.

Let’s look at another odd line. When Seven is about to kill Bjayzl, Picard says to her ‘This is not saving the galaxy – this is settling an old score!’. So, Picard knows that Bjayzl tortured Seven’s friend. The Picard of TNG would never refer to the torturing of someone’s friend as an ‘old score’ – he would take it far more seriously than that. Similarly, Picard would never talk about ‘saving the galaxy’ in this way. This isn’t fucking Star Wars. What Seven does isn’t saving the fucking galaxy – she is limited to one very small part of the fucking galaxy, and there are many parts of the galaxy that no-one’s even been to yet. It’s ridiculously melodramatic and Picard in TNG was anything but melodramatic.

As an aside, consider the scenes where Picard is down on Freecloud. It’s clear that Patrick Stewart had far more fun playing that character than he does playing Picard’s Picard. There’s also a bizarre moment where he says the words ‘appropriately sinister’ in a French accent, which is odd, because Picard can speak French – would he not just say the words in French?

The Jean-luc Picard in this show is not reminiscent of the character from TNG. The character actually reminds me far more of Professor Xavier from the X-Men. But in this series he has nothing interesting or meaningful to say, and does not actually take any actions in the story. In five episodes he doesn’t seem to have actually done anything to try to solve this mystery himself – he’s just been nearby to other people when they tell him things about the mystery. He has not solved or figured out anything himself, nor has he made any of the decisions for what to do next – Raffi does all of that. He’s just some guy, standing there, watching the other characters do things.

There are only five episodes left. I don’t think this show is going to turn around in that time. So far, what have we seen? A mystery that is moderately compelling, but which has hardly moved forward since the first episode, and which the main character has only had peripheral involvement in solving. We’ve seen no other interesting or new ideas – if this had been TNG, we’d’ve gotten five new, interesting, sci. fi. ideas by now. We’ve heard a bunch of annoying, over-performed characters say some very unnatural lines. And we’ve seen some other characters who have the same names as characters from TNG, some of whom are also played by the same actors, but who are completely different characters. So far, this series has mostly been a massive waste of time.

Star Trek Picard – Series 1 Episode 3 – A bit annoying at times

I am still, mostly, enjoying Star Trek Picard. I’m still enjoying the mystery – I still want to know what the Zhat Vash are up to and why the androids went mad. But this series is far from perfect, and it remains not as good as its predecessor – The Next Generation (I am continuing a re-watch of all of TNG, and it’s amazing how well that show holds up compared to many more recently-made shows). I have two pages of notes in my notebook about this episode – most of them are quite disconnected from each other, so I think rather than just go through them all in this review, I’ll focus on the problems in this episode that were very apparent, and which are present in all of the episodes of this series so far.

Firstly, a lot of the characters in this series are played far too over-the-top. In this episode this was the case for both Raffi and Chris. This is an odd problem. The reason why it is a problem in the first place is that it makes the emotions of the characters seem wildly disproportionate to the problems that they have and the situation that they’re in. It undermines the realism and it’s very annoying to watch.

And I think this is both an acting problem and a writing problem. The dialogue of this show is, a lot of the time, not well written. It is cheap – the writers keep trying to tell things to the audience via the dialogue, rather than the dialogue just being what that character would say at that time and in that situation. It’s very difficult to perform bad dialogue well – bad dialogue can make a performance seem over-the-top. But this is also an acting problem. It’s as though the actors believe that more emotion is always better – the more you veer wildly from one mood to the next, the better your performance is. This is not true, and it’s why you don’t see Patrick Stewart or Brent Spiner do it.

Secondly, and similarly, many times in this episode, and this series, characters just exposit their own backstory to each other. Raffi does this a lot in this episode – she just tells Picard, and the audience, everything about her life for the last fourteen years. Chris does it too – he just has a conversation with a hologram (who seems to appear just so that the audience can be exposited to), in which he explains the important parts of his backstory and what he thinks of his current situation. It’s very cheap. You are supposed to realise not to do this kind of exposition early on as a writer – you are sacrificing realistic dialogue for the sake of giving backstory that is not needed yet, and which would be better if left as a mystery for now.

Underlying both of these points is the fact that this show is trying very hard to be ‘gritty’ and ‘bad-ass’. Lots of the new characters are moody and sarcastic (though they’re quite bad at sarcasm), and clearly the writers of this show had the phrase ‘morally grey’ whizzing around their brains a bit too much. This seems to mimic a trend that we’ve seen in Hollywood films and television shows over the last twenty years or so – for grittier, grungier worlds. It works fine for things like the Dark Knight trilogy, but it’s somewhat antithetical to Star Trek. The world depicted in this show does not seem like the same world as in classic Star Trek. It makes this series seem more like Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. than The Next Generation.

I did like the fight scene in this episode. It was a complete surprise, and very tense – exactly how that situation would seem in real life, which was great. Dr. Jurati’s reaction to having just killed someone was portrayed excellently too.

So this series has flaws, but for now they are somewhat ignorable, and the show continues to be enjoyable. (Although if there’s one thing I really did hate about this episode it was Raffi calling Picard ‘JL’ – fuck off with that. This is desperately trying to show these two characters as being familiar, but that should be done through the actors’ performances. This doesn’t make Raffi and Jean-luc look like they’ve been friends for a long time – it just makes Raffi look like a twat.)

Doctor Who – Series 12 Episode 1 – Dull, dull, ever so dull

Gosh it doesn’t seem all that long since series 11. After series 11 had aired, I had intended to make a video for my YouTube channel reviewing the series as a whole. I never got round to that in the end (as is the case with many, many videos), so I will just summarise what I thought of series 11 here.

I did not like series 11. The series had many problems, and I could have spent a long time describing them, either in blog posts or videos, but the main problem with the series was that it was deathly dull. It was unendingly boring; I tried to watch every episode of the series, but by the end I just didn’t give a shit anymore, so didn’t watch the last two or three episodes.

This followed on from many years of decline of Doctor Who. Peter Capaldi is an outstanding actor – one of the best living actors – but his series’ as The Doctor were increasingly dull. I can’t really remember the stories of any of the episodes he was in – there were no memorable moments. Getting rid of Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat and bringing in Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall was an attempt at revitalising the show. I watched series 11 optimistic that this would work, but it didn’t.

As a result of all of this, I had not intended on watching series 12 – once a show declines below a certain level of quality, one should stop watching it – how else will the showrunners learn? However, I’ve heard mixed things about series 12 so far, about half of which has aired, so I thought I’d watch this series (at least, start watching it – I may not make it to the end), to see for myself. I tend to tolerate one bad series of a show, but not two – that’s what I did with Star Trek Discovery.

So I watched episode 1 of series 12, optimistic that they would begin to solve some of the problems from the last series. But they didn’t.

I have four pages of notes on this episode, and each note could probably become two or three whole paragraphs in this review. If I were to try to fully describe what was bad about this episode, this review would become enormous, and I really don’t want to have to write and edit a giant piece of text – that takes a lot of time – considering this is just one episode. And I think it would be rather dull to read too. So instead I’m just going to give my overall thoughts on this episode – what the main problems with it are – and then chuck in a list of quick thoughts I had while watching the episode, to give the sense of just how many things are wrong with it.

The main problem with this episode is that it is dull – very, very dull. Throughout most of the episode I was just waiting for it to end, so that I could get on with other stuff. I just don’t give a shit about the mystery they are trying to solve or the villain they are trying to defeat.

And I think this says something important about writing mystery – something actually quite fundamental. The best mysteries are ones where the audience has a chance of figuring out the mystery before the characters do. We the audience should be given clues about the mystery throughout the story, and we can use these clues to solve the mystery, in the same way that the characters do. The problem with Doctor Who recently is the same problem that Steven Moffat’s Sherlock series had: we the audience have no way of figuring out the mystery ourselves, and so all we can do is watch the protagonist use their brilliance and genius to figure out the mystery using knowledge that we the audience don’t have. This is dull.

A very similar principle is true about ‘defeat the bad guy’ stories too. We the audience should be able to figure out how the bad guy can be defeated based on what we know of the rules of the world that the story is set in and the resources that the protagonists have access to. This is why world-building is so important. Part of world-building is establishing what the rules of your fictional world are, and once set, they should not be broken. The audience then knows what the rules of your world are, and can use that knowledge to figure out how to defeat the villain. The problem with Doctor Who is that it is one giant festival of deus ex machina. New rules and possibilities are introduced all the time, and old rules are disregarded. This means that all we can do as the audience is just sit back and bask in the genius of the protagonist as, once again, the protagonist uses knowledge of what’s possible and what isn’t, that we the audience don’t have, to defeat the antagonist. This is dull.

Doctor Who has had both of these problems for a long time, and this episode epitomised them. I simply don’t care how or why all of these people are being killed, because I have no way of figuring it out. Nor do I care about how The Master will be defeated – he’s always defeated. There is no threat; there is no suspense; there is no mystery.

That is the biggest problem with the episode (and I anticipate it will be the biggest problem with the whole series); that’s why it’s dull.

And now for a selection of random thoughts from throughout the episode:

  • Weird fucking dialogue right from the fucking outset. This was a problem in the last series too – for some reason the writers aren’t able to write realistic dialogue – the dialogue in this show just comes across as creepy, patronising, passive-aggressive, forced, and ultimately fake.
  • The side-kicks continue to have zero charisma. They have no personality – no character traits whatsoever. This isn’t a problem with the actors – this is a problem with the writers.
  • ‘Worst Uber ever!’ – y’know I think this line might epitomise the problem with Doctor Who at the moment. This line is played as a joke, but it’s not a joke – it’s a half-joke – a thing that is said that may be ever-so-slightly amusing, but which does not have the actual structure of a joke (yes jokes do have analysable structure). Half-jokes should never, ever make it into your writing, unless you are trying to mock the person who makes the half-joke.
  • MI6 seems a bit weak-sauce compared to U.N.I.T.
  • ‘I’ve read the files; The Doctor is a man.’ says Stephen Fry. ‘I’ve had an upgrade.’ says Jodie Whittaker. This is a bit of a fuck you to the people who didn’t like this change.
  • Even Stephen Fry can’t make the dialogue good. Normally a great actor can make shit dialogue good, but here the dialogue is just too shit.
  • I hate all of this walking and talking stuff – it prevents the suspense from building. Leave pauses in your scenes – you don’t have to have characters talking all the time. Suspense builds when we sense something ominous – little is more ominous than silence.
  • ‘Is she gonna die Doc?’ says one of the side-kicks. Once again, the side-kicks are just used as props for The Doctor. This was a problem last series too.
  • ‘MI6 has never countenanced the possibility of extra-terrestrial life.’ – I’m guessing all of those times aliens were seen by lots of people around Earth have been retconned then.
  • Stephen Fry’s character’s death has no impact.
  • The line ‘No-one’s mocking you now.’ is weirdly hilarious, though it’s not supposed to be.
  • Lenny Henry is thin now.
  • The show desperately wants to examine the big issues – like corporate data gathering and people being shits on Twitter – but it has no idea how to do it.
  • This was another fucking ‘end of the universe’ story. Stop it. This carries no weight in a series with world-building and characters as flimsy as this.
  • Fake-out deaths – these kill the tension – avoid them.
  • Jodie Whittaker plays The Doctor like a children’s television presenter. You’re not on fucking Blue Peter.
  • This is another episode that has characters talk about technology that’s been written by people who know nothing about how that technology works. If you’re not going to have any techie people write your show, at least get a fucking technology adviser so that your characters don’t say stupid things.
  • Lenny Henry is shit at aiming.
  • Lenny Henry does not make for a threatening villain. (This is actually a writing problem – as is the above point. Lenny Henry actually does very well with what he is given – it’s just that what he is given to perform is shit.)

That was one episode, and it had that much wrong with it. That episode was a complete disaster, and it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the series.

Apostrophic Abbreviations

I remember learning about apostrophes in primary and secondary school. I remember learning that they could be used to indicate possession with the possessive s – for example, ‘Ben’s blog’. And I remember learning that apostrophes were also used in abbreviations – they denoted letters that had been omitted to make two words shorter.

This is something we all learn in school. But I think something else we learn at the same time is that there is a set of words that are abbreviated in this way (words like I’ve and you’re) and that that’s it – no other words can be abbreviated in this way.

But in the last two years or so, I realised that there really isn’t anything to stop me from using apostrophes to abbreviate more words. (It might not be considered grammatically correct by a number of grammar and spelling aficionados, but I don’t think there’s any point sticking to a rule of grammar if the rule adds nothing to the language.) There are words that I abbreviate when I speak them – sometimes if I want to write a sentence, but convey the same meaning as if I had spoken it, I want to abbreviate the same words.

So I have started doing this – I have started abbreviating other words – beyond the standard set – and here are some of the ones that I use:

  • I’d’ve – I would have
  • You’d’ve – You would have
  • They’d’ve – They would have
  • What’ve – What have
  • When’ve – When have
  • to’ve – to have
  • Couldn’t’ve – Could not have
  • Wouldn’t’ve – Would not have
  • There’re – There are
  • Where’re – Where are
  • Who’re – Who are
  • Y’know – You know
  • D’y’know – Do you know
  • J’know – Do you know
  • ‘snot – It’s not
  • ‘salso – It’s also

In this list there are words which have two apostrophes in them where I’ve smashed together three words. I find this to be delightfully absurd. Two apostrophes is altogether too many apostrophes to have in a word – much the same way that twelve sides is too many sides for a £1 coin to have – and that’s why I think it’s brilliant (and I like the new £1 coin too).

Some of these words even start with apostrophes – also a lot of fun.

It doesn’t save any time writing words like this – I write fewer characters but I spend more time thinking about when to type the apostrophes. I use these abbreviations in order to make what I write more similar to what I say. They can prevent something I write from seeming too formal and stiff.

Microsoft Word complains when I do this, of course, as does my phone when I use these abbreviations in text messages. But I have a lot of idiosyncrasies in my writing, and I’ve long since ignored Word’s opinion of it. (‘Yes Word, I do in fact WANT that line to be a sentence fragment.’)