Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back – Review

On to Episode V – widely regarded as the best Star Wars film. Once again, the aim of this post is not to examine every facet of the story, and explain why it works – the aim is just to make some observations.

Firstly: world-building (probably my favourite aspect of fiction). The world-building in this film is excellent. This is something that I’ve said of every film so far in these reviews – and one of the things that I’m re-realising through doing these reviews – the world-building in George Lucas’ Star Wars is extraordinary. The real stand-out in this film is Cloud City – what an extraordinary environment – a city that floats in the atmosphere of a gas giant. It’s completely unlike anything we saw in Episode IV. It’s amazing that we don’t see this sort of environment more in science fiction.

Hoth is also an example of good world-building. That particular climate hadn’t been used in the previous film; we saw two unique species that live on the planet (the tauntauns and the wampa – and they weren’t just background filler or accessories – they were actually involved in the plot); we also saw several new pieces of technology used while on the planet – notably the ATATs and the ion cannon.

Han, Chewbacca, and Leia’s storyline in this film is an excellent example of realism and how to build tension. At the start of the film, Han and Chewbacca are trying to repair the Millennium Falcon. We see many shots of this and we get the sense that it is complex and takes a long time. This is realism. In the Disney films, when the Falcon gets damaged, repairing it doesn’t seem to be a difficult thing (which means that it getting damaged at all doesn’t add to the tension – it’ll just be repaired quite easily and quickly). Indeed, in this film, a big part of Han, Chewbacca, and Leia’s storyline revolves around trying to fix the Falcon’s hyperdrive, and trying to escape the Empire without being able to jump to hyperspace.

Vader gets tonnes of great stuff in this film. Even the details are great. I love the way we get a glimpse of what Vader looks like under the helmet – just a fraction of a second as his helmet is being put on. The first film sets up the mystery of what he looks like under the helmet, and this film gives us a glimpse, but no more. I also really like how Vader tells the admiral to take the ship out of the asteroid field so that they can send a clear signal to the emperor. This tells us that Vader doesn’t want to annoy the emperor – he doesn’t want the emperor to see any imperfection – he wants to show deference. This is a great way of signalling that the emperor is at the top of the hierarchy.

Also, Vader altering the deal with Lando Calrissian several times shows how the empire is used to getting its way – even when they make an agreement, they don’t have to keep it – they can just do what they want, and whoever they made the agreement with just has to go along with it. This is a great way of showing the power of the empire.

Everything with Yoda in this film is fantastic. The puppetry by Frank Oz is just outstanding – every time I watch this film I am amazed by just how much expression it is possible to put into the movement of the puppet. Despite it quite obviously being a puppet, it doesn’t break the illusion of the film. (This is quite amazing considering that in the Disney films, sometimes very detailed CGI does break the illusion.)

The opening sequence with Yoda I think is my favourite of the scenes we get with Yoda. That particular kind of whimsy – being willing to make himself look daft, quite the opposite of what a Jedi master is supposed to look like, in order to test Luke – is not something we seem to get from any of the other films.

Just like with the previous four films, some of the dialogue in this film is a bit strange. The entire conversation between Han and Lando when Han, Chewbacca, and Leia first land on Cloud City is very odd. The whole thing is stilted – as though when they were filming it, they didn’t have the other actor say their lines when one actor was doing their takes.

The interaction between Han and Leia is weird for a lot of this film too. A lot of their dialogue is quite cheesy – to some extent that’s fine – it was the eighties – they didn’t intonate words with as much precision back then. But also, Han is quite creepy in the first part of the film. Leia makes it very clear, multiple times, that she’s not interested in him, but he keeps leering over her. They get together in the end, of course, which makes it seem like Han was right to persist, but several times Leia makes it incredibly clear that she’s not interested in him – in a way that seems not at all ambiguous.

There is also one plot oddity that I was reminded about on this rewatch. Before Luke goes to Cloud City to try to rescue the others, Obi-wan and Yoda tell Luke that it’s a trap. This doesn’t seem to change Luke’s plan, nor does it change his mind about whether to go to Cloud City at all. This strikes me as odd – if I were told that something were a trap, I would very quickly change my mind about what I wanted to do. We see a similar problem to this in Episode III – when Anakin and Obi-wan get into Grievous’ ship over Coruscant, they realise that they’ve walked into a trap, but this does not change what they plan to do – they just decide to spring the trap. I dislike this in stories – when characters realise that something’s a trap, but it doesn’t change what they intend to do.

And finally another small detail I like is Admiral Ozzel taking the fleet out of hyperspace too close to the Hoth system. This allows the rebels to raise their energy shield in time. I like this because it hints that perhaps Ozzel was secretly on the side of the rebels. Perhaps he was deliberately doing things in such a way that gave the rebels the advantage in battles. This is supported by Vader saying ‘You have failed me for the last time, Admiral.’ – Ozzel has failed many times before, perhaps because he is trying to help the rebels. (Of course, he could instead just be incompetent.)

And that’s it for this film. I never got the Big Reveal moment (‘I am your father.’) when I first watched this film, because when I first watched this film I must have been twelve or something, and had seen various fragments of the Star Wars films out of order already. But this is an excellent film overall, with great world-building, some great character moments, and great details.

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith – Review

So, Episode III. I get the sense that this is the prequel film that people like the most. It does have a great many excellent moments – particularly after the half-way point, where Anakin becomes Darth Vader. I like almost everything in the second half of this film.

As with the review for the previous film, in this review I’m going to have to go through the events of the film in mostly-chronological order. (I would prefer to split the review by the different aspects of filmmaking, but that’s not really possible with this film.) A lot happens in this film, and a lot of the scenes we see build very rapidly on previous scenes.

The opening sequence is excellent. Such a complex, low-altitude space battle is not something we’ve seen before in this series. And George Lucas putting it over Coruscant leads to many interesting questions – if anything of sufficient size falls to the ground, it will cause A LOT of destruction – there’s nothing but city down there – anything that falls WILL kill a lot of people. Since Palpatine is ultimately orchestrating this entire war, and could stop it at any moment, it shows how little regard he has for the people of the soon-to-be empire.

The buzz droids are also not something we’ve seen before. They are an interesting new weapon, and an example of good world-building. In a universe with droids as clever and common as R2-D2, buzz droids would definitely exist.

We even get some good character moments in the opening sequence. Anakin’s determination to save Obi-wan from the buzz droids makes the ending to this film all the more tragic. But then despite Anakin saving Obi-wan, Obi-wan still berates Anakin – as he did throughout the last film – that Grievous’ ship’s shields are still up.

Ian McDiarmid and Christopher Lee are brilliant as always. If this film were released today, I’m sure the way McDiarmid plays Palpatine would be described as over-the-top, cartoonish – or even slightly flamboyant. There is a trend at the moment for gritty villains. But McDiarmid playing the character in this way is what makes it enjoyable – the character isn’t supposed to be some pretentious mIrRoR tO tHe AuDiEnCe – he’s supposed to be the embodiment of pure evil – someone who is devious and cunning – and McDiarmid plays that perfectly.

Like with the last two films, there are some odd lines of dialogue in this film. Some very noticeable examples are in the conversation between Anakin and Obi-wan after they have gotten the chancellor back, and just before Obi-wan goes back to the temple. This entire conversation is a bit off – the whole thing sounds like two actors acting rather than two people who are actually friends talking to each other. Once again, I think this is a writing problem – the lines just haven’t been written in a very natural way.

We then get many scenes that are great setup for Anakin’s fall. Anakin starts getting visions of Padmé’s death and he goes to Yoda for advice. (As a side note, I really like that Anakin can go to Grandmaster Yoda – this again shows how Yoda is not just the leader of a martial order, but a spiritual one too – he has to be involved as much in the moral training of the Jedi as the day-to-day running of a martial school.) The advice that Yoda gives Anakin is ‘Train yourself to let go.’.

This is the worst possible advice to give Anakin at this moment – he is never going to follow that advice. This shows how even if the Jedi’s teachings are correct, they did not adjust how they taught them for Anakin – who of course, was older than most people are when they join the Jedi Order – they knew he had already formed attachments – they needed to adjust his training based on that. And here, Yoda doesn’t know the exact details of Anakin’s situation, of course, but as soon as a Jedi as powerful as Anakin – and the Chosen One – came to him talking about fearing someone’s death, Yoda should have inquired more. This should have been a red flag for Yoda.

Anakin keeps getting bad instruction and bad advice from the Jedi Order – Obi-wan constantly berates him, and now when he goes to Yoda he doesn’t get the right advice. They are not good mentors for Anakin.

At the same time, Anakin sees Palpatine as an excellent mentor – his true mentor. There are several scenes in the previous film and this one that show that Palpatine has befriended Anakin over the time he’s been on Coruscant. (In truth, these scenes have told us this rather than shown it – through off-hand lines of dialogue. Seeing Palpatine befriend Anakin should probably have been a more major component of these films, given how important it is – it could certainly have replaced some of the overly-long action sequences – but I’m not sure it could ever have been given enough time given that this is just three films – this is perhaps another reason why the story of the prequels might be better told through a long-form television series than a film series, but at the time the prequels were made, such series’ were less common.)

Palpatine often compliments Anakin. In the previous film, Palpatine tells Anakin ‘You are the most gifted Jedi I have ever met.’. Later in this film, he says that Anakin is the obvious choice to be the one to hunt down General Grievous, and at around this point in the film he tells Anakin that he is appointing him to be his personal representative on the Jedi Council. Anakin immediately assumes that this means he will be a Jedi Master, and from his reaction it is apparent that he has always wanted this (and probably believes that he already should be one). For the entire time that Anakin has been training to be a Jedi, he has been told that he is the Chosen One – he is expected to be a great Jedi, and he has always wanted to meet that expectation. After years of feeling like Obi-wan has been holding him back, it is now Palpatine who allows him to progress. Anakin keeps receiving good sentiments from Palpatine, and now Palpatine is giving him the opportunity to do something he’s always wanted to do – Anakin sees Palpatine as a good mentor. This is all excellent setup for Anakin’s fall.

The Jedi give Anakin a seat on the Council, but they do not grant him the rank of master. Anakin is angered by this. He sees it as unfair, and as the Council deliberately holding him back. This adds to Anakin seeing the Jedi Council as being in opposition to him (something which started when Anakin first met the Jedi Council in Episode I – they did not want him to be trained as a Jedi – his first impression of the Jedi Council was as something that would get in the way of what he wants to be and do).

Then the Council asks Anakin to report on what the chancellor is up to. Anakin strongly dislikes this – it goes against the Jedi Code – it goes against what he has been taught that it means to be a good Jedi. Anakin first being denied the rank of master and then being asked to spy on Palpatine are more excellent setup for Anakin’s fall. First he is prevented from being the great Jedi he wants and is expected to be, and then he is asked to do something that a great Jedi would never do. It puts Anakin in direct conflict with the Council, and he realises that they are not the moral paragons that he has been taught that they are (which leads into the later line of ‘From my point of view the Jedi are evil.’). The Jedi Council asking him off-record to do this makes it worse – they are being secretive and deceptive – qualities that are associated with the Sith. The line from Obi-wan at the end of the scene ‘The Council is asking you.’ is the perfect line to end on – this makes it clear to Anakin that it is the Jedi Council – and thus the institution of the Jedi – that is the problem.

This scene also shows Anakin’s naïveté when it comes to politics. Palpatine putting Anakin on the Jedi Council was him trying to get Anakin to spy on the Council for him, but Anakin didn’t see it that way, because it wasn’t put that way (and because Anakin was blinded by ambition). Anakin should have disliked the idea of reporting on what the Council was doing to Palpatine as much as the idea of reporting on what Palpatine was doing to the Council, but he didn’t, because he couldn’t see what Palpatine was up to.

All of this is a master stroke of writing. We see how the Jedi are not good mentors to Anakin, while Anakin increasingly sees Palpatine as his true mentor. We see Anakin increasingly see the Council as being opposed to him, preventing him from becoming the great Jedi that he was told he would be and that he wants to be. We see the Jedi Council ask Anakin to do something against the Jedi Code – the moral code that they teach as the way to act – and spy on the very person who Anakin sees as his true mentor. This is all brilliant setup for Anakin’s fall.

After this we get the famous scene in the opera. This scene is so memorable that most Star Wars fans can quote it word for word. The best thing about this scene, of course, is Ian McDiarmid’s performance – again, maybe it’s a little bit over-the-top, but I think that’s good – that’s part of what makes it memorable. When I rewatched this film, one line that struck me as great was ‘If they haven’t included you in their plot, they soon will.’ – what a deliciously manipulative line for Palpatine to say to Anakin.

Shortly after that we get the final scene between Obi-wan and Anakin before Anakin turns to the Dark Side. Now, there’s nothing about the scene that suggests that this will be the last time they speak before Anakin turns to the dark side – there’s nothing foreboding about it – you only realise that it is the last scene when you rewatch the film, but that makes it all the more tragic. This final scene shows a very ordinary conversation. This means that from Obi-wan’s point of view, everything seemed fine, and it’s only when he returns from Utapau that he starts to see what’s happened.

What’s also interesting about this scene is that we finally see Obi-wan praise Anakin – ‘You have become a far greater Jedi than I could ever hope to be.’ – after berating him almost constantly for years. Had Obi-wan not berated Anakin so much, Anakin might not have started seeing Palpatine as his true mentor, but this praise is too late.

The world design of Utapau is excellent – we’ve not seen a world like this before in Star Wars. The prequels are excellent in how many new worlds and species are introduced. Grievous has an interesting character design – once a completely biological lifeform, he is now mostly machine – good foreshadowing of what Anakin will become. The fight scene between Obi-wan and Grievous is perhaps overly long (or perhaps other parts of the film are not long enough), but at least it incorporates elements that we’ve not seen before.

The scene where Anakin realises that Palpatine is a Sith Lord is good, but it needed to be a bigger moment. This is a pivotal moment in the story of the prequels – this moment and the moment where Anakin becomes Palpatine’s apprentice are possibly the two biggest moments – but it doesn’t entirely seem like the big revelation that it should be for Anakin. For that I think there needed to be more focus on Anakin’s reactions to every line Palpatine said, and more tension in the scene overall. The success of this scene depends not on the audience realising that Palpatine is a Sith Lord – we already know that – but on us seeing Anakin realise that, and understanding how he reacts to it – which we don’t get enough. Anakin has been told he is the Chosen One who will destroy the Sith for years – we should have seen a reaction from him of deep suspicion and indecision.

And then we get to the most important scene of the prequels – the scene where the Jedi try to arrest Palpatine, and where Anakin turns to the Dark Side and becomes Palpatine’s new apprentice.

As has been commented many times before, the fighting between Palpatine and the Jedi could have been a lot better. It veers between fairly slow, simple fight choreography between the actual actors, and a CGI Ian McDiarmid jumping around unnecessarily. This should have been an epic, memorable fight, and it’s not (well, it’s memorable for the wrong reasons). I get the sense from behind-the-scenes videos that they just didn’t spend enough time on this aspect of the scene.

Mace Windu overpowers Palpatine, of course, and then Anakin comes in. Anakin has not seen the fight, nor heard anything that Palpatine said to the Jedi, and now he must choose who to believe about what has happened. The setup to this moment is fantastic – who does Anakin believe? Does he believe Master Windu, who has never trusted him – who was the person who said that he wouldn’t be trained as a Jedi, and then that he would not be given the rank of master – who is part of the Jedi Council, which Anakin has long found frustrating, and which asked him to do something against the Jedi Code, and who is now about to do something against the Jedi Code? Or does he believe the person he has long seen as his true mentor, and who claims can teach him how to save Padmé? It’s glaringly obvious which one he would choose in the end.

I like almost everything in the film from the point where Anakin turns to the Dark Side onwards. The music as Order 66 is executed is fantastic – sorrowful, mournful. We even get some great world-building as that happens – we see several completely new planets, with very different terrains and life-forms, just for a few seconds each as part of the montage. It’s more world-building than we get in all of the Disney films. The sight of the Jedi Temple on fire at night is also delightfully tragic.

The fight between Anakin and Obi-wan on Mustafar is one of the highlights of the trilogy, I think. Mustafar is another environment that we haven’t seen so far in the series, and an excellent choice of backdrop for a fight between father and son, or between brothers, that will decide the fate of the galaxy. The music – Battle of the Heroes – is outstanding – both epic and tragic. I know very little about sword-fighting, so I couldn’t say exactly how good or bad the fight choreography is, but throughout the entire sequence, it looks like both characters are giving it all they’ve got.

I think possibly the best line of the prequel trilogy is Obi-wan saying ‘I have failed you, Anakin. I have failed you.’ – because it is absolutely true, and it’s only now that it’s too late that Obi-wan has realised it.

It is a beautiful tragedy when Obi-wan has to watch Anakin be burned by the lava. He has to watch the destruction of his pupil and brother, who by this point hates him not just because he is on the opposing side of a war, but because he has been the source of his frustration for years, and is now just letting him burn. I think Christensen performs brilliantly in this scene (and so does McGregor, when I think about it).

There are some bad lines in this part of the film. Some of Padmé’s lines when she’s talking to Anakin after she arrives on Mustafar are a bit odd. I think that, as ever, this is down to how the dialogue is written – it’s far too terse – and a lack of reaction shots and close-ups. Also, after the Mustafar sequence, when Padmé is dying, and the robot says ‘She’s dying, and we don’t know why … She’s lost the will to live.’ – this is a bit daft.

At the same time as the sequence on Mustafar, we see the fight between Yoda and Palpatine. Once again, Lucas finds a way of doing something different with the fight – this one taking place in the main senate hall. The destruction of the senate hall as the head of the Sith and the head of the Jedi fight is a simple symbolism, but a satisfying one.

After all of that, there are various short scenes that wind down the film, and the trilogy. Qui-gon being the first Jedi to become a force ghost is a nice touch – you get the sense that if there’s anyone who would be the first, it would be him. Padmé’s funeral, while short, and sort of cliché, is beautifully tragic – and a great scene to have at the end of this trilogy – the tragedy of Padmé Amidala and the tragedy of Anakin Skywalker are essentially one and the same.

This film has an extraordinary number of excellent aspects. It has some bad lines of dialogue, and there are many missing reaction shots. Some of the scenes are too long, others too short, others not impactful enough. The film has many flaws, but I don’t think they at all outweigh the extraordinary number of good things about the film. This is an excellent, but imperfect, film.

This is the same as what I said about the previous two films. There are many, many great things about this trilogy, and the idea that it was a complete disaster, as some people seem to think, is completely flawed. To see this trilogy as a disaster, you would have to ignore about 90% of it, and over-focus on about four or five lines of dialogue throughout the three films. You would have to ignore all of the great world-building, the great actors, the great performances, the great sword fights, the great costume design, the great music, a story structure which is unlike most of what we get from modern Hollywood (one of the things people who like The Last Jedi claim is great about the film was that it didn’t follow the same tired structure that a lot of space fantasy films do – well the prequels also don’t follow that same structure), and you would have to over-focus on ‘I don’t like sand.’ – a line so forgettable and ignorable that I’m amazed anyone at all complains about it.

If nothing else, writing these reviews has shown me just how many things I like about these films, and I will now be able to come back to this review if I want to think over these things again.

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.

Star Wars Is Dead – Part 1: Fan fiction pretending to be a reboot pretending to be a finale

Okay, it’s taken me longer to get round to the first part of this series than I expected, but let’s go.

This film is a massive fuck you to The Last Jedi.

This film was filled with retcons. I was actually almost impressed with the number of retcons in this film. I was also amazed at the kind of retcons we got. Some of the retcons were of the kind we’re used to seeing, where something that was possible in a previous film is now just not possible, and next to no explanation is given. Some of the retcons were of a different kind – which I’ve been calling ‘narrative retcons’ (which may not be the best name), where the act of undoing or replacing something is woven into the narrative – this kind of retcon seemed to be used to change the direction and style set-up by The Last Jedi. I didn’t even realise such ‘narrative retcons’ were possible before watching this film.

Now, before I start going through all of the retcons in this film, I want to assert that all retcons are bad. Having retcons in your film or television series or book is always bad – having them always makes your creative work lower quality than if it did not have them. Because fundamentally, a retcon is a discontinuity. (‘Retcon’ is an abbreviation of ‘retroactive continuity’, and was originally used to describe when the creator of a creative work – whether they’re an author or a film director or a film producer – either added something into a sequel work, or said something outside of any of the creative works in the series, that changes the meaning, or the sequence of events, the history, or the underlying physics or metaphysics, seen by the audience in the creative work, so as not to contradict something that is seen in the sequel work. Retcons are an attempt at providing continuity across the series of works. Because of this we might naïvely see them as continuities, rather than discontinuities. But the very fact that we the audience have to change our understanding of a part of the original creative work, so that on second viewing of the series as a whole it appears to have a continuity, means that there IS a discontinuity in our understanding of the story. In short, a retcon asks the audience to pretend they didn’t notice a thing from the previous parts of the story. A retcon is an attempt at giving the story continuity at the expense of the continuity of the audience’s understanding. So it is a discontinuity. In addition to this, the overwhelming majority of retcons are imperfect, and in their attempt to remove an inconsistency in the story, they just end up creating one or more other inconsistencies – as was the case with this film.) Discontinuities pull the audience out of the story – whether it’s a book or a television series or a film, a discontinuity reminds the audience that the world of the creative work is not real. Discontinuities lessen the immersivity of a story – they are the antagonists of immersivity. (This is why world-building is such a big part of writing science fiction and fantasy – you’ve got to make the audience believe that the world they are reading about could be real. If there are inconsistencies in your world design, it makes your world less believable.) Every time I see a discontinuity in a film, I am reminded that I am sitting in a cinema. This is not what I want. In a science fiction or fantasy film (or quite frankly any film), I want to forget that the real world exists – for between one and a half and three hours I want to imagine that the world of the film is all that exists, and I imagine that this is what a lot of the fans of these films want. Thus, all retcons are bad.

This is why I said, in the video I made about Episode IX before it came out, that I thought there was no possibility of this film being a good film. It either had to go with what it had been given from The Last Jedi, which was shit (that’s for another rant), or it had to retcon lots of things from the previous films, which would also have been shit because retcons are always bad. Whatever this film did, it would end up being shit.

But okay, onto the actual retcons. The main thing to point out here is that this film retconned all of the big things introduced in The Last Jedi. I would have thought that anyone who liked The Last Jedi would have hated this film because of that.

Firstly, the obvious one: in The Last Jedi it’s revealed that Rey’s parents are not anyone of significance within the galaxy. It’s also implied that they weren’t Force-users. This was massively, massively retconned in The Rise Of Skywalker (fuck I hate that title). Not only were Rey’s parents not ‘nobody’, they were very much ‘somebody’ – in fact they were some of the somebodiest ‘somebodies’ in the entire galaxy, because Rey is a grandchild of Emperor Palpatine.

Now, I personally don’t dislike this idea (other than the fact that it is a retcon – I would have liked this had they done the proper setup for it, but they didn’t, and now it’s a mess), but for those people who did like The Last Jedi, this must be pretty annoying. Defenders of The Last Jedi often exclaimed that it was a good thing that Rey was not related to any of the big Force-using families – why did everyone have to be related to everyone in this galaxy? Why did Force powers have to be inherited? Are the defenders of The Last Jedi annoyed by this change?

I don’t dislike the idea of this – I think had they intended this to be the case from the beginning, I think it could have been done very well. But the execution is hot trash. In TROS, after Rey finds out that she’s the grandchild of Palpatine, Kylo Ren uses the ‘true from a certain point of view’ angle (it’s pretty lazy writing to just do that one again) to show how what he said in TLJ wasn’t technically wrong. This means that Kylo Ren knew who Rey’s parents were back in TLJ – so he lied … … but … why? What reason did he have for lying at that point? As far as I can tell, there is none. (Also, if indeed Kylo Ren did find this out in TLJ, his reaction to it was remarkably unsurprised. This shows again how retcons are bad – expressions given by actors in previous scenes now no longer make sense.)

The problems go further than this. This film tries to retroactively explain Rey’s astonishing Force powers by linking her to Palpatine. Of course, one of the main criticisms of Rey from the last two films is that she’s a Mary Sue – she can just use the Force very well despite having no training. Connecting Rey to Palpatine, and indicating that that’s where her extraordinary powers come from is an attempt to un-Mary-Sue-ify Rey. But Episode VII is called ‘The Force Awakens’, and the message from that film is very much that the Force has ‘awoken’ in Rey (something which they continue leaning into in TLJ). But if Rey’s powers are inherited from Palpatine, how did they awaken? She had them all along. This change undermines the premise of this trilogy.

Okay, secondly: Snoke. This is one of the retcons that I class as a narrative retcon. Snoke remains dead in this film – they didn’t undo that. But they did undo the big thing that was done in TLJ. In TLJ, the Big Bad, the final boss, was killed using a very unsubtle play on words. This was hailed as revolutionary by film aficionados. We all expected that Snoke was going to be killed off at the end of the third film – that’s how it always goes – that’s one of the tropes of these kinds of films. Shock, he dies in the second film.

This film didn’t bring Snoke back, but it did undo the effect of killing him off. Killing Snoke meant that there was no Big Bad for Episode IX. Except … in the end … there was – this film just decided to bring back Palpatine instead. One Big Bad had been killed off, so they just brought in another one instead. The effect of killing off the Big Bad was nullified.

So this is a ‘narrative retcon’. They didn’t just straight-up bring Snoke back, but they changed the narrative to put the overarching story back into the place that it would have been had Snoke’s death not happened.

But this retcon goes deeper than this, almost in a way that suggests J. J. Abrams was insulted by the killing-off of Snoke, because this film completely removes Snoke as a character from these films. Early on in TROS, when Kylo Ren goes to visit Sheev in hospital, we see a large tank in the dark room where they keep Palpy. In this tank, we see several Snoke bodies. This means that Sheev literally created Snoke. And when Sheev says ‘I am every voice you’ve ever heard.’ (something like that – it’s been a few weeks), he must either mean that Snoke was a real person but who was Palpatine’s puppet, or Snoke was just under the direct control of Palpatine, using some other new Force power. Either way, Snoke only existed for the purpose of swaying Kylo Ren, probably only existed for a few years, and had no free agency. He effectively didn’t exist. That’s quite a monumental retcon.

Thirdly, the Holdo Manoeuvre. This was a full-on retcon. It was also a fuck you to fans, because they actually had a character ask a question that they knew fans would ask if they didn’t do this retcon: ‘Why not just use the Holdo Manoeuvre against Sheev’s fleet?’.

The response to this, from Finn, was ‘That’s one in a million.’ (something like that). This is the laziest fucking writing I’ve ever seen. He might as well have just said ‘Nah’. The Last Jedi introduced something into the Star Wars universe that was world-breaking. The existence of this as a thing that can happen means that a large number of events should have turned out differently, if this is to be a consistent universe. And the explanation we’re given as to why this thing doesn’t happen all the time is essentially just ‘it doesn’t’, which isn’t a fucking reason at all.

I have never seen such lazy fucking writing – why do you bother making films at all if you can’t be bothered to think about these things?

Those were the three big things from The Last Jedi that were retconned, but there were lots of other retcons too.

The biggest retcon of the entire film, of course, is Palpatine. At the start of this film, Palpatine is not dead. He did not die at the end of Episode VI (or he died and came back to life – since we don’t know the details the distinction is somewhat arbitrary).

Now, even before this film came out, I said, as did many others, that bringing Palpatine back was not a good idea. Palpatine being alive means that he didn’t truly die in Episode VI, which undermines the plot of Episode VI. At the end of Return Of The Jedi, all of the main characters celebrate the destruction of the second Death Star and the death of Palpatine (and consequently the fall of the empire). But this is now a hollow victory, because they didn’t truly kill Palpatine at all. This film completely changes the context and tone of the ending to ROTJ – the characters may be celebrating, but now we the audience know that they should instead be looking for Palpatine, either to kill him properly or to prevent him from coming back. The characters celebrate, but we the audience do not.

No explanation is given for how Palpatine survived – in true J. J. Abrams fashion. All we get is a repeat of Palpatine’s earlier line: ‘The Dark Side is a path to many abilities that some would consider unnatural.’ While this is not an explanation, it does reveal another (partial) retcon. This means that Sidious used the Force to stay alive – he did not just happen to survive by natural means. In the Prequels, Sidious says that only Darth Plagueis knew of how to cheat death using the Dark Side of the Force. So apparently, Sidious figured it out on his own at some point between the Prequels and the Originals. That’s not impossible according to the Star Wars universe’s own rules, so it’s not a full-on retcon, but we the audience know that this is a recent change, rather than a fact of the universe that was intended all along, so it still sticks out.

The main side-effect of Sidious being alive is that it undermines the finality of death in these stories. This is a problem that can exist in any story that brings characters back from the dead – either by making that physically possible in the world of the story, or by pretending that they were never dead in the first place. This is advice that writers are often given. Tension and suspense are created in your story because the reader or viewer does not want the characters to fail or to lose or to die – the audience has investment in the characters. Bringing characters back to life in your story ultimately removes death as a possibility – after all, if one character can come back once, surely any character can come back any number of times. It removes the stakes, and thus undermines the tension. We no longer fear that our protagonist may die in their fight, because if they do they can just come back to life.

And this is a problem we see in this film too. Sidious dies again in this film, but is there anything to stop him coming back again? Will he just come back whenever the franchise is in trouble? Death can no longer be a permanent victory against evil – the protagonists cannot win.

More on character-based retcons: this film gave us General Pryde. This I think is by far the most interesting, and funniest, of the retcons in the film. One of the complaints about The Last Jedi was that it undermined General Hux as a threatening villain. Hux was used as a comedy character. This made it very difficult to use Hux as a true villain in TROS, because we wouldn’t have taken him seriously. I think J. J. Abrams knew this, and that’s why we got General Pryde, played by Richard E. Grant. General Pryde is just another menacing First Order commander – on paper he is no different to Hux – but because we haven’t seen him be the butt of jokes in TLJ, he can actually be menacing – we the audience take him seriously. Pryde is a replacement for Hux.

This is another ‘narrative retcon’. The existence of Pryde doesn’t contradict anything we’ve seen before, nor does it change the meaning of anything we’ve seen before, but it does reverse the effect of TLJ by giving us a new secondary villain. It seems two villains from the previous film were replaced: Snoke was replaced with Palpatine, and Hux was replaced with Pryde. We now have our new primary and secondary villains.

The existence of Pryde isn’t interesting just because it is this different kind of retcon, but also because in this film, General Pryde shoots and kills General Hux. This was amazing when I saw it in the cinema (not in a good way) – they actually had General Hux’s replacement shoot General Hux! The replacement killed off the original! As retcons go, that is bold.

They killed off Pryde at the end of the film. (I don’t know why – he could have been a good villain for future films – maybe he’ll come back from the dead too.) But I wonder if there’s a hidden meaning here. The Last Jedi made Hux an unusable character; in the end it was Pryde / pride that killed him, and then Pryde / pride dies. Is General Pryde a jab at Rian Johnson? Johnson has aggressively defended The Last Jedi on Twitter ever since it came out – he has, it seems, always been proud of the film. Is Abrams saying that it was Johnson’s pride that killed Hux, and in the end pride dies because TLJ was hated by a lot of fans? I’ve heard stranger fan theories, and it would explain why this new general is called Pryde of all things.

While I’m on The First Order, there was another retcon there, and in some ways this is the worst one. In this film it is revealed that Palpatine has got a huge fleet of ships on Exegol. This fleet is bigger and more powerful than any other ever seen at any other point in the Star Wars films. Every ship in it is both a Star Destroyer and a Death Star (I’ll come back to that issue later). This fleet is more powerful than The First Order fleet was even before the destruction of Starkiller Base (gosh that seems like a long time ago now), since every five ships of this fleet is essentially another Starkiller Base. This fleet is part of what’s called The Final Order.

But what’s confusing is that Snoke, who apparently created the First Order, was a literal creation of Palpatine. Everything Snoke is and was was given to him by Palpatine. So was the First Order just part of the Final Order all along? As far as I can remember they have the same uniform. And when Palpatine reveals his fleet, thereafter there appears to be no difference between the First Order and the Final Order. General Pryde somehow gets from a First Order ship onto a Final Order ship – we never see how, and no-one in-universe seems to question it, so apparently none of them see any difference between the two. The Knights of Ren (when they make an appearance) also apparently switch from the First Order to the Final without any confusion. As far as I can tell, the First Order and the Final Order are one single organisation.

And this makes me wonder: do the people in the First Order know that they’re part of the Final Order? Some of them must do, surely, but apparently not Kylo Ren, otherwise he’d’ve know that Sidious was alive since Episode VII. This is a massive great inconsistency right in the middle of the film.

Also, how on earth does the Final Order survive out there on Exegol? They appear to have thousands of enormous ships. I know some people have done calculations for how many people must be on those ships – I can’t remember what they’ve said, but it could easily be tens of thousands on each one. There are potentially tens of millions of people living out there on Exegol, waiting for Sidious to do whatever he’s going to do. How do they live? Exegol doesn’t look like a planet that produces much food. And are all of these people people that they’ve taken from other parts of the galaxy and brought to Exegol to be trained as Stormtroopers? Is this film telling me that Sidious and his gang were able to bring tens of millions of people to Exegol over the years, and no-one either followed them or tried to escape once there? No-one sent out a covert signal to the rest of the galaxy?

Also among the retcons were the Knights of Bloody Ren. They’re back … although actually, are they? Have we ever even seen them? I think we saw them in a flashback in TFA or TLJ – they didn’t really do anything – they just stood there, as far as I can remember. I think that’s all we’ve ever seen of them. And I think we only see them in two scenes in this film – once on Kylo Ren’s First Order ship, and then once on Exegol, fighting Kylo Ren. This is sort of a retcon, in that they’ve been retconned into existence after being conspicuously out of existence. I’d reckon they were included in this film just because fans would have questioned it if they weren’t, but their inclusion is just baffling. We still know nothing about them. We don’t know who they are or what they want. And we can’t figure out what they want here, because their decisions don’t seem to make any sense. In the previous two films we were given the sense that they were very loyal to Kylo Ren, even though we never saw them. In this film, apparently, even though I don’t know how they know that Kylo has changed sides, they somehow do, and instead decide to serve the Emperor – so apparently not that loyal to Kylo in the end. So in the end, the Knights of Ren were completely fucking pointless. We still don’t even know what ‘Ren’ means.

And then finally (yes, we’re finally there), there were some retcons to Luke and Leia. Leia was now a Jedi all along, apparently, which explains how she was able to train Rey, but is not sufficient for how she was able to survive in space without any kind of spacesuit. Luke was also made more Jedi-master-like in this film, perhaps in a direct response to fans.

Furthermore, as part of this film’s ‘fuck you’ to TLJ, when Rey throws her lightsaber into a fire, Luke catches it, and they have him say the line ‘The weapon of a Jedi deserves more respect.’ – that’s a direct response to fans hating it when Luke threw his lightsaber over his shoulder in TLJ.

I’m sure there are more retcons than that, but those are all the ones I wrote down. You see why now I’m having to write out my thoughts on this film over several blog posts and videos – this blog post is almost 4000 words long, and this is just the retcons in the film.

These retcons alone mean that this film is incoherent, and the Star Wars universe is broken. This is not a universe where things make sense. You cannot anticipate what characters might do, because it is not based on the things that have so far been possible in the universe, any reasonable approximation of realistic logistics, or previously established character traits and motivations. It all just happens. Any future films and television shows cannot receive any of the benefits of being part of a shared universe, because they aren’t – a shared universe depends on consistency.

If there had been no other problems with the film, the existence of all of these retcons alone would have made it a disastrous film. As it was, there were loads of other problems.