Star Wars: The Force Awakens-Does it live up to the Hype? (Spoiler-free)

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*SPOILER-FREE ZONE*

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After seeing The Force Awakens at the midnight showing last night, we both left with some differing opinions about some aspects of the film. However, what we did agree on was the sheer amount of joy, humour, and fun that came through on the big screen.

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From the moment the opening crawl and John Williams’ score appeared, it seemed like everyone in the cinema had the biggest, stupidest grin on their faces, which is exactly as it should be when watching Star Wars. It just felt right, and from then on, I don’t think anyone really stopped smiling at the jokes, the heroism, or the great chemistry between the both the new and the old cast members. The practical effects were great, the CGI didn’t stand out as glaringly bad, and everything felt the way Star Wars used to feel. We were thrown into this used, beaten up galaxy that we had all come to know and love with the original trilogy, and, like I said, it just felt right.

The characters are very engaging, and the three new heroes, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac have a chemistry between them that speaks volumes about their personalities and talent. As well as our heroes, the film’s villains are fairly impressive themselves. Adam Driver is an interesting new take on the classic Star Wars villain, and makes for a very menacing and impressive character. However, the much-hyped Captain Phasma, Gwendoline Christie’s character, is terribly under-used, and I’d go as far as to say wasted. Of course, we have the return of our old heroes too, and it feels just like old times. To sum up the quality of the characters of this film, they always feel like real people, who say things that a normal human would say without a rant about sand in sight.

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Speaking of ranting about sand, if you’re worried that this film follows the prequels into any of their pitfalls, then have no fear, because this is about as far removed from those stagnant period-pieces as you can get. This is mostly due to the absolutely breakneck speed at which this movie progresses and the wealth of references to the original trilogy, as well as the quality of its characters and special effects. However, at times, this fast-pace and reliance on the original films does work against it.

It occasionally feels like some very key scenes are glossed over in order to flash onto the next big set-piece, and as amazing and impressive as they are, those key moments would benefit from a little more space to breathe and develop. Not a whole lot more, but they definitely required a bit more attention and care. Unfortunately though, this is a common issue with Abrams’ films, as they frequently rely on a surface-level development that moves at a ferocious pace. That being said, this refusal to slow down for anything does mean that the stodgy, over-explained prequels are nowhere to be found, and it closely resembles the action-adventure pace of A New Hope; or, more accurately, A New Hope on speed.

However, this is a resemblance that brings up another issue. The reliance on the original trilogy extends beyond pacing, set design and special effects and into the script. To be specific, the storyline of this film is more of a greatest hits version of the original trilogy than its own, original design. Granted, Star Wars has always been formulaic in its structure, but this was an opportunity to be innovative and creative in this new story, and unfortunately it was wasted in order to give fans something that they’ve seen before numerous times. The reasoning for this is understandable to an extent, they obviously wanted something tried and tested to kick off a trilogy that might grow into its own thing, but there’s a limit, and at times this film toed the line between homage and reboot.

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With that said though, there’s no denying that this was an incredibly fun film to watch, and if it’s done nothing else, it’s made us incredibly excited to see episode VIII, where these characters will hopefully develop even further, and give us more of the same fun. We both plan to go back and watch this film at least one more time, and who knows, maybe on a second viewing it will be even more enjoyable to watch.

 

Have you seen The Force Awakens? Do you agree with what we’ve written, disagree, or do you think we’ve overlooked something? If so, please leave a comment below, we’d love to hear your thoughts; and if you’re feeling generous, a like, follow, or share would be amazing. 

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi- Yeah, it’s OK

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Benportrait1The finale of the original trilogy has always been a bit of an issue for me. There are some parts of the film I really enjoy, while there are others I cannot bear to watch.

 

 

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The Bad-

As usual I will get the bad stuff out of the way early.

  • I have made it clear on a number of occasions, almost whenever I get a chance in fact, that I hate the Ewoks. The Ewoks are clearly aimed at kids, and the idea behind them is to primarily sell toys, but they were also meant to show how a less technologically advanced culture can defeat a more advanced society. This is all well and good, provided it is believable, and a bunch of 3-foot-tall teddy bears killing Stormtroopers with arrows and stones is about as far away from believable as you can get.
    If the downtrodden Wookies were used rather than the Ewoks it would make the fight much more believable, this would mean you could cut the shitty acceptance into the tribe segment for something far more interesting. It would also give us a proper look at Chewbacca’s home world rather than our heroes walking through a random forest.  We should have known that Jar Jar was on the way when Lucas gave us the Ewoks.
    As a far as I am concerned the only good thing about the Ewoks is that you get so see some of them die.
  • As I said in my review of A New Hope, I dislike most of the changes George Lucas has made to the original trilogy, but there is one that is head and shoulders above the rest. It is the insertion of Hayden Christensen into Return of the Jedi’s closing celebration scene. Christensen replaces Sebastian Shaw who plays Anakin in his dying moments, and I have no idea why this was done. When the ghosts of Obi-Wan and Yoda appear they look the same as they did when they died. Why does the Anakin character look like he did in the prequels?
    I did some digging with regard to why Hayden Christensen was added, and this was listed on a forum-
    ‘First, Lucas was trying to establish a “familiar face” to the character that would link the OT and the prequels together. If he had stopped there most “old school” fans would have still not liked it but would have let it slide … BUT … his second reason is asinine. He said that a Jedi’s “Force Ghost” is the image the Jedi had of themselves when they died and that Anakin died when he became Darth Vader.’
    http://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/20339/what-was-george-lucas-reasoning-for-changing-anakins-head
    I can accept the idea of the force ghost being an image of the Jedi, but Anakin turned back from the dark side, saving his son and killing the Emperor. It is this action which allowed him to become a force ghost, so surely the Sebastian Shaw version of Anakin should be used? Anyway, even if we ignore the mythos, how does Luke know who this random younger guy hanging out with Obi-Wan and Yoda even is?
  • Return of the Jedi isn’t a bad film, but it is filled with reminders of its two better predecessors. There is an awful lot of exposition linking Hope, Empire and Return together. “Look! Captain Solo. And he’s still frozen in carbonite.” Firstly it isn’t needed. We know who he is and what has happened, and secondly, it just reminds us of the better films that came before, and I end up wanting to go and watch them instead. Throughout the film there are scenes that are just characters talking to other characters in order to explain and emphasise previous events that have already been covered. Seriously, we should have known what was coming in the prequels after what happened in this film.
  • If you remember my Attack of the Clones review, I said that Jango was more of a badass that Boba, and this film is the one that proves it. There was an opportunity for Lucas to show us how cool Boba Fett could be, but it was wasted completely. If the number of generic bad guys was reduced, a longer Luke/Boba Fett fight could happen which, as I suggested with a longer Windu/Jango fight, would be far more interesting. Instead, we get an unworthy death for a character that deserved a lot more.
  • The 5th spot on the bad list was tough, not because there wasn’t anything left, but because there are two things that could make the list; the Death Star 2.0 or the computer effects. I am going with the computer generated effects… I know Star Wars was a game changer, and I know Return is 30 years old, so I am not comparing it to modern day films, but I am comparing it to its predecessors and in all honesty the blue screen effects don’t hold up when compared to the two earlier Star Wars films. The shots of Luke looking up at the blue screen stop-motion Rancor, the blue screen Tatooine background, and the speeder bike back drop are particular offenders that spring to mind.

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A quick dishonourable mention goes to another terrible addition George Lucas has made since the film’s release. As Darth Vader contemplates saving his son from the Emperor, instead of standing there in silence, debating his morality, he cries-

“No… NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooo…”

In a sentence reminiscent of that moment in Revenge of the Sith, that silent deliberation is ruined forever. People LAUGHED in the cinema when it happened in Revenge of the Sith, so what drove these morons to put it into this scene? God I hate it so much- Lewis, with the blessing of Ben.

The Good-

  • The Luke we see in Return of the Jedi is a badass. He isn’t the whingy, moany teenager we seen in A New Hope. He isn’t the cocky guy who thought he could take on Vader without completing his training. No, in Return of the Jedi, Luke is almost a fully-trained Jedi, and has no time to take any shit from anyone. From the moment we see him force choke the Gamorrean guards blocking his path, and then successfully use a Jedi mind trick on one of Jabba’s minions before calmly confronting the Hut gangster, the audience knows that this older Luke is now ready to take down the Empire. These events are followed by the massacre at the Sarlaac pit, where Luke cuts through almost every one of Jabba’s henchmen. This is how you develop a character arc over a series of films. (If you are wondering where the Luke/Vader duel is, don’t worry it is on the way).
  • I really enjoy two thirds of the last hour of Return of the Jedi, so they make up the next two points on my list. Firstly, the battle outside the Death Star to destroy the space station. This sequence is probably my second favourite of the 4 major space battles in the franchise (closely beaten by the Death Star sequence in A New Hope, then followed by the opening sequence from Revenge of the Sith and finally the one from Phantom Menace, if you were interested). I think this battle is brilliantly finished, and while we might not be as emotionally involved in essentially what is the 3rd part of the last act of the film. The ship to ship action flows smoothly across the screen, and still retains a high level of tension as we realise that the Death Star is actually operational, and see the outmatched Rebels struggle to survive long enough to get an opportunity to blow up the space station. This is a highly underrated segment of the film.
  • Right, now the Luke versus Vader duel. It may not be as iconic as the fight in Cloud City, but the duel between Luke and his father in the second Death Star really shows how the tables have turned. Luke now has the ability to kill his father but is desperate not to do so, desperate to save his father from himself. That is until the scene called ‘A Jedi’s Fury’. in this powerful scene there is an explosion of emotion as Luke bests his father in order to defend his sister, only to stop short of killing the Sith Lord after realising that this is what the Emperor wants. Only now does Luke understand himself what it is to be a Jedi outside of the instruction of Obi-Wan and Yoda. The sequence has some fantastic imagery, such as Luke’s face cast half in shadow and half in light, showing his internal conflict and conveying powerful emotions. A really brilliant sequence.
  • There tends to be one or two changes in the special editions that I don’t mind, and the one in Return of the Jedi is the removal of ‘Yub Nub’. The scenes where we travel around the galaxy are ok (except the trip to Naboo where we hear the Gungans, that bit can spend eternity in cinematic hell), but I honestly feel the music is an improvement. While still being celebratory, there’s a slightly sad note to the theme, almost as a commemoration to everyone who died in the fight for freedom. This might just be me, but I like the new music. Any time spent away from the Ewoks is an improvement in my eyes.
  • I debated putting the Yoda scene as my 5th point on the list, but I think it is a bit rushed. So instead, I am making another mention of the puppeteers and the creations they control. I mean how much more believable does the puppet Jabba look compared to the pile of CGI shit we see in A New Hope? (Damn you, George. Why do you have to keep going back and making pointless additions?) Also, how much more brilliant and inspiring is the puppet Yoda compared to the CGI one? Infinitely more so. The close up shots of the stop-motion Rancor show how impressive it actually is, but again, it is tarnished by the poor use of the blue screen. I also recently found out that Admiral Ackbar is a puppet, not an actor in a costume, which goes to prove how incredible the creations really are.

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So that brings our journey through the Prequel and Original Trilogies to an end. Hopefully you have found it mildly entertaining and at least a bit informative. If you disagree with anything we have said or think we have missed anything please do shout at us, and if you agree with anything, please shout at us about that too.

It’s now only a few more Hours until the midnight release of The Force Awakens, and we’re too excited for words. Look out for our reviews of the film; we’ll be releasing a short, completely non-spoiler version tomorrow to give you our opinion, and then a more in-depth version later in the week.

It will be amazing.

God I hope it is good.

But what if it isn’t?

No, no. In JJ we trust.

Thanks-

Ben

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back- It’s SO Good

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imageSo we’ve reached The Empire Strikes Back, arguably the best of all the entries in the Star Wars franchise, and definitely my favourite of them all. Much like Revenge of the Sith, this film was an attempt at a darker, slightly more serious continuation of the story of Star Wars, and boy does it really pay off. However, when it was initially released, people weren’t sure what to make of this tone, and it wasn’t widely recognised as the best of the trilogy until quite a few years later. I find this quite hard to believe, because it’s definitely the best directed and most well written of the three, but hey, I wasn’t there.

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You can really see that with a good script these films can be absolutely incredible. The story, the dialogue, and one of the most iconic moments in cinema history all combine to create a film that stands the test of time, and will forever be a part of pop-culture.

Anyway, like Ben with A New Hope, I’m going to have a hell of a tough time picking out some bad points about this film.

  • First of all, it’s a tenuous point at best, but the few scenes that really bug me in this film are introduced in the special edition changes. Every other change to this film is absolutely fine by me, but the establishing shots of Cloud City that were constructed with CGI stand out like a sore thumb compared to the practical sets. I have no problem with the idea to show more of the city, and in fact I like that we get to see more of it, but the execution of the idea is just pretty bad. In my book, if you can’t do it to a good standard, you might as well not put it in there, because all it does is detract from the film.
  • I have to say thank you to a friend who suggested that the characterisation of Boba Fett is lacklustre at its best. I’m so used to accepting that he’s just there to do a job that I always forget how little attention is really paid to him. As with Darth Maul, there’s a lot of wasted potential in the character of Boba Fett; a wasted potential that isn’t even remedied in Return of the Jedi which would be the best place to do it. Now, I know there’s the argument that the lack of characterisation is due to the fact that his mysterious nature is the key to his popularity, and I do agree with this to an extent, but they could’ve given him just a few more lines to reveal a little more about his motivations and character. They could even use these lines to create even more mystery and ambiguity around him, but hey, I can see why they did the things they did.
  • I personally don’t have any issues with the special effects of the original 1980 cut, and to be honest, that Yoda puppet is about a hundred-times more believable as a character than the CGI turd-pile they gave us in the prequels. Buuuuuuuuut… I guess some people MIGHT have a problem with the practical effects, as much as it hurts my heart to say it… and that’s all I’ll say on the subject, because they’re wrong.

This is getting really difficult now…

  • I’ll admit, the dialogue can be kinda melodramatic, and I think you’ll know what moment really does stick out the most; some line about something not being possible or something… anyway, the thing is, when you’re completely absorbed in this film, you don’t notice the melodrama, and it can even feel like the most natural line in the world when you’re committed to this world you’re seeing on the screen. Really though, it’s pretty over-the-top, but what part of Star Wars isn’t?

Right, that’s about all I can manage to think of in terms of bad points about this film. I’m very sorry that they’re weak in comparison to some of the points I came up with for the prequels, but I mean, when you hold up The Empire Strikes Back against the likes of The Phantom Menace, there really is no comparison.

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Ok, now let’s get on and dig into the good stuff. There really is a lot of it-

  • I’ve already spoken a little about the dialogue in this film, and I’ve already mentioned that the story is pretty damn good too, but I’d just like to expand on what why this script is one of the stand-out things that make The Empire Strikes Back For me, my love of the film definitely stems from the content of the script, and the great dialogue. It’s a much more personal story than A New Hope, all the stakes are directly related to the characters rather than the galaxy as a whole, and I think this allows for deeper explorations of their personalities and motivations. As well as this great characterisation, we aren’t force-fed much exposition at all, and we’re thrown into the action and tone of the film immediately, with the Battle of Hoth happening pretty quickly after a little adventuring with Luke and Han Solo. The entire Dagobah scene is one of my favourite moments of Star Wars, and don’t even get me started about Luke’s eventual confrontation with Vader, because I’ll be talking about that shortly…
    At its heart though, The Empire Strikes Back is a love story. We finally get to see Leia and Han’s relationship develop beyond some roguish flirting into a mutual affection for each other, with some pretty hilarious lines from Harrison Ford thrown in as a bonus.
    “I love you”
    “I know”

What a loveable dickhead!

  • Industrial Light and Magic reach an entirely new level of quality with the special effects of this film. I’m certain that most people went into the cinema thinking that they would never be able to do better than Star Wars: A New Hope, but boy were they proved wrong. Everything just looks so well put together and designed here, but despite this neatness of design, it still feels likes Star Wars, and still looks all beat-up and used when it counts. In particular, I’ve always been impressed with the effects used for the Battle of Hoth, which stand-up today with very little CGI enhancement. Another superb scene is the asteroid chase, which is just as fun and tense every time I see it. I have yet to spot the famous shoe though, so I guess I’ll just have to keep watching it…
  • The performances of the cast are at an all-time high here, which was probably made possible by the well written story and script, but I think credit where credit is due. It seems like they’re a lot more comfortable in their roles than before, and there’s a nice natural chemistry between Hamill, Ford and Fisher; Ford and Fisher in particular. Hats off to Mark Hamill for his interactions with Frank Oz performing Yoda too. It can’t be easy acting against a three-foot puppet, but he pulls it off very believably. I’ll just make a quick honourable mention of Billy-Dee Williams as well for playing the smoothest criminal the galaxy has ever seen.
  • Another move by the writers I have to acknowledge is the idea to use Empire to progress the characters’ relationships and create a conflict that would result in a very emotional and powerful finale in Return of the Jedi. The fact that the film doesn’t really have an ending is one that frustrated a lot of movie-goers, but it really isn’t an issue for me. Ending the film on a note of uncertainty and defeat is one of the things that makes Empire stand out from the other films in the franchise. We’re left with a lot of questions that we desperately want answered; it leaves us anticipating the conclusion of the saga.
  • Oh boy, the most iconic moment of the entire Star Wars franchise exists as the pivotal moment in this film. Even if you’ve never seen Star Wars you’ll know that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father from the countless pop-culture references and just general knowledge. This moment is such an icon of cinema that it’s almost become a part of the world’s collective consciousness; everybody knows it. The story goes that nobody but Mark Hamill, David Prowse and the writing/directing crew knew what the famous lines actually read. Everybody else was under the impression that the revelation was that Obi-Wan was the one who killed Luke’s father, rather than Vader (which is a pretty good twist in itself). As for the fight, rather than the twirly, over choreographed duels of the prequels, we see Luke in a far more realistic, almost desperate attempt to save his friends, avenge Obi wan, and not die in the process. It really is a one-sided fight, and it’s clear that Vader is just toying with him until Luke gets a lucky hit in, at which point Vader decides to end it, and try to bring Luke over to the dark-side. This is such a tense sequence of events, and the amount of emotion and substance in the fight is only rivalled by their duel in Return of the Jedi, but perhaps that’s a fight for Ben to discuss tomorrow…

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Again, I can only apologise for the lack of negative points here, but it’s honestly just that good of a film. I didn’t want to get pedantic and start picking out little details or subjective opinions, because they really don’t affect the overall enjoyment of the film. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this, and you can look forward to Ben’s review of Return of the Jedi tomorrow, followed by our review of The Force Awakens on Thursday.

It’s an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan!

Lewis

Star Wars: A New Hope- Is it even that Good?

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Benportrait1In short, yes; A New Hope is that good.

The 1977 film ran overtime and was written off before its release, only to become one of the most successful and iconic films in cinema history. The original Star Wars film may not be the best (that goes to The Empire Strikes Back, hands down) but it is certainly my favourite of the franchise. This has meant that picking 5 bad things associated with the film was very hard, because I even love its flaws and short-comings.

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The Bad-

  • Han shot first. I could finish this point here and many of you would know what I meant, but I shall elaborate. To make Han Solo look like more of a good guy to kids, George Lucas went back and changed the original 1977 cut of the scene where Han kills a bounty hunter to make his escape. In the new version, Greedo, the bounty hunter that cornered Han in the cantina, shoots first. Han avoids the shot with a digitally produced jerky-head movement, and then proceeds to kill the bounty hunter, tosses the bar owner a few credits for the mess, and makes Greedo look entirely incompetent (poor guy). This may seem minor to the uninitiated, but it is the pointlessness of the alteration which is the most infuriating part. Han’s actions throughout the rest of the film prove him to be a hero. This scene is part of his character-arc throughout the film, which sees his development from the more morally grey rogue we all love to the slightly more classic hero we love just as much. The addition of Greedo shooting is pointless, and makes a once badass scene laughable.
  • While we are on the subject of Lucas and his changes, this is another one that grinds my gears. In the original cut of the film, we never see Jabba the Hut. The scene in which Jabba would have appeared was removed as his design wasn’t yet defined. However, in 1997, George went and added the scene back in with an unconvincing-melty-CGI Jabba, and then, in 2004, a more up to date CGI-version of the Hut was inserted. My issue isn’t really with the CGI construction of the Hut (however the puppet version of the crime boss seen in Return of the Jedi is far more convincing), it’s that the scene’s addition into A New Hope removes a lot of the suspense that once surrounded the character. He is alluded to in both A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, which was used to intrigue the audience, get them wondering “who is this character that has Han Solo worried?” Instead, we lose the wonder and gain some clunky CGI and a scene that only reduces the pace of the film.
  • Some poor direction and writing…. again. It has been well documented that George Lucas’ primary comments when directing were “faster” and “more intense”, so is it any wonder that some things slipped through the cracks? One of the clearest cases of this is Carrie Fisher’s strange English (-ish) accent “I recognised your foul stench when I was brought on board” (sorry Carrie, I didn’t want to bring it up, but I have to find 5 bad things). It pains me to say it, but some of the acting can be seen as fairly wooden from many of the cast members. You have to wonder if a better director who would have more to say than “Faster” or “More intense” would have picked up on this. The dialogue isn’t great in parts, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Alec Guinness and others have all made it clear what they thought of the script, “nobody talks like this”. Yeah the script isn’t the greatest, but the overall story makes up for it.
  • The Stormtroopers are incapable of hitting the target when it counts, which is really minor but I can’t think of much else wrong with the film. In almost every film the heroes aren’t going to die, and so the villains are rarely a good shot. I suppose the only reason it is picked up on in Star Wars is that it is repeatedly said they are very accurate marksmen, and we even see them wipe out squads of Rebel soldiers in the blockade-runner. I don’t know why they can’t kill our heroes, probably the force or something.  Although I did read an interesting theory that the Stormtroopers were intentionally missing the target. This was done so as to allow our heroes to escape the Death Star, which would then enable the Imperials to locate the hidden rebel base.
  • I can hear some of you thinking it, so I will mention it. Why didn’t the imperials shoot the escape pod that C-3PO and R2-D2 were in, destroying the droids and the stolen plans? I dunno, maybe because they didn’t have a back-up copy of the plans, and 2 new Death Stars had just got planning permission from the local council? It doesn’t matter, they didn’t shoot it. So shut up, stop being so cynical, and enjoy the film.

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The Good-

As I said in the introduction A New Hope is my favourite film. So when it came to pin pointing 5 good things I found it surprisingly difficult.

  • Firstly the story. How good is the story?! Lucas transports you to “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”, with a simple story; good versus evil. There isn’t a complex plot that involves trade disputes, council meetings and debates like the ones we see in the Prequel trilogy. Star Wars is, at its heart, an adventure film where good triumphs over evil. What isn’t there to love about that? Nothing, the answer is nothing. Yes, Empire is a better film with its darker tones and more in depth look at the characters, I am not denying that. But when it comes down to a film that I could watch again, again and again, the film where the good guys win will come out on top 9 times out of 10 and that film is A New Hope. Along with this are some of the most memorable character ever created in cinema; the young hero, his mentor, the rogue, and the princess. All of which are well rounded in the first installment of the film, allowing Empire to develop them all even further.
  • I know I gave George a bit of a hard time for going back and tampering with the original cut of the film, but there is one addition I do like. I like the addition on the Luke-Biggs scene that takes place in the Rebel hanger. The scene not only gives a face to the name mentioned much earlier in the film, it gives us a connection to the Biggs character, which makes his death scene in the trench run more potent and meaningful. His death strengthens our connection with Luke, and shows that despite the victory there is a price to be paid (don’t worry, that is probably as film critic-y as I will ever get). Also, most importantly, why would you cut that moustache? It is a mean moustache.
  • Star Wars was a game changer. Lucas didn’t have the effects he wanted to complete the film, so he created his own company to do it, Industrial Light and Magic, which is still an industry leader today. The fact that almost 40 years after its initial release the Practical effects used in the original film still hold up, while the CGI used in the 16 year old prequels is beginning to look very outdated is testament to the man hours they put in to A New Hope. As well as the practical effects, a mention must be made of Ben Burtt who gave us many of the iconic sounds we almost take for granted now.
  • There is no waiting around in A New Hope, the audience is launched straight into the action as the giant Imperial Star Destroyer chases down the much smaller Rebel Blockade Runner. We see the Rebels take positions nervously as the Stormtroopers blast through the door. Immediately, we know several things. We recognise the good guys from the bad guys, we also see what the Rebels are up against in the vastly superior Imperial machine. This wouldn’t have happened in the Prequels, instead we would have had to sit through 10 minutes of clunky exposition before any action even crossed the mind of Lucas. Following the initial fight, we see Darth Vader for the first time (lacking his theme which wasn’t written until Empire). The Dark Lord of the Sith is a menacing figure, standing much taller than anyone else and dressed entirely in black with his iconic breathing apparatus filling our ears. I can still remember being terrified of him as a child as he threw the Rebel commander across the space ship. What a way to start the film.
  • Finally the score. I know Lewis has mentioned it twice in his reviews of The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith (I was desperate, ok? – Lewis), but it happened here first, so I am going to mention it again. The iconic score adds so much drama, tension and emotion to every accompanying scene; in fact, by the film’s completion, Lucas stated that the only thing he was really happy with was the score. Star Wars would be much less of a film had John Williams not done such a fantastic job.

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So that brings my review of Star Wars: A New Hope to an end, I didn’t get a chance to mention many of my other favourite things about this film, but hopefully you have found this entertaining. I will be back with my Return of the Jedi review in a few days.

Thanks,

Ben.

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith- It’s Really not that Bad

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imageRight, Revenge of the Sith, the film that marked the end of the prequels and the beginning of Luke Skywalker’s story, finally bringing George Lucas’ “vision” to a close.

It’s pretty ok. It wasn’t that bad, it wasn’t that good; it’s just pretty ok.

 

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Trust me, even if Revenge of the Sith is just pretty ok, that’s a hell of an improvement on the previous two entries in the prequel trilogy. It’s a slightly disappointing finale to this amazing franchise, but it’s probably the best we could have hoped for with George Lucas writing and directing again. Then again, with the new films arriving shortly, this is no longer the finale. So is it disappointing? Hmmmm…

Let’s move onto the compliment cracker part of this ramble.

The bad-

  • To kick off, let’s talk about the script again. Now listen, I know that I just said that this is an improvement compared to The Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones, but that doesn’t mean it’s suddenly a return to form. All it means is that it’s a little less shitty compared to two really shitty films. One thing I will say, is that the overall pacing and storyline is actually pretty damn good. Sure, it drags in the middle slightly, and I think the calamity of Order 66 should’ve happened earlier, just so that the story could explore it in more depth than it did, but overall it’s a pretty solid structure. However, the dialogue is still awkward and unrealistic. I honestly can’t understand how George Lucas can write like that. Does he actually speak to people? Does he know how people have conversations?
    “Anakin, Chancellor Palpatine is evil!”
    “From my point of view the Jedi are evil”
    Wow, hold the fucking applause. I’m glad you were there to hold my hand through that complex character development, George… I mean COME ON!
  • Next, the poor usage of Christopher Lee, and the unnecessary addition of General Grevious. What a waste of such an incredible talent, and what a pointless addition. I would be completely happy if the character of Count Dooku was the main adversary all the way through the prequels, and I think if he had been the one to kill Qui-Gon, his old apprentice, there would’ve have been a superb Obi-Wan revenge sub-plot running through these films. He was wasted. As for Grevious, I have no issue with him as a character, but he should’ve just been a General of the Droid Army, not some Jedi wannabe. Hey, you could even let him keep those lightsabers as trophies, that was a kinda cool idea, just don’t let him use them.
  • The development of Anakin and his turn is another thing that bugs me quite a lot about this film. In Attack of the Clones, we were treated to a whiny, teenaged character with no real substance, and then in Revenge of the Sith, we’re given a fairly level-headed but arrogant version of Anakin who very quickly becomes a child-murdering psychopath. Again, this is just bad writing. I know that the slaughter of the Jedi is supposed to mirror his slaughter of the sand-people, but that incident is quickly cast-aside until right at the start of the film. Palpatine is like “Hey, do you remember when you killed all those sand-people? That was pretty fucked up right? You can lose your temper pretty easily, ey? Wink, wink, nudge, bloody-nudge”
    It’s just clumsy.
    Anyway, I just think that his turn to the dark-side was very poorly handled, and all it came down to was a case of severe immaturity and teenage angst.
  • The banter is not strong with this one. I know that Lucas actually put in some effort to try and characterise the relationship between Obi-Wan and Anakin this time, and yes some parts do feel like we’re back to the old wit of the original trilogy, but most of the time the jokes back-and-forth fall very flat. I feel like this might be due to the charisma vacuum that is Hayden Christiansen, but honestly, the writing isn’t great. That guy is not the kind of actor who can joke around, he’s just too dull to do it (Sorry Hayden).
  • Finally, we have another goddamn Yoda fight, which is even cheesier than the last one! The CGI is slightly better, and the whole throwing seating-sections at each other is a little better than boulders, but still, it’s a god-awful sequence. Yoda isn’t the kind of character to stand around throwing tough-guy bravado up in Palpatine’s face; that’s Palpatine’s job. Yoda should be above that kind of crap. No matter what Palpatine says, no matter what kind of insults he sends Yoda’s way, Yoda should not be rising to them; he’s above it. And also, don’t you think he’s a little too flippant about this whole affair considering thousands of his friends have just been slaughtered? I know he’s a Jedi and they’re very stoic and all, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to just shrug it off and then call Arnie for some tips about one-liners. It’s just bad.

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Riiiiiggghhhhhht. Onto the good stuff! I know you probably wouldn’t think that I like this film after what I’ve just written in the bad section; but honestly, there are some really good bits.

The Good-

  • The overall tone of this film is pretty dark. Amidst the questionable banter and dinosaur riding, we see a lot of death, and a lot of war, which definitely makes for some interesting viewing. From the moment we see Anakin Skywalker slice off Christopher Lee’s hands, before decapitating him with only a little encouragement from Palpatine, we know that this is going to be a very different Star Wars indeed. Despite this difference, I love the tone of this film. Considering the subject matter, and the events that we know have to happen in order to link the two trilogies, I think this shift towards the dark-side of things (you get it? I made a reference) was a very wise decision on Lucas’ part. Bloody hell, I don’t think I’ve ever said that about the prequels before… It just works in the context of the storyline, and makes for a fairly compelling and occasionally emotional watch.
  • Leading on from talking about the darker tone, the portrayal of the Clone Wars in this film is a vast improvement on the few minutes of crap they give us in Attack of the Clones. We actually get to see fairly grim, realistic battles between the droid army and the clones, instead of watching them slowly walk towards each other over open ground in perhaps the most ridiculous battle sequence I’ve ever laid eyes on. Maybe you did that when you had to literally stand two feet away from someone and stab them through the chest, but with guns? Give me a break. I also like the slight characterisation of the clones, even if it does only apply to the commanders. I would’ve liked to have seen a bit more of that, but hey-ho, you can’t win ‘em all.
  • Possibly one of the saddest scenes in Star Wars is definitely at home in this film. To see the Jedi’s comrades-in-arms turn upon them and execute an order over which they have no free will is pretty damn tragic. I like the fact that, even though the clones have fought with these people for years and often owe their lives to the Jedi’s skills, they are willing to accept this order with no hesitation. It really emphasises that they are no more than an army for hire, and their latest order has to be obeyed no matter what. I know that in the Clone Wars TV show they explain that all clones have chips inside them that ensure obedience, but honestly, I’ve never really liked that explanation, and it’s not in the film. It was obviously just a way to make the clones’ betrayal not really their fault; especially when kids start asking their parents why the clones repeatedly shot their friends in the back. I can imagine that would be awkward.
  • Again, John Williams never lets a film down. Out of all the prequels, his score for Revenge of the Sith is possibly the most affecting, and definitely the most memorable (except for “Duel of the Fates” of course, which makes a brief appearance in the track “Obi-wan vs Anakin”). The reason for this, in my mind, is that this film has more emotional weight, and I can imagine that as a composer this really helps you to write a good piece of stirring music. I honestly can’t really say much more about it; it’s one of the highlights of the film for me.
  • And now, my final point is probably a very obvious choice, but for many people this is one of the most iconic moments in the entire Star Wars franchise. Obi-Wan vs Anakin was the lightsaber duel we’d been waiting for ever since The Phantom Menace set these two characters off on their journey together. We finally get to see a lightsaber duel with some goddamn emotional content. Sure, it still falls victim to the over-choreography that plagues these films, but throughout the entire sequence you really get a sense that Anakin is trying to murder Obi-Wan, and that Obi-Wan is doing all he can not to get any of his limbs sliced off. It really is a ferocious fight, and it’s the highlight of the film… right up until they go paddling down the molten-rock river. That fight should’ve finished about 5 minutes before it actually did, and I think a pretty sweet place to end it would have been when they’re battling it out on that antenna before it falls into the lava. The fight up until that point had been brutal and fast paced, but it then turns into something that resembles a goddamn dream sequence. Eventually though, we do get a really, really great finish. This scene is easily the most powerfully emotional part of any of these prequel films. This whole sequence is saved by the incredible performances of McGregor and Christiansen (who seems to be only able to act well when he’s writhing in pain).

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Well there you go, the good and the bad of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. I actually really enjoy this film, and even if it does fall into some of the pitfalls of the prequels trilogy, it’s definitely a unique part of the Star Wars franchise and a great film to bridge the gap between the two stories of the trilogies.

Thanks, Lewis

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones- It Really is that Bad

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Benportrait1Oh God, where do I start?

 

 

 

Attack of the Clones…

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I have been given the delightful job of re-watching Attack of the Clones and finding 5 good points… thanks, Lewis.

I don’t hide the fact that this is my least favourite Star Wars film, and I honestly hate it; but, for the sake of fairness, I cleared my head of all negativity I hold towards this monstrosity and sat down to watch it… all 135 minutes of it.

The Bad

  • The whole “clear my head of all negativity” thing lasted about ten minutes before I realised just how dull and unevenly paced this film is. This is going to be a long point, sorry. Nothing happens in the first hour of the film. I can almost hear people shouting that there are two attempts on Padme’s life, and there’s a chase scene, but were they actually any good? No. “No” is the answer you are looking for. The attempts to kill Padme are infuriatingly futile. While blowing up the Senator’s transport is a strong attempt, and sends a message at the same time, it doesn’t work. That’s fair enough, everyone has an off day, but what does Jango Fett try next? He gives his assassin-counterpart a droid that transports poisonous worms. What!? The worms are clearly a plot device to build tension, and as Obi-Wan and Anakin debate politics we see the worms get closer and closer to their target. Unfortunately, it doesn’t build tension because the idea is so bloody stupid. There are a million ways to kill someone in this universe, and they choose poisonous worms. So, after the worms get cut in half we follow a chase sequence through the city. This sequence is fine, it is a bit too long for my liking (and essentially a crappy version of Blade Runner- Lewis), and why the assassin doesn’t just shoot Obi-Wan rather than her returning droid is beyond me… the dialogue is another matter (I will come back to this). It is a further 45 minutes before we see any more action, and by that time we still haven’t seen the villain of the film.
  • Throughout the film we are force-fed more of the crap that made The Phantom Menace so dull; committee meetings, council meetings, people walking and talking, sitting and talking, one person sitting while another person talks. It is like George Lucas forgot how to show the viewer what is happening, without endless exposition. This is partially due to the overcomplicated plot, but he seems to need characters to talk to each other constantly in order to fill the viewer in. This all accumulates to make the most dull Star Wars film ever.
  • The script and direction is just God-awful. Lucas has become very good at writing dialogue that no normal person would actually say. I know Hayden Christiansen has a bit of a tough time off the back of these films, but I can’t blame him entirely. At the end of the day the buck has to stop with the director and writer, both of which happen to be George Lucas. The infamous ‘sand sequence’ on Naboo is just… I think the best actors in the world would have had issue with those lines, but what was Lucas thinking when he okayed Christiansen’s creepy demeanour in this film? I suppose this is linked to the yes-men mentioned yesterday. While I am here we may as well make mention of the Anakin/Padme relationship. It is creepy, poorly written, poorly acted and it makes such uncomfortable watching; if you have seen the film you know what I mean, and I can’t bear to think about it anymore so I will leave it there.
  • The CGI. Yeah, I am going to open this can of worms. I have recently read that the sets were only real up to eye-level, and beyond that the CG sets take over, and you can really tell. While the large set pieces such as the chase scene look solid, when you look at the detail of the smaller sets such as Palpatine’s office, the doors look like they were painted by a five year old in 5 minutes… poor CGI can be seen everywhere throughout the film; Dex’s Diner, the Jedi temple, out of place animals on Naboo. This may seem like I am being picky, and to a certain degree I am, but why is CGI used for an office set? What happened to making a practical set that the actors can actually see and act against?
  • Yoda with a lightsaber. Yoda shouldn’t have a lightsaber; he is supposed to be able to connect to the force with such strength that he could kill you by just raising his hand. He doesn’t do this though because he is a Jedi. Giving him a lightsaber nullifies that, and makes him a generic, boring Jedi. Coupled with the wrongness of giving Yoda a lightsaber is the awfully clunky dialogue that precedes the fight with Dooku, and the horrible jumpy-CGI choreography. What makes lightsaber duels brilliant is the emotional weight behind them, not twirling them about like glowsticks.

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Because there is so much wrong with this film, I am going to do a dishonourable mentions list. I had to watch it so I am going to get this all off my chest:

• The front door Hayden Christiansen acting (because he is so wooden… get it?).
• The return of Jar Jar and his ‘dellow felegates’ speech.
• The production line action-scene.
• The disposable Clone and Droid Armies that you are meant to care about but can’t because they are all just throw-away characters.
• The underdevelopment of so many characters, like Dooku and Jango.

There are plenty more, but I need to get onto the good things. I will be honest and say I found it difficult to find many good things about this film, and the good things I did recognise often have downsides, but here we go:

  • The “deathsticks” scene. This is literally a 30 second scene, mixed in with the tracking down of Padme’s would be assassin, but it is a nice bit of foreshadowing as Obi-Wan uses his trade mark Jedi mind trick in order to dissuade a local “deathstick” dealer from selling the Jedi his merchandise… I told you I was struggling to find good things.
  • Following on from an Obi-Wan scene, the second good point from Attack of the Clones is Ewan McGregor. The Scotsman is one of the few shining lights from the prequel trilogy; he is able to bring some much needed emotion to the wooden dialogue. McGregor puts in a solid performance against clunky CGI and Hayden Christiansen.
  • I think Ian Mcdiarmid has some real fun with these films. In the original trilogy, the Emperor is painted as an evil character and that is it, no background, he is just a bad guy. In the prequels, Palpatine is a much more developed character, showing that he isn’t just evil; he is manipulative and cunning and intelligent. This is mostly lost within the overly-complex plot of the prequel films, but it is there, and now I have mentioned it hopefully you will see it too.
  • Jango Fett is pretty cool, and is much more of a badass than Boba. Please wait, before you kill me, if we look at Boba Fett in the original films (the films not the non-cannon expanded universe) he doesn’t really do much. He follows The Millennium Falcon to cloud city, he ties Luke up with some rope, and then he falls into the Sarlac Pit… brilliant. Jango, on the other hand, fights Obi-Wan and fairs pretty well, kills another Jedi, kills the weird Space Rhino and then fights Mace Windu, where he does finally die. The only issue is, again, that Jango is underdeveloped and dies way too easily. I wanted to see a bit more of a fight between Jango and Windu, that would be far more interesting than unnamed Jedi destroying endless waves of disposable droids.
  • Right the last one, and you can tell I am scraping the bottom of the barrel right now… George Lucas reduced the amount of Jar Jar in the film, yeah I am really struggling. Following the backlash of The Phantom Menace, Lucas heard the criticism and cut down the Jar Jar scenes. Yeah he is still in it, and is still pretty pivotal to the overall story, but rather than being a constant irritant Jar Jar is reduced to a minor role only on screen for about 10 minutes.

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Right, that is it. Hopefully I wasn’t too biased, and if I have brought up something new which has made you see this film in a slightly more positive light, I guess I can only apologise.

Thanks- Ben

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace- Is it Really That Bad?

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Ahhhh, The Phantom Menace… almost everyone you know will be aware of the public despair that was the result of this film. Even if they’ve never seen Star Wars, they’ve probably been the victim of a fan’s rant about the sad state of affairs that were the prequels.

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But, is it really THAT bad?

One of my earliest memories is of my cousin and I going to see The Phantom Menace at the age of four, and we bloody loved it. Granted, the only thing I clearly remember from that viewing is the final duel between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Maul (which is definitely the best bit), but I didn’t come to realise that it wasn’t a good film until a good while after that. Which makes sense, because kids are a hell of a lot more forgiving about that sort of thing than adults tend to be.

And you know what? There are actually some parts of The Phantom Menace that I can watch without throwing up in my mouth… even if there are a lot of times when I end up doing just that.

Nah I’m kidding, I don’t really throw up in my mouth, more like die a little inside.

And it’s all George-Bloody-Lucas’ fault.

Anyway, let’s cut the rambling and crack this list out. I’m going to structure this more like what I like to call a compliment cracker than a compliment sandwich; 5 bad things, and then 5 good things to top it off and turn the dry, bitter taste of the cracker into something we can stomach.

The Bad…

  • First off, the script. Seriously, who read this fucking thing, and gave it the ok? “Well it seems a bit shit to me, but he made three fan-bloody-tastic movies last time, so he must know what he’s doing”. No, he doesn’t, he clearly doesn’t. One of the main reasons why Star Wars finally became this fairly stripped down, fast-paced (for the time), fun adventure movie is because George allowed people to give criticism, cut bits out, question his ideas. This time, he was surrounded by yes-men who were either too focussed on the merchandise-machine that is Star Wars to care, or were paid to essentially just help Lucas bring this movie to life rather than offer ideas or criticism. The dialogue is awful, the plot is way too complicated, and the characters are so underdeveloped that Jar-Jar Binks is the only guy who actually grows as a Jamaican-Stereotyped-Frog-Bunny *cough* I mean… grows as a Gungan.
  • The racial stereotypes in this film are incredibly uncomfortable to watch. Seriously, how did these characters get past the people who check films for these sorts of things? From Nute Gunray and his fishy friends to Watto the “Toydarian” (or is that spelt “Jewish-stereotype-so-horrific-it-could-be-from-a-nazi-propaganda-film”? I can’t remember…). I just can’t believe they let this happen, and in a kids film no less. I mean, yes, even in the original films there were some character designs that toed that fine line, but they were never as blatantly offensive as these.
  • As well as these two fairly major flaws, this movie also suffers from several cases of great character concepts that are badly wasted. You’ll always hear people say “Darth Maul was such a cool character”, well no. He wasn’t. He was a cool IDEA, because he wasn’t really a character at all. He definitely could’ve been something worth talking about had he been written in even a semi-effective way. The same goes for Qui-Gon Jinn, and even Obi-Wan (a character who is arguably the best thing about the prequels) seriously lacks a good character treatment. It’s just incredibly frustrating to watch a film where such good ideas are left undeveloped in order to throw in some more Goddamn poop jokes.
  • The Gungans- cut them out. You don’t need them, they’re just filler. The amount of filler is too damn high!
  • Aaaaannnd speaking of Gungans… Mr Jar-Jar Binks himself. He’s a pretty bad part of this film, but, to be fair, the poor, brain-dead guy gets a bit of a bad-rap compared to the other flaws in this movie. I think that people can’t be bothered to really think about why this film isn’t very good, and it’s far simpler to just shout “JAR-JAR BINKS” whenever someone tries to defend The Phantom Menace, rather than trying to construct a logical argument. The only reason why Jar-Jar is the scapegoat in this situation is due to the poor writing of Lucas and the army of yes-men telling him that Jar-Jar is the funniest thing they’ve ever seen, and that kids will love him. Even when I was four I didn’t like that stupid idiot, and I’m damn glad he was the one who essentially allowed Palpatine to gain power. I hope he had to live with that guilt for a long time. I know I’m being a bit harsh here, but this is the bad section and I can’t help you Jar-Jar; I just can’t.

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Alright, now that’s out of the way, let’s move onto the “good” stuff. Oh boy…

  • In terms of the aesthetics, the look and feel, of this film, it’s definitely my favourite of the prequels. It feels the most like Star Wars out of the three, while the other two become more of an extravagant, almost anime-like version of the story. That kind of style does work (in the case of Revenge of the Sith), but it’s not really the style of the original films. The Phantom Menace, overall, just feels more grounded (as grounded as Star Wars can be, anyway).
  • It has a hell of a lot more practical effects than people give it credit for, and all the sets and props are pretty tangible, something that is lost in the next two films of the trilogy. Many people make generalisations about the prequels (me included), and one thing that is picked upon is the over-abundance of CGI. However, honestly, this only becomes an issue in Attack of the Clones. Most of the CGI here looks pretty good, which I think comes down to the fact that it was used to enhance practical sets and characters, not to create them. The Gungans and Droid army only look bad because they were purely made from CGI. Another aspect of this that I think is due praise is the motion capture of Jar-Jar Binks. This was very new technology, and the ways they used it in this film paved the way for many films since. A lot of this film’s technological aspects were new and bold, and I respect the people who were behind these innovative ideas.
  • The cast is very solid and, apart from some iffy-acting from Jake Lloyd (which in my opinion can be easily forgiven since he’s a kid), they all do a bloody good job despite the poor script. As Harrison Ford said “You can write this shit, George, but you sure as hell can’t say it”. The obvious stand-out is Ewan McGregor, who does pretty well, as does Liam Neeson.
  • John Williams is just too damn talented. Why don’t you share some of the love, John? I mean, how do you even write music like this? It’s almost on a par with your work on the original trilogy’s soundtrack, and that really is saying something. If I ever end up watching the prequel trilogy, John Williams’ incredible score is 50% of the reason for it. Duel of the Fates? Amazing. I’ve never heard a better track for an epic battle, which is probably why it crops up every now and then throughout this trilogy, and every time it does it sounds as good as it ever did.
  • Lastly, because it really is the highlight, I suppose I’ll top off this list with the final duel. After trudging through the molasses that is this film, we are rewarded by possibly the best duel of the prequel trilogy. Forget that glowstick, twirly shit of the next two movies, this is how a lightsaber duel should be done. It isn’t as good as any of the original fights because of the severe lack of emotional weight, but it’s pretty damn fun to watch. Like I said at the beginning, this is the only part of the film I can remember from going to see it, and it’s almost worth sitting through the rest in order to watch this bit. Sure it’s over-choreographed, but it sits somewhere halfway between the Luke v Vader fights and the other duels in this trilogy, so it’s pretty damn good.

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Well, there you have it, my Phantom Menace “compliment cracker”. I hope I’ve been fairly reasonable about all this, because, you know, I do still kind of like it despite all its faults. It might just be a case of nostalgia blinding me, and I’m sure that it is in part, but there’s something about it that just feels like my childhood.

I can’t, however, say the same about Attack of the Clones… so let’s look forward to that tomorrow, shall we?

-Lewis