Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Star Wars [A Prequel Trilogy Review]

'Star Wars' is an awesome entity. When I was a kid, even before these prequels came out, I had already seen the original trilogy. I loved them to death. Then I saw each prequel film, when they hit theaters and watched the first two (on VHS) a ton. The Nintendo 64 games, Rogue Squadron and the podracing one, were awesome. I even got hype over those Taco Bell 'Episode I' toys they had. With the next chapter in the saga coming out this year, I figured I would go through the series for the first time since I was a teenager. I think my tastes have changed quite a bit, because while they're still all good in my eyes, they're not the fantastic films I would watch a ton.

'Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace' is set 32 years before the events of 'Episode IV' and follows the story of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor). They are tasked to negotiate with the Trade Federation leadership, to end the blockade. They are attacked and forced to flee to Naboo, where Jinn saves a Gungan outcast, Jar Jar Binks. They try to persuade the Gungan leader, Boss Nass, to help, but fail. They do receive transportation, to travel to Theed, the capital city on the surface of Naboo. The three save Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman), from an attack and flee to Tatooine on her royal starship. As they are looking for the parts they need to fix the ship, when they meet Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), a young boy, gifted in podracing and engineering. The unlikely group, consisting of Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Amidala, Jar Jar Binks, Anakin Skywalker and R2-D2, must now recover the parts needed to repair the ship, so that a treaty, that is not influenced by the Sith, is passed.

'Star Wars Episode II: The Clone Wars' takes place 10 years after the events of 'Episode I' and follows the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) and, now Jedi, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen). After the invasion of Naboo, the Galatic Republic is threatened by a separatist movement, organized by Jedi Master Count Dooku (Christopher Lee). Senator Amidala (Portman) is nearly assassinated upon arrival Coruscant, so Kenobi and Skywalker are tasked with protecting her. The two stop another assassination attempt, track the perpetrator, but he is killed by a bounty hunter before they could get information off of him. The Jedi Council, informs the two that they will be splitting up. Skywlaker will be protecting Amadala, where it is safe on her home planet of Naboo. While Kenobi will begin an investigation on who this bounty hunter is. The two paths eventually merge, as the start of the clone wars, has befallen the galaxy.

'Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith' takes place three years after the events of 'Episode II' and once again, follows the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Christensen). During a space battle over Courscant, Obi-Wan and Anakin are ordered to save Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). In the process of rescuing him, Count Dooku (Lee) is killed and General Grievous escapes. When the two return, Anakin is greeted by Padme Amidala, who informs him that she is pregnant. Soon after, an elated Anakin beings to have premonitions of Padme dying during childbirth. Palpatine asks Anakin to be his representative on the Jedi Council, but the Council doesn't give him the rank of "Master" and instead orders him to report on what the chancellor is planning. Anakin doesn't like that the Jedi are making him do this. Palpatine begins to entice Anakin with stories of the dark side and everything it can do, including the power to prevent death. Later, Palpatine reveals himself to be Darth Sidious and a lightsaber duel ensues between Sidious and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson). This ends with Anakin intervening, pledging to Sidious and being dubbed "Darth Vader." The end of the clone wars is nearing, and now, the Sith have one of the most powerful beings in the galaxy on their side, Darth Vader.

Woo-boy, 'Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace' isn't quite what I remember loving so much as a kid. While I still think the overall product is highly criminalized, it's hard to deny that the first film of the prequel series, is pretty mediocre at best. Mediocre is being generous when the story and character writing throughout 'The Phantom Menace' is almost non-existent. With the exception of Qui-Gon Jinn, to a minimal extent, Obi-Wan Kenobi (and a brief appearance from Yoda) everyone in this movie is boring or just plain annoying. Led by the king of pointless characters, and awful decisions that George Lucas made with this film, is Jar Jar Binks. If there's ever a reason to hate a character more than Jar Jar, I would love to hear it. While Anakin is really just there, Amidala are boring and Darth Maul is criminally underused, Jar Jar Binks is in a class of his own. Each line is utterly pointless and his waste of CGI astounds me to this day. The acting, by everyone, seems wholly phoned in, so I'm not going to single out anyone in particular. This is multiplied by the fact that the overarching story of the film is a boring political piece. There is some good in this. The first half of the film set up the mid-movie podrace well, and I still think it's a fun sequence. Not to mention we get the epic Duel of Fates, lightsaber battle between Darth Maul and the duo of Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Throughout the film, and in this scene especially, John Williams handling of the score is awesome, and is actually a bright-spot in this. Not to mention, for a pre-2000s film, the CGI is done well throughout.
Moving on, 'Star Wars Episode II: The Clone Wars' is still the movie I remember loving to watch as a kid. Less Jar Jar was good, the story was better, the writing (and humor) were more tolerable. I never REALLY noticed how bad Hayden Christensen could be at delivering lines, but boy is he overacting to the millionth degree in this. Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor are given expanded roles, as are Yoda and Mace Windu. Plus we get a villain who is on-screen more in Count Dooku. I still don't mind McGregor as young Obi-Wan, but Portman is still pretty brutal as, now, Senator Amidala. Yoda, is, well Yoda, and Samuel L. Jackson as Windu is fine. Same goes for Christopher Lee as Count Dooku. Seeing the, almost origins, of Boba Fett is pretty cool as well. The story isn't quite good, but it's still better than what they tried to feed us in 'Episode I.' The writing, is still severely lacking too. Each one on one scene with Portman and Christensen is borderline unwatchable. Plus the exposition of every little thing is overbearing as hell. It comes off as unnecessary and makes a given scene boring. The action an CGI is still pretty good and it's the saving point of the film. I really liked the scenes were Obi-Wan traveled to the ocean planet Kamino and the fight scene that ensues. The final scenes in this film, in the battle at the area, is pretty cool as well. A swarm of Jedi in an all out-fight to stop a war, leading to an awesome showdown between Dooku and Yoda. The last 30 or so minutes, is still awesome. Once again, all of the good is accented by John Williams and his amazing score throughout the film.
Finally, we're at 'Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.' It is far and away the best film of the trio. Though it's a much better overall film, it still runs into a few the same problems the first two films hit. Hayden Christensen is still pretty meh, but settling into a conflicted, and eventually, evil role, suits him better on-screen. McGregor is still quite alright as Obi-Wan Kenobi and any scene involving Yoda draws the eye. Natalie Portman has finally settled into not being a complete bore as Amidala. It's too bad it took her (I more blame the writing for this) until the third film to finally get there. The story is also better, more complete and rounds off the prequel trilogy nicely. It gives the fans everything to be excited about, while tying up the overall storyline, these three films have managed to string together, well. The emotion runs high at times and this is the darkest of the series by far. Lending even more to the notion that this is the best of the three. This is the best writing (character-wise) and story of the trilogy. The writing and characters have been lackluster these the films, but have always been balanced out with the awesome spectacles, action and CGI. This film is no different as the fights are pretty damn fun. Darth Sidious vs. Mace Windu, Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. General Greivous, Yoda vs Darth Sidious and ending with Anakin vs Obi-Wan Part 1. I love the lightsaber fights in the 'Star Wars' prequels and I still think they're some of the best choreographed fights in film. Despite how this trilogy viewed as a whole. Plus, we get to finally see Chewbacca, I love that Wookie. The CGI is on par with the other films, but there's a lot of obvious green screen spots that look just plain bad. As always, the film sounds amazing, and the score (still by John Williams) accents everything perfectly. Plus the ending shots, are just so amazingly perfect.

The 'Star Wars' prequel trilogy is one of the few series, that actually get better as it wears on. 'Phantom Menace' is still the worst of the entire 'Star Wars' saga, but 'The Clone Wars' and 'Revenge of the Sith' are actually very good. George Lucas may not have gotten everything right once finishing 'Episode 1,' but he did show improvements all the way until the end of 'Episode III.' Despite all of this, the prequel trilogy is more than worth your time. You get to see the back-story, in full, of Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader. We also get a deeper glimpse into Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenodi's lives as well. You also get a ton of great action and awesome lightsaber duels spanning the films. Not to mention, John William's score that never quite disappoints. Marred by an abysmal start, the 'Star Wars' prequel trilogy is a fun, action-filled affair that leads into one of the greatest trilogies of all time.

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