I know everyone is going to have a AOTC
review. So why another? Actually, Iím being lazy. I know that tons of
folks are actually going to ask me ďSo what did you think?Ē, and rather
than retype this fifty times, I figured it was simpler to do it once and
send them here.
Yes, I was with hundreds of other geeks (and if youíre
up at midnight in the middle of the week to be first to see a sci-fi/fantasy
film, youíre a geek no matter how much you may deny it) at my local
megaplex last night to see the midnight showing. And just to further cement
my geekdom, Iíll be taking my wife and daughter again tonight.
If youíre a major Star Wars fan, you should keep in
mind your reaction to Phantom Menace. Iíve seen it play out over and over
- fans loved the film at first, some even enjoying Jar Jarís Ďcontributioní,
but over time, as they spent a little more time thinking about it, and the
nostalgia effects wore off, they came to realize just what an awful movie it
So it might take a week or two, or even a month or
two for most fans to really be able to judge this filmís true merits and
flaws. I suspect that for the die-hard fan, Yodaís big battle sequence
will be enough to get them to walk out of the theater on a Lucas high. For
the casual fan, they may wonder what all the hoopla is about.
Oh, and I just wanted to point out, before I start
blabbing away about anything and everything, that this is NOT, in any way
shape or form, a spoiler free review. Iím going to discuss lots of
specifics, so if you havenít seen the film, STOP READING!
Ah, so were to start - at the beginning, I suppose.
The first 45 minutes of this movie showcase some of the worst dialogue and
acting of the entire series to date. Yep, itís that bad. In particular,
Anakin, Amidala and Obi-wan are straddled with terrible lines, and forced to
say them in such a stoic and monotone manner that no semblance of acting is
visible. There is no personality to their characters, no depth. The Ďloveí
story is poorly executed, poorly directed, and wonít be going down as a
great moment in either Portman or Christiansenís careers. Itís also
amusing to note that Amidala has more costume changes than a Madonna concert
during the first half of the film - and most of them bare about as much
skin. Once she settles into her tighty whitey, her wardrobe and hair style
becomes a lot less distracting.
When I complain about the dialogue, itís not the
required one liners. Actually, many of them are very good, including the
great line from Obi-Wan to Anakin - ďI swear, some day youíll be the
death of meĒ. But the actual back and forth conversations needed some
serious work, and they should have considered having someone come in
specifically to punch up the dialog.
There are several scenes which are so bad, that I
thought I'd stumbled on an MSFT3K episode. Anakin's nightmare, the
lovers rolling in the grass, and Shmi's death scene rank up there with,
well, they're just rank.
The film does look splendid, and every action
sequence is superb. Some are very derivative however, as I mentioned at the
start. Actually, it surprised me how many other movies George is paying Ďhomageí
to, or simply ripping off as the case may be. The very first action
sequence, with the pod car race through the city, was so much like the Fifth
Element I expected to see a bleached blonde Bruce any minute. And watching
Anakin sliding around on Zamís car, I couldnít help but see Indiana
Jones working his was from the front to back and back again on the truck in
the first Indy film.
Other derivative moments:
The entire Ďstamping plantí sequence would have
been much more at home in an Indy movie, and was tremendously reminiscent
of the Temple of Doom sequences
Correct me if Iím wrong, but havenít we seen a
Jedi Knight cut the arm off a bounty hunter in a sleazy bar before? This
same Jedi Knight as a matter of fact?
Wen Obi-Wan, standing in the sand, picked up the
spear against the crabby beast and stabbed from below, I had a flashback
The Geonosians oozing from the walls looked an
awful lot like an film about some other aliens. And actually, thereís an
old Harryhausen film where skeletons emerge from the walls in a similar
fashion (Jason and the Argonauts perhaps?)
As the Geonosians flew to the Arena, I expected to
hear the cackle of the Wicked Witch of the West
Remember the film ďWizardsĒ by Bakshi? I was
worried for a moment that Yoda was just going to pull out an old revolver
and shoot Dooku.
And God forbid, as I watched Amidala crest the
beautiful, lush, green rolling hill in her flowing dress, and the music
swelled, I thought for sure she was going to break into ďThe hills are
Now donít get me wrong - Iím not actually
knocking this film because of this. Most films have derivative moments, and
I think that since he is going for such a pulp serial feel with his films,
that itís to be expected. None of these sequences was poorly done, and
none of them hurt the film for me. Well, except maybe for that brief moment
when I thought Julie Andrews was going to start singing.
Once you get past the first 45 minutes or so, the
actors are allowed more latitude. We get to see the anger and hate that
Anakin feels toward the Tusken Raiders, we see the blame he places on
Obi-Wan, and we begin to understand, certainly better than in Episode 1,
just how it is possible that the dark side will take hold. Christiansen does
have his shining moments, but none are better than when he tells Amidala of
his rampage. Her reaction left me cold, as there could have been so much
more they could have done if sheíd have exhibited the revulsion you would
have expected, but I can understand the path they chose.
The visual effects of the movie are outstanding.
There are only a few CGI scenes, most notably the first car chase, and then
when Anakin is riding the Reek, where the quality isnít as good as you
might desire. But overall, the movie is visually stunning, with beautiful
scenes, and excellent effects.
Itís obvious that George prefers CGI characters to
human actors, because the three best performances in the film are turned in
by non-human characters. Yoda makes this movie - he simply and undeniably
(and literally!) kicks ass. I had my reservations about an old, short muppet
doing hand-to-hand combat, but there was no reason to worry. Not only is his
final battle sequences stupendous, but the voice acting and CGI expressions
through out the film made his performance the one to beat.
On the CGI side, both Dexter and Watto also gave
great performances. With just the right blend of humor and seriousness, both
characters were allowed to emote the personality that none of the three main
human actors were ever allowed to display. While their screen time was
limited, they brought fresh air to the other stale performances.
On the human side, all was not a wash out. Both
Christopher Lee as Dooku and Sam Jackson as Windu turned in solid
performances. They were given the opportunity to make their characters Ďrealí,
something that Portman, Christensen, and McGregor werenít. Iím glad to
see that both Dooku and Windu will be back for the next film.
Iíve already mentioned the superb special effects,
but letís not forget the sound. In Episode 1, some of the alien dialog was
stupid and poorly thought out. Lucas didnít make the same mistake this
time. In particular, the Geonosian dialect and the Cloners speech patterns
were excellent, and fit the characters extremely well.
The sound effects were also some of the best
selections Iíve seen in ages. How they handled the sonic mines was amazing
- I was literally awe struck. Ships, machinery, droids, everything sounded
And donít forget the sound track. John Williams has
done his usual fantastic job. This is one area that Lucas appears to entrust
to someone else, and Williams is the right man for the job.
Once you make it through the first 45 minutes, the
real action begins and the film takes off. While the dialog itself is often
weak - donít even get me started on the stupid C-3PO lines during the
Arena battle - the overall story is actually quite good. We grew up
believing that the Empire was some evil entity that had forcefully taken
over the Republic. We are now seeing thatís not true, and itís not as
black and white as we assumed as children. Thereís lots of gray, and it
turns out the Empire IS the Republic. Democracy can be manipulated, and it
is possible for a very small group of individuals to control the masses.
This story mirrors history, and as recent as Hitler weíve seen this played
out in reality.
Only in a multi-movie epic of this type can a
director explore a big picture issue like this, and itís a unique
opportunity for Lucas. Iím happy to say that Iím pleased with the
overall arching story so far, much more so than when only Episode 1 was out
there. The story is building nicely on itself, complex enough to be
interesting, yet not too tangled to get confusing. Lucas does have great
vision, but at times has difficulty with the detail execution.
This movie has two things going for it; like ESB, itís
a Ďtransitioní film, and unlike ROTJ, the good parts are all in the last
half, the weak parts in the first half. Why are these good things? Well, a
transition film gets help in two areas. First, it doesnít have to set up
very many characters, since most of that development should have occurred in
the first film. Second, thereís no expectation of any major resolution at
the end of the film. Weíre saved from scenes of drunken, celebrating Ewoks.
Instead, the film has one major task at the end - make us want to see the
Thatís an area in which Episode 1 failed miserably.
Many fans have not been particularly geeked about this film, but I donít
think that will be the case for Episode 3. AOTC has set the stage as a good
transition film should, and as such ranks up with ESB.
I also mentioned the fact that all the weakest parts
of this film happen early. Thatís great for a movie in the long run,
because how people leave the theater tends to be how they feel about a movie
over the long haul. A movie like ROTJ, which has a great start and fizzles
out, is often seen negatively when looking back. People are far more willing
to forgive a weak beginning if the film delivers in the second half, and
AOTC certainly fulfills that order.
So whatís the bottom line? This is a far better
movie than many of the critics are saying. Yes, thereís some seriously bad
acting here, brought on by some seriously bad directing. Fortunately, most
of that is contained in the early part of the film, and by mid-point Lucas
redeems himself. The dialog may not be the best, but the overall story is
being fleshed out well, and is far more developed and complex than many have
admitted. The film isnít without its flaws, but most fans will be able to
overlook them and appreciate the larger vision that Lucas has.
If I were to rank this compared to the rest of the
films, I would say it easily beats out both Episode 1 and Return of the
Jedi. It doesnít reach the pinnacle that Empire Strikes Back set, but itís
definitely neck and neck with A New Hope, and I suspect that over time Iíll
grow to like this film better than ANH. Go see it, if for no other reason
than to enjoy Yoda. The little guy deserves an Oscar.