Episodes 1, 2 and 3

Episotted


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Reported on 9th of January, 2020

Recently I have been writing. Which, I suppose, this isn’t.

To do this better involves at least two things. One is to obsessively watch Rifftrax, whose jokes about clichés, obvious plot-holes and richter zero characters are an object lesson in avoidabilities, something it is surprisingly to easy to. So stop it. Me. The second is to read obsessively about writing, which has included the very interesting story of the making of Star Wars.

Both of these moments coalesced in a recent revisit of Episodes 1-3, and it’s time to finally discuss these cinematic touchstones: narratively inert, but visually vibrant, grandpa racist, but quotably odd, everything you would expect from the world’s most expensive experimental films. I said previously that the post-quels greatest crime was to make us think well of the prequels.

Which I guess I now do.

Never Spend Your Own Money


re: Episodes 1, 2 and 3
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Putting the post-quels and the prequels together is a kind of epistemology-ology: the episodes represent the worst aspect of story on one side (knowing everything), and the re-quels the worst: knowing nothing.

We will arrive upon the ninth – The Rise of Skywalker – postish-haste, and until that moment, the Episodes remain unique: $300 million dollar films with no studio input, the purest expression of one man’s vision. As bad, and as good, as any independent, and for the same reasons. The added bonus? So overviewed, they can’t help but make beautiful, beautiful meme meat. Ed Wood with a budget, as I have said previously, but, unlike the grim watchibility future of the post-quels, we still watch Ed Wood.

From a story perspective, these films are also unique in that the three total, some seven plus hours, contain only one act collectively: will he become evil? with an answer we already know: uh, yeah, but not very plausibly, and with a lot of filler.

What if someone travelled from the past and stopped me from using Hitler metaphors?

There are ways to tell stories where the outcome is known, All the President’s Men comes to mind, as does Sunset Boulevard. It is the biopic of Darth Vader, a road is littered with so many pulseless failures (The Last King of Scotland, Vice), easy to greenlight, but hard to illuminate. It takes a truly skilled writer who knows to focus on character and choice. Which Mr. Lucas, for all his strengths, is not.

Actually not very long, long ago, Mr. George Lucas did not believe himself to be a writer. Back in the 1970s, he was also visionary enough to also know his own limits:

 

I hated stories, and I hated plot, and I wanted to make visual films that had nothing to do with telling a story. (Kaminski, 2007: 30)

I was writing every day, which I hate… It’s painful, atrocious…I had some good ideas in the first version, but no solid storyline, which is a challenge for me because I hate ‘plots’. (Ibid.: 128)

 

And so on. The actual story of Star Wars (according to many, D.O.A. with the first cut – Kaminski, 2007: pp. 137-140) was thrown together with the aid of three great editors, an uncredited writing team, Mr. John fucking Williams, the team at ILM, etc., just as Mr. Lucas’ Indiana Jones napkin scribble was with saved a talented directing, production and writing team.

Shocked that his film redefined cinema forever, Mr. Lucas then created the famous reveal – not in the original – that caused me to drive past lines of people waiting for Empire for the first time, not knowing the big secret, leaning out the window, screaming:

‘Kramer gets divorced from Kramer!’

Even after this grand Hail Mary to save a character they didn’t know would be so iconic at the time, Mr. Lucas was clear about one thing:

As Lucas has said on more than one occasion: “The backstory wasn’t meant to be a movie” (Ibid: 135).

Like Buddha telling us that the one thing you shouldn’t do is make Buddhism a religion, Mr. Lucas ignored his own admonition. Whatever his motives, and I believe them to be to ruin the actual cinema experience forever, he then proceeded to do exactly that: make the backstory, over three films.

Before the rant begins, I would like to shit-sandwich the entire thing, in this case a shit triple-decker. The films, well, they don’t hold up, do they, and yet they do, don’t they? I keep watching them for the reason I now watch anything: so I know what memes are about. This is only partially true, since, it’s one of the better three films to be riffed by The Guys, and I never tired of jokes like these.

 

NATALIE PORTMAN
Then I will plead our case to the senate.
MIKE NELSON
Flatly, lifelessly, killing scene after dull stupefying scene.
MIKE
You know what else I love in an action movie, Kevin?
KEVIN
What’s that, Mike?
MIKE
Dinner conversation about off-screen events that go on for several courses. I mean, why show people doing things when you can have the characters tell us about them over and over and over again.
KEVIN
Yes! Speculate over a radio! This is cinematic gold!

 

Want to learn basic film mechanics? Enjoy stupid jokes about film mechanics.

That’s two extra layers of shit, I guess, so more of a Dave’s Triple with shit as bread all the way around. Don’t pick it up – use a fork. We’re not savages here.

But, here comes the bread. The vision is there: very few have achieved world building like this. It is a film that you could watch with the sound off.

Yes. That’s the better option.

Episode 1

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Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

28 June 1999 @ The Vista


$8.00 or, if one must be jejune, and one must... 
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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Now there’s much ranting to be had, but these films have had enough said about them by everyone including me. For the purposes of brevity (ha!), I’ll leave that for The Take.

I’ll stick to – starting now, and possibly ending in a minute – the one scene per film which captures each one’s wonderful essence.

With some ranting.

The one scene in the case of Episode 1 would be the forgettable scene where Mr. Liam Neeson ‘rebels’ in front of the Jedi council and proposes to train the future Darth Vader, or “I will train this boy” as Mr. Al ‘weird Al’ Yankovic would have it?

This is an unjustifiably complex version of a classic trope: Rebelling Again The Man, the man in this case represented by a little green puppet. I know better than the elders, goes the trope. Seemingly added because of memories from better films that Mr. Lucas has himself written, it explodes for about seven reasons.

1) We know the outcome.

I don’t remember this film or seeing it. But I’m glad I supported this weird place.

2) We know the outcome is not good. The idea of rebelling against your elders makes a kind of sense if you’re going to kill Hitler, not if you’re going to save him. What if someone travelled from the past and stopped me from using Hitler metaphors?

3) All the Jedis we have seen so far, were trained when they were older than Mr. Jake Lloyd (Luke Skywalker comes to mind), and they’re all fine. We know this from the post-quels, oh, never mind.

4) The explanation of ‘the prophecy’, and – shudder – midichlorians means more stultifying exposition, which is where you know you’re in trouble. It’s a kind of rule (to be visited below): if you’re in SF environs, try to make it something familiar, instead of having to explain in detail what is coming.

5) Mr. Lloyd, whose ‘has much darkness in him’, is super nice.

6) The reason he ‘has much darkness in him’, which we can’t see, is because they took him from his mother. You begin to hate the Jedi. Which, of course, would have been a much better movie.

7) How does this lifeless non-conflict end? Or ‘finish’, or ‘stop happening’, or, technically, ‘is forgotten about off screen’? They say: ‘Young Skywalker’s fate will be decided later’. They argue a lot, and then postpone the decision. So…it’s a bunch of people talking about things they have to explain in great detail in order to understand, and then not deciding to do something.

But look at the floating ship in the window!

In sixty seconds, you’re given seven different ways (I can’t believe I was right about that number when I wrote that sentence) to feel about an extremely conventional scene, and you’re just left feeling you’re really bad at puzzles.

Then there’s a parade.

The Take – Episode I

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Profits!
The Camp Aspect
‘That’s not a jew; it’s a flying jew-like bug!’
$2.00
‘Those aren’t Chinese people, they’re…eh, fine. They’re Chinese people. No one cares, you’re just here to see spaceships fly next to other spaceships’.
$2.00
The haircuts
$2.00
Re: the FX. It’s far from perfect, but there is a central imagination here. And it is impressive. It’s the movie he wanted to make.
$10.00
Total Profits
$16.00
Losses!
I’ve come a long way and I want to be cute about it but Jar-Jar Binks. Truly the most hateful character created since Scrappy Doo. Scrappy. Doo.
$5.00
The still incomprehensible after seven viewings, and then I explain it and still don’t understand it, political theater
$2.00
The Pod Race.
$1.00
The Pod Race without access to a PS2 (it was 1999) controller
$3.00
Ms. Portman’s ‘sure, I can try it again with less intonation’ performance’ ‘That’s too much intonation!!!!!’
$2.00
Total Losses
$13.00
The Time and Crappiness of the post-quels discount
$5.00

$8.00

Episode 2

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Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

16 May 2002 @ The Mann's Chinese


$8.50 or, if one must be quotidian, and one must... 
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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It’s the middle film, so you’ve got even more problems than usual. Nothing – nothing – can have an impact on the story. No character, no battle, no choice, no action can affect anything that affects the one thing.

Had a genuine anxiety attack right in the middle, and in the middle row. First of many to come, totally unmotivated by the films. This could be a whole John Hopkins thesis of the lack of relationship between attacks and content. In the face of the bland, a reaction. And this film remains proof.

As a result, scenes appear from the haze of memory of better films without any connection to character or story. And so, you have the maddening plot holes that can’t even make nonsense:

Ms. Portman must return to that big all city planet that represents our not so far future. She has an important vote. Her double is killed. To commemorate her sacrifice, Ms. Portman runs like a coward without voting.

Assassin One sends a remote assassinobot, in order not to be caught. Naturally, the assassobot, instead, you know, blowing up without a trace, goes back to Assassin One to help her get caught. Assassin One is killed by Assassin Two in another way that can be easily traced.

This leads to the discovery of a planet full of clone soldiers, a controversy that could take down the republic! Like most controversies, they just use them without referring to the controversy again.

Actually, Lucas may have been onto something there. Begun this clone war has, or started this clone war I did? Again, Yoda as the bad guy, has potential.

I didn’t say baby Yoda. I’m not a monster.

I broke my promise to concentrate on just the one scene, so let’s concentrate on two:

Mr. Jenga Fett (sorry Mr. Temuera Morrison, but you’re going to have to be Mr. Fett throughout this. It’s for the canon) throws Mr. MacGregor off a rain platform, where he surely must have died! Then, he blows him up in an asteroid field, where he surely must have died!

Why did I pick theses scenes? This is par for the course, action movie-wise. In many ways, action scenes fit the trope of nothing happening; action films are just series of meetings, saying you’re just like me, escapes, then meetings, saying no, I’m not, until the end. We know via the first, good, films that Mr. MacGregor is going to live, we also know that just watching the film as the hero that he will survive. No, I wasn’t to discover why even this, the most basic of action film tropes, was bad until…

…the next film…

The Take – Episode II

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Losses!
The love scenes. Yow.
$3.00
Profits
… but, the sand speech
$2.00
At one point the giantspaceinsectlovecat attacks Ms. Natalie Portman, it makes a half-shirt. We all know this.
While useful for future alien attacks
$2.00
… it is also shameless
$2.00
… and utterly shameless
$2.00
‘The men, the women and the children’ meme, I mean, serious dramatic content
$2.00
Ms. Portman’s bland reaction to Mr. Hayden Christensen’s confession of genocide. This is where you don’t have political theater ?
$2.00
“Around the survivors a perimeter create.” is as good and awkwardly meme-worthy as “Begun this Clone War has”. Always gets a laugh.
$2.00
But I was honestly sad that Mr. Jimmy Smits, relegated to the non-part, soon to do nothing as Ms. Portman dies for no reason, impotently punches his fist – very slightly – at the final ‘Clone War has’. This is really how the film ends: the many layers of waste – Mr. Smits’ post-NYPD Blue career, his character and all the others, events that go nowhere because they can’t, wit – all trying, and failing, to break through in that tiny gesture.
$2.00
On the seventh viewing I’m now 100% sure that R2D2 tried to kill C3P0. He pushes him into the factory – for no reason – and C3P0 is saved only by pure chance. The idea that they have a ‘why’ or even a ‘huh?’ is never considered. The fact that nothing can happen, motivates the weird hatred between these two characters, and creates genuinely unmotivated madness.
$2.00
Carefully look at 38:58. Closer. Closer. Those are my suitcases!!!!
$5.50

$8.50

Episode 3

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Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

19 May 2005 @ The Agoura Hills 8


$9.00 or, if one must be quotidian, and one must... 
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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… the next film, where, finally, everything is explained!

Kind of!

We hear, after all this time, that comforting chord of ‘it was my plan all along.’ This is great thing to have the bad guy say, if you’re writing and have no idea how to write. The story doesn’t make seem like anything was planned, probably because you didn’t plan anything, or, couldn’t write characters that think and feel? Just have one of them say ‘Well, that was my plan all along.’ It’s a joke that wouldn’t make a Chuck Lorre sequel to All The Men Who Married My Nerd, and it is the ostensible plot of not one but three films.

Back to number 2, Mr. MacGregor is nearly killed twice. Fine, chases, getaways, we get it. Here’s the problem, and why I really didn’t understand anything until now.

The story of my moving life as go West, and then so far West I’m seeing them in France. But I do remember the chocolate store near the USA Gasoline very well indeed.

Like Mr. Shane Black ordained in The Long Kiss Goodnight, Mr. Ian McDiarmid was having a fundraiser. He wanted to become emperor, so he played both sides. Great. Not original or especially astute, it is also not a story that resonates well. We know this, being that I’ve only noticed now.

But that’s your plot. So be it. Stretch it out to three films. Fine. Here are the many things you can’t do. You can’t have Mr. MacGregor discover the Clone Army that you need to become emperor, by accident. You can’t have him be nearly killed two times, because if he is, there is no pretext for war. You can’t have Mr. Lee explain to Mr. MacGregor that there is a plot in the senate and dark lords and so forth. You can’t have Mr. Lee kidnap you and then get his head cut off by Mr. Christensen. Well, Mr. Lee can, but he can’t look surprised. That was the best case scenario, buddy.

And now, as we end Episode 3, which from a thematic point of view should have been the third act in a single 90 minute film, we have the two sword fights. The problem isn’t that we know the outcome, and have for three movies (remembering that both parties survive, which is a pretty bad position to be put in as a writer). Nor is it that any dramatic tension that might exist is played out in cheap ‘I did it to save my unborn child!’ motives. It’s that the fights themselves have no rules or choice within them, that they are not narratively structured. There is nothing to watch.

The worst of these is the fight with Yoda just…stops. It doesn’t have a conclusion, even a cheap if only I had chosen a different kind of lightsaber (or, in the case of Obi-wan ‘I have the higher ground!’) moment. He wusses out and escapes, then, according to the canon, hangs out on Dagoba until Empire. Ignoble to say the least. There is a lot of scrambling to explain, instead of flow, and it does feel backed up. If only we had known that episodes 7, 8 and 9 were to the wreck the bowl.

Instead all these moments – reveals, surprises, women dying from sadness because who cares about their babies – are moments transplanted. It works because the film is telling us it is.

Which is ultimately fine, because Mr. Lucas wanted to create worlds. He imagined how the shots would look in scenes from other movies and then he put them together. For all their faults, Lucas made the most unfettered version of…something. It is a combination of racism broad and unconscious, lifeless political commentary and regressive at best moral commentary, an inability to write, plot, characterize or narrativize. But a clear and intense visual sense, and it is a pure one.

The coming of Episodes 7-9 has demonstrated that craziness is better than pretension. Crazy pretension? The best of all.

The Take – Episode III

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It’s all been said by Backstroke of the West Highlights Part 1 (Star War: The Third Gathers). For those few who don’t know, this is the film, pirated, inexplicably translated into Chinese, then translated back again into English. The film has become transformative and bound to our culture, like a Cronenbergian cancer. On one hand,
Losses!
‘Do Not Want’
$6.00
Profits !
on the other, ‘Gold, today is your day’
$15.00

$9.00

 

All this, and the line: ‘No master, there appears to be no motive.’ Make that a meme, fuckers.

Bibliography

Kaminski, Michael. The Secret History of Star Wars: The Art of Storytelling and the Making of a Modern Epic. Legacy Books Press, 2007.

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