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‘Star Wars’ Revisited, Part 6: ‘Revenge of the Sith’

rots-poster
Copyright Lucasfilm

Pre-viewing thoughts: “Revenge of the Sith” is my go-to movie whenever people dismiss the entirety of the Star Wars prequels. It completes Anakin’s transition from Jedi hero to Sith tyrant in dramatically compelling and logical fashion, it shows us the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire, the cast is finally comfortable in their parts, and we get some great payoffs, including Obi-Wan and Anakin’s showdown and the birth of Luke and Leia. George Lucas’ struggle in “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones” was to find and tell a compelling story to go along with his knack for world-building and grand set piece moments, and in “Revenge of the Sith” he rediscovered the heart of Star Wars just in time to break our hearts as we witness Darth Vader’s birth. Before we can find our new hope, we have to see our chosen one fall. Revenge is nigh.

Movie diary:

  • 00:00- This is the final Star Wars movie with direct involvement from George Lucas. It’s still weird to think of a post-Lucas Star Wars world.
  • 1:30- Kidnapping the chancellor is indeed a big move by Dooku and the Separatist forces, though I’m not sure exactly how it fits with Palpatine’s ultimate plan since he’s the one who’s been behind the war all long.
  • 2:30- The opening shot of Obi-Wan and Anakin joining the battle above Coruscant is definitely Lucas showing off, but it’s still a pretty incredible sequence. Star wars, indeed.
  • 3:15- The long-hair look for Anakin is definitely an improvement, though the facial scar is a bit try-hard. Christensen is noticeably better throughout “Sith”; he’s good with the conflicted loyalties and growing obsession with power stuff, it’s his scenes with Portman where he’s noticeably lacking.
  • 5:00- Anakin is the better pilot of the pair by a long shot, and they both just go with it. It’s an interesting little detail in their dynamic, and Ewan McGregor and Christensen are much more comfortable with each other.
  • 6:30- Obi-Wan and Anakin are good partners, and their camaraderie is believable. It’s sad to see their relationship fall apart, much more so than the relationship between Anakin and Padme.
  • 7:30- Obi-Wan’s got style, leaping out of his ship into immediate ass-kicking. He lives up to his later reputation as a war hero by the time of “A New Hope.”
  • 8:45- General Grievous is a great addition to our roster of villains. His wheezing cough is almost too close to Vader’s, but he’s got a great visual design, and it’s a great voice performance as well. He’s an upgrade over Jango Fett as far as secondary villains go.
  • 12:00- Count Dooku’s entrance is suitably intimidating, especially since he beat Obi-Wan and Anakin pretty handily in “Attack of the Clones.” Palpatine even makes a remark about it. And Christopher Lee continues to excel in the part.
  • 13:45- Anakin with a pretty brutal move to beat Dooku; he cuts off the guy’s hands. Jedi combat can get messy.
  • 14:00- Palpatine orders his future apprentice to kill his former apprentice. Ruthless. And McDiarmid is all snakelike evil. He even manages to give Anakin an easy out with “He was too dangerous to be kept alive.”
  • 15:00- Palpatine knows Anakin slaughtered the Sand People. It’s unclear if Obi-Wan does, but either way Palpatine has clearly been growing closer to Anakin for some time.
  • 16:15- Moments like Grievous’ ship nearly crashing with Palpatine still aboard illustrate that his plan as shown in the movie doesn’t totally hold together. He doesn’t want to die aboard the ship, otherwise he doesn’t get to rule.
  • 19:30- Grievous collects the lightsabers of fallen Jedi, a grisly touch for his character. Nice payoff to it later on, though.
  • 20:45- Grievous escapes by blowing out a window and then climbing along the outside of his ship. But he still needs to breathe, otherwise he can’t cough, so he shouldn’t really be able to survive in space. Minor thing, but still.
  • 22:30- Anakin successfully lands the falling ship, a pretty genuinely impressive feat.
  • 23:00- “We’re coming in too hot.” Christensen’s delivery here is…not good.
  • 24:30- Obi-Wan gives Anakin a moment in the spotlight, and he’s proud to do it. Again, these two are close. It’s sad to see them torn apart.
  • 26:00- Padme and Anakin’s reunion on Coruscant is actually pretty well done. A couple awkward lines, but they both sell the right emotions and seem to really care for one another. And Anakin’s terror at the prospect of being a father fits naturally; it’s more for him to potentially lose, which is the root of what drives him to the dark side.
  • 29:00- Palpatine writes off Dooku as a necessary loss. Getting to Anakin is clearly his long game, and seeing it come to fruition is tragic.
  • 31:00- We don’t know if Anakin’s visions are 100 percent prophetic or not; Yoda tells us “always in motion, is the future” in “Empire,” but so far all of Anakin’s dreams have come true. More importantly, it’s the fear of losing another loved one that powers his downfall. Yoda spelled it out in “Phantom Menace”: “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” Yoda called it, but Anakin was allowed to train anyway, and the Jedi’s blindness proves to be their undoing.
  • 31:45- Padme is still wearing the necklace Anakin gave to her in “Phantom Menace.”
  • 32:00- Padme knows firsthand that Anakin’s dreams shouldn’t be taken lightly, because she knows about the dreams he had about his mother prior to her death. Yet she maintains an optimistic outlook and tries to get Anakin not to worry. Anakin isn’t willing to go to Obi-Wan or the others with the truth, though, giving Palpatine an opening.
  • 34:15- Yoda tries to help Anakin as best he can, but Anakin needs a more empathetic, grounded response than “Everybody dies, get over it.” This is where Obi-Wan could and should step in.
  • 35:30- Obi-Wan and the Jedi Council are suspicious of Palpatine, as they should be; politicians ignoring term limits and accruing more power to themselves unchecked is generally shady.
  • 36:15- Palpatine playing off Anakin’s good nature and then ordering him to have a seat on the Council, which Anakin has always wanted, is a masterstroke. He knows exactly how to push Anakin’s buttons to make him feel betrayed by the Jedi while feeding his desire for power.
  • 37:30- The Council giving Anakin a seat while not naming him a master is actually a pretty fair compromise. But Anakin feels cheated. His greed is growing.
  • 39:00- The Council ordering Anakin to spy on Palpatine is a bad move for several reasons. One, he’s clearly close to Palpatine, and two, it’s trusting someone with a history of instability to carry out an assignment requiring the ability to operate in moral shades of grey, which doesn’t fit Anakin’s nature. It plays right into Palpatine’s game, because it’s more evidence of the Jedi conspiring like the Sith.
  • 40:00- The scene where Yoda, Mace Windu and Obi-Wan discuss Anakin’s assignment and the prophecy spells out another key theme. Clearly there were reservations about giving Anakin the gig, and yet they did it anyway, in part because of what Obi-Wan says about Anakin supposedly being the Chosen One. The Jedi rely on prophecy instead of looking at what’s right in front of them.
  • 42:30- The scene where Anakin meets Palpatine at the concert, or whatever it is (it looks awesome), is fantastic. Here’s where we see Palpatine really reel Anakin in with his tale of the Sith Lord who conquered death. And he’s right that the Jedi are plotting against him, even when the council is actually right to distrust Palpatine. Palpatine expertly plays Anakin’s insecurities against him. And both actors step up, especially Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine. His slithering, slippery evil is positively unnerving.
  • 47:30- John Williams is really the anchor of this whole franchise. No matter the scene, he’s there with the right music to make sure the right emotional tone is set. Here we get some great use of strings to sell the creeping dread.
  • 47:45- “Not…from a Jedi.” This is the first time Palpatine drops the mask, if only for a moment.
  • 49:15- The council gives Obi-Wan the assignment to kill Grievous, another slight against Anakin, in his eyes anyway.
  • 50:00- The battle on the Wookiee home world is really cool, even if it exists mostly to get Yoda off of Coruscant.
  • 51:00- Obi-Wan tries to give Anakin one last lesson before heading off to face Grievous, and it’s a lesson in patience. Anakin’s too far gone, though.
  • 55:00- The planet where Obi-Wan finds Grievous, with its sinkhole-covered landscape, is another really inventive world. You can always count on Star Wars to take you interesting places.
  • 56:50- The internet tells me the creature Obi-Wan rides as he tracks down Grievous is called a Boga. It’s a fun design.
  • 57:30- Obi-Wan just dropping into the middle of the group of droids is a pretty bold move. But to his credit, it turns out pretty well.
  • 58:30- The reveal of Grievous’ extra arms and that he also uses lightsabers is a great, fun reveal. Makes him into a formidable physical threat.
  • 1:00:45- Obi-Wan loses his lightsaber chasing after Grievous. Bad form.
  • 1:02:30- Palpatine continues play off Anakin’s ego. Their scenes together are all fantastic.
  • 1:04:00- Finally, after three movies, our real villain reveals himself. It’s not a great surprise, as Lucas doesn’t really do a great job of hiding it, nor is it meant to really be a surprise for the audience, I think. The prequels make much more sense when you view them as Lucas’ thematic response to the first three movies, even if they take place earlier in the series timeline. And really, that makes sense for Lucas, because he knows that basically everyone knows the end point for Anakin. So the focus shifts to making sure we understand the tragedy of Anakin’s fall along with the broader downfall of the Jedi.
  • 1:07:30- “So uncivilized.” Obi-Wan has to get creative and kill Grievous with a blaster, to his distaste. It’s a good moment.
  • 1:08:30- Keeping Anakin away from the Emperor as the Council goes to make their arrest is probably the smart move, but it plays into Anakin’s doubts of about the Jedi nurtured by Palpatine. Really, by this point it’s too late. We’ve been primed for Anakin’s fall, and now the inevitable happens.
  • 1:10:30- Anakin and Padem’s silent exchange across the Coruscant skyline is well done. And it’s gorgeous.
  • 1:11:00- Samuel L. Jackson finally earns his paycheck with his work as Mace Windu in “Sith.” He’s good, and he’s fun to watch opposite McDiarmid.
  • 1:12:45- The fight between Mace and Palpatine isn’t great, no doubt because of McDiarmid’s age making it difficult to do a lot of intense stuntwork.
  • 1:13:30- Palpatine unleashing the lightning is a nice nod for the fans and an impressive display of his power. And finding out that Palpatine is responsible for his own scarred appearance is another good bit, giving us his transformation into his appearance from “Empire” and “Jedi.”
  • 1:14:30- “He’s too dangerous to be kept alive.” Good callback to Palpatine’s line from earlier when Anakin killed Dooku.
  • 1:15:15- “What have I done?” Christensen gets this scene exactly right, to his credit. This is where Vader is born, as evidenced by Palpatine giving him the name in this moment.
  • 1:17:00- “Rise.” The Imperial March returns as Vader rises.
  • 1:17:45- The moment when Palpatine puts on his hood really cements his transformation. It’s uncanny.
  • 1:19:15- Things get dark in a hurry here. Vader leads an army of clone troopers into the Jedi Temple to wipe them out. The Emperor’s plan is ruthlessly efficient, though if some of the mechanics of said plan are a little murky.
  • 1:21:30- The music during the montage of all of the Jedi being slaughtered is gut-wrenching. The whole scene packs a punch, especially the bits of Yoda grieving as he feels all of the deaths through the Force.
  • 1:23:15- Yoda isn’t caught off guard. Granted, we know (sort of) that he lives, but it’s a pretty good fake-out.
  • 1:23:45- Anakin slaughtering the younglings (Jedi trainees) is brutal. Lucas didn’t hold back with showing the depths to which Anakin has fallen.
  • 1:25:55- Brief appearance from Chewie. The fan nods are mostly pretty subtle, or at least, unobtrusive in “Sith,” unlike the walking pile of fan service that is Jango Fett.
  • 1:27:45- The exception to the unobtrusive fan nods is Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa, whose significance is only really justified if you make the connection that he is Leia’s adoptive father (Leia grew up as Leia Organa on Alderaan).
  • 1:30:45- Going back to Coruscant to alter the signal urging the Jedi to come home is a brave move from Obi-Wan and Yoda, even if it’s also dramatically necessary so Yoda can fight the Emperor and Obi-Wan can find his way to Anakin on Mustafar. Nice bit of plotting from Lucas.
  • 1:32:30- Lucas makes subtext text with Mustafar. Anakin has sold his soul to the devil and finds damnation on the lava planet. Subtle it isn’t, but damn if it doesn’t work.
  • 1:34:30- Obi-Wan and Yoda touring the carnage in the Jedi temple is very well done. It’s sad without being melodramatic, and we get bodies without buckets of blood. “Sith” is the only Star Wars movie with violence that’s really questionable for younger audiences. I think it’s justified narratively, and it’s not exploitative, but I’d question letting someone 10 or younger see it.
  • 1:34:45- The hard cut from Obi-Wan saying “Who could’ve done this?” to Anakin mowing down the separatist leaders is a really nice bit of editing.
  • 1:36:15- “So this is how liberty dies: With thunderous applause.” Lucas, you were 11 years too early.
  • 1:37:45- Obi-Wan’s grief as he realizes what Anakin has done is palpable. Ewan McGregor really grew into this role as the prequels went along.
  • 1:38:00- Of course Yoda goes to fight the Emperor while sending Obi-Wan after Anakin. It has to be Obi-Wan and Anakin. It’s so inevitable. Lucas does a great job of playing off our knowledge of what has to happen with these characters. “Sith” is an excellent story on its own, but as the final piece of the long history of Darth Vader it gains an extra element of inevitable tragedy.
  • 1:41:00- The tour of Mustafar culminating in Anakin weeping on the bridge is an elegant sequence. And Williams’ score is perfect. Anakin is no more; Vader has taken over.
  • 1:42:00- The showdown between Palpatine and the Emperor is cool and necessary, but the real drama is on Mustafar. The emotional stakes are so much higher. We get the dissolution of Anakin and Padme’s relationship and Obi-Wan and Anakin’s inevitable showdown, both of which are more personal than the battle of the Force wizards.
  • 1:44:30- The cinematography is noticeably better in “Sith.” Lucas finds the shadows again, often literally, and the compositions are generally a lot better too. What makes “Sith” the best prequel is relatively simple: It’s the best story told in the best fashion. Lucas had finally found his footing again, but he’ll likely never make another movie in the universe he begot.
  • 1:45:15- Vader is already plotting against the Emperor. The power’s gone to his head.
  • 1:45:45- “You’re breaking my heart.” Portman brings it here.
  • 1:46:30- Anakin lets Padme live, and thus Vader will eventually lose. Fitting he’s brought down by his last of mercy as Anakin.
  • 1:47:15- “Your new empire?!” Obi-Wan, incredulous at Anakin’s lust for power.
  • 1:47:30- “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” It’s a clumsy line, and yes, it is an absolute, but you can see what Lucas and Obi-Wan are getting at.
  • 1:48:00- The music throughout the Obi-Wan vs. Anakin fight is stellar.
  • 1:51:30- Yoda and the Emperor fighting as the spire slowly rises into the empty Senate chamber is a great visual. And the soaring choral voices make the moment stand out.
  • 1:52:30- The gradual escalation as the Obi-Wan/Anakin duel goes on is pretty incredible, building to the great final fight on the lava river.
  • 1:53:00- Reprise of “Duel of the Fates.” Nice callback to the earlier battles between Sith and Jedi throughout the trilogy.
  • 1:54:00- The end of the Yoda/Palpatine fight is a little anticlimactic because they both have to live and Yoda has to escape to later train Luke. The Obi-Wan/Vader fight dodges this because their relationship has more stakes and doesn’t essentially change once the fight ends, even when they meet again in “A New Hope.” Plus we get the physical emergence of Darth Vader as we know commonly know him, which is a nice little bow on their arc. Anakin is essentially dead at that point.
  • 1:55:30- Some nice visual flourishes as Obi-Wan and Vader fight against the backdrop of a lava planet. And modern stunt techniques and CGI make it so they can have a battle between two young Jedi at the height of their powers in a way the original trilogy couldn’t.
  • 1:57:45- Vader managing to escape the collapsing bridge as it goes over the lava waterfall is a genuinely impressive feat.
  • 1:59:30- Obi-Wan tries to talk Vader into not making the leap.
  • 1:59:50- “You were the Chosen One!” Ugh. McGregor sells how hurt he is, and Christensen’s animal rage as he bellows out “I hate you!” is a genuine shock.
  • 2:00:00- Waching Vader burn is rough. You want Obi-Wan to put him out of his misery. And maybe he should have.
  • 2:02:15- Vader manages to survive long enough for the Emperor to arrive and “save” him. Hate leads to suffering, indeed.
  • 2:03:30- Padme’s death feels a little cheap. It’s hard to think of another way for her arc to end since we know she has to be dead before the original trilogy, but still, something feels off. She does get to name the kids, though.
  • 2:05:30- The contrast of Padme giving birth as Vader is fitted with his new limbs and mechanical enhancements is harsh, enhancing the small moments of joy amid the harrowing agony Vader is in and his tragic downfall.
  • 2:06:49- The first breath after Vader puts on the mask is haunting. And we only get one before cutting back to Padme.
  • 2:08:01- James Earl Jones’ familiar baritone is a welcome return, even if only for a few lines.
  • 2:08:45- The “Nooooooo!” gets a lot of grief, but it’s fine. You try expressing the grief and anger of killing the mother of your unborn children immediately after betraying everyone and everything you loved for power, only to have your body mutilated.
  • 2:10:15- Yoda teaches Obi-Wan about Force ghosts so we can have them in later movies.
  • 2:11:15- Padme is holding the necklace she got from Anakin during her funeral.
  • 2:11:30- Nice shot of Vader and the Emperor overlooking the construction of the Death Star.
  • 2:12:00- Leia lucks out and gets to live the life of a princess on Alderaan. Though I guess her planet does end up destroyed. Requisite snippet of Leia’s theme from the original trilogy.
  • 2:12:45- Obi-Wan takes Luke to the Lars homestead on Tatooine, where he’ll watch over Luke. As Luke’s theme plays, we get Owen and Beru standing on the same spot with Luke where Luke will one day look out over the Tatooine sunset, reminding us that hope remains.

Wrap-up: “Revenge of the Sith” makes up for many of the weaker moments in the prequel trilogy. When it came time to show us how Anakin became Darth Vader and took the Republic with him, Lucas showed us he could still tell a Star Wars story with a rich emotional experience along with the requisite action beats. Furthermore, watching “Sith” again only seems to confirm my hypothesis that, for better or worse, the prequels gain much by being viewed as thematic responses to Lucas’ earlier works and as parts of a larger whole rather than standalone stories. Lucas sets up a series of moments wherein Anakin might just pull back from the blink even when we know he won’t, but we still see how it all ties into his fear of loss. It gives the whole movie a feeling of inevitable tragedy, giving it a heft the series sometimes lacks. Lucas may have taken a beating over the prequels, but I hope he’s proud of what he and his team accomplished with this movie.

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‘Star Wars’ Revisited, Part 3: ‘Return of the Jedi’

rotj-poster
Copyright Lucasfilm

Pre-viewing thoughts: As I’ve mentioned a couple times already in this series, “Return of the Jedi” was my favorite Star Wars movie as a kid. It’s the climactic entry of the series, for one, and it has a number of great set pieces, including the opening rescue sequence on Tatooine and the ground/space/Death Star battle at the end. More recent viewings have dampened my enthusiasm for “Jedi” a little, but it still has a lot going for it; in my mind, it’s only somewhat significant flaw is a poorly paced second act, but once Luke goes to confront Vader, the movie finishes strong. It’s time to wrap up the first arc of Star Wars and the first trilogy in this series.

Movie diary:

  • 00:00- Imagine going to see this movie in 1983 knowing that it was the last Star Wars movie for at least the near future, if not forever.
  • 2:00- “Jedi” has what is probably the most low-key opening of the series. We’re given a glimpse of the second Death Star, a brief moment with Vader, the tease of the Emperor’s arrival and little else. But the music and staging definitely give the proceedings an air of impending doom. We see Vader before we see any of the main heroes, and the music is especially gloomy. It tells that this story, at least for 32 years, is our endpoint.
  • 4:30- The look of terror on the Death Star commander’s face when Vader tells him the Emperor is coming is wonderful and does a lot to sell us on how terrible he must be. Especially when Vader says shortly thereafter “The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am,” and we’ve seen that Vader possesses little in the way of forgiveness.
  • 6:30- Jabba’s palace, like the Mos Eisley cantina, is one of those locations that contains a world of untold stories. The sheer variety of aliens on display is a huge credit to the technicians who helped bring the Star Wars universe to life.
  • 8:30- Jabba is a fantastic minor villain. He’s a literal slug, but he clearly wields great power and puts Luke, Han, Leia and the rest through quite an ordeal. Plus his treatment of Leia later on is flat-out disgusting. He earns that eventual death at Leia’s hands.
  • 10:15- Han hanging in Jabba’s throne room as a trophy is a great visual and tells you a lot about Jabba’s nature.
  • 12:00- I like Jabba’s band. The Special Edition makes their musical moment way too long and overblown, but in the theatrical release it’s a fun little diversion and glimpse into life at Jabba’s palace. Plus the sudden death of one of the dancers when she’s dropped into a pit sets up the fantastic fight between Luke and the rancor later on.
  • 15:30- Jabba laughing at the bounty hunter (eventually revealed to be Leia) after the bounty hunter pulls out the thermal detonator is also a nice touch. Jabba’s clearly been accustomed to power so long that he has little sense of his own mortality and underestimates his opponents, which proves to be his undoing.
  • 16:40- Lando revealing himself as one of Jabba’s guards clues us in that maybe things aren’t quite as bad as they appear for the good guys and that there may be more going on than we realize.
  • 17:30- The scene where the bounty hunter sneaks into Jabba’s throne room, frees Han and reveals herself to be Leia is very well done. Lots of good use of shadow, the little moments where she checks to see if she’s been seen, her gentle care of Han, the music…all good stuff.
  • 19:30- We get a short clip of Han and Leia’s love theme for the reveal, giving us a moment of hope, and then Jabba shows himself. No breaks for our heroes, at least not yet.
  • 20:45- The way Jabba licks his lips at Leia is just gross, and Carrie Fisher’s reaction fits accordingly.
  • 21:30- Han and Chewie’s reunion is a nice moment. Han is overwhelmed, but Chewie is just so glad to have his friend back, and Han eventually just gives up and tells Chewie he’s OK.
  • 22:30- The metal bikini is unnecessary. The chain is plenty, as was Jabba’s licking his lips. You could easily put her in an outfit that’s flattering without going way over the line of gratuitous titillation with that bikini. Yes it fits with Jabba’s nature, but it’s a disservice to Leia’s character.
  • 25:00- The rancor is a fantastic creature design, and the fight between it and Luke is very well done. Luke shows himself to be a capable, resourceful fighter even without his lightsaber or any other weapon. He gets out of this scrape with his wits, some rocks and a leftover bone.
  • 27:30- It’s an odd, throwaway moment, but I’ve always liked the little bit where the human (presumably the rancor’s trainer?) weeps for the monster after Luke kills it. Again, Jabba’s palace contains worlds’ worth of stories that go untold. Great way to build out the broader universe in small pieces.
  • 30:30- The Sarlaac is a nasty piece of work. “Jedi” is filled with great creature/alien designs.
  • 31:15- Luke does offer Jabba a chance to live. The gradual build until R2 shoots Luke’s lightsaber into the air and Luke grabs it is very well staged, too.
  • 33:00- Down goes Boba Fett, in ignominy. Sure it’s more or less by accident on Han’s part, but Han’s blind and still gets accidental payback on the guy who made him a trophy for Jabba.
  • 33:45- Leia gets her payback, too, and Fisher sells every bit of Leia’s anger. You go princess.
  • 36:30- “I owe you one.” Han thanking Luke is a good moment. All of the actors have grown really comfortable with each other by this point.
  • 37:30- The Emperor’s arrival on the Death Star is very well done. The contrast between the tall, imposing Vader and the seemingly frail Emperor makes him appear weak, but the trappings of power around him (I’ve always thought the blood-red Imperial Guards were cool) and Ian McDiarmid’s performance tell us this is not a man to be trifled with.
  • 40:00- Yoda gives Luke a lesson on mortality before he passes. With knowledge of the prequels and Anakin’s fruitless quest to conquer death, this is especially poignant. “Jedi” may actually be the movie that gains the most from the prequels; the parallels between the Emperor’s corruption of Anakin/Vader and his failed attempt at bringing Luke to the dark side are notable and help create a sense of finality.
  • 41:30- Yoda confirms Vader’s revelation from “Empire,” and Williams gives us a minor key variation on Luke’s theme. It’s a powerful moment.
  • 42:00- “Unfortunate that I know the truth?” “Unfortunate that you rushed to face him.” Yoda makes sure Luke knows that his unchecked emotions are his weakness.
  • 43:45- “There is another Skywalker.” Yoda gives Luke a bit of hope for the future even as he passes. And his fade from view, recalling Obi-Wan’s earlier death, is a heartfelt moment.
  • 45:00- Obi-Wan appears, and he’s got some explaining to do. Luke is justifiably angry.
  • 45:15- “A certain point of view?” This, in many ways, is the key lesson Luke has to learn. He has good instincts, but he needs to balance his urge to act with deliberation.
  • 46:10- “I was wrong.” There’s a lot unsaid in Alec Guiness’ delivery when he speaks of his failure with Anakin. Acting is about big and small moments alike, and this small moment of admitting his greatest failure tells us a lot about Obi-Wan.
  • 46:30- “I can’t kill my own father.” Luke finds his own path in the end. It’s clear from Obi-Wan, at least, and to a lesser extent Yoda, that he’s expected to kill Vader, but Luke knows he has to try to redeem him instead.
  • 47:15- The reveal that Leia and Luke are twins is a bit odd, especially since we saw them kiss in “Empire,” but I think it works. They’ve never really had the raw chemistry clearly obvious between Leia and Han (especially with the knowledge of Fisher and Ford’s affair), but they care for each other. And it makes for a great moment later on when Vader says he’ll try to turn her instead of Luke, which propels Luke to finally lash out in anger.
  • 49:00- “Jedi” gets flack for reprising the Death Star bit from “A New Hope,” but aside from the Death Star itself, the plots and themes are very different.
  • 52:45- I’ve always thought the partially finished Death Star looks cooler than the complete one from “A New Hope.” Don’t really know why. Maybe because it looks a bit a more otherworldly.
  • 53:15- The first throne room scene on the second Death Star gives us a glimpse into the Emperior-Vader dynamic: Vader is the muscle, the Emperor is the brains, as seen by his setting the trap for the Rebel fleet and his knowledge that the reports of a Rebel attack elsewhere are a ruse. They make a formidable pair.
  • 55:00- “I’m endangering the mission, I shouldn’t have come.” Luke’s probably right here, but plot necessities dictate he be there. Plus we’ve seen Vader and the Emperor lay traps before, so it’s not totally out of Vader’s character to let the group land, thinking he can catch them later.
  • 57:30- Like I said before, “Jedi’s” biggest weakness is its meandering second act, but the outlier is the incredible hover bike chase through the forest. The sense of speed and danger is palpable, the sound design is top notch, and Luke jumping from one bike to the other is a great stunt, as is Luke chopping off the front of one of the bikes with his lightsaber. And it’s pre-CGI, so kudos to the stunt team.
  • 1:02:00- The Ewoks are fine. Star Wars is not just for adults, and one of the themes of the series is the Rebellion finding allies in unexpected places and making the most of them, especially since the Empire is implicitly (later explicitly) a human-first regime. It makes sense for the locals to help the Rebels take down the Empire when the Empire comes to their planet and starts messing up the place. If you hate the later Star Wars movies because of the Ewoks or Jar Jar, you need to get your priorities straight. Everything does not need to be grim and gritty all the time.
  • 1:06:00- Luke is the one who pushes Vader back to the light side, but the second throne room scene with Vader and the Emperor gives us a glimpse into the doubts Vader is beginning to have. The Emperor asks Vader if his feelings are clear, and Vader says they are, but the delivery from James Earl Jones has a feeling of “The lady doth protest too much.”
  • 1:09:00- The scene where Luke, Han, Chewie and 3PO get caught in the trap and then captured by the Ewoks isn’t great. It drags too long, and while it’s nice that the good guys don’t just immediately kill the Ewoks (because they most likely could), I’m not sure it makes sense that they’d more or less let themselves get caught and taken to the village.
  • 1:11:00- Now, that all said, the Ewok village is a marvel of production design. It looks completely believable.
  • 1:13:00- While it’s a nice demonstration of Luke’s Force abilities to lift 3PO into the air, it would make more sense dramatically if Leia was the one who convinced the Ewoks to help them by virtue of her having helped one of their own earlier. It would make the Ewoks and Rebels allies against mutual adversaries instead of having the Ewoks being somewhat tricked into giving them Rebels a chance. 3PO’s recapping of the story so far around the fire (also a great moment, and a callback to his line from “A New Hope” where he says he’s not very good at telling stories) mitigates this somewhat.
  • 1:17:00- “Short help’s better than no help.” Han points out the obvious: When you’re fighting against an evil empire with a weapon that can destroy planets, you take whatever help you can get.
  • 1:17:00- The final scene with Luke and Leia before Luke goes to find Vader is very touching, even if Leia shouldn’t really have any memory of her mother because her mother died shortly after Leia was born, as we see in “Revenge of the Sith.”
  • 1:19:30- Leia takes the news that Luke is her brother pretty well, all things considered.
  • 1:21:30- “Hold me.” A sweet, tender moment with Han and Leia.
  • 1:23:00- “That name no longer has any meaning for me.” Again, Vader doth protest too much. Luke is already starting to get under his skin. After the second act wheel-spinning, “Jedi” finds its narrative footing here and builds to a hell of a climax.
  • 1:23:15- When Vader activates Luke’s new lightsaber, it looks for a second like he’s going to use it on Luke, reminding us that we’re still dealing with the man who cut off Luke’s hand.
  • 1:24:15- “I will not turn, and you’ll be forced to kill me.” “If that is your destiny.” A rather droll reply from Vader, but the casual air with which he says it makes it believable. As we’ve seen repeatedly, Vader has no qualms about casual murder.
  • 1:25:30- Vader pauses for a moment after handing Luke over to be taken to the Emperor. The doubts build.
  • 1:28:00- The Ewoks prove their worth quickly, leading the Rebels to the back door of the shield generator and then creating a distraction to get most of the guards away.
  • 1:30:00- “Welcome, young Skywalker. I have been expecting you.” Ian McDiarmid is absolutely fantastic as the Emperor. The makeup helps a lot, but his voice is laced with evil, and his performance is a master class in coiled menace. John Williams also gives him a great music cue.
  • 1:33:15- The Rebel fleet arrives, Luke is in the clutches of the Emperor and Vader, and Han and Leia have been ambushed. The stage is set for our big finale.
  • 1:34:00- Lando realizes the shield is still up, and all hell breaks loose.
  • 1:34:15- “It’s a trap!” I watched this movie at a Star Wars convention in Florida a few years ago, and the entire room was waiting for this line. When Admiral Ackbar get his moment, there was cheering and a huge burst of applause. It may be the most fun I’ve had watching a Star Wars movie.
  • 1:35:30- Both Yoda and the Emperor tell Luke what his destiny is, but they’re both wrong. Luke doesn’t fall to the dark side, but he doesn’t kill Vader or the Emperor. George Lucas gets grief in some quarters as a hack who simply followed Joseph Campbell’s “Hero With a Thousand Faces” template, but Luke’s arc over the course of the original trilogy is much more complicated than that.
  • 1:40:00- It’s a little odd that we don’t really get a big fleet vs. fleet battle until “Jedi,” considering the name of this series is Star Wars. But when that battle finally arrives, it’s a good one.
  • 1:41:00- The reveal that the Death Star is actually functional is a nicely done twist. It further stacks the odds in the Empire’s favor, making their eventual defeat even more satisfying.
  • 1:42:00- R2 getting shot, followed shortly by Leia being injured, are both good moments of showing how dire things are.
  • 1:45:30- Chewie gets his big moment when he takes over one of the Imperial scout walkers to turn the tide on the ground. About time he gets something to do.
  • 1:46:45- The Ewoks get pretty inventive when it comes to taking down the scout walkers. My personal favorite: Releasing a bunch of loose logs and seeing the walker go all wobbly before collapsing.
  • 1:47:15- “I love you.” “I know.” Lines are reversed, and Leia gets to save Han (again).
  • 1:48:00- Luke is fighting in a noticeably more aggressive style here. The Emperor’s getting to him, even if it’s Vader who gets him closest to the edge when he starts talking about Leia.
  • 1:50:45- Han’s little shrug when he traps the troops coming out of the shield bunker is priceless.
  • 1:51:45- Luke’s cry of rage before he goes berserk on Vader is a genuine shock; we’ve never seen him like this. The music as he batters Vader and nearly kills him is perfect, too; it gives me chills every time. This is the emotional crux of the whole series, as Luke gets as close as we ever see him to falling to the dark side before coming up just short.
  • 1:52:45- Luke cuts off Vader’s right hand, just as Vader cut off his. Luke sees this and realizes he’s becoming just like his father, as was shown to him in the cave on Dagobah. And thus he rejects the Emperor and, as he puts it…
  • 1:53:30- “…I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” Luke’s journey is complete, but there are a couple loose ends left.
  • 1:54:15- The Emperor’s lightning blasts are another great surprise. It makes sense that he attacks more directly with the Force instead of with a lightsaber like Vader.
  • 1:55:10- “Father, please!” Luke’s mercy and love for Vader is what turns him. He’s seen that he doesn’t have to embrace his worst emotions; he can save himself.
  • 1:56:15- The Emperor falling to his death before exploding in a burst of energy is a great visual.
  • 1:56:45- Vader and Luke have a nice moment together before we cut back to the space battle and Lando attempting to destroy the Death Star.
  • 1:57:40- Having Lando and Wedge attempt to blow up the Death Star from the inside is a nice way to up the trench run sequence from “A New Hope.”
  • 1:59:00- You could imagine having Vader die immediately after having killed the Emperor, but giving him one last moment with Luke where Vader can look at Luke without the mask is a nice touch.
  • 2:00:15- “I’ve got to save you.” “You already have, Luke.” And Vader gets one last, minimal reprise of the Imperial March as he dies. Rest in peace, Anakin Skywalker.
  • 2:01:15- One last plot thread to resolve. Wedge and Lando blow up the Death Star’s reactor, Luke makes his escape, and it’s time to party.
  • 2:03:22- Han’s face when Leia tells him she and Luke are siblings is a joy to beold, and probably appropriate given that in the last movie he saw her make out with Luke.
  • 2:04:00- Luke burning his father’s body on the funeral pyre is a nice image and a great way to cap off both of their arcs.
  • 2:05:00- The Ewoks’ party looks like a lot of fun. My favorite bit: The Ewoks playing drums on the Stormtroopers’ helmets.
  • 2:06:00- Just to make sure it’s clear, we get Anakin’s Force ghost along with Yoda and Obi-Wan. Luke has truly become a Jedi and redeemed his father. Happy ending.

Wrap-up: Like with “A New Hope,” my feelings toward “Jedi” haven’t really changed much after this viewing. “Jedi” has its strengths (a number of great action set pieces, some very well executed dramatic payoffs), but it also has its flaws, namely an unfocused second act. But as the end of the Star Wars saga in 1983 and the end of the first arc of movies once the prequels and “The Force Awakens” were released, “Jedi” succeeds admirably in tying up the loose ends in a satisfying matter. And once again, if the Ewoks bother you that much, loosen up.

‘Star Wars’ Revisited, Part 2: ‘The Empire Strikes Back’

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Copyright Lucasfilm

Pre-viewing thoughts: Of all of the Star Wars movies, “The Empire Strikes Back” is the one I’m approaching with the most trepidation as part of this series, because it’s the movie where my opinion is the most out of sync with the general consensus. “Empire” is most frequently cited by Star Wars fans and general movie buffs alike as the best of the series, with the first movie coming in second. I’ve never really agreed with that notion. Don’t get me wrong; I like “Empire” a lot, and there’s a lot to recommend it, but it’s never been my favorite of the original trilogy. When I was younger “Return of the Jedi” was the one I watched the most, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve grown to appreciate the original “Star Wars” more, but “Empire” has never connected with me in the same way. I don’t really know why that is, and it’s something I’d like to try to figure out, so hopefully rewatching it now will give me some insight. Here we go.

Movie diary:

  • 00:00- I’m going to likely be taking fewer notes with this one, because “Empire” is one I really want to see how and if my assessment of the movie has changed at all in recent years.
  • 1:00- The value of the title crawl as a device for exposition is really pretty strong; it fits with the pulp adventure feel George Lucas was aiming for, and it’s a good way to knock out some of the early setup business and jump right into the action.
  • 2:00- Right away, John Williams lets us know we’re in for a different ride. The ominous, subdued score is a far cry from the rousing battle music that “A New Hope” opened with.
  • 4:00- The wampa attack on Luke and his tauntaun is a pretty good jump scare, though it’s a subplot I’ve never really been a fan of. “Empire” has a bit of an odd structure, which may be part of my hesitancy to name it the best of the series.
  • 6:45- “I’d just as soon kiss a Wookiee.” Once again, you’ll be missed, Carrie Fisher.
  • 8:15- Han’s decision to go out after Luke even after saying he had to leave the Rebellion to get the price off his head is a nice bit of character work. It shows that he, Luke and Leia have remained close after the events of “The New Hope” and that he’s more willing to risk his own life now.
  • 9:30- I will say this for the wampa subplot: Luke using the force to pull his lightsaber to him and free himself is a great moment, and it shows that he’s growing stronger in the Force, leading to his vision of Obi-Wan and eventual training with Yoda.
  • 12:15- The look on Carrie Fisher’s face as the base doors are closed, sealing Han and Luke outside in the cold, is a great bit of non-verbal acting. She clearly cares for both of them.
  • 14:30- “I thought they smelled bad on the outside.” Even as he’s in danger of freezing to death along with his friend, Han always has a one-liner ready.
  • 17:30- Han seems genuinely wounded when Leia calls him “scruffy looking,” and Ford has great timing with the line. Lucas neither wrote nor directed “Empire,” and the dialogue is all-around less clunky and more natural (though to deny his role in the movie when he served as producer and received a “story by” credit would be a disservice to him).
  • 18:00- The smug look on Luke’s face when Leia kisses him is great.
  • 19:30- It’s hard to not gush constantly about how good John Williams is, but seriously: The first appearance of “The Imperial March” as Vader’s giant ship literally overshadows the rest of his fleet is perfect. “Empire” is the movie that really cements Vader as the villain of the original trilogy, and he gets a fantastic piece of music to give him that extra touch of menace.
  • 23:30-“You have failed me for the last time, admiral.” Vader does not suffer fools lightly.
  • 24:30- The whole Hoth battle sequence is stunning, far and away the best large-scale ground battle of the series. It’s also a much larger battle than anything in “A New Hope” at this same point in the movie. “Empire” definitely ups the scale with the “war” part of “Star Wars.”
  • 31:30- Han returns to the command center to make sure Leia’s OK, even when she questions why he’s still there and after he’s repeatedly said he doesn’t really love her. It’s a classic “can’t you two see how much you two like each other?” moment.
  • 32:45- Luke takes down an AT-AT himself even as things fall apart around him. Our farm boy has become quite a soldier.
  • 38:30- The asteroid chase is another great set piece coming hard on the heels of the big battle. Like I said, “Empire” ups the scale quickly. And Williams is masterful as ever with the music.
  • 41:00- “Empire” also gives us a bigger variety of locations than “A New Hope.” Whereas before we had a desert planet, a space station and a forest planet, in “Empire” we get an ice planet, a swamp planet, an extended sequence in an asteroid field and a floating city hovering above a gas giant. Lots of imagination on display from the production designers.
  • 44:00- Mark Hamill has never really gotten the praise he deserves as Luke, I think, in part because it’s a less showy role than Han, Leia or Vader. Especially in “Empire” he has a number of scenes where he’s acting opposite a droid and a puppet, not exactly the easiest thing to do, and he’s got a complicated arc as Luke learns to become a Jedi, faces Vader and then has his world blown apart from underneath him. Hamill excels throughout.
  • 47:15- Frank Oz is the best as Yoda, and he did it all with just his voice and talent for puppeteering. Frank Oz is the man.
  • 47:30- “Wars not make one great.” Yoda’s first lesson for Luke, and Luke doesn’t even know it.
  • 50:00- In hindsight it’s obvious there’s more to Yoda than meets the eye, but Oz does a great job making him unassuming, especially since we (and Luke) assume a Jedi master would be an imposing warrior figure closer to Obi-Wan.
  • 53:40- “He will join us or die, master.” The knowledge that Luke is Vader’s son makes this line even more chilling. Vader is so ruthless that he will sacrifice his own son if Luke won’t join him in his quest for power.
  • 54:45- Yoda practically spells it out for Luke that he’s the Jedi master Luke is looking for when he talks about Luke’s father, which makes Luke’s impatience and stubbornness all the more obvious and shows how deeply he failed Yoda’s test of him. Luke has found purpose, but he has much to learn about the ways of the Jedi beyond being able to wield a lightsaber.
  • 56:00- Yoda sums up Luke’s personality quickly and with brutal honesty: “All his life has he looked away to the future…never his mind on where he was.” If Obi-Wan gives Luke the weapon of the Jedi and helps him learn the basics of the Force, Yoda is the one who teaches him the Jedi philosophy and mindset, which is what ultimately separates Luke from Vader.
  • 59:50- “I am not a committee.” Leia refuses to let Han belittle her, even as they’re trying to escape a giant killer space slug in an asteroid.
  • 1:03:00- Luke repeatedly fails all of the tests he’s given in the movie, and it’s always for the same reason: Impatience and overconfidence. He can’t see Yoda is the master he’s looking for; he brings his weapons into the cave (ignoring Yoda’s admonishment) and ends up killing a vision of himself, thinking it’s Vader; he can’t bring his X-Wing out of the swamp; and he ultimately loses to Vader in their final encounter. Only in “Return of the Jedi” does he learn to rein in his emotions, though not before almost failing in the worst possible way.
  • 1:13:45- Han hiding the Falcon by attaching the ship to one of the Star Destroyers is a nice move, and it fits with his nature as a former smuggler.
  • 1:18:30- Cloud City is a genuinely inspired location. And the first shot of it ahead of the setting sun as the Falcon flies in is a great visual.
  • 1:20:00- Billy Dee Williams is great as Lando. With knowledge of what comes later, it’s clear his charm is a smokescreen meant to disarm Han and Leia, but Williams still pulls it off with aplomb.
  • 1:21:00- 3PO getting blown to pieces by an unknown assailant is an immediate clue that Cloud City is not as hospitable as it appears.
  • 1:22:00- “I feel the Force.” “But you cannot control it.” Obi-Wan spells out Luke’s arc in the movie here, but it’s still a good moment.
  • 1:24:30- “That boy is our last hope.” “No; there is another.” You can argue about whether it was a good move to eventually reveal that Luke and Leia are siblings, but it’s set up here, even if it isn’t revealed until “Jedi.”
  • 1:27:15- It’s been foreshadowed, but Vader just sitting at the table waiting for Han, Leia and Chewie before shrugging off Han’s blaster shots is a great power move.
  • 1:30:00- Lando does try to help Leia and the others as best he can, given the circumstances. He’s one of the few characters in the series who operates (at least for a while) in shades of grey, especially since Han is now firmly on the side of the good guys.
  • 1:34:00- Han is the calm one even as he’s being led to the carbon freezing chamber. It’s a good moment for him.
  • 1:34:55- “I love you.” “I know.” One of the great unscripted moments in movie history, perfectly delivered.
  • 1:37:00- “I am altering the deal; pray I don’t alter it any further.” Only one person gets to tell Vader what to do, and it’s not Lando.
  • 1:40:00- The lightsaber fights definitely get better as the series goes. The duel between Obi-Wan and Vader in “A New Hope” was great from a dramatic standpoint, but the fight choreography is somewhat lacking, whereas the Luke/Vader fight in “Empire” is both convincingly staged and has a big dramatic payoff.
  • 1:44:00- Luke gets a couple good moments in his fight against Vader, but the scene where Vader just starts throwing stuff at him with the Force and beating him up shows how out of his depth Luke really is. Vader is essentially toying with Luke.
  • 1:50:10- “No; I am your father.” I don’t think I was old enough to appreciate the big reveal when I first saw “Empire.” Finding out your father is a monster who’s slaughtered countless people at the behest of an oppressive regime just doesn’t quite register when you’re 10 or 11. I understand it better from a dramatic perspective now, and it’s an important moment for Luke in his growth as a character, but it just doesn’t have the same emotional heft it should. That’s not the movie’s fault, but it’s an undeniable factor in how I feel about it, if that makes sense.
  • 1:56:30- “Ben, why didn’t you tell me?” Luke is shattered by his experience on Cloud City, so he reaches out to the one person he counts on most for answers, even after finding out Obi-Wan hid the truth from him.
  • 1:59:30- We’re definitely at a low point for our heroes, but the shot of them looking out as Lando and Chewie set out to find Han tells us that there’s still hope.

Wrap-up: I definitely think I have a greater appreciation for “Empire” after this viewing. It’s still not my favorite of the original trilogy, but I feel like going back and really looking at what the movie was trying to accomplish gives me a better understanding of it. “The Empire Strikes Back” does what all good sequels should try to do, which is add new depth to the characters while expanding the world in interesting ways. I don’t think it’s necessary that every middle entry in a trilogy be the “dark” or downer one, as has often been the case post-“Empire,” but if you’re going to take that approach, this movie shows you how to do it right.