The Pros and Cons of “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”

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PROS

“Revenge” throwback in the title. A tidy inversion of George Lucas’s decision to revise the Episode VI title from Revenge of the Jedi to Return of the Jedi, on the basis that revenge isn’t a Jedi value.

Proto-original-trilogy design. Typically, when sequels (or prequels) are made in pre-planned sequence, it’s purely for reasons of budget and convenience. (See: Back to the Future II and III.) A valid artistic reason to make movies in batches is to engineer the kind of coherent arc seen in the transformation from the Republic of Episode I to the Empire of Episode III. One of the reasons the original trilogy became classics is because of Lucas’s respect for design, and the precise care devoted to design—sound design as well as visual design—in the prequels underlines the fact that in cinematic storytelling, design elements can be as important as characters.

The swarm-like opening space battle. One of the cool things about watching the original trilogy is seeing how Lucas created the elaborate space battle in Jedi that he wished he’d been able to create in the first film. More spaceships don’t make a film better, but it’s satisfying to watch the starfighters at the opening of Revenge tip over the edge of the big ship (sorry, even I’m not enough of a nerd to look up the name of that ship) to reveal the kind of CGI firepower Lucas had been waiting two decades to deploy.

Ian McDiarmid. This actor was fantastic as the Emperor in Jedi, and his performance anchors the prequels. He’s best in Episode II, when his character is most ambiguous, but in Revenge, he really gets to let that evil cackle rip.

Twi’leks: Still the hottest race in the Star Wars universe. And now, kicking ass instead of kissing it.

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That weird-ass electric jellyfish show the Emperor is watching. There isn’t a lot in the Star Wars universe that’s truly strange—not just kind of funky or odd, but really, inexplicably, bizarre. Here, we’re just asked to take for granted that VIPs of Coruscant like nothing better than to watch a giant version of an executive toy from Spencer Gifts.

The rainbow prism dream effects. You half-expect Marlon Brando to show up as Jor-el in one of Anakin’s nightmares, and I mean that as a compliment.

Dinotopia: The planet. Excuse me, “Utapau.”

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“So uncivilized.” All the time it took Ewan McGregor to perfect that accent finally pays off.

John Williams. The Star Wars scores were already legendary for William’s inventive and effective use of Wagnerian leitmotifs. With the prequel scores, Williams doubled down, and it’s an enormous pleasure to hear his original themes re-emerge as the two trilogies approach their convergence at the conclusion of Episode III.

Samuel L. Jackson. So much more convincing as a powerful Jedi than Mark Hamill ever was.

The tragic tween Jedi. You know the one.

The first Force grip. The identify of the first victim of Darth Vader’s signature Force grip is just so fucking tragic that it almost makes up for the fact that Vader’s relationship with her is kneecapped by Lucas’s wooden dialogue (see below).

“Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” This line reminds you that the second two prequels were released during the administration of George W. “rid the world of the evil-doers” Bush.

The visual Frankenstein reference. I love that Lucas just goes there.

James Earl Jones. It’s perfect that Jones’s few lines of dialogue as Vader in Episode III are desperate and pathetic—a tone we won’t hear from Vader again until the end of Episode VI.

The development of themes that were key to the original trilogy. Fundamentally, my defense of the Star Wars prequels rests on the fact that Lucas uses the three new films to develop the themes that give the original trilogy its lasting power. Return of the Jedi articulated the connection between fear and evil, and Revenge of the Sith traces the origins of that fear: the ultimate root of Darth Vader’s tragedy is revealed to be his false belief that he can control another person’s fate. In that light, the whole series becomes a meditation on the distinction between unselfish love and selfish possession, one of the most profound challenges of human existence. The prequels are, for many reasons, far inferior to the original trilogy—but in this crucial respect, seeing the prequels enhances the experience of revisiting those classic first films.

CONS

It just looks like a cartoon. Speaking of tragedies, one of the great tragedies of the prequels as films is that the director whose innovation transformed visual effects in the 70s and 80s, when given twenty years’ advancement in effects technology, somehow managed to make films that look worse than his first movies set in this universe. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy conclusively demonstrates that the problem of giving substance to computer-generated effects was a soluble one at the time the Star Wars prequels were made: Lucas just failed to solve it.

“Dooku.” I’d need the help of a linguist to explain precisely why “Yoda” and “Lando” are awesome names while “Dooku” is absolutely terrible, but that is unambiguously true.

Hayden Christensen’s acting. The most charitable way to interpret Christensen’s casting is that Lucas decided he needed an actor who could credibly have fathered Luke “That’s impossible!” Skywalker.

The Anakin-Obi-Wan banter. This is why the most important hire for the team of the new Star Wars films was Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote Empire and Jedi but is very, very conspicuously absent from the prequels.

“Ani.” You know that if you had an awesome name like “Anakin,” you’d never let anyone call you “Ani”—especially not your mom or your wife.

“You’re so beautiful.”
“It’s only because I’m so in love.”

“No, it’s because I’m so in love with you!”

CGI Yoda. The prequels’ visual effects are so hapless that the puppet originally used for Episode I looked even worse than the CGI Yoda, which looks infinitely worse than the puppet from Empire and Jedi. Somehow Yoda truly did die in Jedi, never to be effectively rendered again.

“Hold me like you did by the lake on Naboo.”

Midi-chlorians. God willing, J.J. Abrams understands that bullshit science, which is the lifeblood of Star Trek, does not belong in the Star Wars universe. Especially not this quasi-biological explanation for the power of the Force.

“I’m not going to die in childbirth, Ani. I promise you.”
“No, I promise you!”

General Grievous’s voice. Apparently provided by the French heckler from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in the last throes of tuberculosis.

Jay Gabler

Ten Quotations I Can’t Stop Spouting

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“You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. Every cook will tell you that. As spoken by Colonel Mustard in the immortal comedy Clue. If you’re hanging out with the right people, someone will reply in a Mrs. Peacock scream, “But look what happened to the cook!”

“You can visit Pity City, but you can’t live there.” Used by my aunt when employees at her bank get whiney.

“Just ’cause it’s on the tubes, people think it’s free!” Minneapolis photographer Stacy Schwartz on the frustrations of having online content thieved.

“Everybody needs money. That’s why they call it money.” Spoken by Danny DeVito in the movie Heist, this is my favorite David Mamet line—right up there with “Put that coffee down! Coffee is for closers only.”

“No conflict, no interest!” This expression used by my dad to describe the sometimes-incestuous business relationships in Twin Cities housing finance also applies to basically every industry everywhere.

“The people have spoken…the bastards.” First uttered by Dick Tuck after losing a California state senate race in 1966, this is a great one to pull out after any election where the wrong side won.

“Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” My girlfriend reminds me that I’m fond of using this instruction as a metaphor for emotional health. Cheesy, but #truth.

“Old people didn’t choose to be old. Be nice!” From a Tumblr post by Nicole James, the most underrated font of wisdom on the Internet.

“Get me outta this stinkin’ fresh air!” Like Vicki from the original Parent Trap, I’m not the best camper.

“I sure hope the old man got that tractor beam out of commission, or this is gonna be a real short trip.” Prelude to all road trips.

Jay Gabler

(Source: thetangential.com)

Cabbage Patch Kid Adoption Rejection Letter to Darth Vader

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Dear Mr. Vader:

We regret to inform you that your application for adoption of a Cabbage Patch Kid has been denied.  As you are no doubt aware, Cabbage Patch Kids do not grow on trees – they grow in a cabbage patch, behind a waterfall in a magical valley.  This renders them rarer than you might think, and competition for adoption is fierce.  We understand this may come as a disappointment to you, so we wanted to outline for you the reasons for our decision, should you desire to adopt in the future.

First, we want to stress that it is against policy for us to fill specific requests.  For example, we cannot provide the Cabbage Patch Kid with the highest Midichlorian count, nor do we have the means to calculate such a number if we could.  While you are not forbidden from encouraging a career in the military for your Kid, none of our adoptees can be trained in space combat before adoption, and we do not refer to any of them as “Admiral.”

Through our extensive background checks it was brought to our attention that you live in a “Death Star” that is frequently under attack from “Rebel forces.”  We do not presume to judge the living conditions of our applicants; however, we find it less than encouraging that your engineers failed to properly secure the thermal exhaust port. Even the employees here in the office at Babyland General Hospital know that a common proton torpedo could exploit such an obvious weakness.  We would require more astute attention to household safety in order to ensure the security of our adoptees.  We always take into consideration an applicant’s ability to adequately protect our Kids from evil Lavender McDade, Cabbage Jack, and their gold mine – we do not condone child labor, and we fear the ease with which you dispose of your Storm Troopers might put a Kid at risk of falling into another low-pay high-danger occupation.

More disturbing still, we understand you already have two children, from whom you have become estranged and, it seems, have on occasion attempted to murder.  We take our applicants’ previous history with children very seriously, and though we appreciate the importance of encouraging children to be successful, a Dark Side-or-Death ultimatum seems more terrifying than heartening.  We hope this last fact does not offend, but we are also concerned with your chronic respiratory problems and whether they jeopardize your ability to parent full-time.

We at Babyland General Hospital would like to thank you for your interest in adopting a Cabbage Patch Kid.  Simply applying is the first hurdle, and we appreciate your desire, even if we do not feel it fits your current lifestyle.  We encourage you to apply again in the future.

Sincerely,

Xavier Roberts

Chief of Staff
Babyland General Hospital
Mount Yonah
Cleveland, Georgia

- Katie Sisneros

From The Tangential archives: January 2011

If Everyone Was as Honest as Bon Jovi

Because We Can—The Tour is the upcoming fifteenth concert tour by American rock band Bon Jovi. (Wikipedia)

Tom Cruise stars as an ex-cop with a stupid name in the plot-free blockbuster action spectacular Because I Can.

“Because I Can,” Chris Brown’s slow jam about S&M, featuring a guest verse by Rihanna.

“Telling the World About Your Performance Anxiety, Because I Can,” the new hit single by Taylor Swift

Because We Could, a memoir by a senior staffer in the George W. Bush administration

“Because I can:” text-message preface to a dickpic from Bill Clinton

Because You Can: A 50-Something Pop Icon’s Guide to Hot Sex with Barely Legal Men by Madonna

“asking people to bring me adderall, because i can” – alt lit tweet

Because I Can, a 20-hour documentary about the history of hubcaps in America, by Ken Burns

BECAUSE I CAN—inscription on Bob Dylan’s gravestone

Because We Can™: A line of $70 yoga shirts in the Whole Body section at Whole Foods

Star Wars Episode VII: Because We Can, a Disney movie featuring a climactic battle between Boba Fett and Miss Piggy

Jay Gabler and Katya Karaz

The Toys I Can’t Let Go

I’m writing this on Easter, remembering how when I was a kid, the holidays were fundamentally about toys: new toys that would come in Easter baskets or birthday presents or under the Christmas tree. The farther I get into adulthood, the stranger it is to remember just how intensely invested I was in those little plastic figures that came in plastic bubbles glued to cards, or in plastic bags in glossy boxes festooned with a careful balance of dramatic illustrations showing the fierce freedom fighters the toys were meant to represent and disappointment-forestalling photos of what the toys actually looked like.

loved that shit. After an initial period of precociously self-aware resistance during which I deliberately spurned anything resembling a stereotypical “boy toy”—I preferred Legos, which in the early 80s had even more of that progressively androgynous, European quality than they do now—I succumbed to a three-pack of Star Wars bounty hunter action figures I received for Christmas when I was about five. Star Wars figures and playsets quickly replaced Legos as my toys of choice, and they were in turn replaced by Transformers, my last and greatest toy obsession. During that period—basically, the 1980s, during which I went from age 4 to 15—I also had serious affairs on the side with franchises including G.I. Joe, Robo Force, and Inhumanoids (the latter mostly because they immediately flopped and thus became dirt cheap on clearance).

My parents and I spent a lot of money on toys for me, but boy, did I ever get our money’s worth. I’d spend countless hours up in my room behind a closed door, where I’d arrange the toys into careful displays on my many shelves, taking them down to enact elaborate wars and exploratory missions—all soundtracked with KZIO, Duluth’s top 40 station. I specifically remember a thrilling starfighter battle that unfolded to the strains of “Material Girl” and a triumphant “We Don’t Need Another Hero” Autobot dance party that went on a little too long for my friend Nathan, who wanted to get back to the fighting.

Every new toy was an additional character in the constantly unfolding epic. My toys’ adventures always drew from the official lore supplied by TV shows, books, and movies (along with many other boys my age, I went to see Transformers: The Movie and got real vulns when Optimus Prime died), but I adapted the stories since I had a personal rule against imagining adventures involving characters whose PVC avatars I did not personally possess.

As I advanced into middle childhood, I became increasingly interested in the unseen machinery by which commercial toys were provided with story lines. One of the first things I remember consciously wanting to grow up to be (besides generically “famous”) was continuity manager for the Transformers line—I figured someone had to be tasked with keeping the TV shows, books, and packaging internally consistent, and I knew I could do a better job of it than he was. (How big is Megatron when he transforms into a gun? Is it possible for characters to partially transform, or is it all-or-nothing? Do the human characters age in real time?) This was of particular concern to me, as I’d started drawing my own Transformers comics and inventing my own new characters, for whom I typed detailed biographies with my manual Royal typewriter.

Increasingly, the toys and the comics and the typewriter started to weigh my imagination down—they were crutches I didn’t need. So I’d take my pink rubber ball (a tennis ball or even a golf ball would do in a pinch) out to the patio and walk around in circles, bouncing the ball to occupy my hands while I imagined adventures for my toy characters to have. I’d narrate them to myself in a mumbling tone, simulating different voices as needed. I even had a name for this: if you were in our kitchen in about 1986, you might see me dash through wearing short shorts and a Madeline Island t-shirt, yelling, “Mom! I’m gonna go dribble for a while. Call me when dinner’s ready!”

In 1987 we moved to St. Paul, to a house that didn’t have a private backyard patio like our house in Duluth had. I never even unpacked all my toys after the move, but I kept my “dribbling” going strong through junior high—I’d just have to do it out in public, on the sidewalk in front of the house. At the time I believed it was out of sexism that the neighbors started hiring my younger sisters as baby-sitters before they hired me, but in retrospect I think it probably had more to do with the fact that they believed me to be a lot further along the autism spectrum than I actually was. I’d be out dribbling until the sun set, and at least once a neighbor had to stick his head out his window and ask if I was all right—I’d imitated one of the Decepticons’ death shrieks a little more loudly than was appropriate.

Eventually I stopped dribbling, but I still have that rubber ball, once perfectly round and now cratered with wear so that it resembles a dirty pink asteroid. I still have all the toys, too—all of them. My parents are probably going to sell the house within a year from now, so my free storage is going to be over and I’m going to have to decide what to do with Omega Supreme, the Ewok Village, the Cobra hyrdofoil, the fishing tackle box full of weapons and accessories…legions upon legions of well-worn but carefully preserved warriors, buried in full battle readiness like my own personal Terra Cotta Army.

The actual Terra Cotta Army is being carefully excavated and put on public display in climate-controlled museums, and I wish I could do the same with my toys. Not in my home, 40-Year-Old-Virgin-style, but in an appropriately majestic temple to all those years I spent with them—my chubby little body and their crappy plastic ones sitting on a pea-green shag rug in Duluth, Minnesota, but our true selves having adventures in a galaxy far, far away.

If I could build that museum, it would be designed to resemble the Autobot city of Metroplex, and it would sit atop a wide grassy hill like that city did in the Transformers cartoons. Its voice would welcome you when you’d walk in, and you’d totally be able to convince yourself that if the Constructicons ever united to form Devastator, the museum could transform, sheltering your fragile human form in his chest as he kicked the evil metabot’s ass. You could dribble a pink rubber ball while he did it, and no one would even judge you.

Jay Gabler

(Source: thetangential.com)

In Defense of the Star Wars Prequels

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is about to be released in 3D, and I’m going to see it. I’ve learned not to say that out loud, though: invariably, the horrified look I get when I favorably mention Episode I is something akin to the look I imagine I’d get if I told a racist joke. It’s a look that says, “I’ve always liked and respected you, so if you stop talking about this right this instant, I’ll agree to imagine I misheard what you just said.”

13 years (holy crap!) since the release of Episode I, it’s safe to say that George Lucas’s prequel project was not successful. Instead of amplifying and extending the success of the Star Wars franchise, the prequels dumped a bucket of ice-cold water over the raging boner that pop culture once had for Star Wars. Lucas himself has gone from being a revered genius to a punchline, and the once-cherished characters from the original trilogy, having kept their cool over the course of two decades of hyperaggressive merchandising, have finally been overexposed.

It was all but impossible to match the power of the first three Star Wars films; in retrospect, Lucas’s failure was practically inevitable. If there was any chance of making three films that would measure up to the original trilogy, Lucas blew it by forgoing the kind of meaningful collaboration with other writers and directors that kept the first three films snappy. The hammy clowning of Jar Jar Binks and other characters is beyond embarrassing when compared to the adroit wit of Star WarsEmpire, and Jedi. The Force didn’t need a pseudo-scientific explanation, and the story of Anakin’s virgin birth was one of cinema’s great eye-rollers. Lucas overreached with his digital effects and left his somber cast floating in a digital vacuum that makes the sterile cyberscape of Tron look like the Mos Eisley cantina.

That said, I maintain that the prequels’ failure is relative, not objective. Episodes I-III don’t hold a candle to Episodes IV-VI, but if those first three movies had never been released, I think the public perception of Phantom MenaceAttack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith would be much more positive.

Though the glossy CGI of the prequels compares unfavorably to the IRL grit of the original trilogy, objectively there’s a lot of great design in the prequels. The retro curves of the N-1 starfighter are just as stunning as anything Ralph McQuarrie and the original trilogy’s design team came up with, and the visual transformation of the Old Republic into the Galactic Empire is executed with impressive snap and subtlety. It’s worth revisiting the prequel trilogy if only to enjoy the production design.

Fundamentally, though, what makes the prequels objectively good movies—there, I said it—is the way that Lucas re-engages the ancient themes that made the original trilogy so compelling. Much has been made of Lucas’s debt to Joseph Campbell and the idea of universal myths, and the fall of Anakin is a genuinely resonant story.

The best sequence in the prequel trilogy comes in Attack of the Clones, when Anakin yields to the temptation to use his Jedi powers to lay wanton waste to the Tusken Raiders who killed his mother. “I killed them all,” he says, trembling with a rage that betrays his deep-seated fear and weakness. ”They’re dead, every single one of them. And not just the men, but the women and the children, too. They’re like animals.”

It would be a powerful moment in any movie, but it’s all the more so in Episode II, foreshadowing what we’ve already seen in Episode IV: Obi-Wan confidently holding his saber at bay and allowing Anakin-turned-Vader to slice him in two. “If you strike me down,” Obi-Wan tells his former pupil, “I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” In Episode VI, the best of the entire series—there, I said that too—Luke saves both his father Anakin and himself by refusing to take his own anger out on the helpless Vader. At that moment, Luke becomes a true Jedi and assures the Emperor’s destruction.

The Emperor is the other great character in the films, and not nearly enough has been said about the good sense and good fortune of having the masterful Ian McDiarmid return in the prequels to reprise his role as Palpatine. The prequel trilogy became politically relevant in ways Lucas couldn’t have guessed: the demagogic rise of Palpatine on the strength of the fears he stoked in his subjects found an eerie mirror in President Bush’s cynical manipulation of public opinion as he rushed to war in Iraq. McDiarmid’s performance is a chillingly resonant exception to the general silliness of Episode I: watch for the play of greed and delight on his face as he says in quiet realization, “I will be Chancellor.”

It’s unfortunate—some would say downright tragic—that Lucas squandered the opportunity to make much, much better movies in Episodes I-III. But the movies he did make weren’t all bad. In fact, in a lot of ways they’re pretty damn good.

Jay Gabler

(Source: thetangential.com)

How My Conversation with a Verizon Salesperson Trying to Sell Me a Smartphone Instead of R2-D2 Would Have Gone

Hello, sir. Yes, I’m looking for a new device. No, I guess I don’t have a lot of preferences about model or whatever, show me everything. Sure, this Spectrum looks okay. Wait, what’s that droid over there? That looks like an R2-D2 droid. It IS an R2-D2 droid? Oh my gosh, you have an R2 model right here in the store?

I’m sorry, what do you want me to look at? I mean, sure, that Spectrum looks nice. But this over here, this is an actual R2-D2 model? With all the features? Does he have that periscope that can pop up? Yeah? And the arm that can pop out and plug into any ship’s computer system? Is this one’s component powerful enough to plug into the Imperial interface? Well I don’t know, I think that sounds pretty useful. Not that I’d need it to be that powerful. And it’d be nice if it came with a USB adapter.

What? That phone is 4G? That sounds nice, I guess. One little-known fact about R2-D2 units is that they have a stun gun. A mild one, of course. It’s embarrassing that I know so much about droids—I’m such a nerd. I’ll bet that’s standard on this R2 unit, right? Is he programmed to understand English? Because I don’t have a protocol droid to translate, so I’d need this one to understand me.

Sorry, what were you saying? I can’t link my social media accounts to this R2? Well, can I record hologram messages on the phone you’re holding, sir? Look, guy, I’m not sure we understand each other here. Those are not the Droids I’m looking for. Ha! Get it? Get…I was quoting…never mind. I’d like to go with this R2 unit. Finicky, you say? Look, pal, as far as I’ve ever known, this little droid always seems to be worth any trouble he causes.

What’s that? I won’t be able to use all his functions without an x-wing starfighter? I’d have to get an x-wing starfighter, you’re telling me? Well I’ll just have to learn to live with that hardship. Come on, R2.

Linnea Goderstad

(Source: thetangential.com)