Friday, May 25, 2007

Happy 30th Birthday to a Galaxy Far, Far Away!

Since it's the 30th anniversary of the release of the movie that is the main reason this site exists, I decided to post a little something which explains what Star Wars means to me. (Warning! Ridiculously long and rambling essay follows!)

MY PERSONAL STAR WARS HISTORY

The Early Years:
I was born in 75, which I guess was just in time to fully appreciate Star Wars when it took the world by storm. My first memory of “A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away” is being taken to see the first film (later renamed Episode IV: A New Hope) by my brother when I was around 3 or 4 (so it must have been a re-release). It’s a cliché, but the movie literally changed my life.
I don’t actually remember much of my first viewing, but I do remember the impact it had on me. I wanted to be Han Solo. Princess Leia was my first (and for many years only) crush. And Darth Vader was the greatest villain I had ever seen (I was so excited when he came to a local department store a few years later - yes, I thought it was him, not some random tall guy shoved into the suit).
I remember watching black and white, silent, edited highlights of the film on 16mm. That was long before you could own films on video, of course.

I remember when The Empire Strikes Back came out it was the first film I was looking forward to long before its release. The film had a rather traumatic effect on me. I couldn’t believe they could leave Han frozen in carbonite like that, or that Vader could be Luke’s father. When Luke was hanging beneath Cloud City waiting to be rescued I could fell the chill of the wind.
It was after the release of Empire that I began to collect the toys in earnest. By the time Return of the Jedi came out I must have had nearly 100 action figures, vehicles and creatures. My favourites were the Millennium Falcon and the AT-AT, because they were so big! I also read all the books and collected all the magazine and posters I could find.

The release of Jedi was the pinnacle of my early Star Wars fandom. I loved the movie (even the Ewoks) and became even more obsessed with getting my hands on every piece of Star Wars merchandise I could find. I began getting the UK Star Wars comic every week, and those stories that went beyond the movie are still my favourite of what would later become known as the expanded universe. I also joined the Star Wars fan club and got the official newsletter, Bantha Tracks, delivered.
I remember at some point (it might have been ’84) I got to see all three movies in a triple bill at the local cinema. It was an awesome experience. But from those heights, of course, the only way was down. No one could have guessed back then that it would be sixteen years after the release of Jedi before the saga would continue (or begin, if you prefer).

The Forgotten Saga:
1985 was when I, and the rest of the world, began to lose interest in Star Wars. There was still hope that the rest of the 9-part saga would materialize at some stage, of course. In fact, I remember for years afterwards going to the cinema and hoping every time I would magically see a trailer for a new Star Wars movie (ah, the days before the internet, when you could actually not hear anything about a movie until you saw the trailer).
However, when it looked like there would be no more Star Wars movies, I began to move on to other obsessions (such as Transformers). I actually sold many of my Star Wars toys (or at least my parents did), something I’ll always regret. I wonder how many wise people picked up classic toys in in garage sales for dirt-cheap prices.
I still enjoyed the movies whenever they were on TV, but for a time, at least, Star Wars was no longer a big part of my life.

Star Wars Becomes Cool Again:
It was 1991 when Star Wars began its slow resurgence as a cultural behemoth. New books came out, but what got my attention was when Star Wars references began to crop up in everything from Simpsons episodes to Kevin Smith movies like Clerks. It was almost like a secret club of fans that knew all the references to their childhood obsession. I later watched the original trilogy in a hostel in Australia with other people my age and it was my first experience of the communal magic of Star Wars. I remember how everyone laughed at the unintentional double entendres, particularly from the rather pervy Emperor.
It was no coincidence that the resurgence of interest in Star Wars happened around the same time as the Internet took off. The Star Wars generation came of age online, and it was the perfect way to share the nostalgia with countless other fans around the world. The Internet also led to the titles of the original trilogy being abbreviated to ANH, ESB and ROTJ (which I shall use from now on as I’m a lazy typist).
In the mid-90s, Star Wars toys began to appear again on the shelves. First bendy toys, then new action figures and Micro Machines vehicles. The first new figures looked a little crappy (they had a steroid-enhanced look) but it was great to see the toys in stores everywhere, even when there was no new movie to promote them. Star Wars had become mainstream again, enchanting a new generation of kids.
I don’t remember when I first heard the announcement that the special editions and prequels would be coming out (it was first rumored around 1994, I believe), but it was a dream come true. I remember going to see Independence Day in 1996 and when the trailer for the special editions came on before the film it blew me away. Star Wars was officially back!

The Special Editions:
This was the second golden age for Star Wars fans (or at least some of them). When the Special Edition of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope was released, it broke box office records for a reissue that will never be matched. It was amazing to think that a 20-year old film could compete with the latest blockbusters, but that was the magic of the Saga (and the updated CG effects helped, of course). Not only were we able to see Star Wars on the big screen again, but also there was a flood of new toys and food tie-ins (I managed to collect some of the many Taco Bell toys on a trip to America). Me and my brother began collecting toys even more eagerly than we did in the 80’s (I think he actually enjoys the toys more than the movies).

We didn’t get the Star Wars: SE until March in the U.K. I saw it opening weekend with my brother and it brought back all the old memories of my childhood. The film seemed a little slow in places, but otherwise all the old magic was there. It was a non-geek audience, so they were pretty unresponsive (it would be a couple more years before I learned what it was like to see a SW film in a cinema with crazed fans). I liked nearly all the new editions (although the CG Jabba seemed a little fake). The only thing I didn’t really like was the infamous “Greedo shoots first” change. The backlash over that and other changes would be the first hint of the wave of anti-Lucas hysteria that was to come. It would make the minor distaste some fans have for the Ewoks seem like blind devotion by comparison.

I saw The Empire Strikes Back: SE in the U.S. (the “I am your father” line still gave me chills after all those years) and Return of the Jedi: SE back in the UK a few weeks later. The acting in ROTJ was a bit laughable, and the Ewoks somewhat more silly than I remembered (how sad was it when one died?), but it was still good fun. And Leia’s slave costume? I was definitely too young to fully appreciate that back in the 80’s.

The Prequel Era:
Even more exciting than the special editions was the news that Episodes I to III in the saga were finally being made! I followed every bit of news about the production I could find (one amusing early rumor was that Ken Branagh was going to play Obi-Wan). The eventual casting decisions (Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson, Sam Jackson, etc.) all seemed really cool, almost like an indie film cast. I was a bit concerned when I heard how young the kid playing Anakin would be, but I thought , “As long as Lucas is making this for the older fans rather than today’s kids, it’ll still be awesome.” I wished there was some way I could have got onto the set at Leavesden while they were filming, but it was not to be.
The SEs were released on video, and I had yet another copy of the films to own. It seemed like a very long wait to see any footage from Episode I. When the title was announced, my first reaction was “The Phantom Menace doesn’t sound like a Star Wars film,” but it definitely grew on me. Some people thought it was a joke or a fake title like Revenge of the Jedi. Then, one night in November of 1999, I was watching CNN and finally got to see THE trailer. Needless to say, even on the small screen the first footage from a new Star Wars film in 15 years blew me away. The opening glimpses with the legend “Every Saga has a beginning” was magical. The rest of the trailer seemed so outlandish and exciting. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was Yoda – his puppet looked more fake than the original one. But other than that it got me totally pumped for TPM. And when toys from the film began to appear it just added to the excitement!

It seemed like a very long wait until May 99. The second trailer came out in March, and seemed even more exciting. When I heard that TPM wouldn’t be released until July in the UK, I knew I just had to travel to the US to see it on opening day. My brother and I had already planned a trip to California in March, so I extended my vacation until the end of May so I could be in LA for the premiere. My brother told the immigration official the reason for my lengthy stay when we arrived, and he seemed amused I would go to that trouble for a movie.
The next two months passed VERY slowly. I thought the movie would never come out, and even feared I might die before seeing it. I was also very paranoid of spoilers, and was enraged when a newspaper columnist gave away that Qui-Gon Jinn dies in the movie.
I passed the time traveling around the west, and managed to be in Colorado the same time as the Star Wars Celebration convention at the end of April. I got a ticket for one of the days of the convention and caught the bus there. It was in an old air hanger and you had to go outside to get to the different booths. That wasn’t the smartest location, as it had been raining and the ground was all muddy. I still had fun, though, especially looking at all the merchandise displays. It looked like TPM had every possible tie-in, from soft drinks to lego to children’s books. I also stood at the back of a very long crowd, while Ray Park (Darth Maul) talked about how fun it was to be naughty. I was impressed by how diverse the fans were – every age, sex and race was represented. I was in geek overload by the end of the day and more excited than ever to see the film in just a few weeks time.
Around the same time Tri-Con restaurants brought out their tie-in toys. Each restaurant was based around a different planet (Pizza Hutt – Coruscant, Taco Bell – Tatooine and KFC – Naboo). I spent many happy hours visiting those restaurants and collecting as many toys and collector cups as I could (there were 32 in all, and I barely got half of them).
I traveled back to LA for the last week or so before the premiere and saw all the geeks already lined up outside Mann’s Chinese theater. I was staying in a hostel just a few doors away on Hollywood Boulevard, so it was the perfect location.
The reviews started to come out for the film around a week before the release, and I was heartbroken to read many of them saying TPM was boring, poorly made and “just a kid’s film”. But I still had high hopes. I lined up to get my ticket for several hours. I got my ticket for the noon show on May 19 (the midnight show sold out long before I got to the ticket booth, unfortunately). Ticket in hand, I was ready for the final leg of a 16-year journey.
I would check out the craziness in the line whenever I could. Opening night, I was there when some Trekkies staged a protest (clutching signs like “Episode Dumb”, “The Force is Illogical”, “Phasers stun . . . blasters kill”, “Kirk not Kenobi” etc.). They lynched a Yoda puppet and then got moved on by the police. It was hilarious. I was very envious of the people going into the midnight screening and could barely sleep that night.

Wednesday, May 19 arrived. It would be a day long remembered. I got to the Chinese Theater a few hours early to ensure a good seat. The time went quickly and then we were let into the theater to see STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE!
I ran to my seat as fast as I could and got a good one near the front. It was fun watching all the people in costume and waving lightsabers. The lights dimmed to much applause and then . . . the trailers started.
I don’t remember much of the trailers, except when the trailer for The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, came on, people booed. It was a great moment (those geeks will never forgive Titanic beating Star Wars at the box office after ANH briefly reclaimed the top spot with the special edition).
The trailers soon ended and we waited for TPM to begin. The excitement was electric. As soon as the 20th Century Fox logo appeared, the audience erupted into cheers the likes of which I had never experienced before. But then “a long time ago” appeared and they cheered even louder. Then the Star Wars logo appeared on the screen, followed by the episode title, and they cheered the roof off the theater. In a way, that moment was the pinnacle of SW fandom. Afterwards, it would pretty much be downhill, at least for some fans. Despite that, the audience reaction seemed very favourable and there was much applause as the end credits rolled.
So my verdict at the time? Good, but definitely room for improvement. It wasn’t everything I dreamed off, but I left the theater happy and I got the feeling most other people did too.
I saw TPM again the following Saturday. The crowd was slightly less enthusiastic, but I actually enjoyed the film slightly more. I noticed new background details and the story seemed to flow better. I flew back to the UK shortly after, ready for another two months of Star Wars hype there!
I taped everything related to TPM that came on TV. The Big Breakfast show did a week of interviews and features – they even had Lucas in their shed! It was a great time. I also followed TPM’s box office online every day, hoping it would beat Titanic even though I knew it wouldn’t. It was fun seeing it outlast every other summer movie at the US box office, though.
In mid-July we went to London to watch the stars arrive for the Royal Premiere outside the Odeon Leicester Square. We didn’t have a very good view behind the crowd but my brother managed to get some good footage by holding his camcorder up. Nearly everyone was there except for Liam Neeson. We’d already bought our tickets for a screening the next week at the same cinema.
TPM finally opened and the reviews generally seemed kinder in the UK. When I finally saw TPM for the third time, it was a somewhat unpleasant experience. The cinema air-conditioning didn’t seem to be working (in the middle of summer!) and the film seemed more boring without a geek audience that was really into it. I still enjoyed it, but didn’t really get into the film until the duel, which was always exciting.
Around the same time I also discovered the website theforce.net. I soon became addicted to the forum and the battles between the fans who loved TPM (dubbed gushers) and those who hated it (dubbed bashers).
I saw TPM around 7 more times while it was still in cinemas. Each time I picked up new details and appreciated the film a little more (especially the multiple meanings of the title, much like Return of the Jedi). 1999 was a very happy year for me, and my Star Wars collection had probably doubled by the end of it. It was amazing how long the film stuck around. The last time I saw it was in January, six months after the UK release. Then it was time for the wait for the video (and hopefully DVD) release and news on Episode II. I remember the media saying TPM merchandise was a disappointment even though it earned around a billion. They used every crazy opportunity to try and turn the film into a failure!
I was surprised when TPM was only released on VHS, not DVD, in spring 2000. Other fans were outraged when Lucas said he wouldn’t be releasing any of the films on DVD until after 2005, and it only added to the growing backlash against Lucas and the prequels. I didn’t care though. I bought the VHS and watched the film a few more times while my collection grew. As news about Episode II began to leak on the net, I decided I would try and remain completely spoiler-free this time. It wouldn’t be easy, though.

2001 was an exciting year. The biggest surprise was TPM being released to DVD after all. It was loaded with features, including an excellent documentary and some interesting deleted scenes. It was great to finally own a Star Wars film in digital format (even if it was the “worst” one).
I kept up with some Episode II news despite my aversion to spoilers (mainly about the casting). I was pleased that Lucas had cast an unknown actor as the teenage Anakin, and was even more excited to learn that Christopher Lee would be in the film. I also followed the pictures from the film that were released on Starwars.com and was very intrigued by them (especially one that looked like Boba Fett dancing in the rain).
Towards the end of the year, the title for Episode II was announced. Attack of the Clones sounded like even more of a joke than TPM’s title had at first, but I was prepared to forgive that as it seemed we would finally learn what the infamous Clone Wars were all about. Then I learned we would be getting not one, but three teaser trailers!
I watched all three of them online for the first time. The Breathing trailer was interesting. It just had random flashes of scenes from the film accompanied by Vader’s breathing and no dialogue. It was perfect for spoiler-free people. I liked the images I saw, especially the CGI Yoda which looked so much better than the puppet in TPM.
The Mystery trailer was my favourite. It had lots of excitement and even some old school Star Wars humour from Obi-Wan.
Finally there was the Forbidden Love trailer. As the title suggested this focused on the love story of the film. The dialogue was a bit corny and it was probably my least favourite of the three, but it did make good use of Duel of the Fates and hinted at Anakin’s growing dark side. I decided I wouldn’t watch any more trailers, since I had already seen enough. After that triple bill I was ready for AOTC to surpass TPM.

2002 was one of my best and worst years ever. First the worst. My favourite cat ever Shelly died and both my parents were very ill. But the best was that I saw a new Star Wars film that kicked ass and I met my future wife!
Once again I was collecting all the magazines and taping all the TV stuff about Clones I could find (while trying not to read or watch them). The final trailer came out in March and despite my resolve I couldn’t help watching parts of it (I learned that Jango Fett was the source of the clones).
I was very happy to learn that AOTC would be released in the UK the same date as the US this time (that made up for the production moving from England to Australia). As soon as midnight screenings were announced on May 16 at the Odeon Leicester Square my brother and I booked our tickets online. It was a great place to see it. Not only was it one of the few places in the country projecting AOTC digitally, I heard a rumour that Anthony Daniels would introduce the film, too! I also marveled at the IMAX cinema in Waterloo that had a 360 panorama of AOTC images.
The fan reviews I read were all pretty positive, but when the critics reviews came out they blasted the film for the same old problems with dialogue and acting, so I stopped paying attention to them. Even though nearly all critics were saying it was a better film than TPM, there were a lot of negative reviews too. Could Lucas lose even more fans with this film? The fact that it was the first Star Wars film to receive a PG rating in the UK was promising.

May 15th arrived and we drove up to London in the evening (we were working the next day but pretended we had a doctors appointment so we could go in late).
We arrived at the Odeon Leicester Square in London at about eleven p.m. There was already a long line to get in, but luckily we had reserved seating, down the middle and in the centre where I like it. There were a large percentage of Star Wars geeks in the crowd, but the excitement wasn't quite as palpable as when I saw TPM at Grauman's Chinese Theater. We quickly took our seats and sat through the usual twenty minutes or so of boring adverts and trailers. Then the curtains closed and the lights dimmed. But it was still ten minutes to midnight, so the film couldn't be starting already. Instead we were treated to Anthony Daniels (yes, C-3PO) and an army of stormtroopers appearing on stage to introduce the film. The rumours were true! The audience cheered and rose to their feet. Daniels had a few hecklers shouting out at him ("Get on with it, goldenrod!" "You're not the droid I'm looking for", etc.) but he dealt with them superbly. I guess it pays to do conventions for twenty years. Daniels also brought on producer Rick McCallum, who came up with a typically foul-mouthed description of the night - "Fucking awesome!"
It soon seemed as if Lucas had redeemed himself. The infamous Yoda duel produced the most ecstatic audience reaction I have ever witnessed.
I told my brother afterwards that it was the coolest film I’d ever seen, and I honestly felt that way. It made TPM seem pathetic by comparison and I couldn’t wait to see it again. Despite my enthusiasm I only saw AOTC about half as many times as I did TPM. I did notice more flaws on repeat viewings, and the picture suffered a lot in non-digital cinemas. But I still had fun every time and I was surprised when it didn’t come close to the box office of its obviously inferior prequel.
I was also disappointed that many fans still hated this obviously superior Episode, and the anger towards Lucas seemed to increase. Some people who liked the film when it first came out even started hating it! Around the same time as the awesome DVD came out, AOTC was released in an IMAX edition but only in the US, which pissed me off. I never got to see it.
I became so fed up with the bickering between fans that I left the Jedi Council forums on theforce.net and tried my best to avoid any online discussions of Star Wars. Nothing much happened before the release of Episode III. I collected a few more toys (though not as many as I did after TPM) and waited for the trailer and title for Episode III to be released.

When, in the summer of 2004, the title was announced as Revenge of the Sith, I was very happy. No one needed to grow into the title this time – it was perfect. We also finally got the OT on DVD, forcing fans to buy the films yet again.
Then the teaser trailer for ROTS came out and it blew me away. It used footage from ANH (just as I’d dreamed of seeing in a prequel trailer many years ago). The images from ROTS blew me away (though I wished they hadn’t shown so much of Vader). It excited like no trailer had since the first one for TPM.
The next six months passed very slowly, especially as I was also waiting excitedly to get married. Once again I tried to avoid spoilers, but a few slipped though the deflector shield. I tried not to watch the second trailer, but still saw more of it than I would have liked.

In March I heard the first rumours of a six-film marathon in London on May 16th (three days before the official release of ROTS!) with Lucas and other guests. Many people were skeptical, but I got very excited and became a regular visitor to the Jedi Council forums again after my long absence. The marathon was finally confirmed at the Empire cinema and I formulated all kinds of plans to get the tickets either online or by phone.
April 25th arrived and I got up early today to try and book tickets for the Star Wars marathon. I was feeling fairly hopeful about getting tickets, since I was trying to book online and by phone in case one method didn't work. However, I overestimated my chances. The website didn't work at all, and when I finally got through on the phone I got as far as entering my credit card details and it disconnected me! I felt like screaming. The website eventually worked again, just in time to tell me that all tickets had sold out. That was less than fifteen minutes after they first went on sale! And already some scoundrels were selling them on eBay at about triple the price. I wasn't that sad about missing the earlier films since I could watch them on DVD anytime I wanted. But to see Episode III three days early with tons of other fans would have been a great experience.
Just when I had given up on getting a ticket to the sold out Star Wars marathon a guy on theforce.net UK discussion boards offered me a spare ticket at cost price! I never expected that to happen, especially as he could have sold his spares on eBay for five times the price.
Anyway, I had to drive up to London with my mum to meet the guy and buy the ticket. Which was a complete nightmare. I thought driving would be easier in London on Sunday, but it was just as bad as ever. The roads are impossible to follow and the drivers are maniacs. It took three hours to get there and back. Good thing I was taking the train the next day. But it was worth it just to see that snazzy galactic passport in my hands. I also got a look at the stage they'd set up for the next day. I saw there was going to be an orchestra playing Star Wars music and a live Q&A with some of the cast before the official premiere. Shame I'd miss most of that, as I'd be inside the cinema nearly all day. Unless I could sneak out. I thought 12+ hours surrounded by geeks with lightsabers might be too much even for me.

Moday the 16th of May, also known as Star Wars Celebration Day, was one of the greatest days of my life. I had to get up at five am to catch the train to Leicester Square . I arrived in time to see a parade of storm troopers outside the Empire cinema, and I got my picture taken with one. After sampling the atmosphere for a while (there was a replica X-Wing and tons of people in costume) I went into the cinema for the 7am start of Episode IV: A New Hope. I got a free goodie bag and collected the stamp for my passport to prove I had watched the first film (you were supposed to get five stamps in order to see ROTS, but no one was checking) and then took my seat. My row was as far back as you can possibly get, but luckily it had stadium seating and the screen was huge. I started chatting with the people around me. Star Wars fans are always very friendly, and it was actually pretty cool to be surrounded by 1300 other geeks. The film was introduced by an annoying local DJ who got everyone to hum the Imperial March for his show. When he announced the title of each film they all got cheers, except Episode I, which was booed! After that the film started and the audience reaction was amazing right from the start. They waved their lightsabers, cheered the opening scroll and applauded nearly every big moment or character introduction. I've never seen the original trilogy with a fan audience before, so it was quite an experience. It was the 97 special editions of the films, but the prints looked brand new. Even though I've seen all the films countless times, I still spotted new things.

I missed the first five minutes of The Empire Strikes Back because the lines for the toilet were ridiculous. It's the first time I've seen a longer queue for the gents than the ladies. Anyway, ESB was even better received than ANH. Vader's revelation to Luke was still chilling, especially as we were only hours away from seeing exactly how his transformation came about.

After another short break we were treated to Return of the Jedi. The audience reaction was quite amusing. There where wolf-whistles when Leia appeared in that costume, and laughs when the Emperor said it was strange that he had not felt Luke. There were also cheers for the Ewoks, which surprised me. The ending felt even more emotional to me than the previous times I've watched it. The prequels have really made Anakin's redemption and the Emperor's demise much more powerful.

We had a longer break after ROTJ ended and before the prequels began, so I decided to check out what was happening outside. I heard the last few minutes of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performing John Williams' music, which was pretty awesome. After that, they had a live Q&A in the square with several stars from the films, including Christopher Lee! I decided to skip the beginning of The Phantom Menace, since it's a silly film and I already had my stamp, and stay to watch the stars on stage. Lee was amazing, and also very witty. A little girl asked him if he was scary in real life, which was funny. They also talked to Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) and Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett). It started to rain, but I stuck around until the interviews had finished. Then I rushed back in to the cinema to catch the best part of TPM - the duel! I spoke to another guy after the film and apparently I missed some big boos for Jar Jar's introduction.

Attack of the Clones started soon after. This episode got both the best and worst reaction from the audience. The love story got laughs pretty much all the way through. Maybe other people have a dirtier mind than me, but they laughed at stuff that it never even occurred to me had a double meaning. Like Padme telling Anakin, "My goodness you've grown." However, once the final battles started the reaction was much more positive. Yoda with his lightsaber brought the house down again, of course. It was the perfect way to get pumped up for the final episode.

There was an hour break between Episode II and III, but I decided not to go out and get drenched again, even though the official premiere was happening outside. Luckily they had live video of the red carpet on the big screen, so I got a better view than I would have done anyway. I saw Lucas, Hayden and Ewan being interviewed and signing autographs (there were some funny boos when Lucas said we shouldn’t watch the saga all in one day). After the stars had all gone inside they started playing some Star Wars music videos (including a spoiler one for Episode III, which people weren't happy about!). Everyone was dying for Episode III to start, and people began drumming their feet when the scheduled time arrived. Finally, to thunderous applause, the parade of stormtroopers entered the cinema. But this was just the start of the special guests there to introduce the film. Producer Rick McCallum took to the stage, and was quickly followed by Hayden Christensen and Ian McDiarmid. Then, just when I thought things couldn't get any more exciting, George Lucas himself was introduced. The noise of the audience was deafening. Finally they quieted down so Lucas could speak. He said we were the first people to watch the saga back to back, although he suggested it should be done over 6 weeks instead of in one day! Someone shouted out a request to make Episodes VII-IX and Lucas responded that the story was over. There were some other amusing shout outs, like someone saying "We forgive you for Jar Jar, George!" Then Lucas and the cast left to more thunderous applause. I only wish I'd been closer or had a video camera with a zoom, as I couldn't really see much from where I was. Then, finally, the curtains opened and the film we'd all come there to see began, to the biggest applause yet.

Needless to say, the film was an awesome and emotionally draining experience. Before the end credits had even finished, Lucas and co. came back out. They received a standing ovation, and Lucas joked that tomorrow we could watch them all again in Episode I to VI order. Some people booed Hayden, but I think it was more a reaction to his character's evil than a critique of his performance. They all left to deafening applause. I felt totally exhausted. Not just by the emotional rollercoaster of Episode III, but by the whole day. It was almost midnight by the time I finally fought my way through the crowds to get out of the cinema and catch the last train home. I didn't get back until 1 am , but it was worth it. The saga was finally complete, and a part of my childhood had finally ended.

But the Future of Star Wars . . . is still being written.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Arrrrr, matey!

Just saw Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. As you may know, if there’s one fact about third parts in a trilogy, it’s that they usually suck. So how does AWE fare compared to previous disappointments like The Godfather Part III, The Matrix Reloaded and the recent Spidey 3? Not bad, actually. I enjoyed it more than Dead Man’s Chest, and the almost three hour running time virtually flew by. Not that the film isn’t without its problems, of course.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

AWE opens with the dark (for a Disney film) scene of several pirates and pirate sympathisers being hung, including a young boy. Rather than following on directly from the end of part two, the plot begins with a more mysterious opening a la Return of the Jedi, with the familiar characters slowly brought together as their scheme to unite the pirates and rescue Captain Jack Sparrow is revealed. We also meet Chow Yun-Fat’s pirate Captain, the only major new character of note. It takes a while before we see Captain Jack again and the sequence with him trapped in Davy Jones’s locker features such surreal images as a crew full of Jacks and a boat being moved by an army of crabs.

Once Jack is rescued, the movie settles into a series of double-crosses as allegiances constantly shift, though it still managed to hold my interest while we waited for the promised big finale. Elizabeth finally gets to fulfil her dream of becoming a pirate after Yun-Fat’s character rather bizarrely tries to rape her and then decides to make her a captain as his dying wish. The highlight of the middle section is finally getting to meet Captain Jack’s father, played amusingly by the original inspiration for the character, Keith Richards.

Once the pirate ships all gather to face the Flying Dutchman and the East India Trading Company we’re prepared for the mother of all battles. In fact, it all comes down to two ship battling in a whirlpool, but it’s still pretty impressive. Tia Dalma (the alluring Naomie Harris) also turns out to be a vengeful goddess, but she doesn’t do much more than turn into the Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and start a storm.

The final fate of the characters is fairly predictable, with most of them ending up in the same situation they were prior to the first film. The exception is Will and Elizabeth Turner, who have to be separated for 10 years. I forgot to stay after the end credits, but the scene at the very end reveals whether Elizabeth waits faithfully for him to return and if she has company.

Nearly all the actors do a good job. Johnny Depp’s comedy lines are closer to the quality of the first movie than the second, which is a good thing. Legolas and Natalie Portman-lite are still rather bland (Keira Knightley gets to utter a not very rousing speech in the final act) but at least the conclusion gives their characters a little more depth. It’s great to have Geoffrey Rush back as a major character, showing the more heroic side to Barbossa. Bill Nighy remains impressive as Davy Jones and gets to show more emotion this time, revealing the man behind the monster. One of the joys of the trilogy is how even the minor characters get their moments to shine, such as the comedy duo of Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Crook.

ILM’s visuals continue to amaze, especially with the crew of the Flying Dutchman. The action is a little less frenetic than in the last film, making it somewhat easier to tell what is going on.

Overall, it’s a fitting end to the trilogy. If the Pirates films have a problem, it’s that they never really decided whether they wanted to be blockbuster nonsense with a Monty Pythonesque sense of humour or epic adventures. In the end, they’re a little of both (a good example is the ludicrous wedding of Will and Elizabeth in the middle of a life and death battle) and while I don’t think it will go down as one of the great movie trilogies, it’s certainly been a lot of fun.

Friday, May 04, 2007

My Spidey senses are tingling! Did somebody call for a whiny webcrawler?

This is my first update for a while, since my mother just recently passed away. So I saw Spider-Man 3 today. Short review: it was mostly entertaining, but by far the weakest of the trilogy.

Longer review (warning, there may be spoilers):
The film opens with scenes from the first two films playing under the credits, a rather cheesy gimmick that recalls the old days when sequels had to remind audiences what happened in the earlier films. Danny Elfman's theme makes a welcome reappearance, even though the score this time is by Christopher Young (due to Elfman falling out with Sam Raimi on Spider-Man 2).
Like the first two films, it takes its time setting up the plot and characters, making the audience wait a little too long for the first action. All the major characters are introduced early on and comic book fans will be pleased to learn that the black costume Peter Parker acquires is still an alien symbiote (the meteorite landing conveniently close to Peter).
Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) is introduced as a sympathetic character forced into crime to pay for his sick daughter's treatment. Of course, while on the run he just happens to fall into some wacky scientific experiment that is never explained, but which turns his atoms into sand. The effects for the Sandman are impressive, even if we've seen them before in The Mummy films.
Meanwhile, Harry Osborne (James Franco, growing nicely into his complex role) still plots revenge on the man he thinks murdered his father, and Peter himself faces competition at work from Eddie Brock (played by Topher Grace as a kind of a bizarro Peter Parker). There's also a new love interest in Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) who seems to exist only to make MJ jealous after Spidey rescues her and gives her one of his famous upside down kisses. Dr. Curt Connors reappears, but we still don't get to see him become the villain The Lizard.
If all of this makes the film sound very crowded, that's because it is. Three villains (Sandman, Venom and the New Goblin), two love interests, plus the regular supporting characters (J.K. Simmons again provides most of the film's laughs as J Jonah Jameson) all make for a film that feels like the writers just threw everything they could think of at a wall and hoped it would stick. Kirsten Dunst even sings (twice) and there's a ridiculous sequence halfway through where Peter Parker struts around like John Travolta to show that the black suit has turned him to the dark side. Even Spider-Man's origin is tweaked (unnecessarily) when it's revealed that the man he let go didn't actually kill his uncle and Ben was shot by accident.
The action scenes are spectacular but that's the least we expect from blockbusters these days. Despite all the money spent (reportedly over $250 million) the best scene in the film is Bruce Campbell's hilarious cameo. Most of the characters are poorly developed (the film has enough ideas for two sequels). Spidey takes his mask off too often and spends more time crying than wisecracking like he should. MJ seems selfish and annoying. Even Stan Lee's obligatory cameo seems forced.
Venom is introduced too late to be really effective. Sandman and the New Goblin are better treated. Harry's turn from villain to hero in the last act is predictable but emotionally satisfying, and the Sandman's final redemption is also quite moving. Raimi seems afraid of letting any villain be pure evil, yet he also kills them off too eagerly.
Ultimately, though, the film ends with a whimper, not a bang. It's worth seeing for diehard fans, but I think that if there are any future Spider-Man films, fresh new talent needs to be brought in and Spidey needs to be allowed to have fun for a change and not be reduced to a soap opera star.