Wednesday May 25, 2005

Diaeresis Defense

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Eugene Volokh posts about a linguistic, or at least orthographic, advocacy group:

Diaeresis Defense, an eleëmosynary reëducation coöperative.

Favorite artists: The Brontës.

Least favorite artists (winners of Diaeresis Defense's "Ersatz Dieresis Award"): Mötley Crüe.

Slogan: "Two vowels, two sounds, two dots."

I believe the proper expression is "heh."  Er, assuming he's kidding, of course...

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
06:34 AM in Linguistics | Comments (7) | Submit: | Links:

Revenge of the Sith

The Wife and I went to see Revenge of the Sith last Friday.  We had a good time, and I've been collecting my thoughts on it (and the rest of the prequel trilogy) since then.  I'll give you my short review before the jump—after that, it's going to be deep geekery, continuity spelunking, and I warn you, it gets a little bit negative and there'll be spoilers throughout (don't complain, you've had a week to see it).  I should mention up front that there's nothing language-related, so if you're here for linguistics, now's the time to sneak away.

RotS is easily the best of movie of the prequel trilogy.  It's full of amazing special effects, including some great lightsaber duels.  The things we've been waiting to see for twenty years—Anakin's turn, the Jedi purge, and most of all the duel over the lava pit—all deliver.  I was entertained pretty much non-stop, which is something I certainly can't say of the earlier two prequel films (especially TPM).  I've read some reviews that say RotS is better than RotJ, and I can almost see it, but I think I'd have to rank the whole series V-IV-VI-III-II-I.  (And I really didn't like the Ewoks.)  Still, I Lucas did a good job with this movie, which is saying something because this is the one he had to get right.

I don't have an overarching thesis to put across here, so I'll just structure my thoughts as a big list.  First, the good stuff:

  • The big duel at the end was simply amazing.  Obi-Wan and Anakin each know the other's fighting style intimately, and they're so evenly matched.  I've read some complaints online that Obi-Wan shouldn't be able to beat Anakin or even hold his own because Anakin is the Chosen One, but I don't buy it—Obi-Wan has more experience, he's trained Anakin since he was a boy, and he's beaten a Sith before.  Even if Anakin has surpassed him, all it takes is one tiny error for a lesser swordsman to win—take my word for it, I'm a fairly poor recreational fencer, and I can sometimes beat younger, faster, better fencers who have a bad habit or are having a bad day.  And Anakin, I think we can agree, was having a really bad day.  He overestimated himself, and Obi-Wan was no slouch.

    There was a moment in the middle of the duel that, as a fencer, I really liked.  For a moment in the middle of the endless clashing of sabers, they both ended up strangely in sync, and their flashing blades went whoosh-whoosh-whoosh without hitting each other for a second.  That sort of thing really happens, especially when you get to know your opponent—you make a little movement that implies a particular following action, a particular line of attack, and your opponent responds, then you respond, and a whole exchange can take place without the blades ever touching.

    I also liked that Obi-Wan really, truly beat Anakin in the final duel.  There were a couple of moments (the vertical fight on the big melting piece of debris) when I worried that Obi-Wan was going to win only because Anakin slipped and fell, or the piece he was hanging onto broke off.  That would have been a cop out.  Obi-Wan was like a father to Anakin, and then a brother in arms, and he had to do what needed doing.  No "Greedo shot first" dodging of hard choices this time from Lucas.

  • Ian MacDiarmid was awesome.  There were a couple of points when the Emperor-makeup was a little too rubbery (which isn't the actor's fault), but apart from that I totally bought him.  The way he could deliver lines with multiple characterizations in the same sentence was brilliant.  He could start out in his friendly-uncle mode, then drift down into evil pure and simple, and then finish off with a friendly little smile.  Creepy.
  • Ewan MacGregor was great, too.  For the first two-thirds of the movie he didn't have much to do, acting-wise, but he really came though in the end.  The speech on the lava-slope ("You were my brother!") was heart-wrenching, as it had to be.
  • And while we're on the subject, Anakin's death-from-a-certain-point-of-view on the slope was just the right amount of horrible.  He deserved to burn after what he'd done, but we still felt sorry for him.  I've read complaints that Obi-Wan should have finished him off, but I think the scene really made sense the way it played out—Anakin was dismembered and on fire, and Obi-Wan left him to his fate.
  • I was worried that I wasn't going to believe the mechanism for the Jedi Purge, but Order 66 was actually quite plausible.  The Jedi had been fighting back-to-back with the clones for years, and to have them turn, suddenly and without premeditation, and attack in large numbers would have taken them completely by surprise.  A lightsaber can deflect blaster bolts, but not if there's a dozen of them coming from all directions.
  • I know it sort of goes without saying, but RotS had great use of music.  Using "Duel of the Fates" as the music for the big duel caught me by surprise, but it was completely appropriate.  And having the main Star Wars theme swell up at the end was perfect—not for the third movie in a six-movie series, maybe, but as the ending of the series it felt just right.

That's the good stuff.  Here's the nitpicking:

  • The biggest flaw in RotS, I think, was The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.  I don't mean that they were terrible movies (although I don't have much good to say about TPM), but rather that Lucas frittered away too much screen time in them.  By the time he had to make RotS, he'd blown at least a full movie's worth of time on stuff that wasn't necessary.  Then he had to squeeze too much into RotS: Anakin as Obi-Wan's "good friend", Anakin's turn to the dark side, the end of the Old Republic, the rise of the Emperor, the end of the Clone Wars, the beginnings of the Rebellion, Padmé's pregnany and the birth of the twins, Obi-Wan's relationship with Bail Organa, hiding the children...it was too much, and the pacing of RotS suffered for it.

    For example, in the original trilogy Obi-Wan referred to Anakin as a "good friend".  We certainly hadn't seen that by the end of AotC, so Lucas had to show us the two of them, with Anakin no longer an apprentice, fighting together.  At the same time, Anakin's fall had to be plausible, which meant the more time spent setting it up, the better.  These two story constraints were too hard to reconcile in the time remaining—Anakin had to be simultaneously far down the road to the Dark Side while he and he and Obi-Wan were still all buddy-buddy.  I thought it didn't ring true, mostly because it was too rushed.

    Let's imagine a better story, shall we?  If Lucas had established Obi-Wan and Anakin as equals back in the last movie, he could have spent all of RotS showing Anakin's fall and motivating his estrangement from the Jedi.  Suppose the Council finds out about Padmé.  Because he's the Chosen One (and because they're afraid of him) they don't kick Anakin out of the Jedi order, but he's severely censured.  He drifts more and more into Palpatine's orbit until he's basically the chancellor's bodyguard.  When Obi-Wan, the last Jedi who Anakin trusts, asks him to spy on his new mentor, it's the last straw.  Anakin announces he's quitting the order, and Palpatine knows he's won—now he can reveal himself as a Sith and finish seducing his new apprentice.

  • Along the same lines, I thought that Dooku and Grevious were both irrelevant and wasted valuable screen time.  Holding Dooku over from the last film only to have him die immediately seemed pointless, and while Grievous wasn't lame like I'd worried he would be, his only purpose in the plot was to provide a reason for Obi-Wan to be away from Coruscant for the purge.  The Wookiees were similarly irrelevant, and only there to distract Yoda (and give some fanboys a thrill, I guess).
  • There really wasn't much for Natalie Portman to do for the whole movie except hang out in her apartment for the first half of the movie, and then cry and die at the end.  Another casualty of having too much to squeeze in.
  • Bail Organa was a big disappointment too.  "You served my father in the Clone Wars" my ass—it seemed like they barely knew each other, and I think Bail helped out Obi-Wan more than the other way around.  I was really hoping he'd be involved in the founding of the Rebellion, but he was only in the movie because he had to be for the Leia handoff.
  • Didn't the order of events surrounding the end of the Republic and the rise of the Emperor seem odd?  Maybe I'm misremembering, but wasn't the war over before he announced the Empire?  Yet the Senators still cheered him on.  It would have made much more sense if he'd seized power while Coruscant still seemed threatened.
  • This was another consequence of choices made in Episode I, but I thought having the separatist army be all droids made the whole war seem oddly impersonal and unthreatening.  When those cute little round droids started cutting away at their fighters, was I supposed to feel menaced?  (And why didn't they just Force-push them off into space?)  I suppose having the good guys, Jedi knights at their most deadly, dismembering wave after wave of live enemies would strain the PG rating, but it just doesn't feel like a real war to me when one side is entirely mechanical, and played for laughs, to boot.
  • It's amazing the way the Star Wars galaxy has shrunk over the course of the movies.  It used to contain distant backwater planets, lots of places to hide, and plenty of elbow room, but now it seems like one small neighborhood where everybody knows everybody else.  The galaxy apparently consists of about a dozen planets, and you can travel from one end of it to the other in about fifteen minutes—the Emperor could sense that Anakin was in trouble near the end of the duel, call for his shuttle, and arrive at Mustaphar before he died of his burns.  That's a fast commute.
  • One of the things I really noticed was the lack of was a viewpoint character.  Nobody was the protagonist of the prequel trilogy.  It was oddly impersonal, like watching a history text (which I suppose it was), even when something exciting was going on.  You know, I don't think we ever saw the hyperspace "starlines" effect in RotS, because while people were always hopping in and out of hyperspace, we weren't following any of them where they were going.
  • R2-D2 was way too tricked out.  He's supposed to be a mobile toolbox, not a robot ninja.  And I guess we're to understand that he has all those fancy weapons and rockets at the time of the original trilogy?  It would have been easy to fix, too—when Bail said to erase Threepio's memory, he should have added, "...and for the love of Mike uninstall all the weapons from that R2 unit.  That thing could put your eye out!"
  • Speaking of wiping Threepio's memory, I have to admit I got a little nerd-thrill when I realized they weren't going to erase Artoo's as well, so that he knows everything during episodes IV, V, and VI.  That sounds cool...until I had a couple of days to think about it.  I don't think it really works—Artoo actually had the chance to talk to Luke directly via the screen in his X-Wing, and apparently it never occured to him to say, "So, Luke...Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father..."  Only erasing one droid's memories also didn't make any sense inside the story.  It clearly occurred to them that Threepio's memories might be dangerous somehow, so what reason was there to not also erase Artoo's?
  • "Younglings"?  What, you're not allowed to say "child-murderer" in a PG-13 movie?
  • RotS had both an appearance by Jar-Jar and a mention of midichlorians?  There's no excuse for that—when I saw AotC, I thought to myself, "OK, Lucas knows a fanboy beatdown when he's received one, and he's made the appropriate corrections."  And now this?  Bleah.
  • What's with the Sith names, anyway?  Darth Plagueus?  For evil masterminds who try to seduce you with pretty words, they seem to choose names that fairly scream, "I AM A BAD GUY, DO NOT BE SEDUCED BY MY PRETTY WORDS!"  (And when are we going to meet Darth Sipid, anyway?)
  • Judging by what Mace says, the Sith apparently ruled the Galaxy at some point in the past but were defeated by the Jedi.  I don't suppose we could have an explanation of that?  Maybe some exposition?  No?  Sigh.
  • In among a lot of very heavy stuff going on, Lucas occasionally pulled out his very blunt sense of humor.  For example: the clone with the scar on his face who knew Obi-Wan was referred to as a commander in one scene, and in another we learned that his name was Cody.  That's an obscure and pretty funny reference, and I got it.  Then Lucas had to have Palpy call him "Commander Cody".  George, a joke doesn't get funnier when you explain it.  He did it again with Chewbacca.  Everyone in the theater had already recognized Chewie; having Yoda turn to him and say "And I'll miss you most of all, Chewbacca" was just clumsy writing.  Did Tom Stoppard sign off on that?

Enough with the negative.  I don't want to convince myself I didn't enjoy the movie after all.  Here's some continuity stuff I noticed:

  • It appears they (Tarkin!) used significantly different construction techniques on the first Death Star.  Consider: the second Death Star was fully operational (and possibly complete?) with a large segment of it's spherical shape ragged and not filled in.  It appears, from our brief glimpse, that the spherical structure of the first Death Star was laid out first and then filled in.  Maybe the change in technique somehow explains why it only took a couple of years to build the second one when the first took 20.
  • The planet Utapau gave me double fanboy goosebumps.  First, that's the name of the planet where the rough draft of Star Wars started—the circle is truly complete.  Second, the vertical well and flying reptiles reminded me of the planet of the Serpent Masters in the old Star Wars newspaper comic strip.  See Classic Star Wars for details...holy cow, Amazon RULEZ!  They've apparently done OCR on the text in the comics, and so you can use the Search Inside feature.  Search for "serpent" and check out pages 99 and 100 to see what I mean about the well.
  • There were a bunch of little plot points that I thought they should have dealt with somehow that were completely ignored.  Leia remembering her mother in Jedi when Luke didn't—unaddressed.  Why they'd even consider hiding Luke with Owen and Beru on Darth Vader's home planet without changing his name—unaddressed.  (I was sure we'd get a declaration from Anakin at some point that he'd "never go back to that planet again".)  Anakin's apparently virgin birth—unaddressed.  That business about Qui-Gon figuring out how to maintain his existence after death after his death—seems like it suffers from a serious bootstrapping problem, to say the least.  And how did Vader become a blue glowie at the end of RotJ when he didn't study the technique like Yoda and Obi-Wan?
  • I made some predictions about what was going to happen in Sith in a previous post, and I was pretty much all wrong.  Palpatine wasn't revealed to be Anakin's father, there wasn't a scene in the throne room of the first Death Star, Palpatine and Darth Sidious didn't turn out to be different people, the separatists didn't turn into the Rebellion (at least not on screen), and nobody was a clone of anybody.  On top of that, I was pretty sure Grevious was going to turn out to be Darth Maul inside—that would explain why he was such a dangerous Jedi-killer, right?  And I was sure the Emperor and Vader were going to be given a reason to think Yoda and Obi-Wan were dead, to explain how they could have avoided being hunted down for 20 years.  Ah, well, shows what I know.

In a lot of ways, I find myself conflicted about the prequel trilogy.  It's not as well-conceived or unified a set of movies as the original trilogy by any means, but sometimes I think I see where Lucas was going, and I feel the urge to defend them.  But the fact is, he often doesn't show us that he really thought it through.  For example, I suspect the reason that the Anakin-Padmé love dialog is so stilted is that Lucas thinks of the Old Republic as a more formal society, and so they're having an old-fashioned courtly knight-and-princess love affair.  I dunno, though, it might just be bad writing.  If that was supposed to be the explanation, Lucas certainly didn't make it very clear.

Another example: were the rules of the Jedi order partly at fault for Anakin's turning to the Dark Side?  That's certainly how I feel about it, but I'm not sure Lucas agrees with me.  He did have Obi-Wan take personal responsibility for failing Anakin, but I think it went way beyond that.  Even though he was their Chosen One, they failed even to talk to him when he was clearly conflicted and tempted by the Dark Side.  Mace Windu, in particular, seemed pretty cold for an ascended high master of the Force—maybe he was demonstrating the compassion and "lack of attachment" Jedi are supposed to have?  Well, that lack of attachment, along with the denial of Anakin and Padmé's perfectly natural relationship, were largely responsible for the creation of Darth Vader.  (Say, that's a nice philosophy you got there...shame if something was to happen to it.)  All that is my speculation, though, because Lucas doesn't address it.

Yet another example: Anakin's background makes his inclination towards dictatorship very plausible.  He grew up a slave in a world of Hutt gangster overlords where only strength mattered.  The "democracy" of the Republic included a lot of princesses, sixteen-year-old "elected" queens, and appointed senators living in fantastic penthouse luxury while the supposedly heroic Jedi couldn't even be bothered to free his mother from slavery.  I can see how an aristocracy that ignored suffering of ordinary people on the Rim wouldn't inspire his allegiance.  But I'm left to figure this all out for myself—imagine how interesting it would have been if we had seen Obi-Wan and Anakin having an extended dialog about it over the years through the last couple of movies.  You know, like a master and his apprentice?  But instead we got, "Oh dear," and banter about who saved who.  Sigh.

After having had a few days to mull it over, I think Revenge of the Sith was, in a lot of ways, a better movie than Attack of the Clones—better special effects, a story that actually goes somewhere, better acting and less painful love dialog—but I think in the long run I may end up more annoyed with it, because it's the episode in which Lucas had the most plot-spackling to do in order to link up with the original trilogy.  I think he did an OK job of it, but given that he had 20 years to get it right, I guess I have to say I was disappointed.

Oh, well, there's always the TV show.  I vote for The Young Han Solo Chronicles!

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
05:00 AM in Film | Comments (14) | Submit: | Links: