Luke n’ Carbonite

Recently, regular blog commenter and occasional influencer Tom (who really deserves a proxy vote at any meeting of the Convocation) asked the question, “Why does Luke need to be frozen in Carbonite?”

The stock answer is, so the lil’ scamp won’t cause problems on his way to the Emperor. You have to imagine that a Force-talented individual, who happens to be either the Son of the Chosen One or the Chosen One himself, depending on how you read the prophecy, and who doesn’t want to be delivered to the Emperor might cause some serious headaches.

But alas! I thought about it for a minute and there are more intriguing motivations. Taking hints from the text, there are  other possibilities at play, which I think can add real layers to the film. None of these stand alone as “reasons” but rather what my old acting teachers would have called “objectives in service of the super-objective.”

The Super-Objective

The Super-Objective for Vader, of course, is to fulfill his “Destiny” and become the Chosen One, the ruler of the galaxy, the final arbiter and executor of the Force’s will in the galaxy. Sure, his interpretation of it while he’s the Man in the Suit is skewed toward a darker interpretation of the prophecy, but were he to take his place as the true Lord of the Sith, he’d fulfill it “from a certain point of view.”

  1. It’s part of Vader’s mandatory Sith power play against the Emperor;
  2. It’s insurance against the Emperor betraying Vader (ties into #1);
  3. It prevents easy rescue attempts (obvious);
  4. Vader can exert some sort of mental influence on Luke while frozen in carbonite (I’ll get to where I got that whacky idea later);
  5. Vader could hide Luke and claim he was dead (ties into #1).

Tying Them Together

Luke, trapped in the carbonite, is no longer able to use the Force as he’s in a state of suspended animation. This keeps him unable to thwart Vader’s plans to (ostensibly) deliver him to the Emperor. All well and good, but why not just knock his punk ass out and put him in some of those awesome energy binders that incapacitated Obi-Wan in Episode II?

There’s likely another motivation Vader has. Yes, he says in front of a bunch of people that he’s taking Luke to the Emperor. But there is such a thing as subtext. I know that for me, if there’s no possibility of another reading of the text, there’s no need to come back to the book/film/show. And I like to think I return primarily to entertainment that offers something additional when I revisit.

Additional Points

Vader had other motivations. Going back to some of the thoughts I’ve postulated before, and of which I’ll likely post a further examination at the implicit behest of The Clone, Vader was ready for his “big moment” on the Death Star before a couple of torpedoes thwarted his ambitions.

It’s not like he no longer wanted what he wanted by the time Episode V rolls around. If anything, he wants it more.

So, he’s figured out he has a son. He’s smart enough to know that he’s got an even better shot at dicing up Old Man Palpatine with his son by his side. After all, Luke is the direct offspring of The Chosen One (or, again, possibly The Chosen One himself). The kid’s got power and skills.

He’s also smart enough to know Palpatine would love nothing more than to toss his crispy behind out and start fresh with an undamaged Skywalker. Return of the Jedi proves that point as Sidious is ready to toss Vader onto the trash heap when Luke drops him like a punk.

About Carbonite

We know that carbon-freeze is used to put things in suspended animation. Cloud City’s facilities are geared for industrial output, leading to the concerns that the “crude” facility would kill Luke. So they test on Han and then get everything set to drop Luke into the pit. We know Luke will live, and be unable to escape.

However, as was established in the novelizations and various adaptations based on the original script, Luke would still have been aware of things. Han characterizes his time in carbonite as a personal hell in a scene cut from the final film, the infamous “sandstorm scene” on Tatooine (and I believe the dialogue was in at least one official adaptation):

“No, I’m thinking a lot about it. That carbon freeze was the closest thing to dead there is. And it wasn’t just sleepin’. It was a big wide awake nothing!”

Luke, in stasis, can’t be found. He can be spirited away and hidden, where Vader can train him and turn him to the ways of the Sith. Think of it: Vader can have a telepathic “conversation” with Luke while he’s in a sort of living Hell. What better offer could Vader make, when Luke is ready to break, than to offer him release from this prison if only he would turn?

That’s where I came up with Number 4 in the list above. It’s an interesting possibility, at the very least, and far more thematically consistent with the the series than some of the horse-poop other “fans” put out there.

Hidden from Sidious

At a bare minimum, Vader can hide Luke in the literal sense. If Luke is in stasis, his “signal” in the Force becomes subdued. He’s harder to detect. For goodness’ sake, the Emperor and Vader didn’t even sense his coming when he was out and living free on Tatooine, while Vader was in orbit (this ties into another topic I’ll be touching on soon enough).

Conclusion & Conjecture

So upon this closer look, given that there are other ways for Vader to deliver Luke to the Emperor, freezing Luke in Carbonite is actually a step from Vader to put the balance of his relationship with Sidious back in his favor.

He failed to parlay the Death Star into a final advantage, but figures Luke gives him an insurmountable one. His plans for Luke in Empire therefore take on a greatly layered quality in this examination.

Is it authoritative? Not at all. It’s a guy on the Internet playing “English Major” with a story point in a film.

But you have to admit that it’s a more interesting way to look at it. More interesting than face value, that’s for sure.

My Honest Reviews of the Star Wars Films: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

To wrap up the reviews, we turn to the third film released in the series, sixth in the chronology and a guaranteed fanbase-splitter. Return of the Jedi is essentially the second half of The Empire Strikes Back, which unfortunately gives it the great burden of resolving every plotline opened in the previous. Will Han Solo return? Will Princess Leia return to his arms? Will Luke return to Dagobah to complete his training? Will Darth Vader return with the Imperial forces to tempt Luke again? So there really is a lot of returning involved in the story. The title seems like a natural fit. There’s another level to the title as well, with the return not just of the Jedi through Luke, but the return of the fallen Jedi, Vader. The hero returns from the Dark Side thanks to the loving redemption of his son.

Jedi also has to concern itself with resolving the rebellion’s war against the Empire since this is the last film. This winds up complicating Jedi by a fair amount, which plays into the fanbase split over it.

Empire is a much more personal story. Jedi has to sacrifice some of its intimacy for the sake of moving the larger background plot along. Instead of getting a resolution scene between Han and Lando, for instance, we all just have to assume that Chewbacca filled him in that Lando had made moves to redeem himself. Instead of a more intimate reuniting between the three leads at the end, it’s couched within a larger celebration scene.

What Works

These are not knocks against the film. In fact, for me it’s what makes it work. The entire story is about resolution and there’s not a plot stone unturned. Vader’s story is both expanded and resolved; everything we knew about him from the previous films is turned on its head when we meet the Emperor (referenced briefly in A New Hope). Though we see him kneel before a hologram in Empire, we actually see someone so unafraid of Vader as to chastise him openly. Moff Jerjerrod actually mouths off to Vader a little bit at the beginning of the film, whereas mere mention of the Emperor makes him practically wet himself.

That was off-putting enough for the producer of the first two, Gary Kurtz, to walk from the production to pursue other projects. According to at least one source I’ve read, Kurtz adamantly disagreed with Lucas diminishing Vader in such a way.

I never had any problem with it. Jedi came to be my favorite of the original three films, largely for a lot of these story aspects. Now that it’s couched in the larger saga of all six films, the story works even better. Again, to draw a comparison to the Lord of the Rings book, I imagine that if you read Return of the King without Fellowship of the Ring, certain story elements would be off-putting. Tom Bombadil once again comes to mind.

What Could Have Worked Better

Most everyone loves to knock on the Ewoks, but they make sense in a certain way. If you look at the Emperor scenes, Jabba the Hutt’s court, the battle at the Sarlacc, Yoda’s death, the revelation of Vader being Luke’s father, Luke nearly going to the Dark Side and the intense action of the space battle, Jedi actually skews darker than Empire. The Ewoks lighten the tone a bit and evoke the Munchkins from Wizard of Oz; Lucas has also said that they’re supposed to evoke the Vietnam war, which seems a little insane.

I also like to throw out there that if you really watch the battle, the Ewoks were getting their asses handed to them until Chewbacca jumped in and took over the AT-ST. Just saying.

Matte painting of the Mon Calamari Hangar
Seriously, I know it’s weird. I just don’t like this matte painting, or the one behind Lando in the next few shots. They don’t match the models.

The design sensibilities seem a bit off in Jedi, which is unfortunate. The Rebel cruiser briefing room, for instance, is pristinely clean and sterile. The walls are unmarked white. The uniforms are pressed. This reads inconsistent visually with the rest of the rebel forces we’ve ever seen. The cinematography is a bit off on the indoor “outside” sets as well, especially when Luke talks with Leia and Vader. Whether this is because for those scenes they wanted so much secrecy and so had a skeleton crew, I don’t know. I hope that at some point that question gets answered.

I’ll also say that the matte painting of the rebel hangar drives me insane and I wish they’d “Special Edition” it. It’s always bothered me.

The pacing after the escape from Jabba the Hutt is also disjointed. From the gathering at the rebel fleet to Luke’s departure to see Vader, the story feels a little forced, as if they were struggling with how to get the characters where they needed to be. There are some terrific moments, such as the Speeder Bike chase and Vader sensing Luke’s approach to Endor, but the flow is not what it should be.

Special Edition Changes

The improved Sarlacc is a non-event for me. I could have lived without it, I don’t care that it’s there.

The improved celebration montage is exactly that: improved. I never disliked the Ewok celebration, but the new ending actually brings the entire series together and gives a real sense of the scope of the victory. The musical scene at Jabba’s palace, including the extended fate of Oola the green dancer, is another one of those things that I could have lived without, but I like the sense of fun and whimsy attached to it. Also, as much as I have an emotional connection to the song Lapti Nek, it was a terrible 1980s synth-laden workout song, so I’m not one to mourn its passing.

Three Blue Ghosts
The Real Anakin appears to Luke, not the broken shell who caused him pain and sorrow. I imagine that if I become a horrible person before my girls ever know me, and I find redemption and have the opportunity to show them who I was before I was terrible, I’ll take it.

Which brings us to Hayden Christensen’s insert at the end for the 2004 DVD release. I like it and not just to be contrarian as at least two of my friends have accused of me. it rings more true for at least two main reasons. The first is, as a spiritual projection, Anakin is making an effort to show his son what he looked like before he was a hideously disfigured half-machine monster. The second is that, when I “see” relatives who have died, I don’t see them as they were at the end. I see them as the vibrant people of the happy times in my life. I’ve actually blogged about this in greater detail before, in the first blog I ever wrote.

To anticipate a certain counter-argument, Obi-Wan and Yoda knew Luke in life and had a positive influence on him in such a way that there’s no need for them to appear in a way he never knew.

The Final Analysis

As I said earlier, Return of the Jedi came to be my favorite of the original three films. It remains so, thanks to its place in the larger story arc formed by all six. It’s not perfect, but it’s perfect enough. Williams’ theme for the Emperor is freaking awesome, a perfect zombie horror counterpoint to the gentle serenity of Yoda’s theme. The theme actually sounds like the music you’d expect for the Lord of the Undead.

There are missteps in the middle again, as there were with Empire, but Jedi has some moments of editing wizardry that blow my mind to this day. The Battle at the Sarlacc is amazingly perfect; according to notes from the annotated screenplays, the negative processors sent a note back with the final version that said that one sequence contained more cuts than most films. Much like the Factory scene in Attack of the Clones or the desert truck chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark, it holds up as one of the most tightly-edited action sequences ever.

So that’s it. I’ll be taking a break from Star Wars for a little bit now, but I just got a wild hair and promised myself I’d write these this year.

Now I can focus on more important things like beating up on Star Trek fans.

My Honest Reviews of the Star Wars Films: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Sequels usually follow the law of dimishing returns. Look at The Matrix sequels, which went from pretentious fluff to execrable nuisance in record time. Starting from Star Trek II (because honestly, who really wants to start with The Motion Picture?), the next time we got a truly worthwhile Star Trek film was VI; I may have emotional attachment to The Final Frontier and Star Trek IV was an entertaining “expanded television episode,” but the truth is the truth.

The Law of Increasing Expectations

The Empire Strikes Back is arguably the first film to really buck the trend. It not only bucks it, it raises the bar for what a good sequel to be. It’s not just a re-hash of past triumph; the characters go in interesting directions, the villain is given a more robust treatment and the technical craft is refined.

This is not to say that Empire is completely flawless, as many fanboys would like to proclaim. Even hinting this can often lead to heated arguments, if not other fans proclaiming your apostasy. The Party Line is that The Empire Strikes Back is a perfect film. Kevin Smith said so!

The part where Luke is attacked by the Wampa feels unnecessary. The legend of Mark Hamill’s accident that left him so scarred they had to adapt the movie for it notwithstanding, it feels crammed into place. There are many other ways that they could have had Ben appear to Luke, in many other circumstances, and they would have rung just as true and would have gotten us to the meat of the story a bit quicker.

After the thrilling battle with the AT-AT walkers, the pacing suffers a bit in the middle. The story loses a little focus, and while Han and Leia’s love story becomes more Gone with the Wind, it feels like there’s too much time spent getting there. Luke’s time on Dagobah is momentous, but there’s some dawdling while Yoda espouses philosophy like a stoned college roommate.

The only slow part I won’t particularly hound upon is where Chewbacca re-attaches C-3P0’s head. To borrow the words of the director, the scene is supposed to call to mind the “Alas Poor Yorrick” scene from Hamlet. It does, and when viewed through that lens, it’s actually fairly brilliant.

Where It Delivers

What Empire does have is a brilliant ending. The duel is thrilling, the chase is magnificently executed and a lot of the choices are unexpected. There’s an element of complexity introduced that shows more confidence in having mutliple storylines and resolutions; whereas A New Hope is very linear, Empire experiments with more parallels.

It also introduces some truly interesting side characters. Lando Calrissian is on deck and ready to replace Han Solo should the position open. Boba Fett struts onto the scene, with awesome armor and the sound of gunfighter’s spurs when he walks. The Imperial Captains and Admirals add a flavor to Vader that gives him a much more sinister edge than the original, when he was seemingly restrained by Governor Tarkin.

Of course, who doesn’t love Yoda? A wise muppet, brought to life not only through technical expertise but the subtler interactions from Mark Hammil. I could muse a bit on how a fictional character speaking in fortune cookie feel-good sayings seems to have shifted the spiritual beliefs of an entire generation, but that’s another topic for another time.

Special Edition Changes

I’m not a huge fan of the Wampa insert just because they didn’t get the lighting right. The other changes, especially the expansion of Cloud City, I welcome. And the mystery of Luke’s 1997 yell as he fell? To quote a poster from my old days at the starwars.com message boards: “Best Un-Change Ever.”

The other small changes took a little adjustment. Of course, no one was going to complain when they fixed the problem of reversed film with Admiral Piett at the end. Digital trickery saves the day! (Now if only they’ll do the fix for Obi-Wan’s braid in The Phantom Menace and Threepio’s eye wires in A New Hope.)

The Final Analysis

What they had the sense to do with Empire was to finish strong. The audience walks out of the theatre wanting more. In a sense, that’s how Attack of the Clones mirrors this one: exciting open, wandering middle and thrilling end.

But that wandering middle does get to me. I’m no enemy of exposition, but what really makes the middle of Empire a sticking point for me is the part where they’re stuck in the slug’s belly. Not so much being detoured into the cave, but the forced point of making it a worm’s belly that suddenly they have to escape to further the plot along. Seems to me that there should’ve been a lot of other possibilities there.

And of course, even though it’s been played into the ground, The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme) remains one of the greatest musical cues in the history of anything.

My Honest Reviews of the Star Wars Films: Episode IV: A New Hope

This is the area of the reviews wherein I’m likely to start getting into some disagreements with those who may read it and fondly recall growing up with memories of the Original Trilogy the way I did. But the whole point of this is to be honest and stop looking at these films, no matter how iconic, through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia.

A New Beginning

The greatest strength of this film is that everything old is new again when you watch it. It ages well. Unlike Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the styles are timeless and the technology nebulously referenced; like the real world, people here don’t care so much precisely how something works, they just care that it does.

The plot is very linear and progresses from point A to B to C to D with such conclusiveness that you don’t care for any leaps that it might take in logic. There are now-legendary scenes that were cut that fleshed out Luke and the political situation in the galaxy in such precise fashion that you see he really did have those ideas from the start.

Most importantly this is the film that redefines moviemaking for an entire generation. By taking older effects methods and perfecting them, Lucas and his team created a world so believable and interesting to watch that you could turn off the sound and just enjoy the visual story. It’s like a silent film, only who would want to rob themselves of such a terrific score, not to mention the immersive aural experience?

While the world may have known of John Williams previous to this film, Star Wars‘ theme will always remain his most enduring legacy.

Created In The Editing Booth

There’s a big reason the editing team got an Academy Award for this. It redefines how to tell a visual story. And according to newly released material, they taught Lucas a thing or two as well. The thrilling ending was edited by Richard Chew, adapted from a much-less-thrilling style that mimicked Lucas’ chase through the tunnels at the end of THX-1138.

It was a lesson Lucas seems to have struggled with on every one of the following films until Revenge of the Sith.

Special Edition Changes

Han fired first. It’s not that big of a deal.

The rest of the changes were cool, though obviously the first tentative steps into a new digital realm until they re-tooled them for the 2004 DVD release. I maintain that had the changes been held until then, and looked as they do now, they’d have gone over much, much better.

The remaining beef with Han and Greedo’s “sloth draw” is that it wasn’t staged that way and no fancy editing is going to make it look intentional unless they go back, make Greedo stand instead of sit, and play the scene more like Lee Van Cleef gunning down the father at the beginning of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. And until Lucas is dead, that change may happen still.

The Final Analysis

Much like the later film Die Hard, what this film lacks in polish it more than compensates through a vigorous desire to entertain. Like Revenge of the Sith, nothing really doesn’t work here, with the exception of the somewhat-laborious wandering through the desert at the beginning. But it’s a small sin and the rest of the film more than makes up for it.

Yeah, hard to find too much wrong with this film. Everything just works.

My Honest Reviews of the Star Wars Films: Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Attack of the Clones came along at a very transitional time in my life. I’ve gone over the emotional connection I have with one traumatic scene before. I also had a great time seeing it at a midnight showing with my cousins.

As a result it’s often gotten treated with kid gloves when it comes to criticism through the years. But now it’s time for the Clones to be dissected. Honestly, fairly and without kid gloves.

Here’s Where the Fun Begins

Much like its predecessor, Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones is an imperfect film. Thanks to a change in the editing booth, though, it’s a step closer to perfect than The Phantom Menace. It’s apparent that bringing Lucasfilm sound editing mainstay and part-time director Ben Burtt into the booth gave Lucas the opportunity to speak in the shorthand he needed. It’s obvious that Burtt understood the nature of these films a little better (go figure, he’s been with Lucasfilm since the beginning) and the result is a tighter pace that “feels” more like the originals’ tenor.

This doesn’t diminish Episode I, but merely acknowledges that Episode II is when things start to feel more relaxed and maybe even a little more inspired. A bit more slapdash action, quicker transitions between spectacle and a little more polish on the effects.

Quick plot synopsis: A fallen Jedi starts some trouble, Padmé gets targeted for assassination while trying to stop the war and a clone army has been created for the Republic without (good) Jedi knowledge. Anakin falls in love, Obi-Wan gets sleuthy and the war starts, which makes Yoda sad.

Unsurprisingly, it was better received.

Clone the Love, Love the Clones

And there’s a lot to love here for both fans and non-fans alike.

Instead of evoking a cold world ruled by disciplined warriors, this film feels more like a youthful adventure. Frankly, there’s more heart.

Interestingly enough, this film—the second in this trilogy—evokes Lucas’ own second work, American Graffiti. Anakin and Obi-Wan pursue a villain in what amounts to a spaceship version of John Milner’s hot rod. The design sensibilities on the capital planet are a bit more Art Deco. There’s even a 1950s-style diner with a big four-armed guy who may as well have been called Mel (his name was Dexter Jettster, and he remains one of the brightest points in the picture.)

This sets an interesting arc as you can see echoes of THX-1138 in The Phantom Menace and so if you progress along, either Lucas is using his previous films to be evocative of the growth of emotion, or after his long absence from the director’s chair we’re watching his literal artistic rebirth as he progresses from the overly intellectual to the blatantly emotional. I’d love to get inside his brain and see if he’d done it purposely or just repeated history.

And then of course, there’s Baby Boba and Daddy Fett.

After decades of absurd devotion to a semi-minor, though admittedly cool, character introduced in The Empire Strikes Back, we meet his father, Jango Fett. As played by Temeura Morrison, this Fett was mask on and mask off a total joy to watch. In a notable scene where he stares down Obi-Wan Kenobi, it’s pure gunfighter swagger.

Jango serves as the genetic template for the Clone Army that’s a source of such consternation in the film. So Clones also gives fans precisely what they wished for years, which was an army of Fett. But instead of doing it in a completely lame way, Lucas gives the fanboys a partial “f*** you” by making Fett into the antecedent of the stormtroopers, who have been reduced in fan circles to the equivalent of the Keystone Cops.

Lucas completes his collection of Revered B-List British Actors of Yesteryear by adding Christopher Lee to the ensemble, who ironically played Dracula to Peter (Grand Moff Tarkin) Cushing’s Van Helsing.

All basso bravura, Lee brings a vigor to a brief role as the first indicator of a great Jedi’s ability to fall (hint-like Anakin will).

The backdrops also evoke the American paintings of the Frontier era, when hyper-realism portrayed an idealistic yet brooding sense of grandeur.

Lucas posits some interesting philosophical questions here, as well. Is murder ever understandable? Is the military a tool of the ruling class, so long as its members are more devoted to the military structure than to being citizens? Is it possible for a Jedi to fall in love as quickly as Michael Corleone and Apollonia Vitelli?

Clone the Hate, Hate the Nerds

Of course, the film isn’t perfect. The love story is admittedly rushed and, going back to the editing beef I developed, about half of the speeder chase in the beginning of the film could have been cut in favor of at least one more scene showing Padmé and Anakin getting to know each other before their frolicking in the meadow.

There is precisely one line in the film that’s a complete train wreck, and unfortunately it takes away the power of one of its best scenes. When this film was released in IMAX®, they cut that line out and the scene played much better. Then it was back in on the DVD. Go figure.

The effects are tremendous on the whole, and the cinematography must have been a technical nightmare; however they did get a bit too ambitious for a few things and could have been well served to know when to develop the digital matte paintings with a bit more depth and detail.

It would have been nice, as well, to see a scene in there that I know was filmed that provided context for how drastically radical it was for Count Dooku to have left the Jedi Order. That back story is wildly relevant and would have at least kept Dooku fresh in our minds before the end of the film.

Sidious also gets short shrift; after dominating the first film, it would have been nice to see him in more than one scene at the end. Although, arguably, you do: but I mean with the cloak. I like him better with the gravelly voice and hood.

The Final Analysis

Still, Attack of the Clones remains one of my favorite films to pop into the DVD player and watch. There’s a tremendous sense of fun to it, and it takes itself far less seriously than The Phantom Menace. The choices are a bit more natural; of course, in context this fits because it’s another step closer to the actual story we grew up watching. We’ve moved from the Cold Golden Age to the Civil War and we’re on our way to the Wild West.

And typically, I hate “bridge” stories. They are by their very nature unresolved. They are not the beginning of the story where the important foundation is laid. They are not the thrilling end when secrets are revealed. They exist only to prep you for what comes next. I hated Matrix Reloaded. Back to the Future Parts II and III were tremendoulsy misguided. Star Trek III exists merely to exist (as frequent commenter Frylock Bodine has accurately illuminated).

But this one is different. It’s enjoyable enough that you don’t mind a lack of resolution because if this is the set up, you can’t wait for the punch line.