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Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Star Wars is rarely far from my mind these days, in part because I have a seven year-old son who yammers about it constantly, and in part because people who call themselves fans can’t go nine straight days without doing something so silly or stupid that most people wish they’d never heard of Star Wars.

For posterity, the most recent attack on common sense has been a coterie of dingbats who scheme to remake The Last Jedi to some different set of specifications. A couple of weeks ago, it was the news that actress Kelly Marie Tran had deleted her Instagram posts after concentrated harassment from bigots and misogynists.

But it’s been that way for years, hasn’t it? At some point around the time that Revenge of the Sith was released, one of the Star Wars novelists rang up Lucasfilm to get a detail for one of her books. As I recall, she wanted to know how many clone troopers were involved in the siege of such-n-such. She was told that it was a million, and fourteen readers rioted because that was too few soldiers. The author was villified; people made little computer animations depicting her as a lizard-alien peddling false statistics.

And all I always think is, why do these movies make people so hateful? I don’t get it. Sometimes they’re stupid, and sometimes the acting is wretched, but if you get disappointed with a movie, as is pretty easy to do with the prequels, just tune it out and watch something different.

I tried working out a Star Wars timeline for my son to follow it. I figure it as about 67 years between The Phantom Menace and The Last Jedi. For him, it’s all one story, all to be explored as one, and he was delighted with it. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t have any preconceived notions and he hasn’t formed a bigoted opinion about what skin color the heroes are meant to have. And I kind of enjoyed working it out, whether or not my sums are right.

It’s a fun little universe to think about and play with. It’s inspired at least one really entertaining video game (Shadows of the Empire for the N64) and one thunderously wonderful comic (Death, Lies, and Treachery by John Wagner and Cam Kennedy), plus sixty gajillion cartoons and books I haven’t seen. It’s Star Wars and it’s meant to be fun. Maybe if it stops being fun, its “fans” should go watch something else.

Revenge of the Sith, meanwhile, has the terrific scene where R2-D2 sets a couple of robots on fire. Our son was thrilled to meet General Grievous, and hated seeing Anikin turn to the Dark Side, and didn’t quite understand why there was “all that metal” on the lava planet. He loved it and wants to see the next one. I hope he never does anything so idiotic as harass an actress on Instagram.

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Attack of the Clones (2002)

My wife was saying that Attack of the Clones is the worst of all these movies. I said that’s nonsense. This one has Christopher Lee in it. That automatically makes it a hundred times better than The Phantom Menace. And it is.

It’s still not a very good movie, because it also has all of this nonsense in it:

Attack of the Clones was released in 2002, which was not a very good year for me. 1992 and 2012 were also pretty downright terrible, now that I think about it. I saw this film when it was released, didn’t enjoy it very much, and didn’t think about it much after that. Over the last sixteen years, I forgot pretty much everything about it, beyond it having Christopher Lee, an action scene in a factory, and Samuel L. Jackson getting a purple lightsaber.

Oh yes, and it also has just about the worst romance ever committed to camera, which not even a hundred and sixteen years could erase. Natalie Portman might be a good actress, and I’ve never seen Hayden Christensen outside these two movies so I don’t have a particularly strong opinion of him, but I can’t think of anybody who could make this idiocy shine when the lovestruck male has to deliver lines like “You are in my very soul, tormenting me.”

Every note of their courtship is tonally terrible. This is supposed to be the love that dooms Anikin into a life of pure evil and devotion to the Dark Side, so it’s not a love anybody’s supposed to cheer, but shouldn’t it have a feeling of, I dunno, seduction? Passion that’s forbidden because it’s morally wrong, and not just violating some rules of Coruscant senate protocol and an order of karate monks? Why does it play like flowering, sweet tenderness in a lush paradise between a practical woman and her teenage stalker? If this were the hero getting the girl to love him, it would be one kind of wretched. But this is the villain’s fall. Shouldn’t it have played out, you know, villainously?

Here’s the thing: nothing about The Phantom Menace worked, but if you hacked out all of Portman and Christensen making goo-goo eyes at each other, there’s a pretty good movie in here. I think that it’s by miles the most colorful Star Wars movie. It still looks lived-in, but it also looks like a world where people actually want to live. Coruscant actually looks like a pretty swell place to visit this time. The hidden rain planet of Kamino was especially interesting to me this morning, in part because I genuinely and sincerely forgot that subplot entirely. It’s still flawed, but all the other actors are good and the action scenes entertaining.

Our son was in heaven again. He loved meeting Jango Fett, and the action scenes were as wild as he’s ever seen. The mayhem on the conveyor belts in the factory had him so overstimulated that he was off the sofa and halfway up the staircase. R2-D2 and C-3PO were reliably ridiculous, and the movie had plenty of shocks and surprises.

He has received sets of Micro Machines and Lego Star Wars from relatives for Christmas and his birthday. He absolutely loves it when he spots a starfighter that he’s been using in bedroom floor battles for weeks.

Because the toys are part of the fabric of his life, I decided to rearrange the movie schedule so he can see them all and get them absorbed and, of course, rewatch them again and again sooner than I originally planned. So we’ll look at Sith next month instead of at the end of the summer, and probably watch the next three before the end of the year. He was pretty happy about that, and has been pestering his mom to come join him in the floor with Rose, Finn, BB-8, and some Lego contraption as soon as she’s free.

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Young Indiana Jones 1.1 – Egypt, 1908

The first problem with Young Indiana Jones is the remarkably curious way that it was produced. George Lucas and his team assembled a timeline and chronology for Indiana Jones between the ages of about 8 to 25, cast Corey Carrier as the younger Indy and Sean Patrick Flanery as the teenager and young adult version, and then made the episodes in nothing that even remotely resembled chronological order. Even if a network had been willing to run each hour of the show as it was delivered, even assuming they agreed to hop between a Carrier episode one week and a Flanery the next, the order would have wrecked any casual viewer’s ability to follow it. The May 1916 installment was made before the February and April 1916 episodes, for example.

The second problem with Young Indiana Jones is the downright idiotic way that it was broadcast. ABC gave it a six week tryout in the spring of 1992, where it did decent numbers, averaging about 17 million viewers. Each hour was bookended with an introduction and wrapup featuring George Hall as the 93 year-old Indiana Jones in the present day, reminiscing about his youth. The show could be exciting, although action was not the total goal of each hour, but also educational. The obvious place in the fall 1992 lineup for a family show like this was Sundays at 7 pm, the old home of The Wonderful World of Disney. Madly, ABC renewed the treacly family dramedy Life Goes On, which already had that slot, and eventually canceled it and gave the hour to America’s Funniest Home Videos. Young Indy instead got MacGyver‘s awful old slot before Monday Night Football for all of four weeks. ABC gave up and, months later, burned off 17 of the (then) 21 remaining hours on Saturday nights.

And the third problem with Young Indiana Jones is the astonishingly aggravating way it was released on DVD. 44 hours of the show were eventually completed, but the broadcast versions don’t exist anymore. They’ve been reassembled into 22 compilation movies, with all of George Hall’s bookends deleted. The DVD sets were criminally expensive when they were first released, in part because the sets are absolutely bloated with special documentaries about the subjects of each story. Lucas apparently envisioned these sitting on the shelves of every high school history class or something. Set one contains fourteen hours of TV across twelve disks, along with dozens of hours of background material that can all be safely skipped.

So, what we’re going to do here is watch one hour at a time, chronologically, stopping each of the compilation movies at the halfway point. I see us doing this in five or six “seasons.” Mind you, some of these were originally shown as two-hour movies on ABC or The Family Channel, but most of them were always clearly two separate hours linked together. “The Scandal of 1920” and “The Phantom Train of Doom” were probably the only ones that really felt like proper feature-length stories.

“Egypt, 1908,” for example, originally saw life as the first half of the 1992 TV movie Young Indiana Jones and the Curse of the Jackal, both parts of which were written by Jonathan Hales. Now it’s the first half of the DVD-only movie My First Adventure. We’re going to label it “1.1,” which looks like it means “season 1 episode 1,” but it is really “DVD set 1 first half of movie 1.”

And George Lucas occasionally wonders why everybody loves Star Wars and Indiana Jones but would still love the opportunity to punch him in the nose.

So anyway, the first ten hours of Young Indy star Corey Carrier as our hero, who was born on July 1, 1899, and are set between 1908 and 1910. Indy is globetrotting around the world while his famous father, played by Lloyd Owen, is on a lecture tour. Ruth de Sosa plays Indy’s mother, and Margaret Tyzack is Miss Seymour, who had been Henry Jones Sr.’s tutor at Oxford and has come along to instruct Indy.

Since there’s a limit to how much an eight year-old kid can do to save the day, these earliest adventures see him in the company of others who carry the action and the rough stuff. Joseph Bennett makes the first of a couple of appearances as Indy’s pal T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) here. Some other recognizable faces include Oliver Ford Davies, who Lucas evidently remembered as he later got the small role of Governor Bibble in the Star Wars prequels, and Tony Robinson, best known as Baldrick in Blackadder.

Revisiting this, it seems really slow, but it’s paced pretty well for kids. There are a couple of mild frights in a tomb, but the actual plot – a murder mystery and the theft of a ruby-eyed jackal from a secret room – takes up surprisingly little time because there’s so much setup for the family’s voyage around the world. Our son enjoyed it, but I don’t think anybody has ever been crazy about it. Things get much, much more fun when Sean Patrick Flanery steps in, but hopefully we’ll enjoy getting there, revisiting so much that I’ve forgotten, and seeing a few hours of the show that I’ve never seen.

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The Phantom Menace (1999)

You said it, Jar Jar.


Okay, so we do have a few subscribers who might actually want more than five words about this berry berry bad movie, and it’s possible that one day our son might want to revisit this blog and see what we watched together. For posterity’s sake, then, this was one of the longest chores I’ve sat through. Somehow, though, when I was younger and more prone to want to see big movies on the big screen, I paid for this turkey three damn times.

One of those times was around early June, 1999. It was my oldest son’s first movie in a theater. He lasted thirty minutes, got bored, and walked to the exit. Admittedly he was really young – too young for a theater trip – but I’d been persuaded that he might enjoy the bragging rights to saying that a Star Wars movie was his first movie in a theater. Eh, it was only twenty bucks or so.

This kid, however, didn’t walk out, although the agonizing talk of trade negotiations, senate procedure, and votes of no confidence certainly left him almost as bored as the grown-ups. He really enjoyed the pod race, and the appearance of favorite characters from the original movie, and the big climactic space battle. The best scene of all was when Anakin fired “those two bullets to start everything blowing up.”

It is – I’m sure it must be – the thrill of something brand new, but our favorite six year-old critic says that enjoyed this film more than the other three, and he liked Jar Jar Binks a whole lot. But that’s always been the case. Kids have always liked Jar Jar, because he’s a character for children. (And incidentally, I was quite taken with actor Ahmed Best’s defense of his performance for Entertainment Weekly. It’s worth a read.)

And these are, as much as some snarling “adults” wish for them to be otherwise, movies for the whole family.

Binks is the reason for the subtitle in the picture up top. Our son enjoyed Binks, but he complained that he couldn’t understand what he was saying. So we watched the movie with subtitles, and I’m very pleased that he’s reading so well that it helped him follow it.

As for me, no, but it’s nice to look at. The costumes and landscapes are interesting. None of the actors do a particularly standout job, though I remember enjoying Ewan McGregor much more in the next two movies. Oliver Ford Davies, Samuel L. Jackson, Ian McDiarmid, Liam Neeson, Ray Park, Natalie Portman, Terence Stamp, and BRIAN BLESSED have all done better work in other films. At least I think Neeson has. Like Prentis Hancock, he’s one of those actors I just never enjoy. I guess in retrospect it’s kind of amusing that they cast Stamp, of all people, as a man without a backbone. That’s all I have. It’s a berry berry bad movie.

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