May 23rd, 2005


Episode III

I saw Episode III tonight. If you haven't seen it, don't worry, I won't be spoiling anything. Right away I'll admit that I liked it. It met my only requirement for being a good movie, which is it kept me entertained the entire time I was in the theater. The dialogue was not anywhere near as bad as I'd been led to believe (actually, except for the scenes between Anakin and Palpatine I thought it wasn't half bad; Lucas just can't write subtlty). I liked the way the depicted the dark side and while I'd have liked a bit more exposition, I think what many have claimed to be a very rushed descent into cheap evilness was supposed to be the dark side taking over. Lucas did something I didn't think he could do, let alone do in a prequel: he made me care about Anakin's soul.

That said, I was very disappointed with the movie's visuals. I know that people have been praising its shinyness out the wazoo, but I was bothered by it. I don't want to turn this into another Phantom-sized rant, so I'm just going to pick on the one thing everyone else seems to have loved: the lightsabers.

We all know lightsabers are cool. They are icons of individual power, which is probably the most prevalent theme in all of Star Wars. The most subtly wonderful powerful moment of Episode IV is when Obi Wan gives Luke his father's lightsaber. The emphasis in Episodes I-III on the lightsaber battles as opposed to the larger conflicts they take place in was a wise cinematic decision. Plus they look fucking hot. But they let me down in III.

The opperative theory is that lightsabers are difficult weapons to master because the blade has no weight. Consequently, the weapon doesn't feel the way it should and your instincts work differently than the size of the weapon would indicate. Supposedly, this is why only jedi can learn to use lightsabers (I don't buy that but I'll accept it under willing suspension of disbelief). The result is lightsabers are over-sized weapons. Their length is close to that of greatswords, or occassionally nodachis, yet they are wielded as quickly as katanas or rapiers. That's cool. But it means they're long-range melee weapons. It bothers me to see them used in those half-foot-away duels that they were in. That is when you would hilt bash or punch or kick, not when you would swing around a blade in an enormous arc

Then there are the stances. The world's martial traiditons have given us an enormous variety of stances for two-handed blades; it would have been nice to see anything other than the straight kendo-style that dominated the fight scenes. Except for Yoda (who did his wire-fu) and Dooku (who used his saber one-handed), everyone fought the same way. I don't buy that. Fighting styles should represent the characters. You've got hundreds of millions of dollars, Lucas; hire a few more combat choreographers to spice things up a bit. Hell, I know a half dozen people who could have done it.

And then there's the force. In all of the Star Wars movies we've seen the force used two ways in fight scenes: for telekinetic punches and to augment jumps. I can't believe that that's all there is to the force. Nick Gillard (sword master and stunt coordinator; very impressive list of credentials at should have spent more time with the various Star Wars video games to get ideas. I want to see people using the force to strengthen their blows so they can strike from odd angles, to use the lightsaber to fight at range, to speed up their motions, to predict the future so they can block attacks they can't see, to control their opponent's limbs, to provide armor, to trip their opponent, to disarm their opponent, to do anything that telekinetic, telepathic, and precognative abilities should be able to do in combat.
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