Star Wars

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LostInTheMovies
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Re: Star Wars

Postby LostInTheMovies » Thu Dec 24, 2015 7:04 am

It would be foolish of me to go much further without actually seeing the film so I can comment on specifics. So far I've heard mostly very good things. A few notes of skepticism, like from FauxOwl & Roderick Heath, and one completely sour note from my friend, writer/cartoonist Bob Clark (who is a dyed-in-the-wool Lucas/prequel apologist, but raises some - from the sound of them - interesting points about Abrams' direction)...but for the most part, the response has been hugely positive across the board. I look forward to catching it myself.

For the moment I'll respond to a few things...

Gabriel wrote:Given he's from the film school crowd from that era, rather than being 'born,' he's a trained filmmaker – we could do with a few more of those! Lynch is another trained art college graduate. There's a lot to be said for proper schooling.


Fair point, and I was using the term "born" rather sloppily I admit especially considering within the same paragraph I speak to how conscious of and excited he was by great filmmakers like Kurosawa! Better to say he's a natural filmmaker, who soaked up many important influences and insights but from all accounts had very strong instincts and ability right out of the gate. The larger point I'm making is that he tends to think in cinematic terms - ideas of specific details or viewpoints he wants to convey, rather than a more general concept whose particular execution isn't so important. From the very little I've seen/heard of JJ Abrams, I get fleeting examples of this (the opening of Lost for example is very strong, and the early passages of Super 8 show a flair for capturing the classical feel of Spielberg with) but for the most part the sense I get - and again, I realize I probably shouldn't be saying any of this without having seen the Star Trek or Mission: Impossible films although I've heard that they are entirely consistent with this impression - he falls back too easily on modern, somewhat lazy tropes like the whirling camera and hyper-montage (for the most part what David Bordwell has dubbed "intensified continuity" I guess).

Overall, I think formal training tends to be overrated although I think it has its virtues. So many great directors emerged without any access to it whatsoever, and plenty of filmmakers got it and still fell into lazy, unimaginative techniques. Overall I think the resultant films have more to do with the core sensibility of the maker than various tips or references they may have acquired along the way (additionally, of course, such tips and references can be picked up other ways as well - either through workplace experience, admittedly not easy to acquire in an age where everyone wants employees who are already experienced, or through independent inquiry).


I'd say he's got as much 'command' as anyone out there. How do you define 'command of film form?' I'm not sure what that means. I mean, he can get someone to point a camera and shoot. He knows how to put a film together.


I'm not saying he's incompotent. By command I mean what was discussed above, an ability or inclination to piece together a movie in entirely cinematic terms, to think about point of view and aesthetic presentation and not simply rely on the easiest way to gather material. What I've seen/heard about Abrams suggests he shows flashes of this ability but generally hasn't pushed himself far enough in this direction, probably because his sensibility is more attuned to the big picture than the particular detail. But that's a hazy guess and I'm probably treading too far into speculation here without having seen any of his reboot franchise work yet.

Lucas in mashing up every matinee serial ever made created Star Wars and Indiana Jones: examples of derivative filmmaking as an art form!


Yes, but he digested it and it came out as something new (no, not like shit, get your mind out of the gutter ;) ). The same could be said of highly-influenced filmmakers like Tarantino or Wes Anderson. For all the criticism they get of being cultural recyclers, you'd be hard-pressed to confuse their work with its influences - in large part because, before them, those influences were never quite mashed-up the way they are now.

Abrams, on the other hand, is literally just taking pre-existing characters and worlds and revisiting them with new techniques (which don't seem to be much of an advance on the old techniques) or narrative twists. This isn't necessarily an awful thing, but it certainly doesn't encourage me to see him as a true original the way I would see Lucas.

The look of Abram's film is mostly superior to anything in the previous six films.



And if the compositions are lacking, then the cinematographer is really to blame.


To my understanding, most times this is the director's responsibility, and ideally it should be, because if the person most concerned with the overall feel of the movie isn't actually paying attention to the basic structure of the images that convey this overall feel, something's wrong. Obviously there are exceptions like Woody Allen, who simply lets his DP take over that aspect of direction (you could almost argue that a film like Manhattan is co-directed by Allen and Gordon Willis) but for the most part, a good director is going to be responsible for the geometry of what's onscreen, either looking through the viewfinder to approve, creating storyboards ahead of time, or communicating sufficiently with the DP to establish the aesthetic sensibility (a pretty risky strategy given the variety of situations that will be encountered). A cinematographer's concern is generally more with the technical qualities of the image: the lighting, the specificity of lens and focus and exposure, etc.

The home video generation has better access to movies than any before.


But the small screen not only shriveled and degraded the image it also altered it in significant ways, chopping off edges and sometimes artificially moving it around. The general sense it conveyed was that the overall concept or feel of the movie was more important than the specifics. And even as someone who grew up entirely within the home video era (much more so than Abrams, who was at least a teen when VCRs became ubiquitous, although maybe he watched a lot of movies on TV), and considers it a crucial component of his own sensibility, I have to admit that this was a big drawback that seems to have made itself felt in the current age of cinema. Now with blu-rays, it's somewhat better but maybe the damage has been done? I don't know, I'm going too far out on a limb here.

The third one is the dullest, most sterile film I've ever sat through. Truly, I would have found reading a two-page plot synopsis more exciting. As a massive fan of digital cinema, its one film I would duck if it was used to challenge me over my enthusiasm for it. At least I can now use the excuse that the film's a decade old, was bad in the first place and digital acquisition got better. Revenge of the Sith ticks every negative box for digital cinema. It's a frustrating watch, especially since all the characters, especially Anakin, are better acted and more likeable in the Clone Wars cartoons.


But all of your criticisms seem to be of the acting and writing. I agree - I think the most damning aspect of the prequels, the one that will provide the hardest hill to surmount if anyone wants to re-evaluated and redeem them - is that the viewers are alienated from the characters. My point, however, was to do with the visual direction of the film. Revenge of the Sith is quite dazzling and well-constructed from a visual standpoint. Take, for example, the montage of Anakin as he considers going to the Dark Side (when for once, Lucas shuts up and stops trying to rely on dialogue that isn't his strong suit). It's evidence that the Lucas of THX-1138 had hit his stride again (Phantom Menace feels very much like someone who had been sequestered from the hands-on efforts of filmmaking and absorbed in running a business, trying to get back in the game once again).

I think this is one of the least appreciated qualities of Star Wars. The films tend to be celebrated or denigrated as larger-than-life myths rather than closely studied in terms of mise en scene (definitions may vary but I'd identify mise en scene as "composition, camera movement, blocking, and shot selection/montage") the way other films would be. The fights are an exception, I guess: they've certainly gotten their fair share of attention. But for the most part people tend to forget that the Star Wars films are, first and foremost, movies.

I will probably see Force Awakens soon and I'll be sure to share my thoughts here.
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Gabriel
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Re: Star Wars

Postby Gabriel » Fri Jan 01, 2016 7:50 am

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LostInTheMovies
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Star Wars and Twin Peaks

Postby LostInTheMovies » Sat Feb 20, 2016 5:27 am

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the odd parallels, links, and differences between Star Wars & Twin Peaks - and Lucas & Lynch. To start with there's the obvious and bizarre fact that Lucas wanted Lynch to direct Return of the Jedi. Both directors had very personal, idiosyncratic debuts films, followed up with more mainstream and very well-received pictures with their second features. The obvious parallel to draw next would be that their third films were lavish sci-fi space operas, successful in Lucas' case, unsuccessful in Lynch's (and consequently, sending him in a different direction whereas Lucas was basically trapped in the Star Wars universe forever). But in a way I see Star Wars as akin to Blue Velvet - films that established their director's distinct vision & reputation indelibly. There are other interesting parallels between the two - both are somewhat awkward, eccentric individuals who became celebrities nonetheless; both went through periods of intense disfavor (Lucas is still in his) after prequels that many fans and critics found unsatisfactory; both are known to be extremely stubborn and uncompromising about having complete control of their product. And the differences are just as stark and obvious: Lucas endlessly tinkers with his work whereas Lynch refuses to so much as approve a director's cut; Lucas insists on rather ridiculous claims that he always knew what he was doing and where he was going whereas Lynch relishes the accidents and imrpovisations that paved the way; Lucas seemed perpetually torn between going in his own direction and giving audiences what he thought they wanted (often losing both in he process) whereas Lynch resolutely chose the former and both suffered and, ultimately, succeeded for it.

But I'm also interested in the parallels between their most popular works. Particularly how in both cases, Star Wars and the Twin Peaks pilot are embedded in larger mythologies and narrative arcs which retroactively cast them in a different light. But when you watch them again, they still seem like they did on first viewing - and first creation - open works that leave what's unseen to the imagination. When I watch Star Wars I find it hard to think of Vader as Luke's father, Leia as his sister, and everything still feels pretty archetypal and general: I don't envision the Clone Wars or Imperial Senate of the prequels when they are referenced. And watching "A New Hope" directly after Revenge of the Sith doesn't work for me - it's all too evident they come from different eras and sensibilities, and that the chronologically earlier story is in fact a self-conscious commentary on the sui generis work that was actually made earlier.

Likewise with Fire Walk With Me and the pilot, which always conveys to me a sense of willfully impenetrable mystery in which Leland is not yet Laura's killer, there's no inkling of a supernatural mythos (just a spooky, mournful aura in the woods), and Laura's life is as much a purposefully generalized myth as the Old Republic in Star Wars. Of course for me the difference is that Fire Walk With Me is my favorite part of Twin Peaks - I think it actually, miraculously delivers on and transcends the moody, intangible suggestion of the pilot - whereas Star Wars is and always will be the apex of, well, Star Wars for me: the perfectly unpretentious and Pop Art realization of the galaxy far, far away without taking anything for granted falling too heavily into self-seriousness (qualities which even the excellent Empire Strikes Back starts to tread upon). There are any reasons for this, and there are also tons of other fascinating parallels between the two sagas (Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi & Laura at the end of Fire Walk With Me; Cooper in the finale and Anakin in Revenge of the Sith; even the odd tonally-different two-story structure of Return of the Jedi and Fire Walk With Me). But it's already taken me too long to write this, and it's distracting me from actually watching Star Wars which is on right now and inspired this post in the first place. I'm curious to hear others' thoughts on the subject.
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Re: Star Wars

Postby FauxOwl » Wed Dec 28, 2016 1:18 am

I took my niece and nephew to see Rogue One on Christmas. I hadn't heard much about it and didn't have great expectations, with it being another example of Disney turning Star Wars into a big corporate cash cow fan fiction franchise. I have to say though I was pleasantly surprised, and thought it was better than The Force Awakens.

Eventually this one a year fan fiction plan is going to turn up some movies that add nothing but return on investment to the Star Wars mythos, but this movie actually did add a lot of gravity to the mythos of the first film. And Disney let the filmmakers make some daring decisions. For all the different things that they could have focused on to launch a stand alone spinoff film part of the franchise, this turned out to be a more interesting choice than a commercially obvious one. So to that I have to give LucasFilm and Disney credit.

I will say this did show that CGI actors are not ready to take over Hollywood. Easily the worst part of the film. And it made the film end on an odd note.

Speaking of which, RIP Carrie Fisher. Let's hope we do not need to see you resurrected as an uncanny valley caricature again.
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Re: Star Wars

Postby Gabriel » Sun Jan 29, 2017 5:50 am

FauxOwl wrote:I took my niece and nephew to see Rogue One on Christmas. I hadn't heard much about it and didn't have great expectations, with it being another example of Disney turning Star Wars into a big corporate cash cow fan fiction franchise. I have to say though I was pleasantly surprised, and thought it was better than The Force Awakens.

Eventually this one a year fan fiction plan is going to turn up some movies that add nothing but return on investment to the Star Wars mythos, but this movie actually did add a lot of gravity to the mythos of the first film. And Disney let the filmmakers make some daring decisions. For all the different things that they could have focused on to launch a stand alone spinoff film part of the franchise, this turned out to be a more interesting choice than a commercially obvious one. So to that I have to give LucasFilm and Disney credit.

I will say this did show that CGI actors are not ready to take over Hollywood. Easily the worst part of the film. And it made the film end on an odd note.

Speaking of which, RIP Carrie Fisher. Let's hope we do not need to see you resurrected as an uncanny valley caricature again.


Yes, I really liked the film, even if is mainly being made so Disney can recoup their huge outlay for buying Lucasfilm. It does that rare thing of adding something to the original. The stakes in the first Star Wars are raised when we see what the characters go through for that 'first victory,' previously only alluded to in the opening titles, and it gives an added sense of urgency to Luke's adventures. I felt there wasn't enough time given to see the Rogue One team bond, but it's rare that I complain a film is too short these days. One of the reasons I go to the cinema so rarely is that my IBS condition and bladder won't allow me to get through more than a couple of hours without needing a bathroom break!! ;)

I found the zombie Peter Cushing to be surprisingly good. I was distracted by it in one way, because I kept on thinking 'Oh my God! It's Peter Cushing!' but I know from a couple of people who took younger girlfriends to see it, not from the UK, that they didn't realise Peter Cushing was a computer reconstruction, because they weren't looking for it. The Carrie Fisher CGI model didn't work at all for me though. It looked like a rush job and I wonder if it came from the reshoots. The final shot of the film didn't come up to scratch, IMO.

I liked the planet hopping, the brutal Darth Vader scenes erase any memory of the 'whiny little girl' version of Anakin that Hayden Christensen was previously directed to play and Krennic's involvement added an extra layer to the backstory. Michael Giacchino's score was a disappointment though; it felt like I was listening to the kind of soundalike library music some TV shows have to use for international distribution. With all those great leitmotifs already available, it would have made sense to make Rogue One, as the first 'spin-off,' sonically as similar to the other films as possible. I also felt not using the Star Wars fanfare and opening crawl to set the scene was a mistake.

Still, it was an interesting one-off and bodes well for future spin-offs.
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Re: Star Wars

Postby mtwentz » Sun Mar 12, 2017 6:20 am

Gabriel wrote:
LostInTheMovies wrote:I can agree that Lucas is not a very good screenwriter or director of actors but the man behind THX 1138 is a born filmmaker.


Given he's from the film school crowd from that era, rather than being 'born,' he's a trained filmmaker – we could do with a few more of those! Lynch is another trained art college graduate. There's a lot to be said for proper schooling. I'm not properly trained and have learned my job by doing. It gives me some advantages – thinking outside the box – but I've missed out on a lot and a real talent, properly trained, would be a master of orthodox thinking and be able to apply those skills to unorthodox thinking. I'm not saying Lucas was untalented, but THX-1138 is a 44-year-old film. He also co-wrote the screenplay with Walter Murch and had David Myers as his cinematographer, not to mention Lalo Schifrin on scoring duties. For a young director, surrounding yourself with a lot of experience, plus the talented young Murch is a surefire way to keep a picture running safely. Of course, THX 1138 was also heavily special-edition-ised eventually, although people seem to feel it was to better effect than the Lucas-instigated vandalism of the original Star Wars films since the 1990s, while refusing to keep the earlier versions in circulation.

JJ Abrams strikes me as an ideas guy, and recycled ideas at that, not at all someone with a command of film form.


I'd say he's got as much 'command' as anyone out there. How do you define 'command of film form?' I'm not sure what that means. I mean, he can get someone to point a camera and shoot. He knows how to put a film together. He runs a company called Bad Robot, essentially an ideas house in the vein of the likes of Desliu in the 1960s. Plus, talent borrows and genius steals. Lucas in mashing up every matinee serial ever made created Star Wars and Indiana Jones: examples of derivative filmmaking as an art form!

What are the new things you feel he tries in movies?


I meant he tries things he hasn't personally done before. He gets bored doing the same thing over and over.

I'm not familiar enough with his work to say you're wrong, but someone did some side by side comparisons of Lucas' compositions and Abrams' from the trailer and the latter seemed completely bland by comparison.


The look of Abram's film is mostly superior to anything in the previous six films. No, there's no 'wow' shot of the scale of the opening of Star Wars, but I don't think any Wars film since has achieved that. The are numerous moments of utter beauty in TFA, though, and the film as a whole is better looking than any of its predecessors. In fact that's one of the things that captivated me most in the film. The shot of the TIE fighters in the blazing sunset is a particular joy to behold. And if the compositions are lacking, then the cinematographer is really to blame.

Lucas genuinely arose from a culture that appreciated cinema as cinema and it shows in his work.


Absolutely it's there in the first Star Wars film but his other four Wars films (he directed Jedi by proxy, basically having Richard Marquand give instructions, only to countermand them) lack any of the impact. The strongest film of the originals is Empire, when he stepped back and let his film school teacher direct. But I don't think you'll find that the likes of Abrams aren't just as immersed and in love with cinema. Indeed, it's in the present that so many great works of cinema are being restored because the respect continues through the generations. The home video generation has better access to movies than any before.

Phantom Menace is visually disappointing but Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith are genuinely well-directed on the micro scale.


Phantom is a disgrace: a complete waste of a movie. The second one was ok and leads into the very good Clone Wars TV series. The third one is the dullest, most sterile film I've ever sat through. Truly, I would have found reading a two-page plot synopsis more exciting. As a massive fan of digital cinema, its one film I would duck if it was used to challenge me over my enthusiasm for it. At least I can now use the excuse that the film's a decade old, was bad in the first place and digital acquisition got better. Revenge of the Sith ticks every negative box for digital cinema. It's a frustrating watch, especially since all the characters, especially Anakin, are better acted and more likeable in the Clone Wars cartoons. If Haydn Christensen is indeed back in Episode VIII, I'm intrigued to see what sort of performance Rian Johnson will get from him. It's easy to blame Christensen for the 'plankness' of Anakin, but, given the awful performances across the board from great and experienced actors, it seems to be more down to the man in charge.

And personally, though I'll see at least some of the new films and hopefully enjoy tem I don't get WHY we need new Star Wars. Let the old ones be. The whole affair just stinks of sucking up to Gen X nostalgia to me. Sorry to be a downer! ;)


Not a downer. I understand your point. But films like this make money. ;) Also, Lucas created a vast universe that he's happily exploited with hundreds of comic books, novels and loads of cartoon episodes. So making more movies (especially anthology movies) makes sense.

TFA is the first committee film and, while I would agree there are too many callbacks to the past – TFA is a kind of intertextual mashup of the original trilogy – it does kind of draw a line in the sand and allow the future films to do something new. Plus, the new characters and the actors playing them are terrific.


On the contrary, I consider Phantom Menace the second best in the franchise (Empire being first).

I did not really get into the Star Wars franchise until the prequels. The original three are 'kiddie shows' - with the sole exception of Empire Strikes Back- while the prequels are for a more mature audience.
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Gabriel
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Re: Star Wars

Postby Gabriel » Mon Mar 13, 2017 3:02 pm

mtwentz wrote:
On the contrary, I consider Phantom Menace the second best in the franchise (Empire being first).

I did not really get into the Star Wars franchise until the prequels. The original three are 'kiddie shows' - with the sole exception of Empire Strikes Back- while the prequels are for a more mature audience.


You'll have to forgive me; it's 14 months since I wrote the above post and I'm cringing at how far I sound up my own anus in that post!!! I am intrigued though that you find a film laden with an annoying brat, Jar Jar Binks and fart jokes to be more adult than the original films.

Don't get me wrong: I'm actually among the few people who genuinely likes The Phantom Menace. I don't think it's a terrible film (contrary to my more bullish remarks over a year ago – everyone should have several-years-old posts thrown at them; it's educational and highly embarrassing! :lol:) just a pointless one when there are only three films to tell the story.
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Re: Star Wars

Postby mtwentz » Tue Mar 14, 2017 1:08 pm

Gabriel wrote:
mtwentz wrote:
On the contrary, I consider Phantom Menace the second best in the franchise (Empire being first).

I did not really get into the Star Wars franchise until the prequels. The original three are 'kiddie shows' - with the sole exception of Empire Strikes Back- while the prequels are for a more mature audience.


You'll have to forgive me; it's 14 months since I wrote the above post and I'm cringing at how far I sound up my own anus in that post!!! I am intrigued though that you find a film laden with an annoying brat, Jar Jar Binks and fart jokes to be more adult than the original films.

Don't get me wrong: I'm actually among the few people who genuinely likes The Phantom Menace. I don't think it's a terrible film (contrary to my more bullish remarks over a year ago – everyone should have several-years-old posts thrown at them; it's educational and highly embarrassing! :lol:) just a pointless one when there are only three films to tell the story.


I actually liked Jar Jar and never saw why people were so annoyed with him- he's no worse than having a giant dog flying a spaceship.

But basically, I love the politics and palace intrigue of the prequels, and I love the performances of Ian McDiarmid, Liam Neeson and Ewan Macgregor (Natalie Portman, not so much). I really liked the idea of the wars manipulated behind the scenes by a master politician. I also thought the special effects by this time were way better than in the late 70s. Fans complain about the CGI, but I thought it was very well done.

The original three, except maybe for Empire, just reminded me of a cowboy and Indians movie with spaceships. They just never really caught my fancy. I had seen 2001: A Space Odyssey a few years before and loved that film, so that may be part of the reason I viewed Star Wars so critically.
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Re: Star Wars

Postby Gabriel » Tue Mar 14, 2017 4:24 pm

mtwentz wrote:
I actually liked Jar Jar and never saw why people were so annoyed with him- he's no worse than having a giant dog flying a spaceship.

But basically, I love the politics and palace intrigue of the prequels, and I love the performances of Ian McDiarmid, Liam Neeson and Ewan Macgregor (Natalie Portman, not so much). I really liked the idea of the wars manipulated behind the scenes by a master politician. I also thought the special effects by this time were way better than in the late 70s. Fans complain about the CGI, but I thought it was very well done.

The original three, except maybe for Empire, just reminded me of a cowboy and Indians movie with spaceships. They just never really caught my fancy. I had seen 2001: A Space Odyssey a few years before and loved that film, so that may be part of the reason I viewed Star Wars so critically.


Yeah, I know what you mean about the politicking. However, I always felt 90 per cent of that stuff in the prequels belonged in a TV show – which is perhaps why The Clone Wars and Rebels work as well as they do. Certainly Attack of the Clones feels to me like an expanded end of season/start of season compilation from a Jedi Adventures TV show.

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