Plotting in the Star Wars movies -
The last post had me thinking about how the Star Wars movies are plotted, especially whether the last one (Episode II) was far more arbitrary than the rest in how it progressed. Taking them in filming order, in the extended:
Episode IV: A New Hope
Leia’s ship is captured en route to Tatooine, where she was supposed to recruit General Kenobi
Droids with plans are jettisoned and end up on Tatooine, eventually to be purchased by Uncle Owen (we have a lucky moment here when the other astromech droid blows its motivator, but that’s okay)
R2, being a sneaky little bastard, runs for it, trying to find Ben Kenobi
With some Sand People action in between, Kenobi is found
Kenobi decides to recruit Luke into the lucrative field of persecuted former galactic guardianhood (think he was maybe waiting for the kid to turn 18 or something?)
Stormtroopers cut a swathe through Tatooine in search of the Death Star plans
Luke et al manage to barely escape…only to find that the Empire cancelled Alderaan just before…and the Death Star is still there (this is another luck moment, and you have to accept the contrivance, or else it would be a completely different movie)
Death star antics ensue; it’s pretty natural at this point that Kenobi and Vader will sense each other and have a showdown; it also fits that smitten Luke would try to spring Leia, so we’re good up through their escape, especially since we discover that the Empire realized they could just let these suckers lead them to the rebel base anyway. (And what’s up with Leia? If she figured they were let go, and being tracked, why didn’t she order Solo to set down on some intermediate planet and switch ships with R2? Her tradecraft sucks.)
The Empire goes after the rebel base, and the rebels go after the Death Star. A pretty natural conclusion.
So, overall, we have one major plot contrivance and one minor one (the minor one is the other droid blowing its motivator, because, of course, the other droid is only there to give you a moment of tension about the possibility of the companions being separated). This movie scores a 1.5.
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Luke is molested by a Wampa, receives a message from Solo, is rescued by Han.
An Imperial probe droid finds the rebels (makes sense…as the prologue tells us, they’re flooding the galaxy with them)
As the rebels try to pull out, the Empire attacks
Luke heads off to seek a new mentor while the Falcon runs for it, pursued by the Imperial fleet and Vader’s own brand of grumpiness.
Luke spends time with Yoda, the Falcon hides from Imperials, then makes a run for Cloud City. Fett, being a clever guy, figures out where they’re headed and makes it there first, along with the Imperial fleet (which, again, makes sense – the Falcon’s hyperdrive is broken…of course, they ought to be in transit for years, but we shan’t worry about that – despite the trappings, it’s a fantasy movie).
Vader catches Han et al, and we figure out why he really wanted them – they’re Luke’s friends, and thus excellent bait (and by now he knows who Luke is, after all…)
Luke takes the bait
Excellent struggle ensues…
And Luke and most of the others escape, minus their frozen friend
This movie manages to avoid obvious contrivances and has a pretty tight plot. Quite nice. Naturally, Lucas didn’t direct it, and Leigh Brackett helped him write it.
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Various rescue efforts are made at Jabba’s palace – it’s not at all clear why anyone other than Luke went in, though. Lando just kind of hung around and became a liability later; Chewbacca did nothing, and Leia was caught. Just send in the Jedi, man (of course, this let everyone on the cast be there from the beginning, but…)
They succeed, and Luke heads off to see Yoda while the others go to meet up with the Rebel fleet at Sollust (this movie gets to the point pretty quickly)
Luke chats with Yoda, who promptly disappears, then returns to the big rebel pow-wow, where he joins the command crew of Solo’s ground assault mission. (And what is up with the rebels putting a former smuggler, a princess, and a Shaolin monk in charge of their critical ground assault? Are they that hard up for military talent?)
Vader, perceptive guy that he is, figures out that rebels are landing. But that’s okay, because the Emperor knows that, too (he is one tricky guy, that Palpatine…).
On the ground, the Rebels encounter Stormtroopers and take them all out, then are captured by teddy bears (though one gets the impression that Luke let himself be taken).
Turns out, the teddy bears don’t like the Empire either, and decide to help the rebels (woohoo, and the first big “luck” turn for the rebels, though it isn’t really a contrivance since it’s a sort of moral lesson for the Empire – crush the locals, and they’ll team up with the other side).
Assault number one fails, and the space assault has major problems. Oh, yeah, Luke’s fighting his dad, too.
Assault number two succeeds, with the help of a teddy bear horde (man…it must be some kind of “copy of a copy” effect, because those Stormtroopers are way less effective than their Clone Army predecessors).
The space assault succeeds.
Luke doesn’t turn evil.*
Again, this movie goes pretty smoothly. The one major “luck” point – the Rebels getting local assistance from the Ewoks – really does work pretty logically, since the Empire has, we’d have to presume, been treating them pretty poorly. Again, Lucas didn’t direct, and Lawrence Kasdan helped script.
Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Jedi are sent to bully the Trade Federation into not blockading Naboo, but under direction from their Sith ally, the TF tries to off the Jedi. Naturally, this doesn’t work (we’ll only learn in the next movie that the right way to kill a lot of Jedi is with boatloads of robots). Prompted by this, the TF invades Naboo.
On the ground, the Jedi do the pretty natural thing and try to contact the planet’s ruler. In the process, they meet Jar Jar and the rest of the Gungans, and inexplicably keep Jar Jar with them (seriously…”We may need a navigator” – he does nothing of the kind…). This is the first major forcing in this movie. Qui-Gon really ought to have left Jar Jar back in the Gungan city.
This calls for a momentary digression. Qui-Gon really is among the worst Jedi ever. After all, he’s responsible for finding Jar Jar and Anakin and propelling them into positions of power and authority. Subsequently, Jar Jar will give Palpatine emergency powers, the final step to Empire, and Anakin will bring balance to the force by killing all the other Jedi. Good move, man. There’s a reason you’re not on the council. Who knows what he might have done if Maul hadn’t stuck a lightsaber through him.
Anyway, our heroes escape, and conveniently end up on Tatooine. Maybe the Force did it, maybe not. That’s another big contrivance. Wrap it up with meeting Anakin by dint of Watto being the only junk trader with the right hyperdrive and we’ll call it one more big contrivance.
Anakin pod races for cash and glamorous prizes, and our heroes make it off planet. They return to Coruscant, where the hang out for a while before deciding to go back to the planet. While they’re there, Palpatine uses Amidala to call for a vote of no confidence and get himself put into power as the new Supreme Chancellor.
Digression number 2: What was Palpatine’s Plan A? As it turned out, he got the old Chancellor bumped on the strength of Amidala’s plea, then the Trade Federation was kicked off his world independent of Republic action. He, however, thought Amidala would be weak and would sign the treaty to legitimize the occupation right away. If so, then what? We imagine that Palpatine is tricky and had something in mind for putting himself in the top seat, but it’s unclear what he would have done had everything “gone according to plan.” Or maybe he was lying to the TF, and he figured Amidala wouldn’t buckle, giving him time to bring this scandalous occupation to light and have the old Chancellor bumped.
Amidala decides to head back to Naboo and free it somehow; the Jedi are sent back with her to figure out this whole Sith deal, and Anakin and Jar Jar just come along for the ride.
On Naboo, Amidala arranges a pretty reasonable attack plan (with redundancy of successful outcomes, even) and the assault commences.
The whole final battle is pretty logical in its development, though Anakin’s random destruction of the Droid Control Ship is pretty lame, and one wonders why Amidala and her men didn’t just wait for the Sith/Jedi fight to progress out of their way, rather than taking the long way, as they did.
The Trade Federation is disabled, Naboo is secured, and Palpatine wins at the end.
Phantom Menace has two fairly substantial contrivance points, both involving character introductions. One could write them off as “the Force acting through Qui-Gon.” If so, the Force is one sick puppy, since both Jar Jar and Anakin are bad news. Overall, it’s clunkier, probably because Lucas wants to have his extensive action scenes of all kinds and impart a lot of information, too. One thing I dislike about the prequel trilogy is that Lucas is continuing his trend of one-upping his prior finales, which has two untoward outcomes:
1) It’s distracting, having so much going on at once.
2) When I watch the movies in order, it makes the final victory in RotJ a little less spectacular.
Still, I liked this movie, overall. I love the Jedi showdown.
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
We open with an assassination attempt on Padme. Probably due to prior interaction with her, Obiwan and Anakin are assigned to the case. Obviously, the Jedi are becoming less perceptive about what is a good or bad idea (and, to the movie’s credit, we later learn that this is exactly what’s going on). The Jedi foil the next attempt, which also leaves them with a clue to the assassin’s source (since Jango Fett is, apparently, not clever enough to use weapons from somewhere other than where he’s living).
The Jedi council wisely sends Padme off for some alone time with Anakin, and Obiwan off to the uncleverly-deleted world of Camino. There, he finds Jango, figures him for an assassin, and tries to arrest him when so instructed. They fight, and Jango leaves, with Obiwan following.
Anakin and Padme get it on for a while, then he senses his mother in distress (“My son…with that hussy!”) and goes to rescue her. This is a massive timing contrivance, but we can accept it. Imagine the movie without it, though…
Obiwan is captured. Tsk. Padme and Anakin go to rescue him. They’re captured. Jedi show up to rescue them, and a huge fight ensues.
There really was a lot that went into this movie, and the major contrivance speaks to that. After all, we have:
1) A detective/espionage movie – Find the assassin, unravel the political elements behind it, fight the insurgents.
2) A love story – Bodyguard and client fall for each other.
3) A succumbing to darkness story – Young man with great powers has his fall accelerated by a tragic event
Generally, each of these would be their own movie. If you bumped it up by another hour or so (venturing into LotR territory here) you might be able to fit it all in more effectively. I’d definitely want to add back in the deleted “Anakin meets Padme’s family” scene to a final version. It helps. The acting is still wooden between them, but that scene helps.
I’d have to agree with the idea that there’s too much information in this for one movie.
One basic problem is that Episodes IV-VI are basically about Luke, with a backstory of rebellion in progress. Episodes I and II were not so clearly about Anakin, or any other one central figure, and this tends to dilute attention and makes it very hard to pull off the love story that was tried for in Episode II.
*Almost forgot the asterisk -- Is it somehow key to Dark Side corruption to tell the person what you're doing every step of the way? Repeatedly, Luke realizes he's being all bad and rage-filled only because Palpatine says, "Good, good...FEEL your HATE." Seems as if Palpatine would have done better to keep his mouth shut.
2004-03-19 08:05 pm UTC (link) DeleteFreezeScreen Select
Some of my own points:
- Can you imagine if the movies did focus on Anakin, i.e. Haydyn and Jake? As much as the story would have benefited from this sort of focusing (and it does make the series an nice father/son tale), such a choice could have only highlighted Lucas' inability to direct is poor casting choices.
- doesn't the whole "one droid ship + one shot from little kid accidentally hitting cannons disabling our entire invasion force" count as a contrivance, even if it is a redundant contrivance? I mean, they clearly had a ton of more ships earlier for the blockade, but when the big attack happens they suddenly go away?
- Episode II has yet another plot, which is Palpatine's rise to power, which is pretty tangential to the other stories, and yet depends on them rather fortuitously considering that Palpatine didn't set in motion the events that led to his rise (and yet he acts like everything is going according to plan). If Palpatine wanted that clone army, it really was lucky there was a diner owner on Coruscant that knew about Kamino, because the Guardian of the Universe Jedis seem unable to remember anything that isn't stored digitally. He's also really lucky those assassination attempts failed, because I'm sure the everyone else on Naboo but Padme (and a now dead Qui-gon) is smart enough to realize that appointing Jar-Jar is a really bad idea. As you pointed on in Episode I, what was Palpatine's Plan A?
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2004-03-19 08:34 pm UTC (link) DeleteFreezeScreen Select
Point by point...(and can you tell I'm stuck at work?)...
1) Indeed. I don't know what Lucas sees in people that made him say "He's the one!" for Jake, but he didn't seem so great to me. Again, however, that may be heavily director-based...after all, I've seen Natalie Portman act, and I've seen Samuel Jackson act, yet they lose that aptitude under Lucas's care. At least Ewan seems to be keeping it together pretty well. Really, when I watch Episode II, I tend to treat it as "Obiwan's political adventure story."
2) Yeah, that's pretty contrivancy. They do explain in the commentary that the blockading ships all left once they invaded, but given their top-down control vulnerabilities, you'd think they'd want at least one capital ship escort for the droid control ship.
3) One hopes that Palpatine was going to arrange a contact or something. Maybe the Caminoans would have -- after all, the first Clone army was just ready when Obiwan showed up. Hopefully, they'd call or something after no one showed up to (a) collect the army and (b) pay the balance (assuming they didn't just do cash up front).
So maybe, when I have time and a good computer in the future, I'll make the "Obiwan's tale" version of the prequel trilogy, where we only see Obiwan screen time. So far, that would give us:
Obiwan and Qui-gon attacked on the TF ship
The pair on the planet, interacting with Gungans and rescuing the Queen
Snippets of Obiwan hanging out on the ship
Obiwan greeting a returning Qui-gon
Obiwan on Coruscant
The battle with Darth Maul
Obiwan showing up with Anakin
Obiwan chasing the assassin
Obiwan tracking down Jango
Obiwan captured by the bad guys
The arena fight
The final battle with Tyranus
I like that idea. I seriously need DVD read/editing capability. Is there a good, personal computing platform for that?
And, of course, you can add in his appearances in Episode III, and then his appearances in Eps IV-VI (though really, it'll become odd and incoherent past Episode IV...maybe only tell the story of living Obiwan).
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2004-03-20 10:44 am UTC (link) DeleteFreezeScreen Select
Macs probably have the best, free, movie-editing software, and it probably also has the best (free) software for authoring a DVD. Windows XP comes with Movie Maker 2, but it's not that great.
The only trouble is ripping the movie off of the DVD. I only know of PC tools for that. If you're serious about making the cut, then I can try and help get you the sources.
BTW - ripping the VCDs is probably easy.
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2004-03-20 03:11 pm UTC (link) DeleteFreezeScreen Select
This wouldn't be anything I'd do in the near future, so no rush. I'll probably be local with you before I have time to contemplate DVD editing.
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2004-03-20 02:54 pm UTC (link) DeleteFreezeScreen Select
While we're on the foibles of the Sith, why are their names always combinable with the sound 'in' (either hard or soft).
You know, like...
In + Vader: invader
In + Sidious: insidious
Maul + in: malign
I'm sure this has been noted by star wars fans for generations, but I am still perplexed by how lame the name-selection process can be.
As for the old trope of bad guys telling their plans, there was a hilarious email forward that went around about four years ago called something like "100 things I would do differently if I were a super villain" - they contained things like "my special troops will not have scary, anonymous uniforms - they will have pleasant, professional uniforms that will make people respect them and want to trust them and, most importantly, cannot be used to disguise my enemies..."
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2004-03-20 03:10 pm UTC (link) DeleteFreezeScreen Select
Yes, the Sith folks don't seem to be the most creative in pseudonym picking. Darth Vader had an actual meaning (Dark Father in some Northwestern European tongue); the others have more apparent, but less interesting meanings.
I'm not sure if you can apply your 'in' observation to Darth Tyrannus, though.
As for the second item, that'd be the Evil Overlord List: