Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Saga Is Complete

I can't remember if I had watched the original Star Wars when it premiered in 1977. I would have been 1 year old then. And even if I did, I wouldn't be surprised, given that I was brought up with extremely frequent trips to the movies.

But I remember Darth Vader, in his menacing voice, fist in the air, blaring "No, Luke, I AM YOUR FATHER" before a young teenage boy plunged into the abyss below. I was 4 years old when I watched Empire Strikes Back at the now defunct Odeon Theatre (where Odeon Towers now stand at North Bridge Road), and my, was I awed by the robots (stormtroopers), the fights (TIE fighters chasing the Millennium Falcon), man vs machine (rebel alliance vs AT-AT Walkers), the spaceships, and yes, the lightsabre battles.

After that movie, my toys were Star Wars - action figures (I had countless Luke Skywalkers - in X-Wing uniform, Hoth getup, Luke in Empire Strikes Back with the blaster featured in Bespin), 12" C3PO, Han Solo and Boba Fett, a big Yoda puppet, a huge X-Wing fighter jet that changes to battle mode when you depress R2D2, a battle-weary snowfighter, and a life sized red lightsabre. Not the replicas that you see in the market these days (would wanna own one), but something made of plastic which made the humming sound as you swing it about. And boy, did I swing that lightsabre!

Contrary to popular belief, my favourite Star Wars character back then was not Luke Skywalker, but Han Solo. To a young boy, I liked his devil-may-care attitude, the flamboyance, the arrogance, and hey, he owned the greatest kick-ass spaceship of the all - the Millennium Falcon, has a great "pet".. err.. pal - a Wookiee, and wins the girl - a princess at that!

With Return of the Jedi, I celebrated with the Ewoks when the Rebel Alliance triumphed against the evil Galactic Empire - Hey I was only 7 years old! I jumped with joy as the Ewoks creatively kicked Stormtroopers' rear, and wept as they sustained losses. I gripped the edge of my seat as Luke Skywalker went up against his father Darth Vader in the Emperor's throne room. I watched as helpless as Vader was when Luke got zapped by the Emperor's Force Lightning, and I cringed when Luke finally removed Vader's mask. My eyebrows were raised when Princess Leia was held captive by the fat slob Jabba the Hut, and made to wear the now infamous bikini outfit.

Was this the end of Star Wars? No, as I was old enough to know that perhaps I've missed the very first episode - A New Hope. VCRs were becoming common place, and soon enough, I was watching Star Wars again on the small screen, with a sense of deja-vu that perhaps I've seen this film before, sometime, somewhere.

And it was then I realized the movie showcased one of the greatest Jedi knights of them all - Obi-wan Kenobi, who only appeared as a ghostly shadow in the later 2 movies. He introduced me and Luke to the Force, and to the lightsabre - an elegant weapon in a more civilised age. Suddenly Star Wars was reinvented for me - What is this Force they were talking about? Obi-wan hypnotizing Storm Troopers? Now that was new, and cool!

The quest to know more about the Force continued as I watched Empire Strikes Back on VHS - the little green man started to make more sense as he imparted his words of wisdom to Luke - anger, fear, aggression leads one to the Dark Side, and adventure is what a Jedi craves not. He demonstrated that even a little one, a master of the Force, can do great things - like lift an X-Wing fighter out of the swamps of Dagobath.

But what is this Dark Side? I've learnt more in a re-run of Return of the Jedi - that you have 2 sides to the Force, and Vader and the Emperor tried to seduce Luke to their side - the dark side, so that together they can rule the galaxy, or so the Emperor thought, unknowing of Vader wanting to rule it together as Father and Son with Luke.

The Force, and the lightsabres, defined what Star Wars is to the kid I was. I was thrilled when Luke started to use a green coloured Sabre in Return of the Jedi, as the movies so far showed evil (Vader) using Red, and the good guys (Obi-wan and Luke) using blue. Perhaps there was a reason to the colouring of the sabre?

The quest to answer all the "whys" and "hows" led me to read countless literature (read: pop fiction, comic books, role playing games, etc), and watched numerous re-runs on VHS (Bless the invention of the VCR!). I watched it so many times that I could literally quote dialogue from start to end. I discovered new things each time I watched, and found new meaning in sagely dialogue from Yoda. And identify with the soundtrack I can - John Williams did a fantastic job in signature tunes like the Imperial March.

The Star Wars crave in me eventually settled down as I grew older. Some might say I outgrew Star Wars. As time went on, the Special Editions were released, with new unseen footage being showned for the first time. I became a boy again, relishing each opportunity to spot something new (hey, I didn't see that driod there before!), and soaking in the editions in THX ready movie theatres - the sound is now awesome, the images, crisp.

But the boy in me truly rejoiced when George Lucas announced that he would be doing the prequels. For now we can truly see the vision George had when he spoke of a more civilized age.

We're shown the planet Naboo, which opens The Phantom Menace. Somehow many fans around the world didn't really enjoy this one. Many found the idiosyncracies of Jar Jar Binks unfunny and plain idiotic. Many also found the "YIPPEE" that Anakin exclaimes irritating. Is this the Star Wars that we've grown up with? Suddenly skeptics were all out in force slamming the movie for being un-star-wars. But hey, this is the vision that George Lucas had. Naboo, and Coruscant, were indeed, civilized planets. But I felt many fans were slamming the movie in uncivilized manners.

The number of years in between actually helped in bringing out the new worlds that George unveiled. Technology had improved, and this assisted in fleshing out new characters and civilizations. We had the Trade Federation, the Jedi Temple, Darth Maul with his twin blades, the gleaming shuttle of Queen Amidala, and wonderful, graceful Jedi moves from Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-wan Kenobi, now only a Padawan.

Skeptics might have called Pod-Racing an obscene attempt in making money from toys and video arcade, but I enjoyed the scene nonetheless. The only flaw, if I find in the movie's narrative, was that perhaps it moved too far back in Star Wars history - showing Anakin as a boy, a mysterious one at that, being conceived by the Midichlorians - the organisms behind the mystical Force. Suudenly fans around the world had to deal with a new word, and an attempt in making the Force a bit more scientific rather than mystical. Some were, of course, unhappy with change.

But bear in mind that this is still George's vision, and like it or not, it stays canon. Don't forget the little things that mattered, like Ewan McGregor nailing Alec Guiness' Obi-wan to a T (although a younger version), and the beautiful Natalie Portman as Queen Amidala / Padme. Even Keira Knightley was in this one, as one of Padme's handmaidens. Not to forget we also saw the debut of our favourite driods R2D2 and C3PO!

The Clone Wars were the highlight of Episode 2: Attack of the Clones, and my, what a war it was - where the predecessors of the Stormtroopers were shown, and the backstory of how they came about. Fan favourite Boba Fett made an appearance, though as a kid, and it was his father who donned the now famous looking armour. Christopher Lee gave an impressive performance as the Jedi turned Sith apprentice, and fans around the world probably jumped with glee when glimpses of the Death Star plans were seen!

Omnimous as it was, we see Anakin slowly slip into the Dark Side, unable to control his feelings and anger, when he went on a rampage to massacre a sandpeople tribe. However, some fans still came out of the theatre with guns ablazing - lamenting how they hated the romantic dialogue, the romantic setting of Attack of the Clones. But I wonder if they had forgotten - Luke and Leia were the children of Anakin Skywalker. Already we have a mysterious birth (Anakin's), surely we would expect the more normal way the twins were conceived, no? In my opinion, this film managed to strike a balance between romance and action.

And the action again was at its best - clonetroopers in their first ever Clone Wars engagement, Obi-wan Kenobi fighting alongside his padawan Anakin Skywalker, Yoda, for the first time, whipping out his minute lightsabre to do battle with Darth Tyrannus, and little do we actually realize how agile this Jedi Master was! I enjoy lightsabre battles, and Attack of the Clones made up for whatever shortcomings it had.

As I sit in the darkened theatre tomorrow evening, I would have mixed feelings when the 20th Century Fox fanfare blares through the speakers. Here I am, watching probably the greatest episode since Empire Strikes Back, my "first" Star Wars movie (the one I remember as a kid), watching Obi-wan and Anakin do battle with each other with intense, watching Anakin Skywalker turn into a Sith machine, watching a film that held a lot of potential - the one that fans around the world had been waiting for, and given the positive vibes for the sneaks in trailer clips, I just can't wait.

It took 28 years to complete the saga (no, there would not be episodes 7 to 9), and I'm 29 this year. It feels as if I've been with Star Wars all my life, and vice versa, that Star Wars has been part of my life, accompanying a third of my mortal lifespan. George has already made public that there will be no more movies, though the franchise will live on, in various series - books, animation, probably live-action.

To George, live long and prosper. (Oops, wrong movie! And you're already prosperous!)

To the legions of Star Wars fans out there, the Force be with you, always.


Lecter said...

As cheesy as this would sound...

May the Force Be With YOU!

I'm watching on the 19th btw...

Stefan S said...

heh yeah, you beat me to it.
I wanted to make some additional editorial comments, not sure if this will screw this page up :D

also noticed some typos I made... well, what to do when you wanna express feelings faster then your fingers can keep up, in the wee hours of the morning.

Fans everywhere will rejoice with Ep 3. This I guarantee :)

Anonymous said...

This is a good article. Nice to hear about ur early childhood experiences in the cinema.

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