Moral Compass and the STAR WARS Fandom

MORAL COMPASS AND STAR WARS FANDOM

The more posts and articles that I read about the STAR WARS saga, the more I begin to wonder if a great deal of the franchise’s fandom would have preferred if Lucas had allowed the saga to maintain the black-and-white morality of “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE”.

All of the STAR WARS films have their flaws. And although “A NEW HOPE” had its moments of moral ambiguity in the character of smuggler Han Solo, the moral compass presented in the 1977 film seemed more black-and-white than ambiguous. I can even recall one guy complaining on his blog that “A NEW HOPE” was the only film in the franchise that he liked, because the other films that followed had too much ambiguity. I also noticed that when discussing “STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”, many fans tend to ignore or make excuses for the questionable actions of the major characters in that film.

Fans made excuses for Chewbacca’s assault upon Lando Calrissian in the 1980 film, because the latter had sold them out to Darth Vader and the Empire in order to prevent the deaths of the Bespin colony’s citizens. They also made excuses for Princess Leia Organa’s support of Chewbacca’s assault. Yet, very few fans and critics have seemed willing to criticize Chewbacca and Leia’s actions . . . or the fact that neither of them ever considered the possibility that their arrival at Bespin had endangered Lando and the citizens. And when I had once questioned why Han never noticed bounty hunter Boba Fett shadowing the Millennium Falcon during its long journey from the Hoth system to Bespin (without an operating hyperdrive), many either dismissed my question or refused to even ponder on that situation. I had also discussed Luke Skywalker’s willingness stop his rage-fueled assault upon his father, Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader in “STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI”, many saw this as an example of Luke’s moral superiority. No one ever pondered on the possibility that Emperor Palpatine’s verbal interruption may have stopped Luke from killing his father.

When it comes to the moral ambiguity of the characters in the Prequel Trilogy movies, a lot of fans tend to scream “bad writing”, instead of exploring the possibility that even the good guys are capable of bad or criminal actions. They reacted at least three ways in regard to the actions of the Jedi characters. One, they tend to accuse Lucas of bad writing when major Jedi characters like Yoda, Mace Windu or Obi-Wan Kenobi made bad decisions. Or they would make excuses for their questionable actions – especially Yoda and Obi-Wan. Or . . . the only Jedi characters they are willing to criticize are Mace Windu for his attempt to kill Palpatine in “STAR WARS: EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE JEDI” and Qui-Gon Jinn for insisting that Anakin Skywalker be trained as Jedi in “STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE”. Yet, hardly anyone seems willing to question Yoda for his own attempt to deliberately kill Palpatine or Obi-Wan’s willingness to leave a seriously wounded Anakin to slowly burn to death on one of Mustafar’s lava banks in the 2005 movie. Why? Is it because both Yoda and Obi-Wan are considered heroic favorites from the Original Trilogy? Who knows?

Speaking of Anakin, many fans seemed to be upset that Lucas had not portrayed him as some adolescent or twenty-something “bad boy”. Many fans have also expressed displeasure that the Prequel Trilogy had began with Anakin at the age of nine. Why, I do not know. Either this has something to do with the “cool factor”, or they cannot deal with the idea that a mega villain like Darth Vader began his life as an innocent and rather nice boy. Most of all, many fans and critics seem incapable of dealing with Anakin giving in to evil for the sake of his love for Naboo senator Padme Amidala . . . despite the fact that Original Trilogy characters like Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa and Chewbacca have either done or nearly done the same.

Once the Disney Studios had acquired LucasFilm from George Lucas, they seemed bent upon returning to the black-and-white moral compass of “A NEW HOPE” with their 2015 film, “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS”. The Finn character seems to be another version of Han Solo – starting out as an ambiguous character and emerging as a heroic figure. Aside from one moment near the end of the film, Kylo Ren seemed more like a one-dimensional villain. Perhaps director-writer Rian Johnson will allow the character to break out of this shell in the upcoming “STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI”. As for the 2016 stand-alone film, “ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY”, many critics and fans had complimented the film for its exploration of the main characters’ ambiguity. Yet, the Jyn Erso character is already being unfavorably compared by the media to the more ideal Rey character from “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. And by the last half hour of “ROGUE ONE”, the main. characters had ditched their ambiguity and embraced being heroes. Not even the current LucasFilm production company, Disney and director Gareth Edwards would allow the main characters to remain ambiguous.

Lucas had started the STAR WARS saga with an entertaining and well done tale with very little ambiguity in 1977 and developed it into a complex and ambiguous saga that I believe did a great job in reflecting the true ambiguous nature of humanity. And yet, it seems that a lot of people remain angry at him for daring to explore our ambiguity in the first place. Some have claimed that STAR WARS is the wrong movie franchise to explore moral ambiguity. Personally, I do not see why not.

The Problem With Rey

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THE PROBLEM WITH REY

I suspect that many do not want to hear or read this.  But I have to say something.  I feel that Lucasfilm and J.J. Abrams went TOO FAR in their creation of Rey for “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS”.  She is a Mary Sue.  She is too perfect.  And I am not afraid to admit it.

Why is it that STAR WARS fans demand that the saga’s leading women characters should be written as ideal or perfect?  That is not a good idea for a well written character.  A well written character should have a balance of flaws and virtues.  Rey is ALL VIRTUES.  She has no flaws.  Not really.  In a short space of time, she learned to fly a spacecraft and tap into the Force in order to use the Jedi Mind Trick and use a lightsaber to defeat an opponent already trained with the ways of the Force – namely Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo.  If it were not for her interactions with the former stormtrooper Finn, I would find her completely boring.

This is why I prefer a character like Bathsheba Everdene from Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel, “Far From the Madding Crowd”.   As a character, Bathsheba was an interesting mixture of virtues and flaws.  She was a better written character than someone like Rey.  Even STAR WARS characters like Leia Organa and Padme Amidala managed to be better written, due to the fact that the two characters possessed both virtues and flaws – despite fandom’s demand that they be regarded as ideal.

As for Rey, I hope and pray that Rian Johnson, who is now serving as director and screenwriter for “EPISODE VIII”, has made her character more complex.  If not, I cannot see myself being interested in her story for the next two films.

“The Moral Landscape of the STAR WARS Saga” – Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi

Here is the fourth article on moral ambiguity found in the STAR WARS saga:

“The Moral Landscape of the STAR WARS Saga”

Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi

If examining the moral ambiguity of Jedi masters and knights such as Yoda might be considered controversial, then focusing upon the well-liked Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi could be viewed as a mine trap on my part. Aside from the main three protagonists from the Original Trilogy, there is no one more beloved by many STAR WARS fans than Master Kenobi.

As far as these fans are concerned, Obi-Wan is the ideal Jedi Knight/Master. Or close to being the most ideal. He is not viewed as the most powerful. I suspect that Master Yoda holds that honor in STAR WARS fandom. But I have noticed that many view Obi-Wan as noble and pure. He might as well be the Sir Galahad of the Jedi Order. And while these fans are willing to allow Obi-Wan being capable of a few mistakes, the prevailing attitude seemed to be ideal. However, not all STAR WARS fans harbor this view of Obi-Wan. Some see him as an individual with good intentions and plenty of flaws. And I count myself as among the latter.

The phrase “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” could have been created for many of the Prequel Trilogy characters – especially with Obi-Wan Kenobi in mind. Before one accuses me of viewing the Jedi Master as ineffectual . . . I do not. Obi-Wan had his moments of great wisdom and common sense. But like many other characters in the saga, Obi-Wan had his flaws.

I am still amazed that Obi-Wan managed to have such an unconventional personality like Qui-Gon Jinn as his Jedi master and remain so conventional after so many years. More than any other character in the STAR WARS saga, Obi-Wan seemed to embody the belief in adhering to the rules and philosophies of the Jedi Order. He also seemed to be a fervent supporter of blind obedience of authority figures. Well, I take that back. Obi-Wan seemed to have no problems with questioning Qui-Gno’s authority . . . especially when the latter went against the dictates of the Jedi Order. In short, Obi-Wan seemed to demand that his Jedi master behave in a conventional manner and not question the Order’s ruling body, the Jedi Council.

Obi-Wan turned out to be one of several characters in the saga that suffered from arrogance. This was especially true in his attitude toward the Gungan outcast, Jar-Jar Binks, and the nine year-old Anakin Skywalker in “THE PHANTOM MENACE”. In one sentence, he managed to express this arrogant attitude in one sentence after discovering Qui-Gon’s intentions of bringing Anakin along with them to Coruscant:

“Why do I sense we’ve picked up another pathetic life form…?”

However, Obi-Wan’s biggest mistake turned out to be his decision to train Anakin, following Qui-Gon’s death at the hands of Sith apprentice, Darth Maul. I realize that he merely wanted to follow his late master’s wishes. Following his last meeting with the Jedi Council, Qui-Gon believed that its members would never allowed Anakin to be trained. But when the Council allowed the nine year-old into the Order following his performance during the Battle of Naboo, Obi-Wan insisted upon training him. The newly promoted Jedi Knight had allowed his feelings toward Qui-Gon to blind him from the realization that he might be too young, too inexperienced and too much of a conformist to be the right Jedi mentor for an independent thinker like Anakin.

By “ATTACK OF THE CLONES”, Obi-Wan’s attitude toward “pathetic life forms” seemed to have disappeared, as his friendship toward a short-order cook named Dexter Jettster seemed to attest. But the arrogance remained. Many fans have complained about Anakin’s arrogant tendency to ignore Obi-Wan’s teachings. I believe they had failed to notice how Obi-Wan’s own arrogance had led him to become an ineffectual mentor for the volatile 19 year-old padawan. How can I say this? I feel that Obi-Wan proved to be a lousy Jedi teach for Anakin. Their quarrel inside Former Queen/now Senator Padme Amidala’s Coruscant apartment was not only a testament to Anakin’s penchant for questioning authority. The scene also provided a strong indication of Obi-Wan’s methods as a teacher. For him, it was important that Anakin blindly accept the rules and methods of the Jedi Oder, but also every opinion or statement that left his mouth. Obi-Wan seemed incapable of teaching Anakin how to find an individual path to self-realization or the Force. Instead, he seemed determined to mold his padawan into an ideal image of a Jedi Knight . . . unaware that such a being did not exist.

Obi-Wan’s arrogance also reared its ugly head in his first confrontation with the former Jedi Master-turned-Sith apprentice named Count Dooku aka Darth Tyrannus. When the latter revealed that a Sith master controlled the Galactic senate to Obi-Wan on Geonosis, the younger man quickly dismissed the idea without bothering to consider it. Either he assumed that Dooku was trying to manipulate him, the Jedi Council would have immediately sensed the presence of the Sith, or both.

I found it ironic that as a Jedi disciple, Obi-Wan had been trained never to act as an aggressor in a conflict. Yet, both he and Qui-Gon ended up as the aggressors in their duel against Darth Maul in “THE PHANTOM MENACE”. After the Sith apprentice struck down Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan allowed his aggression and anger to get the best of him and attacked Darth Maul. His anger proved to be temporarily effective and in the end, led to Obi-Wan’s lack of control and Maul’s near victory over him. Obi-Wan’s aggression failed to serve him and he had to calm down in order to finally defeat the Sith apprentice. His aggressive behavior failed to serve him on three occasions in “ATTACK OF THE CLONES” – his attempt to arrest bounty hunter Jango Fett on Kamino, his battle against an acklay in the Geonosis area, and during his and Anakin’s duel against Count Dooku on the same planet. By “REVENGE OF THE SITH”, Obi-Wan’s aggression transformed into arrogance that he saved for combat situations. During his and Anakin’s rescue of Chancellor Palpatine from Count Dooku and General Grievous, Obi-Wan’s comment about the Sith being the Jedi’s speciality clearly expressed this arrogance . . . moments before his quick defeat at the hands of Dooku. “Pride comes quickly before the fall . . . eh?”

“REVENGE OF THE SITH” also marked the period in which the Jedi Order finally realized that someone within Chancellor Palpatine’s circle was the other Sith Lord they had been searching for quite some time. This realization, along with the thinning of the Jedi’s ranks after three years of war led some of the Jedi characters to resort to desperate measures for the Order’s survival. One of those measures included Obi-Wan’s attempt to convince Anakin to spy upon Palpatine. He claimed that he had been initially against what he considered to be a distasteful plan. But Obi-Wan’s later conversation with Jedi Masters Yoda and Mace Windu saw him trying to convince the two Jedi Masters to accept Anakin as a spy for the Order. Perhaps many would disagree, but I suspect that Obi-Wan had lied to Anakin, so that the latter would act as a spy. Worse, he failed to heed Anakin’s warning that the entire suggestion was a bad idea.

Obi-Wan’s lies to Anakin about the spy plan proved to be nothing in compare to his actions on Mustafar. First of all, both he and Yoda had decided to take on Palpatine and Anakin in order to rid the galaxy of the Sith once and for all. Yoda failed to kill Palpatine during their confrontation inside the Senate building on Coruscant. Obi-Wan proved to be more successful . . . somewhat. He managed to track down Anakin to Mustafar, by using Padme. Despite Anakin being more powerful, Obi-Wan managed to hold his own during their duel by keeping his cool. Yet, once Obi-Wan finally defeated his former apprentice, his cool ration seemed to disappear. After ranting angrily, Obi-Wan left the badly wounded Anakin to slowly burn to death on a lava bank. Many Obi-Wan fans claimed that he could not bring himself to kill his former apprentice. I disagree. I suspect that Obi-Wan wanted to punish Anakin for becoming a Sith by allowing the latter to suffer a slow and agonizing death. Once again, I feel that Obi-Wan’s anger got the best of him . . . and failed him. Palpatine and a handful of storm troopers arrived on Mustafar in time to save Anakin from a slow death.

Aboard Senator Bail Organa’s starship, Master Yoda advised Obi-Wan to seek out Qui-Gon’s Force ghost and resume his studies in the way of the Force. Obi-Wan must have taken his advice. He proved to be a more patient and open-minded mentor to Anakin’s son, Luke Skywalker, in “A NEW HOPE”. A good deal of his advice and lessons regarding the Force seemed to reflect those views of the very flexible Qui-Gon Jinn. More importantly, Obi-Wan was willing to sacrifice his life to help Luke and the latter’s friends – Han Solo and Princess Leia Organa – to escape from the Death Star during his final duel against Anakin aka Darth Vader. As a Force Ghost, Obi-Wan advised Luke on how to use the Force during the Battle of Yavin. And in “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”, his ghost form advised Luke to contact Yoda for further Jedi training on Dagobah.

Unfortunately, Obi-Wan still managed to commit his shares of mistakes and prove that he had retained some of his old absolutist thinking after two decades. One, he lied to Luke about Anakin’s fate, claiming that the latter had been “murdered” by one Darth Vader. It seemed as if he and Yoda had hoped to manipulate Luke into committing fratricide before the latter could learn the truth. Some fans claimed that both had planned to tell Luke the truth when the latter finished his Jedi training. But in “RETURN OF THE JEDI”, Obi-Wan seemed very disappointed by Luke’s refusal to kill Anakin/Vader. On the other hand, Obi-Wan seemed convinced that his old padawan was beyond saving, ignoring the very words that Padme had whispered to him before her death. The Skywalkers proved otherwise during their confrontation aboard the second Death Star.

In the end, Obi-Wan Kenobi learned a very valuable lesson about the Force, his lack of flexibility and quite possibly, his arrogance. And he did so, thanks to the actions of his two former apprentices Anakin and Luke Skywalker.

“STAR WARS: EPISODE II – ATTACK OF THE CLONES” (2002) Review

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“STAR WARS: EPISODE II – ATTACK OF THE CLONES” (2002) Review

The fandom surrounding the 2002 movie, “STAR WARS: EPISODE II – ATTACK OF THE CLONES” has always struck me as somewhat a fickle affair. When the movie first hit the theaters over eleven years ago, many critics and film fans had declared the movie a major improvement over its predecessor, 1999’s “STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE”. Some even went out of their way to declare it as the second best STAR WARS movie ever made. Another three to five years passed before the critics and fans’ judgement went through a complete reversal. Now, the movie is considered one of the worst, if not the worst film in the franchise.

Well, I am not going to examine what led to this reversal of opinion regarding “ATTACK OF THE CLONES”. Instead, I am going to reveal my own opinion of the movie. Before I do, here is the plot. Set ten (10) years after “THE PHANTOM MENACE”, “ATTACK OF THE CLONES” begins with the Republic on the brink of a civil war, thanks to a former Jedi Master named Count Dooku. Disgruntled by the growing corruption of the Galactic Senate and the Jedi Order’s complacency, Dooku has formed a group of disgruntled planetary systems called the Separatists. the Galactic Senate is debating a plan to create an army for the Republic to assist the Jedi against the Separatist threat. Senator Padmé Amidala, the former queen of Naboo, returns to Coruscant to vote on a Senate proposal to create an army for the Republic. However, upon her arrival, she barely escapes an assassination attempt.

The Jedi Order, with the agreement of Chancellor Palpatine and the Senate, assigns Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi and his padawan (apprentice) of ten years, Anakin Skywalker, to guard Padmé. A contracted assassin named Zam Wessell makes another attempt on Padmé, but is foiled by Obi-Wan and Anakin. They chase her to a Coruscant nightclub, where they capture her. During their interrogation of Wessell, she is killed by her employer with a poisonous dart. The Jedi Council orders Obi-Wan to investigate the assassination attempt and learn the identity of Wessell’s employer. The Council also assigns Anakin as Padmé’s personal escort, and accompany her back to her home planet of Naboo. Obi-Wan’s investigation leads to a cloning facility on the planet of Kamino, where an army of clones are being manufactured for the Republic and Zam Wessell’s employer, a bounty hunter named Jango Fett. Not long after their arrival on Naboo, Anakin and Padmé become romantically involved, while aware of the former’s status as a member of the Jedi Order.

I could discuss the aspects of “ATTACK OF THE CLONES” that seem to repel a good number of fans. But that would take a separate article and I am not in the mood to tackle it. There were some aspects that I personally found questionable. One of those aspects was the handling of the character Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas. When Kamino Prime Minister Lama Su had informed Obi-Wan that a Sifo-Dyas had ordered a clone army for the Republic, I assumed that Count Dooku had impersonated his former colleague, following the latter’s death. It seemed so simple to me. Yet, a novel called “Labyrinth of Evil” revealed that the Jedi Master had been tricked into ordering the army by Chancellor Palpatine before being murdered by Dooku. Now, I realize that I am actually criticizing the plot of a novel, instead of “ATTACK OF THE CLONES”, but every time I watch this movie, I find myself wishing that Dooku had ordered the clone army, while impersonating Sifo-Dyas. But I do have a few genuine complaints. Physically, Daniel Logan made an impressive young Boba Fett. However, it was pretty easy for me to see that the kid was no actor. Oh well. I also wish that Lucas and screenwriter Jonathan Hales had proved a longer scene to establish the antipathy that seemed to be pretty obvious between Anakin Skywalker and his stepbrother, Owen Lars. Instead, their scenes together merely featured some low-key dialogue and plenty of attitude from both Hayden Christensen and Joel Edgerton. Oh well. And if I must be honest, Count Dooku’s lightsaber duel against Obi-Wan and Anakin on Geonosis proved to be rather lackluster and short.

Many fans have complained about the love confession scene between Anakin and Padmé at the latter’s Naboo lakeside villa. Although, I have a problem with the scene, as well; my complaint is different. Many believed that the scene made Anakin look like a sexual stalker. Frankly, I have no idea how they came to that conclusion. It seemed obvious to me that Lucas had based the Anakin/Padmé romance on something called courtly love. However, it was also obvious to me that Christensen seemed incapable of dealing with the flowery language featured in courtly love. I am not stating that he is a bad actor. There were many scenes in “ATTACK OF THE CLONES” that made it clear to me that he is a first-rate actor. But . . . the movie was shot when he was 19 years old. It is obvious that he was too young to handle such flowery dialogue. He was not the first. I still have memories of Keira Knightley and James McAvoy’s questionable attempts at the fast dialogue style from movies of the 1930s and 40 featured in the 2007 movie, “ATONEMENT”. Like Christensen before them, they were too young to successfully deal with an unfamiliar dialogue style.

Despite the above flaws, “ATTACK OF THE CLONES” remains one of my top two favorite STAR WARS movies of all time. Why? One, I love the story. Many fans do not. I do. It has an epic scale that some of the other movies in the franchise, save for “STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”, seemed to lack. And I feel that Lucas and Hales did an excellent job of allowing the story to flow from a simple political assassination attempt to the outbreak of a major galactic civil war. During this 142 minute film, the movie also featured some outstanding action, romance between two young and inexperienced people, a mystery that developed into a potential political scandal, family tragedy that proved to have a major consequence in the next film and war. The best aspect of “ATTACK OF THE CLONES” – at least for me – were the complex issues that added to the eventual downfalls of the major characters.

Naturally, Lucas provided some outstanding action sequences in the movie. I mean . . . they really were. I would be hard pressed to select my favorite action scene from the following list:

*Coruscant chase scene
*Obi-Wan vs. Jango Fett fight scene on Kamino
*Obi-Wan tracks the Fetts to Geonosis
*Anakin’s search for the kidnapped Shmi Skywalker on Tatooine
*Anakin and Padmé’s arrival on Geonosis
*The Geonosis arena fight sequence
*The outbreak of the Clones War

Earlier, I had complained about Obi-Wan and Anakin’s lackluster duel against Count Dooku. But . . . Dooku’s duel against Jedi Master Yoda more than made up for the first duel. I thought it was an outstanding action sequence that beautifully blended the moves of both CGI Yoda figure and actor Christopher Lee’s action double. More importantly, this duel between a Jedi Master and his former padawan beautifully foreshadowed the conflict between another master/padawan team in the following movie.

However, “ATTACK OF THE CLONES” was not simply an action film with little narrative. It had its share of excellent dramatic moments. Among my favorites are Anakin and Obi-Wan’s rather tense quarrel over the Jedi mandate regarding Padmé’s protection; Chancellor Palpatine’s pep talk to Anakin before the latter’s departure from Coruscant; Anakin and Padmé’s conversation about love and the Jedi mandate; Obi-Wan’s conversations with diner owner Dexter “Dex” Jettster, Count Dooku and especially his tense encounter with Jango Fett; Jedi Masters Yoda and Mace Windu’s conversation about the Clone Army; and finally Anakin and Padmé’s poignant declaration of love. But if I had to choose the best dramatic scene, it would Anakin’s final conversation with his dying mother, Shmi Skywalker. Not only was the scene filled with pathos, drama and tragedy; both Christensen and actress Pernilla August gave superb performances in it. Many fans have complained about the Anakin/Padmé romance in the film. I suspect a good number of them have a problem with Padmé falling in love with a future Sith Lord, especially after he had tearfully confessed to slaughtering the Tusken Raiders responsible for his mother’s death. Perhaps they wanted a modern-style love story, similar to the one featured in the first trilogy. Or they had a problem with the love confession scene. Although I had a problem with the latter, I definitely did not have problem with the romance overall. One, I never believed it should be an exact replica of the main romance featured in the Original Trilogy. And two, it featured other scenes building up to the romance that I found more than satisfying – especially Anakin and Padmé’s Naboo picnic and their declaration of love, while entering the Geonosis arena.

When talking about the acting in any STAR WARS movie, one has to consider the franchise’s occasional, yet notorious forays into cheesy dialogue. And if I must be frank, I have yet to encounter one actor able to rise above the cheesiness. But despite the cheesy dialogue, the saga has provided some first-class performances. They were certainly on display in“ATTACK OF THE CLONES”. Ewan McGregor became the saga’s new leading actor following the promotion of his character, Obi-Wan Kenobi, to Jedi Knight. And he did an excellent job as the straight-laced knight who continued to be wary of his padawan of ten years. McGregor also handled his action scenes with the same amount of grace he handled his performance. Instead of a stoic monarch, Natalie Portman’s Padmé Amidala has become a Senator for her home planet of Naboo. This has allowed Portman to portray her character with more force and vibrancy, much to my relief. And Padmé’s romance in this film allowed Portman to inject a good deal of passion into her performance. Hayden Christensen took over the role of Jedi padawan Anakin Skywalker with a great deal of criticism. Much of the criticism against him came from two scenes – Anakin’s confession of love for Padmé and a comment regarding a dislike of Tatooine’s sandy terrain. I do not understand the criticism about the sand line, since I have no problems with it. I have already expressed my complaints about the love confession scene. But I still felt that Christensen did an excellent job in portraying a 19 year-old Anakin, who lacked any real experience in romance and at the same time, harbored frustration and a good deal of angst regarding his Jedi master’s tight leash upon him. And at the same time, the actor did an excellent job in conveying the more intimidating (and scary) side of his character.

“ATTACK OF THE CLONES” featured other first-rate or solid performances. Ayesha Dharker gave a solid performance laced with amusement as Padmé’s successor as Naboo’s ruler, Queen Jamillia. Ahmed Best returned as Gungan Jar Jar Binks, now Naboo’s political representative for the Galactic Senate in a downsized role. Rose Byrne had a brief appearance as one of Padmé’s handmaidens, Dormé. Frankly, I found Joel Edgerton and Bonnie Piesse’s roles as Owen and Beru Lars equally brief. However, both Edgerton and Christensen still managed to convey some hostility between the two stepbrothers with very little dialogue. Jimmy Smits’ performance as Prince/Senator Bail Organa of Alderaan, future stepfather of Princess Leia Organa, was brief, yet solid.

The more impressive performances from Samuel L. Jackson, who was given a lot more to do in “ATTACK OF THE CLONES” – especially in the last third of the movie. And if there is one thing about Jackson, once a director gives him an inch, he will take it and give it his all. He certainly did in the Geonosis sequence. Christopher Lee made his first appearance in the STAR WARS as former Jedi Master Count Dooku. He was elegant, commanding and very memorable in the role. I could probably say the same about Temuera Morrison, who was marvelous as the bounty hunter, Jango Fett. This was especially in the Obi-Wan/Jango confrontation scene on Kamino. Both Kenny Baker and Anthony Daniels returned to portray droids R2-D2 and C3PO. Baker did a good job, as usual. But Daniels was really hilarious as finicky Threepio, who found himself in the middle of a battle with crazy results. And I will never forget his line – “Die Jedi dog! Die!”Pernilla August returned to portray Shmi Skywalker and probably gave one of the best performance in both the Prequel Trilogy and the saga overall. I found her portrayal beautiful and poignant. Both she and Christensen brought tears to my eyes. When I first saw “ATTACK OF THE CLONES”, I was surprised to see Jack Thompson in the role of Cliegg Lars, Shmi’s husband and Anakin’s stepfather. I must say that he gave a wonderfully gruff, yet poignant performance. And finally, there was Ian McDiarmid. Oh God! He was just wonderful. It is a pity that his role only made brief appearances in the film. I really enjoyed the actor’s take on his character’s subtle manipulations of others.

Watching “ATTACK OF THE CLONES”, it occurred to me that it was one of the most beautiful looking films in the franchise. Between David Tattersall’s photography, Ben Burtt’s editing, Gavin Bocquet’s production designs and the art designs created by a team led by Peter Russell, my mind was blown on many occasions by the film’s visual effects. I was especially impressed by the work featured in the Naboo scenes (filmed in Italy), the Coruscant sequences and especially those scenes set on the water-logged planet, Kamino. And yet, there is one scene that I always found memorable, whenever I watched the movie:

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But one cannot discuss a Prequel Trilogy movie without bringing up the name of costume designer Trisha Biggar. Her work in “ATTACK OF THE CLONES” – especially the costumes worn by Natalie Portman – blew the costumes she made for“THE PHANTOM MENACE” out of the water. For example:

Padme 6

Padme 4

Padme 1

The Hollywood movie industry should be ashamed of itself for its failure to honor this woman for her beautiful work.

What else can I say about “ATTACK OF THE CLONES”? It is not perfect. I have never seen a STAR WARS movie that I would describe as perfect. But my recent viewing of this film has reminded me of how much I love it. Even after eleven years or so. To this day, I have George Lucas to thank, along with the talented cast and crew that contributed to this film. To this day, I view “ATTACK OF THE CLONES” as one of the two best films in the franchise.

“The Moral Landscape of the STAR WARS Saga” – The Jedi Order II



Here is my third article on moral ambiguity found in the STAR WARS saga: 


“The Moral Landscape of the STAR WARS Saga”

The Jedi Order – Part Two

In my previous essay, I had generally touched upon the moral ambiguity that permeated the Jedi characters in the ”STAR WARS” saga. In the following essay, I hope to give a more detailed account on some of the more questionable actions committed by the major Jedi characters in the story: 

Before I do, I want to focus upon something that had just occurred to me. In ”A NEW HOPE”, one of the Imperial admirals serving under Grand Moff Tarkin made this comment about the Jedi:

“VADER: Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

MOTTI: Don’t try to frighten us with your sorcerer’s ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the Rebel’s hidden fort . . .”

Judging from Admiral Motti’s comments, are we led to believe that the Jedi Order was a religious one? Considering that its members devoted a great deal of time studying and adhering to the mystical energies of the Force, perhaps it would not be wrong to say yes. And if the Jedi was a religious order, why did they allow themselves to serve a political body like the Galactic Republic? As I had mentioned in the previous essay, Obi-Wan Kenobi had informed Luke Skywalker in “A NEW HOPE” that the Jedi had served as guardians of peace and justice for the Galactic Republic. In other words, the Jedi acted as diplomats, agents of political intrigue, investigators and even warriors for the Galactic Senate. And I cannot help but wonder if the Jedi Council had made a mistake in forming such a connection. 

But serving the Galactic Republic as its cadre of warriors, diplomats and intelligence agents was not the only mistake that the Jedi Order had committed. In the Prequel Trilogy, the major Jedi characters committed a series of questionable acts to preserve the Galactic Republic, which had become corrupt and fractured; and the survival of the Jedi Order. This is not surprising, considering how attached they had become to both the Order and its position within the Republic’s power structure. Here is a look into some of the more questionable mistakes that some of the major Jedi characters had made: 



Jedi Master Ki-Adi Mundi

At the time of “THE PHANTOM MENACE”, the Cerea-born Jedi Master, Ki-Adi Mundi was a member of the Jedi Order Council. And he was among those who rejected Anakin Skywalker as an initiate for the Order. Apparently, he agreed with his colleagues that Anakin, at the age of nine, was too old to be initiated into the Order. In “ATTACK OF THE CLONES”, he was among the Jedi who accompanied Yoda and the Clone troopers to rescue their Jedi colleagues and attack the Separatists on Geonosis – an action that began the three-year Clone Wars. But it was in “REVENGE OF THE SITH” where Master Mundi made a questionable suggestion. It was he who had suggested that the Jedi Council assume control of the Galactic Senate if Palpatine refuses to step down at the end of war. Not much came from this suggestion, despite Masters Yoda and Mace Windu supporting his suggestion. But it was a sign that the Jedi were willing to commit questionable acts in order to preserve the Republic and more importantly, preserve the Jedi’s status and existence.



Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn

When Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn first came to my mind, I found it difficult to spot any flaws in his personality, especially since he happens to be my favorite character in the entire saga. This is ironic – at least to me – considering that many other STAR WARS fans have heavily criticized him. However, despite my feelings for Master Jinn, I have become aware of a few flaws in his psyche. But my criticism of the Jedi Master does not match those expressed by other fans.

Many STAR WARS fans have criticized Master Jinn for ignoring Master Yoda’s warnings about initiating Anakin Skywalker into the Jedi Order. They have also criticized him for defying the Jedi Council on a regular basis. In fact, they see his unwillingness to abide by the rules and act like the good little Jedi Master as a sign of his potential to succumb to his inner darkness. I do not agree with this legion of STAR WARS fans. I saw nothing wrong with Master Jinn’s defiance of the Jedi Council. I believe that it is healthy to question and defy authority when you need to.  Blind obedience strikes me as not a good path to character development. And Master Jinn had been right about Anakin. The boy did turn out to be the Chosen One. Yoda, Windu, the rest of the Jedi Council and Obi-Wan were so focused upon their fears of the future that they failed to heed Qui-Gon’s warning that the future is not set in stone. However, this did not make Master Jinn the only perfect character in the STAR WARS saga. Trust me, he had his flaws.

While watching “THE PHANTOM MENACE”, I was struck by Master Jinn’s tendency toward stubbornness. It is one thing to know one’s mind. It is another to do so without considering the advice or words of others. I suspect that Master Jinn may have been one of those types who are so intent upon adhering to his own beliefs that he would blindly refuse to consider those of others. Although Qui-Gon had been right about Anakin, I cannot help but wonder if there had been any past advice he had ignored due to his own stubbornness. Judging from how Master Jinn managed to procure Anakin’s freedom from Tatooine shop owner, Watto, one could also accuse him of being a manipulator. Naboo’s young queen, Padme Amidala not only seemed aware of Qui-Gon’s manipulative nature, she had also commented upon it with an air of disapproval. 



Jedi Master Mace Windu

Like his fellow Jedi Master, Ki-Adi Mundi, Mace Windu was a member of the Jedi Council in “THE PHANTOM MENACE”. He was the one who tested Anakin Skywalker’s connection to the Force. And although he seemed impressed by Anakin’s abilities, he also rejected the nine year-old boy’s initiation into the Order. Along with Yoda, he questioned Anakin’s attachments to Shmi Skywalker, completely ignoring the possibility that he and his fellow Jedi were just as attached to the Jedi Order. Nor did he bother to consider Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn’s suggestion that Anakin might be the Chosen One mentioned in the Journal of the Whills prophecy. When Master Yoda suggested that they refrain from informing the Senate of the Jedi’s diminished connection to the Force in“ATTACK OF THE CLONES”, Master Windu supported this decision – another example of the Jedi’s willingness to do anything to maintain the Order’s status quo. Master Windu’s arrogance came into play during the Jedi’s attempt to rescue Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi from Count Dooku and the Separatists forces on Geonosis.  He seemed so certain that the Jedi would prevail that he had failed to consider the possibility that they would end up outnumbered.

However, Master Windu’s worst mistakes occurred in “REVENGE OF THE SITH”. When Anakin had first been introduced to the Jedi Council in “THE PHANTOM MENACE”, he had been among those who did not believe that the former slave was the ”Chosen One” who would bring balance to the Force. His opinion had changed to Anakin’s favor in “ATTACK OF THE CLONES”. Yet, after the Jedi Council had learned there was a Sith Lord among Chancellor Palpatine’s circle, Windu’s belief in Anakin becoming the “Chosen One” took a nose dive, due to the latter’s friendship with the chancellor – and for no other reason. He also supported Ki-Adi Mundi’s suggestion that the Jedi Council assume control of the Galactic Senate if Palpatine ever failed to step down as chancellor. But in the end, Windu made his biggest mistake when he set out to arrest Palpatine after learning from Anakin that he was a Sith Lord. 

Many fans have complained that Master Windu should have done the following: 1) wait for Master Yoda’s return from Kashyyyk; or 2) confront Palpatine with Anakin by his side. One, I never saw the need for Windu to wait for Yoda. I believe that he was certainly capable of confronting Palpatine on his own. Which he did not do.  Jedi Masters Kit Fisto, Agen Kolar, and Saesee Tiin had accompanied him to Palpatine’s office. Granted, they had failed to give him much support, but I do not see how Windu could have foreseen this. As for his decision to leave Anakin behind . . . I saw nothing wrong with it, either. Windu had correctly sensed the fear that threatened to cloud Anakin’s judgment. If I had been Windu, I would have also left Anakin behind. 

But the Jedi Master did make two serious mistakes – from my point of view. One, he had confronted Palpatine without informing the Senate or with any evidence that the Chancellor was a Sith Lord. He had arrogantly assumed that as a Jedi Master, he had the right to confront Palpatine without considering the latter’s role as the political leader of the galaxy’s ruling body. And two, ignoring his earlier resolve to simply arrest Palpatine, Windu decided to kill the latter. It was not a matter of whether he was capable of committing this deed. He failed to consider that his determination to destroy what he perceived as evil, had led him to a dark place and his own death.



Jedi Master Yoda

Because he had been portrayed as the embodiment of Jedi wisdom in the Original Trilogy, many STAR WARSfans – especially the long time fans – have been inclined to dismiss or make excuses for Master Yoda’s mistakes and flaws in the Prequel Trilogy. And Yoda made just as many as Mace Windu. Yoda was one of the senior members of the Jedi Council who rejected Anakin’s bid to join the Order in “THE PHANTOM MENACE”. Like the other members of the Order, Yoda viewed Anakin as a threat to their way of life, claiming that his future was clouded. Many fans had viewed this as confirmation that Yoda probably sensed Anakin’s future as a Sith Lord, when the latter was first introduced to the Council. Personally, I rather doubt it. I suspect that Yoda and the other Council members viewed the nine year-old Anakin as someone with an established outside connection or someone with a connection that might clash with their influence. Which would explain why they viewed Anakin as “a loose cannon or an unknown factor”. If there is one thing that individuals fear more than anything it is an unknown future. I find it rather odd that the Jedi had never sensed Count Dooku as a future threat. Especially Yoda, who had been Dooku’s personal Jedi tutor. 

When the Council finally agreed to initiate Anakin into the Order, Yoda was the only one who disagreed with this decision. He also disagreed with Obi-Wan Kenobi’s decision to choose Anakin as his padawan. I would not have had a problem with this if Yoda had agreed to give Anakin some initial training before Obi-Wan could assume the role as the nine year-old’s personal Jedi master. But he did not. The movie never confirmed that Yoda had foreseen Anakin becoming a Sith Lord.  So, why did he seem determined to have nothing to do with Anakin? How was it that he viewed Anakin as a future threat, yet failed to do the same in regard to his former padawan, Count Dooku? Or sense that Chancellor Palpatine was a Sith Lord?  Had Yoda’s own fears of Anakin’s unusual initiation into the Order and high midichlorian count intimidate him? Did he view Anakin as some symbol of an unknown future? Had this fear of Anakin led to the young initiate being one of the very few who had never received any training – whether as a youngling or a padawan – from Yoda? I cannot help but wonder.

Moving on to “ATTACK OF THE CLONES”, I tried to recall any mistake or bad judgment call that Yoda may have committed. At first, I believed there was nothing I could criticize him for . . . until I remembered the conversation between him and Windu regarding the Jedi’s connection to the Force. After the two Jedi Masters had received a message from Obi-Wan Kenobi about the Kamino drone factory, Windu suggested they inform the Galactic Senate of their diminishing connection to the Force. Yoda nay-sayed the idea, claiming their list of adversaries would grow if they had announced this disturbing news. One could say that Yoda made a sensible decision. Or did he? Why did Yoda insist upon this suppression of the truth? Was it perhaps he feared that if the Senate knew the truth about the Jedi’s weakening connection to the Force, the political body would find a reason to get rid of the Order? Or end the Jedi’s role as the galaxy’s guardians of peace? In other words, is it possible that Yoda had feared the decline of the Jedi’s role as a major influence in the galaxy? If so, his decision struck me as a sign of the Jedi’s willingness to do anything to perpetrate the status quo and survival of their Order. 

One of the more ironic moments in “ATTACK OF THE CLONES” had occurred during the Battle of Geonosis. It was Yoda who led the clone troopers into an attack upon the Separatist forces. It was he who as leader of the Republic forces, acted as the aggressor in the start of the Clone Wars. One could defend Yoda’s actions, claiming that he did so on the behalf of the Chancellor and the Galactic Senate. And that person would be right. But this would have never come about if the Jedi Order had not agreed to serve as the Senate’s political, intelligence, diplomatic and military force.

“REVENGE OF THE SITH”, in my opinion, truly exposed some of Yoda’s personal fallacies. Like Windu and the rest of the Jedi Council, they had made the assumption that Anakin’s friendship with Chancellor Palpatine automatically made him untrustworthy. Then again, Yoda had never really warmed up to Anakin.  His unwillingness to bend to Anakin would prove to be catastrophic. And like Windu, Yoda had agreed to the ludicrous plan to use Anakin to spy upon the Chancellor, not realizing that it would alienate the young Jedi Knight even further against the Jedi Order. But Yoda made even bigger mistakes. Again, like Mace Windu, he agreed to Ki-Adi Mundi’s suggestion that the Jedi commit a coup d’état against Chancellor Palpatine by removing him from office if he fails to give up his political powers by the end of the Clone Wars. Although Yoda stated that such an idea would be dangerous, he still seemed willing to act upon it. This was another sign of the Jedi’s willingness to resort to questionable acts in order to maintain their Order’s status quo and survival.

However, Yoda made his biggest mistake when he decided to kill Palpatine, following the Order’s destruction via the Chancellor’s Order 66. Unlike Windu, Yoda had no interest in arresting Palpatine.  And he certainly made no attempt to reveal what he knew about the Chancellor.  Blinded by his anger over the Jedi Order’s destruction, Yoda simply tried to kill Palpatine, believing it would be a simple solution to the Jedi’s precarious situation. It almost seemed as if Yoda did not want to acknowledge that the old Jedi Order’s time was over. Or that nothing lasts forever. One could easily accuse the Jedi Master of arrogance and of allowing his attachment to the Jedi Order to blind him from its fate. Even if he had managed to kill Palpatine, the Galactic Senate could have easily accuse him of murder . . . and they would be right to do so. Yoda’s act of aggression against Palpatine – whether he had succeeded or not – may have damaged the Jedi’s reputation within the Republic-turned-Empire even further. When he failed in his attempt to kill Palpatine and found himself fleeing from the Senate building, I suspect that Yoda finally realized the extent of his many mistakes.

Following the events of “REVENGE OF THE SITH”, Yoda spent the next 23 years living on the remote planet of Dagobah. Then he met Luke Skywalker, the son of former Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker and Naboo Senator Padme Amidala. Luke had been sent by Obi-Wan Kenobi’s ghost to learn the ways of the Force from Yoda. One would think that after years of contemplating his mistakes and learning more aspects of the Force by the ghost of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, Yoda could do no wrong. The events of “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” proved otherwise. Like Obi-Wan, Yoda failed to tell Luke that his father – Anakin Skywalker – and the Emperor’s apprentice – Darth Vader – were one and the same. Both Yoda and Obi-Wan wanted Luke familiar with the ways of the Force in order to confront both the Emperor and Vader. Perhaps they feared if Luke knew the truth about his paternity, he would not be so eager confront the two Sith Lords – especially Vader. I suppose they believed they were only doing good. Yet, both Jedi Masters nearly tripped over their lies, when Luke learned the truth from Vader on Bespin. And what would have happened if Vader had never told Luke his real identity? Either the Sith Lord would have eventually killed Luke . . . or Luke would have killed Vader without learning that he had just killed his father. And could you image Luke’s reaction upon finally learning the truth about Vader? I suspect that his reaction to learning that Yoda and Obi-Wan had lied to him in “RETURN OF THE JEDI” would have been benign in comparison.

Before I end this article, I want to say one last thing about Yoda. Many have regarded some of his advice as words of wisdom and pointed out that if certain characters had heeded them, the Republic would have been spared a great deal of grief. In “THE PHANTOM MENACE”, it was Yoda who pointed out that Anakin’s future was clouded by fear and attachment to the memory of his mother, Shmi Skywalker. And Anakin’s inability to let go of his attachments eventually led to his downfall. Yoda pointed out that the majority of Jedi Knights and Masters had become arrogant over the years in “ATTACK OF THE CLONES”. Once again, he was right. And in “REVENGE OF THE SITH”, he gave a lecture to Anakin about how the fear of loss could lead an individual to succumb to his/her inner darkness. Yet, Yoda’s reaction to the loss of Mace Windu and other members of the Jedi Order was to seek out Palpatine and kill him without considering the consequences of such an act. Like many others, Yoda was very good at dispensing advice. Unfortunately, he did not seem that adept at heeding his own advice.



Conclusion

Before one comes to the conclusion that I have a dislike of the Jedi Order. I do not. What I was trying to prove was that despite their reputation among STAR WARS fans for being morally above board, they had their flaws. The Jedi Masters featured in the saga were not above allowing their emotions and ego to drive them into making some serious mistakes. They were not invincible . . . and should never be viewed as such. Also, my criticisms of the Jedi Order are not a reflection of my opinion of George Lucas as a storyteller. I have come across many STAR WARS fans who have either criticized Lucas for portraying the Jedi as flawed characters, or made excuses for their actions. I can do neither. One of the reasons why I have such a high regard for Lucas’ saga is that he was willing to show that characters such as Yoda, Mace Windu and the other Jedi are capable of great flaws – regardless of whether they would are deemed “good or evil”. It is this ambiguity that makes “STAR WARS” a personal favorite of mine.

In the following article, I will discuss one last Jedi character – namely Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. And I have a lot to say about him.

“THOR: THE DARK WORLD” (2013) Review

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“THOR: THE DARK WORLD” (2013) Review

As I had stated in my review of “IRON MAN 3”, I had assumed that the release of the 2012 blockbuster, “THE AVENGERS” would signal the end of Marvel’s multi-film saga about the group of comic book heroes and their government allies, S.H.I.E.L.D. Not only did “IRON MAN 3” prove me wrong, but also the recent television series,“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” and the second movie about the God of Thunder, “THOR: THE DARK WORLD”

Like the 2011 movie, “THOR”, this latest film begins thousands of years ago. Back in day (or year); Bor, the father of Odin, clash with the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim and their leader Malekith, who seeks to destroy the universe using a weapon known as the Aether. After conquering Malekith’s forces, Bor hides the Aether within a stone column. He was also unaware that Malekith, his lieutenant Algrim, and a handful of Dark Elves have managed to escape by going into suspended animation. 

Many years later, Thor and his fellow Asgardians (which include his friends Lady Sif, Fandral and Volstagg) help their comrade Hogun repel marauders on the latter’s homeworld, Vanaheim. It proves to be the last battle in a war to pacify the Nine Realms, which had fallen into chaos following the destruction of the Bifröst. And in London, astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster is led by her intern Darcy Lewis and the latter’s intern, Ian, to an abandoned factory where objects have begun to disobey the laws of physics by disappearing into thin air. Jane is teleported to another world, where she is infected by the Aether. Both the Asgardians and Jane’s former mentor, Dr. Erik Selvig learn on separate occasions that the Convergence, a rare alignment of the Nine Realms, is imminent. While the event approaches, portals (one of which Jane had fallen into) linking the worlds appear at random. Heimdall alerts Thor of Jane’s recent disappearance, leading the latter to search for her on Earth. When she inadvertently releases an unearthly force upon a group of London policemen, Thor takes her to Asgard. Unfortunately, the Asgardian healers do not know how to treat her. Odin, recognizing the Aether, warns Jane’s infection will kill her given enough time, and that the Aether’s return heralds a catastrophic prophecy. Unbeknownst to Odin, the re-emergence of the Aether also ends the Dark Elves’ suspended animation and revives their determination to use the substance to darken the universe.

“THOR: THE DARK WORLD” has proven to be a major box office, since its release nearly a month ago. This is not surprising, considering the enormous success of Marvel’s Avenger saga. “IRON MAN 3”, set six months after the events of the 2012 film, also proved to be a big hit. Some people have claimed that the first film about Thor was superior. As much as I had enjoyed “THOR”, I cannot say that I would agree. It reeked just a bit too much of a superhero origin tale. Personally, I found the plot for “THOR: THE DARK WORLD” more satisfying.

Mind you, this second God of Thunder movie did not strike me as perfect. It had a few flaws. Although I applaud director Alan Taylor and cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau’s expansion of the Asgard setting beyond the royal palace and the Bifröst, the latter’s photography for that particular setting seemed to lack Haris Zambarloukos’ dazzling and colorful photography from the 2011 film. Instead, there seemed to be a slightly dull cast to Morgenthau’s photography of Asgard. Thor’s friends did not particularly project that same screen chemistry that I found so enjoyable in the first film. Aside from one major scene in which Thor plotted Jane’s escape from Asgard, they rarely had any scenes together. And Tadanobu Asano’s Hogun had even less scenes. I wonder if this was due to the actor’s major role in the upcoming movie, “47 RONIN”

Aside from these nitpicks, I enjoyed “THOR: THE DARK WORLD” very much. As I had earlier stated, I found it more enjoyable than the first film. Thanks to the screenplay written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the movie provided a stronger narrative, beyond a simple origin tale. The three screenwriters explored the consequences of past events from both “THOR” and “THE AVENGERS” – Loki’s actions in both movies; Thor’s original destruction of the Bifröst, which led to chaos in the Nine Realms and his long separation from Jane Foster, the latter’s inability to move on, and the impact upon Erik Selvig from being possessed by Loki. However, the movie also explored how a past event in the Asgardians’ history – their conflict with the Dark Elves – managed to once again, have a negative impact upon Earth. For a movie that was juggling a good number of subplots, along with a major plot, I thought the writers and director Alan Taylor did a first-rate job in balancing it all in the end. 

Taylor has limited experience as a movie director, but he has a long history as a television direction. Despite his longer experience with television, I must admit that I found myself more than pleased with his direction of “THOR: THE DARK WORLD”. And I was also very impressed. I was especially impressed by his handling of certain action scenes, like the Dark Elves’ invasion of Asgard, the fight scene between Queen Frigga and Malekith, the escape from Asgard, and Thor and Loki’s confrontation against Malekith and the Dark Elves. But the one action scene that really impressed me turned out to be Thor and Jane’s attempt to prevent Malekith’s use of the Aether against Earth and the rest of the universe. This scene not only benefited from Taylor’s direction, but also Dan Lebental and Wyatt Smith’s editing. The movie’s action sequences were nicely balanced by some of its dramatic and comedic scenes. I especially enjoyed Thor and Loki’s quarrel over the latter’s past actions, Thor’s reunion with Jane, and Darcy and Ian’s attempt to free Erik from a mental institution. One particular scene featured a quarrel between Thor and Odin over how to deal with the threat of the Dark Elves. It strongly reminded me of the two men’s quarrel over the Frost Giants in the first film . . . but with an ironic twist. Instead of Odin being the mature and reasonable one, this time it is Thor.

My only complaint about the movie’s performances has to do with Tadanobu Asano. Due to his limited appearance in the film, he never really had a chance to give a memorable performance. I hope to see more of him in the next film. Both Jamie Alexander and Ray Stevenson gave competent performances as Thor’s two other friends – Lady Sif and Volstagg. Instead of Josh Dallas, this movie featured Zachary Levi in the role of Thor’s fourth friend, Fandral. Levi had been originally cast in the role for the 2011 film. But due to his commitments to NBC’s “CHUCK”, Dallas got the role. But the latter’s commitment to ABC’s “ONCE UPON A TIME” forced Marvel and Disney to give the role back to Levi. Aside from the initial shock of seeing him in a blond wig, I must admit that Levi made a very dashing Fandral. I was very happy to see Kat Dennings reprise her role of Jane’s intern, Darcy Lewis. She was as funny as ever. She also had an extra straight man in the form of Jonathan Howard, who portrayed “her” intern, Ian Boothby. The movie also featured a very funny cameo by Chris Evans, who portrayed Loki disguised as Steve Rogers/Captain America.

Christopher Eccleston may not have made the most witty villain from the Marvel canon, but I found his portrayal of Malekith very scary . . . in an unrelenting way. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje struck me as equally impressive as Malekith’s lieutenant, Algrim. It was a pity that I could barely make him out in his new appearance as the Kurse. Renee Russo’s role as Queen Frigga was expanded in this second film and I am so thankful that it was. Not only did she have a marvelous dramatic scene with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, but watching her sword fight against Eccleston’s Malekith reminded me of her role in the “LETHAL WEAPON” films. Idris Elba repeated his masterful portrayal of Asgard’s gatekeeper, Heimdall. I especially enjoyed him in two scenes – Heimdall’s efforts to prevent the Dark Elves’ attack and his discussion with Thor about helping Jane leave Asgard against Odin’s will. More importantly, audiences get to see him in even more scenes. Stellan Skarsgård was very hilarious in his portrayal of Dr. Erik Selvig in this film. I realize that one should not laugh at the idea of someone suffering from a mental trauma, but I could not help it. I do not think I have ever seen Skarsgård so entertaining in a Marvel film. Anthony Hopkins did a marvelous job in conveying Odin’s increasing fragile rule over Asgard and control of his emotions. This was especially apparent in the scene featuring Odin and Thor’s disagreement over the Dark Elves.

For the first time in a Marvel film, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is not portrayed as an out-and-out villain, but a more morally complex character, thanks to his relationships with Asgard’s royal family – especially Thor and Frigga. Hiddleston was as playful and witty as ever. And I especially enjoyed his interactions with Chris Hemsworth. In fact, I can say the same about Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Thor’s love, astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster. Personally, I found her funnier and her chemistry with Hemsworth a lot stronger in this second film. And I was especially happy to see her take a more active role in helping Thor defeat the main villain. As for Chris Hemsworth, he continued to roll as the God of Thunder, Thor. He did a marvelous job in developing his character into more complex waters, especially in regard to his relationships with Jane, Loki and Odin. And one of my favorite scenes in the movie featured Thor’s silent reaction to his discovery that Jane had a date with another man. I hope that one day, people will truly appreciate what a first-rate actor he can be.

“THOR: THE DARK WORLD” had a few flaws. What movie does not? But thanks to Alan Taylor’s direction, an excellent cast led by a talented Chris Hemsworth and a very complex script written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, it not only turned to be very entertaining, but also better than the previous film. At least for me.

“The Moral Landscape of the STAR WARS Saga” – Introduction

Below is the introduction to a series of small articles I plan to write about the moral landscape in the “STAR WARS” saga, created by George Lucas. Each article will focus the moral makeup of each character or group of characters: 

“The Moral Landscape of the STAR WARS Saga”

Introduction

Morality has always seemed to be a tricky subject with humans. Probably more so than we care to admit. We like to pretend that the majority of all human societies have basic rules when it comes to morality. But I suspect that is nothing more than an illusion. I believe that each individual . . . or each group has his/her or its own moral compass. What one individual is prepared to tolerate, another is not. It all depends upon our individual feelings regarding a certain matter.

I could probably say the same about the “STAR WARS” saga, created by filmmaker, George Lucas. Many “STAR WARS” fans love to claim that their own interpretation of the moral compass of the saga’s major characters exactly matched Lucas’ intentions in his films. I wish I could say the same. But in the end, I realized that each person has his or her own interpretation of an artist’s work. And sometimes, that interpretation might also be different from the artist’s. Having expressed this view, I decided to express my own view of the moral landscape presented in the six movies of the“STAR WARS” saga.

I am going to make a confession. When I first saw the original “STAR WARS”, I did not like it very much. In fact, I barely liked it at all. You must understand that I was rather young when the movie first hit theaters in 1977. I suspect that it blew my mind so much that I was inclined to reject it, instead of becoming a fan. This dislike did not extend to “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”, when I first saw it. I was a little older and was able to appreciate what George Lucas was trying to do. And yet . . . I did not embrace this movie, as well. But I must admit that I found it difficult not to think about it. Han Solo’s fate and Darth Vader’s revelation had taken me by surprise and I found myself thinking about it all summer long. Ironically, “RETURN OF THE JEDI” became the first STAR WARS movie that I fully embraced. I say this with a great deal of irony, considering that it is now my least favorite movie in the franchise. During the late 1980s and the 1990s, I slowly became a major fan of all three films. And by the time I saw the first of the Prequel Trilogy movies, “THE PHANTOM MENACE”, I had fully embraced the saga.

I realized that the Prequel Trilogy has been met with nothing but scorn and derision by many STAR WARS fans and the media. However, I have never shared their feelings. If anything, the Prequel Trilogy made me appreciate Lucas’ talents as a storyteller. It also made me realize that the producer had presented moviegoers with a very emotionally complex saga.

However, this article is not about my basic feelings regarding all six films in the franchise. This article is about my opinions on the morality and characterizations presented in the films. One of the things I have always enjoyed about the Prequel Trilogy and movies like “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” was Lucas’ revelations had pretty much revealed both the virtues and FLAWS of individuals. The characters in the Original Trilogy were flawed, but I do not believe their flaws had not been portrayed with as much depth as those characters in the Prequel Trilogy. And judging from the many articles, blogs and message boards I have read about STAR WARS, many fans seemed to dislike the less idealistic and more ambiguous portrayal of the PT’s main characters.

The following article will focus upon the Jedi Order and some of its senior members. I hope to discuss some of their actions and how it affected the Galactic Republic in the Prequel Trilogy and their impact upon the character of Luke Skywalker and the Rebellion against the Galactic Empire in the Original Trilogy.