- Star Wars Randomised
- Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Randomised
- Star Wars: Return of the Jedi Randomised
- Star Wars: The Phantom Menace Randomised
- Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith Randomised
Here we go again, with the penultimate entry in this series of randomised Star Wars posts. After the execrable CGI quackery of The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones could only be an improvement, right? Well, yes. It doesn’t solve any of the dramatic problems of the earlier film, and perhaps makes them worse by attempting the tricky feat of constructing a doomed romance around which all kinds of political and military activity will swarm. George Lucas is simply not up to such a task as long as he focuses his attention on his digital playthings. I’ve always argued that CGI need not be a brain-sapping tool of anti-intellectual eye candy. It’s just that, while it remained expensive, there was little incentive to put it to adventurous uses. As such, it was just used for the same tasks as earlier forms of special effects – crowds, environments, monsters etc. There’s a moment on one of the extras of the Attack of the Clones DVD where you see Lucas working with an animator on a brief shot of digital Yoda. He pores over the same piece of footage, trying to get the correct kind of wobble in one of Yoda’s ears; they want him to look a little bit rubbery so that he doesn’t look too distant from the puppet used in the earlier films, but they want him to have a much greater range of expressions. I can’t imagine Lucas lavishing this much attention on the finer points of his human cast’s performances. Instead, he’s turned them into a different kind of puppet, adopting a drag-and-drop approach to editing whereby individual performances within a group shot can be isolated from separate takes and compositied into the same space.
Let’s hope the random number generator will at least give me some interesting and unusual bits of the film to look at and write about. The numbers are: 16, 44, 79, and 112. A nice spread, so let’s get started:
George Lucas’ boy-racing past keeps on resurfacing. The Star Wars prequels purport to tell us what turned Anakin Skywalker into the evil Darth Vader. The explanations are pretty standard – the death of his mother, fear of losing his wife and child, being called Annie all the time. In short, he’s never really invested in the ideologies of Imperialism. He’s just weak-willed and very upset. But in Episode II we see him not as an incipient fascist overlord, but an angsty teenager. Lucas includes several moments where his reckless driving indicates a misuse of his Jedi powers for self-fulfilment, but he can’t help making it look exciting, and making Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) seem like a curmudgeon for his disapproval; look at the differences in their facial expressions, for instance. The lemon yellow speeder they drive in pursuit of a suspected assassin is designed like a sleek sportscar, the CG background a souped-up rear projection blurring in the background as it takes a rollercoaster dip. I seem to keep repeating this, but the Star Wars films feature a lot of this kind of vehicular velocity, and the use of point-of-view shots puts the viewer in the front seat of a ride. I noticed in an earlier post how one scene from from Return of the Jedi established downward motion as potentially lethal threat, running counter to controlled and steady forward journeys. Here, Anakin transgresses by leaving the flow of traffic to swoop downwards to street level, suggesting obliquely his alignment with the negative forces that populate the films.
A giant production line is bottling up babies to form the massive clone armies that will enable an Imperial take-over of the galaxy. This extreme long shot abstracts the people inside the little bubbles to shut out their individuality. The light blue is quite soothing and beautiful, but it’s as clinically smooth as the CGI that’s been used to visualise it. Dystopian imagery, where human beings are reduced to tiny outputs of giant machines, is a staple of science fiction, but Lucas doesn’t really pause on the philosophical or ethical consequences of posthumanism; if these issues are raised at all, they’re in the design of shots like this. This is certainly not the film for long discussions of human subjectivity in an age of duplication. Mechanising the workforce is the first stage of an Imperial takeover that will be empowered by a massive arsenal of spacecraft and other hardware: the prequels offer clues as to how the Empire came to power, and this is one of the pieces of that build-up, an insight into its clandestine origins, manufacturing its followers like bargain basement merchandise. It’s an impressive image that isn’t coated in the nightmarish darkness of The Matrix‘s people farms, but it’s also a bit of a dodge – rather than confronting the more troubling possibility that the Empire took over by influencing the populace by false promises and perverted ideology, we see that actually they grew their people in jars.
Just remember, if you’re a good guy in a Star Wars film, some jittery alien snitch is spying on you at every turn. Obi-Wan Kenobi takes a sidestep into the detective genre for most of this film, which means that other stock characters, including the snoop, come into play. This insectoid creature peers in from one side of the frame, hiding inside a cave. So many of the films’ alien species are introduced in this way, hiding and watching from a darkened distance. The digital matte painting that makes up the backgrounds in this shot still looks painterly, rather perfectly drawn and immaculately coloured – once again, we see Lucas’ insistence on dividing his planets up into single environments: sand planet, water planet, city planet, forest moon, etc., as if none of them is an ecosystem, but a cohesive, discrete design project.
For you, readers, the bonus frame is a relatively exciting one, a battle scene from the 112th minute of the film. Take a good look, and muster up some wisdom to share with the rest of us concerning this old thing: