(2002, SciFi, color)
Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Chad Vader
I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and irritating…
In a nutshell:
Anakin “Darth Vader” Skywalker falls in love while attempting to avert a war.
I won’t even try to summarize this one. Not that the plot is overcomplicated or hard to follow; it’s just so unbearably tedious, I could hardly stand to watch. I’ll hit the highlights for you:
Fifty percent of the movie is exposition. Essentially, Republic Chancellor Palpatine is the evil Darth Sidious in disguise…blah, blah, blah…uses a fellow Sith named Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) to organize a rebellion, thus forcing the Senate to grant him emergency powers to fight the artificial threat…rapeta, rapeta…has created an army of clones to crush the rebellion and install himself as emperor…etc., etc., etc.
(I won’t bother to explain any of these terms or the backstory, since the movie assumes you already know. And really, if you don’t, there’s no reason for you to care.)
Another thirty percent is action. Not the escalating, heart-pounding action of a decent spy/adventure/war movie either; nothing but meaningless, repetitive fights, explosions, and high-speed chases as far as the eye can see. Basically, plucky Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his arrogant apprentice Anakin Skywalker leap onto flying droids, duel bounty hunters, thread their way through a war droid factory, fight in an arena, and then lead a team of Jedi against a superior force of insect people. A stultifying lightsaber fight with Count Dooku caps off the war.
The remaining twenty percent chronicles the forbidden romance of the childish Anakin and the winsome Senator Amidala (Natalie Portman). Though forbidden to form emotional attachments by the Jedi code, they exchange supremely awkward flirtatious banter while contorting their faces into expressions that communicate, not soul-crushing emotional turmoil, but gastrointestinal discomfort. There’s something about his dying mother and a massacred village of Sand People in there too, but I was too busy cringing to pay attention. They finally confess their love for one another in the arena, and marry in secret just before the end credits roll.
This movie’s problems are threefold. First and foremost: the script. People may go on about the acting in this turkey, but I really don’t think it’s their fault. Ewan McGregor and Christopher Lee are both well-respected thespians. Frank Oz (Yoda) is an expert entertainer. Even Hayden Christiensen (Anakin) and Natalie Portman have demonstrated considerable acting talent…in other works. The problem here is that writer/director George “Tell, Don’t Show” Lucas gives us seventy percent unadorned plot information, thirty percent irrelevant banter, and zero percent character-driven dialog for an overall story that takes every possible ounce of interest, grinds it up, mixes it thoroughly with sand and water, and serves it to us as a thin, gritty gruel. George, why on earth would you hire Samuel L. Jackson—Samuel Friggin’ L. Jackson, one of the most exciting action heroes ever to work in film—just to make him recite the science fiction equivalent of the California Labor Code?
Second: the pacing. Come on, George. Action sequences are supposed to be exciting. They’re supposed to build. They’re supposed to either reach or fail their objectives and then end. And speaking of objectives, we, the audience, are supposed to have a reasonably clear idea of what those are before we start the sequence. Speeders, explosions, and lightsaber duels mean nothing if you just throw them at us in random order, without context, in twenty to thirty minute chunks.
Third: the romance. The romance includes such titillating lines as: “I like the water;” and, of course, the immortal: “I hate sand. It’s coarse and irritating. Gets everywhere. Not like you.” In a way, I suppose I have to consider this most successful aspect of the film in that it was the only one to elicit any kind of emotional response from me. The exposition and action were merely tedious, but the romance… Well, allow me to share a direct, unexpurgated quote from my notes regarding this scene: “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! NO MORE ROMANCE! AAAUUUGGGHHH!!!”
Joining Mike on the commentary track are MST3K co-alumnus Kevin Murphy and Internet sitcom star Chad “Darth’s Pathetic Younger Brother” Vader. (Wacky adventures available at Blame Society). “Pathetic” is only funny in small doses; Mike and Kevin recognize this and keep Chad’s comments to a minimum, say, once every fifteen minutes or so. As we slog through yet another expository scene, Mike notes, “The dialog crackles like, um… pudding.” During one of the many, many battle scenes Kevin says, “He’s throwing digital Muppets around like popcorn.” Later, after Anakin’s “seductive” sand line, Mike says, “Oh baby, give me some sand-free lovin’.” Then Mike and Kevin ask Chad if he’s ever had a hot date. Chad replies in the affirmative, but upon further questioning it comes out he means the time he had to slice open his tauntaun and sleep inside it to survive a sub-zero night on the ice planet of Hoth. Star Wars: Episode II is long and tedious, but if you watch it the way I did—in half-hour chunks, with the commentary—it’s actually pretty funny.
(2002, SciFi, color)