Discussion in 'Star Wars Saga In-Depth' started by Feelicks, Feb 23, 2013.
Except Lucas didn't direct ROTJ, that was Richard Marquand.
But there is a lot of evidence he micromanaged and Shadow Directed that film.
Not even close, agreed, but that’s not just ROTJ—nothing in the OT is as visually interesting as any of the PT locations.
He has his issues with dialogue, but claiming that Lucas can't make things visually interesting is just absurd. That's basically the very thing Star Wars has always been known for.
I am sure that the Original films would have looked more like the Prequel films if George Lucas will have had the money and special effect technology in 1977 - 1983. They are of their own times and limitation. It is like with the George Miller "Mad Max". You can see how he recreate some shot type in Fury Road that he use for the Mad Max 2 for example, but in Fury Road he was able to create his actual vision because of the budget and special effect available to him.
Luke and Ahsoka should never meet.
That be kinda weird if they never meet and active at the same time, you got Luke and two other former jedi.
Luke and Ezra should never meet either.
I feel like when people talk about Star Wars being visually interesting they're talking about production design, visual effects etc. more so than cinematography. That's not to say that there aren't well-shot SW films, but most of them are directed by people who aren't George Lucas.
That's not meant to be a knock on Lucas, by the way. I actually don't think he's a bad director - his work certainly shines in the original SW and the films he did prior - but by the time of the Prequels he was clearly very out of practice and it shows. There are glimmers of his prior directorial genius in scenes like the Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan v Maul duel and the opening shot in ROTS, but so much of those three movies feels oddly flat and - if this isn't too harsh - a bit amateur. Not entirely his fault, of course - the trilogy was in dire need of a Marcia Lucas-type who could elevate the flaws in the production with some snappy editing. Nothing against Ben Burtt, but he's a sound designer, not an editor (the only professional editing he'd ever done for anything that wasn't a documentary pre-TPM was for episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles - good experience but a very different kettle of fish from working on the biggest film of 1999).
The PT is superbly shot, more so than many oscar winning films, imo. The camera is placed perfectly and every shot is framed to 9/10 perfection.
I challenge you to post a screenshot of a scene/shot that is awful to 'not good'.
My List of best to least directors who have directed a Star Wars movie
Hey, if you like the visual style of the movies, more power to you. I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade. And I don't think any of the shots are bad, per se, it's just that a lot of them are unexciting to me. It feels like Lucas trying to get a hold on the medium again after spending so long in the producer's chair rather than the director's, so he's employing a lot of the most basic techniques - shot-reverse-shot, medium framing and so on. None of it's bad, it's just not especially dynamic or original.
What was original was his use of digital cinematography, which made him a pioneer in the industry. But that presents its own problems, because the technology was so new that filmmakers hadn't quite figured out how to make it look as good as film yet (a lot still haven't - just look at most Marvel movies). This a totally subjective thing, but that early digital look just doesn't appeal to me. It feels textureless. Especially compared to the filmic looks of the OT and most of the Disney-era stuff (Solo was very murky and underlit which, apart from just being ugly, really clashed with the tone of the film).
Anyway, to end with some positivity, here are five sequences in the PT that I think were well-directed:
1. Going down to Otoh Gunga
2. The podrace sequence
3. Duel of the Fates
4. The Battle of Coruscant (could have used some tighter editing in the cockpits though)
5. Obi-Wan v Grievous
Honestly, I think George Lucas’s camerawork has always been quite pedestrian…even back in 1977. The Empire Strikes Back has much more engaging and interesting camerawork in my opinion. (And don’t even get me started on Raiders of the Lost Ark.)
I find it telling that the five sequences that you listed were either grand cgi establishing shots or action sequences. While the prequel movies feature plenty of nice eye candy (TPM being a particularly good looking movie), I tend to find that Lucas' directorial style makes the dialogue scenes a chore to sit through. The common lack of interesting camera angles, dynamic lighting, or meaningful / symbolic imagery in many scenes makes them feel flat and at times lifeless. Add to this the low energy of the actors along with stiff dialogue and you have a recipe that will turn some people off.
An example of a scene that fell flat for me was the scene where Anakin revealed to Mace that Palpatine was a Sith Lord. There's nothing interesting done with the camera work and the fact that the actors deliver such important lines while walking casually diminishes the lines' impact. We could have seen an aggressive, even scary side of Mace show up as he began to contemplate what he must do, or seen Anakin desperately beg Mace to take him with him, fearing that Mace would actually kill his old friend. Instead we get a half-hearted "I must go master" and then no rebuttal after Mace refuses. If ever there was a time for Anakin to act hot headed and lose his cool, now would be a good time. More dynamic lighting could have been used to convey the characters going down a dark path - Mace planning to assassinate the chancellor, and Anakin caught between being loyal to the Jedi and stopping Palpatine from being lost to him forever. There's just no energy conveyed in this scene which marks a big turning point in the movie.
To sum my feelings up... no, scenes like this aren't badly shot in that they're hard to watch. They're serviceable in a bare minimum sort of a way, but I expect more.
Why does it have to be "dynamic", though?
That's not Lucas' style and it has never been. Lucas has always been known for applying a very traditional shot design that's not attention-grabbing at all and creating the emotional impact through editing choices. That's the whole point of his filmmaking philosophy and the reason he felt so comfortable letting other directors step in and direct "his" movies.
Lucas' traditional and reserved camera work is also a reason that gives John Williams' score adequate space to fill and shine as much as it does in his movies. Williams' ability to elevate scenes in TFA and TROS, at least from my point of view, really suffered from Abrams' more "dynamic" style.
Generally the most effective scenes in Lucas' films are of such kind and that's really becoming obvious once you start to compare his Star Wars movies with the sequel films. TESB and ROTJ are actually quite close to ANH and the PT compared to the ST. The Ruminations Scene in ROTS is a great example as the shots themselves are nothing spectacular. They're traditional, well-framed, but nothing that's remarkable. What makes the scene effective is how the shots are juxtaposed with each other, how the setting informs the scenery and how that very reserved camera works allows the music to come center stage and the situation to feel authentic. That's one of the clearest examples.
Another example is Anakin killing the Tuskens. It's actually quite vividly shot for Lucas in how Anakin rushes to the camera, but that's not my point. My point is that even in such a sitation what really makes the scene work is how it cuts to Yoda medidating and the contrast that it creates in what Jedi are supposed to do and what Anakin does. The pain that Yoda feels and how that triggers our inner cinema for the emotion to sink in and the scene to work. No need for the camera to do anything "original".
I strongly disagree about The Empire Strikes Back. I do think it has much better cinematography than any of the Lucas-directed ones have (this includes the original). Here are a few examples:
It really just gives the thing a dark fairy tale vibe that I really love.
Each to their own I guess. To me, the difference between the directorial style of ANH and that of the PT is night and day. ANH is all about the images, the spectacle - Williams' score is excellent, sure, but you could play the movie on mute and still easily understand what's happening. The opening shot is the greatest of Lucas' entire career in how it immediately and wordlessly establishes not just the dynamic between the Rebellion and the Empire but also who we're meant to root for in that situation. Or the absolutely stunning binary sunset scene (one of my favourite SW moments, full stop), which sets up Luke's entire character without a single word of dialogue.
The prequels are completely different. Again, not necessarily bad, but definitely different. They're far more reliant on the scripts, and the visual language pretty significantly takes a backseat. Compare the first scene between Leia and Vader in ANH to the 'take a seat, young Skywalker' bit in ROTS. Fundamentally, the power dynamics between the characters in these scenes are the same. An antagonistic (at least from the protagonist's POV) establishment figure and a defiant protagonist. But the shooting styles are completely different. ANH accentuates the power dynamic through its cinematography, by framing Vader from a lower angle and Leia from a higher one. Not to mention that the tension of the scene ratchets up as the camera inches closer to the characters' faces between cuts, starting in mid-shots and progressing to close-ups. ROTS doesn't do anything like that. Both the characters are framed in medium shots relative to their height, save for when Lucas splashes out for a quick over-the-shoulder (that sounded less sexual in my head) or a cutaway to a disapproving Obi-Wan.
The Leia/Vader scene is what I mean when I talk about dynamism. Not JJ Abrams trying way too hard to be Spielberg, just the simplest of techniques used to transform basic expositional dialogue into something exciting and visually involving. I actually think Lucas and Abrams are similar directors in a lot of ways; they excel at communicating character and even story beats through simple yet very effective imagery, but those visuals tend to suffer when they attempt to take on more complicated storylines. (Also, neither of them would have ever gotten a chance to make a Star Wars movie without the help of a better director who mentored them through their early careers, but that's neither here nor there).
I don't see how using interesting locations makes Lucas not a "good" director. Lucas himself admitted that he doesn't particularly enjoy writing dialog, and doesn't put much emphasis on it. He is more of a visual director, and that's perfectly fine with me.
I think Kubrick was too, in a way. 2001 doesn't have a whole lot of dialog (or "character development" for that matter) , but the visuals in the movie are simply stunning. I think the same is true for The Shining or Eyes Wide Shut. Images and visuals plus music speak louder than words there.
And how about Ridley Scott? Alien and Blade Runner aren't exactly dialog-heavy either. But both are classics.
Part of the reason 2001 is so sparse with dialogue is the way Arthur C. Clarke approached the script - he had large chunks of exposition delivered via narration, which, perhaps understandably, Kubrick ultimately decided was better left out entirely. (On the other hand, the omission of the many concepts for extraterrestrial beings and space stations/starships that Douglas Trumbull came up with is pretty squarely Kubrick's fault, and might arguably have improved the film if they were left in rather than opting for a ten-minute light show instead. Especially as it might have helped explain things visually, without relying on the clunky use of narration.)
I'm pretty sure Kubrick wanted to leave the monolith and species that built it a mystery. The movie is intentionally cryptic, the viewer is supposed to use his imagination and come to his own conclusions. He did the same with Shining. I think it works very well that way. Ridley Scott tried to "explain" the Space Jockey and ruined the mystery with Prometheus. Trying to explain everything is not always a good thing.
I feel like this scene comparison is a bad analogy. For one, the Leia-Vader scene is an explicit torture scene in which Vader holds all the power, so the distinctive framing fits. The council meeting in ROTS is a much murkier setup, with neither 'side' explicitly dominating the other. I actually quite like the way the meeting carries on, framed as the Jedi council scenes often are, almost accentuating Anakin's feelings of being snubbed.
It's not like the PT is devoid of such camera choices either. I think of the way Anakin's initiation into the Sith is framed, with Sidious shot from a low angle and Anakin on high. And the opposite, not every scene in ANH is done with dramatic camera angles or techniques, the Death Star conference is largely a series of static mid or closeup shots not unlike the Jedi Council scenes.
I actually think Lucas' decisions to keep a restrained camera frame most of the time leads to his more experimental stuff sticking out more, such as the use of handheld cameras in the battle of Geonosis. He has very good fundamentals when it comes to framing a shot, and given the high visual detail in each shot I don't think making the camera techniques more noticeable would necessarily help. I also think he only get better as a director of action scenes over the years, though part of that's a combination of having more time/independence and better sfx.
I don't know... I think the scenes you mentioned are rather randomly picked and not very comparable. What is true is that the OT has fewer talky scenes than the PT and therefore a more dynamic feel in a sense that the characters are mostly on the run. However, that's mostly due to them being Rebels who are on the run and fighting their guerilla like war while that PT is set at relative peace times with characters who aren't running as much. That doesn't change their similarity in style, though. Neither the OT nor the PT has a lot of fancy camera moves and the idea that the PT is just shot - reverse-shot is still just a myth that RLM put into people's heads.
Take a look at the scene with Anakin and Palpatine in the Opera. It's just two people sitting next to each other. It's probably the longest dialogue scene in the whole saga. It's one of the not-so-many scenes that actually are mosty reliant on shot - reverse shot and yet Lucas manages to make the scene visually interesting. At least in my eyes.
First off, the violet lighting is interesting and rather unique in the Saga, especially since violet is made up of blue and red - meaning Sith and Jedi - and it feels like Anakin's mental state is somewhere in between. Then there is the scene being of cyclical character, with the two parts of Palpatine's seduction (one is Palpatine questioning the Jedi and Sith being of different nature, the other is the tragedy) being represented by two loops of the camera angels getting gradually closer. The only "deviation" being being that ominous and memorable shot of those semen-like “creatures” in the Opera, which visualize the seed of evil that’s being planted into Anakin. By getting closer and closer, the audience is allowed to immerse themselves into the conversation and the dialogue to breathe. Fancy camera moves wouldn't do the scene any favour.
Again, this is one of the rare scenes that acutally rely on shot - reverse shot and yes, it isn't very "original". But as it is done, it's done perfectly. It's miles away form being "amateur" and the cinematography as well as the editing do support the story.
Even a scene like this can be more interesting than shot/reverse shot. It’s not a terribly complex setup, but I do think the scene would’ve lost a certain punch if Irvin Kershner had just done shot/reverse shot.
This scene uses a bit of shot/reverse shot, but I really like how it ends on a tight closeup that of the two of them that slowly zooms in as it builds up to the kiss: Again, more interesting than shot/reverse shot.
I think the push-in on Leia here really helps emphasize her emotional state in this scene:
I just think it has the most interesting camerawork of the Lucas-produced films.
I might have written it before, but kind of lost track after 355 pages. I find both Boba Fett and Mace Windu highly overrated. Boba doesn't actually do much in either ESB or ROTJ (except dying), while Mace is pretty emotionless during most of the PT.
While I find most dialog in both PT and OT to be OK, his reaction to Anakin telling him about Palpatine ("a Sith lord????") appears pretty forced and unconvincing to me. It's much like Leia's "your father???" in ROTJ. You'd expect her to show just a little bit more emotion, even more when finding out she herself is his daughter and Luke's twin. And I always found her "I know... somehow I've always known" to be pretty lame. No hint whatsoever in either ANH or ESB that she has "always known". In fact that conversation between Luke and Leia at the Ewok village is pretty much the scene I like least in all the OT.
I was just thinking about how movies are shaped by the time in which they are made and by the people involved in their making; how these two factors, more than anything else really, made Luke's trilogy feel the way it did... and how impossible it was for another trilogy, especially one made years later, to feel the same way.
Then I was thinking about Anakin's trilogy and how, in many ways, it still came remarkably close to the same feeling, as far as I'm concerned.
Of course, this had a lot to do with George still being in charge, staying true to the background story he'd written all those years ago and employing key people like John Williams, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker (not to mention James Earl Jones).
A lot of it was different, as befits a trilogy taking place in a different time and on different worlds, but considering how much was also different behind the scenes, I'm really impressed by how well the two trilogies fit together in terms of feel. The beginning of TPM is markedly different from the end of ROTS, but it's a gradual development, a slow descent into darkness - and from Mustafar onwards, I truly feel like I'm watching a prologue to ANH. I'm back in the GFFA of the 70's. Moving on into ANH couldn't have felt more natural. It's practically part two of the same movie!