Current Soundtrack: STAR WARS: EPISODE 3 Soundtrack, John Williams, "Anakin's Betrayal"
The plan was always to be in New York on May 19th 2005, the day after my 28th birthday, joining the line parties and fans when Episode 3 hit the cinemas. After experiencing what can only be described as a depressing midnight showing of Episode 2 back in 2002 in Manchester’s Printworks, I vowed I'd be in the company of true Star Wars fans when the saga was complete. Fans who would cheer when the titles first rolled, when Yoda kicked arse, when the Clone Wars were finally shown. Maybe it was just a bad crowd; maybe it was a British thing, this inability just to switch off the cynicism and just ENJOY it.
As it turned out, both time and money prevented me from the New York plan, but instead the chance to see all six films back to back at the UCI Empire Leceister Square London, a full three days before anyone else saw it, proved too good to pass up. And, with the Force as my ally, I did indeed get two tickets for what would become known as Celebration Day.
Aaron, my young apprentice, picked us up from the Bristol comics expo on the sunday afternoon, and after many wrong turns eventually ended up at the hotel in Bloomsbury London by 11pm. Being far too excited, we only ended up getting less than four hours sleep. Not wanting to be late, we left for Leceister Square at 5am and jumped a taxi. As it turned out we were doing okay for time, and became numbers 5 and 6 in the queue after some lads from the Midlands, who had been there (somewhat unnecessarily) since 2.30am. Already though the press were milling around, getting tons of shots of the Chewbacca impersonator and interviewing ourselves for the news items. BBC, ITV, and CBS among others all asked the same bloody question: why do you like Star Wars? As if you need to ask.
Soon the Square was filling up with the lucky few ticket holders, press and the 501st UK garrison, who it has to be said were absolutely brilliant all the way through the day, allowing people to take photos, interviews etc and staying there for over 12 hours. I can't say enough about these lads. They've also proven to be great reference to draw from!
The doors opened around 6.15, we collected our tickets and I did a short piece to camera. We'd taken the digi-cam to do a video diary for the day, to give those unable to get tickets an idea of what the day was like, and as soon as I work out how I'll be posting the segments.
We took our seats (EE23/24) in the stands, pretty much central position and on the aisle, perfect for those toilet trips. All around us were people in costume, wielding the impressive looking lightsabres. Richard Bacon (some uknown minor celebrity) then appeared on the stage on the phone to Capitol Radio. The crowd cheered, then he led the way to a few bars of the Imperial March. Then our compare for the day, the legend that would become known as Andy, a UCI staff member, ran through housekeeping and what the day would entail.
A New Hope, cheers. Empire Strikes Back, louder cheers. Return of the Jedi, cheers. Phantom Menace, boos, followed by half-hearted cheers from a few apologists. Attack of the Clones, muted cheers. Revenge of the Sith, extremely enthusiastic cheers.
Then the countdown to A New Hope, and it began. Star Wars history. The saga complete.
And this was why I wanted to be in the company of Generation Jedi: to boo when Vader first appears, to cheer when Obi Wan and Han Solo and Chewbacca turn up. When the Death Star blows, we all cheered. An amazing atmosphere.
We got outside for the break after our Galactic Passports were stamped, and the Square was getting even more busy. The 501st again doing a great job, news crews milling around. Not wanting to miss the beginning of Empire, we got back in fairly quickly. The effect of Episode 5 still hasn’t diminished any after all these years; the moments are still powerful, when we first see Yoda, a pale shadow of what he is in the prequels; when he lifts Luke’s X-Wing out of the swamp, when Lando introduces himself to Leia, when Han says ‘I know’… all got cheers again. And you’re reminded just why Empire is considered the best, and just how badly the prequels compare. Although I have to admit a slight disappointment at these prints being only the Special Editions; I was hoping that the new prints from DVD’s would be used, but it’s a very minor point.
Again a quick break then back in for Return of the Jedi. Doing well up till the Ewoks appear, then its fair to say a good portion of the audience decide to take a toilet break, me among them. Again cheers for the pivotal moments, particularly when Vader redeems himself and throws the Emperor over the balcony. Then a longer break between the trilogies, so we head out for some food and to do another piece to camera, with the London Symphony Orchestra in the background playing themes from A New Hope. Other than being harassed by a charity worker asking us to do a Wookie impression, we did a quick trip to the shops to renew supplies then back to the Square, getting as many photos of the stormtroopers as possible. One particular trooper kindly took time out from hunting down Jedi and shooting Jawas for a quick interview, confirming what we all knew anyway: it’s the best damn job in the galaxy.
Back in for Episode 1 and another quick run through by Andy. A good portion of the audience was missing for the first half of Phantom Menace, only returning when things got decent and the Jedi return to Naboo to face off with Darth Maul, whose scene stealing appearance in the hanger bay got the biggest cheer of the entire film. And again you can’t help but notice just how flat a film Ep1 is. No real comedy, no real emotion. It’s incredibly difficult to become involved with the story when these two factors are missing.
Another quick break and back in for Ep2. An improvement on Ep1 but Attack of the Clones is not without its problems, particularly some atrocious dialogue (the original screenplay is even worse). Just when you think it’s building up to something special, with Anakin on the swoop bike under the Tatooine sunset looking for the Tusken Raiders, again it falls flat. The beginning of the Clone Wars however rescues the film, in particular the entrance of Yoda, which got an almighty cheer. His duel with Dooku is the highlight of the film, fights like a bunny on speed, and makes it all worthwhile.
Again a longer break between Clones and the highlight of the day, Revenge of the Sith. We got some fresh air, did another piece to camera, and we waited eagerly for the promised appearance of the cast in crew. A UCI contractor sitting next to us had confirmed George himself would appear to introduce the final film. I had Aaron primed with the camera, while I waited at the bottom of the screen with the camcorder. Time was passing, and while they piped in live footage of the cast and crew being interviewed outside the Odeon, and of Darth Vader’s march down the red carpet followed by troopers, we were asked to retake our seats. This was approximately 8pm. Then to everyone’s disappointment they began to play the music videos from the Sith soundtrack to buy time. When the Fall of a Hero video began to play, boos resounded across the theatre. Many had avoided seeing anything to spoil the last film, now to be shown the pivotal moments in the music trailer literally minutes before was too much for some to bear. But we could see the UCI staff were taking positions on the doorways. I began filming again. Security was lining up on the aisles. This was it. The Stormtroopers began to march towards the stage, closely followed by Vader to playful boos, then everyone shouted “Speech!”
Then it was announced… “Please welcome the executive producer of Star Wars, Mr Rick McCallum.” The crowd went berserk. I was at the bottom of the stairs and tried in vain to catch him on video, with the lights being so low, only getting a decent shot of him when he was on stage. “Thank you so much. But at the end of the day,”, said Rick, “there’s really only two words to describe this whole experience… fucking awesome!”
We screamed in agreement.
“There a few guys I’d like you to meet, if you have a moment… the baddest dude, and you will really see this, the guy who really has fucked the whole thing up: Ian McDiarmid, Palpatine and Darth Sidious…
The crowd goes berserk again with playful boos accompanying the actors walk to the stage.
“The guy who really tries to do the right thing but again blows it big time, Mr Hayden Christensen…”
The crowd goes even more berserk if that’s possible, getting a big cheer when he meets up with McDiarmid on stage.
“Thirty years ago, in a small little office in Northern California, he sat down and started writing…
The crowd doesn’t even let him finish the sentence...
“Wait wait wait! The reason we’re all here, the Jedi Master himself, Mr George Lucas!”
Thunderous is the only word to describe the reaction. I'm literally 6 feet away from the man who changed our lives. I manage to get just a few frames of him as he's lit up by camera flashes.
“Are you guys crazy or what?” Says Lucas when gets to the stage. We scream our agreement.
“It’s great to be here,” he continued, “This is the home of Star Wars, we shot the first one at Elstree Studios on stage 8, and we shot this one, the last day of shooting was at Elstree Studios on stage 8, and it’s great that you are the first group to actually see the whole film, the way it was meant to be, although you’re actually supposed to see it every Saturday for six weeks… (cheers)... the only thing is you’ll blow yourself out and be brain dead for the rest of your life! It’s very gratifying to have finished the whole thing so it’s now not just a bunch of little pieces, and I hope I can bring peace to the over twenty-five years olds… (massive cheers) as well as peace to the under twenty five year olds who like the new ones (cheers). Now you can watch the whole series… (the crowd chants we want nine)… This is the tragedy of Darth Vader, it starts when he’s nine, it ends when he’s dead (laughs), there is no more story (boos)… last week and next week I’ll be back working on Indiana Jones… (massive cheers)…” He said something else like “Enjoy the film” but it was obscured by the massive cheers, before leaving the stage, shaking hands. Then almost immediately, the 20th Century Fox logo appears and the drum roll heralds the film we’ve all been waiting for, and it’s a mad dash back to our seats.
And what a film to end on… if you’ve not seen it yet everything further will contain spoilers.
A fantastic opening worthy of the original Star Wars, following Anakin and Obi Wan’s fighters as they snake their way their way between a massive space battle to find General Grievous ship, the Invisible Hand, where he is holding Palpatine ‘hostage’. Damaged by vulture droids, Obi Wan crash-lands his fighter in the hanger bay followed by Anakin, jumping out of the ship as it skids to a halt and taking out a handful of droids in the same move. Quickly dispatching the remainder, they head to the observation deck to show down first with Dooku, then Grievous. Palpatine’s influence over Anakin is illustrated clearly when he commands him to decapitate Dooku, before the older apprentice can spill the beans on any plans.
Grevious escapes, and Anakin has to pilot what remains of the ship to another crash-landing, this time on a runway on Coruscant.
Through this sequence, Anakin and Obi Wan are brilliant together, the Master being far more light-hearted than in previous films with some good one-liners, working as a true partnership. Anyone not familiar with the Clone Wars animated series will be a bit lost as to who and what Grievous is, and why he’s coughing all the way through his scenes (he’s a cyborg trained by Dooku in the Sith arts, kills Jedi, collects their sabres, and was injured by Mace Windu just prior to the films opening). However the highlight of this sequence is R2 D2’s scenes, now fully CGIed, he takes on two battle droids, showering them in oil before setting them alight. Excellent stuff.
Anakins’ relationship with Padme is shown more realistically than before, when he is told of her pregnancy. He is then plagued by nightmares of her death in childbirth, echoing his failure to save his mother. He is determined not to fail again.
His relationship with Palpatine is a cause of concern for the Jedi Council particularly when the Chancellor appoints Anakin as his personal representative. They make him a member but not a master, which the young Skywalker takes as a grave insult. Obi Wan then instructs him he is to spy on the Chancellor for the Council, being weary of his increased political power during the war. He is being used by both sides, but only Palpatine seems to take the time to listen to Anakin’s troubles, again playing and manipulating his feelings against the Jedi. He gives him info that Grievous has been spotted on the planet Utapau. Despite the Chancellors recommendation for Anakin to lead the attack the council choose Obi Wan. It is the last time they will be together as friends.
While Yoda leads the Wookies and Clones against the battle droids on Kashyyyk, Palpatine reveals to Anakin just how much he is aware of the Force… “Only through me can you achieve a power greater than any Jedi. Learn to know the dark side of the Force, Anakin, and you will be able to save your wife from certain death.”. Anakin realises Palpatine has been the Sith Lord all along, and reports it to Mace. Mace says if this is confirmed Anakin will have regained his trust, but he still refuses to take him along to arrest him.
Anakin sits in his quarters as the suns set on Coruscant and the Republic, and cannot stand by while Palpatine is arrested, losing his only chance of saving Padme. Mace arrives with Kit Fisto, Agen Kolar, and Saesee Tiin to place the Sith Lord under arrest, but he quickly dispatches the Jedi with a roar and a swipe of his lightsabre, leaving Mace to fight him alone. This sequence loses a lot of impact and surprise thanks to its use in the trailers and music videos. It would have been far more shocking otherwise. They reach the window in the Chancellors office and Palpatine attempts to use force lightning on Windu, which he deflects back, disfiguring and scarring his face, just as Anakin arrives. Mace rises his sabre for the killing blow, but Anakin cuts off his hand. Palpatine springs back to full power and unleashes force lightening on the wounded Master before throwing him from the window. Anakin’s fate is sealed. He has betrayed everything for the promise of power. He pledges his life to Sidious, and rises as Darth Vader. The Jedi are now an enemy of the Republic, Anakin is told, and they must be destroyed before they can move against Sidious. The Sith Master issues an order to all clone troopers: execute order 66.
Across the galaxy, troopers open fire on shocked and unprepared Jedi. Ki Adi Mundi, Aayla Secura, Barriss Offee, Luminara Unduli, Quinlan Vos, Plo Koon, Stass Allie, all are executed by their troopers in a dark scene that is hard to watch, and I admit no shame in saying I had tears in my eyes. On Kashyyyk, two troopers move on Yoda, but are decapitated quickly with a swift move of his lightsabre. Chewbacca and Tarfful take him to a place of safety.
We see Anakin leading a battalion of troopers up the stairs into the Jedi Temple, slaughtering all as they go. He enters a room full of younglings, about 8 or 9 years old. He lights up his lightsabre…We knew that it had to happen. We knew that Vader led the purges. However seeing Anakin walk into that room full of kids made us all gasp in disbelief. There was no turning back now.
Bail Organa takes his speeder to the Jedi Temple, now in flames, and is helpless as he watches a youngling cut down by troopers. He takes a star cruiser and rescues Yoda, then Obi Wan, and they decide to return to Coruscant to dismantle the retreat beacon to avoid any further Jedi being murdered and to face Sidious. Meanwhile Anakin goes to Mustafar to take care of the Seperatist leaders.
While Bail Organ attends a special meeting of the senate, where Sidious declares the formation of the Empire, Obi Wan and Yoda fight their way into the temple, where Obi Wan learns the hideous truth of Anakin’s betrayal. Yoda heads to the Senate to fight Sidious, while Obi Wan reluctantly tracks Anakin to Mustafar by stowing onboard Padmes' ship. Now consumed and corrupted by power, he chokes Padme to unconsciousness, and faces off with Obi Wan in a breathtaking fight, alternating between a similar duel between a weakening Yoda and Sidious in the Senate Chambers.
Again we come to a pivotal moment in Star Wars lore. The shocking immolation of Anakin as he clings to the lava bank, his arm and legs cut of by Obi Wan in a futile attack. The despair and disappointment Obi Wan feels towards his former apprentice is deeply moving, and he leaves Anakin to be consumed in flames.
Padme is fading away as she gives birth to the twins on board Organa's ship, the legendary Tantive IV, her last words to Obi Wan that he can be redeemed. As she dies, Vader is born, as Palpatine's droids encase the charred body of Anakin in his armour. He asks where Padme is, if she is all right. Sidious, now Emeror, tells him she is dead by Anakin's own hand. He screams in rage and agony.
A decision is made aboard the Tantive IV. The twins are to be seperated, Leia to go with Bail and his wife to Alderaan, and Luke to his half uncle Owen on Tatooine, where Obi Wan is to look after him until the time is right. But Yoda has some training for him while he is there: an old friend has learnt immortality by becoming one with the Force, and wishes to communicate from beyond the grave. Obi Wan will learn how to commune with Qui Gon Jinn...
As the Empire rises, a new hope is born. Obi Wan hands the infant Luke to Beru, who joins Owen on the ridge of the homestead, watching the binary sunset, wondering on what the future will bring....
As the music and titles rolled, I sat back in my seat with tears in my eyes. This was the saga complete.
Then a surprise as George and Rick appear again on stage to massive applause. They thank the crowd and make their way to the exits to hip-hoorays and thank yous. I managed to shake Rick McCallum's hand and thank him for a great experience that I'll never forget. Eventually, after an emotional final piece to camera, me and Aaron head out into the night, dazed and elated, looking for some food before getting back to the hotel.
Without a doubt, EP3 is infinitely better than the first two prequels in so many ways. It is a fantastic film, worthy of being called Star Wars, and to have seen it with so many fans on such a great day with George himself, was really priceless. I couldn't have asked for anything more besides a personal invitation to Skywalker Ranch. Instead, I'm content with the memories of a excellent experience.
For more photos go http://www.flickr.com/photos/barryrenshaw/, and to see a few hundred more go to the galleries at www.amdtour.com.
May the Force be with you.