Saturday, December 19, 2015

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Jason of Star Command (1978-1980): "Escape from Kesh" (November 25, 1978)

In Jason of Star Command (1978-1980) Chapter 12, “Escape from Kesh,” Jason (Craig Littler), Nicole (Susan O’Hanlon), and Professor Parsafoot (Charlie Dell) continue to languish in the planetoid cave-bound prison of Queen Vanessa (Julie Newmar).

She creates a metal cage around the heroes in a cave, and then reports to Dragos (Sid Haig) that she has secured the captives.  While Vanessa is away, the heroes shrink Jason down to tiny size so that he can get out of the cage, and de-materialize it.

After Jason is returned to normal height, he and the others flee to the planet’s surface, and are surprised to see that their Star Fire -- thought destroyed -- awaits.  They take off in it, but find that Vanessa has tricked them again.

The Star Fire is her ship, and they are all on course for a rendezvous with Dragos aboard his dragon ship.

“Escape from Kesh” is an even sillier-than-usual entry in the on-going “serial” that is Jason of Star Command. Here, the pulpy (or perhaps, hoary…) idea of shrinking people (see: Dr. Shrinker [1976]) is resurrected to provide the escape of the week.  

Exactly how and why Jason gets shrunken and escapes Vanessa’s prison are not questions that should be closely scrutinized.  It’s just more phantasmagoria to throw at kids.  That fact established, the special effects aren’t bad. In this case, gigantic, Land of the Giants (1968-1970) sized props help sell the illusion that Jason has been reduced to six inches in height.

The episode’s notable high point is Julie Newmar’s over-the-top performance as Vanessa.  She plays the character as stark, raving mad. She swirls about, dances, enunciates and chews every syllable of every word with delight.  In short, Newmar looks like she is having a hell of a lot of fun, and that’s as it should be.  Her character, Vanessa, however, remains undeveloped.  She delivers Jason to Dragos in this episode, and then disappears next episode, her piece of the serial puzzle apparently finished.

The writing in “Escape from Kesh” is a little goofy too.  Jason, Parsafoot. and Nicole barely escaped the destruction -- and ensuing explosion -- of their Star Fire in the last episode.  Here, the ship is intact and ready to launch, and they don’t question this fact at all. They nearly got clocked with debris in Chapter 11!   Now, they just board the craft, and head for space.

Ironically, Vanessa takes them where they wanted to go anyway, the Dragon Ship!  But the big question goes unanswered: Where did Vanessa get a Star Fire?  Did she repair the destroyed one, and if so, how did she accomplish that herculean feat with only one dwarf minion by her side?

Next week: "Return of the Creature."

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Space Academy: "My Favorite Marcia" (November 26, 1977)

This week's episode of the 1977-1978 Filmation, live-action Space Academy (1977) series is called "My Favorite Marcia," and it guest-stars Dena Dietrich as Marcia Giddings, a "rogue" space trader; one bound to make troubles for our regular characters. 

So in this case, think Harry Mudd, The Taybor, or The Outrageous Okana, to name a few such similar characters in cult-TV history.

In "My Favorite Marcia" stalwart Commander Gampu (Jonathan Harris) leads a cadet team to study a star going supernova, when he determines that a "galactic distress beacon" has been activated on the fourth planet in a nearby star system. 

He investigates the beacon and finds that his old "friend," space trader Marcia Giddings -- a woman "with the happy faculty of always being in the wrong place at the wrong time" -- is hunting diamonds on the planet surface, but that her spaceship's power has been neutralized by an evil robot.

And that evil robot is -- delightfully -- a re-dressed Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet (1956). In this episode, however, Robby has been given a new brain pan, a "dome," and glowing blue eyeball for Space Academy.  He's playing a "war machine" gone mad; one whom Peepo says "wants to harm everybody."

To prove his evil intentions, the robot traps Laura (Pamelyn Ferdin), Gampu, and Tee Gar (Brian Tochi) in a yellow "force shield" (which is accompanied by the bionic sound effects from The Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman).

Soon, Peepo manages to short-circuit Robby. The evil robot just vanishes into thin air without explanation, however. 

It is great to see Robby back in action in "My Favorite Marcia,", even in his altered form, though one disappointment of the episode is that Gampu seems more intent on sparring with Marcia than in dealing with the dangerous robot.  Also, it isn't entirely clear why the robot disappears.  Was he actually teleported away?

Still, in a weird way, this episode feels like a celebration of cult-TV history.  We get a funny title, based on My Favorite Martian, a familiar character-type (a distaff Harry Mudd), and an old friend from the genre: Robby.  

Next week: "Space Hookey."

Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars Week: Final Post

Well, Star Wars Week is officially at an end!

I hope you have enjoyed re-visiting the saga with me.

As this is scheduled to post, I am sitting in a theater in Charlotte, NC, continuing a journey I began in the summer of 1977, when I was in second grade...and seven years old.

This time -- and for this Star Wars -- I have my nine year old son, Joel, at my side.

In fact (don't tell anybody) I took him out of school early to go see the film with my wife and me.  

Look for my review of The Force Awakens here on the blog, next Tuesday morning.

Let's all hope the Force is with J.J. Abrams, and all the relentless hype isn't just trying to sell an inferior product.  

Let's have a "new hope" instead that we are about to see a stimulating, exciting, joyous film that catapults Star Wars into its fifth decade!

May the Force Be With You All.

Ask JKM a Question: The Clone Wars?

A regular reader, Jason, writes:

I'm interested in your opinion of Cartoon Network's "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" (2009-2013) series.”

Jason, I’ll be honest about this.

Before I received your e-mail (several weeks ago....) I didn’t have a very clearly formed opinion of The Clone Wars. 

I had watched only a handful episodes with my son, Joel -- out of order too -- and found them likable enough. 

However, after reading your e-mail, I went back and watched several more installments of the program.  The whole series is now available on Netflix and so this seemed like the perfect time to wade in.

So my opinion -- with the caveat that I have still have still viewed less than thirty installments, overall -- is that it is an enjoyable series, and more than that, a dignified, respectable, and worthwhile continuation of the Star Wars saga.

More significantly, I feel that The Clone Wars has mimicked the general creative approach of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) in a way.

By that comparison, I mean only that Star Trek: The Next Generation took a while to find its legs as a successful creative endeavor.

Early on, for example, the Ferengi were an embarrassing disaster in terms of their villainy. But The Next Generation writers and producers didn’t drop the Ferengi, ignore the Ferengi, or mark them as toxic failures. 

Instead, they figured out how to deploy the Ferengi creatively and dramatically, and then brought them back to serve as prime supporting players in both TNG and Deep Space Nine.

Similarly, many long-time Star Wars fans did not like the prequel movies (1999 – 2005) or their universe very much.

There were complaints about Jar-Jar Binks, young Anakin, older Anakin, and so forth. 

But to its credit, The Clone Wars doesn’t shy away from the universe established by the live-action prequels, and brings back races and characters that weren’t happily perceived the first time around.

Yes, even Jar-Jar Binks.

Yet as I believe The Next Generation proved, something intriguing happens when disliked or initially unsuccessful characters (such as the Ferengi or Jar-Jar) return in additional (and often superior…) stories. 

We get to know them better. They become deeper. We know and understand how they "fit" into the universe, and we start to accept them.

And, finally, this new-found success in later ventures sort of retroactively shines back on the earlier stories. You can suddenly go back to the lesser tales and find some value that was harder to see before, when you were distracted by the creative missteps.

There, I said it.

Watching The Clone Wars actually makes re-watching the Star Wars prequels a better, and far more intriguing and engaging experience.  

This principle applies to the development of Anakin (and his eventual journey to the dark side), his relationship with Padme, and many other factors that some fans felt were inadequately handled in three movies.  

By revisiting the Gungans (in stories such as “Gungan Attack”) or Watto’s people, the Toydarians (in stories such as “Ambush,”) the aliens take on new substance, and the universe seems, oddly enough, less like a cartoon designed to sell toys.

Again, my caveat is that I have not seen the entire series at this juncture.  But based on what I have seen, The Clone Wars actually does an extraordinary job deepening a universe that could use some deepening.

There are two important factors that I noted on my survey.

The first is that with Star Wars functioning as a TV series, the creators have far more time to discuss issues of moral complexity.  

The six feature films dramatize an epic story of a galaxy in transition, and so there often simply isn’t time to go into detail regarding some aspects of life in the Empire or Republic. But the episodic nature of The Clone Wars allows writers to linger on those world-building qualities and moral shades that the movies, by necessity, gloss over.  

For instance, we remember young Anakin as a slave in The Phantom Menace (1999).

Here, episodes such as “Slaves of the Republic” in season four of The Clone Wars allow that idea to play out a little more fully, and in a way that adds to our understanding of Anakin’s journey as a character.  For example, Anakin recalls that his mother was sold in a slave market like the one he visits on the planet Zygerria. 

Ahsoka, Anakin’s padewan, must pretend to be a slave herself in the course of the story and questions how a “civilization as advanced” as the Republic permits such atrocities to continue.

Other episodes ask additional questions that the movies simply couldn’t get to. One clone notes in “Rising Malevolence,” an early episode, that “we’re just clones…we’re meant to be expendable.”  

Is that true?

If so, one can tie this comment from a clone to the notion of slaves in the Republic and see that nobody, not even the Jedi, have clean hands. The series thus asks -- at least occasionally -- whether it is right for a society to maintain, essentially, second class citizens.

The episodes of The Clone Wars that I have watched are not overly deep, it is true. But they at least touch tangentially on these issues of importance in the Star Wars universe. They add color and texture to places and people that, in the movies, were afforded no such color or texture.

The second and perhaps more noticeable virtue in The Clone Wars involves the visuals.  

They are often, as far as I can determine from my viewing, simply breath-taking.  

“Gungan Attack” -- which features an underwater war between the Separatists and the people of Admiral (here Captain…) Ackbar, is positively stunning in its imagery. Huge alien and mechanical armies battle beneath the sea with giant machines, robots, and vessels, and light-sabers swinging everywhere.

The whole set-piece resembles some brilliantly imaginative 1930s era pulp cover, and one Separatist ship in the episode even boasts the large “eyeball” windows, it looks like, of Disney’s Nautilus in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954).

Actually, I really admired this story a great deal because the visuals are superb, and the touches of continuity-- Ackbar, Mon Calamari, and Gungans -- suggest a fidelity to all eras of the franchise.

The episode captured the essence of Star Wars, in my opinion. That essence consists of splendidly-realized action-adventure in an unusual setting (wild alien planets or environments) -- combined with a knowing pastiche of earlier science fiction images, re-purposed for maximum excitement.

Are there some aspects of The Clone Wars that give me pause? 

I suppose so. I have a bit of trouble with the Battle Droids, who act crazy and function as overt comic relief, but never really project a genuine menace. I fail to understand why the Separatists make their battle droids talkative blunderers with bad aim.

But the bottom line is this:  I wish I had about fifty hours to kill, right now, to watch the whole series from start to finish. 

Perhaps, after I watch more, I’ll find something to really dislike in Clone Wars, but for right now, I’m hoping that Joel swings back to a fascination with Star Wars so we have the opportunity to watch the whole series together start to finish. 

Don't forget to ask me your questions at

Star Wars Week: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Revenge of the Sith (2005) finds the Galactic Republic embroiled in a Civil War with Separatists. Indeed, "War" is the very first word that appears in the film, on that famous yellow crawl.

Chancellor Palpatine (in office long past his term...) has been captured by the Separatists, and after an incredible space battle, Jedi Knights Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) board the craft of General Grievous and Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) to rescue him. During the mission, Anakin slips towards the Dark Side by letting his vengeance get the better of him with aan act of murder urged on by Palpatine.

Meanwhile, Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) reveals that she is with child, and this revelation terrifies Anakin, for he has been experiencing terrible visions (like the one about his mother, in Attack of the Clones.)

He fears that Amidala will die in childbirth and feels impotent to prevent this grim fate. Angry and feeling powerless Anakin seeks out the tutelage of Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who tells him that there are ways to save Amidala, if only he explores the Dark Side of the Force.

Eventually, feeling he has no option, Anakin succumbs. He betrays the Jedi Order but in doing so, no longer remains the man that Amidala loved. On opposite sides of the war now, Obi Wan and Anakin duel, and Obi Wan wins, leaving a hobbled, burned Anakin to die on the side of a volcano on the planet Mustafar.

While the Galaxy slips into darkness and an Empire is born, Amidala dies of a broken heart after giving birth to the twins, Luke and Leia. Anakin survives, but is now more machine than man, locked into a mechanical suit -- a cage -- and re-named Darth Vader.

In 1755, Benjamin Franklin wrote "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." 

That is the essential idea at the heart of Revenge of the Sith, both in terms of the Republic, and on a more personal level, Anakin himself. And, in the tradition of all great art, this is a message that relates directly to the times we live in.

What has happened to the Republic? Well, to face a grave and gathering threat (the Separatist movement), the Senate voted for the creation of a "standing" clone army to fight evil renegade Count Dooku. In thousands of years (and presumably having vanquished many other threats), the Republic never required such an army, but rather was safeguarded by the noble protectors of peace, The Jedi Knight.

But now?

Fear-mongering often makes people make bad, rash decisions.

The first chip away at individual liberty in the Republic thus occurs when the Senate sacrifices the principles it has honored for so long, and puts a huge military force under the control of one man, the Chancellor. 

Then, by appealing to the Senate's sense of patriotism, the Chancellor is given further "Emergency Powers." He remains in office well past his appointed term, and then -- claiming an assassination attempt -- alters the structure of the Republic in the name of security. Now, he tells the Senate to "thunderous applause," it shall be a strong and safe Empire...but committed to peace.

This is how -- as Amidala says -- democracies die. The scared masses practically beg a "strong man" to protect them.

And he does. As he says to Darth Vader: "Go bring peace to the Empire." Alas, it is the peace of subjugation; the peace of oppression.

There are a number of interesting factors about this set-up that relate directly to America in the last several years (the time the prequels were made and released). 

The first thing to consider is this: we saw in Phantom Menace exactly how an Emperor began his ascent, chipping away at democracy a piece at a time. A Dark Lord and his allies, using the technicalities of the law removed the Supreme Chancellor (Valorum) from office, consequently gaining power for themselves. 

They did so by claiming that the Senate's bureaucracy had swelled to unmanageable and non-functional levels -- an anti-government argument -- and that Valorum himself was a weak man beset by scandal. The antidote was a self-described "strong leader," someone who could rally the Senate and get it to work again, someone like, say Palpatine. In other words, a man was chosen to replace a flawed leader, a man who could restore "honor and dignity" to the Republic.

In real life, of course, George W. Bush ascended to the Presidency, after the scandal-plagued Clinton. And after the attacks of 9/11, cowed Americans willingly accepted a massive new surveillance state with the passage of the Patriot Act.  And Bush had this to say to the World on November 6, 2001:"You are either with us or against us" in this war on terrorism.

In May 2005, George Lucas explicitly put the following words into Anakin Skywalker's mouth: "If you're not with me, you're my enemy."

And Obi-Wan's rebuttal? "Only a Sith deals in absolutes." 

Clearly, George Lucas has crafted Revenge of the Sith as a direct rebuke to the path America took post-9/11. Those who whine and cry that there is no such political message here are advised, simply, to grow up. You don’t have to agree with the message.  You don't have to like it.  But to deny its presence here is infantile.

What is clever and artistic about Lucas’s metaphor is not merely that it is timely (and frightening), but that Lucas tells his story on two parallel tracks. Fist, in terms of sweeping galactic governments, and second in personal, individual terms. Anakin goes through the same journey personally that the Republic citizenry undergoes on a wide scale.

Consider that he too is "terrorized," or rather, the victim of a terrible attack. Not necessarily by the Separatists, but by the Sand People on Tatooine. They kill his Mother. That loss hurts him deeply, and he pursues (mindlessly) his revenge against the agents who hurt him.

But then Anakin begins experiencing visions that he will also lose his beloved wife. So, like the Republic itself, Anakin willingly exchanges freedom and liberty for safety and security. He surrenders his golden ideals and turns to the Dark Side because he fears more "attack;" he fears the loss of his family.  He does not heed Yoda's warning that "fear of loss is a path to the dark side."

Thus Anakin is a follower. Might as well be a clone.

Anakin is prone to this weakness early -- as we can tell from his discussion on Naboo with Amidala in Attack of the Clones -- when he notes that a Dictatorship would make things easier, and thus prove preferable to democracy. Indeed it would be easier, which is why some Americans so gladly, to this day, accept the idea of a Unitary Executive.  But why would we give up our own paper, and hand it to someone else?

Only fear can make us do something so stupid.

For all his skills as a pilot and a warrior, Anakin is a weak-minded individual who would rather follow than lead; rather cede individual power and freedom to a dictatorship than make the hard decisions that go hand-in-hand with a democracy. 

Again, Anakin's path is a metaphor for the American populace in the post-9/11 milieu. When attacked, the first thing we do is scream for the government to protect us. We allow the Patriot Act to pass, and don't complain. We allow habeas corpus to be suspended...and we don't complain. We permit the Geneva Conventions to be violated...and we say nothing. We essentially become mindless, quivering "robots,' victims of politically-timed "Terror Alerts."  In other words, we all become Darth Vader: mechanical shells of our former selves, one now obedient to our Master. What remains of us appears humanoid, but functions mechanically and automatically; doing what is ordered.  Fear has programmed us to surrender our freedoms.

And when does Darth Vader/Anakin finally reject the Emperor? 

When his family is threatened...again. When it once more becomes a personal matter for him. He turns on his master not because it is the right thing to do, not for the ideals of democracy, but because he has been ordered to murder his son.

So the journey of Darth Vader is the journey of us. Anakin/Vader is explicitly a reminder of what happens to citizens when they cease to be rational; when they become so fearful that they trade away liberty for safety.

What remains so commendable about Star Wars, and in particular Revenge of the Sith is that George Lucas has given us a story about our times, but he has done so utilizing the language of mythology. There is no "Abu-Ghraib" episode; there is no "post September 11" mentality. There is no obvious metaphor for Islam and sleeper cells (spelled C-Y-L-O-N). On the contrary, Lucas has shown us that a galaxy far, far away holds much in common with what has occurred in human history; and what is happening now. It's all vetted on a symbolic level, not an obvious one.

Consider that the Star Wars films are about - over and over again - man's battle against the "dark side." Unlike many fans who respond to the films on a somewhat superficial level, I don't see that battle necessarily as occurring with light sabers, blasters and spaceships, but rather inside the human soul.

First Anakin, then Luke Skywalker is tempted to fall before darkness, to give in to hate and fear. The father does so; the son does not (at least in the OT).

But the movies repeat these themes (from one trilogy to the next), because that's humanity's constant battle. I can apply that battle to the context of post-9/11 age, and you can see how so much of it fits together, but you can also apply the films to other historical periods and cultures. The Rise of Fascism in the 1930s, for example.

That's why Star Wars resonates so much on a simple storytelling level. It's not just about "here and now," but rather man's perpetual struggle to fend off despotism. Revenge of the Sith tells us that people would give up any cherished right, just to feel, temporarily, “safe.”

It's no accident that so much of the final film's imagery is Hellish in color and dimension. Anakin and all those cowards who gave up their freedom for safety will dwell in that Hell of their own making.

Revenge of the Sith, to its credit, features a strong sense of inevitability. We know where it is headed, obviously, and yet are still shocked by the rapidity of the Republic's fall, and the regime change. This tidal wave of inevitability, which brings us right back to the beginning of Star Wars, is the film's greatest strength.

The film's first half-hour is its greatest weakness. Here, as if Lucas can't quite commit to Anakin's fall from grace (another reference to Hell, in a way...), we get a sustained action sequence in space and aboard Grievous's battleship. This set-piece is pacey, beautifully-filmed, and involving.  And yet, one can't help but feel the time would have been better spent on Anakin and Padme, and their feelings for one another, the feelings that, finally, cause Anakin to spiral to the dak side.

The film's  best scene, unequivocally, involves the Emperor's recitation of the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise.  This scene is fascinating in terms of the saga's history, in terms of the Emperor's back story, and in terms of the Sith.  It is absolutely riveting.  So many fans seem to hate the prequels, and yet I read constantly on the Internet these days speculation about Plagueis.  Clearly, this scene and its story of the Greatest Sith, works brilliantly. It is a foundation for a thousand speculations.

Finally, I love the film's great (largely un-discussed) punctuation or irony. Anakin goes to the dark side to discover immortality for those he loves.  He never finds it there.  But Yoda, and Obi-Wan, thanks to Qui-Gonn, discover that very immortality on the light side of the force (as we see demonstrated in A New Hope). 

Had Anakin stayed true -- and had faith in his friends (in democracy?) -- he might have had the very answers he so desperately sought. 

Star Wars Week: Revenge of the Sith (2005) Movie Trailer

Star Wars Week: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Attack of the Clones (2002) -- the second episode in the seven-part Star Wars saga opens in a time of "unrest" for the Galactic Senate.

A separatist movement -- encompassing thousands of solar systems -- has begun to stir. Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) returns to the Senate to debate the creation of a Republic Army, but on the landing pad at the capitol is nearly killed in a terrorist attack.

Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his young apprentice Anakin Skywalker (now played by Hayden Christensen), are assigned to protect Senator Amidala, and the quest to do so takes them on separate paths.

On his own, Obi Wan must solve the mystery of a clone army on Kamino. And Anakin returns to Naboo, and then to his home world of Tatooine where he experiences nightmares about his mother's fate.

All the while, Anakin falls more deeply in love with Padme, a love that's forbidden by the Jedi code....

The Jedi partners re-team (inadvertently...) in the earthen coliseum on Geonosis, the headquarters for the Separatist movement and its leader, a former Jedi Knight named Count Dooku (Christopher Lee).

Meanwhile, in the Galactic Senate, Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) orchestrates "emergency powers" to create a Grand Army of the Republic in which to fight the Separatists: the Kamino clones.

While Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) races to Geonosis to rescue the imperiled Anakin, Padme Amidala and Obi-Wan from a gladiatorial spectacle, Yoda (Frank Oz) wrangles the Clone Army for its first test in warfare.

Begun this Clone War has...

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, returns to the story commenced in The Phantom Menace...but picks up ten years later. Anakin is now an adult (kind of...) and Palpatine remains chancellor of the Republic. Amidala is a Senator instead of Queen, and even Jar-Jar is still around as "Representative Binks," but his presence in the adventure is greatly diminished.

If one idea underlining Episode I was a "phantom menace," an "elusive" and "elsewhere" sort-of menace that could threaten a government that has stood for 2,000 years, then the theme of Attack of the Clones involves the next step in the downfall of the Republic.

That next step involves one thing, arrogance in a universe in which people are not encouraged to care for one another.  Arrogance is a character trait and thematic thread that runs throughout this film, in a number of unique ways, actually.

Young Anakin has grown arrogant in his Jedi powers, claiming that "in some ways - a lot of ways..." he is actually ahead of Obi-Wan, his mentor.  He is arrogant in his belief that he is right, and knows how to solve problems, as we shall see.

And when Obi-Wan notes Anakin's arrogance to Master Yoda, Yoda replies only that it is a flaw "more and more" common among the Jedi, suggesting, perhaps, that Obi-Wan suffers from the malady as well. As viewers, we witness this arrogance for ourselves in the Jedi Archive. "If an item doesn't appear in our records," scoffs a librarian, "it doesn't exist." 

The Jedi -- although involved in a symbiont circle with their midichlorians -- do not seem to look outward from their bubble of self-righteous superiority.

And what is the result of all this rampant Jedi arrogance?

It is precisely as Yoda and Mace Windu discuss in one critical, and under-analyzed scene: their power and ability to "use the Force" is ..."diminished."

This is the one truly fascinating subtext in Attack of the Clones.  

Consider that it is Anakin's role as "The Chosen One" to "bring balance to the Force." Then consider that the Force must necessarily be out of balance in the world we see depicted here since there are only two Sith (master and apprentice) representing the Dark Side, but literally hundreds of Jed representing the light side.

Then go a step further. Why is the Force out of balance? Is it...arrogance? Some combination of over-recruitment and over-confidence?

Regardless, the “light side” exists in numbers far in excess of the "dark side" of the Force, right? This means that for Anakin to bring the Force into balance, he must indeed (as we see in Part III) be responsible for the death of the vast majority of the Jedi.  The Jedi are so arrogant, they can't even see that.  They can't see how the Light Side and the Dark Side form a symbiont circle.

Consider that when Revenge of the Sith ends, there is indeed a new balance: two Jedi in hiding (Yoda and Obi-Wan), and two Sith in power (Palpatine and Vader). Importantly, neither Yoda nor Obi-Wan is arrogant anymore, but rather -- at long last -- humbled. 

.Arrogance is also critical to an understanding of Anakin, in particular, because his political views get some air time in the film. He tells Padme that he doesn't think the "system works" and that a strong leader is necessary to control the partisanship and bickering. "Someone wise," he suggests.

What he's saying, essentially, is that he would like to see a dictatorship. And in a sense, why shouldn't he? Anakin and his mother were slaves on Tatooine, and what did that great democracy, the Galactic Republic do about their plight?

As a youngster, Anakin asked Qui Gonn if he had come to Tatooine to free the slaves, and let's face it, that was the furthest thing from Qui Gonn's mind. Living in such an unfair system, one where government doesn't help, one can see why Anakin would wish to cut through the bureaucracy and install a leader who gets results.

Ultimately, in some twisted fashion, Palpatine offers safety and security for a chaotic galaxy, and there must be some aspect of that promise that appeals to anxious, vulnerable Anakin...who has been a slave and watched his mother die in the anarchic and – yes --  multi-cultural (Jawa, Sandpeople, Hutts, Toydarian, humans...) deserts of Tatooine.

Like so many people, apparently, what Anakin yearns for is a strong man to take control and get the misbehaving people in line.

Anakin's turn to the dark side is begun in earnest by his murder of the Sand People in the desert, his need to exact retribution rather than wait for justice to be meted by an inefficient, uncaring government. Again, he doesn't trust others to do what is right.  He values only his own judgment.  That's a textbook definition of arrogance.

So Anakin is frustrated, one senses, because he is surrounded by bureaucracy. The Galactic Senate is awash in rules; and the Jedi possess rules governing behavior too, but they both claim to be "good" and operating in the cause of "justice."

Yet what have these "good" forces done to save a slave woman abducted by the Tusken Raiders? Absolutely nothing. In taking matters into his own hands and meting out eye-for-an-eye, horrible justice against the Sandpeople, Anakin takes the first steps towards deciding that he should be the one to make the decisions for others. That his personal moral compass is superior. It's an understandable choice, given his journey, but one that ultimately seduces him to the dark side.

In my The Phantom Menace review, I wrote about George Lucas as a cinematic classicist who recreates in fantasy settings such classic movie moments and scenes as the Ben-Hur chariot race.  In Attack of the Clones, the director provides audiences a scene in an alien coliseum that is reminiscent of Ridley Scott's Gladiator (2000), and a scene in a 1950s-style diner that evokes his own classic: American Graffiti (1973). 

The latter scene, most clearly, could be interpreted as a stylistic mistake. Why would there be a greasy spoon diner on Coruscant (one with a fat cook, a waitress droid on a wheel named Flo and 1950s-style bar stools?). The Pod Race/Chariot Race allusion worked well in Phantom Menace because it still felt “alien’ to audience experience in 1999, but this?

Let's face it, the art and architecture of 1950s Americana arises from a specific set of circumstances and context unique to the United States on Earth that must of us know quite well. I don't understand the currency of these images in the universe of Star Wars, of a place in a "galaxy far, far away."  At least not on first blush.

However, again, there may be a method to Lucas’s madness. In my Phantom Menace blog, I noted how that film's spaceship design and futura/art-deco look reflected the world of the 1930s.

Is it Lucas's intention here to tell us something important about America in the 1950s?

In the 1950s, America was locked in a Cold War with the Soviet Union, living through the "Red Scare" and facing demagoguery at the hands of Senator McCarthy. Perhaps more trenchantly, by the end of the decade, President Eisenhower left office and warned the country in his last address about the power of the military-industrial complex in America.

Attack of the Clones specifically involves the raising of an army; a clone army. That Clone Army is the last piece of the puzzle that Palpatine requires to seize power and control the government and its people. By harnessing this "military-industrial complex," one man makes a Republic an Empire.  See the connection?

This is the only possible way I can read the diner scene and not believe that Lucas has made a mistake, or just picked a setting because he feels nostalgia towards it. Instead, can argue -- especially if visuals reflect narrative theme—that Lucas is showing us a last age of innocence before military totalitarianism.

There's a great moment in Attack of the Clones when Palpatine declares that he "loves democracy" and then promptly seeks the power to overturn it. He is aided, by of all creatures, Jar-Jar Binks. Jar-Jar has been left at the Senate to fill in for Amidala, and the poor wretch thinks Amidala would want for him to vote for the Emergency Powers Act granting Palpatine the authority to raise an Army. 

Why? Loyalty. 

Jar-Jar substitutes loyalty for wisdom. Loyalty is a virtue, no doubt, but carried to extremes is itself a terrible form of blindness. Loyalty taken to its extreme -- unthinking patriotism -- has led to some of the greatest tragedies in human history (see: Nazi Germany). The Republic falls, in a sense, because people like Jar-Jar are loyal to Palpatine and believe that he has their best interest at heart. They love the Republic, but they love it blindly.

For some reason, I find this moment in Attack of the Clones incredibly sad, and touching. Jar Jar tries to do right, and that desire is exploited. He isn't smart enough to know that his "patriotism" has led him to a terrible error.

Next, speaking in terms of both style and story, I've discovered that I don't enjoy Attack of the Clones as much as I do The Phantom Menace or Revenge of the Sith. It’s my least favorite Star Wars film.

That may be simply be the result of a structural flaw: the middle-part of the trilogy is always difficult to navigate (though Empire Strikes Back is extraordinary). My ennui with this installment of the saga has much to do with the action sequences, in particular.

I hate to say it, but I don't find the flying speeder chase over Coruscant's capitol, or even the battle in the Colosseum that involving or exciting; Even the light saber duel with Count Dooku and Yoda is not much of a climax, especially given the extraordinary choreography and pace of the Darth Maul battle in Phantom Menace. And I still get a little giggle out of Yoda flying around like a crazed mosquito.

But the flying speeder set-piece really steams me. Anakin and Obi Wan exhibit split-second awareness and timing here, falling hundreds -- thousands -- of feet in seconds and landing on the backs of speeding cars throughout this early action sequence. Gravity doesn't seem to be a factor for them, nor do the random movements/behaviors of all the other drivers in the sky.

The characters reveal no signs of fear about these death-defying falls and leaps, and I get it - they're Jedi. But after seeing these two Jedi survive this incredible, hectic car-chase in the sky, how are we to take seriously the other threats of the film? 

A battle on a landing platform on Kamino with Jango Fett? Why, that's not even as high-up off the ground as the speeder chase! 

And the three monsters in the gladiator games at the finale? Easy stuff, especially after hurtling through the sky without a parachute and landing hard on the slippery dashboards of speeders! Right?

This is the biggest inconsistency I detect in the prequels, and I don't like it. Either gravity matters to the Jedi or it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t, three animals in an arena aren’t going to pose a threat to them.

And the love scenes? Yes, they are awkward. I don't overtly hate the Anakin/Padme romantic scenes because -- for one thing -- they're necessary. (Hey, come on, we need Luke and Leia to come from somewhere, right?)

And for another, these characters are young and they've never been in love before, so it's kind of natural that they'd be sappy and say stupid ass things (like comparing Padme's skin to sand). We've all been the "victims" of young, obsessive love, so I'm cutting Padme and Anakin a break here. It would have been much weirder for them to take an adult approach to their affair, or attempt to mirror the Han/Leia love/hate relationship.

Besides, there's a formality about the way that all the characters speak in this prequel trilogy, so it's natural that Padme and Anakin's "love"/"courtship" talk would sound formal and strange too, right? I've always thought of the Jedi Order as equivalent to some medieval order of Knights; one with a unique code (like chivalry). So really, the fact that these sequences feel cliched and stilted is hardly unexpected.  This is Opera.

One element of Attack of the Clones which I wish I understood with more certainty is the role of a dead Jedi named Sifo Dyas. 

He is the fellow who put in the order for the Clone Army ten years before the film (right around the time of The Phantom Menace). By Attack of the Clones, this character is deceased. 

So, my question is this: Did Palpatine go to Kamino pretending to be Sifo Dyas, a Jedi, and put in an order for the Army? 

Or was Sifo Dyas actually a Sith Apprentice working for Palpatine, which would have put him in succession somewhere between Maul and Dooku?

I just wish there was a little more information in the film about who this guy was, and how his mission to Kamino played out.  The details of this plot-line make my head hurt.

Finally, it's always bothered me that the wise (but arrogant!) Jedi just take possession of a Clone Army, no questions asked.

It seems like they should all be just a shade more suspicious that a Clone Army would appear precisely at the exact time it is needed most by the Republic. 

But then again, their arrogance has apparently blinded them to such contradictions...and as I wrote above, arrogance is the word of the day.