Kevin Smith Reviews “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”

If you’re into spoilers and you’d like to hear what an influential Star Wars fan who has made his own hit movies has to say about the new prequel, check out his review.

As a note, when I say spoilers, I mean S P O I L E R S! If you haven’t seen the movie and want to be surprised by some stuff, don’t read the review. You can take my word for it, Kevin likes it a lot.

Kevin Smith RotS Review

Star Wars Celebration III: Day 4 — Finale and End Titles

As the lens irises and the credits roll on the last day of Star Wars Celebration, I have to say I had a good time. A great time sometimes, but the lines were totally crazy.

It really appalled me that the GenCon folks were greedy enough to overbook the convention as much as they did. There were way too many fans there to simply manage. Everytime anyone got on a line, they had to ask, “What is this line for?” There was just no organization possible with that many people. And the store line…that whole thing was disgusting. A seven hour wait to get a Celebration III action figure, that people were buying 4 of and just selling back to the vendors in the next hall over. Quite frankly, I really wish the organizers would have limited the figures to one per badge, or told the vendors in the hall that if they found out they were buying them they would kick them out. It’s not really a good reflection on GenCon to have such greed pressed into your face. At the very least, for those of us who wanted to enjoy the convention and not wait on store lines, they ought to offer us some way to get the figures online. Heck, if they just made a few thousand of them available online I wouldn’t care. I would sooner see the vendors get screwed for paying too much for those figures than see them be “exclusive” to people who attended the convention.

But enough of the bad….

I have to once again thank the volunteers. The 501st were always entertaining and did a good job making the lines work as much as they did. The fans were also amazingly nice. Everyone I met was friendly and the lines worked as well as they did partly because the people on them had the patience of Jedi. Even the Sith in the lines behaved well.

One thing I learned about the folks who make Star Wars movies — they love the fans. Everyone I saw there, from concept artist, to actor, to author, to special effects wizard, to George, really had a desire to share with the fans their desire to make something. To me, the whole conference was a little about letting your inner creative fire burst forth. The moments that really stood out most to me were the moments where the people being honored by these throngs of fans were up there saying, “Hey, this stuff isn’t so hard. The adventure of making something creative is a journey that’s scary and crazy, but it’s an adventure that is so worth doing.” George really summed it up nicely when he said, “I hope Star Wars inspires people to leave their uncle’s moisture farm, go on an adventure and do something dangerous.” Star Wars is about art, it’s about the next generation of creativity in film. It’s about the creativity of its fans, who dress in wonderful, authentic, hand-made costumes and make creatures and robots, films, art, and all manner of things inspired by the films. It’s about making that creative leap into the dangerous territory of creation and not being afraid.

Star Wars Celebration III: Day 3, GEORGE!

There can be no single word to sum up the experience of Saturday except: George.

Call him the pope of the Star Wars religion, if you like, as he inspired many zealots to come out in the bitter, wet cold to stand in line to catch a glimpse of him. I heard early on the day before that people were planning to start lining up at midnight. Mind you, the temperatures were going to be in the 30s that night, but hey, some of the things you could buy after your 7 hour wait for the Celebration III store was a stadium blanket and a folding chair.

Natasha and I got to the convention center line about 8am or so, having pretty much set ourselves to just do some other stuff that morning instead of bothering with the whole George madness. The line was actually shorter by about half, and one of the people in line behind us (one of those authoritative types who claims to know everything, including what George had for dinner the night before) claimed to have talked to a volunteer and been told that they had already let everyone in who was going to see George because they were already in line at 3am that morning.

For the most part, the wait wasn’t too bad, although the fan club is supposed to get into the convention center at 8am, but the doors didn’t truly open until 9am. One of the line compressions brought us away from our protective wall and into the bitter sting of the wind and freezing sprinkles that were going on, which set me to looking for someone in a Taun-taun costume to slit open – there were enough lightsabers in evidence that I wouldn’t have had a problem finding a tool to do it. I don’t know how the people that got there earlier managed to stand in the wind and rain that long. Round about 9am the line started moving and we got inside the building.

As we walked inside, a stormtrooper handed me a blue wristband, which got me to thinking…huh? Natasha and I conferred, slapped our wristbands on, and went looking for a line of people with the same wristbands to ask what they were for. That’s been another common theme here at the convention – every time you find yourself standing on a line, you have to ask the people on the line if you’re standing on line for the right thing, and then you have to answer that same question for the next 49 people that ask you.

We ran into some other people with the wristbands, who confirmed that, yes, they were for the second George show.

The second George show!!!!

So we went looking for the line. The first huge line we located that had people with blue wristbands on it turned out to be for the Celebration store. I simply cannot believe that some people chose buying t-shirts and action figures over actually going to see George. Bah! Such greed and consumerism.

We did finally find the line, and once we got there everything ran relatively smoothly as we made our way to seats in the theater.

George was introduced by Jett and Katy Lucas, two of his children. He arrived on the stage to a thunderous standing ovation and an array of flashes bright as the twin suns of Tatooine. He did a quick little speech thanking people for their enthusiasm and for their coming out to see him and they got pretty quickly to the QA part of the program.

Some of the things that got announced during the QA were:

  • Star Wars: Clone Wars 30 minute animated series
  • Star Wars TV series, live action, taking place between Ep3 and Ep4, and featuring all new characters, and no movie characters. “Well,” George added, thinking about it, “One character from the movies, maybe.”
  • George and Warwick Davis (who was hosting one stage at C3) talked backstage about Willow TV series
  • George just received the latest script for Indy 4. He has yet to read it, but will read it on Sunday. He said he has some mixed feelings about reading it, since if he likes it, he might actually have to start making the movie.
  • George is planning to finally make “Red Tails”, the movie he’s been talking about for ages about the Tusekeegee Airmen. (The online chapter of the “Making of Revenge” book showed George talking to Samuel L. Jackson about playing a part in it.)

I think that was it for the major announcements.

George very nicely thanked the fans for their support over the years, pointing out that none of this would be possible without them.

Someone asked him what he thought about all the craziness that was Star Wars, and he said, “Well, it’s a movie, and it’s meant to be enjoyed, and if you can take something good away from it that helps you live your life, that’s a bonus. You shouldn’t let it take over your life, but if it helps you to ‘leave your Uncle’s moisture farm’ and have those adventures that help you live your life fully, then that’s a good thing.”

One of the great things about seeing George is, like all the other people who worked on the movies that I have met this weekend, he seems very humble about what he does. Lucasfilm appears to be made up of creative artists who are passionate about their work and seem to like to share the process with others, and seem to genuinely want to help other pursue their own artistic work. I think one of the main reasons I’ve enjoyed this convention is that everyone I have heard speak has been an advocate for people to build their own artistic life.

Case in point, the next event we went to was a character creation session with Iain McCaig and his team of artists from the Ep3 art department. It was a great interactive session where they taught the audience what the process was to build a character for a Star Wars movie. They broke the audience up into two separate sets of brain cells; one side would help a sculptor build a Sith, the other would help Iain draw a Jedi to fight the Sith. “When you’re working on a drawing like this,” Iain said, “The first thing your brain cells tell you to do, that’s what you create.” They took suggestions from the audience and created the characters right there from the wacky things people shouted out, and ended up turning out some great stuff. Even better, at the end, they gave away the sculpt and the drawing to some lucky winners in the audience.

Now, I’ve seen Iain work before, and it’s some pretty incredible stuff. He bounces around like a five year old on sugar and from pure enthusiasm draws his audience into his craft. He’s a great teacher, and the kind of artist that can really give people confidence that they can just do something creative and it will all work out. There’s one thing he said, that I think goes a long way to describing what it means to really be creative. “If, when you’re drawing, it’s not fun. It’s not like when you were drawing monsters with crayons when you were five years old, then you’re doing something wrong.”

After that session we went to see an interview with Warwick Davis. Warwick is a very funny guy and a fan favorite. He was very surprised and pleased to hear that George had mentioned their Willow TV series conversation to thousands of people (evidently more than once) in the sessions in the morning. “And you all clapped and hooted really loud like that, did you?” he asked when the audience cheered. “Ah, yes, good,” he added with a big, ‘we’ll be chatting at the next Lucasfilm picnic George’ grin.

Warwick is working on a movie called “Agent 1/2”, a project he has written and plans to star in once they find a studio willing to fund it. The film is about a team of short spies, who are the people who work in the shadows to make the average-sized spies look good. He said Val Kilmer has expressed an interest in playing the normal-sized spy in the movie.

Warwick is also the actor inside the costumer of Marvin the Paranoid Android in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” movie, and he recently did a dramatic stint in “Ray”.

Of course, after that, we had to go see the Ep3 footage that Rick McCallum brought with him again. It was a little different this time, as Rick took questions. Of course, part way through he stopped and said, “Do you really want to hear a wanker like me answer questions, or would you rather see the footage again?” The audience cheered, Rick answered a couple of more questions, evangelized about digital cinema again (“Go out there and tell the theater owners that in an era of people like Robert Rodriguez and Jim Cameron and George making totally digital movies that you want to see movies the way they were meant to be seen!”) and then ran the footage for us a second time. W00t!

Our last session of the day was a presentation by John Knoll, visual effects supervisor for the prequel trilogy. John showed some brand new, behind the scenes pics from the original trilogy that he has collected for a book he’s written about the making of all the movies. Some great stuff there, and a lot of pictures of the making of the original series that I had never seen before. He also showed some footage from the making of Revenge of the Sith, showed some blooper renders including the horrible things that can happen with capes (“Just like Edna said in The Incredibles, NO CAPES!”) and finished with some joke shots some of the artists had put together including iPod trooper and Palpatine playing solitaire in his office.

The big finish of the day was Celebration at Celebration 3, which was a giant party in the big ballroom with food, drinks, games, costumes, and celebrities walking through the crowd. It was a great event, with a gigantic merchandise line (*sigh*). Natasha even managed to win herself a lightsaber. So, the Force was with her.

More tomorrow, from the last day of Star Wars Celebration III.

Star Wars Celebration III: Day 2 — LINES!

The word for the day here at Celebration III is… LINES! The weather is cold and rainy today, the kind of day where if you spend much time in the rain you spend the rest of the day squidging everywhere because you just can’t seem to get dry. And spend time in the rain we did. We arrived at the Convention Center to find ourselves having to walk about a mile away, up long flights of stairs, down long flights of stairs, around buidings and even through the outer hallways of the RCA Dome next door to finally find the end of the line to get in to the convention center. And yes, it was raining much of the time. Now, mind you, this was the “Fan Club” line, which was supposed to get you into the convention earlier than the poor ugnaughts who didn’t pay the $40 or so to join the fan club. Can you say, they oversold this event. Can you say, Greed is the path to the dark side? I can. And I will say it loud with a letter to GenCon, carbon-copied to Lucasfilm. We spent an hour and a half waiting to get into the event, which I think is kind of ridiculous.

Natasha and I had heard when we first got here they had sold something like 20,000 tickets to this event. Today, one of the local hotel employees told us there were more like 40,000 people in town for this event. We’ll never know the real number, but it was more than this event can handle. They had a 7 hour line for the convention store today. When Natasha and I wandered down to that side of the building to see what was up with that, we discovered the fire marshall ordering people to disperse because the store was booked for the day and they weren’t going to allow anyone else to line up for it. We dispersed the area, but it was very disappointing not to be able to purchase any souveniers of the actual event. While we might be able to get to the store tomorrow, I kind of doubt it, since George Lucas is going to be here.

All those bad things said, I do have to say the fans are putting up with it with Jedi patience. I really haven’t seen anyone being anything but polite and friendly. Star Wars fans are light-siders, I think. I also want to say that the volunteers who are running the events, from groups like the 501st Stormtrooper legion, have done an incredible job keeping order in a fun way, and keeping people entertained while we waited in line after line after line.

And we did get to see some very entertaining things today, despite all the lines all over the place. We went to a presentaion by Nick Gillard, the stunt coordinator on the prequels. Nick gave a great talk with Jay Laga’aia (Captain Typho in the prequels who is hosting on one of the stages here) where he answered questions mostly about how the lightsaber duels in the prequels were put together. One of my favorite moments was when someone asked him what was easier — teaching the type of saber fighting used in the sword to sword duels or teaching the actors how they should move the sword to deflect blaster fire. Nick chuckled and said, “Oh, blaster blocking definitely, since all you need to teach the boys to do is wave and spin the sword in a pretty way. And they’ll do that all day long if you let them…especially Ewan.”

Someone also rode bravely into the geek area with a question about whether Nick came up with a different style for each of the “7 Forms of Lightsaber Combat” that “we all know about now.” The lightsaber forms have been featured in some of the collateral material like the books and games. Nick gave him a quizzical look and said, “Well, you all may know about that, but I don’t. So, no.”

After that, I went and played the Ep3 video game soon to be released by LucasArts. Awesome game! I couldn’t put the controller down. It’s non-stop Jedi action — a sort of story/fighting game, and the game has a very deep combo system with some rpg elements, since you can develop your character in different ways as you go on. This is one I’m definitely going to have to play! And you can play a Jedi from episode III, Cyn Drallig (spell it backwards) who looked surprisingly like someone we saw a little earlier.

We also saw a presentation by sound designer (and voice of General Grievous in the prequels) Matt Wood, which featured footage from reel 4 of the film where the duel between Obi-Wan and Grievous starts. Matt took the audience through the duel several times with different layers of sound and showed how all the elements of sound added tremendous amounts to the total experience of the film. It was also great since we got to watch the duel over and over again.

Matt also offered some great advice to aspiring sound designers which was to go out, get the tools which are available for the PC nowadays and just get involved in it. Work on group projects at film school or even on fan films with friends. He said it was very important to both prove you knew how to use the tools AND show you knew how to work with a team on a big project.

We also visited with another Matt today, Matt Stover, who wrote the novelization of the movie. (I’ll be writing a review of that at some point, but as a quick note, it’s an AWESOME book — probably one of the best Star Wars books written to date. Pick it up to read before or after the film, it will add a LOT to your experience of the emotional journeys of the characters.) Matt talked about his experience writing the book, and how it showed him that in learning what the story was about he would continually find what a great craftsman of story George Lucas really is. He would reach some points where he found something that didn’t quite work about a characterization he had built, go back and edit some of his earlier writing to make some motivations fit, and discover that a little editing would make everything else fit together. He said his experience was that George had always been there before him and really had the characters thought out. Interesting, considering George’s storytelling is sometimes maligned by the critics.

Matt got to meet with George to discuss the story, and he described it as being like talking to another fan, except one who knew EVERYHING. He did say George might answer a question about Anakin, by turning it into a story about Darth Sidious and then explaining something about the master who taught Sidious and then another person, which was cool but by the end of it George would say, “But we’re not going to tell them that so you can’t use it.

The session ended on a profound note, where a fan asked a question about fear and how Matt perceived it and it’s relationship to the Star Wars story. Matt said, “There’s a reason fear is the path to the dark side, as they say in the films.” It’s the most powerful thing that keeps people from being the best person they could be, fear of looking silly, fear of being hurt. He said something that I truly believe in right now, which is that the United States is a nation living in a culture of fear. Every day marketers push things on us by making us afraid we might smell bad, or look stupid, or just not have enough to be considered right. He said you have to be aware and suspicious of people who are trying to make you afraid. It was a great note to end on, and the audience really applauded the point that learning to be unafraid is the first chance to really achieve things.

The highlight of the day, though was the Rick McCallum spectacular. Rick brought a 7 minute movie of shots from the prequel and some making of footage showing the progress of some of the effects shots. It was INCREDIBLE. They were showing it in loops and people were going in and out again and again to see it. This is going to be probably the most visually exciting Star Wars movie of them all, I am now certain.

Got to hand it to Rick, too. He’s a hard worker for the fans. He was supposed to be there for a couple of sessions, but stayed the entire day looping through the footage for them. He’s definitely the hardest working producer in show business, and the nicest one to fans. Kudos to him!

More to come. Pics on the site. Keep those hailing frequencies open!

Star Wars Celebration III: Day 1

The Force was with us as we made the intrepid hyperspace jump to the planet Indianapolis for Star Wars Celebration 3. We spent the day figuring out the convention center layout and getting an idea of exactly where the things we wanted to see were. And there is A LOT to see.

Today was mostly spent exploring the vendor hall and fan hall. We checked out the LucasArts booth to see the new Episode III video game, Battlefront 2, and the new “Rage of the Wookiees” expansion for Star Wars Galaxies. All “impressive, most impressive”. I didn’t get any hands on time with them as the booth was more full of people than a bantha is of Tatooinian sand fleas. I’m going to try to get in sometime tomorrow and check them out. They look amazing, though! The Ep3 game is an action lightsaber fighting game that looks almost exactly like the movie. And Battlefront 2 starts with the battle aboard the Tantive IV / Rebel Blockade Runner from Ep4. There’s space action in the game, with a mode based on the assault mode from Unreal Tournament, where you can hop in a starfighter, fly in space, and then land on enemy ships and do battle aboard them. Very kewl. And did I mention, JEDI in this one! w00t!

Natasha and I did get to play the Wizards of the Coast Star Wars Miniatures game, which is based on the d20 version of the roleplaying game. It’s a very kewl game and very easy to pick up, if you’ve had any exposure to d20 Dungeons and Dragons or any of the other d20 games. Natasha and I decimated Obi-Wan and his clueless clonetroopers with General Grievous and his droid bodyguards.

We went to the opening ceremonies this evening which were amazing. We got to the hall an hour early and weren’t even sure we were going to make it in, since the line was out the doors and up to the roof, but we made it and there was even a fair amount of room behind us.

Steven Sansweet, the fan relations guru from Lucasfilm emceed the show, which featured the “Battle of the Heroes” music video from the Ep3 soundtrack, as well as the Showwest piece that featured all of the films tied together in one piece.

The highlight of the night for me had to be Jay Laga’aia (Captain Typho from Ep2 and Ep3) singing the Weird Al song about Episode I. Brilliant! Hit the link for videos of the band that played us into the hall and for Jay’s song.

Check out the gallery for today’s pictures.

More Force to come…..