Monday, May 23, 2005

I saw the completion of two things this weekend: the Star Wars prequels and Mobile Suit Gundam Seed. An interesting juxtaposition.

[Darth Vader]

The Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith screening was fun mainly for all the things George Lucas didn’t do. SW has become something so far beyond Lucas himself that much of my enjoyment of the films come from the little things created by CG artists or fans. The screening was full of an excited buzz, and when the “Long Time Ago” title came up, everyone cheered and hollered. Throughout the movie, Yoda received several rounds of applause. That made the movie much more fun.

And it was little bits of the movie that I really enjoyed, much more so than Lucas’ dialogue or plot. Obi-Wan travels to some…planet…or other to track down General Grievous. Okay, fine, whatever. But that lizard thing Obi-Wan rode was an amazing sight, a perfectly realized creature straight from Ray Harryhausen’s imagination. Anakin and Obi-Wan are fighting over lava. Okay, great, nicely done. But it’s the little worker droid that flies up next to them, takes one look, breeps in alarm and flies away, that sells it.

This is not to suggest that the film’s plot or actors are poor; everyone does a fine job (though to my surprise, I found Natalie Portman’s performance mediocre; she was much better as the leader of a resistance than as a doting wife). But that’s all it was: fine jobs. Good work, and all that. It’s like a line drawing: the edges define the beauty of the work, not the blank spaces in between.

[Gundam Seed]

Gundam Seed had similar problems, really. Characters are introduced, then have almost nothing to do for ten episodes, other than exist as characters to cut to and hear their shocked intakes of breath. The story itself is a borrowed collage of early Gundam storylines, which is enjoyable to a point. At some point, I would have liked to see some originality, if just in exploring the consequences of these borrowed plot elements.

But if nothing else, Seed demonstrates tremendous respect for its characters. It makes you want certain characters to get back together or have a greater role, then grants those desires as appropriate. Several great characters die, but even their deaths feel right.

Death is an important part of Seed and Gundam in general. Characters die. Good characters die. And they tend to die in ways that are important. Very few characters die pointlessly, and even when they do, that’s also used to drive the other characters. I’m reminded of a quote by Chiaki J. Konaka: “Just as there is no such thing as a meaningless life, there is no such thing as a meaningless death….[In writing Digimon Tamers,] I felt that we must not treat death itself lightly.”

But it’s the little things. After two important characters are finally reunited and achieve a certain peace with each other, one speaks to the other by having his Gundam’s hand clasp the shoulder of the other’s Gundam. It’s an intimate, brotherly gesture. What a wonderful way to show that these characters had re-connected.

All in all, I saw two great endings this weekend. Can’t complain.

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