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The Art Of The Space Battle

Many people consider RETURN OF THE JEDI to be the weakest of the three present Star Wars films, but there is one thing that many fans seem to agree on about it: ROTJ had one of the best space battles in film history. What about it makes it stand out from the rest? And what lessons can the makers of the prequels (and other films) learn from it? That's what this editorial is about.

First off, and most importantly, you always knew what was going on during the battle. Despite all the chaos, dozens of ships, and other events, it was always perfectly clear (even to a child) what was happening. That was one of the problems I had with INDEPENDENCE DAY. Several times during the dogfights I'd say, "OK, you lost me. What's happening besides total chaos?" The ROTJ battle had several distinct events leading to the conclusion: the arrival, "It's a trap!", chaos ensuing, Death Star II picking off ships, regrouping against the Star Destroyers, shield goes down, fly into the Death Star, blow the sucker to bits. Simple. I imagine the INDEPENDENCE DAY script said something like "the fighters fly into a mass of alien ships and all get blown up". I had much the same reaction to the dogfight at the beginning of LOST IN SPACE. There were absolutely incredible effects, but the camera was so shaky and every scene was jam packed with effects, I became disoriented. Even motion sick! :) I lost track of what was happening.

Second, every shot had a purpose in ROTJ. Every scene in the dogfight took you from point A to point B in the battle. INDEPENDENCE DAY had what I call "money shots". By that I mean they show off how much money they spent in special effects or their capabilities. Many of the shots just showed hundreds of ships buzzing around blasting each other, not much else. Just because you can create hundreds of ships flying at once doesn't mean that's the way to go. Sure, ROTJ had huge effects shots, but they were more coherent, you could tell what was happening, and they moved the battle along. They had a point.

Next, bigger isn't always better. As I mentioned above, just because you can create a million ships doesn't mean you should. ROTJ had huge shots, but for every one of the big scenes there were scenes focusing on one or two ships. Remember the A-Wing hitting the Star Destroyer? The TIE fighter crashing into the ship's bay? Those were as effective as the shots with the Falcon flying through a swarm of TIE fighters.

Finally, good effects are really important. I had the pleasure of meeting Anthony Daniels in Dallas a few weeks ago. During our conversation, he said that a bad special effect is a lot like a scratch on a record. You could be going along totally wrapped up in the music you are listening to, then all of the sudden the record would hit a scratch and totally knock you out of the moment. A bad effect in a movie is the same. The effects in ROTJ are fifteen years old, yet they still hold up to today's standards. I can point to another good movie, THE LAST STARFIGHTER. It has some pretty good space battles, but the effects don't hold up to today's standards. In that situation, the models were superior to computer graphics. I believe that takes away from being totally wrapped up in the space battle.

Well,those are my thoughts. Hopefully the creators of the battles in the prequels are following the Flanneled One's game plan and sticking by his old rules. They still work. But then again, they don't have much choice since he's the boss. :) Scott Chitwood


04/08/03 - Christopher Knight - Oscars Give Short Shrift to Fantasy
03/17/03 - Joshua Griffin - Put the REAL Classics on DVD
01/29/03 - Joshua Griffin - Imagine a Star Wars HALO Videogame
01/14/03 - Michael Potts - Clone Wars: Expanded Universe Editorial


09/03/02 - Joshua Griffin - Digital Pirates Sink Ships
05/17/02 - Chris Knight - Digital Projection: The Audience Is Watching... And Waiting
04/11/02 - TFN Staff - Thumbs Up, Tumbs Down for SW2 Marketing
03/08/02 - TFN Staff - Clone War Trailer Reaction
01/13/02 - TFN Staff - TFN Reaction to SNL N'Sync Skit
01/03/02 - TFN Staff - Boy Band Jedi Reactions


12/12/01 - Chris Knight - Sic Transit Gloria Mundi
12/07/01 - Jeff Yankey - All I Want for Christmas
11/17/01 - Guest Editorial - Ritual and Romance of Episode II
10/04/01 - Guest Editorial - Why Episode I is Brilliant
10/02/01 - Guest Editorial - Episode I is Star Wars
09/30/01 - Guest Editorial - Why I Loved Episode I
09/25/01 - Joshua Griffin - Episode II: Make It or Break It Time
08/21/01 - Chris Knight - SW2: Attack On The Soul?
07/13/01 - Joshua Griffin - Special Time for SW Fans
05/14/01 - Joshua Griffin - AlphaCon is Finished
05/09/01 - Chris Knight - In The Beginning... Star Wars Comes To A Wired World
04/17/01 - Joshua Griffin - Global TFN - International Outlook on Star Wars
03/14/01 - Chris Knight - Palpatine vs. Hitler: Prequel Speculation Runs Amok!
02/13/01 - Chris Knight - "The Force" of Love: A Valentine's Day Editorial
01/17/01 - Chris Knight - Star Wars Could Continue... As Television Anthology
01/11/01 - Guest Editorial - A Review of A New Hope After the Prequels
01/07/01 - Guest Editorial - No - We Want the DVDs Now!
01/04/01 - Chris Knight - New Digital Disciple Says "Lets Wait On Star Wars DVDs"


12/21/00 - Joshua Griffin - Is George Lucas Really a Genius?
11/18/00 - Joshua Griffin - To Spoil or Not to Spoil
11/06/00 - Joshua Griffin - The Power of the Election
11/01/00 - Chris Knight - Why Isn't There A Star Wars Postage Stamp?
08/17/00 - Jason McCabe Calacanis - The SW2 Fan Trailer (guest editorial)
07/14/00 - Joshua Griffin/Scott Chitwood - TFN's Spoiler Policy
06/20/00 - Chris Knight - Star Wars and the Saga of Life
05/13/00 - TFN Staff - Wish List
04/08/00 - Special Guest Editorial by Skybaugh - Worth the Wait
03/30/00 - Joshua Griffin - What Star Wars Has Won
03/19/00 - Joshua Griffin - The Next Denver Celebration
03/14/00 - Joshua Griffin - Fair Weather Fans
03/07/00 - Joshua Griffin - Predicting the Academy Award Winners
02/22/00 - Joshua Griffin - Who should profit from Star Wars?
02/16/00 - Joshua Griffin - Episode I and the Academy
01/27/00 - TFN Staff - Flaming TFN over DVD
01/25/00 - Chris Knight - Motivations of the Sith
01/20/00 - TFN Staff - Leonardo DiCaprio as Anakin?
01/10/00 - Joshua Griffin - World-Wide Star Wars
01/03/00 - Joshua Griffin - Mass Merchandising Menace


12/13/99 - Joshua Griffin - Questioning Star Wars
11/22/99 - Joshua Griffin - Trusting Internet Rumors
11/11/99 - Paul Davidson - Rise of the Empire: China and TPM
10/28/99 - Scott Chitwood - Signs There Probably Won't Be a Sequel Trilogy
10/18/99 - Joshua Griffin - Why not Episode I DVD?
10/15/99 - Joshua Griffin - What Makes SW Fans Special
10/01/99 - Joshua Griffin - The PG Rating of TPM
09/07/99 - Scott Chitwood and Paul Ens - Comic and Book Wishlist
08/18/99 - TF.N Team - Thumbs Up / Thumbs Down on Episode I Everything
07/11/99 - Joshua Griffin - Parody Site isn't that funny
07/10/99 - Brian Linder - The Jar Jar Factor
06/08/99 - Joshua Griffin & Chris Knight - Why is Jar Jar in Episode I?
05/06/99 - Darin Smith - Return of the Child
03/09/99 - Scott Chitwood and Paul Ens - A Chat with LFL
02/07/99 - Amy Pronovost - Convention Romances, Can they Work?
01/23/99 - Scott Chitwood - What's up with Prowse?
01/01/99 - Scott Chitwood - Uncle George and Episode 1


11/23/98 - Scott Chitwood - What Lucasfilm is doing right
11/05/98 - Scott Chitwood - Prequel Spoilers
09/28/98 - David Coates - First thoughts on the the Episode 1 Title
06/19/98 - Scott Chitwood - How Godzilla affected Episode I
04/09/98 - Scott Chitwood - The Art of the Space Battle
04/09/98 - Scott Chitwood - DIVX SUX
02/26/98 - Scott Chitwood - X-WING TV Series Should Fly
02/09/98 - Scott Chitwood - Xerox Sites
02/03/98 - Scott Chitwood - Canon Issue, Part 2
01/07/98 - Terrence Daniels - Canon = Personal Preference


12/17/97 - Darin Smith - Everything I need to know...
11/15/97 - Chris Kivlehan - Six Episodes or Nine Episodes?
11/07/97 - Scott Chitwood - How do you solve a problem like Ewan?
11/03/97 - Scott Chitwood - How we get our Prequel 'Spy' info
10/22/97 - Paul Davidson - Trek vs. Wars

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