I seem to come from an alternate dimension, one in which the Star Wars prequels were great, and loved by all. In my universe, I distinctly remember my friends and I raving about Episode I, and how it made a gajillion dollars at the box office, and how even Rotten Tomatoes gave each of the three prequels a certified, over 60% fresh rating. Hell, when the Revenge of the Sith trailer played in my local theater, the entire audience cheered. And when Anakin made his slow descent into the river of lava on Mustafar, my wife cried, and she never cries during movies! But then, at some point between 1999 and today, I stepped through a wormhole to end up here, where every human hates the prequels. Though we live in a world of diversity, where some people are Creationists and others believe in evolution, some are Democrat and others are Republican, some love Obama and others think he should be impeached, there is ONE thing everybody seems to agree upon: the Star Wars prequels were terrible, terrible movies. I guess I am lucky, at least, to own copies of the prequels from my own dimension.
|A downed Star Destroyer! We’ve never seen that before!
All joking aside, Star Wars means different things to different people. Nobody can quite agree on what makes it so special. Is it the story? The acting? The effects? Some combination of the three? For me, Star Wars was, and has always been, the ultimate fantasy. Now I do not use the word fantasy in the genre sense, but as a verb, as in “to fantasize” or to daydream. In 1977, George Lucas seemed to have bottled the imaginations of every 12 year old boy on Earth, to distill it onto the silver screen. A New Hope came out when I was two, so I didn’t see a Star Wars flick until 1980, with the release of The Empire Strikes Back. At the time, I was too young to fully follow the story, but I remember it changing my life. I went home to draw X-Wings and giant slugs, and looked for anything with which to live out my own space adventures, at one point using pen caps as spaceships. Being new to the cinema, I didn’t quite realize the anomaly that was Star Wars, and I eagerly anticipated more such spectacles. But despite Sci-Fi classics like Aliens, Terminator, Flight of the Navigator and The Last Star Fighter, nothing ever came close. Every other film was about a thing. E.T. was about a cute alien. Short Circuit was about a robot. Ghostbusters was about, well, catching ghosts. No other director could match Lucas’ creative audacity. For my generation, Star Wars was more than a movie. It was a window into another universe, a universe with laser swords and quarreling robots, with co-pilots that looked like Bigfoot and telekinetic wizards and moon-sized space stations that could blow up planets. Other studios attempted to reach the same levels of grandeur. The film, Krull, comes to mind, and the TV series Battlestar Galactica. But they all felt like cheap imitations. Then, three years later, Lucas really blew our minds. Everyone who watched A New Hope in ’77 wanted a sequel, obviously, and would have been content with more of the same, but George went far beyond expectation, giving us something both different and awesome, expanding his universe on the frozen world of Hoth, and with AT-AT Walkers and Yoda, and Vader saying, “Luke, I am your father!” And what kid in the 80’s didn’t try to freeze his action figures? My mother yelled at me when she found my Han Solo next to the popsicles.
Despite what you’ve heard, Lucas is a brilliant filmmaker. After all, he both wrote and directed the original Star Wars, without which there would be no franchise, no games, no toys and no “VII.” And he gave us Indiana Jones. Afterward, he could have spent his life making toilet cleaner commercials, and his reputation would in no way be diminished in my mind. But the haters never bother to mention his other great films, like THX 1138 and American Graffiti. No doubt, his style is unusual, what he himself describes as “documentary.” THX 1138, as he put it, is not “about” the future but “from” the future. What does that mean? Imagine you have a time machine that can pick up TV signals from the year 3000. Tune it to C-SPAN and, chances are, you won’t have a clue what anyone is talking about. With that in mind, the confusion regarding galactic trade agreements in Phantom Menace makes a lot more sense. Now you might be saying, who cares? Politics is boring! Maybe for you, but not for me, and not for Lucas, apparently. Besides, politics is central to the plot of the prequel films, as Anakin’s descent to the dark side is perfectly mirrored by the Republic’s transformation into the Empire. If you’re an amateur YouTube critic like Red Letter Media’s Mr. Plinkett (or whoever it is that voices the character), you might think Lucas is incompetent, that he “forgot how to direct” or that he simply “lost his way,” but anyone who has watched his earlier films knows that much of the criticism is in regards to his style. Since the seventies, Lucas has described himself as an independent filmmaker, working outside the Hollywood system, and that’s what Star Wars is, the most expensive independent film ever made and a true work of art. Why else would world renown art critic Camille Paglia describe Revenge of the Sith as “our generation’s greatest work of art”? Why else would film students, like Mike Klimo, dedicate exhaustive hours to studying the prequels as if it were Citizen Kane? Maybe you hate it, but style and art are subjective, and that is what makes it, for me, so compelling.
When I heard they were making a seventh Star Wars film without Lucas, I distinctly wrote on my Facebook page, “anyone but J.J. Abrams.” OK, I can think of a few worse directors, like Michael Bay, but after the Star Trek reboot, I realized Abrams is the anti-Lucas. He is all pop, no art and no style (unless you count his fondness for lens flare). He gives audiences exactly what the studios say we want. And the studios, unfortunately, know of only one formula for making movies: if it worked before, it will work again. Abrams is the poster child for this type of formulaic film making. Or did you really think the Trek reboot was original in any way? With its planet destroying super weapon ripped straight from the Death Star? Or Star Trek II, which copied the plot of, er, Star Trek II? Or Super 8, which was nothing more than an ugly mash up between Alien and E.T.? My biggest fear is having a Star Wars that resembles other films, one that is derivative and uninspired, and which suffers from sequelitis. The Phantom Menace, at least, continued in the tradition of expanding what we knew about the Star Wars galaxy. In Episode I, we discovered Naboo, with its Renaissance architecture and sleek, elegant ships; we watched a pod race, learned about galactic politics, and were made to “unlearn what we had learned” or assumed, regarding the genetic component of the Force (something that was always implied in the originals, if you bothered to think and pay attention). Last but not least, we were thrilled by a three-way light saber duel set to an amazing operatic theme, still the best, IMHO, fight scene in the series. It was nothing like the Star Wars we grew up with, which was why it was everything like the Star Wars we grew up with.
Some time after ’99, complaints about the prequels started to flood the Internet. Jar-Jar was no doubt a miscalculation (something Lucas was quick to correct in the later installments), and the acting and dialogue were, admittedly, abysmal (and yet, no more so than in the originals). But of the dumbest complaints were these: “Why do the spaceships look brand new? They should all look like they did in the originals,” and “Why are there robots? We can’t dress up like robots!” and most idiotic of all, “Where is the Darth Vader like character?” But my favorite one was this, written by a legitimate critic in a legitimate newspaper, “Why is there is so much traffic on Coruscant?” Lucas should know there’ll be no traffic jams in the future! It’s as if the haters wanted nothing more than a rehash of old material. When Abrams took over, he did exactly what I knew he would. He read the complaints, took them to heart, and did what he does best: he copied, adding a heavy dose of nostalgia. The newest trailer, much like the teaser, bears this out. The whole Internet had a collective nerdgasm and grown men wept. And for what?
Look everybody! Storm Troopers are back! Though slightly different. And X-Wing fighters are back! Though slightly different. And Tie Fighters are back! Thought slightly different. Hell, even Darth Vader is back! Though slightly different. And the Millennium Falcon is back too! Which is, actually, exactly the same. Is this really what the fans wanted? More of the same? If Abrams had been tasked to give us The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, do you think he would have given us Yoda or Boba Fett? With Return of the Jedi, would he have risked introducing us to Jabba the Hutt, the Sarlaac Pit, Ewoks or the Emperor? So far, the only original thing we have to look forward to in The Force Awakens is a droid with the body of a soccer ball. So . . . there’s that.
Look, the trailer looks cool, and I am confident Abrams will handle the acting and dialogue better than Lucas ever could. But without George, Star Wars will lose its artistry and its magic, the very things that set it far beyond every other 80’s movie, the very things that has us excited about a new installment forty years after its inception.
When Disney canceled the excellent Clone Wars series, leaving many loose plot threads, to replace it with Rebels, I gave it a chance. But I find Rebels to be derivative, watered down, and downright boring. I can’t, in all honesty, bring myself to watch it. But a movie with a hundred+ million dollar budget is a different thing altogether. Perhaps, by this December, I will be eating my words. Abrams might just give us something fresh and inspiring, taking the franchise to awesome new heights, and I will be made to look the idiot. That is something I am sincerely, sincerely hoping.
|Oh, scratch that, this light saber has a hand guard! That’s new!
STAR WARS RING THEORY BY MIKE KLIMO
Recently, prequel fan Mike Klimo posted an amazing, exhaustive and heavily indexed research paper about something he calls Star Wars Ring Theory. Klimo proves that George Lucas’ six part film saga is an intricately woven and symbolic work of art (a considerable departure from anything Hollywood, or J.J. Abrams, is likely to give us). He shows how the prequel films perfectly mirror the originals, in an exploration of Buddhist and Daoist principles, highlighting many of the things I have long noted and admired. And yet, he still managed to blow me away with stuff I never knew. Did you know, for instance, that in Daoism, the word used to describe immortality, or the practice of attaining immortality, is remarkably similar to the name Qui-Gon? Mind. Blown. So, if you haven’t checked it out already, please go to: Star Wars Ring Theory.
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