Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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I feel that I owe J.K. an apology. I had always felt that her depiction of evil was a bit naive, 2-dimensional, “comic-booky.” I had long taken the liberal stance that real evil doesn’t exist, or if it does, it’s very, very rare. People are genuinely good, I thought, and genuinely want to do good things. A scene that stands out in my mind is from Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, wherein the titular character, a Nazi industrialist, tells the soldiers working in his factory that they can shoot the Jews if they want to. He makes this announcement after the war is declared over. Before then, he had protected his workers from harm, despite his wearing a swastika pin. By asking the Germans to kill the Jews, and I paraphrase here, “if you want to,” he demonstrated the basic goodness of humanity, because no one in uniform acted of his own accord to commit murder. That, I believed, is the reality. Hitler brainwashed his people first before using fear and intimidation to carry out his misdeeds. Aside from Himmler and Goebbels and Mengele and other SS officials, few Nazis were actually evil. In my own The Princess of Aenya, the villain, Zaibos, creates an atmosphere of perpetual dread to exert control. So when, in the Potter films, devotees by the hundreds come out in support of Voldemort, it felt somewhat implausible. It wasn’t as if Voldemort had had some stranglehold over the wizarding community. On the contrary, Death Eaters in hiding went out of their way to serve him. The transition within the Ministry of Magic was jarring. In no time at all, every position of power, including Headmaster of Hogwarts, was filled by followers of the Dark Lord. Where were the institutions to prevent this from happening? How did the good wizards get so quickly pushed underground and into a role of resistance? This was pure melodrama, Ms. Rowling, and poor writing. Or so I thought.

Then of course, it happened in the real world. Now I am sorry if you’ve read thus far and you’re a Trump supporter (and really, did you get nothing out of the Potter books?), you can click the X in the corner or leave me an angry comment, but the way I see it, the takeover of the current administration perfectly mirrors the way in which Voldemort and his cronies seize the wizarding world. What has startled me isn’t how evil and inept Trump is, but rather, the sheer number of his followers who are racists, misogynists, homophobes, and outright hate mongers, people only too happy to throw away their freedoms to ally themselves to a greedy conman. At breakneck speed, we have come to the edge of dictatorship, and Trump isn’t even to blame. He is far too stupid to have manipulated anyone or anything. Rather, it was the people that gave him power. This recent turn in history has helped me to understand that Hitler didn’t make the Nazi Party, it was the Germans who harbored a hatred of Jews and a love for authoritarianism. Likewise, I now realize just how brilliantly J.K. Rowling portrayed Voldemort’s rise to power, because, even as far back as her second book, The Chamber of Secrets, Voldemort’s followers were there, hiding in the shadows, manifesting themselves in the fathers of Draco and Crabbe and Goyle

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Do these guys look familiar?

 

So what does this have to do with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? Not much. But I will say my criticisms for The Cursed Child are applicable to this book, in that Fantastic Beasts… is not a novel but a screenplay, and screenplays are meant to be watched, not read. I had so hoped that J.K. would put the same effort into this series as she had Harry Potter, but she may be burned out. I know I would be after writing seven novels! Still, most Potterheads will agree that the movies are inferior, due to the wealth of information the books contain. Film is a limited format, bound by two to three hours’ running time, whereas there is just so much more storytelling you can fit on the page. For Fantastic Beasts…, which was written for the screen, the process should work in reverse. The book should provide more information, to give readers a reason to pick it up. Some adaptations, like for the Star Wars prequels, actually do this. There is a chapter describing how Shmi Skywalker was kidnapped by the Tusken Raiders in Attack of the Clones, which you never see on screen. Unfortunately, there is nothing like this to be mined from the Fantastic Beasts… screenplay. Honestly, I would say that if you’ve seen the movie, there is no reason to go out and buy the book.

 

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How ’bout now?

As for the story, it’s quite a simple adventure, featuring a dozen creatures straight from J.K.’s furtive imagination, which are all better portrayed visually, and a lot more interesting than the protagonists. Newt and company can’t hold a deluminator to Harry, Ron and Hermione. But what stood out for me, in the grand scheme of her connected universe, is a subplot involving an evil wizard briefly mentioned in the Potter books. Grindelwald was the original holder of the Elder Wand, until he was defeated by a young Dumbledore. It may be that here, J.K. is showing us how history repeats itself, knowing how Tom Riddle follows in Grindelwald’s nefarious footsteps. What might make this villain more interesting, however, and more relevant to our time, in the book, Grindelwald gives a short speech regarding the inferiority of muggles, his sentiments echoing those of real-world “wizards.” And with Rowling tweeting daily against the abuses of right-wing ideologues, it would not surprise me to see life imitating art imitating life.

Thelana: Feminist Icon?

It seems to me that a lot of feminists just don’t know when to celebrate. It isn’t as if the world doesn’t still have a ways to go before we reach equality between the sexes, we most certainly do. But that doesn’t mean we cannot take note of small victories along the way. What is, at times, even more aggravating is when feminists try and turn positives into negatives.

Case in point, Wonder Woman, which just released this weekend, is a fantastic film with a fantastic star, Gal Gadot, directed by a female director, Patty Jenkins. It is the first female-led superhero film since 1984’s abysmal Supergirl, and the best reviewed DC film on Rotten Tomatoes at a whopping 94%. Audiences are loving it, as the movie has already raked in 100 million. Wonder Woman is all kinds of groundbreaking, but none of that seems to matter to CNN film critic Lewis Beale. Never mind that my two daughters, 7 and 12, were utterly ecstatic leaving the theater, or that I could see in their eyes that same sense of well, wonder, that I must have had at their age watching Christopher Reeve don the cape. For so-called feminists like Beale, Wonder Woman’s virtues are invalidated because Gadot is just too damn pretty, and she shows just a bit too much thigh. It’s at these moments that I wonder (no pun intended) whether people like Beale even understand what feminism is.

Now I have given a great deal of consideration to this notion that female heroes cannot be sexy, as I have struggled to reconcile my naturist ideals with feminism. And while my own heroine, Thelana, will most definitely never come near the status of icon that Wonder Woman embodies, it is worth noting that many of the same arguments in support of a thigh-exposing heroine can be made for my all-nude hero.

the Writer's Disease

Thelana: The Nude Heroine

I can already hear the detractors, the angry feminists calling me out as a sexist. Their argument, I imagine, will go something like this,

Thelana is the lead heroine in Nick Alimonos’ fantasy epic, “Ages of Aenya,” and she has everything we love to see in a female character: strength, intelligence, and she can dish out punishment good as her male companion. She even passes the Bechdel test! So why am I up in arms about Thelana? Well, when it comes to hyper-sexualizing women, this author’s hit rock bottom. We’re not talking chainmail bikinis or skintight tights here either, because with this super hero, there is no costume. You read that right. She is utterly, unapologetically, naked. If “Aenya” was some kind of erotica, I might give it a pass. But no, this is serious fantasy, straight out of Westeros and Middle Earth. So, as a…

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Underwhelmed by the Force

I know what people are going to say. First, I am going to get accused of click-baiting. The only reason I am criticizing this film is to get attention, they’ll say. This is, perhaps, what is most depressing. Social media creates peer pressure, to the point where you’re afraid to voice your true feelings. Whether it’s 97% for Star Wars or 14% for Fantastic Four, the hype train takes on a life of its own, and everyone is expected to get on board. It reminds me of middle school. My sandwiches were getting smashed in the paper bags we used to carry, but only babies bring lunch boxes to the cafeteria, until you get to college, that is. Then they’re hip and retro.

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Not cool for middle school.

For the past fifteen years, I have defended the prequels, not because of some blind love for all things Star Wars, but because I actually (call me crazy) loved the movies. Now, in many ways, I feel that I owe the haters an apology, but not for the reasons you might expect. I now know the crushing disappointment they must have felt in ’99, and I can relate to their need to vent.

Star Wars has always meant different things to different people. For some, it is a gritty space-adventure with zingy one-liners. But for me, Star Wars is boundless imagination, spectacle and inventiveness epic in scope, sheer visual poetry. Lucas uses the screen like a painter does a canvas. You can just freeze the frame and hang it on your wall. His worlds feel alive even when you’re not watching. He is like a documentarian, only filming what he found. We may not have understood the political machinations of the Galactic Senate, but that was the whole point. Like THX1138 and American Graffiti, Star Wars was “found footage.” This has always been Lucas’ style, and it’s one of the reasons I love his films.

With the prequels especially, Lucas had something to say. Despite most people not wanting to think (just look at the travesty that is the Trek franchise) he espoused philosophies and explored political ideas. Maybe the dialogue felt wooden, and the acting abysmal, but at least his characters had something interesting to say. I’ll take Padme’s, “This is how democracy dies, with thunderous applause,” over 2 1/2 hours of vacuous lines—however well delivered—any day.

People act as if Lucas suddenly became interested in effects, at the expense of story, but this is demonstrably not true. The original trilogy was cutting-edge for its time, and George used every technique available to him, limited only by what he could imagine. When we got to the prequels, he did what he knew best, pushing the visual envelope. Now, for the first time in Star Wars history, the franchise has taken a deliberate step backward. While everything in Episode VII feels more gritty and real (JJ uses almost entirely real sets on real locations), what does it matter, when we’ve seen these places before, in other films, and with our very own eyes? I’ve walked through a forest before, and a beach, and a snowy mountain. I don’t need to go to a galaxy far, far away to visit Jakku. Heck, my parents went there this summer; it’s called Dubai. And if I had a Millennium Falcon, I sure as heck wouldn’t take a trip to Clearwater Beach, 10 miles down the road. I’d want to see a giant sinkhole planet, like Utapau, or a termite-mound world like Geonosis, or the planet-wide cityscape of Coruscant. I’ll take imaginative and unconvincing over boring and realistic any day. National Geographic may look more believable than anything Frazetta can paint, but what does it matter, when we’re talking Sci-Fi/fantasy?

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Looks fake? Who cares!

Now, I’d be willing to overlook the mundane settings if at least the story was original, but it isn’t. The Force Awakens is a near-identical retelling of A New Hope, only, and I am not kidding here, the ’77 version told it a lot better. And if you are reading this and want to remain spoiler free, this is your last warning:

 

—- SPOILERS AHEAD —-

So, the day before I go into the movie, I am having a conversation with my nephews, and here is what I said, “I bet Kylo Ren is going to end up being somebody’s son, either Luke’s or Han’s.” It was Han’s. “I bet Finn holding a lightsaber on the poster is a red-herring. At the very end, Rey is going to pull out a lightsaber, proving (to herself and the audience) she is a Jedi.” This is exactly what happens. But this is the worst part, “I really hate that Starkiller base is a knock-off of the Death Star. It’s bad enough we have a Vader clone, more tie fighters and more X-Wings, but did we really need another super weapon? I swear, if they have to fly their X-Wings inside of it, to blow up some tiny reactor so that it implodes, I am going to be really pissed.” But my older nephew gave me hope. “Maybe not,” he said, “maybe JJ will do something cool and unexpected, like have Luke pull a moon down on top of it, destroying it with the Force. Remember how Yoda said, ‘Size matters not?'” Had they done that, it would have been amazing. In fact, his idea made me consider how JJ could take a familiar element (like the Death Star) and do something unique with it. Alas, we got nothing of the sort. I predicted almost the entire movie, scene for scene. Now compare The Force Awakens to the first Star Wars sequel. Who could have imagined, after A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back? With the introduction of Yoda, and Vader telling Luke, “I am your father,” and Han getting frozen in carbonite? Had Lucas let 20th Century Fox make a sequel to Star Wars in 1980, I imagine we would have gotten something like VII. There’s even a character in it, Maz Kanata, reminiscent of Yoda, and an Emperor-type character, who appears only as a hologram, Supreme Leader Snoke.

I admit, I was excited about seeing Snoke and Kanata. Up to that point, the absence of CGI is bluntly apparent, an effort to pander to the haters and apologize for Jar Jar Binks. So many puppets and costumes are on display here, that the movie, at times, looks outdated. Considering modern Sci-Fi, like Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s kind of ridiculous. Unconstrained by the weight of nostalgia, director James Gunn was free to try new things, and embrace modern effects, something Star Wars has long prided itself on. I don’t care what people say, CGI creatures look more real to me, because they move more fluidly, and their expressions are more lifelike. Why else did nobody think to use a hand puppet for Rocket Raccoon? So, I figured, at least we get to see some aliens that look alive. Only, these CGI characters could not be more boring. Supreme Leader Snoke, particularly, looks so human, I don’t know why they didn’t just make him human, or an actor in makeup. It makes the CGI look less convincing than Jar Jar.

All this aside, I did not hate the film. On the contrary, I quite enjoyed it, mostly for the nostalgia trip that it was. Watching the Falcon dodging tie fighters, and seeing the old gang together again, was great. Newcomer Daisey Ridley also gives a superb performance as Rey. But if Star Wars did not precede the title, the movie would not be causing such a stir, or come close to making the 2 billion it will undoubtedly make. As a standalone film, Interstellar, Guardians of the Galaxy and even The Martian are better. But Star Wars has a history behind it, a pedigree of expectation, and this was the first time in the series that I walked out of the theater not feeling thrilled or inspired, or even really wanting to see it again. Even John Williams’ score, which never fails to impress, is routine. I can’t think of a single memorable piece of music, nothing to compare with Duel of the Fates or Across the Stars. Perhaps most disappointing for me, The Force Awakens gives us little to nothing to talk about, and I doubt anyone will be discussing it, or debating it, in the next ten years.

At this point, I realize, it doesn’t matter what I think. Episode VII is riding a wave of positivity, and any dissenting opinion (like mine) is bound to get washed away. But to the people who really loved this movie, I only ask, “Does this improve on the Star Wars saga as a whole? Were we not better off, leaving it at Return of the Jedi?” Lucas said he never made a VII because there was no more story to tell. And, quite honestly, it saddens me to know that Han is killed by his own son, and that he and Leia don’t get to live happily ever-after, and that Luke becomes a hermit somewhere. Jedi was the perfect ending to a perfect story. Now, we have this ugly, uninspired imitation tacked on to it. While I am happy to see my favorite franchise return, I would have preferred a clean slate in another era, perhaps something along the lines of Knights of the Old Republic, but then Disney would not have been able to cash-in on the nostalgia trip.

 

 

Bob strikes back at “Attack of the Clones” naysayers*

Bob Clark’s excellent, albeit lengthy article is best summed up by his final paragraph, “Simply put, after all these years, the conversation surrounding them hasn’t ended, and isn’t likely to cease any time soon, as passionate supporters seek to defend it, even in the face of overwhelming objecting opinions. The fact that so many people are still talking about these films, even to decry their motives and attack their substance, stands as proof positive enough that they succeeded in making a permanent mark with audiences, providing a series of expert escapist adventure every bit as disturbing and thought-provoking as they are entertaining– love it or hate it, the movie remains a frequent talking point, and that makes it a modern classic.” I have made similar arguments in my own reviews. The Star Wars prequels remain true works of art; the proof is in the way they are continually discussed and debated. Poor films are forgotten. Lucas’ magnum opus has never been, and will likely never be.

Wonders in the Dark

Star Wars—Episode II: Attack of the Clones

***1/2

By Bob Clark

Prologue: Guilty Pleasures

In Milan Kundera’s 1984 novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the respected surgeon Tomas finds himself unable to find work after returning to Soviet-occupied Prague, thanks to his refusal to recant an article he’d written prior to the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. The matter of his article makes for one of the most persuasive readings of Greek mythology—a political interpretation of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. According to Tomas, the Communists of his country who claimed to be unaware of the Soviet Union’s atrocities were just as guilty as Oedipus, the Theban king who brought plagues upon his kingdom by unwittingly marrying his mother. “As a result of your ‘not knowing,’ this country has lost its freedom…” writes Kundera. “And you shout that you feel no guilt? How can you stand the sight of what you’ve…

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Attack of the Clones v. Return of the Jedi

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The lightsaber of Master Enim-Saj

After watching Attack of the Clones with my 11 year old daughter, she sent me this drawing of her lightsaber. I remember doing the same thing after seeing The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, rushing home to draw monsters and spaceships. This is all the proof I need that Lucas hasn’t failed, at least when it comes to inspiring a generation of kids.

After a while, all of the anti-prequel memes and videos start to sink in, and I sometimes think, “Hey, maybe these movies really do suck.” But whenever I actually sit down to watch them, I am pleasantly surprised. Despite a barrage of criticism, I have long maintained that Episodes I—III are great movies, and that much of the hate directed at them has to do with growing up and becoming jaded. Conversely, adoration for the originals has much to do with nostalgia. Older fans tend to dismiss the newer films, while younger viewers are typically more appreciative. This dichotomy between young and old has led to much debate. It’s difficult to accept that something you once loved can also be deeply flawed. “It can’t be me!” the haters think, “it must be George!” They insist Lucas has lost his way, that his success was a fluke, attributed to everything else but him. But the facts simply do not bear this out.

You won’t see people attacking Uwe Boll with the same vitriol, despite his highest rated film on Rotten Tomatoes scoring a 25%, with his lowest at 1%. Compare these figures to Lucas’ THX1138, at 88%, or his lowest rated film, The Phantom Menace, at 57% (3% shy of certified fresh). Box office receipts further attest to Lucas’ success as a filmmaker, with The Phantom Menace holding the #6 spot with 474 million, to the original Star Wars at #7 with 460 million. Still, critics insist Lucas is incompetent. It’s a character assassination that has driven the auteur into early retirement, even after saying that he wanted to make “smaller, more personal films.” But you’ll rarely see this kind of hatred for failed directors like Uwe Boll or the Wachowski Brothers/Siblings, or even for M. Night Shyamalan; and it has everything to do with nostalgia, growing up, and unmet expectations.

To test my theory further, and to prepare for The Force Awakens, I sat down with my kids for a week long movie marathon. This was the first they’ve been exposed to Star Wars, and the results were not surprising. Never did my older daughter say to me, “Daddy, why did the movies suddenly get better?” after Episode IV. Of the six films, Attack of the Clones happens to be her favorite, followed by VI, but “they are all pretty close.” My 5 year old, on the other hand, is running around the house knocking things over with her plastic lightsaber.

The prequels are rife with flaws, without question, but what Lucas does well—the action, the special effects, the mythological/philosophical/political motifs—more than make up for it. Besides, a lot of the same flaws get excused when it comes to the originals. And so, after carefully re-watching the saga, I thought it’d be interesting to compare, what I feel, is the worst of the prequels to the worst of the originals.

I should warn you, however, I am very new to podcasting, and would love to have the power to edit this thing. But I can’t, so please forgive the three-hundred or so times I utter the words, “you know.”


If you’d prefer not to listen to my voice (can’t really blame you) here is a list of the flaws I have found in both films:

ATTACK OF THE CLONES

  1. When the Naboo cruiser is blown up after landing on Coruscant, Corde tells Padme, “I’ve failed you senator.” Well, not really. The purpose of a decoy is to die in place of the person being protected. Oddly, Captain Typho seems to understand this, when he says, “She did her job.”
  2. Yoda tells Padme, “Seeing you alive brings warm feelings to my heart.” She doesn’t acknowledge him in any way.
  3. Obi-Wan gets into an argument with Anakin on whether it is in their mandate to find Padme’s assassin. Kenobi insists that their duties do not extend beyond protection. Later, when Kenobi sees the assassin droid outside her bedroom, he jumps through the window to catch it. But it would have made a lot more sense for Anakin to do so, being the impetuous one, and the one determined to find her killer.
  4. Zam Wessell shoots the droid carrying Kenobi instead of, you know, shooting him.
  5. Jango Fett uses a “Kamino saber dart” to kill Zam, when he could have used a blaster, leaving a trail for Kenobi to follow (although, it could be argued that Palpatine intended that he find the cloning facility on Kamino).
  6. A lot of the romantic dialogue is just painful to watch.
  7. After Anakin admits to murdering children (albeit, children of an “evil” species) Padme seems not to care.
  8. The most inexplicable mistake, and the one I simply cannot defend: the Jedi never make the connection between Jango Fett, the clones, and Count Dooku. Knowing Fett was hired by Dooku, and that he was also the template for the clones, they should have at least been suspicious of the Republic Army. This could have been fixed with a scene of the Jedi discussing their mistrust of the clones, which might have helped them escape Order 66.

RETURN OF THE JEDI

  1. The plan to save Han is ridiculously convoluted. First, C3PO and R2D2 show up as gifts for Jabba (just to get them into the movie, I guess). Then Leia arrives in disguise with Chewbacca (again, to get him into the movie), only to get captured. Lando is somewhere in the background, pretending to be someone else. Finally, Luke makes an appearance, only he doesn’t have his lightsaber. What was the original plan exactly?
  2. Jabba is a fat, naked alien slug with a penchant for “scantily clad human females,” apparently. This makes no sense. It would be like a horse getting turned on by a spider. Even if the point is to “degrade” her, how does Jabba know what is degrading to a human? And where does he even find a slave costume? Do they have racks of sexy outfits in the back somewhere? Slave Leia was, obviously, an attempt to appeal to adolescent boys.
  3. Luke falls into the rancor pit, using a perfectly sized bone to escape the rancor’s mouth. If the bone had been an inch or two bigger or smaller, he would have been lunch. And why again doesn’t he have his lightsaber?
  4. Finally, R2D2 shoots Luke’s lightsaber into the air, so he can catch it at the perfect moment, after he somersaults off a diving board. How could he have known any of that was going to happen? It all seems so contrived.
  5. Boba Fett, the most popular bad guy aside from Darth Vader, the “best bounty hunter in the galaxy,” dies in the most idiotic way imaginable, as Han accidentally hits his jet-back, sending him flying against Jabba’s pleasure barge and into the sarlaac pit. This always seemed, to me, like a lazy way for Lucas to “wrap things up.”
  6. Leia strangles Jabba to death with a chain. His neck is about three feet wide. It would be like trying to strangle an elephant.
  7. The entire movie seems like two separate films spliced together. Part #1 is all about saving Han. Part #2 is about destroying the *new and improved* Death Star. But the two halves do not seem to relate to one another.
  8. Yoda dies, telling Luke he has completed his training. What? I thought it took years to become a Jedi. Apparently, Luke just needed a few days of acrobatics classes on Dagobah.
  9. The Ewoks manage to defeat “an entire legion of the Emperor’s best troops” using nothing but rocks, sticks, and bows that shoot sticks! Storm Troopers in battle helmets are knocked cold by teddy bears dropping things from hang gliders. Also, how lucky did the Ewoks have to be, to position those log traps for the AT-STs?
  10. Luke asks Leia, “Do you remember your real mother?” She says she does, but how does Luke know to ask this? Couldn’t she have been raised on Alderaan by Padme? And what the heck happened to her real mother anyway? None of this is explained or alluded to in any of the original films, proving the Luke/Leia/Vader relationship was a late invention and poorly thought out.
  11. The Emperor continuously goads and harasses Luke, stating that if Luke gives in to his anger and strikes him down, he will become like his father and turn to the Dark Side. Why? If I am in a room with Hitler, and I kill him, does that make me Hitler?
  12. Yoda tells Luke the Emperor must not be underestimated. And Vader tells him, “Together we can destroy the Emperor.” Palpatine is built up to be this ultimate evil power. But by the end of the movie, he proves to be just a feeble old man, powerless to do anything as Vader picks him up and throws him down a shaft.

I Love The Phantom Menace

Here is my defense of one of my favorite, oft hated movies, “Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” updated 11/05/2015

the Writer's Disease


I love The Phantom Menace. There. My secret’s out.

Saying that feels like saying I love Al-Qaeda. On the Internet, you might think hate for George Lucas has surpassed hatred for Osama Bin-Laden, particularly after his recent decision to yet again alter the Star Wars Saga for the upcoming Blu-Ray release. The controversy between what some call Lucas “apologists” and Star Wars “purists” brings to mind Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu, Scientist and Creationist. The same deep seated convictions stir the hearts and minds of both groups of fans. Never mind the global economic crisis, the revolutions taking place throughout the Islamic world or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this is STAR WARS! That anyone should care so deeply about a movie is unquestionably absurd, but I find myself inexplicably drawn to this controversy. I can’t help but feel angry by this hatred for a filmmaker who has given so much to my generation. Imagine someone gives…

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Star Wars VII: The Same Thing

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 sequelitisThe 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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Top TEN "Dungeons & Dragons" Movies

Whether you’re a gamer or a writer, we all need inspiration, and the cinema is a great place to find it. But for me growing up in the eighties, there was a real scarcity of Sci-Fi or fantasy at the theater. Go to the movies today, and there may not be even a single poster about the real world. I can only imagine how depressing it must be for seniors looking for a Casablanca. But if spaceships and aliens were a rarity back then, magic and dragons were almost nonexistent. I remember a time when it was difficult to explain to people the types of stories I wrote, or even what D&D was all about, other than Satan worship. Now I can simply say, “Have you seen Lord of the Rings?” and that clarifies things. But the scarcity of fantasy in the 80’s made me cherish those films, even the bad ones, all the more. It wasn’t until 2001, the year of the fantasy renaissance, when we got both The Fellowship of the Ring and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and studios discovered what publishers had long known, the horde of treasure that can be mined from the fantasy genre.

And so, with Dungeons & Dragons specifically in mind, I offer my picks for movies that will make you want to pick up that d20:

10. Mazes and Monsters: While technically not fantasy, the movie deals with the gaming phenomenon, dodging a direct D&D reference by calling it by another, albeit blatantly obvious name. Unfortunately, even Hollywood seems to have been taken by the RPG = Satanism/Suicide/Insanity hysteria, as a young Tom Hanks loses his mind and starts to wander the city “casting spells,” something that has never happened to anyone in the history of gaming. Eventually, he ends up in a mental institution, believing he is a wizard. While this may sound laughable today, TSR actually took the criticism seriously enough to tell their readers that the player was not to confuse himself with his character! So while teenagers in the 80’s were drinking and snorting cocaine, the real threat to their lives, according to this movie, is using your imagination! Thanks, Hollywood! As for me, the movie had the opposite effect, making me want to play D&D all the more.


9. Krull: Not a good movie by any standard, Krull was an attempt to cash in on the Star Wars phenomenon, borrowing many of the same themes from the Sci-Fi epic. You have your evil overlord (Darth Vader) moving around in a teleporting castle (the Death Star) with his army of faceless soldiers (Storm Troopers); there is also a young hero mentored by an old wizard, who bestows upon him a magic weapon (a spinning blade thingy). But it was also considerably D&D inspired, as the party of heroes, including a fighter, wizard, some thieves and a cyclops, attain items, get “scried” upon, seek advice from a giant spider, and capture “fire horses,” all in an attempt to reach the dungeon/castle and kill the boss monster. SPOILER ALERT: That spinning blade thing turns out to be useless, rendering the entire movie pointless.


8. LadyHawke: This is a great movie, actually my mother’s favorite movie, and she doesn’t even like fantasy. It may have been forgotten because of how unusual it is, in that it is a straight up, old fashioned romantic drama set in a world of magic. Teenage boys could have found it too sappy, and girls may not have thought to look at the genre. The cast is stellar, however, from Mathew Broderick (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), Rutger Hauer (Bladerunner) to a very young, very beautiful Michelle Pfeiffer. By day, Hauer is human, while his beloved (Pfeiffer) is a hawk. At night, she is human and he is a wolf. This curse was cast upon them by an evil priest, so that they are “forever together, yet always apart.” Since my wife sleeps around 9:00 PM and I go to bed at 2:00, I sometimes feel like the guy in the movie. D&D elements include a knight with a special, jeweled sword (Hauer), a thief who plays the crucial role of breaking in and out of the castle (Broderick), and the evil spell caster (the Priest).


7. The Princess Bride: If you have not seen this yet, what is your problem? Stop reading and go watch it now! While not straight up D&D, there are enough great RPG moments to warrant its inclusion, including a “giant,” played by Andre the Giant, one of the best sword fights ever put to film, a magic flaming “holocaust” cloak, and a “Fire Swamp” which consists of “lightning sand,” shooting fire traps, and my favorite, ROUS’s (Rodents Of Unusual Size). Best of all, the whole thing is a book being read to a sick child, a kid who, at first, just wants to play video games.

 


6. Legend: Conversely, this may be the worst movie on this list, a film in desperate need of CGI and a much bigger budget. Starring a baby faced Tom Cruise and directed by one of my favorite filmmakers, Ridley Scott, of Alien and Gladiator fame, Legend was a confusing mess, Scott’s fantasy Prometheus, but for 1985 it was extremely ambitious, and is to be commended for what it managed to achieve. It’s also one of the more D&D movies on this list, with unicorns, goblins, and of the coolest looking villains of all time, who is, basically, Satan. In fact, he’s the reason I remember the film at all. It’s a movie that makes Satan look awesome, and that’s what D&D is all about. Hail, Satan! Also, did I mention Tom Cruise is in it?


Clash-of-the-titans-1981-poster-25. Clash of the Titans: Never mind that awful remake, the 80’s version is the real deal. I watched this incessantly growing up. It is also one of the last great live actions films to utilize claymation, from legendary monster maker Ray Harryhausen. While the Greek mythological setting is a bit of a departure from the traditional Anglo-Germanic-folklore D&D is typically set in, the movie features enough magic items and monsters for any campaign, including a sword that cuts through marble, a mirror shield, and an invisibility helmet. It also boasts more pages from the Monster Manual than any other movie, with a giant vulture, a satyr, a two-headed dog, a Pegasus, a Medusa, an undead skeleton, and the KRAKEN!


4. Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer: No list of D&D films could be complete without these classics, one of the rare fantasy flicks from the 80’s to be popular (due to sex and muscles), the first of which also launched the career of one Arnold Schwarzenegger. While Barbarian is by far the superior of the two, with an unbeatable soundtrack by Basil Poledouris, you can’t help but feel that the sequel, Destroyer, was some Dungeon Master’s campaign turned into a script. All the elements are here, from your obligatory party members: fighter (barbarian), thief, and wizard, to your ice castle of evil illusionist, to door that can only open via magic, to your horn of demonic summoning. It all culminates, finally, with the birth of a monster god, whom the party must work together to slay. Hell, I want to play this right now!


3. Willow: Say what you will about George Lucas, but to me, he is a great filmmaker. Willow was directed by Ron Howard, adapting a story by the flanneled one, and while it failed to do for fantasy what Star Wars did for Sci-Fi, it’s still a great flick, with fairies, shape shifting sorcerers, magic wands, love potions, seeds that turn things to stone and a two-headed fire breathing “dragon.” Best of all, his dwarves are actually dwarves in real life, which makes one wonder why Peter Jackson couldn’t have done the same. Was Peter Dinklage unavailable? He could have made a great Thorin Oakenshield.

 


FOTR2. The Fellowship of the Ring: What should come as no surprise, the book that inspired D&D makes for the ideal D&D movie. But while Return of the King, with its 11 academy awards, makes for a superior film, the first in the series is the most D&Dish, with its gathering party members and a foray into the Mines of Moria, a dungeon crawl complete with orcs, goblins, and a fire demon! Unlike any other flick on this list, Fellowship proved that fantasy can make for serious cinema. It also ushered in a new era, as movies were no longer limited by special effects. Anything imaginable could be put on celluloid, and RPG nerds the world over could finally show people what the heck they’ve been doing for decades. Once the domain of lonely introverts, fantasy became part of pop culture, and after the superhero became the biggest blockbuster genre, girls started wearing “I Love Nerds” T-shirts.


1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: You just can’t get more D&D than this. Red dragon sitting on a mound of treasure? Check. Dwarves out on a quest? Check. A wizard with a tall hat and staff and a special key? Check. Random encounter with trolls and orcs? Check. Random loot and “+” swords like Glamdring and Goblin Cleaver? Check. Maps with hidden writing that can only be read by the light of a certain moon by a thousand year old elf lord? Check. Escaping an underground lair of raging goblins? Check. A wizard using his newly attained magic sword to make a critical hit against a goblin king? What more could you want? An excellent movie too? Check. Roll a d20!

 

 


Don’t watch this!

 

Dishonorable Mention: Dungeons & Dragons: You might think the most Dungeons & Dragons movie should be a movie actually called Dungeons & Dragons, but you’d be wrong. The movie, starring Jeremy Irons, is so horrendous, it momentarily stunted my imagination. I actually watched it with my friend after playing D&D, and it made us question whether our cherished hobby wasn’t some silly pastime, something for lonely geeks to grow out of. It’s that bad.

  

Forsooth! Shakespeare does Star Wars?

Do two great tastes taste great together? Is William Shakespeare mixed with Star Wars the literary equivalent of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup? That is the question I put before myself when I picked up William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher. What immediately comes to mind for most people is who? Or more grammatically, whom? For whom was this book written? And I suppose the answer would be me. After all, I consider William Shakespeare the greatest writer who ever lived, bar none. The guy could write everything exceedingly well: drama, comedy, tragedy, historic fiction, you name it. If there’s a genre out there, it likely originated with him. He has been credited with inventing the modern fantasy genre—A Midsummer Night’s Dream—and common words we use today like eyeball and knife (as in to knife someone in the back). He is the only writer I know that cannot be edited. Just try changing a single word from one of his sonnets; you can’t do it without making it worse. People unfamiliar with the bard think he’s high-brow entertainment, a writer for the educational elite, but William was a populist, the Tolkien/Martin/Rowling of his day, and I have no doubt that if alive in ’77, he would have adored Star Wars. If people aren’t flocking to bookstores to read Shakespeare today, it’s because he wrote nearly 500 years ago, between 1564 and 1616. Let’s see how popular Game of Thrones is in the year 2513. Also, the bard and his audience loved melodrama, poetry and philosophy, three big no-no’s in the modern publishing world, things I am forced to omit or hide in my own writing. So, you could say I am a fan. Let’s call him peanut butter, really rich homemade peanut butter.

On the chocolaty side of things, there’s Star Wars. I have gone on record defending the oft hated The Phantom Menace and was brokenhearted when Lucas sold his soul to Disney. While I cannot stomach the Extended Universe (I could not, without pissing off a lot of fans, review Heir to the Empire) among my guilty pleasures is Star Wars and Philosophy, Star Wars Psychology, The Science of Star Wars, The Star Wars Encyclopedia and the Star Wars Atlas. Naturally, when I found William Shakespeare’s Star Wars on Amazon, I risked a speeding ticket driving to Barnes & Nobles. But to my great disappointment, William Shakespeare has not come back to life to try his hand at a Star Wars novelization, nor has any baffled archaeologist found a five-hundred year old manuscript for the Sci-Fi epic. And here lies the problem. The real author, the very much living and not of the Renaissance age Ian Doecher, does a great job emulating the language of the period, but the whole thing comes across as a needless translation. I am certain the people of the time would have loved Lucas’ story, although they might have struggled to imagine the Death Star trench run, but what need do we have today of an old English Star Wars?

What makes peanut butter so delicious is not the language (let’s call that the bread) but its creamy goodness. You can enjoy peanut butter on a cracker, a celery stick or right off your finger (sorry, I’ll stop with the metaphors now!) Here’s the rub: what makes Shakespeare great is Shakespeare. He was an amazing/brilliant writer. It would be as if, hundreds of years from now, someone tried to rewrite a popular movie as if Stephen King had written it. This isn’t to say that the effort was wasted. I understood what Ian was trying to accomplish, but his focus was on the wrong things, on the language, rather than on what made the bard great. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars shines whenever new material is added to the original screenplay, the clever play on words, the asides (when a character speaks directly to the audience) and the soliloquies (when a character speaks to himself). In one clever line, Han says that he’ll never tell who shot first, him or Greedo. R2D2 bleeps and bloops throughout, except when he is talking to us, at which point he admits to feigning stupidity. I also enjoyed Vader contemplating his nature, from the dark path he has taken to his robotic arm, or Luke pondering the death of a Storm Trooper:

Act IV
Scene 6.
Enter LUKE SKYWALKER, holding stormtropper helmet.
LUKE Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew ye not,
Yet have I ta’en both uniform and life
From thee. What manner of a man wert thou?
A man of inf’nite jest or cruelty?
A man with helpmate and with children too?
A man who hath his Empire serv’d with pride?
A man, perhaps, who wish’d for perfect peace?
Whate’er thou wert, good man, thy pardon grant
Unto the one who took thy place: e’en me.

While not on par with Hamlet’s To Be or Not To Be, it’s still unfortunate there were not more of these internal monologues to take the reader beyond the story. It would have added a much needed dimension to the Star Wars screenplay. I cannot imagine, for instance, Shakespeare neglecting to give Leia a speech, and a long one at that, after the destruction of Alderaan. Her entire world is gone in a blip and everyone she has ever known is dead, and she has nil to say about it. Even in the film, I always felt the scene to be lacking emotional depth, probably because Lucas’ was imitating his pulp Sci-Fi inspirations, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. But in Shakespeare’s day, glossing over mass murder would be inexplicable.

What you have in Ian Doecher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars is 70’s Lucas channeling 50’s Sci-Fi as filtered by an author from the 2000’s in a language from the 1500’s, and the result is one mixed up cookie. If you’re a fan of either things, you’ll definitely be entertained, but it’s shallow and unworthy of the bard. On the plus side, the artwork is great. While I cannot wholly recommend giving it out for Halloween this year, it’s a very small bite (at around 200 pages) with very wide margins, so you can read it in an afternoon. Now if only someone could make Hamlet in Space that would be something.
 

Lucas Finally Breaks My Heart

After more than a decade of defending him, I am finally brokenhearted by George Lucas. Why, George, why? See, I have always regarded him my favorite director. And not just for Star Wars. I love THX-1138 and American Graffiti just as well. Despite the torrent of hatred lobbed at him from YouTube and message boards, I have always admired his tenacity, his unwillingness to conform to the strictures of the masses. When Star Wars was made, Lucas defied tradition by refusing to put the credits at the beginning of the film. Because of this, he was kicked out of the Director’s Guild. When he was preparing to make The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas was afraid of studio intervention, so he financed the movie himself. If he hadn’t, there is not a doubt in my mind 20th Century Fox would have made a passable sequel at best, adding nothing to the franchise. Throughout his career, Lucas stuck to his guns, despite the critics, because that’s what artists do. When the Prequel films went on to receive near universal disdain, I applauded his courage, in challenging moviegoers to think, for producing, from his own pocket, a pop culture Sci-Fi adventure dealing with such heady topics as the root causes of evil, the Buddhist tenets of non-attachment, and the collapse of democracies into dictatorships. What other Sci-Fi films, aside from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, even comes close to such laudable artistic ambitions? Sure, the Prequel films weren’t your regular direct-by-numbers, mindless entertainment, but at least Mr. Lucas offered us something to discuss. Whether or not you agreed with Jar-Jar or thought the acting was abysmal is besides the point. Art isn’t intended to appease the majority. There are enough watch-it-and-forget-it movies out there. I wanted a Lucas film more than any other film, because he was unique; he was an independent billionaire who didn’t play by Hollywood’s rules. I don’t want to be spoon fed what a studio thinks I want to see. Hell, I don’t even want to be pleasantly satisfied. I want to be challenged. To be disturbed. Even annoyed. I’ll take Jar-Jar’s annoying antics over cut-and-paste film making any day. So when the masses cried foul that Han no longer shot first, Lucas stuck to his guns. He didn’t relent. Any other studio would have. Whether I agreed with him or not (I often don’t) I have always been inspired by him.

Walt Disney (the man, not the company) is another hero of mine. When he was working on Snow White in 1937, everyone told him the same thing they told Lucas; the movie would bomb and he’d lose all his money from mortgaging his house. But Mr. Disney stuck to his guns. He didn’t make Snow White merely as a financial venture, but also for artistic reasons. Then Walter kicked the bucket, and the studio went on to make a number of atrocities until, by 1988, they were prepared to shut down their animation department. What saved Disney animation and the future of the entire medium? The Little Mermaid. But, the movie almost didn’t get made. The artists, however, were given free reign, having been moved into a trailer park and largely forgotten. Fortunately, Disney went on to make a number of masterpieces, from Beauty & the Beast to Mulan, before succumbing to the industrial machine with garbage like Treasure Planet. Watch either the Toy Story or the Pocahontas documentaries to get an idea how Disney films are produced today. In Pocahontas, the wonderful song, If I Never Knew You, which was at the heart of the story and which validated the not-so-happy ending, was removed. Why? During a pre-screening, some kids looked bored. If Pixar hadn’t made the decision to ignore Disney’s advice about making Toy Story edgy (because that’s what kids “want,” apparently) we wouldn’t have the lovable Woody and Buzz. Fortunately, the head of Pixar understood the value of art for art’s sake. John Lasseter had been a long time fan of Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation company headed by visionary Hayao Miyazaki, responsible for such masterworks as Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Given this background, it’s no wonder Lasseter refused to kowtow to Disney’s demand for a Toy Story 3. Pixar made the wonderful Finding Nemo instead.

The Disney Corporation is an entirely different beast than Disney the man, buying Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (because it wasn’t enough that every little girl on the planet adores Disney); Pixar (since they couldn’t force them to make a Toy Story 3 otherwise); and Marvel Comics. At least John Lasseter became the new head of Animation, who had the good sense to bring back traditional 2-D (presumed dead by a board of directors, no doubt) with The Princess and the Frog. Marvel has always had financial difficulties since, let’s face it, kids are too busy playing video games to spend 3 minutes reading, so maybe a Disney buyout was necessary. But Lucasfilm? Industrial Light & Magic is the premiere special effects company in the business. And their merchandise, which includes toys, games and books, sell like hot cakes. Best of all, it was all being run by a visionary, an anti-corporate tycoon, a man who produced Tucker, the true story of a revolutionary car maker bought out by the auto industry. It already frightens me how, when I submit my book to editors, most of the major players, despite going by many different names, fall under the same publisher. The fact that a handful of billionaires will eventually control everything we read and watch and listen to is terrifying, the very socialist, sterile future Lucas warned us about in his first film! So what does George Lucas go and do to finally, finally break my heart? My hero of independent thinking? He sells. And not just to anybody, but to the biggest of corporate conglomerates, to an industry that prides itself on focus groups and catering to expectations, where art has been broken down into a science, and success is measured only by the almighty $$$.

What can we expect from a Disney owned Lucasfilm? New Star Wars films, made by teams of writers, each scene optimized for marketing potential and toy-tie ins; and of course, any and all outrageous ideas, things that might upset or offend people, will get voted down. And what will we have? Films nobody complains about. Films nobody will go on message boards to rage against. No more boycotts. They’ll be like Tron and Pirates and Narnia. Moviegoers will be happy, Disney will make billions, and Star Wars will become just another blip in the noise machine that has become our modern movie producing society.

I honestly feel sorry for Lucas. The Internet age didn’t agree with him, and the haters finally beat him down. We live in a world where people with no real talents are given an equal platform to voice their discontent, where lynch mob mentality dominates, where opinion is distinguishable from fact. I am deeply saddened by this news on so many levels. Art is dead and the Internet seems to have killed it. To further illustrate the point, last week, the Wachowskis (of Matrix fame) released Cloud Atlas, based on a truly revolutionary book with deep philosophical underpinnings. Making ten million dollars in its first week, it is already being called the biggest flop of 2012. Based on those returns, we can expect the Wachowskis to get booted out of Hollywood soon, along with Shyamalan and Lucas, and anyone else who dares challenge the feel-good status-quo.