Friday, February 10, 2012

Series Criticism: Star Wars (Part 1.5: Are You Serious?)

I don't know what to say anymore. Seriously, I have no clue. I was originally going to start on a very calm, very rational discussion about Star Wars as a series. I had planned Part 2 to be a very logical and chronological breakdown of where the series went from 1977 until about 1997 or so. And then I heard something that utterly mystified me. I heard a term thrown around about the new 3D re-release of The Phantom Menace that made me angrier and more confused and angrier than I have ever been in life.

Now, certainly you could say that I take Star Wars to seriously. Okay. Okay, I'll give that too you. To me this is somewhat serious business because this series defined my childhood, but it wouldn't be so bad if people (George Lucas) would just accept that the prequels were bad and move on. Maybe plan a re-write of the scripts at some point and just remake the hell out of them... but I'm realistic, okay. Kids like these movies. People who were kids when the prequels came out like them. (Not me though.) People who don't think about Star Wars as anything but a bunch of movies might not worry about the implications here, but think about The Phantom Menace as a movie. Think about it as a fun, enjoyable movie, one that has adventure, action, characters, a great plot... and then you realize: HOLY CRAP, The Phantom Menace has none of those things.

I heard this movie called a "classic" this morning, in utter honesty. Wait for that to sink in. A "CLASSIC". CLASSIC. I'm even going to up the font size so you can understand the implications of that word:
CLASSIC
Okay, do you see what's wrong here? Despite the FACT that The Phantom Menace is only thirteen years old and has NO right to be called a classic in sheer terms of WHAT? The Phantom Menace is also a very bad movie. I mean seriously, don't go on any tirade telling me to mind my own business or that I'm wrong. It is objective fact that Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace is a freaking terrible movie, or maybe more accurately, it is an incredibly mediocre movie that is either defended to the death by fans or blasted beyond any semblance of reason by those who feel as if it is a personal affront to them.

And you know what? This movie is a slap in the face to every thinking person who fell in love with the original Star Wars trilogy once upon a time. Yes, there will be a ton of people flocking to the theaters to see this movie in glorious 3D, but that's the model, folks. George Lucas is a businessman and he has made it his business to sell his bitter and broken wears to the public just itching for that much more mediocrity. Once upon a time, George Lucas was a visionary, he was the man of the moment, creating classics because he had visions... but as time grew so did his greed, his need for absolute power. He has become his own Emperor Palpatine, desiring control, money, and the finer things in life rather than focusing on the art.

Look at The Phantom Menace. Really look at it. Where is the artistry? Where are the fantastic lines? Where are the memorable and wonderful characters you could love so much?  Where are the sensical plots? Where is the story that has sense and has MEANING? They are all gone, like bitter tears in the pouring rain. The Phantom Menace was and still is a cash in on the hearts and minds of those who still believe in the magic of Star Wars, who still want to hold onto the dreams that the franchise gave us so long ago. Yes, we all wanted to be Jedi or Sith or Imperials or Rebels or anything and everything else... smugglers, stormtroopers, bounty hunters... the list goes on and on, and that's why we hold onto these movies. We want them to be good. We want the prequels to continue the magic when all the magic that is left is from the original trilogy.

I never wanted to be Qui-Gon Jinn or Obi-Wan Kenobi, or little big-headed Anakin Skywalker. I never wanted to beat down faceless droids and believe that I was in some kind of cartoon world. I wanted to have an adventure, face peril, understand what my motivations were. I knew the Empire was bad in Star Wars: A New Hope, but I also saw that not all of them were. In The Empire Strike Back I saw humanity from both sides, and I saw darkness on both sides. Yoda was a hermit, not helping in the war effort at all, sending an untested man, barely out of boyhood, against the entire might of a galaxy of evil. But was Admiral Piett evil? Was Boba Fett doing anything but his job? Did Darth Vader truly wish for his son's death or did he truly care about him?

The Phantom Menace is so one-sided. Good versus evil and nothing in between. One of the greatest pieces of Star Wars is seeing the conflict in human nature, that even someone committed to "evil" can be swayed to see the good in things. Even the Emperor was never anything but a politician who only grew fangs when he couldn't convince first. But then we see "Darth Maul" and what the hell kind of name is that anyway? I guess it's better than "Count Dooku" which just sounds like somebody pet-naming a piece of crap, but it's still horrendous. Darth Vader's name had meaning. The word "Vader" did not mean "Oh my God that is a synonym for bad stuff!!!!!" It was a foreign word for "father" and had meaning. Darth Maul had no meaning, he was simply there to look intimidating, to show that good versus evil is VERY clear cut, and that's never been the case... or at least rarely is.

And then we get "Darth Sidious", General Grievous, and Darth Tyrannus and everything flies out the window when you finally see that George Lucas has lost his mind.

I keep hearing fans of this film call me out as being a "hater", usually in poor grammar with even poorer spelling. I keep hearing them say that I shouldn't complain about this movie if I don't like it, that I should simply forget it exists and move on with my life. Sound advice, I suppose, but absolutely wrong. Things should be called out for being wrong. People should be vocal about what they enjoy and do not enjoy. That is the nature of debate, even if debate can be heavily opinionated and subjective. I do not like the prequels, but I will give them their due when I see things that aren't bad. I liked Kamino in Attack of the Clones. I liked the look of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Revenge of the Sith and I liked the acting of both Liam Neeson in The Phantom Menace and Ewan McGregor in  any movie that was not The Phantom Menace. And... um... there might be more? I don't know.

My point here is that I am absolutely entitled to bash any series or anything in general that I want to bash. I have done over 130 reviews on this blog, sometimes harshly criticizing, sometimes bashing, sometimes praising up and down, and I will continue to speak my mind and put my opinions out there. Yes, they are opinions, but they are also backed by facts most of the time. Go and watch Red Letter Media's review of all the Star Wars prequels. In many ways they do a better job than I do at putting the negatives of the prequels out there. Mostly it's the format, seeing these things in a video is much easier than reading about a dude on the internet's complaints about stuff.

I guess this all comes back to George Lucas, his desire to remake the series, to have us forget that one time long ago he worked with other people and made something great... but now he can't make anything at all worth any sort of damn. He had other writers working on the dialogue, actors willing to call him out on some of his decisions, a team of cinematographers and editors working tirelessly against him, hardships, money problems... "art from adversity" is a key point here. The settings were all constructed, not CGI, and they felt real, used, workable... the X-Wings had weight to them, they had history. The whole galaxy felt old, felt like it had been running for much longer than humans on earth had been sentient. The lightsabers were silly, seldom used, relics of bygone days... not flashy props for doing silly overchoreographed movesets, not hacking swords that could slice robots like swiss cheese... it was an "elegant weapon" from a "more civilized age".

All the prequels are are flash, like tacky Christmas decorations all over someone's house. There are no characters to relate to. Why did Anakin have to build C-3P0? Was that a good plot decision? Did it make the movies flow better? Did it make them make more sense to you? Because to me it was dumb, even when I first saw it, it was dumb. Why couldn't Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon be one character? Why couldn't Boba and Jango Fett be one character? Why couldn't the clones make more sense? Why did the romance have to be so painfully horrible? Why is Jar Jar the only thing about these movies that anybody ever thinks of as wrong when he is the only character who actually experiences a freaking character arc in the movie? Yes, he's comic relief, and no, he was never fun to watch, but why is he blamed for the failure of the movie when if everything else went right he'd be remembered like the Ewoks, maybe not ridiculously fondly all the time, but as a cute sidekick that kind of work and was all right, I guess.

The point is that nothing worked. Nothing. Everything was done terribly. The podrace was unneeded and terrible, the plot contrived and ridiculous. They could have pawned off their own ship and bought a new one. Or for another idea hired someone to take them to Coruscant... I mean, come the hell on. Why go through all of the confusion when simpler ideas were out there. The answer: flash and spectacle. Story never mattered only the look, only the CGI, only how far they could make this movie look like a cartoon rather than like Star Wars. And in the end it is a cartoon, a cartoon with some live action actors who do terrible jobs all around.

Star Wars gave life to an entire genre. It made people believe in something fantastical. It brought people together as both fans and lovers of the movies... and then the prequels shattered the illusions... it broke the piece. George Lucas took a bat to my dreams, to the ideas that I once held. I could have always believed that the prequel trilogy would have been great and epic, the fall of a Republic and the beginning of an Empire. The Jedi, an order of monks bent on studying the religion of the Force, falling into darkness one-by-one. A terrible galactic conflict involving clones that tore families apart... and the ending of an age. Religion was gone, replaced with confidence in machines, in the work of man. This was a fascinating idea, but one that never came because of flashing lights, cartoon characters, lacking plots and dialogues, and a man in charge who only cares for money, not for the art, not for the fans who made his movies the powerhouses they are today. Every word out of George Lucas' mouth is venom of the worst and most vitriolic kind. He hates those that question him, that deride him, that speak against the perfection that he MADE with his blood, sweat, and tears... and he can change what he wants. They're his films. He owns them. He made them. He acts like a spoiled child, one that cannot see why people loved his films and why they are so upsettingly bad now. He cannot see that we have great criticisms here, that we call him out on these bad ideas because we care, because we love the movies and cannot understand why they have to be changed every five years. Why does George Lucas' "vision" of Star Wars have to impede the movie that I originally saw? Why do I have to see the spectacle, the flash, of these movies rather than just enjoy the stark reality that I fell in love with so much the first time I saw them?

George Lucas, please stop. I know you'll never read this, and I doubt even if you did you would even understand a single argument that I make here, but as a fan of the series, as a person who lost all faith in Star Wars after Revenge of the Sith, I beg you, as one writer to another, as one person to another: do not ruin this.

The problem is, you already have ruined it. I simply have chosen to ignore everything you've changed or done over the last however many years. And that, to me, is victory enough. 


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