(note: this is updated below)
This week's Geek In Review is called Han Shoots First. It ponders why Star Wars is so important to a certain generation of geeks, and why we took it so personally that the new movies sucked so hard.
It was a challenging thing to write and keep within a reasonable word count, especially because it's such a complex emotional issue, and talking about Star Wars can be like talking about religion for people (especially if they're the Jedis down under!)
After about eleven hours of Star Wars movies, though, I wondered: why exactly is the Star Wars trilogy such a big deal to some of us, even though it's clearly flawed, and ends with a bunch of muppets singing around the campfire? Why do so many of us love it so much? Why did so many of us take it as a personal affront when the new movies and re-releases didn't meet our expectations? Why did most of us go back twice after Phantom Menace, like we were in a dysfunctional relationship, hoping that if we just worked a little harder, we'd find a pony?
I intended to recap each of the movies before I got around to making my little point, but it was just too long and I ended up cutting all that stuff out. Director's cut powers, activate!
The Phantom Menace
This just sucks. From start to finish, it sucks. It's a horrible pile of shit, and I hated it so much, I had completely forgotten that Darth Maul even existed until my friend mentioned him to me today. Moving on.
Attack of the Clones
Okay, I tried to watch this one with an open mind. Honestly, I did. But . . . where in the world did they find Hayden Christensen? Out of all the actors on the entire planet they picked this guy? He has two emotions: brooding and less brooding, and it wears thin very, very quickly. Right, he's troubled. We get it. There is also an epic plot problem, mentioned to me by a reader of my blog, that never should have made it past the first draft: Anakin dreams that his mother is in trouble, so he goes back to Tatooine to check up on her, and discovers that she's been mudered by sand people. Uhm. Why didn't anyone think to buy her freedom before this? Yeah, I know we need this moment to kickstart the birth of Darth Vader, but it seems lazy and convoluted, and just hastened my desire to get this movie over with, so I could get closer to Empire Strikes Back.
There are a few good bits, though. The CG Yoda looks incredible, and though I wasn't crazy about his big fight scene at the end, because it seemed out of character, it certainly looked cool. The reveal of the Death Star plans is satisfying, and I guess it's mildly amusing that Jar-Jar Binks is responsible for giving all the power to Palpaatine that ends up leading to the birth of the Rebellion. There's better action than Phantom Menace, and all the obvious allusions to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis are interesting, but it's not nearly enough to make up for the stiff dialogue, and total absence of chemistry between Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen. (Seriously. This is the guy? In the whole world? What the hell was Lucas thinking?)
Revenge of the Sith
It's never a good sign when a film opens up with a space battle that feels silly, but at least it gives Anakin a chance to be oh-so-serious while Ben Kenobi is a total sissy. Yeah, that's real satisfying to fans who are looking for any sign that one of these prequels isn't going to suck, and having R2-D2 suddenly develop all sorts of wacky battle abilities (in an astrodroid? Whatever you say, Mr. Lucas) doesn't help, either.
Of course, in addition to the flaws that plague the prior two films, we can add the bizarre behavior of Obi-Wan Kenobi, who ignores facts and denies the reality in front of him so furiously, he could have a cabinet-level position the Bush administration. It makes him sort of a chump, and I never like it when I feel smarter than the supposedly heroic characters I'm watching.
But once the story got going, and I realized that this whole thing was going to be about Palpatine corrupting Anakin, the film became one big game of "spot the connection to the first trilogy," and that got me through most of it. In fact, because I'm such a nerd for the first trilogy, I enjoyed the extra emotional weight moments in Star Wars and Empire now had, based upon historical details that were revealed in Revenge of the Sith.
That's as far as I got before I decided that it was too long, and didn't really add anything to the column, so I cut it. I did have the following note about Empire, though:
When Han Solo is about to be frozen, I think it's the most emotionally powerful scene in the entire saga. Chewie's gut-wrenching howls of sadness really got to me; of course, I had been watching for over five hours by that time, and felt like I was on a bus to Bat Country, but it's still incredibly powerful, and there is nothing in any of the recent films that comes close to it.
The newswire is once again SFW (at least for today it is), so give it a read, and please give me feedback; I'm very interested to hear what other Star Wars fans (and non-fans) have to say. If you're so inclined, you can Digg it or Netscape it.
Afterthought: Because I feel so strongly about Star Wars, emotion short circuited logic, and I ended up making my point (unintentionally) on my own. I try really hard not to criticize actors, because when the world is divided into "us" and "them," we actors need to stick together, and as it's been kindly pointed out to me in e-mails, it's a little pot-speaking-to-kettle for the artist formerly-known as Wesley Crusher to lay all the Anakin Skywalker business at the feet of Hayden Christensen.
My friend Chris made a great and thoughtful observation today, that has caused me to rethink my criticism of Mr. Christensen: he said the lines and followed the direction he was given. As someone who did that himself, and suffered the wrath and criticisms of geeks everywhere, I should really give him the benefit of the doubt. Considering how even extremely talented actors who have very strong track records (like Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson) came off stiff, uninspired, and disconnected from the rest of the characters and story. Maybe it's more likely that these actors were unable to overcome a director who was more interested in showing off his toys than crafting living, breathing, believable relationships. I can clearly recall being forced by weak directors on Star Trek to make obvious choices, deliver dialogue in uninteresting or unbelievable ways, and feeling really frustrated by it. Maybe something similar happened in these movies.
Episode One still sucks.