Your Lying Eyes

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25 November 2007

When Did Star Wars Jump the Shark?

Via John Hawks, a TechRepublic geek claims to know exactly when - something about midi-chlorian in The Phantom Menace. Well, perhaps - it's something to do with becoming a Jedi suddenly becoming a deterministic genetic trait rather than the fruits of dedication to the force. Do read it if you're interested. But he indirectly hits on the fundamental problem with the Star Wars "franchise" - it's a fraud.

Those who saw the original Star Wars when it came out, and were not children at the time, enjoyed a visually astonishing film - nothing like it had ever been seen before - coupled with a cute story that didn't seem too intent on being taken very seriously. Indeed, the very charm of Star Wars was that it avoided deflating the remarkable special effects as mere comic-book gimmickry through its tongue-in-cheek treatment of its otherwise earnest storyline.

Of course it could be I'm wrong - perhaps Lucas had no inkling that his movie played like a clever spoof of various B-movie genres. Come to think of it, Harrison Ford's stiff acting, which slyly gave him a faux-Duke-Wayne persona as Han Solo, never did improve very much over the years, did it? Casting the doofy Mark Hammil as the Jedi-savior seemed like brilliant casting, giving us a farcical take on the Everyman hero. Similarly, the amateurish Carrie Fisher's poor acting made the princess-as-bitch role even more ridiculous than written. But Lucas had to keep some reins on his budget, so hiring these three was probably more necessity than inspiration.

He did spring for some serious actors in Guinness and Jones. The gravitas these two venerable performers gave to the rather ridiculous characters they portrayed (the villain in uber-black, the protagonist in saintly robes) only contributed to the satiric feel of the movie. No genre went untouched - westerns, WWII fighter pilots, religious spectacles, film noir, Ray Harryhausen epics, Errol Flynn swashbucklers, and of course Wagner's Ring. "The Force be with You" indeed - what a goof - what a brilliant, ingenious little farce of a movie it was.

But then the stories started coming out about how this was just one part in a nine(!) part serial Lucas had conceived years ago (while sitting on the bench during little league games, no doubt). Star Wars had left the door open for an obvious sequel with Darth Vader surviving at the end, which was only to be expected, but were we really to be treated to multiple prequels to this silly tale? Apparently so.

It may be that Lucas did indeed conceive of this whole epic tale prior to filming Star Wars, but it couldn't have been well thought out. Surely, if you were to invent a whole religion as part of a grand drama, you'd have come up with something a little more original and stirring than "the force be with you" as its overarching statement of faith? And if your principal villain, who has extraordinary sensory powers that span galaxies, is to turn out to be the father of your hero, surely you'd have placed some suggestion somewhere - anywhere - that the father is even remotely interested in the identity of his new-found nemesis, never mind curious as to whether he might be his son?

Anyway, I just watched Phantom Menace for the first time the other night so I thought this geek's pathetic wail of betrayal to be of some interest. This is the problem with prequels - the author is bound to explain the characters he invented in the original work, but the characters are just inventions - they don't really have a history. So the made up history is bound to disappoint - it will be a little (or a lot) too 'just so'. With Star Wars the problem is confounded because the story is silly, and not worth so much backstory. And the characters have just gotten worse - I mean, how annoying is Yoda? I'll take Chewy's fur suit over that tiresome bit of animation any day.

Udolpho's hilarious George Lucas Usenet Archives.
John Simon's review of Phantom Menace. A sample: Discussing how Lucas derives his names he notes that "Princess Leia was a good lay, at least until Carrie Fisher was cast in the part."


Anonymous Anonymous said... bad as the movie was, that was one hell of a light saber fight with the martial artist Ray Park playing the Darth Maul role.

Wish I could move around like that just for fun.........

November 26, 2007 7:20 AM  
Blogger ziel said...

Yes, that was well choreographed. But even there, I kept thinking 'Why does he have a double light saber - do only the bad guys get to have double sabers? Does it change into a double saber as the situation warrants?' But there's nothing wrong with the movie in and of itself - no better or worse than most others out there. But I just wanted to make a point that as a saga it's pretty bogus.

November 26, 2007 8:21 AM  
Blogger Brent Lane said...

Your take on the original STAR WARS (or as Lord Lucas would have it , "Episode IV") was right on. It became a huge phenomenon precisely because it was simultaneously reminiscent of dozens of other heroic, swashbuckling films we had all seen before, but completely unlike all of them.

EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was actually even better, because it was able to take the story arc a little more seriously without going over the top (remaining true to the whimsicality of the original film) while at the same time throwing a near unexpected dark twist at the end. The idea that the embodiment of all evil was actually the hero's father came as quite a shock to the typical popcorn muncher in 1980.

Of course RETURN OF THE JEDI was a disappointment - too many neatly tied-up loose ends, and WAY too many muppets. Still, it was a satisfying end to the trilogy. Or it would have been.

A friend of a friend recently remarked that she had never seen any of them, and was going to rent them all and watch them in order. I suggested she start with "IV" and stop after "VI", and pretend that "I"-"III" never existed.

November 26, 2007 6:46 PM  
Blogger Brent Lane said...

One other thing - in case you've never read it, consider Johnathon V. Last's "The Case for the Empire", written in the wake of the release of ATTACK OF THE CLONES in The Weekly Standard. I find it difficult to argue with him.

November 26, 2007 6:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pretty good commentary. One thing though; only Jones' voice was used in the film. The actual guy playing Darth Vader was some body builder. Doubt it took much acting ability to walk around in that wacky getup and point in the right direction at certain times.

November 27, 2007 2:19 PM  
Anonymous Hyman Lipbaum said...

Well if "Star Wars" is parody, then the ultimate parody of parody is Mel Brooks' "Space Balls".

May the Shwartz be with you!

December 01, 2007 10:57 PM  
Blogger Glaivester said...

it's something to do with becoming a Jedi suddenly becoming a deterministic genetic trait rather than the fruits of dedication to the force.

Well, even in the original three films there was an indication that only some people had the potential to become a Jedi, and it did seem to run in families (the Force is stonrg with you, your father, your sister."

As for Mr. Last, as I recall, someone at once wrote a column that suggested that the Hutts could be considered the good guys.

December 04, 2007 8:27 AM  
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December 05, 2007 8:59 AM  

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