When Did Star Wars Jump the Shark?
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."