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Johnny Carson died today. A few moments for Johnny Carson, please.


OK, so, what I’m hearing everyone saying is the old, “The original trilogy is great, the prequels suck.” Well, far be it from me to disagree, but, well, I guess I disagree.

First off, I honestly liked both Episode I and Episode II. Did I have the same reaction to them as I had when I first saw Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back? Nope. But, then, I was 10 and 13, respectively, when I saw those movies, and I viewed them through the eyes of a 10- and 13-year-old kid. Interestingly, I was disappointed in Jedi in 1983, when I was 16, which is a very different age than 10. When I watched it the other day on DVD, I was genuinely surprised that it’s a good movie.

My point is, you were in your 20s or 30s when you saw The Phantom Menace. You had life under your belt. That always changes things. Menace was a movie about a 10-year-old kid, made for 10-year-olds. Deeper, it told the story of how a galaxy (read: country, culture, civilization) went from being peaceful, productive and luxurious to being at the brink of a war.

Clones was a “romance” made for people (that is, young girls) who think romance is sitting by a fireplace, looking deeply into your lover’s eyes and saying things like, “No one must know that we are in love.” To an adult, it’s silly — and, I will admit, in Clones some of the performances didn’t help matters. In the middle of it, though, is Anakin Skywalker (who is learning how to be a Jedi — or, in our terms, something like a UN Peacekeeper) talking to Amidala (a politician) about the need to control people, to get things done, to wield power. He believes that power should be taken by those crafty enough to have it, then manipulated to their whim — in short, a dictatorship. What he doesn’t realize is that his views have been shaped by his association with Palpatine, a mid-level politician with an eye toward being the most powerful person alive. Rings kind of true to our own world, eh? So, that’s in there, if you look beyond the surface of the movie.

The big difference is, Star Wars, Empire and Jedi had no real subtext, beyond the Luke-Vader thing. There was nothing “more” to them. And there shouldn’t be, because they’re relatively straightforward stories about a band of freedom fighters trying to overthrow an oppressive government. It’s just “let’s find a way to get ’em.”

What George Lucas did was surprising and tough to pull off — he wanted to tell a story about how the war started, to follow a group of people who would shape its destiny.

That’s a tall order, and it requires patience from viewers. Worse, what the viewers really wanted, truth be told, was much simpler: They wanted to see a first movie that told the story about how a kid grew up to become Darth Vader, have him don the mask at the end of the first movie, then have the next two be about Vader crossing the galaxy causing destruction.

It will be interesting how naysayers view Episode I and Episode II in light of what they see this May, because (without giving away more than George did in Vanity Fair), they’re going to discover that Vader isn’t as horrible and evil and all-villainous as we imagined; he’s a person underneath there, a person who had to wear that mask and respirator for a reason — and when we learn the reason, we’re going to view him differently. Maybe we’ll even hate him even more because we know who he is, but there’s also going to be a bit of pity for this guy who had a choice to make and chose very, very poorly.

That’s not to say that Episode I and Episode II don’t have some bad acting and stilted dialogue — of the sort found in, say, Titanic or even (dare I say it?) Lord of the Rings. Particularly with the latter, so many people hold that trilogy up and say, “Here’s what Star Wars should have been,” without pausing to think that some might consider them bloated, lumbering and repetitive beyond belief.

Whatever, that’s just my anti-Rings rant. What I know is this: My 10-year-old goddaughters loved Episode I and Episode II. They fell in love with Star Wars and talked about the movies incessantly and bought Anakin t-shirts and read the books and bought the DVDs. They think the movies are great, because they saw them through the eyes of a 10-year-old — which is virtually impossible for us to do.

In the end, like I said, I’m going to change no opinions. But I think the difference between the trilogies is intentional and will make sense when you see Episode III. Maybe you still won’t like the prequels, but hopefully you’ll give Sith a shot and at least be able to say, if nothing else, that George Lucas stayed true to his own vision — even if you feel his vision was somehow flawed.


Steve Expounded Thusly:

Well argued! Let me just a few things.

Some of the problems with the new movies are exactly the arguments you made. The first trilogy were simple stories that had not much subtext. They were good stories, for the most part, and, Jedi aside (remember, I loved Jedi as a kid and can not sit through it now) were entertaining and creative. The new movies are messy, stilted, uninspired messe. They try too hard to attach meaning to what was simple. That’s not a problem if the movies are well done, but I and II fail at being as entertaining to adults as they are to 10-year-old girls. There are many adults who loved Star Wars when it came out (as adults) and still recall it fondly. Not quite so much the new movies.

If I was made for 10-year-old boys, as you said and as I’ve heard elsewhere, that’s where Lucas has failed. Star Wars was made for all people to enjoy. I and II were made for kids and wrapped in a ponderous and badly-written story that might be capable of entertaining adults with its complexity and sense of world-creation. Had the histiry of the characters from the first three movies been told well, I would have had no problem with Lucas overreaching beyond the scope of the first three films. But he has tried to do too much with a limited ability, and that’s why, to me, the new movies have been devoid of excitement and adventure.

Ah, but enough for now! Time for this weekend’s trivia question, which John should recognize and enjoy:

Whose words of wisdom include, “The Jundland Wastes are not to be traveled lightly”?

(I thought your version of the question was much better and more difficult!)

Monday, January 24th, 2005 • 10:35am • Permalink

Steve McMahon Expounded Thusly:

Oh, yes, and a moment for Johnny…

Monday, January 24th, 2005 • 10:37am • Permalink

Rodney Expounded Thusly:

For me, the problem with I and II is that both seem to have been written around the effects – as if Lucas thought “what fancy ILM effect can I do next.” The characters get lost in all that digital stuff, which I think is hard on the eyes. There’s no real cinematography in these films or any old-time lighting masters at work (like the gorgeous lighting of Geoffrey Unsworth on “Superman the Movie”). These movies have become very much like computer generated cartoons. This was most obvious when Yoda went from a three dimension puppet that Frank Oz brought to life to a totally digital character. I enjoyed both movies, bit only saw them once. If the Star Wars saga is really about Anakin’s journey to the dark side, I really can’t say that it’s been interesting – or well told. Perhaps it’s the actors who have played him. I think Star Wars has lost its sense of myth. It’s just a space adventure now – but, that has its place in the world of film (such as Sam J Jones in “Flash Gordon”). What really interests me is that Lucas highly criticized Star Trek: the Motion Picture (back in 1979) for being too heavy in effects and too little in story. Now he has done the exact same thing.

Oh, and did we really need to see Hayden as young Anakin digitally replacing old Anakin in Jedi? Why didn’t Lucas have Luke digitally wondering, “Whose that young kid next to Ben and Yoda…?”

Monday, January 24th, 2005 • 11:28am • Permalink

John Expounded Thusly:

I won’t even bother … 😉

Monday, January 24th, 2005 • 11:58am • Permalink

Steve Expounded Thusly:

Oh, John! We love to argue with you!

Monday, January 24th, 2005 • 12:21pm • Permalink

Rodney Expounded Thusly:

John, I think your argument is very strong and persuasive. And I did enjoy Eps I and II. They are very Star Wars-ish. But something, for me, is missing. It’s the same thing that has happened to all modern-day science fiction. The writers of today cannot capture the emotional element. All of the new Star Treks suffer this – especially the unwatchable “Enterprise.” And the new Battlestar Galactica is putrid. Why is it most science fiction shows think that a female warrior/soldier/heroine in her underwear every episode qualifies as “good sci-fi character development” these days? The original Galactica, while severely dated now, still had more emotional depth (and no women in their undies – but we got Starbuck shirtless a lot). Of course, Farscape fell so far into the emotional drama that it became like a soap opera. It will be interesting to see how the updated Doctor Who is handled this year….

Monday, January 24th, 2005 • 1:23pm • Permalink

John Expounded Thusly:

Your answer may hold a key to your own disappointment, Rodney. I’ve long followed the corollary that if you find yourself repeatedly disappointed by something you previously liked(movies, music, co-workers, friends, boyfriends, whatnot), it is more likely that you, not they, have changed.

Which is not a bad thing!

I believe that holds true for the Star Wars movies. Steve is wrong (sorry, Steve) when he says that the original Star Wars wasn’t made for 10-year-old boys; that’s exactly who George meant as the target audience, and he even said so at the time! He’s still making movies for that set, and they’re still liking them; if you read the anti-Star Wars rants, they’re from people of the same demographic: 25- to 40-year-old men who saw the first movie at an impressionable age.

Partly, I think, the movies disappoint them because they have changed, but the movies are as hokey as ever. It’s just hard for them to see that in the original.

I should also add that had George used a puppet for Yoda beyond Episode I, most people would be criticizing him for not making Yoda as “realistic” as he could, and for Yoda paling in comparison to the CGI characters. It’s an unprovable theory, but I have a suspicion that were it testable, it would pan out. You’ll notice people complain that Jar-Jar was a stupid character, not that he was an unbelievable CG image.

Monday, January 24th, 2005 • 10:14pm • Permalink

Rodney Kenobi Expounded Thusly:

“…repeatedly disappointed by something you previously liked(movies, music, co-workers, friends, boyfriends, whatnot), it is more likely that you, not they, have changed.”

Aaaah – but I still like the originals. The old Battlestar Galactica is still interesting to me. There was real emotional drama when Serena was killed by the cylon and when Boxey cried because he didn’t want her to die (and Apollo too). Now we have a 20-something Baltar shacking up with a cylon – a female cylon in human form, BTW, who wears red or black because, well, she’s evil and must wear tight red dresses to prove it. Even the Bionic Woman had an emotional depth far beyond any character on “Galactica” or “Enterprise.” And, frankly, the beagle has the best part and is the strongest actor on “Enterprise” (still, Max, the bionic dog, could eat him on one bite). Television writers of today in Sci-fi are not good dramatists. All I can picture in my head is nerds who couldn’t get girls to let them touch a boob – so they grew up, went to Hollywood with their comic book collections in tow and now write “girls in undies” scenes – hee hee, booooobies….Yawn! I really, really wanted to like “Enterprise,” but I can’t sit through 10 minutes of it. Reruns of the original series still are fun to watch.

Tuesday, January 25th, 2005 • 6:35am • Permalink

Steve Expounded Thusly:

Okay, then let me re-phrase that: He ended up making a movie that was not JUST for 10-year-olds. If he STARTED with that in mind (which is never mentioned as one of the reasons he wanted to make the movie in anything I’ve ever read or seen, including the 2-hour documentary on the DVDs, so forgive me for citing the info I know), then that’s perfectly fine. That he was capable of making them good, entertaining movies for all ages is, I suppose then, just a fluke. An accident. Well, thank goodness for the accident!

I and II, if made for 10-year olds, may succeed on that front, but it’s incredibly non-indellible for adults. I mean, generally. Honestly, there is no Episode I and II flow through the structure of our culture as there was with Star Wars. Why not? It’s an important question to ask.

I and II are simply mediocre movies. That’s it. Star Wars and Empire are MORE than that, for whatever reason. Just as there will always be Trekkers who love ANY Star Trek movie or TV show, despite it’s qualities, there will always be Star Wars fans who love anything Star Wars.

Oh, and to make something for 10-year-olds does not mean it needs to be infantile and stupid. Talking down is always a bad idea. Star Wars had none of that (until George added it later!). I and II are replete with stupid characters and infantile jokes. It did not need to be that way for kids to love it.

Boy, I have to work! I could go on and on…

Tuesday, January 25th, 2005 • 11:37am • Permalink

Horace Expounded Thusly:

Eww. Touch a boob? EEEWWWWWWWW.

Tuesday, January 25th, 2005 • 12:18pm • Permalink


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