2.29.2008

A Far Time Ago, In a Galaxy Long, Long Away... (the Big Deal about Star Wars)

This was inevitable.

I would not be able to stand by any sort of “Geek Cred” had I not eventually done a post on Star Wars. I’d have to turn in my membership card, if I didn’t.

Why? Because Star Wars is great. No matter how all the mucking up of it with the Special Editions and prequels has occurred, the fans still love it. I hated Episode 1, but I still saw it 4 times, and was in line for the midnight showing of Episode 2. Then, I wasn’t even that crazy about that one, but I saw that 3 times… and yes, had my advance tickets to see Episode 3, digitally projected, at the midnight showing at the ArcLight in Hollywood. Still some cringe-worthy moments of cheese, but the best of the prequels. (Though, it’s like calling it the “prettiest of three uglies”) No, I didn’t dress up in costume. I do have limits. (okay, okay… I just didn’t have a decent one…)

Yeah, they weren’t that great, as actual movies go. George Lucas hadn’t actually directed anything since the FIRST movie back in 1977… and it kinda showed. I have to admit, I actually started getting a tad nervous when I saw the Special Edition of the first movie (now called Episode 4). Why did it suck? Let’s start a list:

1) The effects. Yeah, it’s great you have all this new technology to put in all this “cool stuff” (a subjective term)… but was it needed? Did it move the story at all? No. It was done to look “neat”. Okay… but they didn’t look neat. The original trilogy was such a landmark of special effects… they look great even by TODAY’S standards… and these were made without CGI. Good old fashioned models and trick photography… and they looked brilliant. You could reach out and touch them, they looked so real. Now… combining the original model effects with new CGI… well, you could easily tell what was CG, even if you hadn’t seen them the first time around. It was… distracting. The new movies… had all CG. Looked fine. Old ones… all models, looked great. The Special Editions? Models combined with CG…. Uh… no. Now, a lot of movies being made now DO combine the model miniatures with computer effects… but they’re *meant* to be combined. They are photographed with the explicit purpose of putting in a computer effect *here* or *there*. The originals… never heard of CG. Those CG effects were never meant to be there in the first place… the technology didn’t exist. So now… the new stuff sticks out like a badly infected thumb.

2) The new scenes. Uh… why? Again, they didn’t need them. The new Jabba scene meeting Han Solo? Wow… suddenly, Jabba the Hutt isn’t the ruthless, bloodthirsty gangster that I thought he was when we first saw him in Return of the Jedi… he’s a friendly Irish slug who has no problem having his subordinates push him around. What??? Jabba has the power to have Han eviscerated Jack-the-Ripper style right there while he watches, drinking a Pina Colada… and Han is walking on his tail, poking him, and setting the terms of their deal? Makes me wonder why he starts begging and pleading when he next sees him in ROTJ. It doesn’t make sense to me. It only drove home the theory I’ve heard that says, “The more a villain talks… the less scary he is.”

Not to mention… the Biggs Darklighter scene? Holy cripes on toast! The whole Biggs Darklighter thing was actually a sort of Easter Egg for fans of the originals. Yeah, we didn’t realize it the first time… but there’s a lot going on, we don’t need to get it right away. After about the 20th time watching it, I realized… “Wait… that’s “Biggs”… Luke talked about a “Biggs”… they’re the same damn guy!” Now his line of “Just like Beggar’s Canyon back home” has a little more effect, even as a throwaway line, because he’s saying it TO someone, rather than just that weird country kid who just says random things out loud. Plus, his look of concern when Biggs crashes and bites the dust. It was a treat for loyal fans! Doesn’t add to the story… just a little something extra. Also gave us a bigger sense of scale to the story… because we *didn’t* see their meeting at the rebel base, so it drives home there’s stuff going on behind the scenes… more to the world than just what we’re seeing on screen for two hours. I loved that. Now… they have the “lost scene”. Oh God, it should have stayed lost based on the dialogue alone… “We’ll catch up, when we get back!” Why not just throw a Red Shirt on him, and post a Neon sign above his head saying, “Going to die in 10 minutes.” I’m surprised he didn’t show Luke a picture of his Sweetheart and talk about how he’s looking forward to his retirement after “this last job.” I honestly felt insulted.

3) Greedo shooting first. I remember hearing the reasoning for this alteration was that Lucas “wanted to show Han was really a good person, and was only doing it in self-defense.” Uh… isn’t he a *scoundrel*? The whole point of his character? Starts off a self-obsessed scoundrel, starts to let the nice-guy stuff show… and by the end of the trilogy, he’s a nice guy? Yeah, that’s called a “character arc”. We like character arcs, makes us not think we wasted time watching them. If he starts off as a “nice guy” and ends off as a “nice guy”… uh, where’s the arc?

I actually didn’t bother to see the Special Editions of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in the theatre. I was too soured on the first one.

Now before I get too long-winded (too late)… let’s hit a few points on the suckness of the Prequels.

Phantom Menace: Jar-Jar Binks. Need I say more? I do? Okay: Cute lil Annie Skywalker. “Are you an Angel?” Worst introductory line for a character in history. Going a little too far out of the way to show that he’s really a sweet, wonderful kid that can’t do any wrong. Dontcha think? He should have been 2 years younger than Obi-Wan, an actual Starpilot, and not the 10-year-old sci-fi version of a Go-Cart racer. Want more? The existence of R2-D2 and C-3PO. They were critical in Episode IV… the whole plot of the movie revolved around them and the information they had. They serve NO storytelling purpose whatsoever in this movie or either of the other prequels.

Attack of the Clones: Okay… the Clone War, neato. One side filled with a never-ending supply of exact copy drones that have no families, no dreams, no emotions, no personalities and are made only to kill and follow orders blindly with no conscience to rule them… and the other side has Robots. (with no families, dreams, emotions, personalities, made only to kill, blah blah blah) That about sum it up? Good. Who the hell am I supposed to care about? Hell, I felt *something* for the German Soldier in Saving Private Ryan… and he was the enemy! Where are the innocents being slaughtered? The shmoes on the front line that are forced to fight for a cause they don’t believe in? The guys with the sweethearts at home or nearing retirement? Yeah, you don’t have time to show that in a movie, but if you have ONE side as a never-ending onslaught of faceless drones, and the other is normal people fighting for their home… then you know that those sweethearts and retirees are in there. You automatically have an underdog to root for! And an urgency for the Jedi to end the war!

Revenge of the Sith: Shall I mention the dialog? Nah, too easy. (Though to be fair, there wasn’t anything as bad as “I hate sand”… but a robot saying, “She’s lost the will to live” comes damn close. Is that medical terminology, Dr. RTX1834?) How about some of the more interesting plot holes that pop up? Like… oh, I don’t know; If it takes them 20 years to build a Death Star (which “becomes operational” in Episode 4), how can they throw another one up in less than three years between the periods of A New Hope and ROTJ? Hmmm? How about… if Anakin is 23 years old (since this is three years after AOTC, which itself is 10 years after PM, and he was 10 then)… that means in 20 years he’s 43 (and Obi-Wan is only 53), and if the point of Obi-Wan and Darth fighting in the first movie is to show “two old men fighting” (stay with me on this)… this means that George Lucas considers 43 and 53 to be OLD… and Obi-Wan aged REALLY badly.

And WHERE IS MY NEW LIGHTSABER TRICK??? In ANH, we are shown that a Lightsaber is a two-handed weapon, wielded Samurai/Kendo style. ESB, Darth fights one-handed style. ROTJ, a NEW lightsaber color, plus a throwing attack. TPM, a double-bladed lightsaber. AOTC, using two lightsabers at once. ROTS? Nothing. General Grievous doesn’t count… he’s a droid PLUS it’s just a variation on the double lightsaber from the Clone Wars. Give me a lightsaber nun chuck or something, please!

Of course, the biggest reason to see the prequels honestly didn’t have much to do with the writing… or frankly, even the effects. You have to admit, it WAS a fairly defining social event of the time. Going to see those movies, was not only nostalgic, but an all out EVENT. Just the experience of seeing new Star Wars for the first time with a theatre packed full of fellow excited moviegoers, makes it worth it by itself. (And as you may have seen from the earlier post… I loves me a movie-going experience) Hell, the entire movie could have been simply George Lucas stepping out in front of a green screen in a Jedi robe, pulling it back, dropping his pants, and rubbing one out for the world to see. Credits roll. 11 minutes later, a legion of internet posters begin deconstruction and discussion of his stroking technique, writing, “Wasn’t exactly what I expected, but it *was* better than Phantom Menace”… from their iPhone as they get back in line to see it again.

Simply because it’s Star Wars. All of us old enough to have seen the originals the first time around have been waiting with baited breath for “more Star Wars”. Ever since Return of the Jedi in 1983. Even if you hated the Ewoks, you wanted more.

Why? Well… “That’s the trick, isn’t it?”

I met some friends not too long ago for our geek version of a “poker night”… I was the last to arrive, and when I got there, they were debating “which was the best lightsaber battle”? Out of all the movies. My vote is an easy one. The Empire Strikes Back: Luke and Vader. (Each movement has so much character in it, a very lopsided, yet passionate and realistic battle… plus one of the biggest plot twists in cinematic history. The prequels? Yeah, they’re pretty, but everyone pretty much uses the same moves, the same techniques. I heard a lot of “behind-the-scenes” talk of how they wanted to add in “character” to the fights… but honestly, I didn’t see it.) I’ve been involved in that conversation many times, as well as many other variations. Eventually, someone ends up remarking how they have a significant other or non-fan friend that is always wondering, “What is the big deal?”

I think the standard answer pretty much mentions the “Event” of Star Wars. How, when it first came out, there was NOTHING else like it that anyone had ever seen. For one: It has NO connection to Earth whatsoever. All other science fiction (even today) has a basis on Earth. Earth of the future, or people FROM Earth are involved in some way (even the new Battlestar Galactica has them *searching* for Earth). Partly, that’s how we relate, because it’s a familiar element to us. Whether it’s Earth of now, or Earth of the future, it involves us as Earthlings and just may happen to us. Star Wars… Nope. It takes place “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” (Possibly the greatest variation of “Once Upon a Time” ever conceived)

On a logistical level, the technology of the movie, and the visual style has inspired thousands of filmmakers from the 70s all the way to today. It changed the way movies were made, and changed the way we as an audience looked at them. It created the “Blockbuster” and briefly brought back the “event” of movies.

As Science Fiction… well, that’s probably a major oversight, because it ISN’T science fiction. A science fiction story has a novelty about it… a rule of some sort, and that rule is what dictates the entire underlying reality of that story. So if you have a world where everyone wears a toaster on their head… your story better not be about a Black & Decker falling in love with an Oster, of which their families vehemently disapprove in a bloody fashion. That’s not science fiction, that’s Romeo & Juliet. The story has to be ABOUT a Toaster on the Head. Maybe one person wants to take it off? They do so, and everyone says, “What are you doing? Put your toaster back on!” To the point that if the guy DOESN’T wear the Toaster, society will fall apart. Sure, the story is trying to break the rule of “everyone has toasters on their head”, but that’s the conflict… and the reactions and scenes all come out of the rule that “everyone wears a toaster on their head”. Now, it’s not Romeo & Juliet, it’s a metaphor for non-conformity and standing up for what you believe in.

Star Wars is Space Fantasy. Actually, it’s MYTHICAL space fantasy. George Lucas had consciously gone through Joseph Campbell’s Hero of a Thousand Faces and has put the universal elements of myths and legends found throughout the world… just put them in a very unique setting. You could take the basic elements of all six movies, and with very little tailoring, they could fit in ANY time period right here on Earth. It fits seamlessly into Feudal Japan (after all, Lucas himself stated that the movies of Akira Kurosawa were a huge influence… and if you see the movies Seven Samurai and The Hidden Fortress, you see a lot of the templates that would become our beloved Star Wars characters. R2-D2 and C-3PO are in Hidden Fortress), and you could make it fit anywhere else. The Force? That’s the Taoist concept of Chi… a universal energy that flows through the universe. Lightsabers and Blasters? Or are they just elaborate swords and guns? Ah-ha, you say… what about the Clones in Episode 2??? Gotcha! Nope. Is it really important that they’re clones? Or is it really about raising and building a massive army in secret? (Toasters-on-the-Head world really can only take place on Toasters-on-the-Head world)

Star Wars was the first Myth for my generation. The first story we saw that really affected us the way that legends of Perseus, Hercules and Jason affected Ancient Greeks. Or the way that the Tales of King Arthur affected Medieval times and the centuries beyond. We finally had a brand new old-time legend to pass on… one that wasn’t second/third/fortieth-hand. It was all ours. It presented old themes in new ways, and armed with this new myth, this new story that we could claim for our own… made us feel like we could do anything.

And I’ve noticed… that as I get older, there are even MORE themes that hit with me when I watch the original three movies… NOT the special editions. I still have my limited edition letterbox (with an actual Lettered Box) with the Hologram on the front, of the original, unaltered non-special edition Trilogy. My oldest T-shirt is of the Death Star Attack from ROTJ, and I’ve been threatened by many fellow fans that have said, “So, when are you giving me that shirt?”

(Hmmm… I wonder how many readers I’ve lost with my Ultra-Geekiness by now?)

The one theme that really hits with me… and for me really answers the question of “What’s the big deal with Star Wars?” has to do with what the movie is about.

A big part of this also has to do with the uselessness of the Special Editions. Lucas wanted to make those changes that “he always wanted”, and claimed that he had the right to. He is the creator and artist, and he can do that. Ummm… yes and no.

Yes, you’re the artist. No, I don’t think you have the right.

Because Film is an Art form. A collaborative art form, dependant on many people, but still an art form… still made as closely as possible to the vision of the initial artist. That being George Lucas, here.

What do you think the reaction would be… if we found a long-lost diary of Michaelangelo? In which he presents his original, unaltered notes for his plans for the Statue of David? And in these notes, he states that he didn’t want the statue to ultimately be NAKED, he just did those details for life-like imagery and detail. No, in these notes, he states clearly and explicitly that he wanted the Statue of David to be wearing clothes like Herb Tarlek from WKRP in Cincinnati. And of course, the Art World wants to follow the wishes of the Great Master, cause who are we to argue? …Puts a god-awful tweed and plaid suit on a centuries-old masterpiece statue.

As an artist, there’s a point, where you have to let go of your creation. If you truly want to “share it” with the world… by definition, you have to let it go, and let it live on its own. And if you consider your film or your art as “your child” (to get metaphoric)… how is it going to look when you go to your 20-year-old child and say, “You’re not good enough, I’m going to make some plastic surgery changes to you, and then you’ll be better!” You’d be the definition of a horrible human being. Your creation was something that was loved for 20 years just as it was, and was/is immensely beautiful in its flaws. Okay, so it wasn’t how you “initially imagined it”… no piece of art is. Ask an artist, “How close was this painting/sculpture/play/clay pot to how you originally envisioned it?” You might hear 10%... maybe 20%? Rarely would you hear more than that.

There’s something else that needs to be considered in the subject of Art: I don’t give a flying freeball F***K what Edvard Munch’s opinion of his painting The Scream is. I don’t care what he says it’s “about”. When I look at it, I see a particular story. I get a particular emotion, which is probably different from what YOU feel when you look at it. I’m willing to bet it’s nothing resembling what Munch was thinking or feeling when he was painting it. Being the very nature of Art… that also means that the Interpretation and opinion of the viewer is *just as valid*, if not more so, than the Artist them self.

So, sorry Georgie. I don’t care if you insist the story of Star Wars is “The Rise and Fall of Anakin Skywalker”. Because it isn’t. When I think of Star Wars, I don’t think of your prequels. I don’t think of your Special Editions. I think of the movie I saw in the 1979 re-release when I was 4 years old… of the second movie I saw in a Drive-In with my family in 1980… and the third I watched in 1983 with my brothers. The movies I spent hard-earned money on to buy the Letterboxed edition with the hologram on the cover, and have loved, memorized and researched since I could remember.

The Story of Star Wars… is about this:

A Son.

Plain and simple. But within those words, comes a lot of meaning for me. “A Son” implies having a father. “A Son” implies youth. Which itself implies learning, discovering, growing. Star Wars is the story of Luke Skywalker.

We meet Luke, living with relatives, never knew his father. He was told he was a navigator on a Spice Freighter, that’s it. Soon, he gets more information about him. He was a Jedi Knight… in fact, a great Jedi Knight. He is given one of his father’s most important possessions… his lightsaber. Its blue glow reveals a form of protection, of strength, and in igniting that “elegant weapon”; he ignites a curiosity and for possibly the first time… asks questions about his father. He’s told a story, a tale that he takes and holds with him. Believing his father was a great Jedi, a wonderful friend to Obi-Wan, and a great man who died tragically. If Luke was ever sore about Dad not being around, dying tragically is instantly forgivable, and reason and cause for him to go on and take his place, admiring all the way a man he never knew.

Luke trains in the ways of the Force, determined to be a great Jedi “like his father”. Wielding his father’s sword with pride, he works hard to “do him proud”. His image of his father is truly a benevolent one. One that I think most young men have of their dads when they are really young. As being great and wonderful, of being protecting and just, and a true model of the kind of man that you yourself want to become.

But then… as it may happen to all young boys, one day they realize that their Father… isn’t exactly the type of man they thought he was. Maybe he’s a close-minded bigot. Maybe he’s an unhealthy person to be around. Maybe he’s not such a great role-model. Maybe… he’s an asshole. In Luke’s case… he was certifiably, positively the BIGGEST asshole in the galaxy. Darth Vader. Yeah, you can’t exactly make excuses to your friends about that. “Yeah, well… he’s had a hard day at the Death Star, he’s got a lot of pride… he was a virgin birth, so he never knew my Grandpa… you know. Kind of a cyclical-thing…” “Sorry, Luke… your Pop is still an asshole.”

So, now his world feels upside-down. His whole idea of a great Jedi, a good person, and a true Man (with a capital M) is all based on a fabrication… on a falsity. His ideas on his father were one thing, and now he has solid evidence of the complete opposite. His dreams of being “just like his dad” have just fallen down a shaft on Bespin, along with the very elegant weapon that he clung to for support and protection. His whole image and standard of his father was in that lightsaber, and his father himself is the one that chopped it away, and giving Luke a permanent scar in the process.

So… between movies… what does he do? Well, he has to re-evaluate what it means to be a Jedi. Does he really want to be a Jedi “just like Dad”? Realistically, I would not have been surprised if Luke decided NOT to become a Jedi between the two movies. “If that’s what a Jedi is… no thank you.” But he doesn’t do that. He obviously came to the realization that he still wants to be a Jedi… for himself. Because we then SEE him as a Jedi. And he’s not wearing the traditional Jedi robes. Farmboy-Homeboy is wearing BLACK. (When in doubt… your basic black is always stylish.) We don’t see evidence of him having gone back to Dagobah to train with Yoda… so the six months or so that took place between the movies… he’s been training on his own. We know he was training, because that boy can do crap he wasn’t doing before. Choking guards, making telekinesis look easy, killing Rancors with a cool demeanor (hey, he was previously freaking out when that Wampa went to shake his hand). If Yoda didn’t help him with that, who did? Answer: No one. Luke trained by himself. Did a lot of soul-searching, a lot of introspection… and now brotha is back to kick some ass!

And when he does return? He’s got a NEW lightsaber. One that he *made*… and a DIFFERENT COLOR than his father’s. (Green… my favorite color, maybe that was the origin of that aspect of me) Showing quite clearly that Luke has become a Jedi (i.e. a Man) on his OWN terms, not his father’s. His own Jedi. He became a Man in a fashion not according to his father’s wishes… but no less valid. And he’s holding his own, as he continually fights with his father, trying to make him see reason.

I identify with that. I think a lot of people do. Young men AND women. My best friend told me that the view young women have of their mother can be very similar to that.

I envy Luke… he wins. At the last possible minute, Vader manages to do the right thing… seeing Luke for who he is, his own man, respecting it… and even agreeing with it. And his last act is an act of love, proving Luke right. And Vader… nay, Anakin Skywalker dies while Luke is finally able to truly look at him, and once again see that powerful, fatherly image that he did long ago, had hoped and wished was there all along… and he was right.

I would wish such an ending for all of us… except I hope it doesn’t take a deathbed for most of us to get that.

THAT’S why Star Wars is so great. That’s what the big deal is.

For me, anyway.

1 comment:

Agent Cake said...

I just have something simple; I was able to share something of an "icon" of my childhood, with a new twist, with the important ones of a new generation. My kids. We now have something in common. We all love Star Wars!