Monday, May 16, 2005

The Monk's lost love for Star Wars, part 2

What always bothers the uberfans of the Star Wars franchise is the inability to reconcile their worship of George Lucas as a complete genius moviemaker and their belief (and this is FACT to real SW fans including The Monk) that The Empire Strikes Back is the best of all Star Wars movies.

Why? Because it is the SW film with the LEAST involvement of George Lucas. Lucas outlined the story, but Lawrence Kasdan wrote it and Irvin Kirshner directed it (Richard Marquand directed Return of the Jedi, but Lucas had more of a hand in that both on the set and in post-production; Kirshner had more control over ESB). ESB had the raw emotion that the others lacked, a love triangle, a hero in despair and the embodiment of evil, Darth Vader, at the height of his powers. Star Wars had a starry-eyed farmboy hits the big time aspect; RoTJ had a feeling of a happy reunion between the three leads, but those da*n Ewoks were too cutesy and DeathStar II was merely a rehash of a familiar concept -- a surrender to the fact that Lucas could not come up with something new.

The worst of the SW movies have been the "first" two from a story-chronology perspective, The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Both have enormous set pieces that do nothing for the story other than set up video games (pod race, foundry sequence in SW2). Both have Lucas directing -- a disaster in the making that EVERYONE sentient knew about because Carrie Fisher had been discussing Lucas' shortcomings for decades.

Did you see Garden State? I was amazed because Natalie Portman was GOOD in that movie. After that flik ended, I told Monkette2B: "it's official, Zach Braff is a better director [in his first time at the helm] than George Lucas." Did you see Shattered Glass? If that was your only exposure to Hayden Christensen, you'd think he was a star in the making.

Both of the first two "episodes" had George Lucas writing the scripts from scratch despite his hatred of writing and inability to do it. The dialogue is often putrescent, never good. The tin ear Lucas has is horrible: YOU CANNOT HAVE THE FUTURE DARTH VADER CALLED BY A GIRL'S NAME. Annie, Annie, Annie. I thought the kid would be some redhead in a red dress talking about Jedi Warbucks and getting off the orphanage planet.

Even worse: everything Yoda says is syntactically perverse. In ESB, Yoda told Luke flat out: "YOU ARE RECKLESS". Get it? Not everything Yoda said was "Yodaspeak". In episode 1 or 2, that would have been written "reckless you are" and its impact (Yoda scolding Luke) would have been neutered. Think back to the training sequences in ESB: Yoda spoke directly and clearly just as often as he did in Yodasyntax. In ESB, Yoda said about Luke "he is too old, too old to begin the training." In Ep 1 or 2 it would have been "too old for beginning the training is he." In other words, Lucas cannot even channel his own characters -- a terrible inability for a writer -- instead, he defaults to the gimmick that everyone else picked up on without bothering to insist on the integrity of the character.

And it's the characters that must drive the story: Luke the farmboy becomes a hero and warrior; Han the rogue becomes a warrior for a cause greater than his finances; Leia is a leader and a--kicker; Vader is the mindnumbingly evil warlord who eventually becomes softened by his dormant love for his son; Yoda is the sage of the swamps, etc. Is there anything in Episodes 1 and 2 that compares?

Ultimately, Episodes 1 and 2 would have been complete flops and B-movie level scifi schlock like Paul Verhoeven's mangling of Starship Troopers or John Travolta's worthless Battlefield Earth if they did not have the Star Wars brand on them. Has Lucas learned his lessons? With more than $1.5 BILLION in movie receipts alone from Episodes 1 and 2, I doubt he had any incentive to do so. I'll see in a couple of days . . .

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