Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Star Wars Memories 16: We're Breaking Up

By 2003, I had had it.

The third prequel movie came out, and I sat through it, angry. Bitter, angry, and more than somewhat confused. George Lucas went to film school. He went there with other film geeks, just like him, and if you didn’t know about his group of famous friends, it included Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppolla, John Milius, and several other noteworthy people. When they weren’t making movies, they were talking about movies. And no matter what you think of their collective output, you can’t argue with history and popular consensus; those guys knew how to make movies.

So why was I sitting through a film wherein I know what’s going to happen to the main character, so much so that the film has zero tension, zero suspense, and is barely holding my interest? Shouldn’t that discussion have come up at some point or another at film school? “Oh, yes, it’s not in the textbook, but while we’re talking about it, don’t ever make a movie and suck all of the suspense out of the title by telling everyone what the movie is about for 25 years prior to actually making the movie.”

They are pretty posters, aren't they? You sure can't fault the
art direction on the films. Gorgeous looking train-wreaks.
That’s the biggest problem with the Prequels. They are weak movies, to be sure, but most Star Wars fans forgive them because of the spectacle. I think my favorite of the three is the second movie, Attack of the Clones, because it’s almost completely action, with very little plot and intrigue to get in the way. Jango Fett is the Boba Fett we never had, and watching him go one-on-Wan against Ben Kenobi is particularly satisfying. The gladiator scene in the finale is very reminiscent of some old Ray Harryhausen fights on Mysterious Island and elsewhere. Best of all, no annoying Jar-Jar scenes. I call it “Episode II: the Apology.”

But it’s not the movies Lucas should have made. His problem (and it was communicated to him—you must understand this) is that he was determined to tell the story of what happened to Darth Vader and that doomed him from the start. We’ve seen, and he’s told us before, that he made shifts and alterations to his story as he went along. He should have altered it further. Frankly, there was no way—no way—his clone wars were going to beat or exceed my clone wars that I have carried around in my head for the past two decades.

There are about a hundred ways to fix the first three movies so that they are more cohesive, and less predictable, and keep the same edge as the first set of movies. But Lucas was adamant that, suddenly, the first SIX movies of his NINE part trilogy are suddenly, and “always have been,” about Darth Vader’s rise and fall.

There were other things, as well. During some speech where he won an award for being a humanitarian or something or other, Lucas told the audience that his least favorite movie in the Star Wars franchise is Empire Strikes Back.

Think about that for a second. Everyone’s favorite Star Wars movie is the creator’s least favorite. Unbelievable.

Here’s a guy who has no idea what he really created. As soon as Star Wars got popular, he because Elvis-Level-Famous, and he disappeared into a bubble and surrounded himself with creative types and built an echo chamber so we couldn’t get to him. Not as fans, not as critics, no way, no how.

I wrote this in 2003, before the third prequel, Revenge of the Sith, came out. Mostly to salvage what residual good feelings I had for the nostalgia of my childhood, which Lucas was currently running roughshod over.
  
Me and Star Wars are breaking up.
 No, it’s cool, really, it was a long time coming. As you well know.
 I mean, in the beginning, it was all hearts and flowers. Real romance. Star Wars showed me things I never thought possible. Whole new worlds opened up to me. I never felt so free, so alive, as when we were together. 
 Sure, she turned dark on me after a while. But, to be perfectly honest, I really liked it. I was attracted to the danger. She had this seedy underside. Bounty hunters, hands getting cut off...and big secrets revealed. Vader was Luke’s father. Wow. 
 I guess that’s what made the teddy bears all the more jarring. After something so dark, all of a sudden, Star Wars is cutesy. From nowhere, I might add. And to so ignominiously dispatch her dark, shadowy, bounty-hunter-ridden self for this ‘kinder and gentler’ Star Wars was a joke. Even the excitement at the end wasn’t enough to keep me around. I had outgrown her. 
 It didn’t mean that I didn’t miss her. We stayed in touch for a long time. I’d occasionally visit. We’d hang out, catch up, and talk about the old times. I almost always left when she trucked out the teddy bears, though. I wasn’t THAT desperate. 
 Then, after, what, twenty-five years, she came back to me. It should have been good, but it wasn’t. She had changed, and not for the better, either. Where was the good old Star Wars? The kinda sinister Star Wars? And to completely denounce her past like that (I know now it was her dad talking) felt a lot like having the girl who took your virginity show back up and act like she didn’t know what you were talking about. 
 The trouble was, just about everyone else bought into it. “Oh, Star Wars, we love you, and blah blah blah. No one was calling her on her bullshit. She got so worked up about it, that she decided to stick around and re-establish herself. “It’ll be different this time,” she promised me. “Better, faster, more interesting.” 
 And like a fool, I believed her. 
 Prequels? Please. I should have known when she changed her name like that. Oh, the trappings of her former self were there: certain characters, certain situations, and certain familiar tropes. And she looked great. I mean, really, they did a lot of work on her. Cher would be proud. Talk about Botox. 
 But it wasn’t her. It wasn’t Star Wars. Her father’s hands were all over that little hatchet job. Why won’t he just leave her alone and let her live her own life? I don’t know. I think he’s living vicariously through her. 
 Well, I’d had enough of it. I walked away. You know this, you were there. But do you know what she did? She begged me to come back. I said no. I can’t, I won’t do it. Not anymore. 
 Then she brought back the bounty hunter. 
 It was an apology, sure, and a pretty good one, at that. In spite of a lack of narrative, drive, character, and content that I really used to enjoy, it was a pretty sincere apology. She told her dad to back off and I think he did, for a little while. 
 Well, here she comes again. She’s promising a lot of things that I don’t think she can deliver. “This one is the one. It’s the thing that made Star Wars what it is. There would be no Star Wars without this.” It’s not that I don’t believe her anymore. It’s that I don’t think she can tell anymore if she’s telling the truth or not. Her father has her so convinced that it’s all about him that she’ll say ANYTHING to try and get me back. I’m just tired of buying into her bullshit. I mean, when milk goes sour in the fridge, do you put it back in the fridge and think that it’s going to become good again? No, you dump it down the drain. 
 She’s already hurt some people with her first two comebacks. I have decided that she won’t hurt me. Anyway, thanks for listening. I’m telling you this because I have to get off the treadmill, break the cycle. Here, here’s all of the stuff from our relationship. Do me a favor and destroy it all. I don’t care what you do with it, and I don’t want to know.
 When 2005 rolls around, I will be firm in my resolve. I expect I will have moved on. I think Lord of the Rings is about to break up with whomever she’s seeing...
 After the prequels, and all of the exposure to Lucas after two decades in his bubble, I needed a break. But there’s something about Star Wars that would not let me put her down. Not permanently.
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