Thursday, August 21, 2008

Star Wars: The Decline and Fall

Hey folks-

Once in awhile, you read something that really touches a nerve. In this case, I read Drew McWeeny's post on Ain't It Cool News about his fanboy love of Star Wars and the break-up a decade in the making. It's really sad but honest as all hell.

McWeeny writes on AICN under the pen name Moriarty. He reviews movies and scripts, while building up his own resume as a screenwriter (he's had a few things produced and seems to be coming along well in the industry, if a remote observer like me can be any kind of judge). Well, it seems he ticked off Lucasfilm and the Bearded One himself with his review of Phantom Menace, way back in 1999 or so, and thus incurred their wrath in ways great and small.

Ultimately, he said (in the above post), he's had enough. Lucas won-- he won't write about Star Wars again.

I think articles like this highlight something I came to believe awhile ago: George Lucas went from being Luke Skywalker to being the Emperor.

Star Wars (the original--I've never called it "the fourth movie" or "A New Hope" and never intend to) was something I saw 23 times in the theaters. Think about that. From the age of 12 on, I used a tiny fortune (or so it seemed to me then) to watch the same movie 23 times.

I can't say the same about Empire Strikes Back-- I didn't like it as much at the time and didn't feel like spending that much money. In retrospect, I think Empire was a better film--better written and much better directed, for all that it built upon Lucas's original.

I hated Return of the Jedi. Did you know Obi-Wan, the Merlin to Luke's prospective Arthur, is a liar? ("from a certain point of view" my ass.) I didn't... and I hated that that was the path Lucas took, snapping up the intriguing bait offered (but not substantiated) by Kasdan and Brackett. Luke and Leia are brother and sister, a tribe of furry teddy bears can overcome the military forces of an interstellar atrocity machine, and Darth Vader is completely redeemed for two decades of evil by tossing his boss down a shaft. What a crapfest. I wanted Luke to find out Vader wasn't his dad--it was Vader who was lying. I wanted Luke to end up with Leia; Han Solo could snuggle up with Chewbacca for all I cared, he wasn't the hero of the story. (Turns out Luke wasn't either.)

Then a whole bunch of years go by and I see Phantom Menace and think... WTF? To see a really bad movie and then be told that the whole series was meant for kids? Please. Pretend all you want but don't talk down to me. (Side note: does anyone else notice Lucas has a penchant for creating tough-looking bada$$ characters and then totally punking them with lame death scenes? Boba Fett, Darth Maul, General Grievous--okay, maybe that last guy wasn't THAT tough-looking but still, he died like a punk. So what gives? Maybe he just has a thing for disposable villains who look good but can't deliver. Personally, I think Vader would have gone the same way--knocked off by Luke in the second movie, maybe--if he hadn't become a fan favorite.)

I saw Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith almost incidentally. Sith came out the day before I got married, back in '05, and I saw it more as a goodbye to my vastly prolonged childhood than anything else. Turns out it wasn't that bad, despite Hayden Christensen. (On the other hand, I guess we know for certain that strength in the Force and being a crybaby are both genetic traits of the Skywalkers...)

The upshot? The movies don't have any real heart and haven't for a long time--they're just the product of an industrial process more concerned with technical wizardry than storytelling. Lucas can construct a dazzling movie but he can't tell a story. It's as simple as that. And his efforts are aimed more at merchandising his properties than doing anything worthwhile with them.

(I should point out, in the interest of fairness, that I have read and enjoyed many of the Star Wars novels put out by Ballantine and Lucas Books. Those authors have turned a sow's ear into a silk purse more than once. Might be nice if the movie folks took a cue from the talented writing group they've assembled...)

Ah well. I enjoyed Star Wars an awful lot as a kid. Maybe it's better to let those memories lie undisturbed and not try to recapture that particular lightning in a bottle. I have better things to do with my time.


Peter Nixon said...

Amen, brother. It was certainly fun while it lasted, but the last three movies left a sour taste in my mouth, too.

Lot of good memories, though, including that birthday party where we all dressed up as aliens and went out to see Star Wars. I've got a picture of that group with you, me, Eric P., Alvin M., Paul S., your brother Rob, and a couple of others.

Drew said...

Good times, man, good times.
But yeah, I think it's time to let it go.
Good hearing from you, Peter!