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Tuesday, September 01, 2009


THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980): the only STAR WARS movie I will ever willingly sit through again.

I don't recall the exact moment when it happened and I guess that isn't really relevant, but at the age of forty-four I have finally had enough of nearly everything that even remotely has to do with STAR WARS, its sequels, its crazy galaxy, its everything. To many people of my age such a statement is nothing short of blasphemy, but it's recently dawned on me that I just don't give a fuck anymore.

The original STAR WARS came out a month before my twelfth birthday and was the best kind of entertainment for a lad like me at that age. This was before the light switch about girls was permanently clicked to the "ON" position in my brain, and the film's dazzling special effects and far-flung alien vistas blew my mind and the minds of damned near every kid of my generation, be they male or female. Fuck the fact that the so-called science fiction film had no relation whatsoever to actual science, physics or logic; the shit was fun and that's all there was to it. It opened imaginations up to all manner of visual and conceptual possibilities, even inspiring one of my classmates to borrow his dad's drafting table and architect's implements so he could create an impressive series of blueprints of the Millennium Falcon, working from no reference other than what he called up from memory after seeing the movie at least twenty times. STAR WARS was a full-blown worldwide phenomenon, missed only perhaps by cannibalistic hunter/gatherers deep within the rain forests of South America, and for better or worse it changed the way we looked at films and turned Hollywood into a factory that seemed to exist for no purpose other than to churn out the next money-raking blockbuster. (Some say that state of affairs began with JAWS in 1975, but it really kicked into high gear with the release and success of STAR WARS.)

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980) was the first of the newly-minted franchise's sequels and it did everything in its power to equal and surpass what the fans got from the original. I truly enjoyed THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK for many reasons, but while it remains the only STAR WARS film I'll willingly sit through again I have to admit that the film loses it for me right about when the gang in the Millennium Falcon hit Bespin and get betrayed by Lando Calrissian, a boring non-character thrown in solely to answer complaints about there being no black people in the STAR WARS galaxy. Yeah, I know the reveal about Luke's parentage happens after that but what was somewhat shocking twenty-nine years ago has since become so much a part of the culture that it's frequently been used as a punchline in things that have no relation to STAR WARS, so I don't need to see it again.

Then came 1983's RETURN OF THE JEDI, where George Lucas was now fully in power and all the film had was, as Dante so precisely observed in Kevin Smith's CLERKS (1994), "a bunch of Muppets," and not very good ones at that (Sy Snootles, anyone?). Just about everything in the film ate it bigtime, plus they couldn't even be bothered to give the audience anything new in terms of a "Big Bad" and instead gave us the Death Star again. And do not get me started on those fucking Ewoks; a bunch of low-rent ripoffs of H. Beam Piper's charming Fuzzies, they may be the ultimate example of Lucasfilm's marketing power in that we know the fucking things are called Ewoks but are at no point in the film referred to as such. Seriously, go back and watch it again. They are never once referred to by either individual names or a blanket term for their species, and yet we all know what they are.

Next followed an almost two decade gap between the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy, and during that time STAR WARS fandom and merchandising exploded like a pandemic of geekishness, burying us beneath an avalanche of products whose sole saving grace was finally giving us decent commercially-available lightsaber toys. There are those who make a strong case for the "Slave Leia" image becoming part of the pantheon of hot sci-fi chicks, but I beg to differ. No offense meant to Carrie Fisher, whose work in the first STAR WARS I liked a lot, but the Princess lost all trace of personality after her first go-round and if I wanted to see a scantily-clad woman in fantasy gear I could simply pick up any art book of paintings by Frank Frazetta. Also the fact of the matter is that Carrie Fisher may be appealing in some respects but is not what I'd call "hot" by any stretch of the imagination, and did not successfully pull off the look as intended (at least not in my opinion). She was no Nancy Culp in a bikini, but you know what I mean.

When the prequel trilogy finally came about it proved to be a creative cul de sac, offering nothing more than awful self-revisionism (Midi-Chlorians being the chief bone of contention), Jar-Jar Binks, the wretched Annikin Skywalker (both child and young adult), and an endless parade of soulless and uninvolving CGI. Kevin Murphy, the voice of Tom Servo of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 fame, described STAR WARS EPISODE ONE: THE PHANTOM MENACE as "the moment when George Lucas went pants-crapping insane" during his commentary on the film for the RiffTrax version, and I'm inclined to agree with him. The prequel trilogy reveals a filmmaker who has total creative freedom and has no real interest in giving his characters any kind of personality, instead turning his attentions to the films' lavish budgets and the incredible images the techno-wizards at Industrial Light and Magic can generate. They're pretty to look at but totally unsatisfying as entertainment, and I think it says volumes that the only way to enjoy them is by watching the RiffTrax versions and nearly pissing oneself at the merciless commentary that practically writes itself as each sequence unspools.

STAR WARS ran its course and served its purpose many, many years ago and as of now it is dead to me. That makes me very sad because its mythology was once a great comfort to me, but now I guess I've either simply outgrown it or become too discerning to find it appealing anymore. Considering how much other stuff I enjoy that's total crap I doubt I've become any more discerning, but whatever the case, Adios, STAR WARS. I'm out.


czelous said...

Done with Star Wars? OK, not only can I see that I been right there since the Ewoks myself. But I'm still reeling over the eschewing of the weed. Your gonna' have to start considering delivering these lifestyle changes more gently to long time friends/readers.

Jim Browski said...

A humorous coda to the whole franchise can be found in the (mostly)funny flick "Fanboys". The film's last line alone is worth the price of admission.

Matt Hollingsworth said...

Yeah, I agree with most everything here.

Geoff Sebesta said...

Well do I remember the moment when Greedo shot at Han first and we all began to suspect that something was horribly wrong.

Star Wars is meaningless to me now, it has the same place in my heart as the Foundation Trilogy. Which is to say, none.

Sonja Kodiak Wilder said...

I've been done with Star Wars too. Since the first new movie sukt so badly I wanted to leave. The only good part was the underwater sequence. And also the implausibility factor: the mom lets her son leave with two strange men and their gay FROG. Would never happen!

Debi Baron said...

Loved your post, but I wish you had included some insight about why this revelation now! Star Wars Lego video games not cute enough?

Satyrblade said...

Although I still appreciate the significance of Star Wars as a cultural event (and love the setting despite what's been done to it by Lucas and his batshit insane revisitations), I'm with you. My students have heard endless tirades about Lucas losing the soul of his creation in a burst of unbridled hubris, and there's nothing much beyond that which needs to be said.

Interesting tidbit 1: Empire is only as good as it is thanks to a few strokes of luck, such as screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan being hired on the tenuous basis of Lucas' good will (not on the basis of his writing ability, as Kasdan had not yet delivered his script for Raiders of the Lost Ark at the time when the original Empire writer, Leigh Bracket, died). Lucas liked him personally, and gave Kasdan the Empire gig on faith. That could easily have gone very badly if Kasdan had not been the craftsman he is.

Interesting tidbit 2: Carrie Fisher has admitted to having been coked out of her mind for the Jedi shoot, which explains a lot about "slave Leia's" vacant expression and says disturbing things about the fanboy dedication to someone who was essentially a zombiefied young woman hating every moment she spent on set. Fisher also said - in an interview done years before the last three "star warz" films - that her impression of Lucas was that he hated dealing with actors. "If he could have used puppets instead of human beings," she'd said, "I think he would have." Prophetic words, those.

Lucas was once a great visionary and he remains a brilliant businessman; that said, he's a lousy director and an abominable scriptwriter, not to mention an ego-bloated skidmark across his own legacy. Time has proven who the real artist of the Speilberg/ Lucas partnership really is, and although he's had his crappy moments too, it's Speilberg who'll be remembered as one of the greatest filmmakers in screen history(*). Lucas blew that distinction long ago.

* - When people think of memorable moments in film, scenes that defined the medium for all time, many of them come from Jaws,Close Encounters, ET, Saving Private Ryan, Raiders, Schindler's List, The Color Purple, Jurassic Park and even lesser efforts like War of the Worlds, Minority Report and AI. Despite several missteps, the dude's legacy is gold.

Mindy Newell said...

I once wrote a proposal for Louise Simonson way back when as I was first starting out in the comics biz, a "What If..." concerning the end of EMPIRE....Vader gets to Luke first as he's hanging off the antennae or whatever the hell they were--actually, that never made sense to me, either--the Falcon is being chased by TIE fighters, and it takes FORRRRRR-ever for Vader to get to Luke? All he had to do was order the damn TIE fighters to pick him up!!!!...which is what he did in my proposal...anyway, I remember Louise really liked it, but I didn't know about licensed work back then, so of course she couldn't use it.

But my ending was HELL OF A LOT BETTER than RETURN OF THE JEDI. Teddy bears beating up on the Empire. Yeah, right.

And the final battle between Luke and Vader was way too short.

And the Emperor should have kept his mouth shut, and Luke would have killed Vader!

Deacon Blue said...

Kept the love for Star Wars going for a long time, but I admit, even though I have all six films on DVD, I don't really feel much need to watch them.

Agreed that "Empire" is the only one with true dramatic weight, though I'll always love the original "New Hope" chapter for what it represented and as the set-up for "Empire."

But aside from occasionaly revisits of those two, the only thing I do when I pop in the three prequels is to let them be background noise while I'm working until a kick-ass Jedi lightsaber battle takes place. That's about the only thing worthwhile in those flicks, and with so many Jedi, at least there are several such scenes.

"Return of the Jedi" is simply useless, though....

Heff said...

Congratulations. You've become a man, LMAO !

jht said...

Star Wars = classic Buck Rogers-style space opera. Great entertainment, cool effects, innovative, despite story holes the size of Guam.

Empire Strikes Back = drama, betrayal, and the bad guys come out on top.

Revenge of the Jedi (because I still remember being pissed when they changed the title - in fact, I have a memory of you ranting about it with me and some of the other folks at the time) - Wrapped up the original story OK, but not headed in the right direction at all.

I'm proud to say I have skipped the entire prequel trilogy, though I've seen chunks of first crappy one. My son's apparently seen them at friends' houses and is not impressed so far (however, his favorite film so far at age seven is Mamma Mia, so his taste may be suspect). He does love the Lego Star Wars games on his DS, which is acceptable.

Then again, my Trek love began and ended with TOS. So I think that maybe I'm just a retro kind of guy and that could be the other reason I've avoided the prequels.