I’m not going to go into the glories of Star Wars — a tired franchise that should have ended with episode VI — but since I just finished watching the entire series, what’s the natural thing to do next? Yep, write a post about it. I don’t think I’m going to add anything new to the billions of posts, Tweets, and Facebook musings on George Lucas’ opus, but that’s not going to stop me from adding a drop in the bucket of opinions, that when added, up doesn’t amount to… well, really anything. It’s not like Lucas really listens to the fans of the movies. He does what he wants with the story, and has been disappointing fans like me each time he decides to wring out another version of the movies, or greenlights projects like The Ewok Adventure and Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
After Episode III concluded, Wired magazine ran a cover story that asked the question of Lucas’ future now that he was essentially free from the Star Wars universe: “Can the father of the blockbuster really rediscover his avant-garde soul?” The answer, at this point, is no. I believe he’s unable to imagine anything new, or try his hand at directing a drama like American Graffiti since he’s kind of past his prime and might not have any new ideas that he’s willing to invest in. I mean, does he really need a Howard the Duck hanging around his neck again? Granted, he didn’t direct that turkey, but he was the producer. And, excluding the Indiana Jones movies, he really hasn’t been able to find anything to glom onto that’s uniquely his.
So, with that, let’s have a look at the films that he has invested time, money, talent, and imagination to…
Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) I think when most Star Wars fans saw the trailer for this movie, they were genuinely excited to see what the world was like before the rise of the empire.
Unfortunately, we got a film that rehashed an Ewok vibe with Jar Jar Binks, little Anakin Skywalker kind of stumbling his way around the screen, and a story that had some interesting elements, but overall left me (and probably millions of others) wondering what the hell happened to our beloved Star Wars series (my step-dad said to me after the first 20 minutes of the movie in its theatrical release: “We can leave if you want”). But after viewing this film a decade or so later, my sense is that it wasn’t as bad as I remember when it came out. Yes, Jar Jar is stupid, Natalie Portman couldn’t act, but I found I really liked the relationship between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan — maybe because Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor could act and brought a certain gravitas to their roles. And the story, which was kind of convoluted, wasn’t that hard to follow once I knew where it was all leading. Granted, I had the benefit of watching the entire series and knew how the empire came to be, but it was somewhat interesting to me to see how it all came together.
Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) Yes, I came away from Episode I disappointed (when I saw it in the theatre), but when Episode II came out, I thought it wasn’t half bad. The fact that they scaled back Jar Jar’s appearances meant that they could focus on the some more interesting aspects of the fall of the Republic. However, after watching the film on DVD a decade later, it is a really weak film. Sure the effects are great, but effects don’t help the film’s story if the story is just so freaking boring. The teenage drama of Anakin and Padme falling in love was just plain dumb. The dialogue was clunky, the acting really bad, and Hayden Christensen was a piss-poor choice to play Anakin. Also, there were things like Obi-Wan’s relationship with Dexter Jettster that clearly indicated they had been friends for a long time, but that was never really fleshed out, and the scenes featuring the two of them seemed out of place in the movie. I realize “Dex” was an informant, but there was more to his character than Lucas gave us. Maybe some other scenes with him were cut. Despite all that, however, I did grow to really like R4 –who was a good droid, but gets blown away in the next film.
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005) The final transformation of Anakin into Darth Vader is complete in this film, and sets up the salvation of his soul by his son in the next three episodes. Anakin was clearly being groomed by the Emperor/Palpatine to replace Count Dooku — the Sith who replaced Darth Maul after he was sliced in two by Obi-Wan in Episode I. But it’s Anakin’s journey to the dark side of The Force that’s supposed to be this big deal, but when it comes, it’s falls flat. What miffed me was that Anakin was so quick to lay down his allegiance to the Emperor after he (the Emperor) kills Mace Windu. Sure he wants Padme to live “forever” (which the Emperor promises a powerful Sith can do), and he’s tormented by nightmares of her dying, but he’s so immature (and seemingly has learned nothing of self-control from his mentor) that he becomes evil at the drop of a hat. Sure, Star Wars isn’t a subtle series, but Lucas could have really made an interesting film that mediates on the nature of evil, but instead went down the easy route by going for boilerplate pablum. What saves the film from being just as bad as Attack of the Clones is the coming together of all the elements that engendered the rise to the empire. And if you’ve seen episodes IV, V, and VI over and over and over through the years, you know what that universe is like, but to me was satisfying to see how it all came to be.