Wednesday, May 18, 2005

And When the Dust Settles? The Star Wars delayed reaction phenomenon

So here it is. Tonight is the night. In less than twelve hours the final chapter in the Star Wars saga will be unleashed. I can barely believe it to be true.

For those of you who may be looking for my review of ROTS to be posted on Thursday, it will be in vain. Due to reasons beyond my control, I will not be seeing the film until Saturday evening. So look on Sunday for my review.

As I sit here in the hours before the final judgement I find myself thinking back on the all the anticipatory buzzing that went on before Episodes I and II, ROTS appears to be no different. The teaser trailer comes out, and it looks great, everyone’s freaking out and sneaking into Wing Commander just to get a glimpse.

{Oh look at the teaser poster isn’t it clever?! The shadow of the little boy is Darth Vader! Don’t those pod racers look cool!?}

Then comes the full length trailer, and suddenly everyone’s TiVoing The OC, and talking about how handsome Hayden Christiansen or Natalie Portman look.

{Yoda’s gonna be in a light saber battle? Awesome! Jar Jar’s barely going to be in this one, that’s what I heard! Isn’t the Drew Struzzan one sheet amazing looking?}

We all got our tickets, we all lined up for seats with our shiny, happy faces, even the second time, even after we were bombarded with factoids involving trade agreements and senators and other meaningless space politics. We were there waiting to be wowed.

There’s something endearing yet also a bit sad to me about the way the strength of our devotion to these films. Now maybe I’m an idiot who surrounds herself with idiots, but the first time you walked out of that theatre after seeing Episode I: The Phantom Menace, you were not dissing on Jar Jar. You did not rip on Jake Lloyd, and you did not pick apart the plot. You were riding on the crest of an adrenalin wave because you had just seen the new Star Wars movie after your favorite franchise was resurrected after 18 years. And then as if that wasn’t enough, we went again. And again. And then, maybe after the third viewing, when our eyes began to glaze over during the more scenes driven heavily by exposition, it was a little more difficult to ignore the great divide in quality, and content. Maybe by the third or fourth time, it had dropped in our esteem, from awesome, to “maybe not as good as empire, but still really great.” Or we thought to ourselves “well there’s no way it could have fulfilled my expectations – it had such a tough act to follow! If that were just a stand alone summer movie, I would be completely floored!”


We were so caught up in our Star Wars loyalty, we couldn’t even recognize that before our very eyes, all the ideals and elements we treasured from the first trilogy were crumbling before our very eyes.

To be completely honest with you, I don’t even recall when it hit me how much I disliked the first film. I think it took at least a month or two to register in my brain that no, it wasn’t very good, and that if it wasn’t a Star Wars movie, there was no way in hell I would have gone to see it more than once.

Then came Episode II: Attack of the Clones, and it was like déjà vu all over again. Suddenly, it was as if Episode I had never even happened. We all told ourselves things like “Aw, Lucas was just rusty since he hadn’t directed a movie in a while, he’ll be totally on his game now.” “I heard the first one was just really light, because the second two were going to be really dark.” Or “The first one was just to set everything up plot wise. Now we’re going to get to the real nitty gritty.” (Metaclorians anyone?)

We all walked out of AOTC talking about how much better it was than the first one, how they minimized Jar Jar, and had those great fight sequences at the end. Weren’t the designs of those creatures in the coliseum cool? Ma’ Lady?

AOTC WAS better than TPM, but as time went on, we realized not by that much… While the plot may not have been as tedious, and the visuals were impressive, there was something missing… a soul.

I have friends who walked out of Episode II, saying it was the most amazing thing they’d every scene, who haven’t even cracked open their DVD copy of it.

No one wants to admit right off the bat, that these films have not met our expectations, as unrealistic as they might be. For a moment in time, when these movies are about to be released, we all fall under the Star Wars spell just like we did when we were half pints. As bitter as some of us were after the Episode I, we still went back with out hearts and our arms open to Episode II, and again, it wasn’t until weeks after our multiple viewings in the theatres that we started to realize something was up back at the (skywalker) ranch.

What’s that saying? Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. I what happens after being fooled three times.

As the reviews from major publications have been released in the last few days, there is a flurry over how The New York Times loved it, saying it was even better than A New Hope. The Rotten Tomatoes Tomameter is at a strong 84%, with high profile critics like Ebert, Roper, Kenneth Turnan of the LA Times all singing its praises. (The Tomameter for the first two Episodes, were 62% and 65% respectively)

But has the spell just been cast on them as well?

The truth is, I don’t think any of us is going to really know how good this movie is for months. I think we will all want to love it so much, that whether it was actually good or not is besides the point. It is the final piece in the legacy.

The Entertainment Weekly issue dated May 20th, had an interesting article about the Star Wars legacy by Jeff Jensen, titled What A Strange Long Trip It’s Been The article, which was fairly interesting, discussed the saga of the making of the Star Wars films, and what this experience has been like for George Lucas. The article touches on how momentous it is, that it’s finally really over. There will be no more new Star Wars movies.

The importance of Episode III, is not only the culmination of one man’s life works, it is a symbolic synergy point of the entire story of the series. It is when good turns to evil, it is the galaxy’s darkest hour. We know of course, that Luke and Leia will grow up and turn it all around. If you ask me, of all the movies, while potentially the most exciting, this one also seems the most difficult to make. How do you make a film that creates an emotional journey that is strong enough, so that it just doesn’t boil down to Anakin walking around one minute, and Darth Vader the next. That is the moment we have been waiting for. The donning of the black suit, helmet and cape. But how do you lead up to that in a satisfactory way? Is it even possible? As much as everyone has been clamoring that Lucas is finally going dark again after two lighter and fluffier films, dark to what end? Episode I and II show us a spunky little boy with ability, and then a cranky teenager going through some growing pains. This film has to be the one with the real turning point.

According to the EW article after seeing one of the earlier cuts of the film, the F/X guys at ILM told Lucas that “(they) didn’t think it was clear why Anakin went bad.” This does not bode well. Apparently after hearing this Lucas did ten days of reshoots. But can ten days of reshoots save a movie?

If this final film is anything short of fantastic, the entire Prequel will be deemed somewhat of a bust.

I was talking with a friend last night about how The Simpsons, now in its 15th or 16th season is approaching the point where it’s now had as many weak seasons as its had strong ones. He expressed his frustration at the fact that if The Simpsons keeps going the way it is, the image of the show will deteriorate from brilliant, to ok, to not very good. What was once genius will be diluted to mediocrity.

I think Star Wars is a similar case. If this second trilogy is deemed as being an overall disappointment, Star Wars will have gone from being one of the greatest sci-fi sagas of all time, to an epic with one amazing trilogy, and one average. Its uniqueness and beauty will be diffused. Even if this movie is fantastic, it will still only be able to buoy the first two prequels enough to make this trilogy good, but still much weaker then the first. And the more Star Wars material is pumped out there, be it in further edited editions, or hour long TV series, the more its legacy will continue to deteriorate, until it is just another science fiction franchise to be mocked at. (see Star Trek: Enterprise)

We, fans don’t want this to happen. We are, as always, eager to embrace the new addition to the Star Wars family. But, I don’t think the truth about this movie, and the trilogy as a whole, will really come out for a while. Lucas says in the EW article that he used 40% of the Anakin/Vader plotting in the first two Episodes, and 60% in the last film. Some may get excited by this statistic, because it implies that something will actually happen in the final chapter, but to me it signals a failure of storytelling using the trilogy format.

I know I’m sounding a little grim here, and I’m as caught up in seeing this last installment as anyone. I recognize how important it is to get caught up in the ride, as we try to relive our childhood and reconnect to something that makes us feel excited and exhilarated. I want to get caught up in the ride. But I’m also afraid of what I’ll see when I finally stop to turn around and look at cinematic journey I’ve traversed.


Blogger Mike said...

That was brilliant. That's exactly what I've been thinking in my head, but couldn't find a way to articulate. I know I will thoroughly enjoy this third movie while I watch it, but my rational brain is telling me that it is only because I am forcing myself to. To not enjoy it would be to disappoint myself, rather than the filmmakers disappointing me. It's really odd how these movies do that to you...

12:45 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

Yeah, its a funny thing isn't it? What the film actually is, is beyond our control, yet our reaction to it is the one thing we can control so we cling to it.

1:01 PM  
Anonymous Crazy Monk said...

I'll wait for you to truly discuss the film, but I'll echo the concerns of the F/X guys from ILM. Most movies have 20-40 minutes to set up the motivations of its characters. This movie had 2 movies and 20-40 minutes to set up Anakin's emotions, and it *still* didn't work. Oh well, at least the final hour was intense and gave closure.

9:31 AM  
Blogger Elliot said...

My two cents.
I saw the film last night and I thought it was marvellous.
I was hugely suprised as I think the two preceeding films are dreadful.
No doubt there are a few eye rolling moments, but I was moved several times and I thought it was one of most dramatic things I'd seen in a very long time.
I was very taken with it.
I would go so far as to say that as an adult, at the moment anyway, it's probably my favourite of the lot.
Here's an interesting thought.
Several years ago, as we all know, Lucas re-released his movies - Special Editions they were called.
Why did he bother was the general feeling.
However, can you imagine how happy people would be if Lucas re-released PM and AOTC as a special edition?
"Oh I've changed a few things that I didn't like. Some of the actors aren't the same people, and there were some plot elements that I didn't like. So I changed them and here you are".

3:48 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

I've been hearing a lot of conflicting opinions myself from different people about the movie. I look forward to be able to share my notes with all of you.

3:54 PM  
Blogger Patrick A. Reed said...

After careful consideration, I give Ep:3 a hearty F*** YEAH. Waking up the next day, and not getting that sinking feeling of "it wasn't really that good after all, was it?" was reassuring.

I await the judgement of the NYer.

10:23 AM  

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