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A little less than a happy high
Never free from the geek within.
The impending release of Attack of the Clones has me considering the George Lucas’ body of work again. Before I have the lot of you roll your eyes back into your head, let me assure you that this isn’t going to be a lengthy discussion about discrepancies in the universe, or about quirky elements that made it to film. What I’ve been thinking about is Star Wars, and specifically The Phantom Menace, as art.

It’s no secret amongst those who know me just how deeply SW has influenced me and how much I’ve enjoyed being transported by Lucas’ vision. Still, I’m not such a rabid fanboy that I’ll just take his work straight up without questioning where he’s at and where I think his vision has failed to grow with me.

So anyway, this is all by way of saying that I have issues with The Phantom Menace. ("the Fan-dom Menace?")

In the face of the new cgi technology, it seems like Lucas suffered a serious setback. It was as though he was given a new medium with which to work, and it just served to accentuate the worst of his habits. Paul and I were talking about this over breakfast, and he made the most elegant assessment of the film that I’ve heard so far. I mentioned that I actually kind of liked the pod race (outside of young Anakin’s horrendous performance), and he disagreed. "It was unnecessary," he said. "There was so much of the film that was just unnecessary."

The father of a friend of mine is a watercolor artist, and he once explained his love/hate relationship with his medium to me. Perhaps it was particular to him, but he said that the biggest challenge with watercolors was knowing when to stop. He’s had so many beautiful pieces that were reduced to dreck because he couldn’t stop himself from placing that one last stroke, attempting the final refinement. He realized a moment to late that the painting had already been finished, and that adding to it had made it seem overdone.

I tend to look at The Phantom Menace as a piece that was overdone. Lucas has not lost his ability to craft a story or to conjure images that speak to our imagination, but there was a certain lack of restraint that was often jarring. The effect was that elements of the film seemed amateurish, in the same way that a web page crafted by a technically gifted teenager with no sense of design does. (Or, if it’s more to your liking, Homer Simpson’s "Best web page EVER.") There were lots of effects and flashing baubles and blinking, moving, beeping things that served to detract from the overall effect of the piece.

I’m hoping that Attack of the Clones will prove as good a work as The Empire Strikes Back. It was arguably Lucas’ most "adult" film, and despite its being dark and largely free of the frivolities like Ewoks and Jar-Jar Binks, it is considered by a large body of his fans to be the best film that he’s produced. It’s interesting to note that it ended on a morally ambiguous note. Our heroes had not triumphed. Questions were left unanswered, and many of us felt the same torment and disbelief that Luke felt when Vader revealed himself as his father. We were left with a hunger for more, and I think I’d like to have that again... but without the bells and whistles.

Current Mood: thoughtful thoughtful
Current Music: Garbage, "Nobody Loves You"

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guitarcries From: guitarcries Date: April 28th, 2002 08:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Being 20, I saw the original three SW movies at a very young age and didn't really remember them at all. I watched them again after seeing The Phantom Menace, and suddenly that new film seemed like McDonalds in comparison to the delicious homemade Italian fare of the first three films.

I think the Phantom Menace was a decent film, but looking at it beside those earlier works it seems so... plastic. I hope this next one isn't the same.
komos From: komos Date: April 29th, 2002 06:52 am (UTC) (Link)

Would you like fries with that?

I'd have to agree, right down to the vaguely queasy feeling Menace left me with.

I think Lucas was contending with two entirely different impulses when he created Menace. On the one hand, he was telling a far more complex story than he had attempted previously. Here, he not only laid the groundwork for Anakin's development as a tragic character (in the clasical sense of the phrase), but also told of the beginnings of Palpatine's ascendancy, touched on the nature of the Republic before its dissolution, and gave some hint of what the Jedi were like as a body.

The trouble was, he was so captivated by the things that he could do with the new technology that all of these elements were lost amongst his attempts to "WOW" us. The result was a film that didn't quite know what it wanted to be. It had all of the elements of a political drama, but none of us were certain that we were supposed to focus on that because we were being so bombarded by foolishness like Jar-Jar Binks' comic relief or the outright eye candy of things like the Bunta race.

I grew up with these films. Star Wars hit when I was eight, and sad as it may be, it was a formative experience for me. Honestly, I think it was successful in spite of its many problems because it brought myth back to a world that had been largely stripped of its illusions. Lucas as storyteller ignited the imagination of his audience and showed them that play was still important. Somehow, in spite of the film's being completely divorced from our reality, the characters were more human and the story held more meaning than most of the films that were being produced at the time.

Really, though, I've probably thought about this all way too much. ;)
guitarcries From: guitarcries Date: April 29th, 2002 09:56 am (UTC) (Link)

star wars as modern epic

No, you haven't! As an English major I saw these films and thought, "epic conventions!" Star Wars, along with Homer's Odyssey and Illiad, fits into the "rules" of what makes a work an epic. I so entirely agree with you about it bringing myth back into a society nearly devoid of such things.
komos From: komos Date: April 29th, 2002 10:53 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: star wars as modern epic

[grins] I thought much the same, and it came as no surprise to me when Joseph Campbell started talking about the trilogy as such in his conversations with Bill Moyers. The films have, as has been said, a quasi-religious quality because there was a way in which they commanded a certain degree of reverence. They spoke to us, filling a void that had been seeking a story for far too long.
muzzie From: muzzie Date: April 28th, 2002 09:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

Looking back

I have given this some thought as well, as I saw TPM when it came out, first thing, and saw it again, just to make sure I didn't like it, which didn't change upon second viewing.

I think, the big complaint I had, was that it lacked character development. There were no good villains. Lucas resorted to trusting that his audience knew that Palpatine was acutally the bad guy, and then let Ray Parks just show off bad assness, as his main action villain. It sucked. No hatred, no personal involvement, no story, and barely a line for the guy (thankfully) Just a bunch of cool fight scenes, and a death scene.

As for the old movies, looking back at them, I think we can all see them with kinda rose colored glasses. I still love them, but lets be honest, the first one was cheesy at best, especially certain special effects, and its acting wasn't really the finest thespian display this side of Mos Eisley. Empire was the best, by far, becuase it most resembled the epic story that we all clamored for, it had the most pathos, action, and character development...it was, the middle, the climax, and the focus of the three. Jedi was the resolution, the endstory, and the final piece of the puzzle, as we knew it. Its more about ending the story, in a way we can be happy with, and for that, we find satisfaction in its death of the villains, and victory for the good guys.

I think that Lucas hasn't done a ton differently this time, save for turning them into huge marketing campaigns. When the first came out, it was amaazing that it even did well, now its a multi million dollar deal to put Star Wars on Mc Donald's cups.

komos From: komos Date: April 29th, 2002 07:05 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Looking back

I did kind of like Menace, in spite of the problems you've mentioned. My big complaint was that I had my lightsaber fights repeatedly interrupted by Gungans slinging "da boomahs" or by Anakin shouting "WHEEEEE!" while piloting a starfighter.

Seriously, though, I was sorry to see Darth Maul taken out so soon. Even though he was great fun to watch, he never managed to develop past "creepy looking dark-side alien guy." Vader was more human in spite of his mask, and because of it managed to garner far more feeling from the audience.

Palpatine could have been far more sinister, but the political story was not sufficiently developed to cast him as an actual villain. Yeah, it was clear that he orchestrated an invasion of his home planet and used it as a bid for power, but that made him seem more greasy than evil. His shouldn't have been a side story. Space Opera needs evil to work.

I've high hopes for Clones, and I think it's because I have faith that Lucas will find his pacing again and will leave off some of the "Look what I can do!" impulses of Menace.
alex_victory From: alex_victory Date: April 28th, 2002 09:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
I dunno.

I can't stand watching the original anymore, because the acting is so atrocious. Empire is OK but not much blows up which makes me sad. When I had Empire and Jedi on VHS in my early teens I would watch the Battle of Hoth and then fast-forward to Jedi.

Jedi has the same bad-acting, but the best space combat scene EVER.

I liked TPM. It amused the hell out of me.

For some reason I managed to grow up as a geek without the quasireligious attitude towards Star Wars. They're fun little sci-fi flicks and they had cool toys (even if the figs had way too few moveable joints) but IMHO they're really not worth the monster criticism (pro OR con) levelled at them.
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