Oh dear. This may take a while.
I should start off by saying I love Sci-Fi. I should also say that nothing splits sci-fi fans more that Star Wars.
You can argue that the arrogance and self-adoring attitude of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, where the first half hour appears to be shot from the outside showing off the vessel from every angle, or some of it’s later outings where Spock turns into Jesus, reborn, spiritual and pure, can cause the biggest bust-ups in your local Forbidden Planet Shop, but nothing compares to Star Wars when it comes to brawling with your local sci-fi geeks. Action figures have been broken! Trading Cards Lost and any number of light sabres destroyed.
The magic of Star Wars is that none of us have ever experienced a world so deeply immersing. Right from the first bars of John Williams memorable theme tune, we sink into another place, filled with crazy adventure, strange languages, quirky religions, and one of the most bizarre menage-a-trois ever committed to film.
So why does it get so much discussion and why is it featured here, in the love or hate movies?
It’s not the special effects. This staple of any good sci-fi movie is done flawlessly by George Lucas’ people. Giving us a high degree of bang for what must have been a pretty healthy amount of buck. From the crazy sea-creatures in Naboo to the AT-AT Walkers on Hoth, you cant help but be impressed by their variety and quality.
It’s not the acting, which stays persistently bad throughout the entire series. Acting in Sci-fi movies is understandably one of the hardest things to do. The language isn’t what they are used to, most of it is shot in green screen and characters are replaced by heads on sticks. It’s not too much of a surprise to see Mark Hamill shoot his gun like the toy it really is, or Liam Neeson miss his mark when leaping forwards to attack enemy droids. Having said that, Hayden Christensen does reach a new level of terrible acting.
It’s not the characters themselves although they do run hot and cold. The creation of Darth Maul is simply genius. I wish he had survived to form some part in Attack of the Clones. General Grevious too dies without reaching his full potential. R2D2 runs throughout all 6 movies and he is instantly likable and exciting. But in comparison Mace Windu could have easily been left out for all he did, and I can’t think of a romance so badly conceived as the one between Amadala and Anekin. I disliked Rose and Jack in Titanic, but at least Cameron tried.
It’s not the direction. Despite George Lucas doing his best to mess it up, by micro-directing and sucking the last breath of life out of the characters, the films struggle through, and it is notable that critics consider The Empire Strikes Back, directed by Irvin Kershner, to be the best of the six by far.
The problem and heated debate, surrounds George Lucas’ script itself. It is both magnificently awful and potentially perfect. It has bags of political resonance, but shy’s away from this, like a meerkat when a hawk is overhead. It almost says so much about who we are, but chooses instead to become pulp-fiction. It is heartbreakingly close to being perfect. If only Lucas had the courage, the imagination or the humility to see what he was writing.
Have no doubt. Whether Lucas intended to write a story about religious extremism or not, the Star Wars movies are about exactly that. The grand story is of a virgin birth and a messiah who brings order to the world. In 1-3, our hero is plucked from slavery to become the greatest exponent of Jediism, a mystical art that provides great power, In his craving for more, he becomes the very thing he has always despised. Finally it is about how his son, “The Chosen One”, who eventually kills his father and rebalances the universe.
Bearing in mind that the corruption of power and religion is at the very core of this story, the most fascinating and relevant tale is that of Anekin Skywalker’s turn from Jediism to the dark side. This is exactly the same story we see around us every day with the religious abuses that lead devout family men to commit acts of terrorism. This is one of our central tenets, without which the rest of the story collapses. It is contemporary, appropriate and allows us a mirror on our own society. But this is the one glaring area that Lucas so completely fails to confront.
The gradual breakdown of Anekin Skywalker on-screen is neither convincing nor compelling. Despite an interesting albeit flawed first chapter, the themes of abandonment and failure, are dealt with by large chunky plot devices, such as his rage following the death of his mother, or the rejection of Princess Amadala. On paper these ideas should be more than enough to work with, but they are directed so clumsily that you dont believe them. A classic example of this is the failed attempts of romance between Anekin and the princess in Attack of the Clones. Here we have two characters, one duty bound to be a princess, with responsibilities to her people and the republic, the other a clumsy impetuous young man with great potential. At first we can see little reason why these two can’t fall in love, except for one, there is absolutely no chemistry between them, and secondly Anekin appears to be the most boring romantic on the planet. Where is the cocky brashness we expect in teenagers? She is older than him and clearly more mature, it’s not hard to see why he falls for her, but can someone please explain why anyone would fall for him? A stolen kiss? no? The most contrived roll on the grass in movie history. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. This relationship is central to the story of Anekin’s fall into the dark side, and it simply is not convincing enough.
The petulant traits of young Anekin must show throughout everything in his life, and not be bolt on like Amadala’s hair.
Another large area of plot failure involves the devious political intrigue. Once again, despite a strong start, life gets confusing by the end of the second movie. With bounty hunter Jango Fett, the genetic seed of the clone army, built in secret on behalf of the Jedi, also acting as Jedi enemy Count Dooku’s bodyguard. The confusion is so great that at one point Dooku even asks “Where did the Jedi’s get an army so quickly?”.
The Master works both sides, using his connections with the trade federations and rogue Jedi’s to cause dissention amongst the Republic, but also advancing his position in the council until he becomes supreme leader with the clone army at his disposal. This a truly cunning and masterly stroke from Lucas, but in an effort to polarize each character, Lucas doesn’t take advantage of yet another contemporary theme. The idea that heroes and villains are much the same, but on different sides. Count Dooku’s speech to Obiwan, where he tells the Jedi of the sith lord controlling the federation should have made Obiwan question either his loyalty to the council or the arrogance of the Jedi Knights. His loyalty simply doesn’t make sense, especially since he had just learnt of the clone army being commissioned by a Jedi. At the very least he should think there is a rogue element influencing the Jedi.
The final conclusion and inevitable fight between Jedi Knights, and Dooku’s federation alliance puts Master commissioned Stormtroopers, against Master controlled Federation droids. It is politically speaking a totally insane battle, that fails to benefit him in any way. You could argue that Yoda’s quick thinking turned the storm troopers to their advantage, but at no stage does the master suggest he is disappointed or that there was a failure.
These are not minor gripes. I am not complaining that the technology seems to go backwards, or that some piece of equipment has a well-known fatal flaw, although time and time again this happens. These are serious complaints about what the films really say, or don’t say.
With Star Wars, we had a chance to really explore one of the great issues of our time. A chance to highlight both the benefits and failures of religious piousness. A discussion of what drives a man to do so much damage to society. An opportunity for the world to understand why someone would fly a plane into a building. And instead we got a cartoon.
Film 1 is passable, although repetition of the same undersea scenarion “there’s always a bigger fish” is irritating, and Ja-Ja grates after a while. Ewan McGreggor’s accent is odd. I almost wish he didnt try at all. As always the effects and visualisation is fantastic. In this regard Lucas has never been faulted.
Film 2 should be a romance movie and it isn’t. If ever there was an opportunity to get in a script writer this was it. Anekin’s conflict of the love for his childhood sweetheart, and his devotion to the Jedi cause should have been the most important thing in this film, but it is condenses to a few very weak scenes involving rolling in the hay and saying listlessly “we shouldn’t”. This is not the teenage love I remember. Having said that, the special effects are flawless and take us through the strained plot.
Film 3 should be the best film by far. A real character piece that takes the viewer quite literally into the heart of darkness, instead it just doesnt have the right gravitas, and Anekin doesnt appear to go through the great emotional conflict. Palpatine tells Anekin about the story of the very wise Sith Lord who has the power over life and death. He tantalises Anekin with the idea of saving Amadala from the terrible dreams he has been having. It would be tempting for this young tempestuous naive lad, scared of losing his new wife, but where is the folklore? Where is the myth? Where is the zeal? Surely this wise lord could have been overrun by requests, and so took to being a recluse and only came out at night in an attempt to stop people asking him to bring people back to life, hence why this “more powerful” magic is known as the dark side. I thought of that in two minutes.
One of the enduring theme amongst fantasy fiction writers is that there are heroes on both sides, and all of them believe they are following the right cause. Politically Anekin touches on this, but not with any true thought. It would have been very appropriate for Anekin to have a heated discussion with a senator, perhaps with Jimmy Smits character, where the senator shows his superior knowledge of politics, making the great powerful Anekin feel small and useless. It would explain his dislike for politicians, and his naivity when Padme asks if they are on the wrong side.
And after allowing Darth Sidius to kill Samuel L Jackson, Anekin seems to collapse and say, ok. I’m a sith now. Want me to kills kids, no problem. What about his ethical dilemas, i mean surely there should at least be a conversation. Anekin should be still easily influenced, so perhaps Sidius explains he has no choice as the Jedi will hunt him down, anything is better than a dull aquiescence.
Anekin even says he doesn’t know whats happening to him, and how he wants more. Come on. He is no longer a ten year old. He may want more power, but surely he is not ready to join the dark side so easily, what harm is one scene explaining how Sidius is controlling his thoughts and dreams, and how Anekin’s close contact with Sidius has meant the youg Jedi has no choice but to comply. I’m not even really spending any time on it and I have come up with a few plot points to build character into this flacid script.
It is truly frustrating to see in how many ways the script could have been vastly improved without giving much up. To make his descent a genuine character piece instead of the spoon-fed thoughtless blundering monster it is. I cannot express this enough though. The special effects, the ideas behind his beautiful worlds, the vehicles and characters are breathtaking. Which is why no sci-fi fan, no matter how much they feel frustrated at the script, cannot own the entire set.
Film 4 is good, although I really do hate the “fatal flaw” idea, so often used in sci-fi movies. In this case the Death Star exploding if we can just get one shot in there. This movie is beautifully paced, and quite rightly should be slower to the previous chapter. This is act 2, having created the worst scenario possible, act 2 is about showing how it gets resolved, whilst making it even more difficult to do so. A New Hope does it perfectly. And just look at those effects.
Film 5 is near perfect. Exciting, bulding up to a fantastic epic ending and leaving you with Star Wars’ greatest line. The Empire Strikes Back is simply brilliant.
Film 6, fatal flaw again and also the world is populated by talking gerbils. Really not sure about that.
I cannot help but enjoy these movies, I also cannot help but feel the greatest regret when I watch them. This is the very epitome of a Love or Hate film.