Saturday, November 27, 2010

Miss Media Junkie vs. the Prequels

I hated the "Star Wars" prequels. My experiences with them comprise a litany of woe and disillusionment that I chronicled in the following article a few years ago to work through some frustrations. For those fans coming to the end of their own film franchises, who may be tempted to wish for more, I've dusted it off and posted it below for your edification, your amusement, and your cautionary warning.


The first time I ever saw a "Star Wars" film was in 1992. NBC was running slightly edited versions of "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" across two nights as a part of a 15th Anniversary "Star Wars" celebration. I'd been on Star Tours at Disneyland, seen the "Droids" cartoon as a kid, and have fond memories of the Ewok films, but I'd never seen the actual trilogy before those two nights. I was twelve or thirteen at the time, and instantly hooked. My brother and I raised a fuss and got to see the original "Star Wars" shortly after that by way of rented video, but I always liked the other two a little better.

My fandom resume is pretty decent. For a while in junior high, I borrowed the film novelizations from the public library whenever I couldn't find anything else I wanted to read. I worked my way through about a dozen of the other Star Wars universe books, mostly on loan from a true Star Wars ubergeek in high school. At some point I could recite the entire battle of Endor along with my brother after countless viewings of "Jedi" - we had that '92 broadcast taped, complete with aftershock warnings scrolling along the bottom of the screen. I saw all three of the Special Editions in theaters in 1997, dragging friends along with me. Not having much of a budget back then, I never bought any toys or merchandise. Still, I was always happy to indulge in camaraderie with the hardcore fans, and appreciated the Star Wars markers a friend got me for Christmas (you have to admit that a big black marker with a Darth Vader design on it is pretty darn cool). I knew who the Bothans were. I could spell Kashyyyk. When a friend named her cat Mara Jade, I needed no explanation. And, for better or worse, I was a Star Wars fan.

The release of "The Phantom Menace" was something I remember looking forward to for months and months in advance. Every promo image, every clip, every trailer was dissected and reflected on ad nauseum. I still have the first teaser on video tape, caught in its first airing at exactly 5PM on my local FOX affiliate, thanks to a friend's forewarning. I remember getting excited just seeing ad banners of Queen Amidala and Qui-Gon Jinn at the mall. Even graduating high school and going to college didn't seem to compare to that anticipation.

I don't remember being particularly disappointed with the film itself - I viewed it as a lot of fun spectacle for the most part. Sound and fury and all that. Everyone knew the substantive stuff wasn't going to come around until Episodes II and III when "Ani" grew up anyway. It was so far removed from the original trilogy, I was fine with just seeing the universe broadened out a little. Jar-Jar and the pod race were for the kids. The shiny new CGI probably needed a little time to be fine-tuned to make things look less plastic. Ewan MacGregor was all the eye candy I needed anyway. I mean, who cares about little technicalities like midichlorians? So I didn't love the first movie. It wasn't a big deal. The good stuff was sure to come and I was willing to be patient.

That patience wore out by Episode II. In the throes of college life, seeing the next installment was not high on my list of priorities at the time. My boyfriend and I went to a matinee on a whim, a few weeks after it had opened. I'd seen mixed reviews. Some of the hardcore fans had loved it and others had hated it. I wasn't expecting much but an introduction to the grown up Anakin and maybe some nice lightsaber battles. When I walked out of that movie, all I could do was express my outright horror - the movie was *awful.* It wasn't overanalyzation of geekdom minutuae. It wasn't some deep-set resentment against George Lucas. It was a pure gut reaction. I *hated* "Attack of the Clones."

My first thought was to blame Hayden Christiansen. Never mind that Lucas had cast him specifically after auditioning every other young actor on the planet. The wooden acting, the angsty, whiny teen attitude - Jake Lloyd was a blessing in comparison. I realized later that it was the dialogue that was mostly at fault, especially the parts connected to a pedestrian romance I could barely believe was meant to be taken seriously. Romance in the Star Wars universe had always meant Han and Leia trading barbs, exchanging glances amidst laser fire, and saving heartfelt confessions for the very last minute. Why have Padme so swoony and Anakin so emo? Why were they talking like they were in a badly written daytime soap opera - and rolling around in a field?! What was going on?

"Attack of the Clones" finally also made me realize how poor the action scenes and special effects had become - oh the technological feats were flawless, but they were so terribly used. Where one lightsaber looks awesome, ten look silly. The CGI aliens seemed to have no weight, no substance - and they were all moving much too fast. All the little moments to sit back and appreciate the craft of the creations were gone. I mourned the Muppet Yoda, replaced by a leapfrogging CGI doppleganger with half the charm.

By round three, I counted myself among the skeptics, but the hype won me over. Promises of a darker storyline, Lucas warning small children out of the theaters, and constant gossip about other the contribution of other writers did their job of allaying some fears. The reviews were sparkling, some going so far as to compare "Revenge of the Sith" to the original trilogy. "Better than the original Star Wars!" one of them crowed. Pity I didn't remember the original "Star Wars" had been the one I liked the least.

Little had changed from films one and two. Ewan MacGregor was out-acting everything else on screen, but looking bored. Natalie Portman was being used as attractive scenery, and still completely underdeveloped. Hayden Christensen, despite a fabulous new hairstyle, was as wooden as ever. The effects were still showboating and obnoxious, the scenery overdesigned and unconvincing. I spent the greater part of the romance scenes wondering how much the interior designers on Coruscant made, and thinking that George Lucas really should've left the dialogue to someone else. Hearing James Earl Jones as Vader after so long should have been a treat, but with Anakin's stiff dialogue and the already infamous "NOOOO!" I was clutching my head.

I was just so tired of it by the end. Chewbacca showing up with Yoda was just one of a long string of nods to the original trilogy that were getting too obvious and self-satisfied. On the other hand, probably the best moment of the film for me is when the droids are sent to Captain Antilles, and we see that classic old 70s style cruiser set again. Or the last shot of all, where young Owen and Beru show baby Luke the famous double sunset. Ian McDiarmid wound up stealing the show, and the final duel wasn't bad, but there was so much trashy, prime-time soap opera material to wade through, dressed up as something better.

Sadly, the only thing running through my head as I left the theater was "it's only a movie." The "Star Wars" films, before that, were never "just movies." And just like that, I realized I was no longer a "Star Wars" geek.

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