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Monday, February 05, 2007

OT: Reconsidering Star Wars

As insanely popular as the original Star Wars was, the rest of the series (with the notable exception of The Empire Strikes Back) has suffered greatly by comparison. Plagued by inconsistent writing, itself a symptom of George Lucas's inability to let others do for him what he insisted on taking on himself, the series has grown downright tedious. I couldn't bear to watch the last two when they came out in the theaters, and still haven't seen them, so bad were the reviews from friends.

Thus when I recently read the Crank's lengthy evaluation of the franchise, I found myself agreeing with much of it — and disagreeing as well. One particular head-scratcher was his comment that "any male born between about 1965 and 1975 was hard-wired to embrace the prequels". Huh? I know lame racial stereotypes from the 30's, and Stepin Fetchit clones struck me as profoundly offensive, set in another universe or not. But that aside, there's a lot of meat to his criticisms (recasting Anakin, in particular, seems like it would be a tremendous help).

I say all this by way of introduction to something else I encountered from a friend (thanks, Becky) who forwarded a two-year-old piece written by Keith Martin, who revisits the original Episode IV in light of the first three movies. R2D2 becomes the central character because of an interesting but at the time insignificant event in Revenge of the Sith:

Consider: at the end of RotS, Bail Organan orders 3PO's memory wiped but not R2's. He wouldn't make the distinction casually. Both droids know that Yoda and Obi-Wan are alive and are plotting sedition with the Senator from Alderaan. They know that Amidala survived long enough to have twins and could easily deduce where they went. However, R2 must make an impassioned speech to the effect that he is far more use to them with his mind intact: he has observed Palpatine and Anakin at close quarters for many years, knows much that is useful and is one of the galaxy's top experts at hacking into other people's systems. Also he can lie through his teeth with a straight face. Organa, in immediate need of espionage resources, agrees.

For the next 20 years, as far as 3PO knows, he is the property of Captain Antilles, doing protocol duties on a diplomatic transport. He is vaguely aware of the existence of the princess but doesn't know much about her. Wherever 3PO goes, being as loud and obvious as he always is, his unobtrusive little counterpart goes with him. 3PO is R2's front man. Wherever they land, R2 is passing messages between rebel sympathisers and sizing up governments as potential rebel recruits - both by personal contact and by hacking into their networks. He passes his recommendations on to Organa.

It's a fascinating extrapolation, one that spackles up a number of glaring annoyances left open in Episodes V and VI.

"Hard-wired to embrace the prequels" before their release.

After 16 years of anticipation, it took me several viewings to recognize Episode I's flaws, so strong was my subconscious desire to replicate my 1977 Star Wars experience.
That's a great interpretation of the series and really seems to go along with the intent of A New Hope, which was to follow these two "menial" droids as they became involved in huge events.

In addition, I think that the only thing that really saves Star Wars is that the universe is a pretty spectacular one, with magic and aliens side by side. I think Orson Scott Card was dead on in his review of Revenge of the Sith where he ripped into the details of the movie (the dialogue, the love story, certain character actions), but that the reason why it is still such an enticing franchise is because the universe and the overall story (of a fallen man who destroys the world and then is able to make things right in the end) are both great. This is really the case for all three of the prequels...where the movies were interesting despite considerable flaws in dialogue, characters, and story-telling. It really is a testament to how bad Lucas is as a screenwriter and director. If he could have gotten someone like Joss Whedon to do his movies, I am certain they would have kicked ass (and Firefly may have had a chance to survive longer).
In addition, I think that the only thing that really saves Star Wars is that the universe is a pretty spectacular one, with magic and aliens side by side.

I would say it's something even simpler: John Williams' soundtrack. Minus that, it becomes the pile of cliches it was to begin with.
Interesting post and links. To josh I can only say that Joss Whedon's imagination comes nowhere close to Lucas's, even with his faults.
The original URL for the essay "A New Sith" has been clobbered with time; I fixed it above to a mirror.

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