When people find out that I like science fiction (and write about it), they often try to find a familiar example to talk about. This is a better reaction than to say, “Oh, that crap?” or something along those lines. But recently, the example has inevitably been Star Wars — and what was up to that point a conversation motivated by polite interest threatens to go sour. Have you ever seen someone become a grouch and a snob at once? That’s me on the topic of George Lucas.
The thing is, I’m a huge fan of spaceships and lasers and stuff blowing up in space.
I also happen to think that one of the hardest things, creatively speaking, is to tell a story that is entertaining and worth thinking about five minutes later. The temptation when doing this kind of Star Wars thing is to just toss something off with lots of spectacle and not much heart. For one thing, it’s easier! Good dialogue is an art, but it’s also a lot of mental perspiration on the page.
It can also be easy to get away with laziness, because there’s a certain attitude that lets someone like Lucas critic-proof his work. If you say that, “Oh, it’s meant to be a cheesy space opera,” then you are dismissing the power of what space opera can be when it’s done right. This may not happen very often, but intelligently written or filmed entertainment occurs every now and then. Two examples from my previous Gutter articles are Firefly and The Forever War.
Lucas doesn’t deserve a free pass — no one does — and what brings out my inner grouch is that, in addition to coasting along on crummy work, he helps make one end of the science fiction spectrum the only one that most people know about. I like science fiction precisely because of the range it allows. If I’m hankering for some exploding lasers and flying planets, then I look through my SF shelf. And that’s the same shelf I go to if I want beautifully written prose and something to ponder later (eg, China Mountain Zhang).
(As a side note: somehow the mystery story gets away with what has always been troublesome for science fiction. Looking at the various genres of fiction — broadly speaking, fiction that is driven by story — I think that mystery novels are the genre that get the most respect. They show a similar range as does science fiction — from serial killers all the way to tales of fractured postmodern identities — but somehow still pass as lit’r’ture. How do those crazy mystery writers do it?)
I guess what I’m saying boils down to: I have nothing against Lucas wanting to do some thrilling filmwork. I like such a variety of stuff that I don’t begrudge a pop culture fix to anyone. But I’m still irked when the thing in question is not very well put together. Case in point: Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith.
I had heard ahead of time about the horrendously cheesy dialogue, but the clunky lines still surprised me. What characters say is the most basic way of getting our sympathy or convincing us that these fictional people have something to them. As an example of what Revenge of the Sith has to offer: Padme has just realized that her lover Anakin has become Darth Vader and killed a roomful of baby Jedis. Her response? “Anakin, you’re breaking my heart.” Not even an exclamation point. Your mileage may vary of course, but I found no way into the heads of the characters.
The selling point for the movie, in the absence of characterization, was the big action scenes. They’re flashy, yes, full of movement and computer generated dazzle, sure. But they were mostly pretty boring, with a weirdly disconnected and weightless feeling. And if you’re the kind of person who cares about military tactics or strategy, this movie is going to drive you crazy. The Jedi, rather than being effective leaders, are the morons of the universe! They get wiped out in about ten minutes, and they don’t find much use for their powers. Nifty and/or excessive use of Force powers would’ve been a huge draw for me, frankly, but no such luck. If you want to find out how cool it is to be a Jedi, you’ve got to boot up your computer and play one of the (better) Star Wars videogames.
I’ll be curious to see what happens to the franchise now that the primary driver behind it, the official movies, are done. I suspect the marketing juggernaut is next-to-unkillable at this point, since it’s already survived these movie prequels.
I’m going to try to stay away from media SF reviews for a little bit. In the mean time, check out my reviews of Episode 1 and Episode 2 over at Challenging Destiny.
Saw it on Monday. Yes, yes, the dialogue could have been written by Phil Tucker. But did anyone else find themselves having a strange, incongruous emotional response to it? It is PAINFULLY SAD to see Darth Vader rise off the slab only to utter history’s most perfunctory ‘noooo’. I feel for Lucas because he has lost it, benign intent curdled beyond toleration is all over the screen. Production values aside, it’s like watching Love/Johnston call themselves ‘The Beach Boys’. Maybe I shouldn’t care but Star Wars is ultimately reason #1 why I love and make movies so the bio is more tragic than the plot imho.
Hey, I hear ya on the “Noooo,” that reminded me of a similar moment in Pet Sematary when the kid gets run over by a truck and the old guy stands there and shouts at the sky. Somewhere, sometime, it must have worked but now it’s just lame.
And, now that the last movie is done, I’m not quite sure what to make of the whole explain-Darth-Vader project. I don’t buy the reason from the movie, but I think Lucas believes it, so it’s not some philosophical thing like “there’s no rational explanation for evil.” I dunno, the stuff about Anakin-Vader seems like the weakest part of each of the prequels, and since it’s his story, there’s not much left.
I wonder if you recall the shot in the film when Padme and Obi-Wan board the ship that they pilot to the lava planet to find Anakin. The shot is an exterior of the ship as they’re boarding it, and the ship itself was obviously lovingly designed and rendered by the production people; you get plenty of time to admire the workmanship as Lucas holds the shot and slowly rotates the camera around the ship for like 15 SECONDS after the two characters enter it. How can you trust a writer/director to carry through a story in an engaging way when he is so easily distracted and literally stops the movie to indulge in his futuristic hot rod fetish. Actually the whole movie would have been much better had he just filmed what he was interested in. We could have wound up with American Graffitti in space.