On the Internet no one ever forgets…

This is completely wrong in so many ways, beginning with the utter falsehood in the first sentence (* see below for why I think so), which is why I discount this.

Yes, time has passed and perhaps Kevin Smith has acquired something to temper his nerdgasmic reaction to all things Star Wars, but there is nothing in the more recent article to justify that supposition, even if all the things he’s talking about are, in fact, improvements to the way that the last movie was made.

* Here is my review of Revenge of the Sith from a now-dead blog:
Thursday, May 19, 2005
Revenge of the Sith
Well, it wasn’t as bad as the first two, but I have to say the best thing about the movie-going experience were the previews of Stealth, Batman Begins, and War of the Worlds.

This movie did not ‘kick ass’. Nor did it scare me. Nor did it make me feel anything at all. It was, as a movie, a reflection of the Jedi code – cold, objective, restrained, dis-passionate, and un-evocative. Let’s not forget that it is a movie that involves betrayal, murder, heartbreak, tragedy, revolution, and rage. Such subject matter is the thing of epic, but Lucas has formed it into a caricature – a much hyped, shallow, trite shadow of the human condition. It is the Jar Jar Binks of the six films.

I understand the motive of the whole Star Wars cycle probably wasn’t a post-modern Odyssey and that it set out to be more like a Flash Gordon serial, but why then would he chose to invoke the Hero-Quest as the underlying theme? I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter, since the pain of Anakin Skywalker is only briefly glimpsed and his darkness, his gloom, his despair, and the torment of his soul as it approaches the limit of depravity is only implied. Evidently, these themes are too difficult for Lucas to present in on the screen, even with all his technology. There was hope in my heart, that, having seen the course of his storytelling and watched the Star Wars generation grow up that he might have redeemed himself in this final chapter. He did not.

It seems that Lucas has lost his way. In Episodes IV – VI, the film-maker was able to strike a balance between the human actors and the visual effects, and in so doing, to utilize technology to take us to a galaxy far, far, away. In Episodes I – III, he has lost that balance. His approach has been to depend more and more upon visual effect than acting to tell his story; in effect technology for the sake of technology, not technology for the sake of film making as was done in Episodes IV- VI. No matter what Lucas might believe, Episodes IV – VI were more about Han Solo than Luke Skywalker, and Harrison Ford carried the dramatic weight of those three movies, not Mark Hamill or Sir Alec Guinness. Not having a scoundrel in Episodes I – III made killing off the only interesting protagonist – Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn – all the more damaging to the drama of the second and third episodes.

From 1977 to 1985 Star Wars managed to be ahead of its time technologically but not un-human in its drama. Visual effects were the compliment, and the core contingent of three pairs of characters – Han & Chewbacca, Luke & Leia, C3PO & R2D2 – spread the weight of the thematic dynamics across many human actors. The emergence, in the interim, of films such as The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon have raised the level of technical capabilities, but in the case of Episodes I – III, these visual effects seem to have overshadowed the value and relevance of actors. The reduced core of characters in the prequels placed more pressure on actors to perform, yet Lucas in his writing and directing seems to have given the three principle actors – Hayden Christopher, Natalie Portman, and Ewan McGregor – very little to work with, and ultimately they couldn’t save Episodes I – III from being underwhelming.

I think that this is the bottom line: In a world where film making techniques, writing, and viewer expectations have advances, George Lucas has fallen off the pace. Those of us for whom Star Wars was a defining meme of our generation didn’t stop going to the movies after Return of the Jedi yet Episodes I – III treat us as though we had. We are grown-ups, and Star Wars is what it is because of us, and in some part we are who we are because of Star Wars. We may not be buying the merchandise or attending fan conventions, but we expect that the closure of something that was so formative to our generation be reflective of our generation. Lucas didn’t deliver. In fact, he didn’t even come close.

Generation X needs the darkness and the pain and the bitterness, and we need it in a way that Lucas doesn’t understand. After Return of the Jedi we cleaved to William Gibson, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Chris Claremont, Todd McFarlane, Bruce Sterling, and Neal Stephenson. We watched in real life as the Wall came down and saw what war was like on CNN. We surfed the crowds and slammed in the mosh pits. We rode the bubble from nothing to nothing. We loved, lost, and loved some more. We got cell phones, the web, and shell access. We spent a decade and a half without Lucas, like some sort of absentee father, available once in a while with a new release of an old story. We watched MSNBC show us terror, and have seen our own republic be transformed by fear. We are sick and tired of being in the shadow of the Baby Boomers and don’t really care about Viet Nam. We, more than any other generation, are Anakin Skywalker. If Lucas cared enough to know us, he could have spoken to us, and in doing so created a masterpiece.

Instead, he makes movies for an unknown audience, and does it with too broad a brush, too bare a pallet, and too large a canvas. It is hard to fathom a more doomed recipe. This is simply too great a challenge for Lucas, and though I don’t dismiss his attempts, his production of Revenge of the Sith is not nearly dark enough or deep enough, or potent enough. The inopportune misfortune of having Batman Begins trailers featuring Liam Neeson voice-overs proffering a much darker, mystical, and epic origin tale of another black knight only serves to drive this failure home.

Allowing Revenge of the Sith an R rating and placing it in the hands of Michael Bay, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Steven Spielberg, David Fincher, Ridley Scott, or Tim Burton would have each resulted in a much better film, and a more convincing conclusion to The Tragedy of Anakin Skywalker. Instead what we get is something that, more than anything else, begs to be hacked.

Some Random thoughts:

  • Has Natalie Portman become a bad actress naturally, or has working with Lucas’ writing and direction made her a bad actress? This is not the same coquettish talent that was evidenced in The Professional or Beautiful Girls. For a 24 year old woman to be as wooden in her portrayal of heartbreak and loss as Portman is in this film, particularly in light of the clever and precocious performances in those two films as a child, something has gone tragically wrong. The relationship scenes with her and Hayden Christopher made me think of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s on-camera dynamic, as their marriage was breaking up during filming of Stanley Kubrik’s Eyes Wide Shut.
  • Why do we only get to see the faintest glimpse of Palpatine’s evil? Through the first 2 and 5/8ths of the Prequels, he has been a bitch – a sci-fi Joan Collins-in-Dynasty – but little more than a conniving, creepy old man more likely to molest children than conquer a galaxy. This guy should be up there with Sir Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter and Kevin Spacey’s John Doe from Se7en as the most evil man on film, instead he comes out as a slimy politico who can shoot lightning from his fingertips. Guys like this are the fodder for Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez anti-hero protagonists. Those directors let Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Steve Buscemi, Christopher Walken, Uma Thurman, and yes, Samuel L. Jackson walk all over pathetic slime balls like Palpatine, or they cast them in the role and let them be evil. Seriously, network TV has better villains than this guy.
  • How did the mysticism of The Empire Strikes Back get lost in the shuffle? The hard questions are what we need right now, not the platitudes. I can accept that Yoda’s wisdom grew while in exile, but he was no more wise in The Empire Strikes Back than Qui-Gon in The Phantom Menace; some voice of wisdom should have been present. Philosophy and ethics make the story more compelling, whether it is The Matrix or Cool Hand Luke, wresting with dilemmas and expressing them grounds the story in the human experience. Grimacing looks, sweaty brows, and cheesy nightmare effects don’t make up for the fact that every character (except, possibly, for Qui-Gon and Dooku) in this cycle is a shallow reactionary who wouldn’t know wisdom if it kicked them in the teeth.
  • Galactic war without loss or anguish? That seems pretty damn unlikely to me. The whole Episode I – III cycle is too antiseptic – in Star Wars there was the slaughter at the homestead and the sand crawler, in Empire Strikes Back there was the farewell between Han and Leia, and in Return of the Jedi there was the scene where the ewok cries over his friend’s death. The death and destruction is everywhere in Episodes I – III, yet there isn’t any emotion – no sadness, no grief. All it took was three scenes in three movies to make the audience hold their breath for a minute and ponder their mortality, yet in this cycle, where the Old Republic falls apart, the Jedi are annihilated, and a real love story plays out from birth to death, nothing like that is offered, which is too bad. If I wanted an absurdly clean war and overacting, I would have rented some Star Trek DVDs.
  • Is it just my imagination or was there a time that George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Terrence Malick were collectively considered the best young directors of American cinema?