I love Star Wars and the man that created it. Anyone that knows me personally will find this to be no surprise. Especially if they have seen my manchild/mancave, laden with star wars figurines and even a Superman dvd autographed by Star Wars score composer John Williams (thanks Carey Lewis!). Lucas has left an indelible mark on me, influencing my perception of everything from movie music to the quality of movie tie-in action figures. The original trilogy is one of my most favorite sagas in the entire world.
My mom went to see Star Wars (Episode 4: A New Hope, as it is now known) when I was still in her stomach. I like to think that I absorbed some of that sci-fi fantasy goodness; even though I couldn’t actually see the light sabers igniting I could certainly hear them. My first real Star Wars memories are of Empire Strikes Back. I was in Kindergarten around the time it came out, so my birthday cake was R2-D2, and my favorite gift from the party was a mini Hoth rebel base play-set with the tiny metal figurines. It even had a tiny wampa and probe droid. Yes! When I got older I chose orchestra as my elective in grade six, and elected to play the double bass, which led my career as a high school orchestra director. I attribute this partially to the girl I had a crush on at the time, but also because of my love for the Star Wars movie score. It was my first exposure to orchestral music and no doubt a huge influence on me.
One of my first memories regarding Star Wars is confusion, believing that Empire Strikes Back was the first Star Wars movie chronologically, since I saw it first (or at least that’s how I remember it). This was very confusing to me. “Why is it called Empire Strikes Back if it’s the first movie?” I would think to myself. Soon I would figure out the correct chronology, and then came Return of the Jedi, which is my favorite. I know, blasphemy. “How could anyone choose ROTJ over ESB?” you are probably thinking. I was at the right age to have my completely blown away by the spectacle of the Jabba sail barge rescue, but not discerning enough to realize that the plan was a little harebrained. Same thing with the battle for Endor. I loved the Ewoks, and was not bothered at all that little bears without eye lids were annihilating armored warriors with laser assault rifles, speeder bikes, and walking tanks. It didn’t even bother me that the empire’s plan was pretty much the same as their first from episode 4, and that they had learned nothing from their previous engineering failures.
The reason I love Return of the Jedi iss that it contains the sequence that resonated most to me as a child, and even to this day. The struggle to bring Anakin back to the light, a son’s attempt to redeem his father. Thinking of the deep gravelly men’s chorus resonating in the background while the two avatars, each representing their respective side of the force, lash out against one another still illicits an emotional response from me.
So I got a little older and kept vhs copies of the trilogy within reach at all times. I went off to college, and it was a measure of others’ geek cred whether or not they had a copy of the star wars trilogy in their possession, or were at least able to quote it. Star Wars fever rose again with the release of the special editions. These of course presented some really cool additions as well as some awful ones that I don’t need to detail here. We all know what I am talking about.
Then came the announcement of the prequel trilogy. How many times had I sat with friends throughout the years, going over the bread crumbs that Lucas had dropped in the original trilogy, asides about the “clone wars”, about the great pilot Anakin who was killed by a dark Jedi named Darth Vader? Our imaginations ran wild! One of my friends told me that it was Obi Wan who had faced off against Darth Vader and put him in the suit that was both his prison and life support system. And it had taken place on/in a volcano! All of us who loved Star Wars no doubt constructed our own narratives over the years. After all this, It would seem that even if God himself handed down the scripts for the prequel trilogy, they might have passed muster. Unfortunately the prequel trilogy fell short for many. In my assessments of movies, I have been accused of being a little too forgiving, especially for sequels in movie franchises that I love, though I do have my standards. At the end of the day I am all for a good story. If there are parts that are kind of lame, I just might forgive the lame parts if the overall sum is pleasing enough to me. You could say I have a three star system. One star is for terrible. Two stars are for good. Three stars are for mind-blowing.
Moving on. I am now going to commit cinephile heresy. The Godfather is another favorite series of mine. The first and second movies represent excellence rarely paralleled. They feature characters that are despicable in their motivations and actions, yet one still identifies with them and root for them (occasionally). But let’s talk about the third movie. Is there some cringe-inducing acting? Yes. Is Tom Hagen sorely missed and poorly written out? Yes. But it is the conclusion of the story that makes it ok for me. You could argue that the saga ended just fine at the conclusion of Godfather 2, with Michael sitting on by the lake of the family compound, noticeably devoid of family. I like (but don’t love) Godfather 3 because it gives us the endgame for all of Michael Corleone’s machinations from the first two movies. We get to see the horrible price he pays for his success in the underworld. As he tries to move to a more credible position he is pulled back in to the very criminal world that spawned him, only to have that which he cherished most, and the supposed motivation for all his horrible acts, taken away from him: his family.
So how does this relate to George Lucas? Well, I view the prequel trilogy in much the same way. There are terrible moments in the prequel trilogy. But there are also authentic moments of Star Wars imagery. When Obi Wan says “I have a bad feeling about this,” in Episode one. When he and Qui Gon display their uber-jedi skills against the droidekas (that super jedi speed, you know what I am talking about). Did we need to see pre-adolescent Anakin’s pod racing to win his freedom from Watto? Probably not. But was it super cool from a visual standpoint? Yes. And was the Darth Maul/Qui Gon/Obi Wan fight mind-smashingly awesome? Yes.
I had problems with the second and third movies in the series as well, but I found the over all story arc satisfying. I found the fall of Anakin to be a little bit too fast and unjustified on screen, but the duel between Anakin and Obi Wan was the stuff of childhood dreams. It was what I had imagined when I was a little boy living in a trailer park in Clute, Texas, clutching my black-robed Luke Skywalker figure as I slept. it transported me to a place that was, for lack of a better word, sublime. For that I am forever thankful to the man whose fertile imagination created the fictional universe I love so much.
I read in 2012 that Lucas was basically washing his hands of the whole Star Wars thing. He said: “Why would I make any more, when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?” after his prequel trilogy and Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull were so scrutinized.
Here is a man who created what is arguably one of the most engrossing space opera universes in cinematic history. It is sad that we as a fan community have driven this poor man to turn his back on an industry that he revolutionized, going as far as to sell Lucasfilm! All of the vitriol through blog and forum posts, telling him how much he ruined the collective childhood of a generation of entitled snobs who apparently forgot how cool it was to watch storm troopers chase Leia through the redwood trees in Episode VI. Perhaps their anger is being projected onto Lucas and his purported failures as a director. Maybe they are really angry that even the magic of ILM couldn’t take them back to being an an adolescent, seeing it all for the first time.
As we fans of the Star Wars saga await even the smallest tidbits of information from the JJ Abrams production, the same old excitement rises. The first release of character designs, wisps of the plot line. Just like when my college friends and I first saw the strange looking yoda puppet from Episode I in a Star Wars fan magazine. It was like we were eight again (little did we know what that yoda monstrosity would look like once committed to film). Will the new film meet our expectations? Only time will tell. According to Kevin Smith it will. I remain cautiously optimisitic, looking forward to the time when I can see the familiar opening crawl followed by John Williams excellent fanfare, and reunite with familiar characters from my childhood.