The thing about Star Wars is that I sorta like the idea of Star Wars better than any of the movies (with one exception which we’ll get to later). This is going to be a short post, but hear me out. I really love the world and mythology of Star Wars. I’ve seen all the movies numerous times, always wishing they were better than they actually are. People hold up the Original Trilogy as pure cinema gold, but rip to shreds even the most innocuous flaws in the much-maligned Prequel Trilogy. This is totally off kilter to me.
I did not grow up with Star Wars, and I was not quite three-years-old when The Phantom Menace was released. So when I finally got around to Star Wars later in the last decade, there was no hype, there was no sixteen-year-long gap between movies in which I could get my hopes up and then dashed when Episode I didn’t quite live up to expectations. To me, each Star Wars film is pretty uneven. There are good things and bad things in both the Originals and the Prequels. Sure, Star Wars gets off to a good start with the battle over Tatooine and all, but then it’s a good hour before anything interesting happens. Even the Death Star battle at the end falls kind of flat to me.
Return of the Jedi has similar problems. Honestly, there’re only a few sections of this movie which I really love. I could do without that long prologue at Jabba’s palace, and I want nothing to do with Ewoks. The best thing about Return of the Jedi is the confrontation between Luke, Darth Vader, and the Emperor. There seems to be a lack of grandness at the end of what should be an epic conclusion to an epic series. I do love the last scene, with the celebration across the galaxy and the pan-flute music (sorry, Star Wars purists, but “Yub Nub” is just the worst). Again, I love both Star Wars and Return of the Jedi, but pretending they are so much better than the prequels is foolish.
The Prequels are just as uneven, but still I’m rather fond of them. Watching them last summer and expecting to hate them again, I was surprised by how well they hold up, especially Phantom Menace. I am completely deaf to the typical critiques of these movies, especially this one. Two of my favorites are:
“THERE’S TOO MUCH POLITICAL DISCOURSE!”
Nonsense. The complaint seems to be that the Original Trilogy was a very simple, action-packed, good vs. evil story, and the Prequels are bogged down by politics and moral ambiguities. This, frankly, is the whole point of the Prequels. Look at any crisis in history. They don’t start off as existential battles for the fate of the world. They start as shrewd and ruthless men chatting behind closed doors. The great good vs. evil battle of World War II began with the at first seemingly reasonable political machinations of just another political party.
The issue Star Wars nerds have with midichlorians mystifies me. They say it tries to explain away the Force. Excuse me, but NO NO NO IT DOES NOT! The midichlorians are what make humans Force-sensitive, and they explain why Force-sensitivity can be hereditary. They are not actually the Force. This critique reminds of how Orthodox Christians always whinge about the dogma of Transubstantiation claiming that it “explains the Eucharist”. Blah blah blah. It just explains what changes in the Eucharist and prevents idolatry. Doesn’t explain how the mystery happens. Learn to think, folks.
Anyway, the Prequels are just as good as the Originals. I even find myself warming to the rather dreadful Attack of the Clones. I gotta say, even the recently released The Force Awakens has the same issues. There was stuff I liked, stuff I didn’t like. If only there were a Star Wars movie I could wholly embrace and endorse from beginning to end. Oh yeah! I forgot about:
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
Damn this movie’s good! Practically perfect. I know it’s totally basic to say The Empire Strikes Back is your favorite Star Wars movie but it really is that good. Honestly, when people talk about how great the Original Trilogy is or how much better it is than the Prequels, I think they’re just projecting this movie onto the other two. It’s dark and psychologically intense, at times abstract, mysterious, moody, beautifully shot, no painful dialogue or wooden acting. My only problem with it is that Chewbacca (who is just a total mistake of a character in the first place) make far too much noise throughout the whole thing.
It expands the mythology of the world without being heavy-handed like the Prequels often were. There are no cutesy (read: obnoxious) side characters to explode the mood of the film. No long scenes of exposition. It’s a beautiful piece of work. I wish the other six movies were as good. We still have Episodes VIII and IX, and despite my reservations about this new trilogy, I am still hopeful that Star Wars can be more than just alternately amusing and disappointing. It ought not to be that hard to do! The key to making a film as good as Empire is: don’t repeat what’s already been done, use dialogue sparingly, treat the story with the seriousness it deserves. Why is this so hard? Last year, Mad Max: Fury Road did this and both reinvigorated a franchise and got itself nominated for several Academy Awards. The Force Awakens just got a nod for Original Score (which by the way is the weakest of the entire series).
Pray that by 2020 I will actually like the Star Wars movies better than just the idea of them.