Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Anakin's Void

In relation to the previous post Were No Mothers on the subject of the absent or eliminated mothers of the Star Wars universe, it is telling that the less successful, ofttimes loathed, prequels tried to center on the character of Anakin Skywalker who not only was written as having no father, but ultimately seemed practically and utterly unconcerned with this void in his past and lineage (or lack thereof). Yes, it is true that he mentions to Obi Wan at some point, and Padme too if my memory serves me, that Kenobi was the closest thing to a father that he ever had, but it seemed only a half-hearted sentiment, as if said only because he thought it was something that Obi Wan would like to hear. It was never a sentiment that ever really came into play in any of his decisions or motives over the entire span of his prequel life. By not having a real father, even an unknown father, it was as if Anakin had no "past", no connection to the stream of life and chance that makes us who we are and makes us interesting. By refusing to even put in place a mysterious wall that blocked Anakin from knowing his past (i.e. he had a father but no one, not even his mother, knew who he really was, but had still actually existed and therefore did connect him to a mystery that was solvable, even if only remotely so) and instead creating a void, a nothingness, that no matter how hard it was probed would always yield zero answers, Lucas effectively created a character that no one could identify with. The virgin-birth scenario of Anakin's coming into existence is something only Jesus himself could possibly have understood and since none of us actual mortals have had that experience, we were left feeling a little bit outside of the realm of whatever Anakin might have felt about his life. (Side note: Even Jesus ultimately has a father, sure he's a god, the God in his world, but in many ways his divine father still fully fulfills the function of a father-figure and presents a challenge and measuring stick for Jesus to live up to). Anakin became colourless, unmotivated, disconnected, unsympathetic and ultimately, little better than the life-size cardboard cut-outs that adorn the offices and homes of devote Star Wars fans. If, at the very least, this absence of a father, this void and emptiness, would have tormented and haunted Anakin as an overriding concern in the films, eventually driving him into despair, cynicism, rage at the universe, then, at least, we might have felt something, been able to say, yes, if that were my past I too would feel less than human and probably fall to pieces. But since he basically shrugged his shoulders, chalked it up to the will of the Force, and went on to kill his own wife and their unborn offspring (or so he thought....), he is far from tragic and just plain badly written.
In a better world, Anakin would have had a biological father, perhaps killed off in some older war, perhaps even at the hands of Jedi or something...just off the top of my head....he would have yearned to have known him, it would have driven him on a quest that ultimately would have helped push him to the dark side. His search for and desire to have a father, only to have whatever he discovered (or whatever happens to him on the journey to help him discover it) drive him to evil, would then have been truly tragic, turning him into the very thing, or at least symbolic thing he wished never to be: the overly authoritarian-father, heartless Law made flesh, the absent father, the lost father that the original Vader was to Luke, and as an afterthought, Leia. Perhaps his Tatooine origins were supposed to compensate somehow, but they didn't; they just made the lack of any real past and humanity all the more painfully obvious for being so weakly established and poorly sutured to the original trilogy landscapes we all knew and loved. The only way the story could have been tweaked "as-is" might have been, again, to have Anakin actively concerned with his secret origins, his void, and to ultimately find out he was something of an experiment/test tube baby that Palpatine, perhaps even with the help of Darth Plagueis the Wise, had something to do with. A horrific discovery to say the least, but a discovery nonetheless!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Quick Thoughts on the release of the Original Unaltered Star Wars Trilogy:

Even with all the imperfections, the colour fluctuations, the occasional white specs of missing emulsion, the boxes or matte lines around comped in objects and vehicles....or maybe BECAUSE of these very same imperfections....it felt like coming home. It felt familiar and true. It was like opening a box of stuff you'd put away a long time ago only to find it contained a near mint action figure you'd adored as a child, having handled it as gently as if it were made of glass, one that you'd thought lost forever to the sandboxes or friend's houses or backyards of time...maybe it was even one of the slightly rarer ones! As previously retouched scene came and went as they had been in 1977, the sparse gang of sandtroopers finding evidence of droids, the old shots of the Jawa's sandcrawler cresting the dunes, all the old cantina aliens right where they should be and, of course, Han shooting Greedo under the table like the experienced con we always loved him for being, it felt as if the actual film was allowed to breathe again rather than be roped in and constrained by out-of-place, anachronistic special effects additions and second guesses that tried so hard to fit in but ended up just belittling the beauty of what was done all those years ago. I felt like the heroes and villains and their galaxy were one again, united into a coherent whole. Every actor was young again, innocent, full of energy and hope, the cynicism that the new special effects betrayed could almost be forgotten. I got so comfortable and contented, like a baby suckling from its mother's teat, that I began to drift off to sleep and finally had to pause it just as our heroes had been sucked in by the Death Star, about to face the Empire head on and with all the youthful, enthusiastic idealism that I'd remembered!

So, thanks George! Finally! And though it's probably just a cash grab, at least it's a cash grab I can benefit from, spiritually.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Were no mothers

Even though the OT would ultimately become a "family affair" (and almost literally did, save for the intervention of a certain brash smuggler!), what is interesting is that Ep IV ANH began with an absence of parents and even made quick work of the stand-ins with the death of the guardians Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. Maybe I was a morose kid on some level but I always felt there was something liberating in Luke's situation. It seemed the perfect springboard for adventure, with no one tying you down, no family commitments, no one asking you to be home for dinner on time, no chores, nothing mundane and no one making any decisions for you. Just you and a galaxy of possibilities.

More telling, still, is the fact that the mother-figure is almost absent even when the story becomes more overtly concerned with family ties. We are given the evil father and the twin sister, but the mother is only whispered about and only in one scene in which there is an admission of a vague, wispy memory of her on Leia's behalf, and that's it. Lucas is clearly saying that the fantasy of the boy-hero is to be free of the mother, that it is only in her absence and even the absence of her memorial presence, that the adventure can unfold and the quest be fulfilled. I've read just enough Joseph Campbell to know that the leaving of "mother" and transcending the boundaries of the nursery are at the heart of many myths, so the fact that it turns up in Star Wars should not be surprising I suppose, especially given Lucas' use of Campbell's work and expertise in creating the SW saga.

It would not be until the prequel films were released that we would meet this absent mother figure. If only the prequels had been accomplished with some storytelling skill then perhaps we may be able to judge the role of the mother in the SW universe. Unfortunately, since the prequel films are weak and the characters poorly constructed, it is difficult to distinguish an indifference to all the characters in general from a feeling of indifference to Padme Amidala-as-mother-of-the-Skywalker-twins specifically. One thing we can say, and again it is hard to tell if this is due to bad storytelling or some inability for the SW universe to handle mothers, is that she does tend to play a very small role as mother, she hardly looks pregnant, she is an unconvincing lover and her sudden concern for the twins seems to come out of nowhere, almost as an afterthought.

The sense I had as a child of this prehistory of the OT was sufficient because it could be held in the mind in a very archetypical way: it was enough to know there had been a mother, that she had most likely died tragically, perhaps even at the hands of or due to some fault in the character of the Father and that she had given birth to Luke (and as we would learn later, Leia). There was never anything more to her that was necessary to know; unfortunately her story was not one that needed to be told or known in cinematic detail because she is the unconscious, she is the pre-verbal, the pre-self, the beginning from which all life springs but from which it must move away if it is to distinguish itself as unique and heroic.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Phantom Menace: A semi-critical viewing

Recently, I sat down to watch Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace again. It was kind of an experiment to see if my appreciation for aspects (though not all out love) of Episode III Revenge of the Sith might give me a different perspective on TPM (given my overwhelming and incredulous dissatisfaction with it up until now). The experience was an interesting one and I feel that I can safely say I passed the litmus test of fanaticism: I did NOT find myself retracting my detractions, I did NOT find myself gushing over any missed references nor did I see in it any sort of genius that I'd been blinded to the first time. In fact, I believe I saw much more clearly than before what was terribly wrong about it not only as a Star Wars film but as a film and story in general. I will admit that one new aspect intrigued me on this viewing and this was the character of Darth Maul. On this viewing I saw him as a much more mysterious figure whose origin was never to be revealed and who suggested a back story in which the rebirth of the Sith would have unfolded (unfortunately, I suspect that even this new-found interest came more from reading the expanded universe (EU) spin-offs published by Dark Horse comics rather than anything inherent in the film itself).

Another reason for watching it again was to see if I could, coming at it from an editor's perspective, find a way of taking TPM, and perhaps AOTC as well, and recut them, even if only into one film, perhaps shorter than feature length, that might be more satisfying and faithful to the Star Wars universe [more on this idea of being faithful to the Star Wars universe in a future post]. I thought this might be accomplished simply by eliminating most, if not all, references to Jar Jar Binks and the Gungans, even if this meant somehow cutting out the final battle at the end (or rather, if it meant definitely cutting out the final battle at the end!) as well as much of Anakin Skywalker's story (because it really isn't very interesting, nothing made us care about him as a character and the acting/directing/dialogue is pathetic). Shortly after Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan make their way to the surface of Naboo, this idea of recutting suffered a serious set back. I was amazed to see how it was as if intentionally made impossible by the sheer volume of screen time in which the despicable, unsympathetic Jar Jar stumbles across the frame, tripping on yet another conveniently placed CGI prop or character or droid, regardless of the emotional level of the scene and events happening around him (the most extreme example being the death of Qui-Gon Jin juxtaposed immediately with Jar Jar succeeding in battle unintentionally out of the virtue of his clumsiness!). It was as if he had been used as some diagetic watermark! Quite quickly I realised that any re-cut of this film would require so much removal of continuity editing that it would end up being something akin to a trailer or flashback requiring a voice over explaining something to the affect of "In the Old Republic, the Sith rose again secretly guided by a subtle plot to overthrow the Republic and the unsuspecting Jedi; and though the Jedi fought bravely little did they know they were unwittingly playing right into the hands of their enemy, helping the Sith destroy the very thing they sought to defend and protect!" accompanied by images of dueling and explosions and character close ups and little else. I still may try to do this recut someday, but only if I can find a way to do it so that it is still a story, even if just for my own personal satisfaction. The task does look to be a near impossible one however.

Before I really begin though, a general thought on the prequels: There are at least two ways to approach them (and either one, or even a mixture of both, can bear fruit): One, I would call the "Deal With It" approach in which one accepts that they cannot drastically alter "George's vision" and have to tweak the story and it's details within certain limits, more or less accepting and respecting the basic story outline (Anakin is found as a boy, Darth Sidious' plot is relatively the same, there is a trade federation blockade of a planet and an invasion of said planet is expected). With this approach one tries to simply "suggest" details that could have been left out or changed slightly to make the story stronger. An example might be admitting that, if the two Jedi escaping the Trade Federation cruiser must land on Naboo and they must meet a race of people that help them get to where they want to go, the race is not the Gungans and there is definitely no Jar Jar. The race they meet and befriend are interesting, exotic (not so humanized), believable and are perhaps even involved in a long smoldering conflict, now on hold, with the human Naboobians.

The second method is pretty much the opposite approach: a no-holds barred wish list, the "What if..." approach. This approach can take or leave as much as it wants from the prequels as they were made or, much more satisfyingly, completely scrap them if necessary and attempt to tell a tale that would have been, well, better and much more "Star Wars". Using both of these approaches is useful in coming to a better understanding of the SW universe. This approach is fueled by years of imagining the backstory to the OT and in many ways is a necessary antidote to save something that was very important to one's personal development since 1977.

So, without further ado, here is a list of several aspects of the film that did not work in my opinion and contributed to the unsuccessful attempt at this prequel story telling (and I'll flesh them out below):
1. Anakin Skywalker introduced as a child.
2. The "Virgin Birth" origins of Anakin.
3. Going back to Tatooine.
4. The Force explained.
5. Gungans are no Ewoks (and that really says something!).
6. Too many cutesy CGI characters for the sake of having a cutesy, CGI element in the film. Constantly.
7. The new aesthetic is too severely different, with too few references made to the aesthetic of the original SW universe.
8. C-3PO as a creation of Anakin/Vader's.
9. Ultimately, making what should have been happening in the background and affecting the characters lives (the political intrigue/manipulation/plot) as the foreground of the story and boring us to death as characters struggle to deal with official channels, senates and councils.
10. Allowing other characters to call Anakin "Annie". Not cool. No wonder he turned evil!
11. The Jedi Council with Yoda, i.e. Yoda being on Coruscant all the time rather than on Dagobah normally, Coruscant occasionally.
12. Anakin accidentally saving the day by pulling a Will Smith Independence Day type trick.
13. A battle between obviously CGI forces that we don't care about (goofy duck-billed platypus humanoids versus spindly, hobby horse-headed robots) on a CGI golf course.
14. Who is (are) the central characters/protagonists of this story?


1. Anakin Skywalker introduced as a child.

Was it necessary or was anything gained by introducing Anakin as a young boy? I am hard pressed to say yes to either question. If Lucas thought that by starting Anakin off as a child it would allow children watching the film to identify with him, then he did not understand what made Han and Luke, not to mention Vader, so inspiring as characters to kids in the 70's and 80's (and hopefully even today). These characters were adults. And what kid doesn't want to be an adult from time to time, commanding respect and being taken seriously, able to do all those cool things with gadgets and space ships the way adventurous adults do? They already identify with these characters so they don't need to be children-heroes. Just look at the superhero genre, not too many kid-heroes there either. If anything, the opposite reaction probably occurs or is at least risked, and not only amongst children but most definitely amongst the adults. Even if Anakin will eventually end up flying into a mission haphazardly and accidentally destroying the space station that saves the day, does anyone really want to be him? Does his life look appealing? Is his personality and bearing enviable? And then there is, of course, the practical problem of writing for, casting and directing a child actor such that they pull off a believable, sympathetic performance. With these two forces already working against him, I'm surprised that Lucas went for the idea at all. It also inevitably slows down the story, even with the inclusion of something like the podrace. It takes away options for high octane adventure when you have a kid tagging along, needing to do kid things, running at a certain pace, not possessing adult strength or experience (and, ultimately, not wanting to put him in any real danger for fear that one might get into trouble with censors and parents). His being introduced at such a young age also made the beginning of the love story between Padme and himself very flimsy and begged the question why the age difference between them didn't show more as the films progressed. Also, and this is truly very telling, as a child myself, I'd always imagined that Obi Wan and Anakin met when they were both roughly the same age, that Anakin was already an adult or young man, with a family perhaps, a much more Luke-type figure, with a career as a "navigator on a spice freighter", all of which made training him, like Luke, dangerous. This means that even as a 7 year old I recognized, without being able to put it into words, that adult characters offered up better possibilities for exciting stories than child characters could and that I myself wanted to experience this adult fantasy world and imagine myself in it! Didn't you? Just think, if Obi Wan had found Anakin as an adult, it would have immediately permitted us to jump right into action, to have Anakin demonstrate his natural Force abilities in combat in coming to the aide of new found friend(s). Something immediate and human would have been at stake, rather than a dispute with the Trade Federation and being inconvenienced by having to make a stop over on a planet we already know all too well from the OT (more on that below).

2. The "Virgin Birth" origins of Anakin.

Assuming that we have to live with Anakin being introduced to us as a child (the "Deal with it" approach), this aspect of his character's origin needed to have a point, and one that would be made clearer in this film alone so that it didn't just come off as some less-than-subtle metaphor for him being Christ-like (even if unintentionally). If, as is hinted at in ROTS (but more so in the novel adaptation), that Palpatine and his former master had something to do with Anakin's birth ("He could influence the midichlorians to create life"), attempting to create a potential, ultra-powerful candidate for the Dark Side, then that would have been interesting and made us watch him struggle with his origins, resisting them perhaps, ultimately, unsuccessfully. Instead, we just think we've segued into one of those gigantic Bible-story blockbusters from the 50's and that at any second Moses is going to come round the corner only to have his tablets knocked out of his hands by, who else, Jar Jar (whom we hope not even God could forgive!).

3. Going back to Tatooine:

This action shrank the Star Wars universe. It felt too convenient, and the universe too small. Planets we'd known before could have been included but should have been kept as background elements, mentioned and only visited/shown when the detail was inevitable, as in ROTS when they show Alderaan and Tatooine. This is a mistake he would repeat later with Chewbacca meeting Yoda in ROTS. Suddenly two characters from two different worlds are friends in the past? Why wasn't this mentioned? It comes off as forced and an afterthought. Ultimately, Anakin could have been found anywhere. The Lars family could have settled on Tatooine because they were hiding from Vader and sought a remote out of the way location. In my "what if" scenario, Anakin is actually found traveling in space, aboard a freighter, as a navigator, and stumbles into helping Kenobi who is losing a battle or on the run in the midst of an already ongoing Clone Wars (more on that in a future post).

4. The Force explained:

Did it ever cross anyone's mind, when watching the OT for all those years and years, what exactly, in scientific terms, was the nature of the Force? Did Lucas really think we were all holding our breath and hoping we'd find out in the prequels? Yoda and Ben's explanations seemed good enough for me as a kid and the word "midichlorian" wouldn't have added one iota to the strength of the concept (in fact, it does the opposite). If when Qui-Gon had met Anakin he had simply sensed the Force, rather than administering a blood test, I think the audience would have bought it (he is a Jedi after all and Force-sensitive). Then maybe we could have seen Anakin innocently using the Force in front of the Jedi, or maybe when he didn't think he was being watched. We would have then seen it demonstrated and had no need for running any blood tests. Again, if Qui-Gon had said, the Force is so strong in him, and maybe at some point almost collapsed in Anakin's presence, I think we would have got the point without hard-ish sci-fi getting in the way. Later, in ROTS, when Palpatine taunts Anakin with the notion that the midichlorians can be manipulated, we would have been fine with him saying that his master had found ways to use the Force to create or manipulate life and death. Again, we believed in the concept for 25 years without midichlorians, why wouldn't that kind of explanation work now?

5. Gungans are no Ewoks (and that really says something!):

I was always a closet admirer of the Ewoks (the ROTJ version and not those of any of the spin-off materials like those horrid made-for-TV movies or the cartoon). I mean, yes they are furry and cute, but they are believable, and courageous for fighting the good fight despite the odds against them. They speak a language we can't understand, they aren't simply humans in creature-guise (the way the Gungans are), they behave like stereotypical primitives, are, therefore, exotic and somewhat animal-like in their behaviour (Wicket sniffing, backing off from Leia's removal of her helmet and her offering of food). And even though cute they still want to fry up and eat our heroes. They also die in combat before our eyes as they come to the aide of the rebellion in battling the overwhelming forces of the Empire. The Gungans, on the other hand, possess none of these qualities. They are obviously meant to be silly rather than believable. We don't really see any of them die, and mourn, and in fact in the main battle at the end it's hard to see them as much more than the Republic's version of a droid army: completely expendable and anonymous.

6. Too many cutesy CGI characters, starts to look like a Bug's Life and Disney:

Yes, it is good that Lucas and company push the limits of current technology and software for creating special effects, but to turn Lucas' own words against him, uttered more than once during his more glorious past, SFX should never come before story and should only be there in service to the story. Another way to say this is that if you do not have a good story, no amount of SFX is going to cover it up and save it from its bad beginnings. He could have got seven hundred of the best writers today to help him with the script, thrown out 699 different versions and got another 700 writers' advice on the draft he picked. But instead, after having not written or produced much of anything in years, he locked himself away and wrote in a bubble, not even revealing drafts until preproduction was well under way. As far as the "cutesy" element, again, if it was for the kids, well, maybe it worked on some. For the time being. But it will not, therefore, have the staying power the OT did by allowing that even kids can find "serious" aliens inspiring to the imagination. I mean, the cantina scene anyone? As a kid, some of those aliens were terrifying, evil looking, inexplicable but all the same (or perhaps because of this) I wanted to know the story of every single one of those denizens (and I still do to this day!) and my imagination was fueled (leading to the purchase of hundreds of action figures even to this day!) Adults can't take too much of cutesy, however, because it screams "laugh at me" rather than "wonder and imagine", they tend to get turned off (as would some more story-saavy children I'm sure). Classic examples of how much this felt like a Disney sequence are the Gungan city or the pod race bits. About 95 percent of the pod racers looked like 3D versions of characters from Alice In Wonderland and the Gungans are one long "ewwww gross" joke that never gets funnier because it was never funny to begin with.

7. Change of aesthetic too severe, not enough references made to the aesthetic of the original SW universe:

Those sleek, detail-less ships the Naboobians flew were interesting, but they were not Star Wars. Yes, in 20 years (from the time of the TPM to ANH roughly), we could expect massive changes, and yet, the idea that the universe only gets a "lived in" look in those 20 years is ridiculous. The Old Republic is, well, old. And what's more, no new technology seems to get invented between these eras so what would be the big deal if the aesthetic didn't change much either? The residents of Tatooine keep the same building style, the Jedi keep their garb and Sidious keeps his robes. Nothing resembling a tie fighter or an x-wing would even start to show up until AOTC and only with ROTS did we start to feel we were really in the same universe (except for the lightsabres). The audience was already expected to swallow a much more slick film, SFX wise, with inevitably some new faces, wouldn't it have been smarter to stick to the "look" of the OT world a little more closely to give us a way in, to make us feel we'd really come home? And heck, it worked the first time? Why mess with a good thing?

8. C-3PO as a creation of Anakin/Vader's.

Lame. It falls under the category of making the SW universe and its details too intertwined/convenient/small. It takes away any of the mystery of the origins of the two droids. Ultimately, there's just no point to having it be him that does it, especially since C-3PO becomes less and less important, if he ever was, as the PT films go on. He looked like he'd just stumbled on the set in ROTS, waiting for the last line of Bail Organa's to have his memory erased.

9. Ultimately, making what should have been happening in the background and affecting the characters lives (the political intrigue/manipulation/plot) as the foreground of the story and boring us to death as characters struggle to deal with official channels, senates and councils:

Think of it this way: in ANH, we didn't need to see Palpatine as the Emperor dissolving the Imperial Senate, nor see scenes in which characters hear whispers of the construction of a planet sized battle station. The story is told from the perspective of little people with big destinies, not from former Senators, bureaucrats and upper echelon types. Even Princess Leia is removed from her regal context and plunked down amongst a scoundrel and a farm boy. In TPM the obscure references to trade blockades and ongoing negotiations with Senators, as well as showing much of this, just weakens and waters down what is at stake. The Jedi are also mostly diplomatic figures, coming from the top of society, concerned with huge, overarching political disputes. The characters get put in harms way eventually, though it never really seems dire. It's all very "follow the Force and we'll see where we end up", rather than having clear and pressing goals. This entire back story was fine but should have been kept in the background. We should have arrived on the scene with a Jedi or two in pitched battle, in the midst of something big and not so subtle, like I said above, in the midst of the Clone Wars. My gut feeling is that the Clone Wars should have already been well under way and things were desperate and going badly for the Jedi. Though it is interesting that the Clones were good guys originally, maybe they could have been bad and the Jedi failed and fell into disrepute. Specifically, we could have met Obi Wan on a secret mission, operating more like he did in ANH, sneaking around, being much more stealthy when he meets Anakin by chance, whom he persuades to help, reluctantly, like a Han Solo type, but naturally attuned to the Force. We would have quickly picked up on the mood, the exegesis could have been handled through other ways worked into the main thrust of the characters plight.

10. Calling him "Annie":

I mean what would have been wrong with everyone calling him Anakin all the time? Would anyone have said, hey, why doesn't he get a shortened name like Obi Wan or Leia...I mean, okay, she didn't get called "Princess Leia" all the time, but that was her title not her name....Regardess, if he didn't have a shorter version of his name I doubt anyone would have noticed.

11. The Jedi Council including an ever present Yoda. Meaning: Yoda being on Coruscant all the time rather than on Dagobah normally, Coruscant occasionally:

This just would have made Yoda much more of a wise hermit type, in tune with the environment/nature/Force, like he seemed in ESB and ROTJ. Also, it's pretty obvious he was really designed for/suited to that planet when they came up with his character. I mean he's of the same colour scheme and his ears drip like moss from the trees. It would have made an appearance on Coruscant all the more special if Yoda had to be summoned to come visit or sensed something and arrived unexpectedly, this ancient Jedi Master, to help decide what course of action to take. Or, alternatively, Anakin was brought to him by Obi Wan for advice and Anakin was made to watch from a distance as the two discussed him, and he sensed that he was not fully trusted and this caused resentment to build up in him early on.

12. Anakin accidentally saving the day:

If Anakin has to be kept as a child character, he should have been much more in the background, his story could have been more fully developed in Ep II and III. The film could have been much more about Obi-wan for example. Or, he could have done something actually heroic instead of just blundering into something and accidentally pushing buttons and going whoa! whoa! A lot. This is why I feel strongly that Anakin should have been an adult when found. The climax of Ep I could have then been a great opportunity to show him as a willful, skilled pilot coming to the rescue of everyone, much as Luke did in ANH, though perhaps with more of a hint of recklessness and maybe even aggression/anger. And of course, the final battle needed to be much more intense and interesting than taking out a central server (besides, what a horrendous design flaw for the separatists! I mean, a built-in Achilles heal? Surly such weaknesses would have been weeded out thousands of years before given that technology in this universe is not only centuries but millenia old!) Whatever the adult Anakin would have fought against and destroyed, it should have had the same in thematic importance as the Death Star was to ANH, which, though seemed a huge victory at the time, was really just a temporary one until the Emperor himself was taken out of the picture.

13: A battle between obviously CGI forces that we don't care about (goofy duck billed platypus-people versus spindly, hobby horse-headed robots).

If we don't care about any of those characters we see up there fighting and if some seem to be having too much fun doing or not doing it, we have no emotional involvement with the scene. Add to this the fact that we have no idea where that battle is taking place, we see no one in harms way that didn't walk right up to harm and turn on some lame dinosaur powered shields that repel fast but not slow things and the villains aren't even threatening, well, again, who cares!?

14. Who is (are) the central characters/protagonists of this story?

Is it Obi-Wan? Qui-Gon? Padme? Anakin? None seem to really go through any big changes, except Qui-Gon since he dies and Obi-Wan for witnessing it. Even then, Kenobi doesn't seem all that changed for having been there. Anakin seems to be very adamantly set in his ways for a kid and seems just as set in them by the end (again, because he was a child character and written badly). Padme, well, nothing much there either. In fact, just because the OT worked with a tightly knit ensemble cast, did Lucas really think that just having an ensemble cast would work again without actually figuring out why it worked in the first place? There was no love interest to cause tension between the protagonists. They all seemed to have similar motives, all wanting to help the Republic, no questions asked. Who was the hero? Not Anakin and not Jar Jar, not really, unless bumbling your way through something and squeaking by passes for heroism in the Old Republic. The more I watch it the more I feel it should have been Obi-Wan's movie or Qui-Gon's but even then they would have had to have something really at stake that they were working to resolve.

So that was probably too easy, Ep I being such an easy target, but I had to start somewhere. I want to write more specifically on smaller topics but just when I was trying to get this going I decided to watch TPM again and, well, this came out. What I think I am going to do is start a running draft of an outline or script of my alternate version of the prequel story, coming at it pretty much from the "What if..." approach, inspired by both what Lucas has offered up but much more from my own childhood-til-now musings on the backstory hinted at in the OT. I'll start it as a post and then maybe update it as time goes on, if I can sustain interest. I'll also work at linking it on the sidebar so it can be found easily.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Let's Begin Now...

Why an ongoing blog about Star Wars from the perspective of a life long (since I was six and saw it for the first time in 1977) devotee? Because as of late I have begun to take the Star Wars films and the universe it has created more seriously. Perhaps I am just nourishing an obsession and justifying it by spending even more time analyzing some of what I like and dislike about the films and their spin-offs, but I'd like to think I am also contributing in a small way to emphasizing what it is about the films that can be life-affirming and meaningful rather than just entertaining. But what has really pushed me to start writing this blog is that since the release of the last three films, the prequels, I have found myself often comparing my childhood-to-adulthood expectations of the backstory to the original films (from what was merely hinted at or suggested in episodes IV, V and VI) and what was finally made into product for the screen. After scribbling down one too many notes on the subject, I realised that it was time I gathered these haphazard thoughts together into coherent paragraphs and essays and try to flesh them out and see where they lead, even if mostly (and most likely) for myself. In doing so I may not only turn a raging obsession into something a bit more framed and coherent but I might just stave off mental illness as well! There are things that I very much enjoyed and things that I very much hated about the new films but this, along with my own imaginings of what it could have been, create an interesting dynamic, one that oscillates between fantasy and reality, hope and despair, expectation and surprise. This kind of approach is also a way to discover what it is about the story and world of Star Wars that is most important to me and hopefully, from time to time, what is significant about them for most of us: by comparing what I enjoyed in the new films and what I wish had been has already begun to open up to me an understanding I did not know I had about the strengths of certain archetypical and mythic figures, about my own, all-to-often resisted, appreciation of the sci-fi/fantasy genre and what it has to offer to the life of the mind and, ultimately, about what constitutes a well crafted story itself. I hope that in these writings I will demonstrate that I seek to offer a well thought out opinion that comes from a genuine love of these films, their universe, their values and the characters that made them what they are, even if at times a harsh criticism is required. The Star Wars films are a very strange cultural phenomenon indeed. They have been so powerful in their influence on at least the generation that saw them for the first time that in a sense they have become a part of our own personal mythologies. They can no longer be considered solely the property of one George Lucas alone, regardless of what legal precedents might deem otherwise. Their heroes and villains are now a part of many people's psyche and inform how we read our lives and sometimes guide our actions and decisions. The films and their themes and characters offer us a way of understanding the world and our place in it, just as any good myth should.