Today is the 32nd anniversary of the release of Star Wars (no, not Episode IV – they added that later)… and this past week was the 10th anniversary of Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Upon noting these milestones, I started thinking about both films.
I won’t overstate or repeat the impact that Star Wars had on our culture, on the way movies were made and released, or how it stimulated my eight-year old brain way back when I first saw it at a drive-in in 1977. It is a flawed but thoroughly entertaining movie that was, basically, lightning caught in a bottle – none of the creative works derived from the original matches the magic of the original (even though the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, is a superior film).
One thing I always bring up when I discuss the original is how much credit should NOT be given to George Lucas for the film’s success.
- His wife Marcia’s editing (along with Richard Chew and Paul Hirsch) is never given the credit it should be – so many scenes work because of how they are cut and the choices made on what shots or coverage to use.
- John Williams’ score elevated the movie and made average scenes great (just try and watch Luke staring at the two Tatooine suns with the sound turned off).
- Gary Kurtz produced the film, and you can see how he kept Lucas in check when you compare the first two films to Return of the Jedi (which Kurtz did not produce).
- The really great cast made Lucas’ dialogue work, which was not always easy (note many scenes in the prequels).
- While making the film Lucas was surrounded by a circle of advisors and friends, the best of New Hollywood – Spielberg, Coppola, Scorsese… and he got lots of advice from them on how to make the movie work.
- Finally, all the fantastic special and visual effects John Dykstra (and the aborning ILM) made the film look like no movie ever did before.
This is not to minimize or bash Lucas – it was his vision, and his idea to make the movie in the first place. He risked his whole young career on a movie that featured light swords, a giant planet-destroying space station, and two comedic robots. He deserved all the success (and profit) that came his way after the movie became a hit. The reason to bring up his contributors and the influence they had is to highlight what happened when Lucas was in charge 100%, and made the movies he wanted to make…
And so we get to Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Drew McWeeney wrote a great essay at Hitfix.com on how Episode I lead to “prequelitis” in Hollywood, and I can’t disagree with any of his points… though I have a couple to add. When I saw Episode I with my wife I remember sitting in the theatre before the movie and… it was like a church, before services. Completely quiet, reverent… and when the movie started I noted an in-joke right away (Obi-Won’s first line is “I have a bad feeling about this”), we both laughed…
And the man next to us turned and asked us very directly to be quiet so he could focus on the movie. Not enjoy, FOCUS on the movie.
One lobe in my brain, the part that was an obsessed super-geek… suddenly shut off. I turned to my wife as the man returned to the film and shook my head, thinking… there but for the grace of God, go I.
I didn’t feel sorry for the man… I still wish him the best… but I decided at that moment that obsessing over a movie – ANY movie – was a wasted effort better applied to more constructive endeavors. Like decoupage, or origami. Obsessing over a film or a “franchise” eventually leads to disappointment, and buyers remorse – which in this case hardly bothers Lucas at all – he already got your money.
Episode I was, of course, the first of what we now call the “prequel trilogy” – as a whole, they disappointed, because the idea of them are fundamentally flawed. There is no drama. We know that Anakin became Darth, that Obi-Won survived, that Luke and Leia were born. The rest, the gaps that need filling in? Backstory – and in many instances BORING backstory. So what Lucas delivered are soulless exercises targeted at entertaining 8-year olds. Which they do… so far that, give them some credit. It’s just unfortunate that they don’t aspire for greater heights.
Before Star Wars, the only major SF cult was Star Trek… and ironically it was the success of Lucas’ movie that lead to the resurrection of that franchise (”hey, don’t we own something that has “˜Star’ in the title?”). Now, 32 years later, one of the biggest movies this summer is Star Trek, which some have criticized because it borrows ideas and plot points… from Star Wars.
The circle is now complete.
Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a fan edit of Star Wars I need to rewatch…