I'm not ashamed to admit it I am a Star Wars fan. Well, maybe I'm a little ashamed to admit it. OK - I'm really ashamed to admit it. Thats probably why I slink around, offering everyone I pass an apologetic look.
I am proud to say, however, that despite being a Star Wars fan - and, yes, even a Star Wars geek - I am not too far-gone. I like Star Wars. I'm not going to sacrifice any dignity over it (Well, maybe just a little dignity).
I've never been to a midnight screening. I've never dressed up in robes and gotten my friends to take a picture of me with my home-made light sabre. I don't own a single Star Wars T-shirt, badge, or any other piece of merchandising - I only own one official Lucasfilm home video (Attack of the Clones, if you're curious and if you asked me why I spent the money on it, despite the fact that I know how terrible it is, I wouldn't be able to give you an answer).
Despite all this, however, I am still a Star Wars geek. As this 'creature of ill repute,' it saddens me to say what we all know, but only few of us dare to speak of - George Lucas has gone soft!
Whether it be old age, fatherhood, or having just lost it, the creator of the Star Wars saga has, to put it in terms even Ashton Kutcher could understand, "punk'd out." He's creatively washed up, worn down and burnt out. Instead of admitting to it, though, he's running with it, and Star Wars is suffering as a result.
We geeks should have seen it coming. After all, the evidence was there for everyone to see: the introduction of a second Death Star, a soap opera-esque number of familial connections and (worst of all) Ewoks in Return of the Jedi. Yet, how were we to know it was just the beginning? How could we know that we had only taken the first dip in a downhill ride?
It's All About the Softness
He gave us even clearer warning shots with the cartoons spun off from his grand trilogy. I mean, if Ewoks and Droids (both produced in 1985) aren't signs of an impending doom, then what in God's name are?
It was 1997's re-release of the Star Wars trilogy that Lucas' softness became all too evident. (It should be noted that this wasn't really a re-release - it was, in fact, a debut for an all-new kind of trilogy - the Special Edition trilogy.) With the Special Edition came our first experiences of hokey CGI characters and nonsensical story elements. Thanks to the Special Editions, all you have to do to a Star Wars fan to get him ranting is say one simple sentence: "Greedo shot first."
For all the non-geeks out there, in the original Star Wars trilogy, Greedo was a mercenary whom Han Solo shot in an off-hand manner just as the creature was gloating about having captured its bounty. In the Special Editions, things were manipulated (in an incredibly awkward and unbelievable fashion) to make it look like Greedo shot first, giving Han Solo no option but to kill him. Why? Because Lucas has gone soft. This was but one of many examples of why the Special Editions werent that special.
The Special Editions added a musical number to Return of the Jedi which would have the composers at Disney twitching with jealousy. They proved to Lucas the superiority of digital special effects to any other brand of movie magic making. Worst of all, they took precedence in Lucas' mind as being the truer vision of the Star Wars universe. When the first trilogy comes out on DVD, we're going to get the Special Edition, with no chance of getting any of the films the way they were when originally released.
1999 saw the release of Episode I: The Phantom Menace, arguably one of history's most eagerly anticipated films. For sixteen years, Star Wars fans waited for this much-prophesised film, the very first act in the grand Star Wars saga. Yet what were we given? Darth Vader as a child crowing Bill-and-Ted inanities such as "Yippee!" "Whoa!" and "Awesome!" Jar Jar Binks. Midichlorians.
I remember sitting there in the theatre, so excited to be watching a new Star Wars movie (and with Ewan McGregor! Wow!) only to get three-quarters of the way in (yes, it took me that long) and get that heavy, sinking feeling that this movie just kind of, well...sucked! I mean, yeah, it had a few bits and pieces that were cool. Darth Maul was a fairly threatening villain, even if a bit underdeveloped, and the sight of the Jedi at their peak was pretty sweet. All in all, though, it just sucked.
Lucas argues that the film was intended for kids, and anyone that has a problem with it is just too old to really get it. Still, how many kids usually sit through a film that has a plot that relies heavily on debates about the nature of taxation and commerce? I mean, yeah, its also a movie with lasers and robots and aliens, but that doesnt mean you need to throw your crap-o-meter out the window.
Episode II: Attack of the Clones made it worse. Starting with a puerile title, the audience is then given a stilted romance with terrible dialogue, an overly complicated sub-plot regarding clones and where they came from, and yet more over reliance on cheesy-looking CGI characters. Does Lucas have some kind of allergy to muppets these days? I mean, yeah, in retrospect they're hokey, but they have a charm and an immediacy with the actors that just isn't present in the video game characters populating the screen these days.
In the final act of the film, the droid C-3PO becomes a dispenser of nightmarishly bad puns, serving as some lame excuse for comic relief that's on par with Jar Jar Binks role in 'Episode I.' Why were C-3PO and R2-D2 even in the prequel trilogy? It makes the whole story seem so contrived that these two droids keep finding themselves in the middle of the most important events in the entire galaxy. Its Dickensian in the extreme, convoluted to a fault.
What happened? Was it becoming a father to three children that made Lucas want to tailor his films to make them even more kid-friendly? Well, ignore the fact that, for a time, the boy band N*Sync was going to be playing background Jedi in 'Episode II,' simply because Lucas' daughter was a big fan of Justin and co....
Maybe time took its toll and it was Lucas' advancing years that pushed him over the edge. Maybe it was the pressure to appeal to a wider audience, an audience that tolerates less and less violence in its movies these days. Whatever happened, the facts are there for all to see: Lucas just isn't what he was. He doesnt have the same views, the same ideas, and the same sensibilities. Of course, thats a natural part of growing older, but it isn't really much of an excuse.
It should be noted, however, that he has said many times over that the upcoming 'Episode III' will be the darkest of the Star Wars films. Whether that will make this film worth seeing, as opposed to the last two, is anyone's guess. The only one who knows for sure is Lucas, and there doesn't seem to be much point in asking him - he has, after all, gone soft.