fuego and I went and caught the new Star Wars movie the other night. I’d heard it didn’t suck as bad as the previous two, so I was up for it. It was the day for my czech lesson, and that just happened to be in a part of town with a theater fuego had been telling me about.
Here’s how it works: You pay too much for your movie ticket, then before the movie you hang out in the lounge paying too much for beer. While you’re out there, you tell them when during the show you would like them to bring you more beer. You give the staff your seat number and pay too much for the beers they will bring you. Not American prices, mind you, just more than you’re used to paying here.
When the time comes they open up the doors and everyone goes in. By “everyone” I mean all forty people, if the show is sold out. it doesn’t take long for everyone to make their ways to their La-Z-Boys, settle in, and get comfy. Feet up, reclining, appreciating the sound system, I was ready to do some serious movie-watching. Well, almost ready – the previews were just finishing up when the first beer arrived. Bravo!
I suppose I should say something about the movie as long as I’m here. I’m happy to report it did suck less than episode 1. I never saw Episode 2 (not in English, anyway). fuego and I exchanged some snide comments during the movie; at one point the Obi-Wan has nasty little robots crawling around on the outside of his spaceship. Skywalker pulls off some flying miracles to clean them off. You know, because Jedi knights can’t manipulate matter from a distance. Oh, wait. they can. They just seem to forget that at the most inconvenient times. Yoda, at least, seemed to keep some grip on his own abilities when faced with crisis. It was the same in the Matrix sequel: If the power you have imbued your hero with is inconvenient, pretend it never happened. Didn’t someone ask the writer, “Hey, wouldn’t he have used the Force here?” And probably someone did, but the writers were too lazy or not creative enough to invent situations that would truly be a challenge to a jedi, instead hoping that we wouldn’t notice.
There were times the writing was terribly hackneyed, and times good writing was massacred by bad acting. Samuel L. Jackson put in his worst performance ever in any movie, somehow caught at the center of the vortex of stupid lines delivered badly. It hurt to watch sometimes.
On the other hand, Sith-boy (I must confess I don’t know the actor’s name), the new Emperor who will take three more movies to overcome, did a really good job. So many movie productions forget that not only do you need a star as the hero, you need a good actor for the villain. The power of Star Wars has always been the bad guy: Darth Vader, Darth Maul (I was sorry to see so little of him), and Sith-Boy. This guy has been all that’s buoyed up the last few episodes, though Frank Oz has helped as well.
I was interested in seeing this movie because it presented a great storytelling challenge: spin a good yarn that holds up even though everyone in the audience knows the bad guy is going to win. Send people home satisfied. But it’s a great opportunity as well, to write a story where the good guy wins but the seeds of his destruction three movies later are planted. “Into exile go I must.” “He still has good in him, I know it.” “Don’t you remember? you killed her.”
One more bitch: R2-D2, in this episode, could fly, combat dozens of war-droids, and generally kick ass. I missed one part where he got away from a bunch of bad guys or reduced them to scrap or something because my next beer had just arrived, but you get the idea. Compare this to the little trash can that gets captured by the glowing-eye guys in episode IV. Did all those systems break in the intervening years? Sure, sure, I know it’s hard to keep a story consistent over that great a scope, but don’t you think as they were writing R2 into the prequels they would have asked, “hey, why didn’t Obi-Wan recognize R2 in episode IV?”
Call me a nitpicker if you want, but stuff like that bothers me. I know what it’s like to try to get all the little pieces of a big story to work together, but they had friggin’ years to get it all together. The last night before they called their script final, they should have sat down and watched the original Star Wars. Their best work. They should have asked themselves two questions: “Do they fit?” and “Does this cheapen the original?”
Of course, episode IV, the original, had nothing to live up to. Partly because of that, because there was nothing to compare it to, it became the definition of the best, and Lucas has been behind the eight-ball ever since, getting castigated for making movies that are merely good, and hearing people like me say “Back when I was a kid your movies weren’t nearly as childish.”
In the end, I think the difference comes down to acting. The original had a bunch of unknowns (not for long) and one recognized great, who played in an action movie with grace and aplomb. It is unimaginable to me that lame, flat, dead, stilted acting like I just saw would have been tolerated on the original production. If you’re blowing a million bucks a millisecond on VFX, perhaps you could say, “Let’s do that scene one more time. This time, pretend you’re acting.”
It may not sound like it, but I really didn’t think the movie sucked. It was better than most other pre-constructed blockbusters. I’ll tell you this, though: I could have done a lot better. A lot better. I could kick that movie’s ass at a fraction of the cost. With a mere seventy million dollar budget I will make a movie that outgrosses all the Star Wars movies combined. I guarantee it. So come on, Hollywood, put your money where my mouth is.
Meanwhile, if the movie’s huge, spectacular, and overhyped, there’s only one way to go. Gold Class, baby.