Sunday, February 21, 2010

Culture Corner: Star Wars III

Here is the last installment of my serenely calm examination of the first three Star Wars films.



Unlike I and II, III has at least a clear story line: Mr. Lucas had to accomplish definite things to link with IV. But with advances in CGI and SFX, this one is even more dependent on mere visual glitter than the first: the incomprehensible opening battle is a good example. Alas, Mr. Lucas and his coterie of animators and computerists have been seduced by the dark... I mean, have reached the point where in their minds flashy things on the screen are a desirable substitute for story and acting. The com-mentary is taken up by the usual technicians putting on airs, telling us how ingenious they are, preening themselves on their mastery of the “cutting edge” techniques of making movies without sets (or actors).
Look, you rude mechanicals, what you are doing is making cartoons. People have been making cartoons since the 1930s. Your cartoons are, indeed, more elaborate than, say, Steamboat Willie, but not inherently more moving or entertaining. Get over yourselves, computer boys. We do not stand in awe of your creations because making them uses some shiny new thingamajig. Illogic, nonsense, plot holes a mile wide, glitz for the sake of glitz, do not become great because they are confected on blue screens. You would be doing more service to movies by reminding Mr. Lucas of this fact than by praising to the skies his every idea and enabling his increasing dependence on whiz-bangs cover up his lack of substance.
My chief objections concern the end of the film.
Anakin joins the Sith primarily to save Padmé from death. But Palpatine finally tells him that this can be done only with additional research. (“If we work together, I know we can discover the secret.”) Since Padmé is to die in childbirth, however, and is nine months pregnant, it does not seem that there is much time to do this research, does it? Anakin should at this point have realized that Palpatine can do nothing to save his wife, and has been lying to him.
Padmé’s death is entirely unconvincing. She is in good physical health. She is conscious and rational: she names her children. Then she dies. Why? Of a broken heart? Would not her maternal desire to raise two healthy babies keep her alive? Would she die and abandon them? The real cause of Padmé’s death is the plot: Mr. Lucas has to get rid of her because she never appears in IV - VI (except for Leia’s now-obsolete comment that she remembers her mother, which is impossible). Surely our great auteur could have come up with a more convincing way to dispose of her.
“Hidden, safe, the children must be kept,” says guess who. Yes, fine. How shall we do this? Let’s give the girl to Bail Organa, one of the most conspicuous figures in the senate. No one will notice her then. As for the boy: “to Tatooine and his family send him.” (That will fool the Emperor and Darth Vader--they’d never think to look there, would they?)
Mr. Lucas should have hired a writer--several writers. He no longer has the imagination and skill to write good scripts. He is interested mainly in spectacle (and marketing. Several times I almost wrote Lucre instead of Lucas.) He has been seduced by... oops, there I go again.
One last, finicky note: I wish that Obi-Wan Kenobi did not look like Tsar Nicholas II. It is disturbing for any historians who happen to watch the film.
It would be churlish, after this philippic, not to commend Mr. Lucas for Star Wars IV. A New Hope is a masterpiece. Mr. Lucas was inspired in his plotting and characters, and tireless in making the film in spite of all difficulties. He created a world we all love to see and heroes we love to root for. Bravo!

Perhaps Mr. Lucas started so very well that there was no way to go but down. Maybe, like Harper Lee in literature or Leoncavallo and Mascagni in music, he had only one great work in him. Maybe the crude state of Special Effects helped him: he could not use his glitzmeisters to cloud the screen with mere spectacle and he was thus forced to depend more on his talent and wits, which atrophied as it became easier to cover up poor plot and characters with bigger explosions.

How are the mighty fallen!

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