Almost exactly six years ago, I wrote a column about the enduring appeal of “Star Wars” and then-impending release of “Episode I.” In the conclusion, I said,
I don’t know whether this movie will be everything I want it to be. I don’t know if it’s humanly possible for any movie to live up to the expectations for The Phantom Menace.
Yikes, was that prophetic. While it did have its moments, “Episode I” not only didn’t live up to expectations, it was never remotely as good as that first, wonderous preview trailer that ran in the fall of 1998.
While I’m not a ‘hata’ of either “Episode I” or the “Star Wars” prequels in general, I’m also quite aware of their flaws. You know the oft-stated complaints: weak dialogue, lack of credible humor, no characters as fun as Han Solo, bloated CGI action scenes, and the cinematic war crime known as Jar-Jar Binks ($1 to Jim Geraghty). I’m sure you can fill in plenty of your own pet peeves.
(Here’s one to start with: Haley Joel Osment was turned down for the part of Anakin Skywalker in favor of Jake Lloyd. Just think about that a little.)
But the newer movies have inherent problems, regardless of any of the above, most notably (a) the burden of carrying all the exposition leading up to the original films, and even worse, (b) the audience already knows how they’re going to end.
The first problem nearly killed “Episode I,” all by itself. Exposition has never been one of George Lucas’s strong points, and of necessity, the first new movie was loaded with it. I’d argue that the Senate scenes in both Episodes I and II were needed to set up and complete the overall plot, but I’d also have a hard time disputing those who’d say that requirement didn’t make the scenes any less boring and/or inexplicable in an action movie.
Which brings us to the second inherent problem, and this week’s “Episode III”–a movie in which 99% of the audience already knows the ending.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave since 1983, before you even think about watching this movie, you already know that in it, the Emperor wipes out the Jedi Knights while seizing power, Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader, and Skywalker’s two children, Luke and Leia, are hidden from him before they’re born. That’s it. That’s the story.
All we lack are the details… and how well those details are delivered will determine whether or not Episode III–and by extension, all of the “Star Wars” prequels–were worth the trouble.
Personally, it’s not an exaggeration to say that I’ve been wanting to see the climactic Obi-Wan/Anakin duel for most of my life. If they got that right, I’ll be willing to forgive a lot that’s come before. The tidbits of reviews I’ve read so far (I’m avoiding spoliers to a near-manic level, despite, er, knowing the ending) suggest that Lucas may have pulled it off this time.
I hope so. I’d hate for this to be another case of a movie that can’t live up to its expectations, or even its trailer.