Geek Week, Day Two

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.

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27 Responses to “Geek Week, Day Two”

  1. chaika Says:

    I’ve got some pretty high hopes for this one. As horrendous as most of Episode II was, it all started to come together in the last couple minutes. Seeing stormtroopers running around and star destroyers in the distance made it worth the pain.

  2. Eric Says:

    Everybody knowing the ending didn’t hurt Titanic’s box office.

  3. byrd Says:

    My biggest complaint about Episodes I and II is laziness. Lucas just isn’t trying anymore.

    In parts IV-VI, Jar Jar would have gotten his own language, instead he gets an annoying accent. The earlier movies opened with great battle scenes–absent in the prequels. The fun, interesting toys–ex., Imperial Walkers–gone. In fact, there’s nothing fun about I and II. Drab, dreary, “well, this is just a bunch of junk we have to go through to get the story to part IV.”

    Knowing that the Wookie battle is done in CGI leaves me little hope for Part III. Laziness will still be a problem.

    I think the worst part is that I know Part III is going to suck outright, but I’m going to shell out $10.50 to go see it anyway.

  4. Christopher Taylor Says:

    “Everybody knowing the ending didn’t hurt Titanic’s box office.”

    Yeah it did, I know a lot of people who didn’t see it for that very reason: a movie about a boat that sinks, whee.

    But I do wonder how many times Lucas will fool people: it only took me the first movie.

  5. Anachronda Says:

    it was never remotely as good as that first, wonderous preview trailer that ran in the fall of 1998.

    Sigh. Those were the days.
    At the time, I was working for a company doing video-mashing stuff on Macintoshes. We built our own G4 upgrades for the Beige and (later) Blue&White G3s we were using. Part of our QA regimen for a run of upgrade boards was looping that trailer overnight.

  6. Doug Says:

    >>Everybody knowing the ending >>didn’t hurt Titanic’s box >>office.

    Slightly off topic, but this reminds me of a college co-ed I knew at the time who asked me if the sinking of the Titantic “really happened.”

    Egads

  7. mmurray821 Says:

    Knowing how it ends is part of the fun. Seeing all the details for the first time leading up to what you KNOW will happen is also part of the funness. Kinda like Memento, when the movie played backwards. You knew the ending, just not how the characters got there.

    Of course, the wooden dialog, weak plot and lack of character development is the weakness of all the latest movies. I’m looking forward to the movie though. I just want to see all the Jedi DIE.

    Go Vadar!

  8. Will Allen Says:

    If ya’ can’t write dialogue, and Lucas certainly is in that category, it is kinda’ hard to make one movie about sentinent beings that holds interest very well, much less for two trilogies. Too bad Lucas wasn’t wise or secure enough to farm out the screenwriting, along with the directing (is there any major director who gets less from actors?), to people who could better execute Lucas’ vision than Lucas could himself.

  9. denise Says:

    “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.”

    This is true for a lot of movies — historical films and those based on novels in particular. That the audience knows the ending can be an obstacle, but it is neither insurmountable nor uncommon.

    Someone already mentioned Titanic. But there are many others (e.g., LOTR trilogy, Passion of the Christ) which manage to overcome the problem with good filmmaking.

  10. denise Says:

    “Too bad Lucas wasn’t wise or secure enough to farm out the screenwriting, along with the directing (is there any major director who gets less from actors?), to people who could better execute Lucas’ vision than Lucas could himself.”

    Good point. I saw Shattered Glass this weekend, starring Christian Haydensen. I was astonished to learn that the kid can act, and pretty well at that. I had thought the biggest problem with Ep II, as filmmaking, was the casting of Anakin, but now I really don’t think so.

  11. RobertJ Says:

    I could forgive Ep I not being as good as the others. If you’re going to have six movies, er, episodes, one of them is going to be worse than the others. Hell, I can even forgive Jar Jar Binks (ptooi). What I can’t forgive is bad dialog delivered in a whining monotone. I didn’t see Ep II in the theater and could only sit through 45 minutes of the DVD. The actors and director and writers should be ashamed. The prequels could have been like the descent in Dante’s Inferno, getting progressively darker. I’ll still see the last one, because, well, it’s the last one.

  12. MarketingGuru Says:

    The Bush-bashing is just another Lucasfilm marketing stunt.

    It did it’s job.

    Slap an anti-Bush message on a turd and the MSM will sell it. I bet it was added to the script last minute to help boost sales (and MSM reviews).

  13. Sandy P Says:

    I’m sorry, Darth and M&Ms is sacrilege.

    He was scary, very scary and now he’s just a parody.

  14. Sandy P Says:

    Via Marginal Revolution:

    Gray & Christmas, a Chicago outplacement firm, estimated that 51 percent of people attending opening day would be full-time workers, costing employers as much as $627 million in lost productivity.

    Here is the story. And will it also be a slow day in the economics blogosphere? — “Nobody contacted for this article wanted to discuss their planned absences.”

  15. Tom Says:

    Some critic commented on Shakespeare’s tragedies that part of their emotional punch comes from the fact that you know what’s going to happen, and you’re basically yelling “Don’t do it!” even when you know the character is going to do it: Is going to make that appalling choice that leads to much tragedy. We know things aren’t going to end well for Macbeth or King Lear, etc., yet somehow that doesn’t diminish the impact of it all. I actually think – am I the only one in the world? – that taking advantage of this fact has the possibility of making Ep III the best of the six. Lucas has said, “I know how to make a hard Star Wars movie,” and I think Empire proved that true.
    Whether he still has it is the question.
    I nothing else, we get to see Palpatine bust out a lightsaber.

  16. charles austin Says:

    The largely concurrent LOTR trilogy managed to overcome the known ending problem, come up with great CGI characters (especially Gollum), and maintain enormous interest from geeks and non-geeks. Face it, George Lucas’ writing talents haen’t ben up to snuff for quite some time now. Sure, they are better than mine, but what’s that really worth?

    The unabashed greed that has Darth Vader choking an M&M has perhaps been taking up too much of the great man’s time instead of focusing on a story and its exposition. To much time passed, not just between the second and first trilogies, but between the movies within the first trilogy. And as I wrote elsewhere, Mr. Lucas messed up by doing the first trilogy instead of the third.

  17. Who Can Really Say? Says:

    Damn the Force, Just Make It Good

    Just a few more words about the nearly released Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. There’s a general consensus (with which I agree) that the first three Star Wars movies (now known as Episodes 4, 5, and…

  18. holdfast Says:

    Hayden Christensen is always flat and whiny with an annoying nassally voice. It just happens that those characteristics worked really well when portraying Stephen Glasss, who may or may not be like that, but if he’s not then he ought to be.

  19. Joe R. the Unabrewer Says:

    I always thought the kid that played Pyro in X2 would have made a better Anakin.

  20. Joan Says:

    I remember when Ep I first aired I asked my husband, “Who is this Jake Lloyd kid? Can you imagine what a great movie this could’ve been with a kid who could actually act, like Haley Joel Osment?” It pains me even now to hear that HJO was swept aside for Jake. He’s probably a nice kid, but he really sucked in the role.

    As Hayden Christensen has done, so far. My affection for the franchise has been greatly stoked by the Clone Wars animated shorts on Cartoon Network (I was quite ticked when my daughter accidentally deleted it off the TiVO the other day), and from Matthew’s Darth Side blog.

    We’re going Thursday afternoon — my kids have finished all their homework early just so we don’t have to wait until Friday.

    It may suck, but we’ll all be there anyway.

  21. Brian Moore Says:

    I was 13 when “Star Wars” came out. Now I’m 41. If I didn’t think the new ones sucked, there’d be something wrong with me. And it would be one thing if, say, half the movies released between May and September were targeted to teen-agers. But every f**kin’ one?

    I liked the alternate title to Episode One supplied by Warren Bell at NRO’s The Corner: “How a Bill Becomes Law in Space.”

  22. tree hugging sister Says:

    …who asked me if the sinking of the Titantic “really happened.”

    I can almost top that. A horrified shriek arising from the back of the ticket line, “What do you mean, the boat SINKS???”

    Will needs to finish this 100 words or less story, concerning as it does, the impending desecration of a Han Solo action figure.

    And from a Slate Review: In the end, there’s a breadth, a fullness to the Star Wars saga. It’s so much more than the sum of its clunks.
    Schmaybe there’s hope for it, huh? Be positive. Look what all us LOTR types got for waiting so long.

  23. Baddablogger Says:

    Uh, oh… just saw it last night. The first word in the scroll clunks right in your lap:

    “War!”

    Hmmm, for what good is it? Absolutely nothing… again, say it!

    Some of it is actually enjoyable… yet several elements just don’t feel like Star Wars at all. The last half feels entirely obligatory, no passion, no flair, but fairly quickly paced.

  24. Coyote Blog Says:

    Store Wars

    The Organic Foods Trade Association has this terrific spoof on Star Wars, aimed at warning consumers about the

  25. A Small Victory Says:

    Carnival of the Force!

    Aside from my own geek blogging, there are a TON of bloggers out there joining me in having a raging Star Wars hard on this week. To put it bluntly. I’m going to try to track down all the posts…

  26. KeithK Says:

    I have another big issue with Eps I and II – too much reuse from previous movies. Why the heck do we have to go back to Tatooine? Why not invent a whole new world or environment where they find Anakin? This is a sci-fi movie set in a vast galaxy – why does Anakin’s mother have to get killed by sand people? Show some imagaination here!

  27. David Says:

    After the prequel yawners and comments by a few adults (http://thirdworldcounty.blogspot.com/2005/05/venting-spleen.html for link to a collection) I’ll sit this one out, just wait for the household hardcore fan to play the inevitable DVD over and over when it comes out and sit down with a gag firmly tied to avoid thrown objects resulting from my likely comments.

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