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November 01, 2005

The Most Idiotic Star Wars Review Ever

It's here, on Slate. How bad is it? It's so bad that it reads like something from Salon. The writer has confused Lucas' inability to write or direct, and his absolute disinterest in humans on either side of the screen, with postmodern artistic intent. Bah. The only thing genuinely postmodern about the Star Wars series is Lucas' own lack of inclination to explain his generally unfathomable artistic choices, or, when forced to explain himself, his choice to do so in the most banal way possible (NB: Jar-Jar Binks: "You know! For kids!").

Lucas had often suggested, in that lackadaisical way of his, that the series would all make sense when it was done. Well, now it's done and it doesn't make a lick of sense; with the notable exception of Empire (the episode with which Lucas had the least involvement, in terms of writing and directing), it's largely crap. Crap isn't postmodern. It's just crap.

To sum up: Lucas taking 30 years to squat out a stenchy load on the heads of his fans: postmodern. The Star Wars series: not so much.

As for the writer of the piece, the bio at the end notes he teaches at the University of Georgia. Let's hope for his sake that he already has tenure. 

Posted by john at November 1, 2005 08:22 PM

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Comments

Rick | November 1, 2005 10:31 PM

Star Wars is the world's most expensive Power Rangers cartoon.

Dean | November 1, 2005 11:27 PM

Pretentious, self-indulgent twaddle.

"Most significantly, we start to notice that the films are an elaborate meditation on the dialectic between chance and order."

We didn't notice anything of the kind. We actually noticed that George Lucas wasn't very talented.

Good Lord. Every time I reread that line I explode with incredulous laughter.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | November 2, 2005 12:30 AM

"It's so bad that it reads like something from Salon."

Excuse me, I need a cigarette.

Ron | November 2, 2005 01:37 AM

God, I knew there was a reason I was grateful to be rejected for the Ph.D. program in cinema studies. It was in recognition that I'd dodged the "turning into that idiot" bullet.

Ted Lemon | November 2, 2005 01:53 AM

Andrea says, "Hats off for quoting The Hudsucker Proxy!"

(It's a little obsession of hers...)

Brian | November 2, 2005 08:00 AM

Does anyone else get the feeling that the author is pulling our leg here? Maybe I'm just not jaded enough, but this feels like parody. I thoroughly expected a "Gotcha!" in the last paragraph somewhere, along with laughing and noogies.

iain | November 2, 2005 08:14 AM

Bah. You people probably didn't recognize the genius of "The Star Wars Holiday Special," either.

Dancing Ewoks? Bea Arthur? Brilliant!

John Scalzi | November 2, 2005 08:45 AM

Brian, one may hope.

Iain: The Star Wars Holiday Special is a classic of its genre, the genre being, of course, "Things That Should Not Be."

Steve Brady | November 2, 2005 09:06 AM

I just assumed the whole thing was tongue-in-cheek.

I did like the Light/Dark Sides as modes of storytelling. There's no way that Lucas was doing this consciously, but it does provide a good way to sift the Good Lucas (the guy who comes up with all that cool stuff) from the Bad Lucas (everything else).

charlie | November 2, 2005 09:16 AM

when the last of the films came out (still haven't seen it) i realized that lucas really has not made many films - written or directed.

compare him with his buddy spielberg - now that's a guy that has made meaning.

what a contrast - while lucas is tweaking ad infinitum the techie parts of his films (with zero added value to an already zero product), spielberg is making us think, laugh, cry, scream, cringe, dream, argue, ...

Jon | November 2, 2005 09:25 AM

As a former English major (Dr. Wasley's department) at the University of Georgia, I am very very sad for my alma mater.

SAP | November 2, 2005 10:05 AM

You know, reviews like this only prove Harlan Ellison right: Luke Skywalker is a nerd and Darth Vader sucks runny eggs.

Rick Robinson | November 2, 2005 10:18 AM

This HAS to be a parody. The example that sums it up is his (accurate) description of the Force as simply the plot intruding itself visibly into the story, a direct riff from Nick Lowe's THE WELL-TEMPERED PLOT DEVICE.

John H | November 2, 2005 10:26 AM

The comment Dean pointed out - "Most significantly, we start to notice that the films are an elaborate meditation on the dialectic between chance and order." - was about the point I stopped reading. I did read the example he gave: the unlikely return of the droids to Tatooine where C3PO was created.

Rather than being some 'elaborate meditation' on Lucas' part I think it's more a sign of his abject lack of creativity. The contortions he put the whole saga through during this prequel ego-trip was mind-numbing. For all its visual splendor and promise, he managed to turn the second trilogy into a farce - a mockery of the original.

I will say that the final installment was better than the first two, but only because it had fewer problems. There were still those moments where I was laughing out loud at the absurdity of the situation, but overall it didn't suck. It was too much to ask Lucas to salvage this train wreck - the damage was already done.

Dan Coyle | November 2, 2005 10:41 AM

I think the most telling review about Episode III, for me, was one woman declaring on her blog "The Redemption of Star Wars III is MY redemption!" among other things, and less than 48 hours later, she was saying stuff like, "well, at least it was competent."

God, I hate Episode III. So much.

Stan | November 2, 2005 10:46 AM

I think it's important so see what this article is attempting.

1) Choose some topic that an editor will think has current relevance so that they will give it a second glance. "Kids love that Star Wars thing."

2)Convince Star Wars fans that there really is something deep about Star Wars. Then they feel good about themselves and like the article for making them feel good about themselves.

3)Make critics of Star Wars feel that they missed something. Make them go hmmm for a moment. If it works, then they think the writer is smart.

4) use terms the majority of readers do not fully understand to pull off #2 and #3.

The article is reasonably successful from that viewpoint. The writer got it published and some fans will feel validated. Beyond that, there isn't much content.

First of all, I think something broke in Lucas' brain around 1981. That was the time he adopted kids, the number one cause of adult mental malfunction. Plus, he started going through a difficult divorce. That was when cutesy elements started getting too much screen time and when Lucas started taking too much personal control.

Second of all, I think the Star Wars that kids fall in love with is not really the plot and dialogue. It's the sets and special effects. Yea Luke is a whiny punk but X-Wings and YT1300's are pretty damn neat. I'm not sure how much of that is Lucas and how much is luck in hooking up with talented designers.

PeterP | November 2, 2005 10:51 AM

Things like this make me glad that I am a rambling wreck, from Georgia Tech.

Peter

Dave Klecha | November 2, 2005 10:58 AM

One of the early Star Wars producers (Gary Kurtz maybe?) said recently in an interview that right about the time that Raiders of the Lost Ark went and did so well was the time that Lucas developed the Piers Anthony syndrome--"It doesn't take much to bring in the audiences, so I'll give them lots of that stuff, and f*** the rest."

And lo, you get Return of the Jedi. Cutesy Ewoks rising up just because their new friends needed help, rather than the original (so I've heard) conception of Wookies rising up against the "speciesist" Empire in a screen metaphor that could have carried a lot more weight. But Lucas realized people didn't want weight, they wanted cute. And explosions. And cute explosions, if possible.

John Scalzi | November 2, 2005 11:00 AM

I would have paid cash money for exploding ewoks.

Matt Hamand | November 2, 2005 11:54 AM

Scalzi:I would have paid cash money for exploding ewoks.

Not quite exploding, but . . .

http://www.theforce.net/swtc/holocaust.html

John Scalzi | November 2, 2005 11:57 AM

Yes, I actually mention the Endorian Holocaust in The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies.

Shane | November 2, 2005 12:05 PM

Smurfs are okay with lots of catsup, but Ewoks are better with horseradish.

Brian Greenberg | November 2, 2005 02:48 PM

John:


I would have paid cash money for exploding ewoks.

I hate to be the one to point it out, but you paid cash money for the ewoks you got.

All of you did. It's amazing how someone as stupid and talentless as you all believe George Lucas to be has made six blockbusters, and created a fictional universe that has endured for almost 30 years. It is my fervent wish to John that the Old Man's War series do as well as this cutsey, low-brow, expensive Power Rangers cartoon.

That being said, I still think this reviewer is full of crap. He's looking at the series as if it were written in one sitting, and then released as six films for artistic purposes. The reverse order of the trilogy wasn't art - it was greed, based on the success of the first three films (in sequence). Characters like Ewoks and Jar Jar were attempts to re-create kid-friendly characters like R2D2, not artistic choices that balanced the light side & the dark side.

What I do find fascinating about the series as a whole is how it all turned out to be the life story of Darth Vader, as opposed to the adventures of Luke Skywalker (which is how the first film portrayed it). Again, I'm sure this wasn't the intent from the beginning, but it is kind of cool how it played out that way.

Dean | November 2, 2005 03:00 PM

Brian said:
All of you did. It's amazing how someone as stupid and talentless as you all believe George Lucas to be has made six blockbusters

I didn't say he was stupid. Nor did anyone else in this thread. Lucas' directorial talent may be in question, but his intelligence is most certainly not.

John Scalzi | November 2, 2005 03:14 PM

Indeed, Dean. And I'll go further to say (as I did in the sci-fi book), that it is my opinion that as a filmmaker (a word emcompassing production and technical expertise), Lucas is almost certainly the single most significant individual in Hollywood in the last 30 years, and arguably the most significant individual in film ever. So many technical, production and distrubution methods and advances have occured because of him (directly and indirectly) that they're difficult to count. He just can't write or direct.

Anonymous | November 2, 2005 03:20 PM

It's Jar Jar's chance collision with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan in the jungles of Naboo that inflicts his continued presence on the screen for the rest of The Phantom Menace. But by Clones, his role is reduced to that of a deferential stooge of the nefarious Palpatine, and in Sith he gets only a single line of dialogue, suggesting a certain balancing out of Jar Jar's irritating disturbance in the Force.



Come on people, it's obviously a joke.

John Scalzi | November 2, 2005 03:23 PM

If it were from anyone but an academic, I might agree.

heather w | November 2, 2005 03:33 PM

not a review but a logical analysis/retcon that does not mention postmodernism. Or George Lucas, for that matter. What's not to like?

"A New Sith, or Revenge of the Hope: Reconsidering Star Wars IV in the light of I-III" by Keith Martin

http://www.morningstar.nildram.co.uk/A_New_Sith.html

Martin Wagner | November 2, 2005 03:46 PM

I've had my share of disappointment in the Star Wars saga, but I think the haters go a bit over the top too. My own take on the series is that while, qualitatively, they're all over the map (2 great, 1 good, 3 lousy), the intensity of the backlash is perhaps due to an unrealistically high assessment of the artistry of the whole series to begin with.

Star Wars and Empire were big breaths of fresh air in the late 70s, because they let people have fun at the movies again after a decade of dour and dark dramas. There was never any real narrative brilliance or originality going on—pulp SF from the Golden Age, archetypes instead of characters across the board, banal dialogue that even Harrison Ford made fun of ("George, you can write this shit, you just can't say it.")—but the early movies were just great fun to watch.

Then they made zillions of dollars. Lucas probably got it into his head that he shat petunias and his every thought descended from Olympus. And to keep those merchandising dollars flowing, we have to have more stuff to sell the kids. I know, instead of going to the Wookie planet, how about these small furry guys....

That people were so disappointed in the prequels may well have been due to overly high expectations, but it's what you got from a mediocre talent trying to achieve greatness. George's idea, of course, of achieving greatness is to use more toys and make everything visually pixel-perfect; he's clueless with actors, and Hayden Christianson's performance will forever go down in the annals of the timber industry. When you see a movie like Shattered Glass and realize that Hayden can do a decent acting job when a real director is guiding him, you begin to understand the worst of Lucas's limitations. When you notice that he even got a wooden performance out of Sam Jackson, it's pretty supefying.

At least in Episode III Lucas tried, sincerely, to bring emotional gravitas to the story. And at times (such as Padme's death), we got as close to a real moving moment as the series has ever had. Overall, I think the best assessment of the saga is that it was a simple space opera by a creator who overreached himself, and reached in the wrong directions. But at least he realized his vision. All filmmakers should be so lucky.

John Scalzi | November 2, 2005 03:59 PM

Martin Wagner:

"But at least he realized his vision. All filmmakers should be so lucky."

Yes, although with the admonition of "be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it." Lucas is very much like the extremely popular writer who decides he or she doesn't need to be edited any more -- and owns the publishing house in any event.

To be clear, I don't really hate the Star Wars films -- Empire is one of my favorite films, period, and even Phantom has its moments. I enjoy them all on one level or another. I just think five out of six of them really aren't all that good (that includes Star Wars, although it gets a pass for overwhelming historical significance).

What Lucas should have done is what he did for Empire and Jedi (and, for that matter, the Indiana Jones series), which is was to hand over screenplay and directing tasks to other, more competent folks. The raw material for the prequel trilogy could have yeilded a far emotionally resonant result. Damn it, I still want the Ridley Scott version of Phantom Menance.

Jaquandor | November 2, 2005 04:38 PM

Ridley Scott? Thanks, but no thanks. After sleeping through "Kingdom of Heaven", "Gladiator", and even the unimaginably overrated "Bladerunner" and "Alien", I'd just as soon that guy never ever touch Star Wars.

But then, I love the Prequels, so I'm one of them fanboy types.

Martin Wagner | November 2, 2005 05:42 PM

But then, I love the Prequels, so I'm one of them fanboy types.

And it explains why you would sleep through such fantastic cinema as Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator, Blade Runner, and Alien! (lol)

John H | November 2, 2005 05:46 PM

Martin Wagner: "And at times (such as Padme's death), we got as close to a real moving moment as the series has ever had."

Funny, that's one of those absurd moments in the movie that found me wanting to throw something at the screen. She died of a broken heart - oh, please...

And then when Vader finds out she's dead and has his tantrum I almost thought I was watching Dark Helmet from Spaceballs.

Martin Wagner | November 2, 2005 05:48 PM

John: ...which is was to hand over screenplay and directing tasks to other, more competent folks.

Agreed, although Richard Marquand (Jedi) wasn't what I'd call more competent (or just barely). Marquand was selected by Lucas, as I understand it, because Kershner had asserted his own vision too strongly on Empire (to excellent effect, which George seemed to miss) and Lucas wanted a director more inclined to follow instructions.

Lucas is very much like the extremely popular writer who decides he or she doesn't need to be edited any more -- and owns the publishing house in any event.

Yes, but on general principles, every writer should be as lucky as Stephen King.

Anonymous | November 2, 2005 05:51 PM

Funny, that's one of those absurd moments in the movie that found me wanting to throw something at the screen. She died of a broken heart - oh, please...

Hey, it's right out of classic mythology, dude. Anyway, it was Natalie Portman's performance that sold it, a rare case of one of Lucas's actors breaking his shackles.

And then when Vader finds out she's dead and has his tantrum I almost thought I was watching Dark Helmet from Spaceballs.

That bit was Cheesy Poofs!

Martin Wagner | November 2, 2005 05:52 PM

Me on the previous post. Don't know what it is with me forgetting to fill text fields.

Lawrence Person | November 2, 2005 08:00 PM

Since the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special was mentioned, here's my take on it.

And, for that matter, Revenge of the Sith.

Both with 85% less self-indulgent twaddle...

John E. | November 3, 2005 12:33 PM

I come down on the parody side with this one. The guy is kidding around, and pretty cleverly, despite being an academic. In fact, it's because he's an academic that he's able to render the pretensious textual-analysis-speak so convincingly.

As Daniel Radosh put it:

"It's official: Star Saga is no longer the funniest, most deadpan satire of the making of Star Wars."

John E. | November 3, 2005 12:53 PM

Sorry for misspelling pretentious there.

John Scalzi | November 3, 2005 01:40 PM

You know, until someone gets confirmation that it's supposed to be satire, I'm taking it as serious. I Googled the fellow after I read this to see if he had a history of being funny, and at least on teh internets he doesn't -- although he does have a history of papers with titles like "The "Gay Apprentice": Ashbery, Auden, and a Portrait of the Artist as a Young Critic" and descriptions of his work like "Wasley explores Hughes's dramatic monologue 'Mother to Son,' positioning it within the context of African-American culture and traditions and linking the character of the mother with the voice of African-American history."

No, I'm afraid that satire is not in the cards this time around. Although -- to be clear -- I'd love to be proved wrong.

Pat | November 3, 2005 05:58 PM

And here's the funniest Star Wars review...

http://www.thebestpageintheuniverse.net/c.cgi?u=episode3

darth | November 3, 2005 06:59 PM

blogger trevordodge has found lucas' secret-lots and lots of Cliffs Notes :lol:

http://trevordodge.wordpress.com/2005/11/03/george-lucas-cheater/

i'm still leaning towards artful satire in that Slate article. and by leaning towards i mean it just can't be serious. can't be.

John E. | November 3, 2005 08:05 PM

Boy, this is an interesting question. If it's serious, then the guy is indeed an absolute idiot. But doesn't he have to be kidding when he says that Lucas himself doesn't even realize what he's achieved? "As Obi-Wan would tell him, the Master's nostalgia for his artsy youth is misplaced. That Force has been with him, always." That's serious? Pshaw.

myself | November 4, 2005 05:03 AM

You people need to find something to do. Seriously, you are nerds.

John Scalzi | November 4, 2005 06:32 AM

It's better than being a jackass.

Bob | November 8, 2005 05:41 PM

Yes, but on general principles, every writer should be as lucky as Stephen King.

No, most writers suck. Pick up any random book at Barnes and Noble and flip through the pages. There's nothing of any substance there in most cases.

As for Kershner, Lucas and co. invited him back for ROTJ, but he declined (and that's on the DVD's).

Jeeves | December 15, 2005 11:29 AM

I've got news for you people. While you sit in your comfortable chairs, smugly ridiculing Lucas' aspirations, talents and achievements, he's the one that has slaved away - albeit surrounded by the right people over the years (as any filmmaker, since film is a collaborative medium, must be) - and literally altered the face of popular culture and made a genuine impact on this little blue planet. I'm pretty confident that you've all lined his pockets and devoured his work considerably, too. After all, here you all are, talking about Lucas and his films. In my book, actions speak louder than words - and your actions are speaking very loudly indeed. But all that aside...

I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss what is now a full-bodied cinematic epic. Considering the mass market bent of Star Wars from Day One, I'm surprised Lucas kept anywhere near as much objecivity as he did through six films spanning almost thirty years. Some are undoubtedly better than others, some cut a cleaner path through their narratives and some are just more damn entertaining - but all are exceptionally well-crafted endeavours. Moreover, once the original trilogy was in place and had been inhaled, chewed up, digested and spat back out ad infinitum, I think Lucas saw the chance to broaden and unify his story. Yes, rightly or wrongly, Lucas sees the films as one continuous story. There are problems with that approach, of course, but what else was Lucas supposed to do? Everyone who fell in love with the originals was at least curious to learn what Episodes I-III might show - so Lucas took that opportunity, not to merely craft three identical pictures, but to heighten the themes, motifs and tropes of his existing tale: the prequels wash into the originals and the originals wash into the prequels. In fact, let's use a slightly different metaphor. It is probably apt to think of Star Wars like a piece of fabric: it was complete before - but now it's got twice as many stiches and strands reinforcing the whole. Did Lucas get carried away in spots? Sure. In his more reflective moments, Lucas is the first to admit that there are "good" parts and there are "bad" parts. But what are you gonna do? Throw the baby out with the bathwater?

If anyone thinks that Lucas' skills were once impressive and have atrophied or have always been reed-thin at best, then I can only disagree. Lucas is an astute filmmaker who deliberately set out to impart a disparate tone and style onto the prequels (that of 30's melodramas, more than anything else) to evoke the different halves of his setting: one is the "more civilised" age of people and institutions, bound by stoicism, in rapid decay; the other is the rougher age of ragtag outlaws and rebels doing anything and everything to survive. The prequel trilogy is deliberately more aloof and abstract in some respects because the people and their world is such; the original trilogy is warmer and more romantic because the people have genuine kinships fuelled by the fire of oppression they're perilously trying to douse. This is most evident in the portrayals of Obi Wan in the opening "episodes" of each trilogy: in The Phantom Menace, Obi Wan has a latent wit but is cold and unsympathetic, yet in A New Hope, Obi Wan is friendly and inviting; in fact, we see Obi Wan softening - very intentionally by Lucas - over the course of the first three films. Yoda himself was strict in Episode V yet likeable, but when we see him in Episode I, he's like a freftul soothsayer pre-occupied with "the ides of March". All done for a point. That the original trilogy is superficially more accessible is, I think, certainly true - but Lucas wanted to show a more shaded, more fallible universe when he embarked on the opening three chapters. Despite some misfires (e.g. I don't hate Jar Jar - but the character was overused in Episode I, I feel), I think Lucas admirably achieved his aims.

And those who disparage Lucas' artistic command should consider all the potent structural elements and metaphors he's woven into the prequels. They're remarkably disciplined chapters. Episode I firmly adheres to Joseph Campbell's "Departure" stage, Episode II equally to his "Initiation" stage and Episode III is a deliberate perversion of the "Return" stage (the hero is meant to "return" with a boon for his tribe/the world - but Anakin becomes the villain and plunges the galaxy into darkness). The mirrored closing shots of Episodes I, II and III to Episodes IV, V and VI emphasising celebration, uncertainity and hopefulness respectfully, also help - along with the other myriad parallels of plot, dialogue and shot composition - to reinforce the cyclical nature of human history. What began as an action adventure epic is now a political, metaphysical action adventure epic. The prequels, in and of themselves, are also remarkably tiered. Consider the depiction of the galaxy's capital planet, Coruscant. In Episode I, the main characters spend much of the movie trying to reach it (the implication being that everything will be fine when they get there), but once they finally arrive, all they meet with is disappointment; the galaxy is literally failing. The danger on Coruscant (it's the home base of the Sith) is also relatively obscured in the first film, and as a reflection of this, nothing dramatic happens to any of the characters while they're there. In Episode II, however, we begin right away at Coruscant: it's now shrouded in fog and looks immediately threatening, and lo and behold, in the opening sequence alone, Padme's ship suddenly explodes. Yet she hasn't quite given up on democracy yet; there's still some remaining civility she will try - albeit with complete futility - to tap into. Finally, Episode III. Everything has gone to hell in a hand basket: now there's an enormous battle in the upper reaches of Coruscant's atmosphere; the culmination of which is the crash landing of an enemy ship right into the heart of the planet!

The prequels serve as a remarkably literate study - within the confines of Star Wars' stylised framework - of the descent of goodness into evil. Look at Anakin in The Phantom Menace: he's just a bright, bouncy kid with no hint of anything dark or lustful. Fast forward to Episode II and we can see something has gone horribly wrong. Lucas is, of course, making another point: the Jedi aren't too virtuous to be training kids from birth and Qui Gon should never have taken him so young. Throughout the course of Episodes II and III, we're then shown a relatively complex portrayal of goodness being corrupted into evil. Revenge of the Sith is a particularly poignant and haunting picture in its depiction of Anakin: he's actually cognizant of the wrongs he's done or about to do, but not cognizant of where those same deeds will ultimately take him. The seeds of his redemption are actually sewn there - but in no way is Anakin worthy until he shows penance, as he does in Episode VI, and not just self-pity for what he's done, as he does in Episode III.

Well, I could just keep going. I think Lucas is more than deserving of his fame and wealth. Read here for more:

http://www.lardbiscuit.com/starwars.html

As for the article above? It's only one interpretation. Everyone must find their own.

John Scalzi | December 15, 2005 12:13 PM

Jeeves:

You're just about as full of Lucas-huffing bullshit as the person who wrote the original article I linked to.

As I've said many times here, and in my book on science fiction film, Lucas is indisputably the most influential filmmaker in the last 30 years and possibly ever. However, this fact does not mean he is not also a shite director and screenwriter.

As for you, do please try to go out and see more and better films, and avoid vomiting up your half-assed pretentious fanboy analysis/spew here in the future. Now, shoo.

Jeeves | December 15, 2005 11:18 PM

Thanks for taking the time to read and respond. You could have left the insults out. But whatever. It's your site. I'll leave you to your ignorance. Glad I never read your book. Glad I never will.

John Scalzi | December 16, 2005 05:04 AM

"You could have left the insults out."

(re-reads the original comment)

Hmmmm... no, not really.

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