Tag Archives: Star Wars

May the Fraud Be With You

Now that the next Star Wars movie is coming into focus as Star Wars. Episode VII: The Fan Base Gets Monetized, here’s an appropriate excerpt from my new essay collection, Let the Devil Speak:

“As this book goes to press, the Church of Star Wars has grown to encompass old and new testaments comprising the original three films – Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi – and the three prequels: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. The original gospels are available in differing forms, or Special Editions, with contradictory details on crucial questions of doctrine: e.g., Did Han Solo or Greedo the bounty hunter take the first shot? Did Luke Skywalker give a girlie-man scream as he tumbled down that airshaft, or did he maintain samurai silence? And there is a separate galaxy’s worth of apocrypha in the form of video games, fan fiction, novelizations, an animated series (The Clone Wars), and scores of ‘expanded universe’ novels, many of them at least equal and in some cases superior to the six canonical works.

     “Fortunately, Bill Moyers had the sense to put away the incense and return to valuable journalism and punditry. But, to borrow a phrase from the Firesign Theatre, there’s a seeker born every minute, and after a gap of several years, with only the re-release of the six films in yet another format to stir the congregants, Moyers was succeeded by Camille Paglia, the Auntie Mame of academe, who mercifully eased up on the Campbell references – the better to trowel up her own brand of high-toned gabble.

     “Paglia, a self-styled provocateur who lurches after contrarian arguments the way a shyster chases ambulances, proclaimed Lucas ‘the greatest artist of our age’ in her 2012 book Glittering Images: A Journey through Art from Egypt to Star Wars. Having used the book’s introduction to deplore the distracting effect of video games on youth, Paglia celebrated the climactic light-saber duel at the end of Revenge of the Sith, itself little more than a protracted video game battle, with none of the storytelling value of the confrontation in The Empire Strikes Back. (Though Obi-Wan’s big line in the heat of battle – ‘Only a Sith lord speaks in absolutes!’ – showed Lucas’ ear for dialogue had lost none of its cauliflower bloom.) But Paglia was just getting warmed up. ‘No one has closed the gap between art and technology more successfully than George Lucas,’ she proclaimed, then went on to hail the ‘Incredible Cross Sections’ books (diagrams of the various spaceships and accessories cramming every frame of the series) in terms that would have had Joseph Campbell himself fleeing to the magic grove:

    The precise draftsmanship, mastery of perspective, and glorification of engineering in these superbly produced books have not been seen since modernist abstraction swept away the great tradition of architectural drawings of the neoclassic Beaux Arts school. In genre, the Cross-Sections books are anatomies, analogous to Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, with their medical dissections, botanical studies, and military designs for artillery, catapults, tanks, and then-impossible submarines and flying machines.          

      “The ‘Incredible Cross Sections’ books are indeed lovely productions that induce long periods of staring and musing, especially when they diagram the R.M.S. Titanic and the human body – i.e., real things – but if Camille Paglia can look at these toy-marketing tie-ins and see Leonardo’s notebooks, I’d love to have her free-associate her way through some IKEA assembly instructions.”

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Movie critic cage match!

Roger (Ebert) and John (Simon) and Gene (Siskel) and Ted (Koppel) talk about Return of the Jedi in this 1983 broadcast of Nightline. What I found most amusing about this clash of the titans (aside from the realization that Ted Koppel was getting his hair styled by Betty Crocker even back then) was the spectacle of two critics praising a movie for the wrong reasons while the third panned it for the wrong reasons. And as much as I appreciate Simon’s saber-toothed acerbity, I hooted when he suggested that Tender Mercies would have been a better movie to show your children.

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A Lucas epiphany

Dances With Mermaids was recently bitten by the Star Wars bug, and she’s seen all the movies now. Nothing I’ve seen has made me re-evaluate my opinion of the series: The Empire Strikes Back remains not just the best of the bunch, but the only one worth differentiating. I mean, who cares if Attack of the Clones is slightly worse than Return of the Jedi, or slighter better than The Phantom Menace? That’s why God invented fanboys — to engage in those kind of arguments.  

But I still have enough fanboy DNA in my personality to take note when Lance Mannion, hearing George Lucas interviewed ad infinitum on the bonus disc of Star Wars ephemera, hits on what may be the reason most of the flicks are so lame:

I don’t think the mild-manneredness or the modesty are phony.  But humilty is not incompatible with a large ego.  In fact, that’s why humility is a virtue.  You have practice it and the bigger your ego the more virtue there is in your humility.  Lucas knows he didn’t do it all on his own and he’s happy to give credit where he believes credit is due.

I just think that he gives people the wrong kind of credit.

I noticed this when he was telling the interviewer about how the great illustrator Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art helped him sell his, Lucas’s, vision of Star Wars to the suits at 20th Century Fox.  Lucas was grateful to McQuarrie, but he didn’t seem to realize that McQuarrie had done the actual work of creating the look of the Star Wars world.  He seemed to think of McQuarrie as the artistic equivalent of a stenographer and what McQuarrie produced as the equivalent of taking dictation.   It didn’t occur to him that along with influencing the studio execs’ images of what the movie would look like, McQuarrie was influencing Lucas’s own.

In other words Lucas appreciates everybody who works for him as extensions of himself.  He doesn’t really see them as artists in their own rights and especially doesn’t see that in many cases they are far better artists than he is.

So he doesn’t learn from them.

I don’t think he knows how much of the first two Star Wars movies he owes to not just the artists, model builders, costume designers, set designer, cinematographer, and special effects technicians but to Alec Guinness, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Frank Oz, and (yes, Trish Wilson) Peter Cushing.

I think Lucas’ inability to learn from the people he works with explains why as Lucas has asserted more and more control over every aspect of the movies. each movie since Empire Strikes Back has been sillier than the one before. Not being able to learn from his actors has especially hurt him.  In the new movies he has assembled a much more talented collection of actors:  Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Ian McDiarmid, Jimmy Smits.  I even think Hayden Christensen’s doing a good job.  And he’s wasted them.  Every one of them.  Worse, he’s made Natalie Portman look bad.

I have enough geek cells in my bloodstream to have a copy of the two-disc Empire DVD that includes the original version of the film, before Lucas started dicking around with the special effects and dubbing in new dialogue. I decided that if I ever watched the film again, it would be the version without the awful girl-man screech inflicted on Luke as he let himself fall down the Cloud City ventilation shaft. That’s the version Dances With Mermaids has seen, I’m happy to say.

I wonder how many Geeks Of A Certain Age have insisted on showing their kids the movies in the order of release, rather than the canonical order cooked up by Lucas? Wil there be two schools of thought, going forward, on which is the better way?         

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