That Star Wars thang

So my flist is a-buzz with the Sith this morning, whether it is with praises or rants or expectations. I, too, plan on plunking down the $9.50 I am normally loathed to plunk to see this on the big screen. Star Wars was made for the big screen.

To prep, I’ve been rewatching the first two prequel films, but it didn’t help much. So much of the plot of both those movies is politics, and my brain just naturally tunes out politics. Of course, it might help if I wasn’t answering emails and reading my flist while I’m watching the movies. So I think I’m going to buy the tie-in novels for cheap and see if they don’t clear up what the heck is going on in those two movies.

Prep will also involve seeing the three “sequel” films. I, of course, have them on old, scratchy, home-made video tape. George, keep your paws off your creations. They’re in the can already. Deal with it.

ETA: Actual thinky thoughts on prequel quality in comments.

38 thoughts on “That Star Wars thang

  1. My suggestion is to read The Shroud of the Dark Side, which is a long, but really brilliant essay on the prequels. It focuses on the symbolism and the mythological references, etc. , but it also explains all of the political manipulations very clearly. I saw the first two films a number of times without grasping everything, but this guy, who pretty much has an encylclopedic knowledge of Star Wars annotates the whole darn thing, explains the whole plot to assassinate Padme, and how that related to Darth Sidious/Palpatine’s plans, etc. So it’s really worth reading. The novels really didn’t help clear up my confusion much. But after reading this essay, when I went back to the prequel films, I liked them even more, because I noticed so many details and things that went over my head before. I think I found it on ‘s rec last year.

  2. Thanks. I sit and watch the movies and realize I’m not taking anything in, just sort of staring at the screen and going, “Oh, shiny!” during the high-action scenes.
    Which is *so* unlike me.

  3. Reading through all his, “look at all these subtle references to the mythology and sequel movies only a geek would notice”, I think an argument can still be made in criticism of the prequel movies that they would have been much better (and better received) if Lucas had spent less time focusing on more peripheral cartoonish characters like Jar-Jar and having his characters crack lame jokes and spent more time make the references to the mythology and the sequel movies clearer.
    For example, when Senator Organa walks in, have someone say, “Ah, Senator Organa, things are going well/poorly/etc on Alderaan these days, aren’t they?” Instead of just having the Senator appear and be absolutely nameless. That way half-geeks like us could get a “thrill” from those moments as well.
    You shouldn’t have to go to sites like this guy to appreciate even a fraction of the stuff he points out. A lot of it isn’t just geek fun; it’s essential to understanding the movies and if Lucas doesn’t take the time to do the necessary exposition and make it clear because he wants to spend half an hour on Ooh!Muppet!Pod!Race, well….

  4. So much of the plot of both those movies is politics, and my brain just naturally tunes out politics.
    And while my brain generally takes note of politics, the politics of these movies wasn’t done in a way that really engaged me either.

  5. Well, it needed more and clearer exposition, methinks. I shouldn’t have to go to an internet geek site to understand the basics of what’s going on in the movie.
    (said the woman who runs her own internet geek site)

  6. Yes, but your site is a supplement, and useful comment and reference to a set of shows that mostly hold up on their own. This movie needs and handbook to explain why a viewer is supposed to care.

  7. I think my biggest problem with this guy and his arguments (I’ve gone back to his Phantom Menace site as well) is that he assumes you’re either a “casual viewer” of the movies or a “Star Wars loving geek with encyclopedic knowledge”. So casual viewers won’t get all the references and come away puzzled, and those who actually love the movies will understand all its subtleties and see them for the wonderful creations they are.
    This is just a false dichotomy. I love the movies and the universe they created, I’ve seen the original movies and the new movies many times and I *still* didn’t see all the things he sees. I can love it and still come away from the new movies going, “What the heck happened? I don’t get it.”
    I love that he points out all the subtle things, because he’s right, they are there, and they help me see the movie as he sees it, but as a “half-geek fan”, I should have to rely on the exposition of a “full-geek fan” to see those things. Lucas should have made them more obvious.
    So there. Pfft.

  8. The second set of movies wasn’t inferior because the audience didn’t understand the politics, or failed to catch Lucas’ subtleties, or whatever–it’s because they were inferior. They didn’t have interesting characters, the major space battles weren’t any different from any of the other major space battles in the original trilogy, and Lucas’ ear for dialogue seems to have gotten worse over the years (if that’s possible). The love story between Anakin and Padme, the central relationship in the prequel trilogy, has been laughed off the screen in moviehouses from here to Timbuktu.
    My ratings so far:
    1. Empire Strikes Back
    2. Star Wars: A New Hope
    3. Return of the Jedi (tie)
    3. Attack of the Clones (tie)
    5. The Phantom Menace (waaaaaaaay below the others)
    I actually like the political maneuverings of the prequels and the fact that–if you look carefully enough–Palpatine wins at the end of every movie. I appreciate Lucas’ subtlety in this area. But almost everything else dealing with human relations in these movies is pure torture.
    Let’s see how the last one goes…

  9. Oh, yeah, I love some of the arguments this guy who’s site I’m reading makes, “Of course the dialogue is bad, the dialogue was *always* bad.”
    No, dude, the dialogue was *worse* in the prequels, cheesier in the prequels, by an order of magnitude.
    I’ll give the guy this point–the cheesiness of the prequel’s dialogue and over-use of the cute muppet factor was foreshadowed in “Return of the Jedi” by the fact that it was *noticably* cheesier than the first two movies. But the prequels just took that cheesiness and ran with it.
    Velveeta indeed.

  10. The prequels really needed a Harrison Ford to tell Lucas, “God, George, who TALKS like this?!”, and improvise dialogue people would want to hear (“I love you.” “I know.”)

  11. Better actors who know their improv might have helped, too.
    This guy wants to say the wooden acting was actually a cultural characteristic of the late-era Republic (“they’re all very serious, cool, detached”).
    Whatever, dude.
    Oh, and Anikan’s bad acting is because he’s a child actor. Like other child actors haven’t acted circles around that kid.

  12. I have yet to watch the second episode of the prequel, although I have them on DVD. I hated JarJar, he annoyed me so much I wanted to throw things at the screen. I think Lucas spent way too much time on his techno geekiness at the expense of any real emotional connection to the characters. He seems more in love with the computer generated characters than the real thing. I will see The Revenge of the Sith, so I can close out the story. I hope it redeems it somehow.
    I love, love the first trilogy, and the whole Star Wars Universe. I have all the Star Wars books relating to that era, and I’ve enjoyed following the ongoing story of Luke, Han and Leia through them. Maybe I’ll find more to love when I see this movie. I hope so.

  13. I still think Lucas was *too* subtle with the political maneuverings. Those of us who love the Star Wars universe but don’t care too much for politics are going to tune out really important bits of dialogue, and not understand a lot of the dialogue we *do* hear. I still don’t get what the blockade at the beginning of Episode one was blocking. Were they preventing the Naboo from trading with outsiders? Who knows? No one ever bothers to do the CNN analysis of the political situation *in the movie*, which a lot of very intelligent fans like me need to get three-quarters of what’s going on. They just have this vague dialogue that passes by in two seconds and expect you to get it.

  14. There’s an interview with George Lucas in Entertainment Weekly where he’s asked why so many people dislike the first two prequels. Instead of the usual, “Oh, they just don’t see the big picture yet,” he admitted (paraphrasing here), “I didn’t tell much of the story in the first two, meaning there’s a lot of filler. It’s fun distractions, but not really that important to the overall story. And I like the political stuff, but I don’t think there’s much dramatic tension there.”
    In your words:
    I think Lucas spent way too much time on his techno geekiness at the expense of any real emotional connection to the characters.
    That’s it exactly. The first two prequels have an insane amount of spaceship landings and people walking in vast hallways and huge exterior shots. They don’t add anything to the story, so why are they there? Because ILM now has the ability to do them and George needed to kill time.
    Take something like the Pod Race: Does it show that Anakin is a great pilot and a bit fearless/reckless? Yes. Does it need to go on for twenty minutes? No, that’s well past the point of FX masturbation. Any insight we’re supposed to get into Anakin is just an excuse to show how realistically ILM can render particle effects.
    The prequels, The Phanton Menace in particular, feels like a series of meetings and people parking their cars. A New Hope has a similar narrative structure, but in that film people meet and do things, not sit around and talk about Trade Federations and voting procedures.
    Now, I like the film’s politics. And I quite like the prequels overall. But it’s not because they are fun, adventurous, or even feel like Star Wars. They are entirely different beasts, and I am fascinated by the responses they provoke.
    And Masq: Revenge of the Sith is surprisingly self-contained. You don’t need to know any of the minute political details from the first two to get the full scope of what’s happening here. That’s both praise to Episode III‘s dramatically improved pacing and structure, but also a criticism of the stories in the first two. Episode III focuses rather exclusively on the emotional aspects of the character’s fall, with very little background noise.
    Oh, and I like Jar Jar on paper and don’t think he’s peripheral at all. But his voice is impossible to understand. And why can’t aliens speak Alienese? I hate they Lucas just gave the characters stereotypical accents. Wookies are very expressive with nothing but “RRRRraaaars!”

  15. I’ve read most of this guy’s two websites on Episodes I and II, and now I am getting into geek mode. Which means, even if Episode III is relatively self-contained, I still want to UNDERSTAND what happened in Episodes I and II before I see III. I think my major criticism of Lucas is that you CAN be a big fan of the Star Wars world and movies and NOT understand a flipping thing that’s going on in the first two movies. I want to understand Palpatine as a character, but if I don’t follow the steps in his political machinations, I won’t get who he is and why he succeeds in bringing about the Empire in the third movie. If I don’t get this mythological back-story about the Sith and how they operate because it’s too subtely presented in the movies, I won’t get the importance of the Palpatine-Anakin symbosis and how it brings about the destruction of the Jedi.
    So I’m going to spend my weekend reading the Cliff Notes and the various commentaries to the text and grumble about “how key plot points are subtext.”
    An intelligent true fan like myself shouldn’t have to do this simply to get any enjoyment out of the movies.

  16. Oh, yeah, and LOVE your icon. This is one reason I cling to my awful video tapes with the grainy images and the commercials. Because shiny new DVDs have those…”enhancements” to the story.

  17. I want to see this. Tried to win tickets to last night. Was going to try to go this afternoon but got drunk instead. Maybe I’ll go in a few weeks in Madison at the huge 3 story screen…

  18. The subtext is very rapidly becoming text
    An intelligent true fan like myself shouldn’t have to do this simply to get any enjoyment out of the movies.
    Many intelligent true fans like yourself didn’t have to do this to get any enjoyment out of the movies.
    That guy’s website has great material, but has a faint odor of elitist fanboy nonsense. Like you said, it’s a false dichotomy that casual fans are clueless, and hardcore Star Wars observers love and notice everything.
    I’m only a casual fan of the universe. My favorite chapter is the Clone Wars series of cartoons produced as filler. That said, on repeat viewings, I did understand and make the connections of what was happening in the prequels. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have been better written and presented.
    The point I was making is that Episode III almost renders the first two…not pointless, but not crucial building-blocks, either. The two things you mentioned, Palpatine’s personality and the history of the Sith? They don’t get any real screen-time here. All we see about Palpatine is that he is very clever in manipulating the universe into giving him power. He’s not a character we come to *know*, but the philosophies he sprouts are important in how we come to understand Anakin. He doesn’t open up and show us his honest side. He only serves as an ideological guide for Anakin to contrast with the Jedi Council. The whys he does things are never addressed; we’re left reacting just to the how he got there.
    The Sith story is mentioned once with the reciting of a specific legend, but again, it’s used to directly manipulate Anakin at a crucial point. We don’t find out anything about the structure, history, or relationships of the Sith order; instead, it’s about getting Anakin to question something. If you had never heard of Darth Maul, the Sith vs. Jedis, or their extinction beforehand, the scene would still work.
    Really, Episode III explains the *important* stuff from the prequels before driving the story forward. It does this with such ease and skill that it makes me wonder why Lucas downplayed so much of it in the first two. Did he always mean to have a Backstory 101 in the film, or was it added because so many didn’t like/understand the way he presented it the first time? It doesn’t come off like, “Oh, man, that’s what he meant! Everything’s falling into place!” It feels like a lecture before the story can go on.

  19. It’s my habit now to just wait a few weeks. Standing in long lines to find out tickets are sold out is a drag. Standing in long lines being jostled by 10-year olds is a drag. Trying to find seats in a crowded theater is a drag. Having the forethought to buy tickets earlier on the internet is beyond my capacity.
    So I wait, I try hard to avoid my flists’ spoilery reviews.

  20. i think most of my flist is of the same mind as you are. As am I. If I had won them I would have went. Spending the cash to be annoyed before the movie even starts…

  21. Re: The subtext is very rapidly becoming text
    Really, Episode III explains the *important* stuff from the prequels before driving the story forward. It does this with such ease and skill that it makes me wonder why Lucas downplayed so much of it in the first two.
    Sounds like he had to do it in resposne to the very criticism I’m making; sure not all intelligent fans “didn’t understand it” like I failed to understand it, but I think it should be the case that “all intelligent people who are also fans” should not walk away from the movie going “I don’t get what happened”.
    I hope that made sense.

  22. A LOT of my flist has already seen it somehow. And I don’t just mean they’ve seen it tonight and are a few hours ahead of me, I mean they saw it before today. Urgh.

  23. Actually, I completely agree with everything you said. The original trilogy can stand on its own, both for the super freaky fans who know every single name of every single alien that crosses the screen, and the casual ones who just love the story. I’m somewhere in the middle myself. The new trilogy, though requires external research to not only catch all the references but to figure out the actual mechanics of the story, and that is not right. You mentioned Bail Organa up there, and that’s a great example. I may be wrong, but I don’t think the name “Organa” even appears in the OT. You would need to have read the novels to know that that is Leia’s last name, so a casual viewer couldn’t possibly connect that without that knowledge. Another word never mentioned in the OT: Sith. There are tons of things you need to know before you see the prequels to fully enjoy them, and I agree that that is stupid. So I’m somewhere in between being fascinated by this guy’s article, which really is extremely well-written and passionate, and annoyed that that stuff wasn’t in the series to begin with.

  24. That’s me. His article was extremely helpful and interesting, but he kept assuming fan=complete geek who knows all the references, and if you’re not a fan you’re a casual viewer who wouldn’t benefit from any extra exposition in the prequel movies because you wouldn’t understand it anyway.
    I’m like, WTF? So I coined the “half geek” thing. Those of us who knew the OT pretty darned well and came away from the prequel movies going “WTF?” who needed *more* in the prequel movies, and shouldn’t have to watch these movies with a copy of the Cliff Notes and Geek Annotations at our sides to in order to simply follow the plot.

  25. On the bright side, Episode III keeps the “requires extra knowledge to understand” to a minimum. I went with Justin, who likes the movies but has probably only seen each two or three times at the most, and he didn’t ask a single question, whereas after (and during!) the first two, he had tons of questions, most of which I couldn’t answer!

  26. Take something like the Pod Race: Does it show that Anakin is a great pilot and a bit fearless/reckless? Yes. Does it need to go on for twenty minutes? No, that’s well past the point of FX masturbation. Any insight we’re supposed to get into Anakin is just an excuse to show how realistically ILM can render particle effects.
    The reason why the Pod Race was there and has such a long screen-time is because it made a good spin-off computer game. That’s the only explanation needed.

  27. Vincent Spotting
    You may be interested in today’s issue of Parade, a small weekly magazine found in many Sunday newspapers. In the Q&A section, there’s a question about Vincent Kartheiser, basically his play and upcoming film. It’s not online yet, but you can see the reference here.

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