So, I settle down after a good night of food and friends into writing this week’s column when upon the tv appears Indiana Jones And The Crystal Skull which means I have great background noise for the column I have been threatening to write for years. It was nearly a piece for TATANS. At one point this was going to be an essay on Bite TV’s website but somehow it seems fitting that it ends up here with Geek Hard.
Before we get to far, please note, I haven’t seen The People vs George Lucas but as I understand it, I’m going to be mining similar territory. I’m also going to come clean about some things that I’m pretty sure a lot of you won’t admit to in public, but were in the exact same boat I was. just read the entire article before you start lobbing the hate.
For years, we’ve heard from the fans of Star Wars, that George Lucas was a jerk for ruining Star Wars with the prequels. This has gotten to the point where George openly tosses back at the internet fans for calling him a jerk. Yes the prequels have issues with them but I’m going to tell you something you might not want to hear.
This may sting a bit.
Are you ready?
It’s not all George Lucas’s fault.
Some of it is yours.
Because George Lucas and more appropriately, Star Wars, is the girl we can’t say no to.
Let me explain. It may take a little bit (I tend to ramble) but I’ll get back to the metaphor in a minute.
There are a ton of good scripts turned into bad movies out there but there are very few good movies that come out of bad scripts. Story is the basic building block for any film but almost as equally important is the screenplay. Without a decent screenplay, a movie has a hard road to travel to be any good.
George Lucas is not a good screen writer and Star Wars: A New Hope is a bit of a fluke and unfortunately, there was a ton of people who didn’t put it together and thought that Episode 1 was going to be the second coming of Christ.
Which I understand. Lord knows I was dying to see the new film. My friends, Chris, Kym and I went and saw Enemy of the State specifically to see the trailer for the prequel. But if you take a look at the pure facts of it, every single Star Wars fan should have been scared right from the get go.
What a lot of fans don’t realize about the original trilogy is that George Lucas didn’t write the damn thing.
In terms of writing credits, Lucas only wrote the story AND screenplay to A New Hope, which is arguably the weakest of the three original films. It also happens to be the only film of the original three that Lucas directed. Empire was written by Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett based on a story by George Lucas. Return of The Jedi was written by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas based on a story by George Lucas. And for those of you who believe the myth that Lucas wrote this huge screenplay that got separated into three films, you’re wrong. He had ideas, sure. Lucas also had names a few plot points but to call these fully finished anything let alone 3 finished screenplays is not only wrong, it’s just plain naive.
While Kasdan has had one or two turkeys in his time, on a whole, he is an excellent screenwriter who is also responsible for The Big Chill, Silverado, Grand Canyon and Raiders of the Lost Ark (another film he wrote based on Lucas’s story). Lucas on the other hand (not including the prequels) has virtually no sole screenwriting credits save for the original film, THX-1138 and American Graffiti. American Graffiti is a decent film but THX-1138 is a mess. And that’s putting it nicely.
So why did we, the fans, expect Episode 1 to be a miracle of film making when there was no real solid proof that Lucas could make the excellent film we wanted? Is A New Hope better then Episode 1? Yes. Is it the best movie of the original trilogy? Not by a long shot. Yes, Episode 2 had a co-screen writer but he was Jonathan Hales who was best known for being a tv writer with few film credits… one of which is The Scorpion King. Episode 3 is all George Lucas.
This should in no way take away from Lucas’s talents. He is amazing with story ideas, just not so much on the screenplays. And there’s nothing wrong with that, especially considering the amount of work he put into all of the companies that built Star Wars (ILM, Skywalker Sound, etc). All of this work also helped revolutionize film making. I have no doubt in my mind that the conversion process Lucas is using to turn all of the Star Wars films into 3d will probably become the standard for 3d conversion. He is incredibly talented and gifted and had he had some practice before the prequels, he may have turned into a decent screenwriter as well.
So what was the major problem with the prequels then? Beyond the screenplay aspect? I can break it down in three simple areas.
Casting. Pacing. Visual Effects.
Casting is not something you can entirely fault George Lucas or his casting team. The tricky part about doing a trilogy of films where the characters continue from film to film is getting a cast that works in not only the parts they play but with the other actors. A lot of fans point to Hayden Christensen as being a terrible choice for Anakin in Episode 2 & 3 and it’s hard to not agree at first blush. But if you take a good look at it, the kid isn’t that horrible. The scenes with Anakin and Obi Wan are pretty solid especially at the beginning of Episode 3. I love their back and forth. But where it falls apart is two fold. Once again, Hayden is a decent actor. Not the greatest actor of our generation by any stretch but to call a spade a spade, many fans don’t call out Mark Hamill and I would honestly say that for their films, side by side, they were at the same skill level. The difference goes to the writing. Hamill had better material to work with. Let’s be honest here, had you given that shitty love speech in Episode 2 to Laurence Olivier, it still would have been crap dialogue. Where Hayden’s performance falls apart is the fact that he has no chemistry with Natalie Portman.
I’ve seen hardcore Lesbians kiss a straight guy with more believability then their film relationship. For whatever reason, they are just not believable as a couple and thus the plot of the film feels even more flimsy then it already was. But this would have not as easy to avoid as we’d like to think. Portman was already signed for three films. I’m sure there is a film test out there somewhere that shows Portman and Christensen showing some signs of chemistry and he was signed and then when they finally got to the important scenes it became obvious that there was nothing there. What do you do at that point? The only thing Lucas could have done is deleted Hayden and replaced him with a CGI character and that would have been worse. Jar Jar Binks proved that.
The second major issue is pacing, which all falls on Lucas. This is entirely on good old George and his editing team. I’ve done all six films in a row on one day and the one difference I learned about the Star Wars films more then anything else is that the prequels are really slowly paced. If you look at the running times of each of the six films, there is not a huge difference, the longest installment of the prequels is Episode 2 at 142 minutes while in the original films it’s Return of the Jedi at 136 minutes. But the prequels just feel slower. They’re more bogged down by script and exposition. The edits don’t seem as quick, even the action sequences seem slower. We were all trained on the original films and how quick they ran. Which brings us to the effects.
Here comes a confession. When I first saw Episode 1, I was blown away by it. I came home and I ranted and raved about the CGI and how awesome it was. At how there was a fully realized CGI character in it which had fluid movement. I crowed to my father about the pod race!
Notice how my rants where directed at the visual look of the film?
Upon my second viewing of Phantom Menace, the story cracks began to show for me.
And I wasn’t the only one. Go back and look at many reviews of the film the week Episode 1 came out and you will find favorable ones… for the effects and cgi. A lot of them tended to avoid the plot and story or give it a pass (much like I did) because it was the first of three films and more character and story work would be done later. Episode 2 which having the worst dialogue of the three films, had amazing effects for the time. Episode 3’s beginning space battle is fantastic. But under the shiny hood which does distract us, the engine wasn’t that great.
Think about it for a second. If Episode 1 then was really as bad as we think it is now, why did any of us bother going to see Episode 2? A lot of fans will claim they didn’t but they’re lying (yes, I know you’ve never seen Episode 2 or 3 shut up). Box office and dvd sales are proof of that, same goes for Episode 3.
To tie this all together, The Star Wars special editions come out and fans gripe to no end about the changes made. Episode 1: The Phantom Menace hits theaters and we all go see a film by a film maker who hasn’t written a screenplay in years, let alone by himself which he also directs. It turns out to be not that great. Why did we, as fans, continue to support the guy with two more films that are supposedly pieces of shit?
Because George Lucas is like that girl we can’t say no to.
For the first while she treats us pretty good and the third time you hang out, you even get to make out a little bit but then it’s over and you don’t see each other for a while. She doesn’t call, doesn’t write, you don’t hear from her again but you have good memories of her. But then she shows up again and while we know she’s cool, something’s different. And then she calls you to come over. You go over and she’s wearing this really cute outfit that shows off all her visual appeal… and then you move her fridge. You go home and swear to yourself “She’s hot but I ain’t moving her fridge again.” . A while later you get another call. She really wants you to come over. So, like a chump, you show up, expecting a lot more and boy howdy, she’s in an even skimpier outfit that shows off a lot more of her. She invites you in. You walk in her house and immediately are handed a toilet brush. Amazingly, her apartment has about 50 bathrooms. But you know that when you’re done cleaning all of toilets, you’re going to get some. And she thanks you and you go home. And then she calls you again. You are sure you aren’t going to fall for it. But she mentions the words, “thong”, “whip cream” and you run right over and sure enough, she looks fantastic. Like “pre-breast reduction Jennifer Connelly in Mullholand Falls” good. And she is wearing a bathing suit made of whip cream. It’s going to be so good… until you notice the moving truck and all of her boxes sitting there.
That is George Lucas and Star Wars. Honestly, we should have seen this coming; Lucas’s credits weren’t there. We were too eager for the prequels despite the continuing disappointments and distractions. The special editions alone showed us how things were going to be given to us. The years of toys should have been a good warning as well.
But yet we kept going back.
And while the fan community’s complaints about the prequels and the special editions and the lack of original films are completely valid, many of us still went back for more despite us knowing what we were going to get. Many of us are going back for even more with the 3d versions of the film.
And guess what, this time she’s even hotter then before but you’re still going to be moving the couch.
I now retire the prequels from my rant section. Thank you.