Star Wars is one of the most financially successful, innovative, and significant film franchises of all time. The first three released, actually the fourth, fifth, and sixth episodes, are undeniable classics, giants in the history of cinema and storytelling both here and abroad. The movies alone have generated over 4 billion dollars in just movie ticket sales, another 3 billion just from DVDs. They’ve spawned toys, video games, television shows, and books. It has also led to a strong and devoted fans base. But that is not what this is about. This is about the dark side.
Star Wars fans, myself among them, are hard to please. I would argue increasingly so. Star Wars fans were largely pleased with all three of the Star Wars originals. There may be a favorite episode, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone in a Chewbacca costume or who owns a plastic lightsaber that would speak ill of one of the original trilogy. On the other hand there were so many diehard Star Wars fans who took issue with episodes one, two, and three, including myself.
More recently Disney has bought the Star Wars franchise from its creator George Lucas. This alone caused outrage among some Star Wars fans. A new trailer came out recently and even the skeptics couldn’t deny the excitement that swept over them upon seeing the Millennium Falcon. There was little else about the trailer they did not find reason to complain about however.
So as far as I can tell there are two possible reasons for this:
- The new movies were not as good as the original
There were multiple things to dislike about the new movies. Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christensen were the primary targets of disdain. Natalie Portman and the whole second movie also come up often. Even the near final shot of Darth Vader seemed to disappoint. Let’s consider everything that sucked about the new movies.
Jar Jar Binks was kind of awful. It’s not that bumbling sidekicks have no place in adventure films or even Star Wars films, because they do of course (Chewbacca, C-3PO). He was awful because of the way he talked and how much time he took up on camera, not to mention what he did while on camera.
The way that Jar Jar Binks talked got old almost immediately. “Mesa, mesa, mesa.” It was distracting and annoying. It’s been said that it was vaguely reminiscent, along with his general attitude, of the old style portrayal of a runaway slaves and so forth in film. He was helpless, well-meaning, comedic, and stupid. The speech was modeled on children, but how it played on camera was far from adorable. It was annoying and sometimes cringe worthy.
There was too much Jar Jar as well. Jar Jar freaking out about the giant fish or introducing Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon to his undersea kingdom was all fine. The problem was the extended sequence of him dancing around the battlefield, flopping around and occasionally accidentally killing some droids. Star Wars is a sci-fi adventure film, not a slapstick comedy. His antics on the battlefield distracted from the stakes. Plus, it wasn’t funny.
In a world of spaceships and lasers it seems odd to talk about plausibility. But within the rules established by 3 Star Wars films, a guy doesn’t get half of a robot tied to his foot and then accidentally shoot a bunch of other robots with the robot that is tied to his foot. It adds an element of Looney Tunes into the world of Star Wars. Star Wars has always had humor, even some slapstick, but it was just too much.
Beyond the fact that Jar Jar was only barely, superficially, given any sort of actual depth it was not because he was not given time on camera. C-3PO and R2D2 had some improbable victories or silly moments in the heat of battle, but even then you felt there was a risk for them while they were in a fight. The Jar Jar sequence was just overly cartoonish, even for what was technically a cartoon. It took the stakes of the battle and completely deflated it.
Hayden Chistensen was not a good actor. Sorry Hayden. To a lesser degree Natalie Portman’s character did not come off well either. Neither had chemistry. Portman was too often the damsel in distress, and when she wasn’t it felt forced. Princess Leia she was not, even when she tried to be. Christiansen though, it’s hard to believe it was just the writing. He seemed like a child, even more so when he was an adult. He was supposed to be light and dark, not needy and whiny. All the anger, the ferocity, came off as petulance. Where there should have been hate, he gave us frustration. Where there should have been love, he gave us neediness.
The first movie was passable, certainly. The young Anakin was fine. Maybe there should have been glimmers of darkness but it’s not unreasonable to leave that for another day. The young Anakin was developed and established well, his goodness set up what should have been the eventual heartbreak of his turn. The podracer race was exciting. Darth Maul and his double sided lightsaber were great additions to the Star Wars family.
Ewan McGregor did well, throughout the new trilogy, as young Obi-Wan and was perhaps the highlight as far as characters go in the new films. He had depth, humor, heroism, failure, sadness, and victory and was believable through all of it. So much so that he added to the portrayal of the Obi-Wan of the original trilogy and made his character and motivations all the more clear. The final lightsaber battle was truly exciting and the death of Qui-Gon Jinn was legitimately sad. So besides Jar Jar and a few other minor things, it was solid.
The second film, yikes. The second of the new trilogy was so bad that all the moments I remember were bad. The fight against the monsters was ridiculous and did not serve the plot. Amidala had been so established as a damsel in distress that her turn to warrior seemed out of place. The whole sequence seemed forced. This was also when Hayden Christensen came into the picture. None of the Skywalkers were ever particularly cool (I heard Uncle Owen liked the Velvet Underground but that’s only conjecture). He was aggressively uncool. Anakin was just downright unlikable from the start. He was a nice kid and then unlikeable, we never saw the change. It’s like if season 1 of Breaking Bad was followed by Season 5 of Breaking Bad. It didn’t make sense.
There was another Jar Jaresque situation involving C-3PO’s head in the second episode. At one point his head was next to his body during a battle and he literally said, “I’m beside myself.” Good one. Also, Jango Fett was eliminated too quickly. After holding his own against two Jedis after we met the clones, which was a solid part of the movie establishing the Stormtroopers and Boba Fett in a satisfying way, his head was lopped off by Mace Windu in an instant.
The climax was also unsatisfying. People literally laughed out loud when Yoda engaged in the lightsaber battle. The little green man doing cartwheels was not so bad, but it was just not set up well. It came out of nowhere. He literally hobbling up to Count Dooku and then arrogantly made a bring-it-on hand gesture, which was kind of out of character. It should have been a holy crap moment, tense at the climax of the film, not a laugh.
The third movie was not as bad as the second, but not as good as the first. Again, this was partially due to the lack of chemistry between Anakin and Padme Amidala. Maybe there was some neediness between them, but I didn’t feel the love. Since so much of it centered on Anakin the weakness of both the acting and writing made it suffer. We’ve been over that though.
The final sequence of him jumping to Obi-Wan was just idiotic. He could have jumped 10 feet to the left and the right and continued with the battle. It was just too heavy handed. There were other ways to make his hate his downfall besides Obi-Wan holding out his fist and Anakin running into it face first. He had anger, not rabies. And then there was Darth Vader yelling out, “Nooooo!” like it was some kind of soap opera.
The skepticism regarding Disney is to some degree justified. It’s perfectly reasonable to be nervous about your favorite thing changing ownership. If your favorite local grocery store was bought out by Wal-Mart you might feel the same way, and for good reason. Maybe it’s in the right hands, maybe it’s not. But there’s certainly a maybe.
- Star Wars is meant for kids and young adults, not bitter old people
Of course, there’s the other possibility. I’m not going to be gentle here. I was not gentle to the films so I should not be to the fans. I am a fan too, so let’s just be open to a little self-aware questioning here. There’s a reason Star Wars films have toys. There’s a reason they have video games. There’s a reason Pulp Fiction doesn’t have video games and you’ll never see a Travis Bickle action figure complete with mohawk, gun, and tickets to a porno. The reason is that Star Wars is a movie for kids and young adults, not for bitter old sci-fi geeks (including perhaps myself. There, I said it.
Every single die hard Star Wars fan was introduced to the movies as a child. It blew your mind. It was a whole world with fun characters that introduced enough adult themes, death and love for example, in a delicate enough way that it respected you as a growing person, not just physically but mentally. In that way, it loved you and trusted you and you reciprocated.
The reason the new Star Wars films draw such ire is in part because the fans who were part of the backlash were grown adults. The movie is not meant for you. You see the same thing in the pre-backlash to a new Ghostbusters film. You see it sometimes with the new Doctor Who. Some things from our childhood do not end with our childhood, and that’s ok. We should not expect it to grow with us. We should not expect Bugs Bunny to grow old and deal with diabetes. It’s selfish and unrealistic to expect.
Yes, Jar Jar Binks was awful. But was he any worse than the Ewoks? At least the Ewoks didn’t speak but after being introduced as teddy bears who wanted to eat the heroes they went toe to toe with an army that took over the galaxy. I just don’t know about that. It was a little bit like killing robots with a half robot stuck to your foot. The climax of the entire trilogy at least partially revolved around a group of teddy bears we’ve never met before taking on an empire with sticks.
Imagine reading a book about WWII and finding out Charles DeGaulle enlisted the help a rag tag group of squirrels to hold the Nazi’s at bay while America, Britain, and Russia prepared to attack. As a kid it would be thrilling to think about squirrels stuffing acorns into Nazi canons but as an adult you’d probably throw the book down. Plus, little kids actually liked Jar Jar.
Yes, Darth Vader yelling no was a little melodramatic. But so was Luke yelling, “That’s Impossible!” upon learning that Darth Vader was his dad. Let’s also come to terms with the fact that the lightsaber battles were fairly awful in the first few films. The primary reason for this is that Darth Vader could not move his head. He had to move his whole torso if he want to look up and down. His arms as well were hampered by his suit. He could not lift them above his shoulders. He was all torso and elbows. Vader being physically impaired in this way and Alec Guinness being an older man through no fault of his own led to perhaps the worst lightsaber fight in history. It’s almost good Obi-Wan let himself die because I’m not sure either of them ever would have won.
Jango Fett’s death may have been anticlimactic, but nowhere near as much as Boba Fett. Part of the reason Boba Fett is such a focus of so much spin-off material is that he was built up as the baddest bounty hunter in the galaxy (the guy was cool), and then got swallowed by a pile of dirt with teeth after bumping into a blind guy. It just wasn’t a satisfactory conclusion. It’s still not totally clear to me why Luke’s laser beam did a 90 degree turn to enter a hole and blow up the Death Star in the first film. The dialogue was also odd sometimes, Harrison Ford famously said, “George, you can type this shit but you sure can’t say it.”
The new trailer backlash is perhaps the most unreasonable. It tends to focus on the black Stormtrooper and the weird lightsaber. The fuss over the black Stormtrooper isn’t as racial as it might sound if you’re not familiar with it. The issue is that he should be identical to Jango Fett since Stormtroopers are clones and they were cloned from Jango Fett. Personally, I felt it was pretty obvious that he was not a Stormtrooper but someone disguised as a Stormtrooper. It’s just a guess but that would not be the first time this was done.
The other issue was the lightsaber with the hilt. There’s some insanely technical nitpicking out there. Essentially, the idea is that the hilt would not protect your hand because there’s a little metal tube around each of the tiny lightsaber beams that composes the hilt. The theory goes that the metal tubes which project the beams would be cut off in a fight if your opponent’s lightsaber slid down yours, so they’re useless. Of course, on the other hand, it’s perfectly reasonable that the metal tubes do not project the beam but protect your hand from the beam which is projected from within the handle. Stephen Colbert had an interesting bit on this.
Ultimately, the point is that maybe the three new movies weren’t really that bad. Sure they were a little corny in some places, the dialogue was awkward, the acting occasionally was melodramatic, the humor was at least 50% slapsticks and puns, but what do you expect from a movie for kids? The problem might not be that the new Star Wars movies were terrible, the problem might be that those who hate it are no longer bright eyed, unjaded kids and young adults, free from preconceived judgments and bitterness. The backlash against the trailer for the new movies, it’s just further evidence of that.
So do the new Star Wars movies suck or are we just bitter adults who are too jaded for a world of magical adventure? Probably a little bit of both. I know, anticlimactic. Even if the new Star Wars movies do suck, even if they make some mistakes, let it be, because it’s not for you.
It’s for a new generation of kids and young adults to soar through a galaxy far, far away. It’s for them to be swept up in this world and a new adventure within it, all the while being subtly ushered into adulthood with grown up themes like love and death peppered throughout.
In the end, the greatest thing that Star Wars teaches, through all the films, good and bad, is that we all have a choice between justice, love, patience, and understanding on one hand, and on the other selfishness, fear, hate, and intolerance. It presents those choices and those consequences honestly.
Both the light and the dark side have pros and cons. The dark can gain power but is ultimately lonely and fearful, unsustainable. The light can temporarily fail due to its own insistence on a moral code but then succeed for the clarity and strength it provides, allowing us to transcend our animalistic desires and impulses to overcome the fear and hatred not just from the outside world but from within us as well.
Star Wars teaches that lesson, perhaps the greatest lesson about the greatest thing that all humans have to deal with, the most mature and important theme in human existence and it teaches it to children. It does it honestly. Some of the video games literally center around that choice. And if it’s any consolation, Jar Jar Binks won’t be in the new new Star Wars films.
But seriously, don’t spoil a great story for a young kid with your bitterness. If you do hate the new films, even if the films deserve it, keep that among adults who have already decided between the light side and the dark side. Do not rob a young kid of that choice and that adventure. No one did that to you after all, and that is why we all love Star Wars so much. For each of us, it’s ours. It’s the earliest, clearest, and most mature presentation of that fundamental choice of humankind.
So I say, make more films, make as many as possible, some will be better than others, but keep them going. The struggle between light and dark, love and hate, justice and power, selfilessness and selfishness, patience and brashness, bravery and fear, tolerance and intolerance, will be played out forever among and within humans. Star Wars should be there to show that to us. And really, who wants to be a Sith instead of a Jedi? Young kids today like Obi-Wan like we liked Han Solo. The large majority of us choose Jedi, not because Star Wars pushes you into that choice, but because it’s the right choice that we choose for ourselves upon seeing the raw evidence the films lay out. That’s the opportunity that Star Wars provides. So I say Star Wars for everyone and Star Wars forever. Why not?
by Zack Goncz
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