Going back to a galaxy far, far away…

I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately. Not just watching them, but being very purposeful in my consumption. It’s more like I’m studying them. So I’m hoping to put together something of a trilogy of blog posts. The first of these is about Star Wars.

Ever since the hype of the Star Wars prequels wore down, I’ve wanted to go back and watch all six of them in narrative-chronological order — from Episode I through Episode VI. I just finished.

I don’t know if there’s any exhibition of popular culture that has had more of an effect on my life than Star Wars. I was at the right age when the first one came out, and I was also completely impressionable when it came to the cinema. Every weekend, me and a friend would walk to the theater in downtown Walnut Creek, pay for the first showing of the original film, and sit there all day. When the movie ended, we’d stay there until the next showing came on. I must have seen it 20 times in its theatrical release. I was Luke Skywalker for Halloween (my friend was Han Solo). I constantly drew elaborate pictures of X-Wing and Tie-Fighter battles. I even transcribed long stretches of dialog from memory.

So when the prequels came out, all that excitement came flooding back, only to be utterly deflated by what Episode I turned out to be. It was as if someone I loved had suddenly dumped me. I unenthusiastically watched Episode II and, strangely enough, didn’t retain anything from it. I remember Natalie Portman’s exposed bellybutton and some rolling around in the grass, but that was about it. The third was better, but by then I was over it.

Watching them in narrative order has been really interesting though, and a lot of fun. Without all of the expectations, the prequels are very enjoyable. The action sequences at the end of EpII and the beginning of EpIII are breathtaking. George Lucas’ flaws are still there, of course. They’re so glaringly obvious, in fact, that it’s difficult to imagine who was overlooking quality control. The odd little bits of racism are curious and the acting is granitic. But what’s really unconscionable is the script and the dialog. “You’re so beautiful.” “It’s because I’m so in love with you.” “No, it’s because I’m so in love with you.” So, wait, you’re beautiful because I’m in love with you?

Looking at them now, that’s the only thing I really have a major issue with. Lucas, I believe, has a fantastic sense of story, plot and setting, even in the prequels. But what’s really gratifying to me is how much the original three are made better by the prequels. I watched I, II and III and enjoyed them even with the bad dialog. But it wasn’t until I got to episodes IV, V and VI that I appreciated the story that came before them. (I watched all six within about 10 days, so they were all fresh in my mind.) I hear Ben Kenobe talk about the clone wars and “a more civilized age” and I flash back to Mace Windu fighting off droids. I hear Yoda talk about the dark side, and I remember Anakin’s painful and utterly convincing turn in Episode III.

Luke Skywalker, in particular, becomes a much deeper character, especially in Episode V and even moreso in the final chapter, Episode VI. He has just the right amount of his father in him. He’s passionate, ambitious, and aggressive. He’s impatient and wants things to happen quickly. He’s flawed and impressionable. He even has a robotic hand, something violently given to him when the two first met, a hint, a possibility of what he might become. Luke could have turned to the dark side just like Anakin. But in the end he resisted. Luke didn’t have the heavy burden of youthful, blinding love coupled with uncontrollable power coupled with divided loyalties. But he was still better than his father, and that’s kind of the point in this whole narrative. The son making amends for the sins of the father. So in that sense, the reverse is also true — the original trilogy makes the prequels, and particularly Anakin, much better.

And then there’s R2D2, the existential centerpiece, the only character who knows all but will never speak a word about it. For the most part, the continuity worked. And in fact it’s amazing how great the continuity did work. It is a little curious that Ben didn’t recognize him after the Tusken Raider attack. But maybe he looked at first glance like any other R2 unit. Stranger is R2’s reaction to Yoda. You’d think R2 would surely remember the galaxy’s most powerful Jedi and not be so disrespectful as to try and grab a lamp out of the great master’s hand. And why is R2D2 so capable in the prequels and relatively tame and vulnerable in the original series? But of course all this stuff is minor and forgivable.

I’m not going to watch the animated “Clone Wars” film. I like what I have in my head with the six films in sequence. (And I don’t like the childish animation style.) I’m happy enough to have my appreciation restored.


One Response to “Going back to a galaxy far, far away…”

  1. I’m not sure what Lucas is thinking with this new Clone Wars thing. I think I’ll skip it too.

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