|by Mel Valentin
George, after more than thirty years, two sets of sequels, comic books, novelizations, video games, and one or two television series, itís time, finally, for us to go our separate ways. Itís been a long, slow slog down a winding staircase of ever decreasing returns and now, with the latest entry in the Star Wars Universe, "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," itís time for me to take that path not taken, long ago, and find another filmmaker who sees me as more than just another fanboy willing to watch anything Lucasfilm puts out and/or purchasing an endless stream of Star Wars-related merchandise.
Once, long ago, in aÖ.wait, letís not go there. Once, long ago, a small, unheralded film, Star Wars came out. I didnít see it right away. I couldnít. The only theater playing Star Wars was far, far away in another town. I waited, checking the newspaper every Friday, hoping it was showing closer to home. It wasnít. As the school year approached, I managed to convince my father to drive me and several friends to that far away theater. Seconds after seeing Star Wars ended, I wanted to see it again. I did, staying at the movie theater all day (four screenings for the price of one ticket).
I waited an entire year before I saw it again, this time at a local theater, with my father and four year old sister. I watched her watching Star Wars. She sat upright, leaning forward, feet dangling, barely moving, raptly taking in every space battle, every lightsaber duel. She almost cried when Obi-Wan Kenobi died (yes, even at age, she understood he was gone for good). I tried to remember that when she busted up my X-Wing and Tie-Fighter models (no Millennium Falcon, alas). She thought they could fly and well, she was four at the time.
Three years later we repeated the experience, waiting in a long line that snaked in and out of the parking lot in 90-degree heat. We didnít care. The Empire Strikes Back was an even more satisfying experience. We were disappointed, as was everyone who saw The Empire Strikes Back in having to wait three years, an eternity when youíre a teenager, to see The Return of the Jedi. For three years, we revisited The Empire Strikes Back in whatever media was available: comic books, novelizations, and trading cards. Pre-internet, we only had each other, a small circle of film geeks (well, not quite film geeks, but getting there) to discuss the myriad implications of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalkerís biological connection.
After a seemingly interminable wait, The Return of the Jedi arrived. More waiting in that long line in a parking lot in hot weather and heavy humidity. We didnít mind. We were waiting to see the conclusion of the Star Wars trilogy. From the moment Luke saved Hans and Leia from Jabba the Hutt, I was in good spirits. You, George, were doing right by your characters and doing right by us, your most patient, loyal fans. Then, well, then you sprung the Ewoks on us, the first clumsy attempt to bring in preteens. But we forgave you that minor indiscretion. Even George Lucas, the Lord Father Almighty of the Star Wars Universe made mistakes. But even as we, as I, moved on, to other films, other franchises, the Star Wars trilogy still held a special place in our (my) geeky hearts.
A decade passed, then a few years more before we heard about a new trilogy, a prequel following Anakin Skywalkerís tragic fall and the rise of Darth Vader. You kept us primed for the new prequel trilogy by re-releasing newly remastered versions of the original trilogy. Again, we waited in long lines with like-minded fans my age and their children, experiencing Stars Wars on the big screen for the first time. And like the dedicated fans we were, we waited patiently for The Phantom Menace, buying our tickets in advance, skipping work the next day, catching a midnight showing with fellow fanboys and fangirls (some, of course, dressed in Star Wars costumes).
Well, we know how that turned out. Even now, almost ten years later, itís painful to think about the first-time I sat through The Phantom Menace. Iíll say this much, though. It plays much better with the sound turned off. You donít notice the clunky exposition-laced dialogue. You donít notice the awkward line readings. You donít notice how uncomfortable Ewan Macgregor, Liam Neeson, and Natalie Portman look in front of the camera. And most of all, you donít notice Jar Jar Binks or the Neimoidians (Asian-voiced traders) or Watto (a Middle Eastern slave trader)? Okay, thatís not true, but at least with the sound off, you donít hear that Stepin Fetchit voice. You said you did it for the kids. Whose kids exactly? Whose kids did you want to expose to racist stereotypes?
If you learned any lessons from The Phantom Menace, you didnít show it with Attack of the Clones (winner of the silliest name for a film ever made by someone named George Lucas award) or Revenge of the Sith. Same clunky dialogue, same awkward performances, same reliance of whiz-bang visual effects in the form of massive space battles and lightsaber duels. But still we (I) remained loyal, hoping against hope that you or the heir to the Star Wars franchise would bring in new, talented writers into the universe. But at least, some of us thought, we wouldnít be seeing another Star Wars in the near or maybe even distant future.
Fast forward another three years and here we go again. Another Star Wars entry, this time a feature-length film made up of fourth connected episodes from the upcoming CG animated television series (100 episodes planned, spread out over five years). Sure, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is pitched at an even younger audience than either trilogy. Sure, the production budget and, therefore, production values, are a fraction of either big screen trilogy, but couldnít you have come up with something resembling a storyline? Instead, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a seemingly endless series of battles in space and on land and lightsaber duels, wrapped around a gossamer-thin excuse for a storyline.
Not content to sell us on five minutes of story and 90 minutes of videogame quality cut scenes, you decided to include a lisping drag queen character, Ziro the Hutt, who sounds like Truman Capote. Why George, why? Are you so afraid of ethnic minorities (Jar Jar Binks) or gay men that you feel compelled to hold them up to ridicule in ostensibly a kid-oriented film and series? Apparently, you canít help yourself and no one at Lucasfilm will or can tell you, ďNo George, thatís really a bad idea.Ē Well, Iím standing up (okay, sitting down) and telling you now, itís a bad idea, George.
Iím also telling you that itís time we part ways. Sometimes parting is full of sorrow, pain, disappointment, bitterness, and despair. This is one of those times, George. I think a clean break is the best way to go. If you see me, one day, strolling down a San Francisco or Marin street, do us both a favor and pretend we donít know each other. Oh and in case youíre wondering who I am, Iím the guy in the sunglasses, black baseball cap, and facial hair. In other words, no one and everyone, all at the same time.
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originally posted: 08/18/08 15:31:39