So, we’ve recently purchased all six STAR WARS movies. Two seperate box sets.
One for the brilliant, classic, death-stars-gettin-blown-up, jawas-sellin-droids-but-these-aren’t-the-droids-you’re-looking-for, one-of-the-most-vital-parts-of-your-childhood trilogy.
One for the, y’know, prequels.
They sit in our DVD collection, all big and bold and brash, they’re the cock of the walk and the other DVDs know it. On the left, Stardust keeps its distance. On the right, Stranger Than Fiction quietly wets itself in fear.
Every so often, I sit back and look on in sheer awe and admiration. I’ve wanted to own these films since I was a child. I’ve wanted to own these films on DVD since the DVD format became popular.
We have yet to watch them. When we told a friend of ours named Greg about our purchase, it was decided we would bring them to his house one fateful morning and spend the entire day, morning-till-night, immersing ourselves in the joy and the bliss of STAR WARS. I figure we’ll order a few pizzas, get some beer involved, and we’ll only pry our asses from Greg’s couch when we need to void our bladders or bowels.
Which is, of course, how STAR WARS is meant to be seen.
You’ll notice I keep putting STAR WARS in all caps. That’s because STAR WARS deserves all caps.
All of this talk of STAR WARS, deciding on a weekend when we’ll make the geeky trek off to Greg’s house, beer and pizza in hand, has sparked a discussion between Danielle and I on the prequel trilogy.
Allow me to state, for the record, that I enjoy the prequel trilogy.
I KNOW, I KNOW, CALM DOWN.
Let me break down the prequel trilogy, from my perspective, for you.
Episode I: The Phantom Menace
I fondly remember the days/weeks/months leading up to the release of Episode One. I had bought many of the action figures, I had watched the trailer an estimated total of 10,876 times, I was ready. I was prepared. This was the moment I had waited for. A new STAR WARS movie.
Not only that, but it was a STAR WARS that I would be seeing on the big screen for the first time! I hadn’t had that privilage with the original (read: better) trilogy. I had watched and re-watched them on VHS, the lines running through poor Luke’s face, the already funny sounding voice of Master Yoda garbled by poor tracking, I had even seen the re-mastered (read: unnecessarily fucked with) versions on the big screen when they re-released them back in 97. But I had never shared in that special feeling of being there at the beginning. Being there before anyone knew what STAR WARS was, being there when the trilogy started and it blew absolutely everything else out of the proverbial water.
Until May 19th, 1999.
I walked into the theater feeling an odd mix of complete and utter excitement, total fear and uncertainty, and somehow knowing that, good or bad, I was experiencing something special.
Roll credits. That famous music blaring through the speakers, the crowd erupted into applause and robust cheers. This was before the movie even fucking started! The cheers began before the first note of music was even struck, they began when the LucasFilm logo appeared on screen! I remember feeling so happy, so at home with people who were equally as excited, some even moreso, than I was about what was about to appear in front of us, up on that giant silver screen.
Two Hours and Thirteen Minutes passed. We, as a group, as a collective of people who entered that theater with hopes higher than they may have ever been before, exited the theater together. I looked to the faces of those around me and I saw a wide range of things. One a few faces, I saw elation. On more, I saw confusion. More still, rage. I even saw a few tears.
Me? I couldn’t say. When I entered that theater, when I took my seat, waited anxiously for the credits to roll across the screen, I was certain I would be leaving that theater on cloud fucking nine. In my mind, I would leave the theater proudly humming the STAR WARS theme with my fellow geeky cohorts. But I didn’t.
I felt a mix of emotions. I enjoyed the movie, overall. Certain scenes stood out to me, as they still do; The beauty of Naboo, the thrill of the pod race, the despair of a fallen Jedi. These are what I took from the movie. But I also took a feeling of “That should have been better. That should have been a turning point in my life, a defining cinematic moment.” and it just wasn’t.
Since then, I’ve come to defend the movie against those who would call it a travesty or an insult to the original films. I would not dare place it amongst the originals as my favorite, but it’s far from my least favorite STAR WARS film to date. Even now, looking back, I smile as I recall specific scenes and lines, and yet I still feel that annoying little tinge of what could(should?) have been.
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
The days/weeks/months leading up to this film were far less soaked with anticipation and glee. I still anticipated it, mind you. I was still eager to see it, still excited, still happy it was happening, but I felt I learned my lesson from the first film, in the sense that I was uncertain if my hightened level of anticipation going into Phantom Menace is what ultimately left me feeling it lacked something overall.
I did not buy any of the figures, I did not buy any posters, or books, or any of the cavalcade of crap I purchased in the timeframe forever known as BEI (Before Episode I). But I still waited on the edge of my seat to know what the subtitle would be. The Phantom Menace was so mysterious, so, well, menacing. It brought with it mental images of a silent puppet master, a figure behind the scenes, pulling the strings needed to set up the events seen in the films we knew and loved.
The day finally came. LucasFilm revealed to the world, the subtitle to STAR WARS: Episode II.
Attack of the Clones.
No, really, what’s the title? That’s it? Really? Wow. Okay.
Now, it’s not a terrible title. It’s very pulpy, very much a throwback to the classic sci-fi films of a bygone era. But in the grand scheme of things, in a line of subtitles such as A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Return of the Jedi, it felt a bit weak.
Many people I knew called that the first nail in the coffin. They said it was a sign that the movie would follow in the trend of Episode One and would be a terrible, terrible film. I remained optimistic.
On the day Episode II was released to the geeky masses, I walked very calmly into the theater. My expectations were neither high, nor low. They were far lower than they should have been, considering it was a STAR WARS film I was about to witness, but nowhere near as high as they would have been had Episode One not left me feeling a bit empty and disillusioned.
The LucasFilm logo sparkled upon the screen. There were still cheers, still woops and applause, but it was far less, far quieter, than it had been at the beginning of Episode One. I took a deep breath.
Two Hours and Twenty Three Minutes passed.
This time as I left the theater, there were even fewer smiles, even more glimmers of rage or of plain and simple disappointment. As I made the trek home that day, Episode Two still fresh in my mind, I knew how I felt about it.
It was very nearly two and a half hours of Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala laying in flowery fields and holding hands, whilst Loving You by Minnie Ripperton played in the background.
At least, that’s how I remember it today.
Honestly, where Episode One was not a disappointment (not completely, anyway), Episode Two was very disappointing. Yet, and this is something I still get copious amounts of crap for, I still enjoyed it.
I find I cannot dislike a movie that features Yoda firing up a lightsaber and going to town on some unfortunate Sith Lord. The film also stands out as the first time you truly see Anakin begin his journey to the Dark Side (he lost his mind and slaughtered the sand people village). There’s also some very good development in the strife between Anakin and Obi-Wan, as well as great development in the character of Obi-Wan himself.
But the love story aspect of the movie is what killed that movie. Not the love story itself, it’s far from the first love story in a STAR WARS film, but rather how many times Lucas beat us all over the head with it. A lot of people I knew at the time said the love story didn’t belong in the film at all, that the love story’s presence in the film is what killed the film period. I don’t agree with that.
This was the movie that showcased the Anakin/Padme relationship. The first movie set it up, this was supposed to be the movie that made it clear that these two people were completely in love, that Anakin would do anything for Padme. Unfortunately, it took up most of the film.
In a discussion with Danielle recently, she brought up the following point:
Look at the relationship between Han and Leia in Empire, for example. It’s obvious they love each other, it’s obvious there’s something brewing there, but it doesn’t take away from any other aspect of the story. It was secondary, yet always present and evident. The audience was aware that Han and Leia felt for each other, without having to see Leia laughing as Han fell off some beast in a flowery field, before they both stared longingly into each other’s eyes and proceded to hold hands for two and a half hours.
Whereas the love story in the previous STAR WARS movies was subtle, yet apparent, the love story in Episode Two was blatent to the point of it being painful to watch. It was as though George Lucas was taking an Anakin figure and a Padme figure, rubbing their faces together and making kissy noises, but doing so two inches from your face, ensuring that never once forgot how much they were both in love.
We get it, man. They love each other, Padme is Anakin’s world, Anakin is the only man Padme has ever loved, they belong together, etc. etc. etc.
So in looking back on that movie today, the Yoda lightsaber fight, the Anakin and Obi-Wan dynamic, Obi-Wan beginning to come into his own as a Jedi, and the beginning of the end (clones, Palpatine, etc.) all stand out as strong points in the film. All good reasons to watch it, all things that should have made it a great STAR WARS film. But the biggest thing that stands out in my mind is the overbearing love story, and that’s the biggest disappointment for me.
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
This was it, man. This was the last STAR WARS film to get theatrical release, probably EVER. This was the time for Lucas and Company to step it up and give us what we had been waiting for, what we had sat through two disappointing films for; A STAR WARS film to once again make us proud, a STAR WARS film from which we could exit the theaters with our heads held high and our pride in tact. No tears at the end of this film, except those good tears. The “What a long strange trip it’s been” sort of tears.
The trailers played this one up as more action packed than the previous two, it promised a darker tone, more of an edge than any STAR WARS film before it. This was, after all, the death of Anakin Skywalker and the birth of Darth Fucking Vader. It had better be dark.
The time spent leading up to the release was a very odd time. I felt much the same as I did before Episode One, I was excited, but pensive. This was George Lucas’ last chance, in many ways, to win back a lot of people.
Opening day. I entered the theater, the mood in the theater was one of tension and anticipation and it mirrored my own mood.
Two Hours and Twenty Minutes passed.
The word that came to mind upon exiting the theater was; Vindication. No tears, no looks of rage, a sparse tinge of disappointment, but overall, there were smiles.
The death of the Jedi at the calling down of Order 66, Anakin Skywalker donning the moniker of Darth Vader, the battle between Skywalker and Obi-Wan that left Anakin charred and dying, until Palpatine rescues him and forever transforms him into the Darth Vader that we all know and love and fear, the birth of Luke and Leia Skywalker, and the final shot of Obi-Wan standing before the sunset on Tatooine, thus mirroring the same scene of a much older Luke Skywalker in Episode Four.
I cannot bring myself to call it the perfect STAR WARS film, and I still place the original trilogy above it in ranking, but it’s certainly the best film of the “new” trilogy and it did what I thought was impossible; It redeemed George Lucas. I walked out of Episode Three feeling happy and at peace, the way I should have felt twice before it.
George Lucas would remain redeemed in my eyes until the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, another movie that, while I enjoyed it (I KNOW, SHUT UP), was far more disappointing than it should have been.
Actually, I was more offended by Crystal Skull than I had been by either Episode One or Two.
But that’s another story for another day.
STAR WARS Episodes IV, V, and VI are so cemented as a part of my childhood, as a part of my development as a person, that it’s truly scary sometimes. I can’t imagine a world without STAR WARS in it, really, because I’ve never lived in a world where STAR WARS didn’t exist. But more than that, I think that even those who were there at the beginning, who saw A New Hope and a dawning of a pop culture phenomenon, the likes of which would never be topped, would still find it difficult to imagine a world without STAR WARS.
It’s such a part of pop culture, even today, even after a prequel trilogy that so many were so very disappointed in, even after Jar-Jar Binks… We still love STAR WARS.
And I think we always will.
Before you ask:
1: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
2: Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi
3: Episode IV: A New Hope
4: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
5: Episode I: The Phantom Menace
6: Episode II: Attack of the Clones