Not sure if you have heard, but there’s a new Star Wars film on the way. I know, me neither, but still. As a lead-in, we got some of our writers to talk about and around the ‘Wars. Many Bothans died to bring us this information.
Indy Datta on not being a fan
I could have been. I was certainly the right age.I remember buying a comic in the spring of 1977 (probably a few weeks after I bought the first issue of 2000 AD), which recounted the entire plot of the first film, but some time in between then and the film’s eventual UK release at Christmas (they used to say in the playground that we had to wait for the US to finish with the prints before we could get them), I just lost interest. I also never bought another issue of 2000 AD (although I read plenty of collections of 2000 AD stories decades later, when I was old enough to have moved on to more serious literary pursuits, like Tolstoy, or biographies of Churchill). And I remember, maybe a year or two later, utterly detesting the experience of reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe in class, which made me feel like I was wearing my skin inside out. My teacher told me that I obviously just preferred realistic stories, which turned out to be very obviously not true, because fuck realistic stories – it’s just that Narnia, is horrible, creepy shit, I was wrong about 2000 AD, and I just missed the boat on Star Wars.
And I continued to miss the boat on Star Wars and fantasy and science fiction in general when my family moved to India a couple of years later, the Christian Brothers school I went to having no truck with that kind of thing (apart from one copy of On the Beach in the library, if you’re stretching the rules). When we came back to the UK a couple of years later, I did see The Empire Strikes Back, but it was already too late – it didn’t mean to me what it meant to everyone else. I preferred The Black Hole! Yes, I know! And as I matured into my spotty nerd pomp, and started hoovering up everything in the spotty nerd corner of the library, from Tolkien to Heinlein to Dick, I snootily looked down my nose at Star Wars fans who didn’t know what real science fiction was (a parsec is a unit of distance, you dolts!).
And, while I was obviously an obnoxious little squirt, and like to think I’m marginally less of one now, it’s not as if I’ve come around to the films, particularly. I fell asleep in what we must now call A New Hope when I saw the theatric re-release of the Special Edition (which meant, small mercies, that I missed some of George Lucas’s most egregious CG additions to the original version). I saw The Phantom Menace during a visit to a friend who was working halfway around the world, and even for a non-fan, it was one of the most dispiriting experiences of my cinemagoing life. And recently, when I tried to rewatch the entire saga, in the hope of writing something meaty about it for this blog, it still just wouldn’t take, and I abandoned the project before I got to the prequels.
This time around, I revised my official opinion that The Empire Strikes Back is The Best One. It certainly has the best script of any of the films so far, but it’s surely not really the scripts that made Star Wars such a touchstone for my generation but the sounds and the pictures. And in terms of telling the story through visual language, from design to location work, to effects, the first film, made within constraints that melted away for the later instalments, is still by far the most effective and coherent (again, ignoring the hideousness of the changes made for the Special Editions). But on some fundamental level, and leaving aside a few obviously classic elements (like John Williams’s endlessly evocative score), I’ve made my peace with the fact that I’m just never going to get it, that I don’t at all see why today’s ten year-olds still love Return of the Jedi and not, say, The Dark Crystal (the fact that the Star Wars universe has bewitched our children’s generation as much as it did ours is something a more thoughtful and fuller piece than this might feel the need to account for, but who has the energy to try and understand why kids love Jar-Jar Binks?)
But this is not about feeling superior to everyone who can barely breathe waiting for The Force Awakens – it’s a lament that I don’t get to join in. Obviously it’s better, in terms of adding to the sum total of human happiness, rather than cavilling at all the inconsistencies and infelicities of the Star Wars films, to be the kind of fan who can explain all of them, to give oneself over wholly to the hugeness and contradictoriness of Lucas’s creation and the massive canon of geekery it has spawned. Obviously it’s a more generous impulse to be filled with nerves on the eve of the new film, equally excited that Disney and JJ Abrams are going to give us back the myths we grew up with,and apprehensive that we stand on the banks of a corporate Rubicon, and that the specialness of Star Wars, the glorious lunacy of what George started and we finished, is about to be lost forever to competence and calculation, than to hardly care at all. I hope you get everything you want this weekend. May the force be with you.
MrMoth on the joy of prequels
I’m not going to mess about – if you’re a Star Wars fan and you don’t love the prequel trilogy, I’m here to tell you to think again. Oh sure, they’re weird and boring and messy and badly acted but enough about the original trilogy. The prequels are exactly the same, just with weirdly shiny digital effects. Can I prove it to you? Sure. Here’s a bunch of stuff from the prequels that is at least as good as if not better than the originals. Hear me out, and MAYBE I can change your mind.
Episode I – The Duel of the Fates.
Obviously – OBVIOUSLY – this is better than anything in the original trilogy. It’s better than anything in all the movies. It’s the pinnacle of Star Wars. It even gets one of the best pieces of music to accompany it, and, uniquely, the scene has a name.
Star Wars is all about the lightsaber. That’s its thing, its USP. Everything else is a bonus. The lightsaber is the best thing. And Duel of the Fates is the best use of the best thing. It’s… God, it’s incredible. George Lucas finally getting the chance to show you how a proper lightsaber fight would look; a Jedi at the height of his powers, a gifted Padawan, the most nimble, acrobatic Sith lord ever seen. Plus that bit, endlessly spoilered in the trailers but still incredible, when Darth Maul pulls the “That’s not a knife” gag with his double-saber. Miles better than even the good lightsaber fights in the original trilogy (the best one is in the throne room in Return of the Jedi, and it’s still rubbish). Is it on YouTube? Of course not! The music is, though. Enjoy that…
Episode II – Obi-Wan on Kamino
I mean, all of this sequence. The weird long-necked aliens. The gorgeous retro-futuristic design like an aquatic Bespin. Endless clones having supper. Boba Fett being a grumpy arsehole kid*. Jango and Obi-Wan having a scrap in the pissing rain (lightsabers yay). Ewan MacGregor’s line reading on “A BOUNTY HUNTER NAMED JANGO FETT”.
Yoda’s sudden, hysterical, revelation of his fighting skill is also great, but when you’ve seen it once it loses a lot of its joy. But it is good, and has the unexpected effect of exposing his later “Wars not make one great”, meditation-over-action stuff as rank hypocrisy.
Episode II was the hardest one to pick a bit out of, mainly because it’s the one most like the original films. It’s the best of the prequels, in that sense, but it does rather mean it’s all about the film in total rather than the standout moments.
*I know it’s not popular, but I quite like the Fett backstory. I don’t like the retconned vocal dub for Boba and the Stormtroopers, mind. It makes no sense that the Stormtroopers would be clones, NONE AT ALL.
Episode III – Order 66
When the time comes to get the original trilogy set up properly, Lucas doesn’t waste time. In the last half of Revenge of the Sith, Shit Gets Done, and one of the biggest things that Gets Done is the destruction of the Jedi. With one order – “Order 66” – the whole damn lot are taken out.
The treachery of the clone troopers is clinical and brutal; they take a step back and suddenly they are no longer the Jedi’s faithful servants. They dispatch their former masters without a word, without a pause and the Jedi don’t have time to see it coming (the whole trilogy leading up to this by suggesting that actually they’d got lazy and incompetent and deserved a pasting). In a short – too short – montage the entire Jedi order is wiped out. We get tantalising glimpses of far-flung battles on far-fetched battlefields, ended the instant the clones receive their new programming. No sequence in all six films (so far!) comes close to looking as beautiful as this. It ends with the ugliest moment of the films as Anakin, now Darth Vader in all but mask, slaughters a group of schoolchildren. That’s… that’s pretty damn dark for a film aimed at kids.
Of course, that’s leavened slightly by Obi-Wan delivering the line “I have seen a security hologram of him… killing younglings” a bit later. This is the kind of moment we’ll miss in the new trilogy. Good overlaid by bad, grace and clumsiness cheek-by-jowl. That’s why you should give the prequels a fair go; they’re the last time you’ll see Star Wars as only George Lucas could make it.
Spank The Monkey on the reality of the Holiday Special
Star Wars is timeless: that’s why people love it so. George Lucas stole ideas from every period of film history, and blended them together into something that exists outside of that history. It’s why the subsequent Special Editions have proved so unpopular: every time Lucas tinkers with the original, he leaves traces of the technology that was fashionable at the time he was in the edit suite.
A similar case could be made for The Star Wars Holiday Special, which also aims for timelessness but is permanently marked by evidence of the quality of the cocaine available in 1978 Hollywood. It’s a standard seventies TV variety show – comedy skits, musical numbers, a circus act – roughly hammered into the laziest Star Wars-related framing device possible. Largely set in the home of Chewbacca’s family, we alternate between their unsubtitled domestic bickering and watching various pre-filmed inserts on their tellies: effectively, it’s The Royle Family with Wookiees.
Up until about a decade ago, the Special had an extraordinary samizdat status, limited only to the hardcore fans. These days, whatever device you’re reading these words on can get you access to the show in a few seconds. Where’s the fun in that? And make no mistake, the Special needs all the fun it can get – no amount of so-bad-it’s-good posturing can get over the sheer number of poor artistic decisions on display. Lucasfilm would certainly prefer that we all forgot about it: however, the hilarious accident of it including the first ever appearance of Boba Fett has ensured that of all the adjectives hurled at the show, the most damning one has been ‘canon’.
Still, it’s turned out to be influential in a number of surprising ways. Take the Harvey Korman skit where he plays a stuttering, malfunctioning robot: the video editing tech may be crude, but he’s basically anticipating Max Headroom by several years. Then there’s the queasy Diahann Carroll musical number, which in the context of the story is Chewie’s dad being given a session with a virtual reality prostitute as a present. When you get down to it, that isn’t so far away from this current advert.
But the biggest cultural impact comes from the extended sequence in the Mos Eisley cantina. It’s actually the one bit of the Special that verges on being watchable: it has the best song, and Bea Arthur acts everyone else off the screen. (Her throwaway aside to the musicians, “see what the boys on the bandstand will have,” is possibly the entire show’s only working joke.) But it’s easy to forget the context in which the scene is framed: it’s broadcast on Empire Television as live unedited footage of Tatooine’s inferior civilisation, presented for our amusement and pity. This, perhaps, is George Lucas’ ultimate legacy: a long time ago in a continent far, far away, he invented reality TV.
Happy Life Day.