Friday, May 20, 2005

Final Thoughts: Star Wars

The Star wars saga is over.

There will be other spinoffs, books, comics, TV shows etc, but Star Wars is a cinematic experience and that experience is now over.

The prequels were lesser than the originals, not so much because of their content, but because the time and era that surrounded them. When the prequels came out, action and fantasy movies were not only common place, they practically dominated the Hollywood menu. To the point where films of that kind had become tiresome and Star wars was therefore reduced to "just another movie with a lot of special effects".

Alas, I have to tell you the last installment Revenge of the Sith, doesn't do much to elevate the Star Wars prequels beyond that, truthfully, its strongest assets are nostalgia and eye candy. It's a little more than that, in places Revenge of the Sith is magical, but on the whole the movie wheezes, lumbers and clumsily plods away to its inevitable end.

Don't get me wrong, I liked the movie, I like all Star Wars movies, but the reason I like the prequels are entirely different than the reason I liked the originals. I want to share with you something I wrote, that tries to explain my admiration for the series, despite its flaws:

I am watching a scene where the Emperor goes to the opera, in Revenge of the Sith and it suddenly came to me why this franchise is so great.

If this were Star Trek, the opera house would be "a perfect replica of carnegie hall", simulated by the ship's computer to make the crew feel more at home and the opera would be "Figaro" to illustrate the longevity and humanity of Mozart. The main characters would be drinking tea and wearing military uniforms and they'd all have this 'elevated' air, speaking melodramtic dialog about the immortality of 'music' and I'd be falling asleep in my chair.

If it were Lord of the Rings, we'd get a massive helicopter shot from the mountain nearby that slowly panned into the opera house, then the camera would do a 360 degree turn and settle into on some New Zealand sunset, while some endless theme song swelled and pounded into my head for the one millionth time.

This is how and why Star Wars is different. I say this not to disparage other fantasy films, but to illustrate why Star Wars can appeal to me. Star Wars takes the road less traveled, not always, perhaps not even often enough, but when it does, it's bold, unique and for me personally, magical.

What we get for an 'opera house' in Star Wars is a lush, lavish interior, with incredible imagery and light through the window to the outside. Then during the opera itself, the music and the stage imagery, is beyond bizarre, more surreal and ethereal than even the most avant-garde glam-rock show. It just sits there in the background, completely alien and non-sequitur while some of the most important and best delivered dialog is delivered to main character.

It's this attention to detail and the willingness to polish that detail into something extremely alien and bizarre that can often make a Star Wars movie seem so magical.

Like all Star Wars movies, Revenge of the Sith is flawed. In fact, it's very flawed in many, many places. This is not a perfect movie and nothing can ever hold a candle to the hysteria of Star Wars 28 years ago. If you were a child of the 70's (like me), Star Wars was your generation's Beatlemania. The cultural phenomenon and the cinematic revolution spawned by the first two original movies, will never be duplicated in our lifetime.

However, when Revenge of the Sith works, its magical. It is the kind of magical cinema that is unique and pushes the envelope both in technical delivery of the effects, and in the detail and beauty of its design.

I confess, you could argue the prequels are largely technical films. Lucas was always this way anyway, his very first film was literally just a montage of images, called "A Look at Life". It didn't speak a word and quite frankly, its when Lucas abandons the clutter of "talking" that his films tend to shine.

Go see Revenge of the Sith. You will wince at some parts of it. You will shuffle your feet during some of its scenes as it plods along and wheezes its way through its story line.

Then later, you'll see creatures, vehicles, planets, buildings, even furniture, lights and imagery that will stun you, because simply they've never been conceived and put on film before. If you are open minded, you'll come to admit that these designs are the work of a large team of creative people, that have populated a world with such love and enthusiasm, that no detail has been overlooked.

All of the Star Wars movies (yes, even the one with Jar Jar), took cinema to a new level. They are a different kind of masterpiece than the Godfather, or Citizen Kane, or the Bicycle Thief. You can argue, they are lesser masterpieces, because their genius resides primarily in their fusion of cutting edge technology with simple childlike mythology and adventure.

That's really all Star Wars is, kids movies, done with such wonder, imagination and attention to detail, that to an adult, it can often come across as more sound than fury, more bark than bite. To the heart of a child though, its translates to magic.

I can tell you, that I sat next to a 12 year old boy for Revenge of the Sith last night and he was scared down to his bones and hinged on every word and scene. He even applauded when Anakin "died", happy that the tragedy he had witnessed, was put to death.

Ah, but he doesn't die does he? He goes on to become one of the greatest movie villains of all time. He's the Oedipus complex, Hitler and Frankenstein's monster all rolled into one. He changed the way movies are made and to this day, Star Wars takes more risks than most fantasy films would dare to tread. Even when it doesn't work, I still admire the fact Lucas insists on pushing that envelope a little further, just to see what happens.

I watched a Charlie Rose interview of George Lucas that was completed on September of last year. Lucas reflected on how he would be remembered and offered this sobering thought:

"I think in the end, I'll be a footnote, when they discuss the change in cinema from a light sensitive chemical process to a digital one, I'll be mentioned as 'some guy' who helped foster that. Other than that I just hope children find my films enjoyable for a few more generations."

George is right on the money when he says this. In the large sweep of time, much of what George Lucas accomplished will get swept under the rug, but he will be remembered as a pioneer in cinema. A technical innovator beyond a thematic innovator to be sure, but an innovator none the less.

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