The Shapiro Files

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Sith Happens

Darth VadarI finally had a chance to see the new Star Wars movie last night. It's strange having now seen it, as it was essentially a long-delayed fulfilled wish of a much younger me. After all, what kid from 1977 through 1983 wasn't a big fan of the original Star Wars movies? But more than the movies themselves, the thing that made the biggest impression on me as a kid is the back story of Anakin Skywalker's descent into evil. I still remember where I was the first time I heard this story. I was in summer camp and we were on a bus on a field trip and one of the camp counselors told the story of Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin's fight above some sort of lava pit — a fight that ultimately resulted in Anakin's near-death and his subsequent need for that creepy Darth Vader suit. This story created such vivid images in my mind that I thrilled at the prospect of a possible new series of films depicting events to take place before those shown in the then-current Star Wars films.

Fast-forward almost 20 years later and the impossible came true: a new Star Wars trilogy was underway. I was excited as anyone in my age group at the prospect of seeing "Episode I" after waiting so many years.

Talk about disappointment.

When I think of some of the biggest let-downs of my adult life, seeing The Phantom Menace was right at the top of list. Perhaps 20 years of anticipation was too much for any movie to live up to. But, holy moly, did that film stink.

And now six years later, I went to see the movie that would finally depict those scenes I vividly saw in my imagination when I was a little kid. Did it live up to my expectations? Of course not. But at least it didn't stink. It was even fun at times and frequently visually beautiful. Still, when one of the first things you can say about a Star Wars movie is "It didn't stink," you know things have changed. Growing up sure is hard to do.


  • I know many people my age obsessed with the originals... but for some reason, I could barely sit through the first part... I'm trying to figure out why everyone seems to enjoy it so much. What's your take on it?

    By Blogger Irina Tsukerman, at 5/26/2005 3:29 PM  

  • Do you mean the first part, as in the original 1977 Star Wars ("A New Hope," if you must) or do you mean the first part of Revenge of the Sith?

    If the former, I think much of the mass affection for the film comes from being at the right place at the right time. A great deal of film critism talks about the cynism and bleakness of 1970's cinema, which is actually why it was such a great period for film. But then suddently there came along this really fun movie that clearly delinated between good and evil and did it in this sort of pastiche of 1940's movie serials (Flash Gorden, Buck Rogers) mixed up with Akira Kurasawa (especially The Hidden Fortress) and the aesthetic of John Ford westerns (through the filter of Kurasawa, who openly acknowledged Ford's influence on his work). It was exciting and it was great summer popcorn movie viewing. Even the cast was young and energetic (of course, Harrison Ford was by far the best thing about the original Star Wars trilogy).

    I was only six years old the first time I saw the original Star Wars and given my obvious lack of sophistication in the art of film, it appealed to imagination in way that no other film had up to that point. Adults probably liked it for slightly different reasons (probably because of the aforementioned freshness as well as the then-groundbreaking special effects), but I bet it also helped many adults find their inner-child too.

    So for many people of my generation, we'll always have nostalgic affection for the time and memory of seeing Star Wars (and its two sequels) when we were still young and innocent. As an added bonus, the second film, Empire Strikes Back actually did demonstrate some legitimate filmmaking, as it was directed by a real director and written by a real screenwriter (neither of whom were George Lucas).

    I imagine that if I were seeing the original films for the first time at this point in my life, I'd probably still find them entertaining (albeit very aware of their flaws and simplicity), but I know I wouldn't be as excited about them as I was at age 6 through 12. Again, it's all about the time and place.

    Now, if your question was specifically about the first part of Revenge of the Sith (the only entry of the new trilogy to actually get some good reviews), well it's probably because the film actually recalls the original trilogy better than the previous two prequel entries. As soon as you touch upon those permanently etched memories and interconnected affection for those original films, you'll find a much more forgiving audience. Like I said, it didn't stink. But that's hardly high praise. I freely admit that I found much of it entertaining (not exactly my top criteria as an adult--I'd much prefer intellectually stimulating--but it's something). It just wasn't the movie we've been waiting 25 years to see. To be fair, how could anything live up to that type of expectation?

    It's just too bad that this new trilogy fell so below the bar that this final entry's mediocrity (from a story, character develoment, performance, and most important, a writing point of view) actually made it far superior to the previous two films in the prequel trilogy.

    By Blogger Steve Shapiro, at 5/26/2005 4:49 PM  

  • Thanks for your feedbacks... I guess it's kind of hard for me to understand how people felt about the original series, being used to a different type of movies, although I doknow many of my peers still being obsessed with the original trilogy, as much as with LOTR in fact. After watching the first of the original movies, I had no patience for any of the other ones. However, I do find it interesting that a number of people ranging from middle-aged to little kids flocked to see the latest installment... and their reactions were very polarized. They mostly either loved or hated the movie, I guess depending on what they expected from it. Personally, I like stories where the deliniation between good and evil is less clear (such as LOTR books), and am not crazy about special effects, so maybe that's why I'm not that interested.

    By Blogger Irina Tsukerman, at 5/26/2005 5:39 PM  

  • My wife Marcie definitely feels the same way about the Star Wars movies as you. She's five years younger than me, meaning she was only 1 when the first one came out. So she missed out on the whole Star Wars thing (again, much of its success had to do with being at the right place at the right time, culturally speaking). The first time she saw them was with me about six years ago and she really didn't care for them very much at all. She called them "little boy movies," which is a pretty reasonable assessment.

    By Blogger Steve Shapiro, at 5/26/2005 11:49 PM  

  • : D

    By Blogger Irina Tsukerman, at 5/27/2005 3:28 PM  

  • Interesting that she said that, because from what I see, most (though certainly not all) Star Wars fans I've encountered are indeed male. Hmm, which raises questions - are males, more likely than females, to enjoy movies based on special effects, and if so, why?

    By Blogger Irina Tsukerman, at 5/27/2005 3:30 PM  

  • Great question. There's probably no simple answer to this, but I'll pose at least one possibility. I don't think it's the special effects themselves that are particularly uninteresting to many women filmgoers. My guess is that special effect driven movies are often light on character development and story. So for filmgoers that care more about people than about spaceships and aliens, there's not going to be much worthwhile in movies like Star Wars. In fact, Marcie has said pretty much this very thing in her assessment of the Star Wars movies. And yet, she has no problem with special effect heavy movies when characters are at the heart of a film. For example, one of her favorite movies is Contact (an excellent Robert Zemeckis film staring Jodie Foster), which is full of CGI eye candy. However, at the root of this movie is a story about a young woman trying to find her place in the world while also dealing with her career ambitions, love, and her loss of a family. Despite the movie's sci-fi elements, it's very much a human drama. Similarly, you've mentioned being a fan of Lord of the Rings, which at its heart is a story about friendship and loyalty. Despite all its "fantasy" trappings, its a story about people first and foremost.

    By Blogger Steve Shapiro, at 5/31/2005 3:25 PM  

  • You're probably right, which would explain why I enjoyed the books so much, but found the movie underwhelming.

    By Blogger Irina Tsukerman, at 5/31/2005 4:11 PM  

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