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Monday, October 25, 2010


THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980): the only STAR WARS movie I will ever willingly sit through again.

I don't recall the exact moment when it happened and I guess that isn't really relevant, but at the age of forty-four I have finally had enough of nearly everything that even remotely has to do with STAR WARS, its sequels, its crazy galaxy, its everything. To many people of my age such a statement is nothing short of blasphemy, but it's recently dawned on me that I just don't give a fuck anymore.

The original STAR WARS came out a month before my twelfth birthday and was the best kind of entertainment for a lad like me at that age. This was before the light switch about girls was permanently clicked to the "ON" position in my brain, and the film's dazzling special effects and far-flung alien vistas blew my mind and the minds of damned near every kid of my generation, be they male or female. Fuck the fact that the so-called science fiction film had no relation whatsoever to actual science, physics or logic; the shit was fun and that's all there was to it. It opened imaginations up to all manner of visual and conceptual possibilities, even inspiring one of my classmates to borrow his dad's drafting table and architect's implements so he could create an impressive series of blueprints of the Millennium Falcon, working from no reference other than what he called up from memory after seeing the movie at least twenty times. STAR WARS was a full-blown worldwide phenomenon, missed only perhaps by cannibalistic hunter/gatherers deep within the rain forests of South America, and for better or worse it changed the way we looked at films and turned Hollywood into a factory that seemed to exist for no purpose other than to churn out the next money-raking blockbuster. (Some say that state of affairs began with JAWS in 1975, but it really kicked into high gear with the release and success of STAR WARS.)

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980) was the first of the newly-minted franchise's sequels and it did everything in its power to equal and surpass what the fans got from the original. I truly enjoyed THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK for many reasons, but while it remains the only STAR WARS film I'll willingly sit through again I have to admit that the film loses it for me right about when the gang in the Millennium Falcon hit Bespin and get betrayed by Lando Calrissian, a boring non-character thrown in solely to answer complaints about there being no black people in the STAR WARS galaxy. Yeah, I know the reveal about Luke's parentage happens after that but what was somewhat shocking twenty-nine years ago has since become so much a part of the culture that it's frequently been used as a punchline in things that have no relation to STAR WARS, so I don't need to see it again.

Then came 1983's RETURN OF THE JEDI, where George Lucas was now fully in power and all the film had was, as Dante so precisely observed in Kevin Smith's CLERKS (1994), "a bunch of Muppets," and not very good ones at that (Sy Snootles, anyone?). Just about everything in the film ate it bigtime, plus they couldn't even be bothered to give the audience anything new in terms of a "Big Bad" and instead gave us the Death Star again. And do not get me started on those fucking Ewoks; a bunch of low-rent ripoffs of H. Beam Piper's charming Fuzzies, they may be the ultimate example of Lucasfilm's marketing power in that we know the fucking things are called Ewoks but are at no point in the film referred to as such. Seriously, go back and watch it again. They are never once referred to by either individual names or a blanket term for their species, and yet we all know what they are.

Next followed an almost two decade gap between the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy, and during that time STAR WARS fandom and merchandising exploded like a pandemic of geekishness, burying us beneath an avalanche of products whose sole saving grace was finally giving us decent commercially-available lightsaber toys. There are those who make a strong case for the "Slave Leia" image becoming part of the pantheon of hot sci-fi chicks, but I beg to differ. No offense meant to Carrie Fisher, whose work in the first STAR WARS I liked a lot, but the Princess lost all trace of personality after her first go-round and if I wanted to see a scantily-clad woman in fantasy gear I could simply pick up any art book of paintings by Frank Frazetta. Also the fact of the matter is that Carrie Fisher may be appealing in some respects but is not what I'd call "hot" by any stretch of the imagination, and did not successfully pull off the look as intended (at least not in my opinion). She was no Nancy Culp in a bikini, but you know what I mean.

When the prequel trilogy finally came about it proved to be a creative cul de sac, offering nothing more than awful self-revisionism (Midi-Chlorians being the chief bone of contention), Jar-Jar Binks, the wretched Annikin Skywalker (both child and young adult), and an endless parade of soulless and uninvolving CGI. Kevin Murphy, the voice of Tom Servo of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 fame, described STAR WARS EPISODE ONE: THE PHANTOM MENACE as "the moment when George Lucas went pants-crapping insane" during his commentary on the film for the RiffTrax version, and I'm inclined to agree with him. The prequel trilogy reveals a filmmaker who has total creative freedom and has no real interest in giving his characters any kind of personality, instead turning his attentions to the films' lavish budgets and the incredible images the techno-wizards at Industrial Light and Magic can generate. They're pretty to look at but totally unsatisfying as entertainment, and I think it says volumes that the only way to enjoy them is by watching the RiffTrax versions and nearly pissing oneself at the merciless commentary that practically writes itself as each sequence unspools.

STAR WARS ran its course and served its purpose many, many years ago and as of now it is dead to me. That makes me very sad because its mythology was once a great comfort, but now I guess I've either simply outgrown it or become too discerning to find it appealing anymore. Considering how much other stuff I enjoy that's total crap I doubt I've become any more discerning, but whatever the case, Adios, STAR WARS. I'm out.

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