Monday, March 12, 2012

Force Perspective

Boys and girls, I think the time has come to have "the talk". I know your mother says you're still too young and it might be awkward and confusing for you, but you all have to hear about this sometime, and I'd rather tell you myself than have you hear it out on the streets somewhere. I believe you're all old enough and mature enough now to have this discussion. So put on a pot of coffee, slide into your bunny slippers, and get comfortable, kids.

Today we're going to talk about Star Wars.

WAIT! Please, hold on a sec here, don't exit this blog in disgust just yet. At least wait and hear out what I've got to say. I know that to most people these days, hearing the words "let's talk about Star Wars" sounds about as appealing as "let's talk about the ASTM standards for bias & precision in various applications". But what I want to tell you is a bit more serious than all of that.

See, with The Phantom Menace being re-released last month (in 3-D!!!!!!!!!!! LOOK AT THE KEYS!!!!!) I felt compelled to finally speak my peace about these movies, to say what I've been holding in since 1999. I feel the time is now right, thirteen years later, to get it all out in the open once and for all. My thesis for today's discussion, boys & girls, is this: I think the Star Wars prequels are just as good as the originals.

Again, WAIT! Remember, I believe you're all mature enough now to listen to this sort of thing without throwing a temper tantrum and stomping your feet. Please don't prove me wrong on that front. Give me a chance to explain my reasoning here. And no, I don't believe my words are going to change anyone's opinion. Trust me, you'd literally have better luck finding the Holy Grail than you would trying to change an angry nerd's opinion on any subject, least of all where Star Wars is concerned. I'm not out to play Oprah and sway anybody's allegiances here; all I hope to accomplish is to make you hear (and possibly even reflect upon) the other side of this incredibly one-sided argument.

So, to all those of you who have already started contemplating synonyms for the word "idiot" so you can creatively insult me the next time we meet, please lower your torches and pitchforks for a moment. The reasoning behind my seemingly "mad" statement is really quite simple. I'm not some hyper-intelligent man or anything: I didn't study or analyze the socio-political commentaries or underlying messages of the six Star Wars films and arrive at some previously unforeseen academic conclusion. I'm just a regular schmuck who happens to like Star Wars and who happens to have seen these movies in my own peculiar perspective.

I was first introduced to Lucas' sci-fi opus when I was 4. During a trip to Disneyworld, I saw a Darth Vader statue on display behind a glass case, complete with a sound chip that made him breathe when anyone got near. I thought he was a scuba diver. My mom quickly explained that I was in fact an idiot, and Vader was not a scuba diver but a Dark Lord of the Sith from a series of movies called Star Wars. Upon returning home, I eventually received the trilogy on VHS as a gift. I watched them one-by-one, each one about a month apart, and took in everything that I saw. Even though they were already 15 years old at the time, they still managed to resonate with me.

For whatever reason, I never got around to seeing the Special Edition when it was in theatres, but I was still obsessed with the movies. I devoured every novel, comic book, or informative guide on the subject that I could get my grubby little hands on. I was bouncing on my heels, eagerly awaiting the forthcoming prequels promised to us by that huggable flannel monster himself, George Lucas.

The abridged version of what followed: when I was 12, The Phantom Menace was released. Saw it. Loved it. When I was 15, Attack of the Clones was released. Saw it. Loved it. When I was 18, Revenge of the Sith was released. Saw it. Loved it.

But why? Why did I love them? Why did I harbor fondness for three movies that were so universally hated, you'd think the cast & crew were in league with Kony or something (relevant cultural reference: ZING!). Like I said, the answer is very simple. I loved them because they're just as good as the originals.

If you want to talk about the overuse of CG, that's fine. I get that. That's obviously the kinda movie Lucas wants to make, though, and had he held off on making the originals until 1999, they would have been full of CG, too. The creature puppets are fantastic, nobody can argue that. But CG's not what I'm here to talk about. If you hated the prequels strictly because you hate CG, then I hate to break it to you, friend, but that's not their fault: it's yours. Your tastes just ain't suited to a modern day film made by George Lucas. If you generally hate Chinese food and then complain that "that new Chinese food restaurant sucked"...sorry, but, you're digging in the wrong place.

The acting & dialogue? Now that's a big concern. And I'm not a completely blind idiot here: I'm defending the prequels, yes, but I'll be first to admit, there were times when the acting & the words being spoken made me cringe. But let's be honest with each other, kids: nobody remembers the originals for any stellar acting moments, either. I've had over two dozen different drama teachers in my lifetime, and none of them have ever asked me to read and analyze the intricacies of Princess Leia's "Help Me" monologue. Remember, these are the same screenwriters who made critically-acclaimed classical actor Sir Alec Guinness speak the words "I don't seem to remember ever owning a droid." But we still loved those movies.

Jar Jar Binks. ........................ Sorry, just wanted to let that set in for a moment and give people a moment to fume. Again, Jar Jar Binks. Annoying? Absolutely. Overused? Definitely. Strangely erotic? Hey, if you like, I'm not here to pass judgment. Is that so different from the Ewoks? Was Wicket W. Warrick annoying and overused? You bet. And apart from the Ewoks and the Gungans having roughly the same grasp on the English language, both of them aided our hero characters in leading a revolt against the antagonists. The only difference I can see? Ewoks have fur. But we still loved those movies.

How about the general silliness of it all? The ridiculous use of the word "younglings", the cheesy romance, the wacky alien creatures, the groan-worthy puns...the prequels had it all in spades, didn't they? But were the originals any less silly? Did everyone in 1977 really just sit back and think, "There's totally nothing strange about an 8-foot tall Wookiee who growls like a dog. I buy that."? Did anybody rise angrily out of their seats when the Emperor first started shooting lightning and yell, "Bullshit! That's way too absurd for me!!!"? For those of you who scowl with outrage whenever you hear the words "clone army" or watch the Podrace do know that laser swords are IMPOSSIBLE, right? That's why it's called science-FICTION.

I don't love everything about the Star Wars movies, kids. I don't love everything about the prequels, and I don't love everything about the originals. I can recognize good parts and bad parts and even awful parts, but I know a good story when I see one, and at the end of the day all of the positive outweighs the negative a hundredfold.

The playwright George Bernard Shaw once said something that I believe is the single most important quote in my life, literally the words I strive to live by day-by-day. Mr. Shaw said, "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." A majority of the people who hail the Star Wars prequels as the coming of the AntiChrist generally saw the original movies when they were much younger, as did I. But those people, in my humble opinion, "stopped playing". They grew up, took things like Star Wars a little more seriously than they should have, and as a result they lost out on experiencing three movies that deliver just as much excitement, adventure, and FUN (everyone who hated the prequels, please look this word up in the dictionary as a refresher) as the first three flicks.

Star Wars
didn't change. It didn't get worse or stagnate. YOU did, kids. That doesn't make the prequels bad movies, and that doesn't make you bad people: all we have here are two factors that were once compatible, but no longer are. 8-year-olds in 1977 didn't give a flying fuck about "acting" or "dialogue" or "believability": those are ugly, boring grown-up words that adults say out loud in front of other adults in order to give off the appearance of being "mature" and "sophisticated". 8-year-olds saw lightsabers, aliens, robots, spaceships, and monsters, and that was pure perfection for them. If you liked lightsabers, aliens, robots, spaceships, and monsters back then...then the only thing preventing you from liking them again now is that now you have a mortgage and you're bitter because you found your first grey hair and you really want that raise but John from HR hasn't been returning your e-mails and you've been trying to save up to renovate the basement on.

To me,the Star Wars prequels are as good as their predecessors because they did what we should all strive to do: they never stopped playing.

So go out there and have fun. Take your kids to the park. Take your wife out for ice cream. Wear a silly tie to work. Dance in the middle of your kitchen, even if there's no music playing. Use those alphabet magnets on your fridge to spell out dirty words. Roll around in the grass with your dog. Become a Jedi Knight like your father. PLAY.

May the Force be with you.