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It was unforgivable.
I had just sat through the third abortion of George Lucas’s Star Wars prequel trilogy, ‘Return of the Sith.’ After storming out of the theatre I ended up traipsing the streets for hours on end dismayed at what I had sat through. I was furious at myself for giving up my precious beer money for a soft bellied billionaire, who had creatively raped his own mythology–not to mention my precious childhood memories. It had seemed so promising in the promos too. But I should have known better. The first two movies (‘The Phantom Menace’ and ‘Attack of the Clones’) had been duds so why would this be any different? As a result ‘The Return of the Sith,’ managed the almost impossible and actually outstripped its predecessors in mediocrity. The insipid acting still abounded, particularly from Hayden Christensen who portrayed the lead role of Anikan Skywalker, with a distinct lack of presence. His forgettable star-turn was only enhanced by the forgettable storyline. He had insisted on wearing the Dark Lord’s robes and iconic black mask as a way to get inside the character. I wondered, since when did Darth Vader ever become a five foot nothing village idiot with an oversized helmet? The fact of the matter is, George Lucas, had not done his own homework. He was too busy spanking the monkey over his new computer generated character, Ja Ja Binks!
Let me take you back to a galaxy far, far away in the year of our Lord 1977. I was seven years old at the time. Like, Luke Skywalker, I would look to the horizon for a far more exciting life. Being a fragile loner I disliked school with a vengeance and felt that nobody understood me. I felt an aching hole in my heart. Star Wars would fill this emotional chasm. My first real memory of knowing anything about it was when I saw it being advertised on TV. I vividly remember seeing a large hairy ape flying a space ship. I ran to my Mum to ask her what it was all about.
“It’s a new science fiction movie that has become very, very popular,” she told me.
“Can we go and see it!”
“Ask your father.”
I ran up to Dad.
“Can we go and see Star Wars!” I begged.
“Ask your mother,” he said.
It was decided.
Star Wars has the greatest opening sequence in cinema history. The opening credit reads, Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away….. The viewer is then bedazzled by John William’s majestic score and the iconic scrolling of words that gives us the basic set up. There are bad guys called the Empire who rule the galaxy with an iron fist and a group of heroic Rebels who are trying to overthrow them. Simple. As the credits fade away we find ourselves in deep space. The camera pans down to a great vista of planets. And then bang! The thundering sound of a spaceship vibrates through the speakers. Before we know it we are in the middle of a spectacular laser fight between a small rebel freighter and a gigantic star destroyer.
Ironically, I missed the first few minutes of the beginning because my Dad got talking to someone he met at the supermarket. Yes that’s right, I missed the greatest opening sequence in movie history, because my father was too busy discussing his technique for putting coffee in a thermostat. Eventually we managed to make it to the movie. I remember stumbling into the darkness of the theater and hearing the sound of heavy breathing. I looked up and saw this towering black figure wearing a demonic helmet, holding a poor wretched rebel officer by the throat with one hand. Mum literally had to push me into the seat, because I was so hypnotized by what I was witnessing. What I can say, it was love at first sight and the first time something had truly captured my imagination.
A year later I actually got to see the opening sequence and was thrilled once again at this amazing space saga, which had become an instant classic. To give you an idea of how quickly it had seeped into popular culture I remember watching a movie called, ‘Same Time Next Year’. It starred Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn. The premise is about a married couple who meet once a year in the same hotel through the decades. Each change of decade is signified with a montage of historic events that have occurred through their time together. When the film presented the seventies, the montage ends with a photograph of the two famous droids from Star Wars, C-3PO and R2D2.
‘Same Time Next Year’ was only released a year and a half after Star Wars hit the screens.
I have seen ‘Star Wars’ many times over the years and even with my adult eyes I still feel the same magic I felt as a seven-year-old. Sure it is flawed, but its verve and energy still invigorates me. The only movie superior to it in my view is the sequel, ‘Empire Strikes Back’. The story continues to unfold on many levels, incorporating action, romance, mind blowing plot twists and a cerebral edge, which is added by the introduction of the Jedi master, Yoda. Unlike its predecessor the ending is dark and it is the good guys who get their asses kicked.
The third film, ‘Return of the Jedi’, is a bit disappointing, despite some memorable moments, like the unsuccessful seduction of Luke Skywalker to the dark side. Perversely, it comes down to a bunch of teddy bears called, Ewokes, who finally put an unlikely end to the Empires tyrannical rule. Unfortunately, this is the cynical direction in which the new franchise would take in years to come. By that time, George Skywalker, had well and truly gone to the dark side and become Darth Lucas. A simple story with complex ideas has turned into a complex story with simplistic ideas. I could go into all the anomalies present in the prequels that don’t match up to the story in the originals, but that ground has been well and truly covered by others with far more nerdy credentials than mine.
This is my personal testament to a wonderful creation made by a wonderful artist, who ended up getting soft thanks to too many sycophants saying yes, instead of yelling out, are you out of mind! I know that my views on this subject are not holy embraced. There are those fools, who have fooled themselves into thinking that the new trilogy is even better than the originals. If you love mindless battle scenes, aimless plot threads, soppy romances, inane dialog and wooden acting I can understand. But the essential essence of what made ‘Star Wars’ so great was its story telling, its indelible characters and the organic quality of the special effects that still hold up today. Mark my words, I will never, ever grace a movie theater again that purports to be part of the ‘Star Wars’ universe (AKA, ‘The Clone Wars.’) again!
To quote Lord Vader, “You have failed me for the last time George!”