Monday, May 23, 2005

The Dark Side: Review of Star Wars

Star Wars fans are the abused husbands of geekdom. George Lucas treats us like dirt, and while we're whimpering in a corner nursing our black eye we whimper to ourselves "he used to be such a good man". We think back to when we were younger and in love. Everything was flowers and candy. He gave us lightsabers and space battles. Wookies and scoundrels. He left us for a long time, and when he came back things just weren't the same. Oh, we tried to fool ourselves into thinking that the relationship would get better, but it never did. We tried to excuse his behavior to our friends. "you know, Jar Jar wasn't that bad. Besides, it's not like dialog is really important in a movie." We didn't believe it in our hearts, and neither did our friends. They shook their heads and wondered if we would get the help we need.

George Lucas must have been visiting Dr. Phil or something, because after two movies or treating his audience like dirt he actually gave us a pretty decent film. Really.

I'm part of a generation that grew up on Star Wars. As a wee lad I remember my Star Wars t-shirts, my action figures, the board games and every other single bit of memorabilia that I could get my little fingers on. There wasn't an internet back then. We would scrape and beg for even the smallest scrap of information about Star Wars. We would get excited about Mark Hamill appearing on the Muppet Show. We would argue on the playground for hours about plot points and what was going to happen in the next movie. I even watched the Star Wars Christmas special for christsake, and that had Bea Arthur singing.

When the prequels came out, there was electricity in the air. It was the end of the nineties and the geeky Star Wars kids had conquered the world. The kid with the Darth Vadar lunchbox had become the computer designer driving the economy. The prequels were going to be a vindication of a whole generation. IT departments across the nation were shut down the day of release. This was going to be greatest moment of our lives.

Then we saw Phantom Menace and boy did it hurt. We walked out of the movie trying to find it's redeeming qualities. Perhaps Jar Jar wasn't that bad. You know, it's not like C3PO wasn't annoying back in the day. Hey, it's for the kids. We were just jaded adults, and the movies weren't really meant for us. Perhaps the first three Star Wars films weren't that good either.

Eventually we accepted the truth. They just weren't very good films. Cringe worthy for adults, and too boring for kids. The first two movies forced us to accept that Star Wars was dead. No worry. We always would have our memories.

I was going to skip the third movie. Wait until it came out on video. Then something happened. My son discovered Star Wars. Watching a borrowed DVD he watched as the Star Destroyer crawled along the screen in the opening, and jumped for joy as the Death Star was destroyed. Everything he held became light saber. He would echo lines from the movie, telling my wife "help me mommy. You're my only hope." Sometimes we live through our children, and watching the movies with his eyes, that old love came back. We watched the Clone Wars cartoon, and both cheered as Yoda swept away armies of droids. Here's a boy not much younger than I was when I first discovered Star Wars. I didn't have a choice but to buy a ticket to Revenge of the Sith on opening weekend.

The first hour and a half of the movie isn't really much better than the previous two. The actors are still wooden, the story muddled, and it offered not much more than gratuitous eye candy. Moments of the film were unwatchable. Natalie Portman sucked the life out of every scene she was in. My hope is that in the directors cut they replace every scene she appears in with a picture of a puppy. It couldn't be any worse is all I'm saying.

Then something happens to the movie. In the final hour it suddenly becomes everything that the kid inside of me wanted to see on the screen. We watch the descent of Annikan and the rise of Darth Vadar. The echoes of previous films ring loudly as he's seduced by the dark side. We know how it's going to end, but we don't care because we're captivated by it. The performances become gripping and you finally get a sense of the tragedy that Lucas is trying to tell.

It ain't prefect, but it works.

There are faults. For one thing, it's not fair to the generation of young fans my son's age. It becomes far too dark for children to see. When the anti-hero slaughters a room full of children, it just isn't something I want to have to explain to my son.

Yet in the end, the final film provides a justification of my childhood love of Star Wars. You're still a bad director, George, and I'm still waiting for you to give me back the six hours of my life I wasted watching the first two prequels, but at least you stop beating us up long enough to give us a big wet kiss at the end.

Now I just have to explain to Joe why we have to leave the theater before the movie is over when we see it next weekend.

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