Yet another world music-listening / Criterion Collection film-watching / Hudson River School art fan / camping / genre fiction-loving libertarian Mormon English teacher. And the father of 7. "The rebel of the 21st century will be old fashioned."
The best thing about the new Star Wars teaser trailer is how thoroughly cinematic it is. Most trailers, especially teaser trailers, are just a lazy mess of spotlighted clips. This one, though, was clearly constructed with a specific narrative arc in mind.
It naturally falls into three acts:
Act I: Establishing character and setting
First we see Tatooine, then we see a hero. The hero is tired, sweaty, and scared. And alone. That’s how we know he’s a hero, despite the Stormtrooper uniform–villains never appear so beleaguered in Act I.
The soccer ball droid reassures us that two big mainstays of the series are still present: innovation and whimsy.
The next shot reaffirms the first: a panicked, lone hero in a hurry. No coincidence here: clearly, we’re meant to know that this film will show our new protagonists in a fractured, oppressed state, desperate to escape a threatening presence. This, of course, is highlighted by the gravelly voiceover.
The fourth “scene” reaffirms the second: a reassurance here, not of innovation and whimsy, but of action and equipment. Few series are so rooted in their weapons and vehicles as Star Wars, and this part of the trailer shows us J.J. Abrams doing what he did with Star Trek: preserving the bets of the old while updating its peripheral elements.
Yes, they’re awful movies, but there are some great things about them that we should be able to acknowledge despite that.
1. The music. John Williams’ “Duel of the Fates” is a terrific theme, as are its derivatives. Totally worthy of the series. The usage of the theme was even judicious, never becoming obnoxious.
2. The titles. The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith are great names, in full harmony with the original three–nostalgic, evocative, melodramatic. Too bad the content didn’t live up to the promise here.
I’ve started many books which I’ve stopped reading before they were finished–some after only a few chapters, others when I was halfway through–but there has only been one where I read far more than half and then decided that I had wasted enough time on it. That was Eragon; I only had 50 pages left when I stopped and never looked back. I quit because at that point, the rest of the book was clear and my hope that it would get better was fully crushed.
I thought I’d bring this up now since the last book in the series has just started dominating the best seller lists, like the fantasy equivalent of another Adam Sandler movie: dishearteningly popular despite total stupidity.
Speaking of movies, in a footnote (see #71) to his scathing review of the Eragon film, which somehow managed to be even more bland and lifeless than the novel, Eric D. Snider pinpoints the imaginative failure of this story:
Here’s what happens in the movie version of “Eragon.” A petulant young man without parents lives with his uncle on a remote farm. The boy finds an object belonging to the imperial ruler, and the ruler sends soldiers to the farm to retrieve it, killing the uncle in the process. The boy then meets with an old man whom the locals consider crazy, and he explains the boy’s destiny, training him in the ways of an ancient art that is no longer practiced but which was once a powerful means of keeping peace in the world. The old man himself was once a practitioner, and in fact so was the imperial ruler; they were friends, even. But the ruler suffered a great personal loss and turned to the dark side, becoming evil and standing by as nearly everyone who practiced the art was killed. It is now up to the young man to be trained in these ways so he can do battle with the imperial ruler and defeat his evil empire.
When it came time for the vote on the controversial bill that Wisconsin’s teachers are ditching work to protest, it was stalled because the Democrats in the state senate–all of them–got on a bus and ran away, out of state. The governor has dispatched the state troopers to find them, but I don’t think that’s good enough for these gutless cowards, subverting the will of the people as made manifest in elections, by pandering to their special interests.
When something similar happened in Texas a few years ago, Governor Rick Perry sent out the Texas Rangers (the law enforcement officers, not the athletes) after them. Sadly, Wisconsin doesn’t have access to the Chuck Norris squad, so perhaps we could offer him some other options. Tell me which one you like best.
It’s a common quip that Mormon nerds love to make analogies between their church and Star Wars. Short of some of the generic ideas about faith in the series, though (“I don’t believe it!” “That is why you fail.”), I haven’t actually seen much commentary from anyone linking the two.
Now, Star Wars is not exactly deep theology, but after the release of the dreadful prequel trilogy, I did notice that the overall story arc meshes with our understanding of history pretty well. In short, the original saga tells the story of a Restoration, while the newer three episodes go back to tell the story of the Apostasy. In Episodes IV-VI, truths and powers that had been lost by persecution and rejection are slowly brought back to life as a new generation of heroes are called upon to start the work over. Episodes I-III go back to show us just how those truths and powers were lost. In fact, I started making this connection when I saw Yoda and Obi-Wan talking, and Yoda confessed that the Jedi Order was weakening and was not as close to the Force as it had once been. I immediately pictured a late-first century meeting of church leaders to discuss the growing distance of the Spirit from their organization. When the Jedi were exterminated in Episode III, I saw Apostles being beheaded, run through, and crucified head down.
This is hardly a point-by-point metaphor. Obviously, there are huge differences between Star Wars and church history. However, with this basic template in mind, more than few solid correspondences can be made:
Church history figure
Star Wars character
Conflicted young man from an obscure, pastoral setting is called upon by events around him to rise up and form a new order—a restoration of an older, lost order
The last human survivor of the lost order, he disappears from the setting until the founder of the new order is ready, whereupon he delivers early messages to the young man and begins his training
A supernatural power that had been lost with the destruction of the old order, which is bestowed on the new founder and which he learns to use from the survivors of the lost order. Requires faith and effort to operate. Is treated lightly by nonbelievers
Near the beginning of Episode II, when Obi Wan has jumped out the window and is hanging on to the droid that tried to kill Padme, and the assassin sees the droid and Obi Wan coming towards her, why the heck does she shoot the droid? Wouldn’t it have made much more sense just to shoot Obi Wan? But I guess then the movie would have been over.
On a related note, perhaps she could have asseverated vertiginously with a dichotomy of pulchritude.
I enjoy the Star Wars movies, but I’m not nearly so rabid about it as many of my generation. Perhaps that’s why I’ve especially liked two things I’ve read recently: this, a detailed reflection on the several awful drafts of the first Star Wars script before the 1977 movie was finally made, and this, a run down of some of the biggest logical loopholes in the physical designs of that universe.
The best part of the latter is reading the superior comments from readers, and the best part of the former is seeing just how many of Lucas’s original ideas–which were far too lame and got cut from the first Star Wars film he made–mostly got recycled and ended up in the prequel trilogy. As if we needed more vindication for hating Episode I.
Speaking of the prequels, here’s a huge failure of reason from Episode II that I’ve never figured out. Why the heck does the Republic, much less the Jedi, trust the clone army in the first place? Obi Wan finds that the army was created–allegedly–under the secret auspices of a dead Jedi master, but was clearly done so without the consent of the Jedi council. Further, the army was patterned after a mysterious bounty hunter who tried to kill Obi Wan. And didn’t it strike anyone as suspicious that this army just happened to show up at the precise time that the Republic found its resources strained by new hostilities and in need of more muscle? Shouldn’t that alone have made people leery of bringing these guys on board?
I mean, if America were suddenly under increasing siege, and the president’s advisers found that someone had just finished secretly training an army for decades under the orders of a former high ranking general–but who had launched the program without the authorization of the president–and those soldiers had been trained and molded in the exact pattern of a known terrorist, wouldn’t you think we just might not send those guys right into action for us?
Unless you’re a devoted fan of Star Wars, this one could probably wait until it comes out on disc. Other than the great sequence with a proto-Walker climbing a vertical cliff face, there isn’t much in this little movie that’s especially visually spectacular. In fact, there isn’t much that’s spectacular in it at all. (This review gets filed under “Random.” The movie isn’t good enough to warrant getting included with “Arts.”)
George Lucas conceived of this Clone Wars movie as a pilot for a new animated series, but it feels just like a regular episode of such television fare. At no time does this new entry in the saga rise to the ambitious levels set by all the other big screen entries. Remember those two Ewok movies in the mid 80’s? This movie doesn’t aim for too much bigger of a scale than those did, which is sad considering the quality animation and larger narrative background available for Star Wars now.
Perhaps the biggest problem with this new movie, though, is its insistence on continuing to plumb the depths of ethnic stereotypes. After the laughable “trade federation” stooges of the prequel trilogy–and, of course, Jar Jar Binks–2008’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars gives us, in the first half, a grizzled alien general with a thick Scottish accent and, in the second half, a ridiculously vile and corrupt Hutt…who sounds like somebody’s Big Momma straight out of New Orleans. (I sometimes think that the vanguard of our culture’s obsession with demonizing our own heritage lies with the fact that virtually every major Star Wars villain has had a British accent.)
So, to summarize, the new Clone Wars movie in theaters is visually uninspired, with almost none of the new vehicles, weapons, and creatures that draw in fans of the series, adds practically nothing to the mythology of the saga (alas, this “big screen event” amounts to no more than a mere footnote), and what little it does give us dwells on trite rehashes of the weaknesses of the series. The “remix” theme music is likewise lame. And the conclusion…it fizzles out with an appropriately dull whimper.