Friday, November 2, 2012

Star Wars: Episode VII - Reawakening of the Fanboy

Okay, I admit it. I'm excited! This week's announcement that Disney has paid $4.05 Billion for Lucasfilm and will be making a new Star Wars trilogy was like waking up as a kid on Christmas morning and finding the best present ever under the tree!

I've blogged before about my two most vivid movie memories when I was kid (Movie Moments Through The Generations) - the image of that Star Destroyer gliding across the screen in Star Wars is indelibly printed on my brain... as it is for many, many people. Back in the days when it was simply Star Wars, not Episode IV: A New Hope even though that was on the opening title scrawl. But we'll come to that later.

Another story from the original trilogy. It's 1983. I'm in Year 12 at Scotch. A friend has a copy of the eagerly anticipated third movie that hasn't opened in Australia yet. On VHS tape. From memory his parents had come back from overseas, maybe Singapore, I can't remember. What I do remember is this, a bunch of us went over to his house to watch Return of the Jedi... over and over and over again. We were poring through that thing like forensic scientists, particularly the speeder chase sequence on Endor trying to find gaps in the special effects. Stop, pause, slow speed, rewind, trying to go frame by frame. Laughable today but the bee's knees back then. I never saw ROTJ at the cinema because I must have seen it what felt like a dozen times that night.

There were so many good things in that film - I recall I was particularly taken by the crimson clad Stormtroopers guarding the Emperor and the epic lightsabre fight between Luke and Darth Vader before Vader redeems himself and kills said Emperor. Quite possibly Carrie Fisher's costume in the opening sequence as well. Okay, I was 17 and she was like the pinup girl for sci fi geeks everywhere. (Mine was actually Erin Gray who played Colonel Wilma Deering in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century). But there were also warning signs. Enough has already been written about the Ewoks but, really? Plus a second Death Star? I guess the first one was still under warranty.

Back then it was always understood that there would be 9 films. So the ending of Jedi kind of confused me and seemed to bring a premature conclusion to the story arc. Then crickets... for years. I never did get into the Expanded Universe though I'm sure I have a couple of novelisations somewhere and did have a Star Wars computer game at one stage that I quite liked.

Then came word there would be a new Star Wars movie. Boy, was I excited! Boy, was I disappointed when it turned out to be Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Boy, did I HATE the retrospective naming of the first three films to include the episode number. Then came Attack of the Clones which makes The Phantom Menace look like Citizen Kane. The dialogue in that film, including my favourite worst line of all time - "Hold me like you did by the lake on Naboo" - and the whole "sand is coarse" tepid romance nonsense that felt like it was written by a 14 year old boy who'd just seen Erin Gray in a body-hugging silver jumpsuit for the first time... sorry, I might have gone off track there a little. What was I sayi-- ah, yes. It SUCKED! As in blood is gushing from my ears, please stop talking now. Plus Yoda doing things no formerly-charming-puppet-but-now-CGI-concoction should ever be asked to do. His fight sequence with the ridiculously named Count Dooku (sounded like a Sesame Street character) is equally ridiculous. The third of the prequels, despite being touted as the "good one", I barely remember. Except for the absurd "Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!" as Darth Vader is born from the remnants of Hayden Chistensen's acting career.

Then came the tinkering. Of the original three movies! I watched the special edition of Star Wars last night and was struck by how annoying the alterations are, most infamously Greedo shooting first in the catina scene. And, of course, inserting the ghost of Hayden Christensen's acting career into the end of Return of the Jedi. It is with much annoyance and sadness that I realise that I'll never be able to watch the Star Wars I saw as an 11 year old back in 1977, ever. There was a certain charm to its sparseness in places, its flaws, its defects. Stop taking that away, George! It also struck me how much Harrison Ford as Han Solo makes that movie and the original trilogy. Lucas totally forgot that when he made the prequels - the humour and charm was replaced by a dour earnestness that is crippling.

We come to the Disney announcement and the reawakening of the fanboy in me yet again. Why? The movie I have not mentioned yet and the one generally regarded as the best of the franchise - The Empire Strikes Back (stick your Star Wars, Episode V nonsense where the sun don't shine). NOT written by George Lucas. NOT directed by George Lucas. (Okay, neither was Jedi but damn, those ewoks were undoubtedly his creation!).

Lucas gets slagged off a lot these days but let me offer some praise before the brickbats. His genius was in creating a remarkable universe in a galaxy far, far away. Also for tying up the sequel and merchandising rights. More power to him. It is such a rich world with almost infinite story possibilities. So credit George with the vision.

What he's not so good at? Well, unfortunately, writing and directing. This despite being Oscar nominated in both categories for Star Wars (and American Graffiti). There is enough hokey dialogue in Star Wars to "stop a team of oxen its tracks" (misappropriated by my favourite writer) and the first act shouldn't really work as it sets up a droid - yes, R2D2 - as the protagonist for much of its length. Harrison Ford famously said, "George, you can write this shit, but you sure as hell can't say it."

The prequels reinforced everything bad about his deficiencies in these areas. The advent of the technology that supposedly allowed him to create his true vision also led to soulless, charmless, green-screened, woodenly acted, CGI cartoons. The scripts feel like first drafts and are simply awful. They include what I consider to be the worst screenwriting mistake IN HISTORY. Yes, way to destroy one of the great modern myths by introducing the concept of midi-chlorians. You too can work out if you're a Jedi by going to your local GP, asking for a blood test and, if you're lucky, most medical centres in the galaxy bulk bill these days so you won't even have to pay. I still shake my head at this. Inexplicable.

So, having George removed from writing and directing duties for the next trilogy is a HUGE plus. Lawrence Kasdan, who was on one of the great hot streaks at the time, co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back (with Leigh Brackett). He also wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark, Body Heat, Return of the Jedi and The Big Chill from 1980-83. Experienced directors Irvin Kershner and Richard Marquand were brought in to director TESB and ROTJ respectively. Certainly not big names but competent.

Imagine what a new Star Wars trilogy might look like with the pairing of an A-list writer with an A-list director. Make no mistake, if Disney hasn't already tied up deals, those roles will be the hottest ticket items possibly in Hollywood history. Look at what J.J. Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman did in rebooting the tired Star Trek franchise (while ironically using heaps of iconic Star Wars allusions!). Though Orci & Kurtzman have recused themselves in my mind with the awfully misguided genre mashup that was Cowboys and Aliens. Hell, Sorkin's agent is probably on the phone pitching a courtroom-style drama about the Trade Federation negotiations as a Greek style tragedy of greed and betrayal. Okay, no-one wants to see that. No, really, not even if Sorkin did write it.

What will the story be? Will it be faithful to Star Wars canon as established in the Expanded Universe? Will it pick up immediately from the end of Return of the Jedi? What source material will it use? Which characters?


There's going to be a new Star Wars movie in 2015 and I'm as excited as all get out about that and, sorry George, I'm glad you're not directly involved.

May the Force be with us all!

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