Geeks don't agree on anything. Mac OS or Windows? PlayStation, Xbox or Wii? Peanut or plain? But there is one thing on which all geeks can agree.
George Lucas ruined Star Wars.
[Photo By Bonnie Burton -- Starwars.com]
In every way, George Lucas ruined the franchise with the three horrendous, unwatchable monstrosities that will forever taint the Star Wars brand. I'm embarrassed that my son will grow up thinking that those three 'prequels' (though 'putrid mutant offspring' is a more apt description) are part of the great trilogy that I enjoyed so much at his age. Thinking about the newer Star Wars movies actually makes me angry, in the same way that the BP Oil Spill or "Fox and Friends" makes me angry.
It didn't have to be this way; and, believe it or not, I think Lucas could still save the franchise, though I doubt he has the will to do so. I know there have been some great critiques of the Star Wars prequels. If you haven't watched this multi-part review of The Phantom Menace, you're depriving yourself of one of the only great, hilarious joys to come from that movie. Here's where I think things went wrong.
Everybody speaks English
This was the first problem I had with the new movies, and it comes up almost immediately. In the original trilogy, almost none of the aliens spoke English. And the humans didn't speak alien tongues, at least not out loud. Everybody said what they had to say, and they were understood. The audience got subtitles.
It led to some cool moments. In the third movie, Return of the Jedi, a bounty hunter with a raspy, alien voice forces its way into Jabba's layer with a thermal detonator. To the audience, it's another classic Star Wars alien, until she removes her helmet and reveals Princess Leia beneath. The switch from the cold, digital alien voice to the warm, soothing Leia reinforced the action on screen, where Han Solo was being thawed from a carbonite block.
In the prequels, the characters don't just speak English. They speak English with annoying, stereotypical and perhaps even racist accents. They use slang that is so horrible, it's cringe-worthy. Forget about the insufferable Jar-Jar. Everyone else, from the Trade Federation lackeys to the most minor, yet memorable alien character, usually a strong suit in Star Wars films, puts on some silly accent and slogs through the worst dialogue spoken on screen since "Howard the Duck."
Think of the problems Lucas could have solved by using alien voices again, instead. About a third of the horrible dialogue would have been washed away, especially the banal Jar-Jar. No more silly accents or horrible voice actors.
Every actor in the movie has already seen Star Wars
The problem isn't just that they've seen Star Wars, the problem is that they all act as if they are in a Star Wars movie. They act like every word is canonical. Every action and plot device is important. Geeks will pore over details for decades to come. Except that the movies all suck, so we won't.
In the first movies, nobody had a clue what was going on, but boy did it feel like a good time! Everybody is having fun, even at the most serious moments. They trade barbs and take jabs. They steal kisses and swing from the rafters . . . literally. They call each other "nerf herder," "fuzz ball," "laser brain," and it all sounds natural. In the prequels, there is too much gravitas. Perhaps because they were really long, boring movies about a trade dispute and a power grab in the senate, the actors decided to take themselves very, very seriously.
George Lucas is a horrible director
A long time ago, George Lucas directed a great movie called Star Wars. He was an unproven director in his early thirties. He had no children yet, and not a lot of money. It was a prime opportunity to make a break-out film, and he managed to come through.
Lucas did not direct the next two movies in the trilogy. He produced the movies and provided all of the financial backing, which undoubtedly gave him final say. But he didn't direct, and he didn't even write the screenplay, just the story.
The directors he chose were not experienced, nor did they go on to great things. But between the other directors, the screenwriters and everyone else involved, there was at least some input. There were other people to say "You know, George, this kind of sucks. I don't think the swimming jackass alien should have a Jamaican accent."
More than 20 years later, George Lucas got behind the camera again and directed all three of the prequels. He wrote them, adapted the screenplay and directed them. He did everything, and nobody had the power to tell him how horrible the films were turning out.
Too much explaining
I knew The Phantom Menace was a bad movie when I saw Jar-Jar for the first time. I knew it was unsalvageable when they discuss the midi-chlorians. Midi-chlorians are the technical, scientific and objective explanation for the force. In the original movies, nothing was overly explained. What's the force? It's all around us, it flows through us. What's a Jedi? A knight protector; a good guy. Why is Darth Vader dressed that way? Shut up, kid, you ask too many questions.
In the prequels, Lucas answers every single question I did not ask. I do not care about any of those explanations. Where does C-3PO come from? How did Darth Vader hurt his hand? What did the Emperor look like before he became the Emperor, and what was his day job? WHO CARES?!?
The entire trilogy should have started where "Revenge of the Sith" ended. Start with Anakin Skywalker getting disfigured in a battle with Obi Wan, and then spend the next three movies chasing Jedis across the galaxy. The Clone Wars is a good plot device, but Lucas didn't need to spend half a movie explaining where the clones came from and who made them. We get it, they're clones. Move on.
It's like Lucas didn't realize what made the first trilogy so cool. Instead, he read about the things everybody liked, and decided to make three movies explaining where cool came from.
How to save the day
There is a way to save Star Wars. All we need is one more movie. Bring back the original cast. Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamil, even Kenny Baker. Give us a real sequel showing what's going on now in the Star Wars universe, 30 years later. I don't even care what it's about, because it will have to be something new, instead of explaining what we already know.
Keep the aliens speaking alien languages. In fact, George Lucas shouldn't have any say in the dialogue whatsoever. Let someone else write the screenplay. Lucas can come up with the story and name the funny looking characters in the background.
"That guy looks like a Hammerhead shark, so we'll call him Hammerhead. And that guy looks like he should be called Greedo, so Han Solo will shoot him in the crotch."
Keep George Lucas away from the director chair. Let Joss Whedon direct. With Serenity and Firefly, Whedon has provided a great new vision for science fiction movies that fits well with the Star Wars universe. The Star Wars galaxy is a grimy place, full of beaten-up old ships covered in scars and dirt. Whedon not only shares this vision, but he also has some new ideas and techniques on how to film action in space. Handing him the final Star Wars movie would be a dream come true for fans of the original films and Whedon fans alike. Best of all, Joss Whedon knows how to have fun.
It isn't going to happen, of course. Star Wars is dead, strangled and beaten by a sixty-year-old serial killer, who then went and committed horrible, unspeakable acts against my dear old friend, Indiana Jones (seriously? Indiana Jones and the Flying Saucer? George, what were you thinking?). My only hope is that in six months, I won't be sitting down to write a column about how Disney ruined Tron, because Tron might be all I have left to hand down to my children.