Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Month of Star Wars


Since Trophy Unlocked will be spending most of December devoting its review posts to the Star Wars franchise, I thought it would be a good idea to tell you where I’m coming from as far as the franchise goes. I am a fan, but not a devoted or rabid one. I saw the original Star Wars (before it was later renamed Episode IV: A New Hope) three times in the theater: once with friends, once on a date and once with my parents. I saw The Empire Strikes Back once and I didn’t see Return of the Jedi in theaters when it was first released. By that time, I was protesting the idea that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were trading summers.

I remember the announcement from director George Lucas, hot on the heels of the film’s unexpected success, that he had originally planned these as three trilogies and that Star Wars was only the first in the middle trilogy. The idea, even in Hollywood terms, seemed preposterous. Honestly, and I don’t know this for a fact, but I’ve always suspected that he got the idea when the box office returns started coming in. While Lucas had some success prior, his American Graffiti (1973) was a big success, spawning its own sequel, it was nothing like Star Wars success and he didn’t want to let that gravy train dry up.

A lot of the Star Wars Expanded Universe has been laid out in tie-in books and comic books, as well as video games and television series. I’m not the kind of person that really cares that Boba Fett is a clone of Jango Fett or knows or cares about Qui-Gon Jinn’s backstory. To be honest, I have pretty much steered clear from these ancillary stories, with the exception of the Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003) TV series directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, the man behind Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack. 

I have played a few of the video games, including Episode I: Racer (aka Pod Racer) and the original Battlefront. (And the new Battlefront game under the Christmas tree this year has my name on it.)

Mine.

As far as the first/middle trilogy of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999); Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005), yes I saw them in the theaters, but since they will really have nothing to do with the upcoming The Force Awakens, besides some possible references to Darth Vader, they are not included in this month’s reviews. Besides, for the most part, the films were a disappointment except at the box office.

As a filmmaker, Lucas is an example of a very successful one, but perhaps not a great one. I know that seems like a contradictory statement, but there is a difference between commerce and art. Yes, the Star Wars franchise is huge and a merchandising juggernaut, but outside of Star Wars and perhaps The Empire Strikes Back (which he didn’t direct), these have not been really great movies.

Even true fans groaned at Episodes 1 through 3 with its Jar Jar Binks and the shift of the Force from spirituality to something medical; the count of midi-chlorian in the blood. There are a myriad of other groaners, too much to list here. And don’t get me started on the climatic lava fight scene; while it might look dramatic, the idea that you could fight next to lava without catching on fire (hero and villain) is juvenile.

Darth Vader’s origin story could have been told in one solid movie, rather than a drawn out trilogy designed to sell games and merchandise.

And I don’t think J.J. Abrams is God’s gift to lens flare either. He’s done a good job with Star Trek, but he hasn’t really gotten it outside the Gene Roddenberry box yet and I’m not sure he ever will. The other films he’s directed have mostly been parts of established franchises, with their own established guidelines, Mission Impossible III (2008), Star Trek (2009), Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) and now StarWars: The Force Awakens. The lone exception was Super 8 (2011), which suffered from the same problems as Cloverfield (2008), a film which he produced, but did not write or direct.

Suffice to say; while I am a fan of the series, I am not a fanboy. I hope my reviews will be fair and balanced when it comes to the movies.

We start with the TV series Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003).

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