Diehard Star Wars fans hate the new trilogy. It's important to realize why this has come to be. It's not the normal revulsion that comes with the release of the next blockbluster hitting movie theaters – the hate is deeper than the normal cultural laments that go with a "Independence Day" or "I, Robot" debuting to 3,000 screens. It's also not the mild betrayal one feels when a childhood icon is cashed out a second time through – be it Your Favorite Alternative Band Going Back Out on Tour or Your Favorite Childhood Cartoon Characters on Ice. For us, Star Wars has been all about action figures and soundtracks that the cashing out part of it doesn't even register – and besides, didn't Lucas already cash out by re-releasing the first three with 'new footage', and didn't we line up to see it?
Why is it then? Speaking as someone who fits the category (I adore the first three, and hate the first two parts of the new trilogy with a deep, deep passion), all I can compare it to is when you see a person you used to date and care about from a long time ago again and wonder "were you always this crappy? Were you this crappy when I was with you?" For people in their mid-to-late 20s, Star Wars was our childhood, and we care about it deeply. It wasn't mindless entertainment for us, nor was it another semi-good transitional object – we believed that there is something Excellent about the original trilogy; in fact it defines a lot of what we think of as movies.
I've always found theories about the popularity of Star Wars as a 'nostalgic film' for the mode of Buck Rogers and Boomer movie serials lacking, as people my age have no idea about the latter but adore the former. To us, for the original Star Wars to actually have been cheap, corny sci-fi mixed with some serial westerns made for a quick buck would completely knock out a supporting beam of our lives. Hence, the fact that the new movie has some good moments in it is a cause for a cultural celebration.
Less is more.
A surefire sign that either I'm getting old or movies are really starting to suck is the noise factor. It's what I couldn't stand about the endings of the past new Star Wars and the end of the third Matrix – there's a point with which past it's nothing but loud explosions and cliché. Something important needs to get blown up, there are fireballs, some underdog dies heroically saving someone else, there's a showdown, nobody is the audience is really sure what is happening, and then all the characters get medals.
This is nothing new; the problem with these movies is how digital heavy they are. When working with models and puppets, it takes time to set up, and there is an imperative for restraint. When working with computer special effects programs, all you have to do is click on a mouse-button to draw another ship. As such, there is nothing stopping Lucas and company from filling out the screen with as much complexly moving and acting junk and noise as possible. As they are all created independent of the narrative, it doesn't advance any kind of thematic element. It's not a cinema aesthetic, it's a video-game one.
A good part of the first hour and a half of the movie is spent in this mode. Why have 5 ships shooting at each other when you can have 500? Why 10 robots? Why not 1,000, all doing their own thing? Though it sounds awe-inspiring, it is in practice mind-numbing. Watch the space battle – there's isn't a part of the screen with nothing on it. It's like watching 12 television sets all tuned to different channels side by side. Awful stuff.
But of course we didn't come here to see Christopher Lee doing backflips or to hear the strategy behind deciding that, my favorite line in the movie, "Master Yoda will take an army of clones to reinforce the Wookies." (!) We want to see Anakin turn into Darth Vader, the fall of the Jedi, and the (second-to-)last battle between Obi-Wan and Vader. That, I'm surprised to say, works pretty well.
Wait, more bad news
There are some more down points. Rumor has it that playwright Tom Stoppard was brought in to touch up the dialogue. I doubt he had anything to do with the cringe-inducing love scenes, but as a friend pointed out, but he may have made the final Obi-Wan / Anakin scene work. It's seems obvious to me that several people touched the script as the corruption of Anakin makes more or less sense depending on whom he is speaking with.
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And, getting back to the original problem of "was I duped as a kid?" was Darth Vader always that lame? That was sad, after watching the perfect surgery scene, to have him come out all frakenstein-y and speaking the same lame lines as Anakin was forced to read.
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A good movie hidden in there somewhere towards the end.
There's an old Hollywood rule: Your movie can be awful as long as the last 15 minutes are excellent. Case in point: You'll forget how awful the the previous time was spent once Lucas gets the ball rolling. He appears to want to tell a story this time around that is independent of how much rendering and teraflopping his computers are capable of crunching. Though this may just be me, Ewan McGreggor takes over the Obi-Wan part perfectly, and watching him handle Anakin at the end is worth the price of admission alone. The feelings of dread and trying to find dignity in defeat are actually there.
I actually liked this movie more than I'm letting on, but it's one of those movies where you want to list off your compliants as you are walking out the door. It may age better than I'd expect it to, and with dvd chapter marks to skip over the cringe, could be a worthwhile experience. If this movie was the first to come out, nobody would notice it – as it is the last to come out, it's a nice farewell to old friends.