Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Artcrimes of George Lucas: those prequels

Hey, stop the presses, I'm a white 30-year-old male and I'm about to complain about the Star Wars prequels on the internet.

There's a guy on Youtube, with the handle RedLetterMedia, who specializes in video reviews of sci-fi movies. He came to prominence with his reviews of the Star Trek series, and has recently gained more attention for his lengthy takedowns of the first two Star Wars prequels and Avatar. Lengthy. Like 70 minutes for each of the Star Wars prequels. That length of time could be easily spent on a laundry list of nit-picks and internal inconsistencies, and while there's plenty of nits being picked, he mostly gathers his commentary into thematic sections around larger-scale ideas. Each is an indictment of what George Lucas has become and what he has turned the Star Wars films into. The bottom line that in the intervening 22 years between trilogies, Lucas traded art for commerce, story for plot, and character for plot delivery device. He illustrates most accurately how Lucas' characters do not behave as real people, but like blank-faced zombies, which isn't surprising given how little they had to act with and react to in the films. None of this surprises, but all points are effectively made. They should be required viewing for all aspiring film makers or critics.
If you grew up loving Star Wars, both are worth watching in full, but if you must watch only selections, watch the first and last video of each. The reviewer, in the guise of his disturbing Harry Plinkett character, is incisive, funny, and devastating. It's safe to say that many Star Wars (and Indiana Jones!) fans lost a fair amount of respect for Lucas' sensibilities starting in about 1997. These reviews obliterated whatever was left of mine.

[The one complaint I have about the reviews is for elements of the Plinkett character. The joke is that he's a social maladjust who is definitely a kidnapper and is probably a serial killer. This got pretty tiresome in the Phantom Menace review especially, but was improved upon in the second, in which Plinkett and his hooker captive find a common bond in bitching about Attack of the Clones' awfulness.]

I really didn't like the prequels, but like many my age I convinced myself for a long time that they were maybe kind of sort of ok. I recently watched The Phantom Edit and its sequel, Attack of the Phantom, in which a professional editor makes very careful and thoughtful changes to both movies, improving both significantly. Watching those versions, I decided that there were indeed better films buried within Lucas' theatrical releases. But you can't really polish a turd, and the Phantom Editor, in his commentary, makes clear his own disdain for what George Lucas has created.

This was on my bedroom wall for 15 years.
For me, the worst thing about the new trilogy, besides everything, is that it shook my appreciation of the original trilogy. I grew up loving those movies, and long considered Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back among my favorite films of all time, even as I grew up and expanded my cinematic horizons. With how terrible Episodes I-III were, I started to doubt those earlier films, and wonder if maybe they were worse than I remembered. I avoided rewatching them. This is going to sound weird, but I found the RedLetterMedia reviews somehow helpful. They crystallized my thoughts and feelings about the Star Wars trilogies in a way that I hadn't quite been able to put into words. They affirmed the reasons I loved the originals, and the reasons why the prequels were different and worse. Thanks, Plinkett. I feel much better.

The upshot of all of this is that I've come to a decision: I'm going to get rid of my DVD copies of Episodes I-III. We've got limited real estate in our DVD cabinet, and I don't need that crap on hand for future viewing.


Nick said...

Should I ever (perish the thought) produce offspring, they will only know of IV-VI, and I will bald-face lie if they ask whether there's more. Which is a shame, as I'd have to deny them Genndy Tartakovsky's "Clone Wars" micro-series.

Max said...

Totally agree on all points of this post. Was never an avid of Star Wars to begin with, but hated the prequels, and found RedLetter's take surprisingly thoughtful. In particular, I enjoyed the idea he posits at the end of the Phantom Menace video, where he talks about how lightsaber duels aren't about the duel itself but what's going on between the two characters.

BTW, check out my blog too! maxleibowitz.blogspot.com. Have a great day.