Recently I got gifted the complete Star Wars on blu-ray. I’ve always had a strange relationship with Star Wars films. Empire Strikes Back is to blame for Scooby-Doo being ruined for me*. For example. But overall I think they can be a lot of silly fun. Except…
The first movie is kinda shit.
Now here’s the thing – I never saw it in the theater so watching it all fancy and high def like that was amazing. It looked wonderful – with a few exceptions. Most of those were the newer added scene, which still don’t visually fit and throw you off-kilter. Also the mattes… look I know this was done when they were inventing the technology being used and I forgive the special effects for looking like they were done, well, exactly when they were done. That’s no problem. But when they had painted backgrounds to extend a shot they looked, like never before to me, so very painted. Nothing close to real.
Anyway. The good. Star Wars feels lived in. The world is dirty and full of muck and broken down things. It’s a future that feels like it was always there. Truly fantastic. In fact, I’d argue there is so much there to like that the downfalls are even worse because of it. To wit:
Luke Skywalker is not a character you can root for. You can root for him to shut up. You can root for him to get shot. You can root for him to stop fucking whining for ten seconds. You can root for him to win. And yes he is on a big heroic journey. But at heart he is the whiny kid who sucks. All he wants to do is get off planet then he whines about that. All he wants is to join the rebellion, then he whines about that. And so on. There is no power in the universe greater than his whine. Do or do not – there is always more whining.
Which brings me to my single biggest problem with the film. It is a two hour example of telling not showing. Look, Luke is pretty much Kevin Bacon in Footloose. But when someone in Footloose would tell Bacon to not do something he would stalk off, he would express his anger and frustration physically. He would show you how he felt. Lucas’ script denies us that with Skywalker. Instead all he can do is tell us. Over and over again. He doesn’t show us once how he feels.
We’re told Storm troopers are great shots. And never once shown them hitting a target.
We’re told Vader is a great pilot but we only see him fly in a straight line.
We’re told the big end shot is impossible and a hard flight but we’re show ship after ship flying in a straight line just fine down there. I mean these things go three wide, with the two in the rear swearing “We’ve got your back,” each time.
And about that: Those ships didn’t have rear facing guns. They, in no way shape, or form, had anyone’s back. All you had to do was fly directly behind them and shoot a lot. Which they did. Not once, but many times. Team after team, it felt like, did the exact same thing. No one learned. There were no tactics. It was just go there, fly in a straight line and hope a lot.
Meanwhile the dialogue is trying to sell us on this tense battle. But they didn’t show us that. They didn’t have the two escort ships flying outside the canyon to provide cover fire. They didn’t show anything but ships flying in a straight fucking line. One of the most visually uninteresting fight scenes of all time. But they kept trying to tell us it wasn’t.
Again and again the film tells us this stuff but steadfastly refuses to show us any of it.
The future films (Empire and Jedi that is) do a much better job. Hell more happens in the first 30 minutes of Empire than in the two hours of Star Wars (And fuck you its name is Star Wars. Not Episode IV.)
A few other notes: Why does Chewbacca not get a medal at the end? Why do we snub the wookie? What’s up with that? Obi Wan gives Luke a light saber and lets him turn it on with no warning or instruction. That shit ain’t cool. You don’t hand a man a laser sword and just act like it’s a toy. Show some respect, Kenobi. I forgot there were really tall Jawa! When they take C3PO and R2 out to the farm we see some Jawa the size of C3PO! I forgot that, or never noticed it before! Look:
Oddly, that blew my mind.
So basically, what I’m saying is… Star Wars is the Phantom Menace of the first trilogy.
* I was 5 when Empire came out. I was in kindergarten. My dad, an SF writer, really wanted to go see Empire, having seen Star Wars (and seeing it had potential to maybe be better with the next film) but he thought I should see it. The problem was that involved taking me out of kindergarten early one day. Which was fine, except he showed up while they were letting us watch Scooby-Doo. I loved Scooby-Doo. I loved it so damn much, you guys. And I didn’t wanna go to some dumb movie without finishing the episode. Because I wouldn’t know who did it! I had to know. And my father, in a fit of frustration, said to me: “Fred is going to have a plan soon, but they’ll go to commercial so you don’t hear it. Then it’ll turn out to be the guy you think maybe it could be, but couldn’t possibly be, simply because he wore a mask.” He went on a bit, finished up and said “So can we go?” I just nodded. I felt like crying. He ruined Scooby-Doo for me that day. I couldn’t watch it again (Well until Mystery, Inc. which was amazing). Years later I told him how that made me feel. He nodded at me, apologized, but added “But come on, Scooby-Doo sucks.” We never saw eye to eye about that. Ever. I found out tonight, watching Empire, that when I watch it I still get oddly mad at the movie, because it was why I couldn’t enjoy Scooby-Doo. So there’s that.