"I'll take the bad guy."
"Because people will remember him."
David Prowse, being given the choice by Star Wars writer/director
George Lucas, of playing Chewbacca or Darth Vader
got that right, so much so that for the last six years the
general public has been offered about seven hours of narrative
telling how the big 'D.V.' started as a tritely unconvincing
moppet called 'Annie' and ended up limbless and breathless
in a black mask raving on in a newly acquired rich baritone.
In between, I and III he
was also unfailingly and utterly unconvincing as a troubled,
pissed off, love-struck teen (that's a handicap more to do
with the writing than the performances. Nathalie Portman can
act. See Closer). Darth Vader has become the ultimate pop
culture bad guy and if the Sith Lord were layered and Lucifer-like,
I'd see what all the fuss is about. Alas. What all the fuss
was about was the lightning-in-a-bottle that was 1977's Star
Wars was delicate tissue, as profound as a paddling
pool aimed squarely at those about to paddle in it. But it
struck a global nerve, all of our most trusted and loved myths
in one giant confection of a movie? We couldn't resist. There
was one man (Alan Ladd Jnr. of 20th Century Fox) who had faith.
Everyone else at the studio would have bet their cars on 'The
Star Wars' with Luke Starkiller, being a very miserable
turkey. Empire? It was that same delicate
tissue but this time four men and a woman built a metaphorical
cardboard box around it to protect it; Irvin Kershner directed
with soul and gave its universe some weight. Leigh Bracket
and Lawrence Kasdan created dialogue, a structural integrity
(based on Lucas' plan of course) and added depth, humour,
sexiness and dare I say 'realism' to the characters. Gary
Kurtz (please, let's not forget this man's contribution) produced
both IV and V and it's been
said that without Kurtz, Lucas would not have been Lucas.
Let's also acknowledge the improvisational instincts of a
certain Harrison Ford. Two of the stand out moments in IV were his creations; "Great kid, don't get cocky!"
and "We're all fine here… Uh, how are you?"
Boom! But Lucas didn't like the arrangement, giving his baby
to be breastfed (and best fed) by other strong creative talents.
In my opinion, the more you bring in creative talent, the
better your creation gets. You still get the credit…
for VI he dispensed with his previous collaborators
(d'oh!) and hired a proxy, a director who would shoot the
storyboards while Lucas directed him. This in turn tore the
protective cardboard box away from what had been established
leaving the tissue inside limp and unexciting. There were
Ewoks and tiredness inherent in a second sequel. It just wasn't
the same as of course it could never be. It really should
have ended then. But, no. Its creator was overwhelmed and
seduced by its awesome power and already richer than most
countries, he began to plan the domination of the world's
box office trading on emotions and attachments to something
very special indeed, something forged a long time ago in a
social and cultural climate far, far away. As far as I'm concerned,
the prequels are the tattered, wet rags of that original tissue
smashed to pieces by a gold brick the size of four by four.
Lucas has brutalised his magic with digital cascades of detail.
What're left are the silly names and a surfeit of fluorescent
briefly re-visit the late seventies and rake the myth…
November 17th 1978: not a significant date by any means. However,
in Star Wars terms this was the 'Neil Kinnock's
'Alright!' pre-Labour party conference speech embarrassment
moment, Michael Portillo's Stephen Twigg experience, the Brit
awards' Jarvis Cocker's extemporaneously wriggling arse to
the Christ-wannabe Michael Jackson débacle: this was,
dare I suggest it, the Howard the Duck of
the ongoing phenomenon that is Star Wars.
It was a day that showed emphatically that with all the right
ingredients and the oh-so very wrong approach, Star
Wars can be painfully unfunny, painfully un-dramatic,
painfully stupid and, uh, just downright painful. I am talking
about the TV show George Lucas regrets above all others, the Star Wars Holiday Special. Granted, Lucas
had nothing to do with the two hour X-Wing smash up which
features Chewbacca's father (Itchy) and son (Lumpy) on their
Life Day holiday. You're not a true Star Wars aficionado until you are clockwork oranged into a chair and
forced to watch a thousand times the scene when Harrison Ford
hugs each Wookie in turn (yes, all the original actors appeared
in this wart on science fiction/fantasy's abnormally smooth
backside). I am not making this up. I remember sitting there
with my jaw on the carpet watching what looked like a colourful,
kitsch autopsy on one of the defining moments in my cinema-going
career. It was like watching a specially extended Godfather themed Beadle's About… "What Don
Corleone doesn't know is that…"
let's zoom forward to four days before I get to see the final Star Wars movie. I visit starwars.com and
find to my righteous horror (and yes, I do appreciate how
naïve that makes me) I see that those in charge of the
franchise actually celebrate their promotional tie-ins. Oh,
dark times… The Pringles' Jedi Challenge: Chewbacca
grunting at a microphone creating ringtones: Yoda using the
Force to steal a cheeseburger, fries and a Pepsi: Kellogs's
Saberspoons. I'll say that again. Kellog's Saberspoons. Jesus,
and all four Quicktime commercials are on the site, one seemingly
thrilled with its own promotional achievements.
is no doubt that George Lucas plays the Hollywood game as
well as any because he has the financial independence, the
rights to a major franchise (oh, the even worse naïveté
than mine of those 20th Century Fox lawyers in 1976) and the
basic clout to do whatever the hell he wants to do. Now, if
there was some public announcement that 70% of what he stands
to make with all these tie-ins goes to kids' education or
African AIDS prevention then I would be less scathing but
as it is, if this is George setting up his great-great grandson
with all the dollars he could possibly need to pay for his
great grandson's education, then that's when I become a little
testy. Screw it. It's probably envy. But then again, not.
talented film-maker George Lucas has been hoist by his own
franchise. If it wasn't such a trite comparison, you could
say that his own emigration to the dark side was almost complete.
Web movie George Lucas In Love is a charming
tale of how George might have gained his inspiration for his
universe; now, how about a darker one detailing his fall from
creative grace or (if you look at it from the other side)
his astonishing rise to corporate mogul-hood? I can still
admire Lucas (the way Doctor Who admires his villains) but
I just have such little interest in his saga's new-found significance
injected in narrative protest into his profoundly flimsy,
fantasy tissue-thin milieu. At the San Francisco premiere
of III, Lucas was going on about Iraq, his
movies a warning to Bush that the dark side can quickly overwhelm
those with good intentions. Excuse me? What does he think
is happening to the world? There is no Millennium Falcon swooping
in to save the day. Darth Vader is not Faust. As far as I
can make out he's a spoiled teen whose telekinetic powers
are wayward and unfocussed (and who's losing limbs are an
alarming rate). Now there's depth. He's the love child of
Stephen King's Carrie and hypnotist Paul
McKenna and boy, can he sulk.
isn't cynicism as such. It's almost a prolonged (28 years
since the one and only Star Wars) and weary
sadness. It's merely a theory that Lucas' wealth and power
have isolated him to the world. He thinks he's created something
with great lasting resonance. He did but that was in 1977.
And it was a fantastic accident. It's 2005 now. Everyone has
moved on. I mean, Lucas is still wearing the same clothes.
Hey, it worked for Einstein and still works for Steve Jobs.
To be fair to Lucas, his prequels didn't become colossal successes
because of his built in loyal fan-base, those disgruntled
folks (like myself) who now control the media and like to
prequel-bash. They flew financially because the kids loved
them. I still think that this generation of children's Star
Wars is called The Lord of the Rings…
Jackson's passion shone through in every frame of a great
story in the same way that Lucas' original just warmed every
cockle of every heart. If any of us in our late thirties to
mid forties need to re-visit the last vestige of that sense
of 'Wow!' then listening to the complete soundtrack will usually
do it. Despite William's flagrant 'borrowings', the score
will sit you in that late seventies seat and on hearing certain
orchestrations, you will time travel if only for a fleeting
second. It is extraordinarily powerful.
I did all the stuff a 16 year-old did. I queued, I marvelled,
I fell to the might of the phenomenon (and for good reason, Star Wars - or IV, ugh –
allowed one of those moments in my personal cinematic history,
falling in love with a strip of plastic, just under two miles
long). Millions before me thousands of years ago fell for
it too but then they weren't called Star Wars,
they were called myths. Joseph Campbell, and his well-publicised
tome on heroes around the world, The Hero With A Thousand
Faces, was one of Lucas' primary sources in creating
the melange of heroics that was the original Star
Wars. So how far have we come since the Ewok party
at the end of VI? Yuk, yuk indeed.
Phantom Menace was a hollow disgrace, a plastic mish-mash
of "Look what we can do!" special effects married
to a human story of such vacuity and paper thin profundity
that I was actually severely pissed off leaving Mann's Chinese
Theatre in Los Angeles in 1999. Let's not bring up the subject
of Jar Jar Binks or I shall really become upset. Damn, I already
did. Attack of the Clones (apart from the
awful dialogue and acting; has there ever been a less convincing
cinematic romantic pairing?) was detail overkill. Again, because
it is possible, does it mean it has to be done? The best parts
of II were close ups of actors in a struggle
of life and death. So I creep hesitantly towards III.
I try not to pre-judge but I just know from the trailers that
it will be over flowingly full of detail, something I usually
champion but in Star Wars' case, a definite
negative. I just want to care not to be awed by detail into
a hissy fit. Someone give Lucas back some celluloid and an
Carrie Fisher's nickname for Vader on
hearing Prowse's west country accent.
then the nub of the matter: who cares how Darth Vader became
Darth Vader? It's a safe bet that the profundity and importance
of Vader's origins is necessitated and dictated to by the
direct proportion of the box office from the original trilogy.
In other words, if Star Wars had tanked,
Lucas would not have had a smidgeon of interest in telling
Darth's story. So for all those burgers, Pepsis and ringtones
that have to be sold, here's George's final opus, Revenge
of the Sith.
LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD:
As I feared, it's a digital explosion of detail so if you
like that sort of thing, Sith is for you.
The opening shot is a real stunner except that I want to be
moved and I couldn't work out what the hell was going on.
That's my problem. The work that has gone into this film is
extraordinary on almost every level (EXCEPT the dialogue.
"It's my point of view that the Jedi are evil,"
says Annakin as he floats down a lava river, sheesh). I may
not like visual overkill but the talent on display here is
wondrous. There are still a few too many digital human beings
around but that's small potatoes. Annakin's turning to the
dark side is so clumsily reasoned (the senator offers to teach
him the dark art of resurrecting the dead so he happily slaughters
all and sundry including children - it's a week for me of
seeing movies with children being murdered, see Downfall).
Oh, Lucas can't bring himself to call them children. They
are 'younglings' - eeuch.
is so full of wondrous machines, robots and digital sets that
I had a little epiphany. In Star Wars, you
knew who was who and you could work out which ship was which
etc. You had the time to isolate your feelings for everything.
Now Lucas will say that he wanted so much more for Star
Wars but FX-wise, it wasn't possible. Thank you,
Obi-Wan, for it not being possible. In Star Wars you love the Falcon, the X-Wings and the Imperial Fighters,
damnit, even the bloody lightsabres. In Sith,
you cannot get a single fix on any piece of hardware etc.
because there's so much of it so it loses an individual identity.
The characters are long gone in your mind if you've seen the
other prequels and every time someone pulled out a lightsabre
in Sith, I groaned.
I am just 'too old for this Sith'…