Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A little sympathy for George Lucas

With Senate Republicans pandering to the most irresponsibly obstructive impulses of their party's base by stonewalling on a replacement for Antonin Scalia — before the White House has announced a nominee, mind you — I find Washington, D.C. to be a thoroughly dispiriting place and subject. So I'll mouth off about something trivial and vaguely fun instead.

I finally saw Star Wars - Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I enjoyed it but thought there was too much calculated echoing of events from what are now called Episodes IV and V. I was curious whether others felt the same way, so I sought out the reviews I had studiously avoided in my quest to avoid foreknowledge.

About half the critics I've read agreed with me. On reflection, a negative reaction probably has more to do with age than anything else: if I were twelve I likely wouldn't object as much, if at all.

In consulting the critics I expected a variety of reactions to the movie, and I got that. I didn't expect, though, that nearly every review would bring up the prequels. And nearly every review that did, pilloried them. Examples:

  • "the abhorred prequels"
  • "those best-forgotten prequel films"
  • "the muddled Star Wars prequels"
  • "Episode I-III's dreadful midi-chlorian-covered mess"
  • "those odious prequels"
  • "the benighted prequels"
  • "three lackluster prequels"
  • "the dismal prequel trilogy"
  • "the black hole of George Lucas' trilogy of paralyzingly dull Star Wars prequels"
  • "Apart from the suspenseful last half-hour of The Revenge of the Sith, the Star Wars prequels were truly terrible, marked by lifeless pageantry, tectonic-plate pacing, Jar Jar, effects-cluttered frames, and Medusa dialogue (i.e., it turned actors to stone)."
  • "the three execrable prequels"
  • "From the earliest stages of Abrams's production, it was clear that he was well aware of the deficiencies of [the prequels]: the orgiastic overuse of CGI, the window-mannequin performances, the fourth-rate dialogue. And so with The Force Awakens, Abrams has begun one of the most important reclamation projects of our time: the complete erasure from cultural memory of The Phantom Menace and its sequels."
  • "I salute your courage in going to see 'The Force Awakens' ... paying to watch a new 'Star Wars' movie, in the wake of its predecessors—'The Phantom Menace,' 'Attack of the Clones,' and 'Revenge of the Sith'—is like returning to a restaurant that gave you severe food poisoning on your last three visits."
  • "the vanity projects of a revered but dotty old uncle"
I dislike the prequels and am happy not to think of them, but the concentrated bile aimed at them in these reviews made me a little sad for George Lucas. The last three broadsides alone were devastating (I can't decide which is cruelest), but they were only the deadliest shots of a veritable artillery barrage. Critics didn't just dislike the movies, critics took offense at them, and took time out of a review for a different movie to drive the point home ("again", if they reviewed the prequels).

You're probably thinking: "Sticks and stones. Anyway, critics hammer other directors (hello, Michael Bay) just as hard, or harder. If you're gonna make blockbusters, you'd better have a thick skin. And all that money he made on the prequels must take a lot of the sting away."

Maybe. But I still feel a little sorry for him. Unlike other directors (hello again, Michael Bay), I don't think Lucas has a cynical bone in his body. He earnestly meant for the prequels to be good — better than the original trilogy. He offered up his best efforts, and the critics (and most of the adult non-critics) savaged them.

It has to hurt even more that for a lot of people, J.J. Abrams is the hero who rescued the franchise. Imagine: the kid's adoptive parent is widely agreed to be doing a better job of raising it. Ouch! Sorry, George.

But this stranger, at least, is still grateful to you for giving us one of our modern mythologies. That's a huge contribution to humanity, and you should be immensely proud of it.

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