Circumstances sometimes force us to dislike movies. I remember being in a Blockbuster video with a friend (not long after seeing The Phantom Menace) when he learned that I hadn’t watched the original movies. We then had a Never Seen Star Wars conversation. “Whaaaaaaat? Dude! How have you never seen Star Wars?”
I still don’t know what response is expected in this situation. Does it take effort to not watch a film? Was I supposed to reveal my secret never-seen-Star-Wars diet and workout regimen? Regardless, he snatched tapes out of my hands and reshelved them. My heart sank: I knew we’d be watching Star Wars that night.
Quite unfairly, this ruined the film and franchise for me. To this day, my principle association with Star Wars remains “the kind of thing people bully you into enjoying.”
I admire parts of it now; it has good puppetry and special effects, and Alec Guinness is a talented actor. His scenes on the desert planet (which were filmed in Tunisia, I think) have the stately gravitas of Lawrence of Arabia or The Man Who Would Be King. Long shots of desolate horizons, with grime and rust and sand corroding through the frame. There’s a sad, understated quality to his performance – the sun’s going down, his sun’s going down, and a once-glorious empire is rotting like late summer fruit. It’s a strikingly British film in places.
In other words, I enjoy the parts where Star Wars isn’t Star Wars. The rest of the movie is a colorful ball pit of frenzied kiddie nonsense – lightsabers, blasters, the Force, the Millennium Falcon – that doesn’t move me at all. The more platonically Star Wars the film gets, the less I can stomach it.
It’s obvious that Star Wars’ tacky, toyetic style dispersed through culture like poison spores and made the world worse. Less obvious is the fact that it didn’t even really work in the original film. Dark Vader and the stormtroopers resemble shiny plastic action figures: any sense of menace is undercut by how stupid they look. One of the more over-the-target gags in Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs is that the villains of Star Wars are impossible to take seriously.
When Luke leaves the desert, the film’s look becomes “plastic and PVC”. Next to the awesome heft of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars is a weightless thing. The X-Wings resemble model kits glued with Araldyte, and they’re flown by pilots wearing dorky oversized NASCAR helmets equipped with welding goggles. Is there a point to all this safety gear when you’re flying at sixteen times the speed of sound? One brush with anything and you’re toothpaste.
The actors are either deep-sixed by the script or just generally suck before the writing even gets there. Mark Hamill has the charisma of a crash test dummy. Carrie Fisher is a sociopath who wisecracks about Chewbacca being excessively hairy on the same day her planet blows up and all her family and friends die. And honestly, why are we still pretending that Harrison Ford is a charming rogue? He’s a sour, snarky grinch whose main trait is that he doesn’t want to be in the movie.
There is a gay robot. I’m not offended by the gay robot. Gay robots are a time-honored British archetype. He’s just a very odd character given the “Epic Campbellian space opera that should be taught in schools and forcibly inflicted upon children in a collective hazing ritual” role Star Wars has in our culture.
The Star Wars setting is interesting, if incongruent. It’s a universe where moon-sized battlestations exist and lasers shred entire worlds to plasma…but spaceships can still be fixed by smearing engine oil on your arms and rummaging with fuel lines. Lucas’s futuristic setting only looks backwards (particularly, to the movies he saw in his youth). He provides pastiches of WW2-style dogfighting, “greaser” muscle car movies, wild west gunfighter duels, Turkish prisons, and medieval swordfights. Speaking of, lightsabers seem like they’d be dogshit weapons. Who needs a sword that annihilates everything it touches? A careless backswing would split your head in half. The careful, slow-paced lightsaber duel at the end is actually realistic: that’s the only way you could ever fight with those things.
Lazy reviewers who don’t think usually default to describing films as “a love letter to [the film’s most prominent influence].” Lucas wrote a love letter complete with spelling errors, backward letter Rs, and semen stains. He sometimes comes up with inspired ideas, and sometimes he squeezes the ball through the hoop in spite of himself, but nowhere do we see evidence that he’s competent. Star Wars is just an occasionally compelling mess, roughed into shape by skilled and patient editors.
Was the opening text scroll his idea? It’s a good example of my least favorite thing: audience handholding. Yeah, why reveal the backstory through context or dialog, when you can just put some text-based exposition on the screen. Why even make the movie at all? Just throw the entire screenplay up there in yellow News Gothic Bold text. Really good filmmaking there.
I am not reacting to Star Wars so much as it’s fans and its place in society.
Star Wars belongs with bacon, duct tape, I Fucking Love Science, We Don’t Deserve Dogs, and Beatles worship. In general, I am creeped out by effusive public cheerleading for things that are universally loved. Why? It’s not wrong, exactly, to enjoy a thing that eight hundred million other people enjoy, but it’s strange to turn that into a marker of your identity. What hole are you trying to fill with your Han Shot First T-shirt?
I have a grudging respect for people who join cults. At least QAnon folks are brave, and willing to go against the tide. Where’s the bravery in being a fan of a thing like Star Wars? You are the tide. I don’t hate you if you publically adore this film, but I think you don’t really like it: you just like supporting the winning team, and that in the world of the movie you’d be working for the Empire.
Also, a flickering holographic ghost is not more powerful than I can possibly imagine.$i;?>
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