Thursday, May 29, 2003

Geek Eruption Elert! Warning!! Annoyed Star Wars Fan-boy Ranting Ahead! Go Back, Before It's Too Late!!!

Still there? Don't say I didn't warn you….

OK. The good folks at AICN have launched something they're calling "The Jedi Council" (first two installments here and here), in which AICN's Moriarty, who on the AICN pecking-order is second only to Harry Knowles himself, is looking to continuously take the pulse of Star Wars fandom in the roughly two years remaining before the saga concludes with the release of Episode III.

Moriarty, though, is concerned: it seems to him that Star Wars fandom should be reaching its fever-pitch right about now, with the saga's final filmed installment now entering production. But it's not: Star Wars fandom is of mixed opinion now, with what appears to be a minority eagerly anticipating Episode III, and the remainder either ambivalent about the next installment or actually fearful, given what they perceive to be massive shortcomings in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. They have "lost faith", a common description for their feeling which occurs just a few paragraphs in.

Somehow, I managed to read the articles, both of them, all the way through, even though by about halfway through the first one I wanted to reach through my modem and give Moriarty and his whiny cohorts the biggest dope-slaps of their lives.

I'm not going to embark on more passionate defense of TPM or AOTC. I've done all that before, in the articles linked in my sidebar and also back when SDB panned AOTC. That's not what I'm after here, except to note that in a vast number of cases, when people have panned the two prequel Star Wars episodes, they've failed spectacularly to actually understand the plot or the story or what George Lucas appears to be attempting to do. Surely, when assessing a work of art, some attempt should be made to at least understand what the artist is trying to do. I really don't have a problem with someone not liking the new Star Wars films, but the tone of the criticism leveled at Lucas seems to often take the tone of not merely disliking what Lucas has done, but of excoriating him for not doing what the fans wanted him to do.

I wish I could remember where I read this, but there was a positive review of TPM back when it came out that included what seemed to me very sage advice: "You probably need to see this movie twice: once to get over the movie that George Lucas didn't make, and then once to appreciate the movie that he did make." Another reviewer, this one for AICN (it wasn't Moriarty or Harry or anyone I remember), also praised the movie and made a similar point: "Since Return of the Jedi in 1983, I've made Episode I in my mind a thousand times. Should I really blame Lucas when his version of Episode I isn't the one I enacted all those times in my imagination?" (That's a paraphrase. I'm not digging through AICN's archives to find that article.)

There probably isn't a movie at all that George Lucas could have made that would have withstood the weight of sixteen years' worth of expectations. I would bet money that if he had made The Phantom Menace, exactly as is, in 1986 (three years after ROTJ) instead of waiting until 1999, the film would have been much more warmly received. Part of this is the expectations thing, but another part, I think, has as much to do with what else transpired in the film world in those sixteen years. For all the people Moriarty says have gone into filmmaking because of Star Wars, the fact is, those people have stayed in filmmaking because of all the other great films since then.

It's as simple as this: tastes change, and they can change in a lot shorter time than sixteen years. That long wait for the new Star Wars movie seems kind of short now that it's been over for four years, but when I think of just how my own tastes have changed in just the last ten years, I'm astounded: I hated Diet Pepsi in 1993, and now I drink it every day; ditto coffee; I hated horror in general and Stephen King in particular in 1993, where now I love both; I hated mushrooms on pizza, now I like them; et cetera. My fiction-reading in 1993 was almost exclusively epic fantasy; I now read very little epic fantasy and a lot more horror and science fiction. Music? I hated the French Impressionists then. My love of film music was dormant.

Star Wars fans of today are not the way they were back in 1977, or 1980, or 1983. They've been though too much: they've been through Pulp Fiction and Titanic and The Matrix and the arrival of anime. And they've been through the Age of Irony…which George Lucas doesn't seem to have ever entered.

And there's the rub, at least in part: where Star Wars fans still love the original trilogy, because it's simply too iconic not to love it, their tastes in storytelling have been shaped by what's happened since. But George Lucas's own tastes in storytelling have not advanced. I suppose that could be taken as a failing on Lucas's part, but I don't, really. I'm more saddened that there seems to be less of a place for Lucas's style of storytelling today than in the fact that Lucas is still telling these kinds of stories. Lucas has grown enormously in terms of his visual style -- witness the duel between Anakin and Count Dooku, with its eerie closeups of their faces only illuminated by their flashing lightsaber blades -- but his developing visual sense is still employed in telling the same kinds of stories. I like to think that the pendulum swings, and that these first three Episodes will eventually find their audience. It's not like there isn't historical precedent for it: my own musical hero, Hector Berlioz, had been dead eighty years or so before his music started to blossom in popularity (and in many ways it still has yet to do so in Berlioz's own country).

So whenever I hear these fans griping like this, I think of that scene in The Breakfast Club when Principal Vernon is complaining to the janitor about today's kids. "They've changed," Vernon says, to which the janitor responds, "Bullshit. The kids haven't changed, you have." I don't begrudge anyone that George Lucas's current efforts don't appeal to their current tastes. But I don't get the anger.

I'll continue this tomorrow or the next day. Damned people complaining about Star Wars…don't they know that I have work to do?!

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