George should have quit while he was ahead.

because yesterday was Star Wars Day (and Towel Day, and Geek Pride Day), i decided to try re-watching the original trilogy as if i had never seen it before.

needless to say, this wasn’t particularly easy; i saw Star Wars eleven times between 1977 and 1979. which is a lot for a kindergartner. so i’m steeped in the mythos, and somewhat inescapably biased. but i still think i sort of pulled it off.

my “new” opinions of the films are necessarily influenced by which version i watched. i made the choice to watch the 2004 DVD release, as it’s the only version i own of all three films on DVD.

and my overwhelming opinion of the three films is that George should have quit in 1983. or maybe even 1977.

with that in mind, let’s go!

Star Wars:

you know, this is a pretty fun movie. it could be a lot better, but it’s not bad at all.

the plot’s kind of formulaic; even if i hadn’t seen it (many times) before, i would have thought i’d seen it before. but that’s understandable – Lucas borrowed (or stole) much of it wholesale from 隠し砦の三悪人, and then mixed it with the sensibilities of old Flash Gordon serials. there’s nowt wrong with this recycling, though. the universal nature of the plot makes the film approachable; the archetypal characters let the viewer feel a connected to the story without the baggage of having to actually know anything about them. farmboy? check. mysterious old man? check. dashing rogue? check. damsel in distress? check. super-evil badass? check. they’re all instantly recognizeable, and combined with the obvious plot (save the princess – from the dragon/monster/evil king/whatever – and get her home safe) makes Lucas’ at times clunky writing and direction passable.

the actors were brilliantly cast. admittedly, much of this opinion is probably informed by my prior familiarity with them. but even so, Lucas managed to assemble a fantastic group of people for this film. 1970s haircuts aside, Hamill and Ford are tone perfect in their roles – each is instantly believable as their characters. and Sir Alec Guinness? best of all. even though he hated the role.

and then it falls down. the special effects are awful. not the period practical effects; they fit the overall look of the film. but the CGI is terrible. as much as i hate the “go back and change things” movement that colorization started and Lucas has embraced wholeheartedly, i almost hope George goes back and re-does his re-dos. the textures are flat, the light balances are off, the inserted effects “float” on the screen instead of meshing – it’s just all bad. the period effects, while sometimes dated (ooooh! look! wireframe graphics! it’s the futurrrrre!), all look appropriate to the film. it’s dirty and clunky – just like a rag-tag rebellion against a galaxy-spanning evil empire would be. and the insertions didn’t really get any better in the other two.

but this film, i think, may be the point at which Lucas should have stopped – though market pressures wouldn’t necessarily let him. the first film has a beginning, middle and end. Luke and Han’s heroic arcs could be seen as complete; Han has embraced his heroic side over his raffish nature, and Luke has become a man. period. done. good guys win.

but the market wanted more, as evidenced by the facts that Star Wars played continuously in some markets for over a year, and was re-released in 1978 and 1979.

so George made The Empire Strikes Back:

you know, this is a lot stronger film. it’s much better written and directed… oh. that’s why. George just came up with the story.

but it’s missing something; the first film was an innocent romp. sure, there was evil. and even torture. but in this one? wow. chopping up poor Tauntauns because Luke’s to dumb to stay away from the dangerous wildlife? poor Dak getting stepped on by a giant robot camel. Artoo gets all dirty, 3PO gets broken into bits, Han gets pincushioned and frozen, Leia has to learn some strange new hairstyles, Luke gets his hand chopped off…

it’s just so inescapably gloomy. ok, sure, Lucas was making a trilogy by this point, and you needed a low point for the heroes to overcome.

but does Yoda have to be such a jerk? really? he’s an opinionated and greedy little bastard. and perhaps senile.

moving on.

Return (Revenge) of the Jedi:

hey! boobs!

but i get ahead of myself.

back to Tatooine. Luke sure has become a bad dude. but did he go back and study with Yoda some more? (we find out later that he didn’t. or maybe did. it’s not clear). doesn’t matter, really. the mind control thing was cute – i wonder if it’s just Tatooine it works on? we’ve not seen it anywhere else, i don’t think.

so, again: boobs!

i hope Carrie Fisher got a nice paycheck for this film. and the green tentacle-head girl, too.

Luke gets to fight Jabba’s pet monster, wins, and then we get (man-)boobs!

George sure managed to cram a lot of boobs in the first third of this film.

so, anyway, fight-fight-fight. chop up all the funny looking guards. Boba Fett goes down like a chump. fly away.

Luke bops on back to Dagobah; Yoda’s still kind of a jerk. but Luke’s real deferential. that’s nice, i guess. whoo – and then he vanished. just like Obi-Wan. so i guess all Jedi just kinda vapourize when they die. at least you don’t have magic space knight corpses lying around, then.

nifty war council; they’ve sure gotten better displays than in the first film. still a ton of vector-style graphics (you know, because it’s the futurrrrre!). most important, however, is they got the band back together. they need to do one last show to save the orphanage… wait. wrong film.

anywho, our heroes fly down to this moon (moon? that’s a big darned moon. and what is it with George and moons, anyway?) and meet a bunch of cute little teddybear critters that want to eat them and think the somewhat excessively fabulous robot is a god.

seriously.

so Luke lets himself get captured (farmboys; no sense of tactics), Lando (still the only black man in the galaxy. well, other than Darth Vader’s voice) leads a seemingly suicidal attack against the Imperial fleet in a freighter, and our remaining heroes team up with the cuddly bears to beat the lasergun armed baddies with rocks. makes no sense at all, at all. but it does work as spectacle; it’s definitely a Saturday morning serial sort of sensibility.

and the shield goes down, the home hot-rod freighter is faster (and better gunned) than all the purpose-built fighter craft (even those built by the aforementioned galaxy-spanning Empire), and Luke chops his dad’s hand off. take that, dad! and you never remembered my birthday, either!

Dad Vader tosses the evil Emperor down a well (Lassie! Timmy’s down a well again!), so it’s all good again, right?

which makes me want to know, why did Luke have to burn his body? shouldn’t he have evaporated like the rest of the Jedi? we really need to pollute the teddy bear moon with those crazy looking fumes?

and then there’s a party. a HUGE party, apparently; everybody, everywhere is dancing like it’s a crazy rave or something. and i do mean everywhere.

are they all just glad it’s over? how did they know the wicked witch was dead? space Twitter? i really want to know. what do you put in 140 characters for that? what would the hashtags be?

in conclusion;

Lucas should really have stopped in 1977. as much as i love the sequels, Star Wars really should have stood alone. barring that, he should have left them as they were in 1983 (even though he’d already gone back and started re-tweaking). but he didn’t. and we got the prequels. which i refuse to discuss. though they are very pretty.

hope everyone had a good Towel Day!

quote of the day:

“A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”  – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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