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Sunday, April 11, 1999
By Paul Ford
Trashing the new Star Wars movie. It deserved trashing.
You wouldn't believe it, but there's a space battle where they blow a big enemy freighter up, plenty of crazy fish-monsters, a heap of different planets, and a big Ben-Hur style race with super-hovercars. No, really, I'm not kidding. There's even a lot of laser-blaster fire, assorted robots, and even--you wouldn't think Lucas would take the risk--a long, protracted lightsaber fight. But there's no Chewbacca anywhere, and the princess is young but wears too much makeup, and if this is modern myth, Ftrain is Power for Living.
But hey, the kids'll love it. You may want to see it baked out of your gourd with your little cousin; get some weed, send the kid in with popcorn, and sneak out to smoke up in back of the theater before settling back in, and you'll love every $14,520.20 second.
There aren't any Ewoks, but the Ewok factor is turned up to 11, lots of cutesy marketing tie-ins in every frame, a two-headed sports announcer, a Jedi with a giant neck, video-game death matches rendered at $871,212.12 a minute. We find out that Darth comes from a virgin birth, and that the Force comes from little blinky beings who live inside our cells. This reminds me of the sequel to A Wrinkle in Time (and all the smart girls read all three Wrinkle books, right?) where Charles and his sister are chattering about mitochondria, but it makes a lot less sense when Liam explains it.
Our numbered tickets were layered with ultraviolet ink, and the takers passed a glowing wand over them to make sure we weren't forgers. Seeing how people value this movie, celluloid and light. The hype and furor over this media property--since it's not just a film, it's a drinking glass, suncatcher, and T-shirt--is another example of folks assigning ridiculous value to arbitrary things, like Hummel figurines, or Internet startup stock. In the 1600's it was tulips and shipping, today it's Obi-wan, Beanie Babies, and Amazon.Com. The key is to get out before the crash, although I doubt the Star Wars crash is imminent. The fans will love it, and there are 2 movies to go, with billions in the coffer for the next two.
"This will finally be a movie where we don't see Ewan McGregor naked," said a woman seated behind me.
"We don't see the goods," said another.
"His space haggis."
They chortled. The lights dimmed. People half-cheered. It began, and 2 hours and 12 minutes later, it ended.
Here's the plot, with spoilers: as a young boy, Anakin Skywalker is taken away from his mother Shammy, to become the apprentice of Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor. Liam Neeson is convinced that Anakin is chosen by fate, or "the Force," to be the worst child actor in the history of feature film. The Force can be used to pyschokinetically lift items, control minds, and market toys.
As a young man, Anakin purchases control of an interstellar newspaper chain, building an ever larger and larger evil media empire, until he turns to the "dark side" and acquires the WB network. Finally, grown old and lonely on his private planet, Chahnadueh, he dies of an allergic reaction brought on by a snow globe.
At the end of the film, as workers burn all of Anakin's possessions, we learn that the name of his fire-powered racing pod, the one that he used to win the race that eventually allowed him to give Queen Amadoudiallo an escape route off Tatooine, was "Rosebud," and that all he really wanted was to be loved.
Accepted on its own terms, the movie is pure postliterate McLuhan prophecy come true. Narrative and characterization are tossed off (R2-D2 has some depth, but no one else) and the moments are stitched together by pure visual force. Everything is unreal; even the littlest fish and the forest animals are rendered in detail, and completely alien. The last time this many new species were seen was on the Beagle.
Myth it ain't, and this one has even less to do with Joseph Campbell than the 1980's Heathcliff cartoon did. This is not to say that it doesn't offer the best freakin' silver gleaming space machine in the history of film. Natalie Portman makes a great queen, speaking like a crackhead and wearing Chinese restaurant decorations in her hair. The Jedis are dressed in potato sacks. The machines are doubleplusgood.
I'm sure a lot of my crankiness is gone childhood. After all, the first three suck bad, with bad acting, soft directing, and goofy plots. But they fulfilled a whole range of emotions. You could pretend to be Luke, you could pretend to be Darth. You could think about Carrie Fisher chained to Jabba and get all flustery and not know what that feeling was.
If I was ten this movie would be like mainlining superpure heroin in my eye veins. When the person who took me and I went out to dinner, we spoke about Sith lords, and filled in a lot of the back story, using words like "Hoth," "Yoda," "Dagobah," "Y-wing," and "Bespin," cornerstones of the dork vocabulary.
We agreed, as ex-10-year olds, that the flick is too dumbed down. Gone are the cool subtitles and invented languages. Aliens speak in pidgin instead--a decision likely inspired by marketing surveys and conventional "kids won't read" wisdom. There is no romance, even though it's obvious that little Anakin will eventually slide his saber to the queen. Things are scrubbed clean, and the ugly, exposed gray spaceships with their wiring on the outside, the half-constructed but fully-operational battle stations, are not here. The aesthetic is 50's sci-fi, green grass, yellow and silver teardrop fighter ships, not 80's Corbusier-exposed grime, and the look doesn't jibe as the past for the already exposited Star Wars future. Nothing in this movie could blow up a planet. Nothing is truly badass. Harrison Ford isn't here in his starfighter's tuxedo pants, giving it that tongue-in-cheek sexual pressure, along with Carrie Fisher (who once, in an interview, when asked what the way to a man's heart was, replied "blowjobs"), and it's a sad lacking.
It's not my myth anymore, I guess; it belongs to kids with Nintendo 64s and controller-calloused fingers, who don't mind that the movie, which has been written to define their childhood, from fantasy to fear to how they spend money, is all back story and video-game pan-and-zoom, a slideshow of glorious digital graphics. This is supposed to be the first episode of a story we already know, a story about blooping robots and cranky, badass princesses, and yes, it did seem to be about 1/9th of a real story, not much more. Although I'm grateful I didn't have to see any space haggis, it's sad to see myths fallen on such hard times.