Monday, August 15, 2005

OK, I don’t want to twist my arm too much by patting myself on the back or anything, and I don’t certainly want to claim (too much anyway) a certain amount of prescience in my thought process, or even suggest that someone read what I wrote, and then acted upon it, (Heck, I’m not even going to say “I told you so”, but I sure did have a slight sence of déjà vu upon raeding this post last week on BuzzScope.

Last week, Daily Variety released an article confirming some rumors I'd recently heard, stating that some people were indeed arrested at SDCC for selling pirated copies of movies, and are currently facing serious felony charges and some jail time, not to mention, a much larger, pending FBI investigation.

All I have to say is WOW! I always knew that I was good, but I never really knew that I was That good.

If anyone is interested, I am available for Lottery drawings, and trips to Atlantic City.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

While it is entirely possible that I waited too long to have this discussion, I kind of wanted to talk about George Lucas’ future vision that is Star Wars.

(I wish to beg your collective indulgences, as some computer-related headaches — that are mostly resolved — have put me a full two weeks behind in all of my writings. Hopefully, I will eventually catch up.)

You see, I remember what it was all about back in the beginning. I saw the first Star Wars film in 1978 when Lucas turned science fiction on its collective ears. Back then; the film was simply called Star Wars. It was 1977, and I was a junior in college (if you are of a mind to do so, you can do the math and figure out that I probably have underwear older than you or you can just go here and learn it for yourself). When the trilogy was re-released in 1988, my son, Dylan, was seven, and I took him to see the film. He is now 14, and was the one who suggested that we go to see the midnight showing of Revenge of the Sith (which I reviewed here if you are interested).

So we went to the film and saw the future become the past as the entire Jedi nation ate it’s own tail (ever hear that C&W song about some hick from the Ozarks who, through a series of intermarriages and unusual relationships, winds up becoming his own grandfather? Well, that’s sort of what happened here with this film). So here we are, at the end of a dynasty. For the story of the Skywalker family has come full circle, and now all characters are in their proper places so as to meet themselves in (our) past (their future) and complete George Lucas’ epic dysfunctional family saga. Only, in spite of my thoroughly enjoying this installment (far more than I enjoyed the last two films) this isn’t quite where I remember coming in.

Now, I recall that Lucas had once stated that there would be a third trilogy relating what occurred after the end of the Empire fell at the end of Return of the Jedi. Then, years later recanted that info as he told us that he essentially answered, “Yes” to a question that he was repeatedly asked by reporters, simply to shut them up. In this later piece, he flatly stated that once he was done telling the rise and fall and rise again of the Skywalker family, he would be quit of the series. Needless to say, there have been even more recent stories indicating that maybe he’s changed his mind again, or not, depending on what day it is, which way the wind is blowing, and to which on-line fan source to which you are currently listening.)

I recently read an article where some highly-placed mucky-muck associated with the Star Wars Saga indicated that Lucas would never quite be done tweaking the two trilogies, and would probably spend the rest of his life re-issuing “updated versions” of these six movies. Hopefully while this may be true, Lucas will also again renege on his recant and grant us fans a look into the further lives of Luke, Leia and the rest of the Skywalker clan.

To be sure, anyone who has read the novels, comics, and other related future chronology already know what has happened (will happen?) as it is all ready there. Hence, translating any of the hundreds of pages of books and comics into a new movie would be (should be) child’s play, and certainly easy enough for Lucas, who can, if he chooses, simply lock himself into his Skywalker ranch (or his new digs in San Francisco) Howard Hughes-like and endlessly tinker with the six films to his heart’s content (one rumor has him re-digitizing the epic into a 3D extravaganza, while another has him recasting it endlessly with Looker-style digitized animatronics of classic Hollywood icons in all the roles (imagine Clark Gable as Hans Solo, Vivien Leigh as Princess Leia, John Wayne as Jabba the Hutt, William Shattner as The Big Giant Head…wait, those last two were just me slipping a cog., but I think you get the point.)

At any rate, I personally wouldn’t mind seeing more Star Wars films (Hell, I’d would actually love to see that Star Wars Holiday Special that ran once on TV back in ’78 and hasn’t been seen since, and in spite of what I may have said in a previous column about bootlegs, I’d even be willing to go to the Grey Market to purchase a copy (a buddy of mine tells me that he just scored the thing on VHS, so I just may actually get my wish on that, but I might just borrow it and give it back, so that I don’t violate my own mojo).

Still, given as there is still something of a buzz going on about the films, I just thought that I’d jump into the fray for the fun of it. However, before I get fully into this, I do want to say a few things. Back in college, when I first saw A New Hope, I remember thinking that it was the coolest sci-fi film I had ever seen. My then girlfriend’s boss thought that it sucked (and perhaps, in retrospect the woman was right, if only for what it eventually became, but that’s an entirely different post) needless to say, I wasn’t having any. I loved the film and couldn’t stop singing its praise.

So much so, that not only was one of my very first published pieces a discussion of what was going to be going on in the third film (OK, so I cribbed some of what I wrote from another article as well as some discussions I was having with my friends, but I was young, what did I know). I actually saw the Empire Strikes Back twice (the second time because I was asked to craft an episode of a one-page gag comicstrip that I had just taken over for the videogame magazine that I was working for at the time so that I could parody the film for the strip. The strip was called Video Victor and was essentially an excuse to do Bee puns (Victor was a Bee)and stupid videogame jokes. But Hell, it was the first time I was getting paid to write fiction, so I was happy to do it.

When Return came out, everyone hated the Ewoks of Endor, realizing that they were simply low-grade, scaled down Wookies, plus the plot seemed to be such a re-working of the first film that it was almost unnecessary. Personally I thought the Ewoks were cute, and mostly harmless, nor was I much impressed by the lightsaber battles in any of the first three films, plus the great race through the woods of Endor really do anything for me. Actually, truth be told, the endings of both the second and third films seemed to be such letdowns.

In Episode V the Rebel alliance got their collective butts whipped pretty good, Luke lost his hand and discovered that his father was the most feared man in the galaxy. But the film itself somehow wound up on an upbeat note, something that I never got. Episode VI had a real win, but it seemed somehow anticlimactic, plus, with the absolution and salvation of Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker) and the “ascension to a higher plane” by Obi-Wan Kenobi it set up a dichotomy for no one to ever die again (thus establishing The Force’s “Holy Trinity” and firmly establishing it as a sectarian, non-religious religion).

Then we had the interminable 16-year wait to view the next installment, which, only proved how much better the original trilogy was. That’s right, you hear me. The original Star Wars Trilogy was better as an overall vision than was the second trilogy. (Look, for the sake of this article we are going to refer to episodes 4–6 as the first trilogy, and episodes 1-3 as the second trilogy, if only because while the first trilogy is chronologically second, it actually came out first, plus it works that way for me, and I’m the one writing this article.)

Needless to say, having (finally) seen the second trilogy completed, I honestly could have waited another 16 years, if only for Lucas to have gotten it right. Sure, sure the effects were way cooler this time out, and we finally (FINALLY) got to see a couple of truly hot lightsaber battles (the fight with Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul in Phantom Menace, the battle in the coliseum in Attack of the Clones, and the throwdown between Mace Windu and Chancellor Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith were way-epic, with the Windu/Palpatiane match-up being the very wicked-best). However, things this time out I hated included the revelation that The Force was somehow measured by particles in the blood. Things I could have done without include the pod race, which was more tedious than thrilling (remember, I didn’t much like the chase through the woods in Jedi), and the stale, phone-it-in, cardboard cutout one-dimensional acting handed in by most of the cast throughout most of the films. At least in the first trilogy you got the feeling that these actors were making the effort to earn their pay and entertain us).

Oh yeah, no discussion of the relative merits of the saga would be complete with at least some mention of Jar-Jar Binks. Many of the people who went to see Episode I when it came out hated Jar-Jar, I never truly understood why, as I was entertained by him. To this day, the only reason that I can come up with that I didn’t find him as hatefully offensive or annoying as did most other fans is that my son was eight at the time, and Jar-Jar’s foolishness helped make the film accessible to my son, and thus appealed to me. Both Dylan and I still like the character.

Finally, one of the biggest failures of the second trilogy simply couldn’t overcome was that we know how the story ends. (Yeah, yeah, we also knew the ending to Apollo 13, before entering the theater, but Tom Hanks and company still made us believe that we didn’t quite know everything that was going to happen, and kept us on the edges of our seats as the capsule descended into our atmosphere.) That’s right, folks, if you were to view the six films in their proper order, the Big Reveal in Empire (the whole “Luke, I am your Father” thing) has a hollow ring to it, as we already know it; and this gets to the heart of my (admittedly, overly long) rant.

For the line to work properly, (assuming the story had been told the “correct” order), Anakin’s story would have had to have been told different, resulting in a not only a completely re-written back story, but (I believe) a more thrilling one as well.

Consider this spin: a second character would have mirrored Anakin’s path during the second trilogy. (Anakin’s younger/older brother, best friend, little/bigger cousin — it really doesn’t matter) but it is this character (let’s call him Joe Skywalker), who winds up becoming Obi-Wan’s apprentice. By introducing this character as a red herring it allows for Empire’s big reveal to work as well as it did. Let me explain:

As stated, Joe becomes becoming Obi-Wan’s apprentice and winds up falling for Padmé, but so too does Anakin and now you have a Luke, Leia, Han Solo triangle to add that riff of sexual subtext and tension to the film that was there for the first trilogy (and so lacking in the second). As Joe becomes schooled in the ways of the Jedi, Anakin becomes something of the rogue, a proto-Han Solo, if you will, who (thanks to Senator Palpatine’s subterfuge) also studies the Jedi arts, only, as it turns out, he is every bit (if not more) adept than Joe. As there is also some physical attraction between Padmé and Anakin (girls do so like those bad boys) by the third film it is reveals that Padmé had a brief fling with Anakin, which is what throws Joe into a rage, and causes him to turn his back on his mentor Obi-Wan, and align himself with Palpatine, who has been playing Joe, Anakin, and Obi-Wan against each other from the very beginning), During the climatic battle on the lake of fire between Joe and Obi-Wan, Joe gains the upper hand, because Obi-Wan can’t quite bring himself to kill his beloved student, so Obi-Wan goes down to a powerful attack by Joe.

In flies Anakin who takes the killing stroke meant for Obi-Wan, and manages to deflect it from the downed Jedi Master. Anakin then picks up Obi-Wan’s lightsaber (or, better yet, produces his own) and fights Joe to a standstill, proving that he was the better man all along. Ultimately an explosion kills one and disfigures the other (we are not told which) and a wounded, and disheartened Obi-Wan leaves both men (whom he believes to both be dead) and returns to the Great Hall.

It is there that we learn that Padmé has died during childbirth. We also learn that Anakin’s wife (oh yeah, he had married and impregnated his wife as well. The two women were so happy that they were both going to be moms together, they became as close as sisters). Only Anakin’s wife (let’s call her Jane) was also fatally wounded during the attack on the Jedi Council — where Anakin had sent her for her own safety) died during childbirth as well. We are never told which child lived, and which one died (nor are we told that there are actually two children). The unnamed infant is sent to live with the only surviving Skywalker relations on Tatooine. So, at the end of Sith, we are lead to believe that the child was the offspring of Padmé’s child and Joe, but there is room for doubt.

It is in this fashion that the two big twists of the first trilogy (Leia as Luke’s sister, and Vader as Luke’s Father) are set up, and would still have still worked as the shockers they were, for we wouldn’t have known that Luke was a twin, and there would have been some doubt as to the ultimate identity of Darth Vader.

I personally like this version more than what occurred (and not just because I wrote it, but because of it’s complexity). Only, it never would have worked, for as we all now know, the storyline for the second trilogy was written in broad strokes by Lucas way back in 1975 (some stories have it that the big reveal of Vader being Luke’s father was actually a spur-of-the-moment add-in by someone on the set of Empire, and was never actually part of Lucas’ original story).

There is also ancillary evidence of how much was set in stone in the second trilogy. A friend of mine observed that the relationship between Anakin and Padmé reminded him of the relationship he had with the girlfriend he had when he was 17. He felt (and I concur) that Lucas formulated the story when he was in his late 20s and actually wrote it down while in his early 30s, and then shopped it around Hollywood, to a round of “Nos!” By all accounts, no one wanted his script, so when he did eventually manage to sell (the second half first, as it was, admittedly, the better story) and it became the huge moneymaker that it wound up being, he decided to teach Hollywood a lesson, and do the thing himself, exactly the way he wanted, just to prove (on some level) that he could do it and make a ton of dough.

No disrespect to Lucas, but he is a much better visionary and technical revolutionist than a writer and/or director, and while he should have remained at the helm as executive producer of the saga, he should have left the scripting (over his plots) and actual direction of the films themselves to folks better suited for those tasks.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. And remember, Nothing is Sacred.