Be forewarned, the first part of this post is fairly easy to follow, but the second half degenerates rather quickly into Star Wars Speak. It may be hard to grasp for the un-indoctrinated.
But before I tell you all why the new Star Wars movies are ALMOST as good as the old ones, let's back up a bit.
In 1993 a movie came out called "Being Human", it starred Robin Williams and featured him playing an every-man in 4 different stories set across 4 different periods of history. Starting in the age of the vikings, moving to ancient rome, then to the age of exploration and finally settling in the present day. The movie was a bit uneven, pretty much devoid of humor or heavy pathos - and yet it sticks with me to this day because of one scene in the final story.
In the present day Robin plays a divorced dad who has been in prison for awhile, he's recently been released and picks up his kids to spend time with them on the weekend for the first time in a long time. There are problems getting to know them again, a boy of about 8 or 9 and a sulky teenage daughter.
He takes them to the beach and things go poorly, a crappy amusement park on the board walk doesn't help elevate the mood. Finally, as the day ends, the kids - especially the daughter; see that the dad is really trying, and so they warm to him just a bit. As they sit around a hastily built beach fire, the dad and daughter roast hot dogs and chat quietly as the boy falls asleep. Things seem to be better, and Robin Williams character is relieved.
"Well, it looks like things are going to be okay..." he says. The daughter cocks an eyebrow and then she says something that has stuck to my brain almost every day of my life since.
"What do you mean things are going to be okay? This is it. This is as good as it gets."
And in that moment it dawns on him - that the moment he is in, the moment right...NOW.... with his daughter who had forsaken him, now smiling at him; NOW is the moment to cherish and recognize that for all we cling to the past and for all we treasure with the sentimental and the "ideal", there is truly nothing as great as a moment in the present that you can RECOGNIZE as great.
Things are not going to be "okay". Things are great. Right. Now.
And I guess I knew this all along, but it has never been articulated better for me than in this silly little movie; which to this day isn't even available on DVD.
Star Wars fans, those that are fans of the original trilogy only; which is probably the majority of all Star Wars fans; are stuck on May 25, 1977. And they are still waiting for things to be "okay".
They nervously cluck about the new shitty prequels. George Lucas is insane. George Lucas is a corporate tool, full of greed, and overwhelmed by the urge to make crappy kids films.
George Lucas raped my childhood.
This last hyperbole is the geek rallying cry for the anti-Lucas crowd of "fans" on the internet today.
Give me a wookie-sized break.
This kid at heart, this young boy in a 36 year old body, (who last night was dazzled by the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie by the way) is NOT waiting for things to be okay. This kid is enjoying the moment, and the movies that George Lucas has made for us and for himself.
I could wallow by the camp-fire at the beach, and bemoan how crappy things are, and how dismal movies are, and why oh why me Lord, and yada yada yada. Sorry, I've got bigger fish to fry, and some cool movies to go spend my hard earned cash on. Apparently, if you go by the numbers, so do legions of other Star Wars fans who happen to HATE the new movies. Bizarre? Yes.
I've asked myself, if I was like the "haters" in movie geekdom today, and genuinely despised Star Wars Episodes 1 through 3 or even held them as "beneath" the original trilogy; why in the holy F-word would I WASTE my time and money on going to see them, posting incoherent rants on the internet and complaining endlessly to other "fans" about how bad the movies suck?
Doesn't make much sense I know. About as much sense as the original trilogy worshippers reasons for disliking the new movies. There are three that stick out as particularly stupid.
1. I hate Jar-Jar Binks.
Okay, they have a point with this one.
But let's see, you have a movie with stunning light saber battles (light years beyond what is found in the original trilogy) a pod-race that is one of the great all time "asides" in geek movie history, a villain that is more bad-ass than Vader, gorgeous production design of fully realized and truly alien worlds (not just location work in Norway or Tunisia), and the compelling origins of a mythology that we all LOVE, with an open ending and the promise of much more to come - hampered only by wooden dialogue (like there wasn't any of that in the original trilogy) some bad acting (again, Mark Hamil that master thespian really could teach Natalie Portman a thing or two about acting) and about 38 minutes of screen time of a character that is the movie equivalent of finger-nails on a chalk-board.
Jar-Jar Binks. "Meesa so stupid!"
Well, when it comes to which movie I prefer; the one with all of the above - or the movie that wraps up the entire trilogy on a planet of F-ING TEDDY BEARS! With a TEDDY BEAR PICNIC as the final scene, I have to think about it for, oh I don't know, about HALF-A-BLEEDING-SECOND and go with Phantom Menace over Return of the Jedi.
And Luke talking with Lea outside of the Teddy Bear Tree-House, sorry; that scene beats by far the very worst acting in all of the Prequel movies. Don't believe me? Well let's look at the number 2 complaint by the old-school haters.
2. The acting/writing is terrible.
"But I wanted to go to Toshi Station and pick up some power converters!"
That's really all there is to say.
But since we're here to ramble; let's just go over the actors side by side shall we?
Jake Lloyd is bad. So is Hayden Christiansen. Mark Hamil is worse. MUCH worse. Natalie Portman is serviceable (as an actor you filthy pig), Carrie Fisher is terrible - especially in Jedi. Ewan McGregor is damn good. Harrison Ford is better. Alec Guinness is a legend, yet in these movies he's not that much better than Ian McDiarmand (arguably, Ian is better).
And please don't forget that yes, though the original trilogy has Mr. Colt 45 himself - the new movies have Samuel Mother-F-ing Jackson. And Christopher Lee. The original trilogy has Wedge.
So, side by side; sorry there's no overwhelming favorite.
As for the writing; yes, I will concede that Empire is by far the strongest - in dialogue and in story-structure. But Return of the Jedi sinks far below the new movies - in outright laziness, sloppiness and silliness.
First, let's negate the passion and power of Empire Strikes Back - by resolving the Han Solo thing in oh, say, about 20 minutes. We'll go to the palace of puppets, put Lea in a bikini, and then have an awkward and contrived "rescue" plot push the reset button so we can remake the first movie on a planet of merchandise friendly teddy bears.
What. The. F.
Yeah, and Phantom Menace is a terrible movie. Wake up original trilogy slaves, you've been served.
3. Lucas is a meddler. Greedo doesn't shoot first!
And yes, this is an actual argument original trilogy sycophants actually use after the first two peter out. Never mind that it doesn't really have to do with the issue at hand (old movies vs. new movies) it, like "Haliburton", is the old stand-by catch phrase that is bandied about ignorantly when arguments they don't like won't go away quietly.
Lucas IS a meddler. These are his God Damn Movies.
He has provided hours of life altering, imagination firing, entertainment for the price of a movie ticket. He doesn't owe you, or me, or anyone anything in the first place, but the truth is - he has given so much of himself and his passion for these stories that he loves; and in return he gets spit in the face by the "fans".
If he wants to put Jar-Jar in a slave bikini or give Harrison Ford a mohawk in his next versions of the movie; that's his right. And it's my right as a fan to say "Well that sucks, I guess I won't buy it or COMPLAIN ENDLESSLY about it. I'll just MOVE ON, and enjoy the DVD's that I already own."
"Oh but wait!" They cry. "George never released the original movies on DVD." Wrong. He did last year.
"But wait!" They cry. "These are non-anamorphic and no surround sound! And there are garbage mattes on the effects shots!"
Guess what a-holes; the original movie was in Dolby 2.0. And the original print was 4:3 with a wide screen matte (letterbox). And yes Virginia; there were garbage mattes aplenty, not to mention blue screen aliasing and other "imperfections" in the original FX work. THAT was the movie.
And Lucas GAVE it to you! And you STILL COMPLAIN!!!! AAAAARRRRRGGGHHHH!!!!!!!
So what these self absorbed whiners are really saying isn't "Give us the original movie" they're saying "Give us what we want the original movie to be." Sanctimonious and self-serving you are. As Yoda would say.
Now grasp what I'm saying. I roll my eyes when Greedo shoots first; I think the scene in Episode 4 with Han and the crappy digital Jabba has no reason to be in the movie, I could do without any number of "improvements" in the original trilogy, but guess what - the majority of them ARE improvements. The two biggest "alterations" make the movies immeasurably better.
The sound of the original trilogy has been revamped and redesigned pretty much from scratch - at the cost of millions upon millions of dollars out of Lucas' pocket to make the movies an audio experience that holds up to and surpasses most blockbuster films made today.
The digital work extends beyond the effects themselves, and into cleaning up the prints and making them "pop" like never before - including when they were originally released.
The movies, from a movie standpoint, are better than ever from top to bottom. I recognize this and don't let the few questionable choices Lucas has made, dampen my enthusiasm beyond a single shrug.
And so that's about it. Did you get the three prong assault on the original trilogy zombies?
Jar-Jar sucks, the Ewoks are far worse.
The acting and writing is bad - in ALL of the movies.
These are George Lucas' movies, NOT the fans' movies. (Very hard for the self-entitled crowd to swallow, but this applies to most Americans these days. You are not ENTITLED to anything, let alone to control the movies that someone else made.)
And yet, the funny punch-line to all of this, is that I actually prefer the original Trilogy. (Well, maybe not Return of the Jedi).
Empire Strikes Back is probably the most perfect sci-fi movie ever made; and if the other two old movies were of that caliber, then the OT morons would have at least a leg to stand on in their diatribes against Jar-Jar and baby Vader.
That said, the Original Trilogy will always be first in my heart; because it taps directly into the seven year old inside me; because I was there. Even though Return of the Jedi is ridiculous, sloppy and lazy; I still love it. I remember the thrill I got from a goofy teddy bear jumping on a speeder bike, or playing bongo drums on a storm troopers helmet. I still remember that Gawd awful Yub-Yub song (which thankfully Lucas removed, an improvement that rivals the sound and fx overhauls) and yet I loved it - and still love it.
But this is the sentimental. I am enraptured by the past true, but I am not hamstrung by it.
I recognize, that the GREAT moment is now. This is it. It doesn't, nor should it, get any better.
We can hold on to the sentimental, put it on a pedestal, hold it up so high that we have no hope for our current lives or the lives of our children. Or we can let it go, and wake up to what's happening.
This is it. Things aren't going to be okay. They are GREAT. Right. Now.