Thursday, June 30, 2005

I Finally See "Star Wars"

As I wrote earlier , Star Wars doesn’t officially open until July 9, but a friend and I found out about a sneak preview showing on Saturday, June 25th. (Which is already almost a week ago now, but I’ve been busy blogging about other things).

Interesting thing about going to the movies in Japan: it costs more to go to the matinee showing than it does to see the evening show. For whatever reason, Japanese people have come to regard going to the movies as an afternoon activity, and so they are priced accordingly.

(My friend Aaron has a theory that Japan has become an "inside culture". He notes that on sunny Saturday afternoons, when most Americans would be outside, Japanese people flock to indoor shopping malls or bowling allies or movie theaters).

Both my friend and I were busy during Saturday evening, so it was the matinee showing or nothing. A matinee showing in Japan costs about $18, which is more than I usually like to pay for a movie, but I was willing to do it for “Star Wars.” As I said to my friend, “If this was opening day, then we would just wait until the next day when we had a free evening and see the late show. But this is a sneak preview. If we don’t see ‘Star Wars’ this afternoon, we’ll have to wait for two weeks before opening day. And that’s not really an option. Imagine having the suspense of wondering what the new ‘Star Wars’ is like bugging us for two more weeks.”

(At least I now live in an area with a movie theater close by. In the days when I lived in Ajimu it was an hour drive each way to get to the theater. In those days seeing a movie was not something we did for a couple hours in the afternoon. If we wanted to see a movie it was essentially an all day event.)

Anyway, being one of the privileged few who saw ‘Star Wars’ before opening day, we are now making the most of it by exploiting our position over the other hungry ‘Star Wars’ fans, who beg us for knowledge about the movie.

As for my personal review: Lucas is at his best when he is imitating the action serials of the 1940s. He seems to be at his worst when exploring human relationships or character motivations.

The original trilogy was highly tilted towards Lucas’s strength. The prequel trilogy, being essential one long attempt at a psycho-analysis of Anakin Skywalker and the question of what makes a good man turn bad, seems to be tilted towards Lucas’s weaknesses. (Also apparently romance stories are not his strength either.)

The opening sequence of Episode III, and indeed most of the first half of the movie, is playing towards Lucas's strengths. In fact, dare I say it, the opening sequence is on par with the original trilogy. It’s good action adventure fun, with just the right amount of cheesy dialogue to evoke the image of the 40s serials, and the original trilogy itself. General Grevious in particular is a perfect villain. He seems ripped right out of the pulp science fiction of the 1940s or 50s.

But once the Clone Wars started to wind down, and the transformation of Anakin to the dark side began to happen, the movie really began to suck. Did anyone think that the transformation was remotely believable? Does anyone you know think to themselves, “I’m on the side of good. I’m on the side of good. I’m having a few doubts now. Oh, what the hell, I’ll be evil for the rest of my life.” ?

It sort of works within the Star Wars universe because we all know it is divided into the duelist spheres of light side and dark side, and the more nuanced features of human nature don’t seem to exist. And we all know the story has to end Anakin has to go from one side to the other. But at the same time, that is exactly the problem. This is clearly a story where the plot is driving the characters, and so as a consequence very few of the characters are believable. In fact one can even see the strings of the characters being moved along by the plot.

That also creates numerous other semi-unbelievable turns of events and plot holes. Yoda fails once at defeating the Emperor, and then just gives up and goes into exile for the rest of his life. Obi Wan Kenobi travels all the way to kill Anakin, and then just leaves him maimed and half dead. But how could it be otherwise, or it wouldn’t be set up for the beginning of the original trilogy?

About the politics: Being a political animal myself I appreciate what Lucas was trying to do. And I share his interest in the transformation of Republic to Empire, and his concern that the Bush administration is taking us down that path.

That being said, the framework Lucas has set up in his Star Wars universe of the mythological struggle between good versus evil does not lend itself to nuanced political commentary. The whole thing about the dark Sith lord secretly manipulating events so as to cause the destruction of the republic seemed a bit silly.

I'm told that the original trilogy was politically motivated , and apparently based on the Vietnam War. The Empire represented the United States, and the Ewoks were the Vietnamese.

If true this is an interesting twist on the Star Wars saga. The story I usually hear is that Star Wars was responsible for re-militarizing the toy industry. After the Vietnam War most toy companies balked at the idea of war toys, but after the success of the first line of Star Wars toys, the door was opened and G.I. Joe and the rest soon followed through.

But, if Lucas based his story on the Vietnam War, then did this mean we all grew up playing with toys that glorified the Vietcong? At the height of the Reagan era?

At any rate, when the world’s largest military travels all the way around the world to bomb the hell out of a rice-field peasant nation, perhaps that is a story that does lend itself to being told in good/evil terms. The fall of a republic does not.

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