03 November 2007

I Find Your lack of Faith Disturbing

Some weeks ago a friend of mine was coerced, after years of valiant resistance, into watching the Star Wars films. He started - wisely, for my money - with the original three, only watching the prequels some weeks later.

His observations on the original films were sharp and perceptive, although I'd differ from him in a few respects; for all that, though, he was spot on in his observation that - contrary to popular belief - the ewoks are anything but cute. They sacrifice and eat people, for starters, and 'although they look primitive, they have an extensive array of war machines, and are obviously experienced at using them. The moon of Endor must be ravaged by chronic and endemic warfare, which makes it an odd choice for the Empire to site a critical shield facility.'

Curiously, he wasn't disgusted by the new films. The Brother, who likewise avoided in all its forms until a few years ago, had similar feelings when he got round to watching them. Is it only people who grew up with Star Wars who view the new films with a curious mixture of approval, scepticism, and horror, and a general feeling that, on balance, George Lucas has raped their childhoods?

To be fair, I look on all three prequels as missed opportunities; there are good films in there trying to get out. The first one has a very clever plot, but is let down by too much Gungan nonsense, that annoying boy, and the tedious pod race. The second has a fine story, even if the Jedi failure to follow the money trail is more than a little perplexing; in truth, it'd make a great silent movie, as it's only the dialogue that lets it down. And as for the third one...

I was talking about this with a friend on Tuesday night, unknowingly keeping awake his exhausted girlfriend whose efforts at sleep in the next room were thwarted by my rantings about the marvellously missed opportunity that is Revenge of the Sith.

It's got a huge amount going for it as a film, but I think Lucas makes one terrible mistake: he lets us know that Anakin is Darth Vader.

'Arise, Lord Vader,' Palpatine says to his young apprentice, and then, after the duel between Anakin and Obi Wan, he retrieves Anakin's charred and mutilated body so that he can reanimate it as the giant cyborg, more machine than man: the Darth Vader we all know and love.

Leaving aside how crap the reanimation scene is, this is blatantly just done so that we can get a fanboy thrill at seeing everyone's favourite Sith Lord striding about and looking generally menacing and - it must be said - cool.

Look, if Lucas really wants the films to work as a set, he should surely have been considering what a first-time viewer will think. Wouldn't it have been better if the Emperor had simply addressed Anakin by name, or as his apprentice, and if Lucas had resisted the temptation to show Palpatine gathering up the wrackage of his henchman's body?

Imagine if you thought the renegade Jedi had died on that volcanic planet, and if you had no idea of the identity of the sinister henchman beside the Emperor in the film's closing shots. Just another imperial goon, surely? One of thousands...

And then, you'd settle in to watch A New Hope, and, aside from wondering why it's taken seventeen years to build the Death Star and how badly Ben Kenobi has aged in the meantime - that desert sun really takes a toll, obviously - you'd be wondering why Ben is spinning Luke such a load of hooey. A young Jedi named Darth Vader, who Ben trained, killed Anakin? But that's ridiculous - Ben killed him! And Darth Vader only showed up after Anakin's death anyway. Why's Ben pinning this on him? He obviously had nothing to do with Anakin or Ben! What's going on?

And then, watching The Empire Strikes Back, aside from being impressed at Yoda's crash-course in Jedi training, as in the old days this would have taken a lifetime rather than - it seems - a few days, you'd wonder quite why Yoda wants Luke to steer clear of Vader. Finally you'd have that iconic face-off on Bespin, which would have almost the same shock factor as it did back in the day.

Now that'd set you up for the grand finale, wouldn't it?

Someday, should there be little gargoyles, I shall crudely edit the trilogy to achieve this effect for them. A strategic cough here, an accidental nudge of the remote control there... oh yes. Revenge of the Sith: the Thirsty G Version. It'll be huge.

In the meantime, you should amuse yourself with The Vader Sessions. They offer a fairly different take on cinema's most sinister asthmatic.

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