Saturday, December 24, 2016

i am finally one with the force

No, I'm not telling you whether Alan Tudyk dies.
No, I'm not telling you whether Alan Tudyk dies.
Star Wars fans finally have the Star Wars movies they deserved all along.

The justly-reviled prequel trilogy brought into sharp relief what had actually been true about the entire series: The movies really were never that good.
George Lucas' hare-brained, ham-fisted mishmash of Joseph Campbell musings, bastardized Kurosawa, half-assed space Muppets, and Saturday matinee serials was saved from a fate as future MST3K fodder only by Harrison Ford's charisma and ad-libs, and special effects twelve parsecs beyond what any of us had seen before. Otherwise, it held true to the serial-defined limits of George Lucas' imagination - clunky dialogue, wooden acting, and jaw-droppingly awful character names.
But here's what happened: People loved it.
And this love made the series transcendent. Never mind that this love was showered upon movies that, with the qualified exception of The Empire Strikes Back (tellingly, the one with which Lucas was the least involved), were wholly unworthy of that level of devotion. Star Wars engaged the imagination not just of the preteens of 1977, but of each generation after that.
And it is that engagement with its audience that made the series more than a dumb western in space. Children imagining themselves as Luke, Han, Leia, or even Darth Vader, fighting their own lightsaber duels, and most importantly, making up their own stories, this was the true transubstantiation that turned purloined pulp into bread and wine.

And here's another truth, Star Wars fans, and it's one that you probably realized yourself once you saw The Phantom Menace: Your Star Wars stories were better than George Lucas' Star Wars stories.
The young adults and children whom Star Wars captivated took the basic building blocks of Lucas' universe and not only invested them with affection, love, and, as they aged, the rosy light of nostalgia, but those fans with genuine storytelling abilities busied themselves filling in the blanks. They created their own backstory to fill plot holes, and transformed the two-dimensional sketches of the original trilogy into robust three-dimensional life. Some of this remained in the realm of fan fiction, while some of it took on an official imprimatur in officially-licensed novels and video games set in the Star Wars universe.
Many of these were stories worth reading, and in the case of Knights of the Old Republic, games worth playing. And once the prequel trilogy became a reality, the truth became unavoidable: these were things that George Lucas was unable to do himself. Lucas' dialogue and directing somehow managed to take perfectly-capable actors like Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Hayden Christensen (don't believe that Christensen is capable? Watch Shattered Glass sometime) and render them far more robotic than the actual robots that populate his universe.
The Emperor had no clothes. Really, he never did, aside from the ones that you yourself draped upon him without even knowing it.
And this, dear readers, is why you should celebrate The Force Awakens and especially Rogue One. These are Star Wars movies that are actually *good.*
Everyone in them can act, and many of the actors have true charisma. The plots and dialogue preserve the history and flavor of the franchise, but now the stories make logical and dramatic sense (Rogue One, in fact, does a yeoman's job of not only being good on its own but patching up logical gaps from the *first* movie ex post facto) and the dialogue is sharp and flowing. There are no patronizing kid-friendly/comic-relief sops - no Ewoks and no damnable Jar-Jars in sight.
And, as Rogue One brings home, there are now real consequences in this universe - maybe it's just that Babylon 5 and the new-model Battlestar Galactica upped the science-fiction show ante over the last 20 years, but every action has a cost, and not everyone in your plucky band of heroes is going to miraculously survive to the happy ending. This adds true dramatic and emotional heft to a franchise that, beyond its original Oedipal arc, has often lacked both.
I knew that freeing the franchise from Lucas was its only hope (reference intended). But the actual results to this point have exceeded my loftiest expectation.
These are the Star Wars movies you, the fans, deserved all along. I'm glad they're finally here, and I'm glad that even a longstanding Star Wars skeptic like myself can get to enjoy them with you. Nearly 40 years after that June 1977 day that I picked up a Star Wars comic book as my family headed out on our yearly summer vacation - I thought it was just a new comic book series until I read an ad inside of it for the movie - I am finally now one with the Force and the Force is with me.

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