Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Attack of the sequels

It must be time to get excited about Star Wars again. I know this because there was a big cover story on Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones in last week’s Time magazine.

The fact that this movie is on the cover of Time magazine means that it is truly a major pop culture event. After all, the movie (distributed by 20th Century Fox) isn’t even part of the same media conglomerate as Time magazine (AOL Time-Warner), so Time isn’t even getting any synergy from all the free publicity it is handing out. Thus, this movie must truly be newsworthy. Or else they figured that they would sell a whole heck of a lot of copies to people like me and millions of others around the world who will read anything they can about a new Star Wars movie.

Somehow this time around, the Star Wars publicity machine seems strangely quiet to me, particularly when compared to the incessant and eternal flood of hype and product tie-ins that besieged us for months in advance of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace three years ago. This may be because George Lucas learned his lesson and decided not to over-promote the movie and cause people to be tired of it before it even hit the screens. Or it might be because I don’t have a clue because I am sitting on the side of a mountain in the furthest reaches of a small island country, where the nearest newspaper shop is two miles away and I can only receive four channels, of which only three are in English.

Anyway, so what do we learn from the big spread in Time? I mean, besides the fact that Yoda is digitized this time (and not a puppet) and that Princess Leia’s hair was inspired by “a kind of Southwestern Pancho Villa woman revolutionary look”? Well, for one thing, I was surprised to learn that “people hated” Episode I (which was, of course, the fourth film in the series). So people hated The Phantom Menace! Well, that finally answers the question why there are a grand total of three movies in the whole history of moviemaking that made more money than Episode I. I guess people just couldn’t believe how bad it really was and had to keep paying money to go back and verify that it really was that bad.

And the reason that the people who shelled out a collective $431 million at the box office hated the movie so much, of course, was the annoying Jar Jar Binks. To add insult to injury, Lucas comes very close to blaming the enmity toward Jar Jar on me personally. Says Time, “Lucas blames the anti-Jar Jar sentiment on ‘37-year-old guys who spend all their time on the Internet.'” Ouch. Okay, I’m not 37, but otherwise he could have been talking about me! This, after I actually went on record in my review of the film and said, “Jar Jar Binks didn’t bother me.” You can look it up. In a very strange defense of the Jar Jar character, Lucas goes on to explain that practically all the Star Wars movies have had annoying creatures that nobody likes (C-3PO, the Ewoks), but it was only with the popularization of the Internet that these feelings could become a mass political movement. (And on the topic of hateful political movements, I just want to express my deepest gratitude to the voters of France. For the first time in 18 months, people around the world have finally stopped talking about what is wrong with the American electoral process.)

At the end of the day, discussing whether people will “like” the new Star Wars movie or whether it will be a hit is not time very well spent. Of course, people will flock to see it. Of course, it will make a ton of money. Duh. Press coverage like the Time cover story seem calculated mainly to keep up interest in a franchise that is an unstoppable juggernaut. Personally, as much as I enjoyed the original Star Wars, I was never as big a fan as lots of other guys I knew. But, conversely, I was not as down on Phantom Menace as much as a lot of people I know—not to mention a lot of film critics.

I was interested to note that Christopher Lee has a significant role in the movie, as a turncoat Jedi named Dooku. I don’t know about you, but to me this sounds an awful lot like the role he played in the first installment of The Lord of the Rings. Now that’s the one thing in my mind that could actually hurt the whole Star Wars saga: anything that causes the audience to make a close comparison with a multi-movie fantasy epic that is truly grand in scale and has a literary pedigree that brings a heck of a lot more weight than the comic books and matinee serials that inspired George Lucas to spin his escapist space flicks.

Not that I have anything against comic books! When I’m not queuing up for Attack of the Clones, you’ll find me in the line for Spider-Man!

-S.L., 2 May 2002

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