Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Send in the clones

So, what’s up with these new Star Wars movies anyway?

It seems as though Attack of the Clones should have been more fun. Or more… something. Maybe, in the 16 years between the end of the first trilogy and the beginning of the second one, I just got too old for these movies. But even if that is the case, then it’s just a symptom of the real problem. Which is: George Lucas waited too long to make more Star Wars movies. Ask yourself honestly: have you enjoyed The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones anywhere near as much as the original trilogy when it got its big re-release in 1997? I rest my case.

I hate to say it, but this new trilogy is turning out to be for Star Wars what Star Trek: Voyager was for Star Trek. Wait, no, an even better comparison is the latest Star Trek TV series Enterprise, since it also does the prequel thing, thereby adding a general lack of suspense to all the other problems the series has. (I got fed up with Enterprise when I realized that one of the main running plot lines was going to be “Hmmm, can these strange Vulcans be trusted?”) With Star Trek, we can at least blame the lack of creative energy since the end of a) Star Trek: Deep Space 9, if you liked that series, or b) Star Trek: The Next Generation, if you thought DS9 was a shameless rip-off of Babylon 5, on Gene Roddenberry’s undeserving inheritors. With Star Wars, we have no one to blame but George Lucas himself.

If this latest entry into the series had been better written and, dare I say it, better acted, Lucas might have pulled off the transformation of his entertainment for adolescent boys into some kind of Shakespearean tragedy. But if you take away the fanciful creatures and dazzling actions and all the good will generated by the earlier movies (and, admittedly, that’s a heck of a lot to take away), you’re left with a movie that’s pretty darn pretentious.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I am dissing the new Star Wars movies totally. I actually defended Phantom Menace and gave it three stars because I thought it was a very fun movie, in the tradition of old Hollywood spectacles. As such, it harked back to the original Star Wars, which was really nothing more than a really good time. Similarly, Attack of the Clones echoes the first sequel The Empire Strikes Back, in that it attempts to take itself more seriously and leaves us feeling us though we haven’t seen a complete movie. It remains to be seen if the next movie in 2005 manages to provide the same rousing wrap-up that The Return of the Jedi gave us. Frankly, it doesn’t look hopeful, since the next movie necessarily has to end with the destruction of the republic and the Jedi order, the rise of the evil empire, the moral fall of the trilogy’s hero, and presumably even the death of his beloved queen/senator. Pretty somber stuff for a bunch of movies that started out aping such escapist fare as Saturday afternoon matinees and comic books. And it promises to be a real bummer of a way to end the series of Star Wars movies once and for all. But then maybe Lucas is already plotting another major re-release of the original trilogy immediately afterwards, so we can all stand in more queues and buy more movie tickets to have our happy, if already oft-seen, ending.

This raises the question: once the last movie is finally released, in what order are we supposed to watch the six episodes? Obviously, most people living today have had no choice but to watch them in the order that they were produced. But future generations will have the option to watch them in narrative order. But should they? I suppose that would work, although it will certainly take the surprise out of the revelations in Episode VI as to who Luke Skywalker’s father and sister are. Maybe people should always watch the series in the order it was filmed, producing an effect of one long meta-movie with a chronologically disjointed narrative, like, say, Pulp Fiction. Or maybe it would be better to watch Return of the Jedi first and then work your way back to Phantom Menace, producing the art-house effect of a story told in reverse à la Betrayal or Memento. But, as I’ve already said, Lucas is getting pretentious enough, as it is.

Prequels have been around for years in the movie world. Like sequels, their real purpose is to milk more money out of people who didn’t get enough of the original movie. And, if a prequel gets made, it usually means there was some reason that it didn’t make sense to make a sequel, e.g. all the characters died at the end of the movie or the lack of availability of the key actor(s)—although sequels have been known to be made in spite of such obstacles. Typical of Hollywood prequels would be Butch and Sundance: The Early Years, in which the young Tom Berenger and William Katt did Paul Newman and Robert Redford imitations for the benefit of fans of the original Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. At the end of the day, the new Star Wars trilogy is essentially the same exercise. The main difference is that there is a heck of a lot more money involved.

-S.L., 23 May 2002

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