Monday, November 8, 2004

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That stupid George Lucas

Over the weekend I took my son to see The Incredibles with the Official BlogBrother, and a fine time was had by all -- though I suspect I enjoyed it more than the boy (My favorite line of dialogue is when the superhero voiced by Samuel L. Jackson asks his wife where his supersuit is. After some back-and-forth about whether he's really going to go out to save the day, he pleads, "Honey, this is for the greater good!" Her response is, "I am your wife! I am your GREATEST good!!")

However, the point of this post is that before the movie they unveiled the teaser trailer for Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. You can see it by clicking here.

The damn thing is driving me crazy -- because you know, you just know that the odds are heavily stacked in favor of the movie being God-awful. If you combine Episodes I and II together, you get about ten minutes of interesting film -- the last ten minutes of Episode II. Maybe that's a promising trend, and maybe the fact that this movie has to end on a downer note means that it will echo the greatness of The Empre Strikes Back.

But I doubt it -- George Lucas might have the reputation of being a master storyteller, but that doesn't change the fact that he's a really bad writer. The discussion of politics between Amidala and Anakin in Attack of the Clones were a particular low point. And anyone who can make Natalie Portman seem dull deserves a good thrashing.

However, the trailer is seductive -- the voice of Alec Guiness, the image of Lord Vader, the return of the Wookies to the narrative. For the millisecond he's on screen, even Liam Neeson finally seems comfortable in the Star Wars universe.

It's tempting, so tempting to plan on seeing the movie on the big screen. It reminds me of the last time I was excited about a sci-fi trailer -- oh, right, that was Episode I.

This is going to be vexing me until May.

Damn George Lucas and his beguiling trailers!! [Calm down! Trust your feelings! And rise--ed. Yes.... master.]

UPDATE: I see Pejman Yousefzadeh is also in danger of being seduced by the dark side.

posted by Dan on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM


I love you.

posted by: Jim Dandy on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

Anyone want to place odds that Anakin isn't actually Darth Vader. Rather, Anakin dies and Palatine (or whatever his name is) clones him and the clone is Darth Vader?

posted by: Aaron on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

bringing w.b. yeats into a discussion of 'star wars' is a dictionary definition of overkill, but i thought 'phantom menace' perfectly matched ol' bill's definition of rhetoric: 'the attempt of the will to do the work of the imagination.' the original trilogy had imaginative freshness, emotional authenticity, or just rattling good melodrama _ call it what you like. 'phantom menace' didn't, i took a pass on 'attack of the clones' and will probably do the same with 'revenge.' the best thing i got out of it was a joke:
q. where do sith lords shop?
a. darth mall.

posted by: greeneyeshade on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

Daniel Drezner = Darth Vader? So that means he serves the evil Emperor Wolfowitz, right? (see link;)

posted by: Jason Broander on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

It reminds me of the last time I was excited about a sci-fi trailer -- oh, right, that was Episode I.

That was a long time ago; is that really the last time you were excited by a SF trailer?? What about the trailer for Matrix Reloaded? (I know, I know-- but we're just talking about the trailer.) Hell, I think I remember sitting next to you when you were excited by the trailer for "I, Robot," for no reason I understood.

I think there's a good 20-30 minutes of good movie in Episode I. I liked the Jedi Council, the Senate, and the final Darth Maul fight. It has to be more than 10 minutes total between the two movies; Samuel L. Jackson and Christopher Lee have more than ten minutes onscreen.

Your basic point stands...

posted by: Jacob T. Levy on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

The best way to approach this is to say to yourself over and over again before you see it, "This is going to really, really, really suck." The, if it only "really, really sucks," you may be pleasantly surprised.

Oh, and Lucas has turned into a money grubbing whore with no sense of history or the place of the original trilogy in people's lives.

posted by: Ugh on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

Actually, I thought the first ten minuets of Episode I were pretty good. This brief period of excitement was quickly squelched with the decent down to the planet. This corresponded to the films flaming descent, which would later crash and burn in a heap of stilted dialogue, bad acting and (shudder) Jar Jar. That was the last time Lucas has seen any of my money, or will. I don’t feel like I’ve missed a thing.

posted by: Celcus on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

Forget the movies, play Star Wars Battleground.

You get to shoot Jar-jars and Ewoks. It doesnt get better than that. The sheer joy of laying in the tall grass with your sniper rifle blowing the stupid blue heads off a whole generation of Jar-Jars cant be expressed in words. The only downside is not being able to go after their women and children Anakin style. Perhaps in the sequel.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

Why would a Wookie ... oh, never mind.

posted by: praktike on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

I think there's an underlying (narrow) policy question here. When a cultural artifact is recognized for its national importance, and the copyright owner insists on ruining it, shouldn't the government acquire the copyright (emminent domain) if only to prevent the owner from further ruining it?

I mean, once we've seen ROTJ, and Phantom Menace, isn't it clear that the market isn't working, and someone needs to stop Lucas before he ruins the series with the the crap he's peddled since ESB? Surely after Phantom Menace, everyone understood that Lucas could no longer be trusted with the material. You can't tell me there wouldn't be widespread bipartisan support for this idea.

posted by: SomeCallMeTim on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

Eminent domain is overkill (and smells more than a bit suspect on economic liberty grounds), but there is certainly room for government action here. The trick would simply be setting up an agency authorized to negotiate with creators for exclusive licensing to various IP rights, as appropriate. IIRC correctly there is some precedent for this: supposedly the french government simply purchased the patent for daguerrotyping and put it in the public domain, although a bit of googling fails to validate this.

For copyright issues, such an agency would probably best function similarly to an landmark preservation agency, purchasing or restrictively licensing historic copyrights to prevent them from being devalued by their owners or other licensees. For patent (and possibly trade secret) issues, the agency would effectively offer the patent holders the ability to liquidate the remainder of their patent lifetime, if it was deemed in the best interest of society that the invention be placed in the public domain.

This is actually a not-bad solution to various thorny moral issues around IP, and has the advantage that it would be self-limitting due to budget constraints. It also provides an opportunity for unlimited policy arguments that would be a lot more fun than the usual ones. For instance, I would argue that the original Star Wars trilogy would not be worth protecting in this way, as it lost any preservational importance once those damn Ewoks showed up, or possibly Billy Dee Williams. On the contrary the Indiana Jones trilogy, while having a shaky middle and a spotty end, is decidedly worth making into a national trust, and could probably be acquired much more reasonably.

posted by: dave on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

Wow. Natalie Portman sure looks different without all that makeup.

Lucas ran headlong into his limitations as a writer with the human interactions in Episodes 1 and 2, especially the love story angle in the second film. The Han Solo/Leia relationship in the first trilogy had worked because it was mostly played for laughs; in Clones, it was a central part of the story. Lucas just can't do that kind of writing, especially with that Christensen kid who spent the movie trying to impersonate a piece of wood. Why does Anakin become Darth Vader? Probably because the Emperor promised to give him a personality!

posted by: Zathras on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]


Obviously, this whole thing was posted tongue-in-cheek. But in the same vein, ...

I don't think budget concerns alone would be enough of a barrier. It should be something like getting an Amendment passed. Only where there is widespread agreement, even after a fair piece of time, that (a) the work is great, and (b) the present owner of the copyright cannot be trusted not to ruin it, should we do anything.

Also, I'm hard-pressed to see why we should protect Indy. I agree that it's a better series on the whole than SW, but I don't think it meets condition (b). And (for no reason I can point to) I trust Speilberg not to ruin it.

I also disagree on the first SW trilogy's value. It should be preserved , if only for the sake of ESB.

posted by: Som on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

Speaking of Episode II writing, im no expert on women, but im pretty sure that constantly whining to them about how much you love them and cant live without them and following them around the galaxy is probably unlikely to provide favorable results with a fine peice of tail like Natalie Portman.
If you want a realistic outcome it should have been Amadala jumping in super cool Mace Windu's pimped out purple sky sled while Anakin stands there looking like an idiot (Christianson can play that scene to a T). Now there is motivation for massive acts of slaughter and vengence! You'd think 10 years studying to be a jedi would teach you to act cool around the ladies.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

My fiance & I *know* SITH will suck. We know George Lucas is a hopeless hack. But dammit, we will pay our $6 matinee and see it. (I'm NOT paying full price at least) Maybe Christopher Lee & Ian McDiarmid (Palpatine) took that no-talent Hayden C. out back and beat some acting talent into him over the past couple of years.

posted by: Elle Wiz on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]



posted by: Jim Dandy on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

Oh, and we saw INCREDIBLES last night. Fabulous!

posted by: Elle Wiz on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]


You probably already have, but if you haven't seen it, you should see IRON GIANT - same director, great movie.

Oh, Som [above] is me. I type poorly.

posted by: SomeCallMeTim on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]


I'm not sure I'd trust Spielberg quite that much. The most recent DVD edition of E.T. had a few computer generated edits added which changed the story slightly, if not to the level of the "Han shot first" atrocity.

In any case, my proposal (which I find myself taking surprisingly seriously) is not to award this pseudo-landmark status to the "best" films or the most popular, but instead to award it to films which, in some way I'm still groping to describe, represent and enoble our shared culture. The films I'm thinking of should be important historically, widely seen and admired, and likely to withstand the test of time. Films that show up near the top of the various AFI lists would be a good place to start, although those do seem to show a modest bias toward recent moneymakers.

Remember also that this "landmark licensing" would bind not just the artistic producer, but also his heirs and assigns. With older stuff, that matters.

posted by: dave on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

You know, I think if we had more reasonable copyright laws, this problem would fix itself. Just change fair use to allow devoted fans to create more true-to-the-original versions of these films. The market would just eat those up.

posted by: fling93 on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

I'm with yah completely Dan. Lucas probably began his move to the darkside of marketing and special effects back with ROTJ.

The best thing that could possibly happen to this series is if after this final episode someone were to acquire the rights from Lucas and remake the last three films. Ridiculosly unlikely I know, but a good director with real writers with an emphasis on characters and story could easily put these last three efforts to shame.

posted by: Harry Truman on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

If you want to get excited about some sci-fi, get ready for the new Battlestar Galactica in January on sci-fi (yeah, real sci-fi on Sci Fi, not just creature features!). I've got an aunt in England sending me eps every few weeks, and first two eps are some of the best sci-fi since Babylon 5. Character driven and gritty as heck. The series itself is vastly improved from the pilot. I hope it does well here.

posted by: jhallum on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

You know, if Bush really wanted to be a uniter, he'd just appeal to the common nerd in all of us. ::wink::

posted by: Jim Dandy on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

Uh, am I the only one who noticed that the first 1/3 of the trailer is old footage? Methinks this one is still in heavy postproduction. Lucas knows that we know the story. If he had more boffo footage he would show it.

Also, I note that, back when the EP 1 trailer came out, the shiny Lucasfilm Ltd and A long time ago... scenes made me think, "aw, yes!!" Now I see them and I feel like, "aw, crap!"

I just hope the episode is as good as the trailer, which was not that impressive.

posted by: anonymous coward on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

Now here's a conspiracy theory about something important.

In 1999, Lucasfilm teamed with leading data encryption and human-factors specialists to identify the list of all sentences that George Lucas is capable of writing. It is believed that Alec Guinness recorded all of these sentences before his death thereby providing all the material required for his future Star Wars appearances. Pressed on how long the ailing Guinness took to complete this recording, insiders confessed that it took less than a day, since the total list of all possible Lucas sentences is not even three hours long.


posted by: Jarrett on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

Of course he's going to ruin it. When I first heard about the prequils and the story of Darth Vader. I thought wow now we'll an interesting transition on corrupting abilities of power.

But I forgot, this was lucas - it will be a bunch of cute kids and furry animals (or cgi ones) and no evil. Lucas can't do a complex story about becoming evil or power corrupting, these moves would have been better done by someone else.

posted by: Fledermaus on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

"am I the only one who noticed that the first 1/3 of the trailer is old footage?"

So? That's what the Special Edition trailers were like. (Well, duh -- there were entirely old footage, except for the Jabba Hoedown, etc.) The Phantom Menace teaser, too. They began with scene-setters, but not of the "In a world where..." mold. They established each upcoming film (or re-released) as part of a living legend.

Without seeing the Sith teaser, I'd say it follows that pattern. And a good pattern it is.

posted by: Grumpy on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

One of the folks over at appears to have seen a rough cut. Either that or he's got a fantastically fertile imagination for quasi-spoilers. He seems to think it may not suck, and does not appear to be the breed of fanboy who would lie about it. So when we're all disappointed, you can blame me for getting your hopes up.

posted by: Karl on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

Episodes I and II are, for the most part, cartoonish. All the Star Wars movies are to some extent children's movies, but the most recent ones are ridiculous.

We just need to accept that Lucas has decided to make video-game movies that appeal to today's kids. I remember a New York Review of Books article on the first Lord of the Rings movie by Louis Menand, who wrote about the hyper-graphic, action-all-the-time (my terms) nature of teh movie's adaptation of Tolkein's great books.

I think Lucas has accepted the graphic-oriented (rather than imagination-oriented) nature of the current young generation.

And that's too bad. Yes, I, like others in my generation, were thrilled by the sight of Princess Leia in the opening scenes of Return of the Jedi. But there was more to the original trilogy than the visual. Imagination played the key role.

posted by: Andrew Steele on 11.08.04 at 11:39 PM [permalink]

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