The Curmudgeon's Guide to Star Wars

I'm gonna get in trouble for this, but I think my opinions on Star Wars (AKA That Franchise I Never Talk About) are well known by now. While I've liked things in the franchise (Empire, mostly) and its extracanonical material, SW nevertheless stands as the most overrated film property in the history of civilization. Its fandom is truly fanatical, worshiping at the feet of what amounts to maybe one and a half "good" films, spending much of their time apologizing or ignoring 5½ others (I'm counting the animated one I can never remember the title of), never mind the embarrassment of the Christmas special and the all-but-forgotten Ewok TV movies. Look, I get it. When it came out, it blew expectations of what a space opera film could be like, created a whole universe, used ground-breaking special effects, was a lot of fun, and became instantly iconic (in large part because it used iconic tropes).

But frankly, the idea behind it is better than much of its execution. The dialog is poor across the board (when "I have a bad feeling about this" is a "quotable" line...) and George Lucas quickly loses control of the films' tone by the time he reaches Return of the Jedi. His constant and insane tweaking of the original films is objectionable in the extreme, and the prequels are overwrought, overdone, unnecessary, blaring cartoons.

But everyone's talking about Star Wars because, you know, another one's coming down the pike, and I personally think it'll be a good one, taking the road Lucas should have taken (but would have ruined) instead of the needless prequels. But given my grumpy attitude towards Star Wars, how can the SBG cover it, except with snark?

There is no way. Snark enabled. I'm going to do this across several posts, not unlike the way I covered Masters of the Universe (not a dissimilar film), tongue firmly in my cheek. I hope you're entertained by my quibbling. You don't have to agree with any of it. I'm not trying to rob you of anything, and feel free to trash my Trek, Who and Legion fandoms as much as you like. You ready?
The famous fanfare starts after that memorable opening line and the yellow, quickly unreadable scroll begins. I like that it's going to mirror the way the first Imperial ship enters the screen later, but I've always found it awkward to use text in a certain style ("A long time ago...") and then cut to text in a different style. And while, sure, this kind of opening info-dump is part of the adventure serial style Lucas is trying for, and starting us off in medias res, as it were, is bold, it's still a cheap and clunky way to reveal information. Especially in a film that's otherwise so immersive. Point of fact, I never really read this thing. I doesn't seem necessary. I can get all that from actual dialog and visual cues that are in the film.
Ah yes, this famous shot of an Imperial battlewedge will be mirrored at the start of every film. It's now tradition and J.J. Abrams will also have to do it. That's fine. But I do want to remind people of where it came from lest I give Lucas too much credit. He visited the Space 1999 model photography unit on the day it filmed elements for the episode "War Games":
So, props to special effects director Nick Allder here.
Inside the tiny ship the Imperial doorstop is firing at, chaos. And our heroes, "clowns" famously pulled from Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress (which is awwwwwsome, by the way). C-3P0, in gold, his girlfriend from Fritz Lang's Metropolis (in black and white, of course), and a non-verbal fart machine destined to capture the hearts of everyone and become as synonymous with Star Wars as Spock is with Star Trek. All of them running through 70s white science-fiction corridors, pretty much the standard since 2001: A Space Odyssey. Oops, there goes the Metropolis robot, I guess she went off in the wrong direction and won't be seen for a while. Wait, what's that noise?
Okay fine, everyone accepts the sound of lasers and engines in airless space in these movies. I agree. It's a cinematic device that makes it all very exciting. But here, the rebels are hearing noises that couldn't possibly exist. The giant Imperial ship is approaching their position and about to pull them in. There is no tractor beam visual (even in the garishly obvious Special Edition) or trademark sound. But the hull still sounds like it's buckling or as if Stormtroopers are walking around on the roof. So I guess that in that galaxy from a long long time ago, there IS some kind of medium that carries sound in what only looks like airless space. Soon, Stormtroopers bust the door open and there's a massacre, on both sides because neither has much of a strategy.
The droids (not "androids", because that word specifically means "a robot with a human appearance" which is what the "andro" prefix in there relates to, and trash cans do not count) walk/roll ever so SLOWLY in the crossfire and luckily don't get hit. But that's because Stormtroopers cannot hit any of the main cast, or rather, they can, but those laser beams will pass right through the person, as above. OOOPS! So with some directorial hand-waving, the droids make it across to that door where...
...they apparently explode! Ah well, I guess it's over already. Didn't think the franchise would start with a short. It's either that, or it's just a very confusing bit of pyrotechnics.

Huh, I only made it through 6½ minutes of the film and I'm already exhausted. If you don't hate me yet, we'll pick this up next week, okay?


Toby'c said...

For what it worth, the sound issue is brought up in one of the novelisations, explaining that the ships' computers simulate it based on their sensors, for the benefit of the people inside.

Coincidentally, during this week I finally made a start on William Shakespeare's Star Wars.

It is a period of civil war.
The spaceships of the rebels, striking swift
From base unseen, have gain’d a vict’ry o’er
The cruel Galactic Empire, now adrift.
Amidst the battle, rebel spies prevail’d
And stole the plans to a space station vast,
Whose pow’rful beams will later be unveil’d
And crush a planet: ’tis the DEATH STAR blast.
Pursu’d by agents sinister and cold,
Now Princess Leia to her home doth flee,
Deliv’ring plans and a new hope they hold:
Of bringing freedom to the galaxy.
In time so long ago begins our play,
In star-crossed galaxy far, far away.

Siskoid said...


I have the Shakespeare Star Wars. I can never read very many pages at a time before the cod Bard annoys me, but it's amusing enough, especially the idea that R2 can only speak in noise OR soliloquies.

snell said...

You beat me to the punch, Siskoid, as I have a series of Star Wars posts coming up (although mine will be more thematic in approach, rather than scene-by-scene snark).

You're right about the over-rating of the franchise. While fun and all, by my reckoning A New Hope is the third-most overrated movie of all time. The fact that reputable critics and polls of critics continue to put it into the "Top 100" of all time is unfathomable to me.

The interesting part is that many of the sins fans attribute to the sequels (poor direction and acting, implausible and thin plots, an over-reliance on special effects, "it's for kids!") are all there, in spades, in A New Hope.

Keep going, boy--I've got your back.

Siskoid said...

Ooh now I want to know what the other two or your list are!

I can understand, from a historical point of view, why Star Wars is important. There are things it does well, like creating a world that need not be explained. Things are just presented as if you're also living in that universe, no exposition necessary. You just have to accept there are all these aliens, and a broader world outsider, and that many of these characters have a history referenced but not explained (it's one of the things the prequels destroyed and I urge neophytes not to watch them until at least after Empire Strikes Back where they can act as a - terrible - flashback). And for filmmakers, it opened up a new way to look at science fiction, at the time kind of mired in dystopian tales, etc. etc.

But it also had a lot of structural and pacing issues, bog-ordinary dialog, and iffy acting.

Can't wait to see what YOU have to say about it, Snell. Your mind is much more precise than mine in finding plotting flaws.

Green Luthor said...

I love Star Wars. Absolutely love it. It's one of the first movies I can ever remember seeing (in the theaters, during its original release), and has remained one of my all-time favorites ever since. I'm not sure there are sufficient words to describe my adoration of the movie and the franchise as a whole. (And, yes, I even like the prequels.)

On the other hand, I have absolutely no problems with pointing out some of the glaring flaws in the films, so I'm definitely looking forward to this series.

Also, if I'm being honest, the worst part of Star Wars are probably the obsessive fans who insist on overexplaining every little thing in the movies. All those aliens in the cantina? They're just neat-looking props added for flavor. I don't need to know the detailed life history of every single one of them. Or using sometimes ludicrous contrived explanations as to why things that should be mistakes really aren't; no offense to Toby'c above, but... that's really a silly explanation. "Lucas thought it would be more interesting for the audience" is all the explanation I ever needed.

But having said all that... the loud sound the Rebels hear right before the stormtroopers burst in? I kind of always assumed that was some kind of docking clamp or whatnot that the Imperials were attaching to the ship from the Star Destroyer, to both keep it in place and allow the stormtroopers to cross over between the ships; if it's something being physically attached to the ship, it should (unless I'm mistaken) create a sound that could heard inside the ship, as it would be generated against and transmitted through the hull. (But I'm also not going to argue that you're wrong for thinking it's wrong; it's my own take on it, nothing more.)

Siskoid said...

Speak your love and find you joy, Luthor! We're going to have fun here.

Yeah, I though it was a docking clamp too, but we don't see it, and really, the shots are reversed with the noise first, and the Destroyer getting into position second.

But even if it weren't, I don't think this "series" will be known for its fairness ;).

Andrew Gilbertson said...

I think that there's some cultural context that you're missing here, too, regardings it's popularity; but then, I also think you're dead wrong about (the original trilogy only) being overrated in any way.

Heck, I love those two Ewok movies, too, so I am suspecting I should just skip this series. ;-)

Siskoid said...

What cultural context am I missing? I liked the Ewok movies when they first aired. In fact, I'm not at all adverse to the Ewoks in general. Which isn't the popular opinion.

Unknown said...

Anything impacting the hull will produce sounds audible inside the ship. Impacts will cause the hull to vibrate, and those vibrations will be transmitted through the air on the inside of the ship. If you were outside the ship then you of course wouldn't be able to hear those noises, but if you're out there dressed like one of those rebel soldiers you've obviously got bigger problems.

Looking forward to the rest of these posts, Siskoid. My level of Star Wars fandom is that I generally like it, because I have a great affection for space opera with silly trappings. I have the DVDs somewhere but I'm not sure where, I love KotOR 1&2, and while I've read some of the EU stuff (in the last few years even) I don't remember much outside of the fact that I read it.

Siskoid said...

If only there was contact between the ships when the noises start!

I've written a couple more chapters already, and I do give a lot of credit where credit is due when I can. I mean, this isn't Revenge of the Sith or anything.


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