Sunday, May 22, 2005

More Star Wars Philosophizing

I loved the latest Star Wars movie, liked its two predecessors, but I don't expect to have the same devotion to the prequel trilogy as I have to the original. On most movie-making principles the first trilogy are simply better films, owing much to the experienced direction of Irwin Kershner and Richard Marquand in Empire and Jedi respectively. I think there are several reasons beyond (Jar Jar Binks, bad romance acting, excessive CGI, midi-chlorians, etc.) that most people did not feel the same sense of awe and wonder with the prequel trilogy. The main difference between the two trilogies is the spirit that guides them.

The first trilogy had a strong anchoring in mythology via Joseph Campbell, narrative storytelling via Akiro Kurosawa, and innocence via the generation of young moviegoers for whom Star Wars was unlike anything that came before it. The often virulent reaction to the prequel trilogy was because its harshest critics wanted the movies to restore their own innocence and take them back to their childhood. But the prequel trilogy is not about a journey of discovery or becoming who you were born to be; it is fundamentally about the loss of innocence and the failure of great potential. The prequels must be enjoyed in the same way that Shakespeare's tragedies are; savoring the beauty of the words and images despite the impending, inevitable disaster.

There's a second reason too. The original trilogy had really great human characters who had no special powers. Han and Leia were central to the narrative, provided much necessary humor, and created a believable love story that was ancillary to the mythology. The rebels were regular human beings fighting against a truly malevolent enemy. In the prequel trilogy, all the main characters (with the exception of Padme, Anakin's family, and Jimmy Smits later) were superheroes, Sith or Jedi. Moreover, the Jedi seemed to share a personality which, despite having a much larger cast, meant that the prequel trilogy had fewer characters. The end result was the lack of a human element in the second story.

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