Saturday, May 2, 2015

Lightsaber Yoda ain't enough

As you may recall from this post, I set out to watch one of the six Star Wars movies per two-month period of 2015, in the order of the story's chronology, leading up to the release of Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens in December. I did watch the next movie by the end-of-April deadline, but the fact that I dragged out the write-up until May shows you how little of value I'm finding to discuss in the so-far disappointing series.

But proceeding diligently onward, with the knowledge that things will get better by mid-summer ...

It shows you how much we were still in the clutches of prequel optimism that I went to see Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones twice in the theater, merely on the strength of seeing Yoda brandish a lightsaber.

That was still pretty much the only time I was inclined to wake my wife as she slept through the second half of the movie on our couch last Saturday night. Conscious of an incident that's famous in our household -- the so-called "Nacho Libre incident," where I inexplicably shook the cushion to rouse her during the third of act of a movie that was disappointing us both -- I decided just to let her sleep.

Thirteen years removed from the release of Attack of the Clones, that still-cool climactic moment is so evidently, clearly, obviously a case of too little, too late.

While I have tended to think of myself as a decent-sized supporter of this movie, my 2015 viewing has reminded me of the criticisms that are all too familiar from any discussion of the movies that are now dismissively (though technically accurately) referred to as the prequels. And though Jake Lloyd was heavily criticized for his portrayal of Annakin Skywalker as a child -- a criticism that is hardly charitable for an actor his age -- I now wonder if Hayden Christensen may make out worse as the older version of Annakin. Especially since as an adult, he should have more finely tuned acting instincts.

He was only barely an adult, having turned 21 less than a month before the movie's release, but he makes the cutoff nonetheless. Still, there's something about the petulance to the way he plays the role that makes him seem even more childish than Lloyd. Although almost none of this was done in The Phantom Menace, for the obvious reason of not wanting to make a child seem like a sadistic monster, one of the main narrative goals of Attack of the Clones always had to be to plant "Darth seeds." Even though the character is generally heroic, we have to see his future turn to the dark side start to be foreshadowed.

And the way Christensen -- and let's not forget the hardly blameless George Lucas -- does it is to act really pissy for almost no reason at all. Although I guess I was not all that bothered by this back in 2002, nowadays I notice how awkward it is for him to spit out anger at characters like Obi-Wan Kenobi, without that anger being supported by the characters' actions. Obi-Wan has one or two moments of superficial scolding of Annakin, and it leads to abrupt Annakin tirades about jealousy and the like.

In any case, it's next to impossible to figure out how an intelligent, cool babe like Padme would fall for him.

My wife's primary observation -- from the part of the movie she saw, anyway -- was how humorless George Lucas is this time around. Another well-worn observation in the internet communities that discuss this kind of thing, but those communities usually carry a lot of baggage, and my wife does not. So it was a good reminder to see her reach these conclusions on her own, without being poisoned by the opinions of a thousand trolls. She saw and identified the stiffness of these movies on her own -- indeed, it was such stiffness that had limited her previous prequel intake to only The Phantom Menace.

Taking her own observation and building upon it, I offered the following contrast from another movie in the series directed by Lucas. And this is the first time I'm trying to imbed a gif into my blog, so let's hope it works:

If Lucas could make his characters funny in Star Wars -- or as we are now obliged to call it, Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope -- why couldn't any of that have carried over here? Oh, he tries. During that really-not-very-exciting opening chase scene among the flying cars in that city on Coruscant, Obi-Wan quips "I hate it when he does that" after the headstrong Annakin does a seemingly random freefall to the point he believes the car they're chasing will be. It's not funny, like a Harrison Ford line delivery -- it's as leaden as Christensen's plummeting body.

"Pompous" is the word my wife also used to describe the affairs in this movie, and I believe that may be the first time I've heard anyone apply such a just term to these movies.

Having said all this, my wife still vows to try to watch Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith with me before the end of June.

Assuming she is allowed to sleep through whatever percentage of it she deems fit, that is.

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