Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How to fix Star Wars

As you -- and likely everyone in the world who's ever watched a motion picture -- are probably aware, Disney recently purchased LucasFilm and expressed their intent to release new installments in the Star Wars franchise beginning in 2015.

Now, I'm going to try to state this as diplomatically as possible: the Prequel Trilogy, and most recent Star Wars films, are a reeking pile of rat garbage.

And it's not just hyper-sensitive fanboys like myself who felt like George Lucas single-handedly crushed our childhoods into dust. Newly-introduced elements like Jar Jar Binks and "Nooooooooooo" have become the stuff of pop culture parody and Phantom Menace got a shameful 57% on Rotten Tomatoes (Revenge of the Sith somehow scored 80%, which I think we can all agree was overly generous...Hayden F*ing Christensen).

But the news of the forthcoming and long-expected episodes 7,8 and 9 have given me pause for reflection, and optimism. As I've digested the thought of new adventures in a galaxy far, far away, I've feel impressed to suggest to the filmakers a few simple tips on how to avoid the mistakes of Star Wars' past and return to the greatness of Star Wars' paster.

1. Give me puppets or give me death (on second thought, just give me puppets)

George Lucas has, by all accounts of perception, a love affair with computer generated imagery. Compared to the tangible, visually impressive characters created for the original trilogy -- which were often operated by several puppeteers or, in the case of the tuskan raider's bantha, consisted of an actual element dressed in a costume. That's right, they put a costume on a freaking elephant!

I got sidetracked, where was I? Oh yes. Compared to that, the prequel trilogy exists in a world where a handful of actors interacted with digitally-rendered characters, in a digitally-rendered landscape, spouting what felt like digitally-rendered wooden dialogue. It was a cartoon, only a cartoon where Hayden Christensen ran around moping in some type of skirt-coat. In other words, it was the worst cartoon ever.

Compare the awesomeness of Jabba the Hut, dripping with slime and saliva, licking his lips and ogling Carrie Fisher in the gold bikini, to the overblown gimmickry of General Grievous. Compare Max Rebo, the purple piano-playing elephant in Jabba's palace to Sebulba, the annoying, dog-like villain who spars with young Anakin Skywalker in the podracer...race, man that really seems redundant when you spell that out: podracer race? Podrace?

Puppet Yoda is superior in every way to jumping dancing cartoon Yoda. Yes, Jim Hensen is irreplaceable but come on, we can do better.

Or forget puppets and just focus on characters that you could actually reach out and touch.  R2D2 with Kenny Baker inside was superior to the fire-spewing, flying R2D2 of the prequel trilogy. Plus, explain to me how R2D2 lost the ability to fly? What?

Or, Compare Chewbacca to Jar Jar. 'Nuff said.

2. Build something

This is a continuation of number one, but from the perspective of the sets. Part of what makes Han Solo's entry into the storyline so awesome is the gritty backdrop of a seedy dive on Mos Eisley, a "wretched hive of scum and villainy." And that's only the beginning. There's the carbonite trap and the tunnels where Vader and Luke fight in the Cloud City. There's the forest moon of Endor, the Sarlack Pit and -- of course -- Jabba's palace on Tatooine that seems to engage all five senses while you watch.

Whereas the prequels, for all their whiz-bang production of colors and lights, pale in comparison. It's hard to care too much about the capitol planet of Coruscant, or the underwater city of Gunga, when it's is so obviously the creation of ones and zeroes on a computer. In Attack of the Clones, Obi-Wan's investigations take him to a CG-diner, where he talks to a CG waiter, then to a CG floating city where he talks with, what appears to be, the weird aliens from the end of A.I., also rendered in CG.

Give us something we can reach out and touch. Give us metal bars covered in rust and grime to imprison Solo and Chewbacca behind. Give us dusty shadows to lurk behind and the blinding, seering desert sun of Tatooine. You've got all the money you could possibly ask for, go to hobby lobby and Home Depot, buy some props and build a freaking set for a change.
With CG, less is more. When in doubt, make it real.

3. Bring back the original cast

Sure, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill's stars have fallen somewhat and sure, Harrison looks more like Emperor Palpatine than Han Solo these days, but Luke, Leia, Han and Chewy are precisely what made us fall in love with Star Wars. Even if they were to spout the same nonsense that passed for diologue between Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman, it still would tickle any Wars fan blushing pink to see the OGs waltz on screen.

They don't have to be the leads. In fact, it only makes sense that 7-9 would focus on their children, with each trilogy telling the story of a different generation of the Skywalker family. But give us Han and Leia growing old together on some moon. Give us Luke training some punk would-be Jedi, Ben Kenobi style.

And just to be safe, avoid child actors altogether, and if you can round up Billy Dee Williams, even better.

4. No more robot villains (or, in a word: Stormtroopers)

We get it, waging a war against an army of droids makes it easier to have bloodless violence and, by extension, secure the PG rating. But when your antagonists are made of bolts and wires it really isn't any surprise when the tension comes of as superficial and, yes, soulless.

I miss the Stormtroopers, with their clumsy yet threatening monotony. I miss the imperial officers, wincing in terror at Vader's threats and rolling their eyes behind his back. I miss real human beings with real human emotion.

And it wasn't just the nameless armies. Remember General Grievous? The six-armed robot dog with whooping cough that was supposed to be some sort of dramatic precursor to Anakin's cyborg transformation? Sure, Vader was more machine than man but he was also emotionally conflicted, had James Earl Jones' vocal chords and was an interstellar B.A. Plus, he may have been mostly machine but he was played by a living, breathing human being, unlike the digitally-rendered Grievous who made it look like Ewan McGregor was having a lightsaber battle with a local TV weather forecast wall.

Plus, there's no tension with robots. You could drop an atom bomb and it would have the emotional implications of shaking a silverware drawer. How about some moral ambiguity? How about some higher stakes? You don't have to gull full-Nolan but come on, let's not forget how dark Empire got.

5. Never again speak the word "Midi-chlorians"

Seriously never. Ever. Ne-Ver!

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