Friday, May 20, 2005

Episode IX: Aren't You A Little Short For A Sith Lord?

Okay, I may blog for pages and pages about Star Wars, but I do not show up at the theater with a lightsaber either. There are toys in my apartment - Optimus Prime sits atop a bookshelf in the living room, and Chewbacca, Yoda and Beaker watch over my desk - but dude, you're 30, leave the sword at home. What are you going to do with it in the middle of a movie anyway? At one point before the movie started, two children started dueling in front of the screen. Cute. Then someone whose age I couldn't determine from our seats in the back row (where we wanted to be, for the record) but definitely post-pubescent joined them. Not cute. And he was bad. I mean he was just waving his saber around like he'd never used it before and had no idea what to do. If you're going to humiliate yourself in public like that take a class or something. There was a smattering of applause which I chose to believe was deeply ironic, and the child-destroying saber-waver bowed foolishly, in a way I believe was deeply not ironic.

The theater, normally a fairly classy old-school "movie palace" was a sty, as if they'd barely bothered to clean up between showings. I tripped over a trash bag someone had left in the middle of an aisle. Chaos for seats, chaos for popcorn, chaos at the bathrooms, where the men's line was at least twice as long as the women's.

Once the film started unspooling (dammit, another good word lost to the digital age) though, the audience was shockingly respectful. A theater manager got on a mic to basically apologize that they were "contractually obligated" to show trailers and commercials before the movie, as if he feared a riot. They knew their audience well though: The third time the green "This preview has been approved for all audiences" screen came up, people started to boo - until they realized trailer was for Batman. It was like waving something shiny in front of our cat.

"A long time ago in a galaxy far far away..." came up, and a few people cheered, but someone in the back yelled "Wait for it!" and they did, erupting at the first blast of trumpets and the yellow "Star Wars" title...and then falling silent just as quickly to read the crawl. People would cheer and applaud (or sometimes guffaw) at a moment, but hush up again as soon as someone on screen started talking, even for highly guffaw-worthy lines like "I'm beautiful because you love me." It was kind of neat. Short on social skills the nerds may be, but respect movie etiquette they do.

Back to I and II for a moment... I read this in Entertainment Weekly this morning: "Now [Lucas] volunteers that his prequel storyline - derived from material he'd brainstormed over 30 years ago to inform his writing of Star Wars - was 'thin.... It was not written as a movie. It's basically a character study and exhibition piece about politics - two things that are not dramatic. [Not like] the dramatic story that was constructed for Star Wars. But I wanted to be faithful to it, so I didn't construct other stories. It is what it is.... I said, "This is the story. I know I'm going to need to use Hamburger Helper to get it to two hours, but that's what I want to do."'"

A welcome admission of fallibility, but if you knew your material was thin, why on earth did you make movies that were over two hours long??? 90 minutes would have been plenty!

Okay, so I'm avoiding actually writing about Episode III, mostly because I know a lot of you haven't seen it yet and I don't quite know what to say without being spoilerific. I'll just say that I liked it. A lot. It's great fun, and the dialogue, acting and hair have all improved. But still...it's not really its own movie so much as a prologue to the original trilogy. As Owen Gleiberman points out in his review, we never really see Anakin give in to the dark side, at least not in a way that requires him to make a choice beyond "Now it's time for me to become Darth Vader because you're all waiting for it." This may be partly because the timeline is utterly confusing... The whole film appears to take place in just a few days, yet planets described as being very far away seem to take mere minutes to fly to, and Padme is more pregnant in every scene. And the best moments are still the ones that appeal to my inner geek (okay, and the outer one too): echoes of the original films in sets, music, sunsets, and Grand Moffs.

If you can take the pretension away, as I think most of us at the Ziegfeld did last night, it's a really good time, with some enjoyably over-the-top acting, massive action sequences, great swordplay, and Hayden Christensen in a bathrobe and leather pants. And in the end, isn't that what we go to Star Wars movies for anyway?

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