Understanding the Star
Wars Saga in a Context
This is really two separate discussions
just as the two trilogies are, by almost universal agreement, two
different animals entirely. However, both trilogies can be
understood in the context in which it was made. It's just that
the original three films were made by a man obsessed with films,
whereas the prequel movies were made by the father of a young son.
The Original Trilogy
All art is influenced by the work that preceded it, and this has never
been more true than the original Star Wars trilogy. Each film is
a response to the film that came before it.
Star Wars - The first film is
famously an amalgam of influences in George Lucas' life: Flash Gordon
serials, the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa, and hot rods. It
stands alone, not really needing a sequel, all made by a rogue
filmmaker not really wanting to be part of the Hollywood system.
Empire Strikes Back - The film is a maturation beyond the
childish fantasies of the first one. Lucas is growing up and his
fantasy world is growing up in many of those ways as well.
Instead of the hero running away from home, he is seeking an
education. Instead of inconsequential flirting, here we have
serious romance and the awkwardness of lovers giving in to the life
changes that entails. Instead of nearly-bloodless violence, there
is brutal torture. Our heroes are beaten and maimed. It is
a dark film that doesn't try to wrap things up neatly. It is part
of something larger, not a lone episode. Like its director, it
acknowledges its inter-dependence on the context in which it was
the Jedi - It should have been titled "The pendulum swings
back." The public's response to the second film in this trilogy
was a little less enthusiastic as it would have liked to have
been. They were over-whelmed by the intensity of having been
forced to grow up all at once and accept the paradigm shift of Empire. We thought the Star
Wars galaxy was all about a big hurrah at the end. The bad guys
would be beaten. Apparently no one read the title. After
the bitter end of the second movie, we needed cotton candy, and so the
third film is fluff. It's almost nothing by cartoonish
comedy. There are muppets, Abbott & Costello-style routines,
shenanigans right out of a Crosby and Hope road picture. It's the
saddest thing ever to see a good saga brought down by misguided and
excessive attempts at humor.
The prequels can be understood as being made not for the fans, not to
make a mark on cinema or give tribute to past works, but simply for one
(young) person: George's adopted son Jett Lucas, born in 1993.
The Phantom Menace - Jett's age:
6. Audience testing and legions of fans told George from the
outset that the hero should be a teenage boy. We know that works,
just look at the original trilogy. Instead we get a hero who is,
get this, nine years old. What a coincidence! He's almost
the same age as Jett. Not surprisingly, there is no romance in
this picture. The violence is bloodless. The picture's most
exciting chase scene is on a race track of all places, exactly where
you're supposed to be racing. The villains are anything but
frightening, ranging from simpering green cowards to balsa-wood
robots. And there's the jaw-droppingly annoying Jar Jar Binks, a
clownish bit of comic relief that would appeal only to a six year-old
boy. All the thirty-something males who didn't like the movie
missed the point: Lucas didn't make it for them, something they would
have understood if only he'd waited a few more years to make movies for
the children of his original audience.
the Clones - Jett's age: 9. It's time for adventure!
There are big guns this time around. And tanks. And
explosions. Lots of boom boom pshhhh boom! We finally get a
bad guy scary enough for Christopher Lee to portray, even though he
really isn't even supposed to be the main course (which is a waste,
really). Oh, and romance. Girls are no longer icky.
They can be touched this time. There's kissing and everything, as
opposed to before when they were kept at a distance like they were
royalty... which, well, she was. It's still a kids movie, sure,
but we've shifted from slapstick comedy to kick-ass action.
of the Sith - Jett's age: 12. The intended audience (i.e.,
Jett) was old enough to handle darker themes and more violent
content. Whereas previous movies featured only isolated deaths or
nameless, faceless aliens/robots/clones being killed, this time major
characters could be killed right and left, even children. It was
the saga growing up, much like how Empire
had a couple decades earlier (before it regressed with Jedi). Note that this was
also the only film in the entire saga that was PG-13, or roughly Jett's
age when the film was released. This film wasn't made for
children; it was made for a boy who was growing up.