Saturday, June 26, 2004

The Force, Identified

The girls have taken note of the various Star Wars ephemera from my past, and have asked me to reveal the source of my youthful obsessions (I foolishly sang them the theme-song, using the Saturday Night Live lyrics. Now they parade about the house singing, “Staaaar Wars/Nothing but STAAAAAR WARS/Nothing but…" etc.). I finally dug deep into my closet and dusted off the video cassettes that Lucas released a year or two before he indulged his newfound penchant for digital gim-crackery. The tapes are running, but because the girls still occasionally get freaked out by Disney, we've kept the exposure limited to nightly 20-minute installments.

I won't belabor any of the various weaknesses that adult eyes quickly discover in these films - the net is overpopulated with killjoys devoted to that particular pastime. What impresses me is how the narrative of these films is so tightly constructed. The twenty-minute exposure is, in fact, a Narrative Law of Physics that Lucas & co. followed to the letter. Characters are introduced, their strengths and flaws neatly summarized, their position in the narrative identified and put into motion with an economy that would seem ruthless and trite if the screen weren't dressed up with gee-whiz eye candy. The first two movies (Episodes IV and V, if you're a stickler) have an undeniable energy to them, much of it provided by actors who are giving their all, punchily delivering dialogue that must have horrified them at first exposure. By the third movie, the actors seem weary, while the SFX crew gets increasingly manic - a telling sign of things to come.

The movies rekindled in me enough of an adolescent thrill to shlepp over to the corner video store. I rented Episode I and gave it a second look. The first twenty minutes of the movie is an incomprehensible mess that shows no sign of cohering, let alone resolving. After 35 minutes, I was hitting the "next chapter" button on my remote. Twenty minutes after that, I gave up, hit eject and went to bed. Adults are required to relinquish childish ways, but not necessarily childish pleasures, and those - particularly childish narratives - follow rules that border on the simplistic. Lucas has reportedly adopted a brood of kids. If he pays a little attention to them and to The Rules, he might just give Episode III a fighting chance to breathe.

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