One of the mysteries of the Star Wars movies, is just how a story with the promise shown by the first two movies, could devolve into such utter dreck, under the same production and direction. I think I have finally figured it out.
Without revealing an utterly hopeless devotion to an adolescent concept, the 'Star Wars' theme began with "Star Wars", a swashbuckling adventure with all the bells and whistles - sleek starships, a menacing villain, an idealistic hero with multiple sidekicks, and of course, that music. Not content with a blockbuster hit, Lucas followed up with the impressive "The Empire Strikes Back", which continued the story, actually picking up the pace, complicating the plot with rivalry between the two main heroes, and opened the door into The Force and the Jedi Knights. And of course, even more of that fantastic Soundtrack. Expectations were high, especially it became obvious that Lucas was just warming up. Here we discovered that "Star Wars" was not in fact the first episode of the story, but actually Part IV in a nine-part odyssey. Interest in the series grew exponentially.
But "The Return of the Jedi" failed to match its promise. It was moderately enjoyable for a movie, but didn't match the levels of "Empire". And Episodes I and II were distinct disappointments, from the perspective of the fans. And fans were informed that despite the initial promise of nine films (Lucas once claimed he had already written up screenplays for all nine), the series would end with just six. What happened?
Well, looking back on the series, I think I see what happened. Let's chart the progress by type:
Hero: Luke Skywalker. Young but grown, clean cut and optimistic, raw but talented.
Sidekicks: Han Solo. Cocky but lovable. R2D2, all-around good guy robot. C3PO, comic relief and a classic foil, who gets ripped apart by Sand People.
Aliens: Chewbacca the wookiee. Heroic and a good fit for Solo.
Greedo the bounty hunter. Dies with the right degree of surprise.
Jabba the Hutt. Disgusting, yet does not appear for too long in the film.
Mentor: Obi Wan Kenobi. Mysterious, powerful, wise, and cool in the clutch.
Romance interest: Princess Leia. Beautiful yet not aloof, also has sense of humor.
Villains: The Empire, Darth Vader. High-tech, ominous, powerful, yet very cool.
Plot: Luke finds out he is strong with the Force. Bad guys kill aunt, uncle, mentor. Bad guy wants to blow up rebels, Luke and his friends blow up Death Star first.
"The Empire Strikes Back"
Hero: Luke learns the Force, in practice and in study from a Master.
Sidekicks: More R2D2, less C3PO. Solo shows his own stuff, Lando Calrissian introduced but not too much film time. C3PO gets blown apart.
Mentor: Yoda the Jedi Master introduced. Very impressive, especially as he turns The Force into a real set of ideals and standards.
Romance Interest: Luke pursues the Force, Han and Leia pursue each other, but nothing too mucky for young teens.
Villains: Darth Vader, who personally kills a lot of people in the film. The Emporer introduced, suitably shadowy and creepy.
Plot: Luke learns about the Force. Many explosions, surprises, humor, tension. Vader cuts off Luke's hand, Solo is captured and turned into a slab of metal. The story is clearly left unfinished, creating appetite for next episode.
"The Return of the Jedi"
Hero: Luke becomes a full Jedi Knight.
Sidekicks: Han and Calrissian are kind of weeny in this film, so is Leia. Too much attention to C3PO, who for some reason is not blown up in this film.
Aliens: Ewoks, essentially feral teddy bears who nonetheless are able to destroy high-tech equipment with sticks and stones. NOT credible.
Romance interest: None for Luke, Han and Leia make gooey eyes at each other, satisfying no age group.
Villains: None, actually. The Emporer is scary at first, but has no defense against being thrown off a balcony. Vader dies, so does Yoda, so does Emporer, Boba Fett dies in a freak accident. Billy Dee Williams exhibits a Shatneresque level of acting ability.
Plot: Everybody's got some good in them, as long as they kill the right people.
"The Phantom Menace"
Hero: Sullen 5-year-old kid, Anakin Skywalker.
Sidekicks: None. He has no friends, except for a couple token kids who disappear when not needed to show a 'human' side to Anakin. Builds C3PO, which is reason to hate the guy later, especially as C3PO does not get blown up or ripped apart in this film.
Aliens: Slimy slavers, Jabba the Hutt returns as a gangster MC at the pod races. Otherwise,
Mentor: None. Obi Wan and Qui-Gon try to teach the lad, who does as he pleases.
Romance interest: None, except a creepy 5-year-old's prenaturnal desire for a teenaged princess Padme.
Villains: Generic, except for Darth Maul, who turns out to be far less imposing than the lead-up to the showdown seemed to suggest.
Plot: The Force is just blood chemistry?!?!?!? Lucas sells the family jewels for nothing! Qui-Gon dies, Darth Maul dies, hundreds of token aliens die. Jar Jar and C3PO are both allowed to live, proving there is no justice in the Lucas Universe.
"Attack of the
Hero: Sullen teenaged Anakin Skywalker
Sidekicks: None. Anakin works alone. Obi Wan hangs with him, pitifully similar to a dad trying to be 'hip' with his rebellious son.
Aliens: Generic. Jar Jar shows up again, but mercifully only in bit parts. Jar Jar and C3PO still are neither ripped apart nor blown up.
Mentor: None. The Jedi Council turns out to be just a divided, politically impotent group of old fogies, who sense a disturbance but little more.
Romance Interest: The teen wins the twenty-something princess, marries her against all common sense and which slows down an already plodding plot.
Villains: The Emporer is hinted at, various assassins and groups of business-types. Daddy Fett shows promise but never delivers.
Plot: Heavy-handed, slow-moving. Vader's mommy dies, Vader kills her murderers and everyone in the same zip code, Tens of thousands of computer-generated characters dies, Obi Wan pouts, Yoda floats around, and has an indecisive battle with Count Dooku. Jar Jar and C3PO are both still allowed to live, to the displeasure of millions.
“Revenge of the Sith”
Hero: None apparent.
Sidekicks: None apparent. Everyone is either evil or a target, it looks like.
Aliens: The wookiees show up as a group, but it’s hard to see whether Chewbacca will finally get his long-overdue chance to show his stuff at full speed. Since C3PO will show up in Episodes IV-VI, we unfortunately cannot hope for his departure, but perhaps he will be ripped apart again in some amusing fashion. My hope that Jar Jar won’t show up again, is balanced against the possibility of his on-screen demise.
Mentor: Vader learns all about Evil from the Emporer-to-be.
Villains: Lots of guys in black and lots of evil robots, along with suitable legions of fell lackeys.
Plot: Everyone either turns evil, dies, or runs away. Much merchandising.
OK, what so we see from that overview? To me, the series loses its vision, pace, and integrity right about a third of the way through Episode VI, and turns from an excellent story about ideals, heroism, and the triumph of virtue over evil, to a series of slick tricks and well-timed explosions; John Wu’s vision of the Galactic Republic. And what happens at that point in “The Return of the Jedi”? Yoda dies.
Uh-huh. Right. The little green dude is able to kick the butts of all comers for nine hundred years, hoist starfighters out of the muck by sheer concentration, and teach a condensed version of Universal Philosophy, Logic, Meditation, and Filmography to a late starter with ADD, but all of a sudden, he dies. I know why.
Lucas turned to the Dark Side, specifically he got tired of the ideals he began the story with, and he found himself in touch with his dark masters at ILM, specifically the Marketing Department.
“Geooooooooooooooooooooooooorge”, intoned the Marketing Director, “I am your faaaaaaaaaaaaatheeeeeeeeeeeeer.”
“No you’re not” replied Lucas.
“I meant your iiiiiiiiiiiiiideeeeeeeeeeeeeeological faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaather” intoned the Director.
“Oh. OK. Waddya want, and can the fake Vader talk, willya? You don’t sound near as cool as James Earl Jones.” replied Lucas.
“Fine” said the Marketing Monster. “We’ve thought of a way to get you lots and lots of money. Interested?”
“Yep” said Lucas.
“All we want is your soul” warned the Marketing head.
“Fine,” said Lucas, “I wasn’t using it anyway.”
And so the deal was made. Yoda was killed off, to be replaced with more marketable action figures, and Episodes VII through IX, which dealt with silly notions like honor and justice, were trashed. Only half the money was set aside for the future Soundtracks, which is why they’re barely half as good as the first 2 films. Jones, Ford, Hamill, and Fisher were chased off after Episode VI. ILM took possession of the souls of Lucas and the plot development team, with Jar-Jarmodeus appointed as Lucas’ familiar and demon watch-beast. After Lucas killed Yoda, hope and truth faded from the series, to be replaced by foul marketing tactics and consulting advice from Dan Rather.
It wasn’t a complete success for the Dark Side, however. Despite Lucas’ best efforts, belief in the ideals of the original Force - Justice, Honor, Courage, and Loyalty - were not lost, but were recovered and redistributed, showing up in both George W. Bush Presidential campaigns, in the Boy Scouts, in the U.S. Marine Corps, and in the confederation of new defenders of Justice and Hope, carrying names like Steyn, Hawkins, Lori, and Michelle. The FOX Network also expressed interest.
As for Lucas, he’s not in the clear. I hear the Wookiees are mad that no wookiee was made a Jedi, and they plan to pay him a visit. And they visited Darth Sidious first, to take notes.