Yeah, I know, I’m not covering any new territory here. George Lucas, for better or worse, has been one of the most important figures in moviemaking in the past fifty years and has been praised and vilified accordingly. Over the many missteps that Lucas made over his career concerning his most important work, the Stars Wars franchise, the one that stuck out the most to me was that the excellent parody video, The Star Wars That I Used To Know, actually made Darth Vader a sympathetic figure, something that would be much preferable than what we were left with in Anakin being a short-sighted dimwit.
I know, without a doubt, that I could have done a much better character development with Anakin than was done in The Phantom Menace. When the best plot line in your movie is a pod-race, it may be beneficial for creating excitement (aka merchandising), but it doesn’t make a “character examination” very character-driven, now does it? Anakin should have been a bad seed from the beginning – not necessarily a mean kid and certainly not evil, but a manipulator, selfish, someone who is not likable. Now I know what you’re thinking: “a main character who is not likable is not much of a step-up from a non-character-driven character examination and not a recipe for a successful movie.” And that is where I say you would be wrong! This is Darth Vader we are talking about! This is the character who did not really have any sort of contrition for his life of evil, but still got the ol’ Free Pass from The Force at the end of Return of the Jedi. So don’t talk to me about believability or that a bad guy can’t carry a movie. What we got in the end was forced, dumb, and confused.
For all the wooden acting, the clothes-changing pretentiousness of Padme, the horrific attempt at comedy relief in the CG person of Jar-Jar Binks, the utter nonsense of the Clone War, one of the worst-named characters in the Star Wars universe in the person of who-the-hell-is-he? Count Dooku, the ridiculous concept of General Grievous (another bad name), the “prequels” could have been good, but Lucas was seduced by the dark side of moviemaking: special effects. If you don’t have a solid story, you have jack. Lucas surrounded himself with people who couldn’t work up the nerve to tell Lucas to go take a leap off the Golden Gate Bridge and take his bad ideas with him.
So why did I take the time to vent about things others have already covered ad nauseam? Because when I see something as brilliantly done as The Star Wars That I Used To Know, I am reminded that something so important to the most important movie franchise in my lifetime was mishandled and my complaint is valid and shared. Is it an important issue? On the surface, no. But if you think not learning from the Greek tragedies of real life could be a problem, if you think that people who worship money over all else are a problem, if you think people who revel in power without restraint are a problem, then, yes, this is an important issue. George Lucas only screwed his movie franchise, there are others out there who are under the same delusions who would do much worse. Are you really prepared to see the next sequel to Trickle Down?