Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Episode XIX: Revenge of the Swan

I finally got around to watching — nay, enduring — the final chapter in George Lucas's Star Wars prequel trilogy, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, on HBO last night.

All I can say is: Ouch.

It's almost as though Lucas gave up trying to make his movies interesting, or emotionally engaging, or even fun. Beginning with Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and continuing apace through the latest debacle, the series devolved into a morass of ponderous and predictable plot, insufferably witless dialogue, incompetent acting, and not-as-special-as-George-apparently-believes special effects.

The pundit who once observed that an infinite number of chimpanzees pounding on an infinite number of typewriters would eventually produce Shakespeare was mistaken. Instead, they'd produce the scripts to the last three Star Wars films.

Lucas's lumbering screenplays and ham-fisted direction have become so oppressive that even excellent actors like Ewan McGregor and Samuel L. Jackson look like community theater amateurs trying to navigate their way through them. People who can barely act to begin with — Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman, I'm pointing right at your sorry hides — didn't have a prayer.

Now, I have to be frank here. (If your name is Frank, I'll give it right back at the end of this post.) I was never a fan of the Star Wars franchise, even back in the day when its components were more or less entertaining, if not necessarily intellectually stimulating. I remember seeing the original installment in the theater twice, just because all of my friends were so enthusiastic about it I was afraid I'd missed something the first time.

I hadn't.

Star Wars was trite, derivative, pseudo-science-fictional claptrap, with ideas stolen from sources both as diverse and familiar as Edgar Rice Burroughs and Marvel Comics. Its two successors were more of the same, although The Empire Strikes Back at least had the virtue of a pair of quality writers (Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett) working on the script, and a veteran director (Irvin Kershner) at the helm. When Lucas returned to the screenplay duties with Return of the Jedi, his penchant for silly pretension (Ewoks, anyone?) evaporated the previous film's goodwill.

It's sad to think of the $350 million (or thereabouts) that the anal-retentive Lucas squandered on his precious prequels — money that could have gone into the hands of passionate, original filmmakers who actually gave a fare-thee-well about what they were doing.

But not as sad as thinking about the countless hours of life humanity will never get back, having wasted it on King George's cinematic white elephants.

Let's pray that Lucas never gets around to making his long-rumored third trilogy. Enough is enough, already.

In a tangentially related sad note, artist Tim Hildebrandt, who in tandem with his twin brother Greg created the iconic poster for the first Star Wars film, passed away on Sunday.

Those of us who grew up reading fantasy in the 1970s recall the glorious illustrations the Brothers Hildebrandt, as Tim and Greg were collectively known, created for J.R.R. Tolkein Lord of the Rings calendars and assorted merchandise back in the day. They also contributed art to various Marvel Comics projects.

Mr. Hildebrandt will be missed, but his art survives.

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