My ranking of the films:
- Empire Strikes Back
- Star Wars
- Return of the Jedi
- Revenge of the Sith
- Rogue One
- Attack of the Clones
- The Phantom Menace
- The Force Awakens
- The Holiday Special
- The Last Jedi
So, we’ve at last reached the end of my retread through the entire ‘Star Wars’ film series. It’s been an interesting ride, to say the least. I imagine someone with the time to do a thorough research project (and access to backstage information) might be able to do a full study of how the film industry and society in general has changed in the intervening years through the lens of this series of films.
What strikes me most of all is just how far above every subsequent entry the original films are in every substantive way: story, plot, dialogue, character, theme, you name it. Comparing the original trilogy to the modern trilogy or the prequels is strange. It isn’t just a difference in quality; it’s a difference in competence. It’s a little like watching young Mark Hamill acting opposite Sir Alec Guinness (or, alternatively, Daisy Ridley trying to act opposite the venerable Mark Hamill): one side knows their craft in a way the other simply does not.
I don’t want to make a generalization, but it really does seem like the quality of film and filmmakers has steeply declined even in the thirty-odd years since Return of the Jedi. Even absent George Lucas’s quixotic attempt to write and direct the entire prequel trilogy himself after decades of comparative idleness, we have a huge, multi-billion dollar company like Disney staking a massive investment in these films and the best they can come up with is the uneven Rogue One. The quality of writing and storytelling in these later films is nothing short of an embarrassment, at times offensively so, and now we don’t even have the excuse of George Lucas trying to make it a personal project. This is a branch of the top entertainment media company in the world throwing enormous amounts of money and promotion at a project with The Last Jedi as the result. Meanwhile, some forty years ago, that same ‘branch’ made The Empire Strikes Back.
Something certainly changed in the meantime, whatever it might have been. Somehow we went from Leigh Brackett to Rian Johnson. It’s not just a matter that there is no comparing them as writers; it’s that someone made the choice to hire one and someone else made the choice to hire the other and thought the script he turned in was acceptable, and that this was done under the auspices of the most powerful film and entertainment company in the world.
What that tells me is that no cared about the quality of these films. They assumed that a Star Wars film would make money, so it didn’t matter what they put out there. It seems like ideology, not quality and not entertainment was the chief motivation. The characters have the consistency and depth of wet cardboard, but we can boast that there is not a single white male among the heroes and that they’re headed by a ‘strong woman’. The story is a nightmare of writing mistakes and plot holes, but the important thing is that shows men to be incompetent failures and women noble saviors who step up to tear down the past and fix the mistakes of the male order, while working in a few anti-capitalism messages as subtle as a sledgehammer. That was what mattered to the writers of these new films: politics and diversity. Not entertainment, not character, not ideas, not wonder, not ethics, not myth; just fuel for wannabe hack sociologists (but I repeat myself) to write about.
Basically, the conclusion I reach is that ‘Star Wars’ has suffered the fate of a wealthy country that turns to socialism following the mis-management of an incompetent regime (that would be the prequels): everything that made it successful or beloved is gutted and replaced with the new ideology under the assumption that it will always continue to make money no matter what. Then, as it dissolves into poverty and chaos, its new masters increasingly turn on the people themselves, blaming everyone and everything except their own insane choices until the country is run into the ground and thoroughly destroyed.
‘Star Wars’ is now the Venezuela of film.
2 thoughts on “Star Wars Conclusion”
I have read a lot of Leigh Brackett’s original first draft script for Empire. A few observations:
1. Even in the first few pages, Han remarks that “even God probably forgot where He hung this star” and Artoo remarks that the Rebellion doesn’t have enough eggs for two baskets. Nice remark about Hoth, but is it a Han Solo line? Perhaps. I can hear it in my head, though it takes our rogue into some more philosophical territory than we’re familiar with from him. And naturally Artoo’s comment has to be repeated by Threepio, so it’s not perhaps the best character to give it too. There are good ideas and good lines aplenty, even if the execution has to be tinkered with. And thus, point two:
2. Brackett passed away before a lot of revisions could be made to the draft, but is there any doubt that she would have made such revisions? We’d have a different movie, certainly, as she pushed for her own ideas and plot developments, but there would have been changes. Just because this was Leigh Brackett’s work didn’t mean that other people would be abdicating their own jobs to edit and polish that work.
3. This, incidentally, happened with the first Star Wars film – I saw an excellent YouTube video about this, using the excised footage Lucas shot and explaining how a lot of what makes that film a classic came about in large part in the editing bay, focusing the narrative.
That’s what gets me about the New Star Wars: did these people have editors? Leigh Brackett, a legend of science fiction, didn’t get a free pass on her work; George Lucas, who invented Star Wars, didn’t get a pass on his work (at first) – but Rian Johnson and JJ Abrams do?
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Excellent point, and thanks for the insights into her draft!
I have heard, though not confirmed (which is why I didn’t bring it up in my run down) that producer Kathleen Kennedy accepted Rian Johnson’s first draft for ‘Last Jedi’ and they basically didn’t do any story editing during the whole two-year production cycle, which, if true, is nothing short of insane. Though having seen the film, I can well believe it.
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