8-6 Star Wars Episodes VII, VIII and IX
Everyone remembers the exact moment when they realized their Phantom Menace sandwich was filled with shit. For me, it was the scene on Tatooine where Qui-Gon was talking and Jar Jar was snatching fruit from the bowl with his tongue, eating like an insect. Annoyed, Qui-Gon reached out and snatched Jar Jar's tongue out of the air, then held it in his fist while he talked. That was when I realized I was watching a cartoon.
Worse, it was a cartoon I already knew the ending to. How did this happen?
The decision to do prequels:
It's not just that we knew how the story ended when we walked into the theater (me, I would have killed off Obi-Wan in Episode II just to fuck with everybody), it's that this isn't the interesting part of the saga. Adolf Hitler's childhood wasn't interesting. So, Darth Vader used to be a wooden, whining kid. The pre-rebellion galaxy was embroiled in a series of boring bureaucratic disputes. Who gives a shit, George?
He should have made the sequels, damn it. He should have done them right away, in the late '80s, with the original cast.
With a good sequel, you can expand the universe, introduce new characters, explore more of the existing ones, take what we know and push it in radical new directions. With a prequel, all that imagination is devoted to devising ways to shoehorn the existing characters into the old story, to pretend they all knew each other back then. The universe gets smaller as we find out that every page of history contains the same dozen names. The fantastic, magical world starts to seem like something some guy just sat down and wrote.
The CGI scourge:
If you're not sure what I mean, try to spot the difference between this:
The first one looks like they're actually standing on something (Jabba's flying barge thing). See the scratches? The beat-up paint? Nobody notices that during the movie, but it's a subconscious little hint that this vehicle has been used. It has a history. It's a real object. The second shot, you look at it and expect little power-ups to be floating around. You look for your control pad.
Thank you, CGI. Thank you for letting the director project the most expansive reaches of his imagination into a bright, neon digital rendering that doesn't for one second look like a universe you could live in. Don't get me wrong, when I saw that space battle in Revenge of the Sith I did turn to my friend and say, "Damn, those are some phat-ass effects!" When I saw the barge scene from Return of the Jedi 20 years ago, all I could think was, "I wonder how Luke is going to get out of this one!"
It gets worse. Have you guys seen other films with Hayden Christensen? He's not a bad actor. Natalie Portman? Nominated for an Oscar. Put them in the Star Wars prequels and they turn into mannequins.
Why? Because, it's almost impossible to act in front of a green screen, often interacting with characters also represented by a green screen. True, it was probably hard for Harrison Ford to look at a fellow actor wearing a rubber mask and act like he's really an alien, but at least he's there.
It's infinitely harder to stand alone in an empty room with green walls, without even the puppet to react to, while the director shouts, "OK, you've landed on a fantastic world full of alien life forms! The man comes to help you off the space ship ... look! There's a huge creature to your right! React to him! React! No, further to your right! No, he's taller than that! Look up! You're amazed! Put amazement on your face!"
I couldn't do it. Neither could Samuel L. Jackson.
George Lucas got older:
No, I'm not saying old people can't make movies. But, ask yourself: How did the same people who gathered in naked, stoned crowds for this ...
... grow up to make this show a hit:
It's almost like they lost something along the way, isn't it? Well, so did George Lucas.
Here's something unpleasant: All art comes from demons. Not real demons, in most cases, but demons of angst and horrible memories and sexual frustration. You get beat up in school because, while the cool kids are putting bruises on each other on the football field, you were sitting on the steps writing your science-fiction stories. That fear and tension that winds itself around your soul like steel wire as you try nervously to sneak out of the locker room before the big kids give you a Wedgie and a Tittie-Twister and a Dirty Sanchez, all that builds up into adulthood. Art is how you let it out.
It was an angsty bastard who introduced Han Solo to the world by showing him ruthlessly blowing the face off a mafia bill collector, shooting him from under the table and then cooly walking away and paying his tab. Lucas introduced Obi-Wan Kenobi by having him end a bar fight by slicing a guy's arm off.
Lucas didn't flinch at the thought of blowing up the peaceful planet of Alderaan and killing billions. None of this was gratuitous; it told us the story and what the stakes were.
Angst drives it. Now, if the artist is lucky, that angst goes away. If the audience is lucky, it doesn't. The art dies with the angst, you see. By middle age the artist finds himself watching his old films and trying to make ones that sort of look the same, or trying to make films his children can watch. It gets bland. It's not just with movies, you can start to see this happening with Eminem. As he gets his life together his songs sound more and more like remixes and covers of the old ones. He'll never do Bonnie & Clyde again.
So what happened to the sequels?
Millions of fans and one movie studio and one toy company were all clamoring for them. But, I'm going to guess that after devoting 10 years to the project, Lucas and everybody else involved was just sick to death of Star Wars.
Still ... say he had taken a year off, then come back and signed Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher (what were the latter two even doing at the time?) and started filming a new trilogy in 1984.
I don't know what the plot would have been, I like to think the 1984 George Lucas would have had some good ideas. Personally, I would have killed off Luke at the end of Episode VIII. Let the little bastards chew on that for three years.