Daily Elysium: Selling Star Wars

I check Ain't it Cool News almost everyday.  You could ask me why, and I don't know that I'd have a good answer for you.  Honestly, most of it is just nonsense, a mish-mash of blaring headlines and awkward rants that makes me slightly embarrassed to have read it.  I guess I always felt like there was an undercurrent of insight there, a hidden spring of intelligence that occasionally belies the common eruptions of vulgarities and exaggeration.  Every now and again I read something there that just clicks, and then it's gone so quickly that I wonder if it was really there to begin with.  Was the moment of AICN lucidity real, or my imagination? 

This happened recently, when I finally read the reason that Star Wars Episode 1 and 2 have fallen flat while I still, paradoxically, enjoy the original films.  I'd always assumed, like everyone else, that I just had such a childhood fondness for Lucas' original trilogy that I was willing to overlook their obvious flaws, but without that nostalgia, found the prequel faults more obviously jarring.  Now, finally, I see that the real reason is something much more tangible.  Read on, to find out why...

Someone should probably tell me to just let the whole Star Wars thing go.  I mean, talk about a dead horse, right?  But, I really can't.  I grew up on this stuff, and for better or worse there's a part of my psyche locked into that mythos, wallowing in all this Jedi nonsense.  I remember when I got an X-Wing toy for my birthday, an AT-AT for christmas, how I'd spend every dollar I could scrape together on Star Wars figures, how I'd lay out epic battle scenes across my bed, and how I would crush Luke over and over again under the monumental weight of that AT-AT.  Everytime, I mean every-freakin'-time he'd get right back up, do a front flip, and blast a hapless Stormtrooper who would hurl himself in an agonizing death throe off the edge of the bed.  So, I can't let it go.

Neither can the people who participated in Moriarty's recent "Jedi Council" over at AICN (part 1/part 2) - though the articles may be said to have some spoilers about several films.   And it was in this deluge of Star Wars fandom, that I found enlightenment.  In part 2, Moriarty states:

I think that one of the things that happens is the more insulated you get by this technology, the less youÂ're worried about human performances. Lucas makes such a big deal about editing within a frame. Suddenly, nobody gave the performances youÂ're watching. ThereÂ's no human connection. ThereÂ's no moments where itÂ's just Alec Guinness sitting in a room with Mark Hamill and theyÂ're just talking, being actors. The great thing about Mark Hamill, heÂ's not the worldÂ's greatest actor, but he is a great STAR WARS actor. If you watch him in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, the scene where heÂ's in YodaÂ's hut, and YodaÂ's making dinner, and MarkÂ's trying the food... he lives in that world! He believes every prop in that set has a reason and a purpose and a history. He sells it completely. When youÂ're acting and half the props arenÂ't on set and half the actors arenÂ't on set, none of that is allowed to happen. ThereÂ's no spontaneous, chemical whatever it is that makes a movie a movie. Tools are starting to get in the way. Tools suddenly arenÂ't about setting a filmmaker free, theyÂ're about the filmmaker losing the sense of community and what happens on a set. When Harrison Ford can throw a line out that nobody was expecting and it happens in a take with somebody else, that personÂ's reaction is real. Now that has a harder time happening. ItÂ's essential... in this final film especially, where itÂ's all about emotion.

And, suddenly it all made sense.  I mean, he's dead right about Hamill, for all his whining, and his overacting, he completely sells us Luke Skywalker.  He is living on screen in that universe, and he can pick up a wooden spoon and taste really bad Degobah soup, and it's all right there for him.  It's solid.  He believes the world, and so I believe the world too. That's not there with Episode 1 and 2.

I don't think anyone is saying that Ewan McGregor or Natalie Portman are bad actors, though I can't be quite so easy on the cavalcade of disappointment that has been Anakin Skywalker, but that no matter how hard they try, they just can't sell it.  When Ewan is talking to a CG Yoda, you can sense that in reality he's just surrounded by great sheets of blue, that he's not in the world but in a studio.   

More importantly, it's clear just from watching the films that the most important thing to Lucas is getting the individual shot in a technically perfect manner.  The individual shots have become more important than how those shots come together to form a story.  You can see it in the 'making of' bonuses on the DVDs.  Watch as he hovers over the effects team arguing painstaking points about how Yoda's nose should wrinkle in this frame, and how some monster's flesh should have a little more scaly texture.  He's not listening to the film, not seeing how it flows into a story. 

This isn't to say that stellar special effects necessarily damn a movie.  Look at the Lord of the Rings films as a perfect counter-point.  Visually, the films are stunning, but ultimately the story retains its focus on the characters.  Nobody walked out of Fellowship and said, "Eh, the story wasn't that good, but it's worth seeing those effects."  Well, maybe someone did, but they're idiots!  No, in the end, the visuals only augment the story, create the epic backdrop to a story about characters.  The interactions are still genuine!  Even Gollum, a stunning technical achievement, is still played by a person that gives the actors a solid form to act upon.  Jackson didn't tell his actors to just pretend like Gollum is there, he said Sirkis is Gollum, and they just sell it.

Though I've not seen it yet, I suspect the new Matrix suffers a similar fate as recent Star Wars films.  I won't comment on that until I've seen it, but I keep hearing people say, "eh, the story wasn't that good, but the CG was awesome."  I'm beginning to think that's the worst insult you can give a film.

- Elysium


I agree! Bring back the Yoda Muppet!

I'm gonna have to go with the writting being the worst part of the last two films. Sure Anakin is bad but how can he be good with lines like 'Your skin is soft not like sand, sand is rough'.

I think the same thing happened with the Matrix, the script just wasn't that good. Although it is bad in a different sense. More just the movie didn't seem to flow all that well, and the fact that it really has some glaring world continuity errors that are never explained. I mean why is Neo doing karate in this movie? Didn't we see in the end of Matrix 1 that he could just destroy people?

" mean why is Neo doing karate in this movie? Didn't we see in the end of Matrix 1 that he could just destroy people?"


PVP answered this: He likes playing in God mode.

Star Wars was released before I was born so I don't have the emotional attachment you guys seem to have. I've seen all the movies at some point but I've never sat down and watched all three in a row.

That said, Episode 1 and 2 are some of the worst sci-fi movies I've ever seen and they make me feel very, very dirty. Nice effects but the movie suffers for them in the end. I'd love to see a real director given half the budget to make a new Star Wars movie without the over-blown reliance on the digital medium.

"Ok Ewan, when I bob the tennis ball on a string up and down that means Yoday is angry. When I sway it side to side that means he's happy. Got it? Good! Now let's do some acting!"




They were released a long time before I was born, too (I was born in '87), but I grew up watching those and I've always loved them.  Even if I'm not a Star Wars geek, I still regard them as classics.  Right now I'm wondering if LotR will attain a similar status.

And, of course, I hate the new movies.  Anything they try has already been much more well executed by other movies.

Yep totally agree. Lord of the rings shows us how technology can be used to enhance a film and add to the story, not dominate the movie and become the main focus.

For me Lord of the rings is the new trilogy. I can't wait to see the extended edition of The Two Towers and Return of the King.

As for The Matrix Reloaded, I thought it was great and can't wait for Matrix Revolutions. I feel it lies between Lord of the Rings and Episode 2, more towards Lord of the Rings though.

As we used to say in highshcool when seeing some of the other competion in the state drama competions,  'nice set'.

Look at the Lord of the Rings films as a perfect counter-point. Visually, the films are stunning, but ultimately the story retains its focus on the characters. Nobody walked out of Fellowship and said, "Eh, the story wasn't that good, but it's worth seeing those effects." Well, maybe someone did, but they're idiots!

Oh dear. Guilty as charged. I walked out of LOTR - both of 'em, so far - thinking that exact thought. Of course, I think Tolkien is boring as hell, Elijah is annoying, and my country is beautiful, so perhaps I'm not the litmus test for this stuff.

I'm with you on the lack of emotion in the new Star Wars, though.

But man, he was all like "fwoosh" with the sword, and the orc guy was like "uhhh!"  And he died!  And then the girl with the arrows was like "thwipTHUNK," and the arrow hit the other orc RIGHT BETWEEN THE EYES!