Entry from June 17, 2002

Mr. John Hayward writes:

I read on your web site that you are considering seeing Star Wars: Episode II as a concession to pressure from your readers. As a longtime admirer of your work, I would like to spare you this unpleasant ordeal. I have seen the film myself, and, speaking with great pain as one who grew up with Star Wars movies and loved them, I must report that it stinks.

You will not be surprised to learn that the movie contains astonishing visual effects, although since they were all accomplished on high-end computers, they don”t seem as rewarding or ingenious as the old model-and-puppet effects did. I would guess that within ten years, college students will be playing video games that look exactly like Attack of the Clones on their Pentium XII computers. I cannot admire a technique that turns the painstaking art of special effects into an excercise in computer programming, which I get quite enough of at work.

You will also not be surprised to learn that the movie contains horrible acting, uninspired writing devoid of the wacky charm that infused the earlier Star Wars films, and incredibly lazy writing. I am willing to forgive a few plot holes in a fun summer movie, but the script to this film is an outright insult to the intelligence of even the average mall rat. We are, for example, asked to believe that our young hero’s mother has been left to rot in slavery on her desert planet home, even though the litt[l]e fellow single-handedly saved an entire world from brutal military occupation. Suddenly, the transformation of Anakin into menacing Darth Vader does not seem like such a frightening fall from grace, but rather an entirely justified act of revenge against his tight-fisted “friends.”

I did find one aspect of the movie’s badness to be especially noteworthy, as a commentary on the state of entertainment in popular culture, and I thought I might presume to share it with you, since no one else seems to have noticed it. A pivotal plot point is the romance between the hero, Anakin, and Natalie Portman’s Queen Amidala. This is a union that will ultimately end in tragedy, but result in Luke and Leia, heroes of the original trilogy; and it is central to the plot of Episode II. However, it is a romance that will not be easy to sell to the audience, since Queen Amidala essentially used to baby-sit Anakin when he was a 10-year-old, and in early scenes of Episode II, she is properly dismissive of his puppy-dog crush. How could we write our script in such a way that Amidala believably falls in love with Anakin, and at the same time, show his evolution from whiny teenager into confident, grown man? I know! We could have him rescue her from peril, impressing her with his bravery! This is the time-honored and traditional storytelling technique for heroes who must melt the hearts of reluctant damsels, and it quickens the pulse of every viewer, doesn’t it?

But, no. We can’t have something like that in The New Millennium, where damsels-in-distress are even harder to find than corrupt black politicians or sinister homosexuals. Twenty years after Carrie Fisher gave us a plucky heroine who amusingly turned classic conventions on their head by refusing to be rescued, we have reached the point where feisty princesses who can out-shoot the boys ARE the convention, and so we must watch as Natalie Portman inexplicably pulls a set of lock-picks from her belt to save herself and help those well-meaning but hapless heroes save their own skins. Her yielding to Anakin’s romantic advances appears to be an entirely random event, possibly brought on by extreme dry heat or a blow to the head. We don’t even get a daring swing across a trench that someone thoughtlessly leaves lying around in a space station. In the world of Political Correctness, not even teen romance in an epic fantasy is allowed to be old-fashioned and charming.

Hopefully this will save you the two hours of your life that would otherwise be lost to the increasingly weird George Lucas. I have noticed that more and more critics are literally being scared out of the theatres by the poor quality of Hollywood movies. Just today, Roger Ebert has a review of the new Scooby Doo film in which he essentially refuses to review the movie and apologizes to his readers. Things have indeed reached a new low.

P.S. Please do not ask me to see Scooby Doo for you. I have my limits.

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