Wars' revisited: May the bores be with you
by Ian Abrams
"The Phantom Menace," George Lucas' new Star Wars
movie, isn't even out yet, and I'm already a little tired
I don't mind that it's going to be loud. Loud doesn't
bother me. I don't mind that it's going to be big and
dumb. I like big, dumb movies. I liked "Titanic," and you
don't get much bigger and dumber than that. I think what
bothers me is, it looks as though this "Star Wars" is
going to be loud, big, dumb and serious. That's a
It was not ever thus. The first "Star Wars" was loud,
big, dumb and . . .fun.
When it opened in 1977, I saw it eight times, twice on
opening day. But when "The Empire Strikes Back" hit, I
only saw it twice. "Return of the Jedi"? Once, at a
bargain matinee, a month after it opened.
What changed between No. 1 and No. 3 (OK, to be
technically accurate, No. 4 and No. 6)? For one thing, I
got six years older. But the movies changed, too.
"Star Wars" had the mythic stuff, but mostly what it
had was explosions and buzzing anthropomorphic robots and
interesting if off-the-rack characters and a whole flock
of plastic aliens and a monsoon of clunky popcorn
dialogue ("I recognized your foul stench when I was
brought on board."), and how often do you get to see Alec
Guinness and Peter Cushing and James Earl Jones
all hamming it up in the same movie? Like I said, it was
But by the time the second "Star Wars" came out, the
fun was in retreat. Where the first film was about
characters rattling around in a universe that came
complete with its own mythology, the second film seemed
to be more about a mythology that happened to have a
universe and some characters. By the third film, the
overall tone had grown as self-consciously Wagner-ian as
John Williams' score - appropriate for a series that was
getting to feel like the Ring Cycle with blasters.
What happened, I think, was that a lot of people who
saw the first movie eight times stopped thinking of it as
purely entertainment. After a while, the manufactured
mythos of The Force seeped in to the point where it felt
like something worth serious discussion instead of just
enjoying and forgetting.
At first, the discussion was in fanzines, privately
published, photocopied and circulated, and in panels at
science fiction conventions, and in a legion of suburban
basements. For the last decade or so, it's been happening
on the Net: an infinite regression of threads on an
infinite number of newsgroups, endlessly debating the
tiniest details of the sacred texts.
A lot of people, in short, started taking "Star Wars".
. .seriously. And one of them was George Lucas.
After the first (OK, OK, the fourth) film, he was no
longer just making fun, dopey movies. He was continuing a
self-created tradition, reinforcing a mass-market legend,
keeping alive ancient lore dating back to the
half-remembered antiquity of the Carter administration.
And the movies had a heaviness of spirit completely out
of proportion to their actual content.
If you're willing to take this stuff seriously, it
works. But if you aren't . . .
A colleague of mine sums it up: "I don't like being
preached at by Muppets."
I haven't seen "The Phantom Menace" yet. My bet is,
it'll be loud, big, dumb, irony-free, and very
serious. Of course I'll go - I've got a
12-year-old daughter, and, besides, I don't want to be
the only person in North America who hasn't seen it. But
I'm not excited.
On the other hand, "Indiana Jones IV" is supposed to
be coming in two years. That's worth getting
Ian Abrams directs the program in Dramatic Writing at