17 June 1999

Newspoetry Movie Review

I know those of you who know me aren't going to believe I'm saying this, but GO SEE THE NEW STAR WARS MOVIE. I'm serious. It's not like a Star Wars movie, it's more like art.

I know a lot of critics have been complaining that it's a formulaic plot contrived to get from one point to another point of a larger, formulaic epic. But they're right, and that's part of the beauty of it. Because in order to lead up to the first film, Star Wars Part IV, A New Hope, they had to make a film where everything just went to shit such that all the old hopes were dead.

Apparently, when Lucas approached the studio with the screenplay, they read through it and said "No way George, let's just skip to Part XI, A New Beginning. We'll just slate this one for sometime next millenium." Lucas said no, so the studio hired a bunch of guild writers to tack something together. But Lucas wouldn't budge. So Lucasfilms fired him. There was a lot of legal battling, and all Lucas was able to win the rights to was the title: "Star Wars." He lost the rights to almost all of the characters and other trademarks.

But Lucas was determined to make his film.

Needless to say, without the support of his company, he was forced to shoot the film on a much lower budget than any of the previous Star Wars movies. Also, early on in the dispute, Industrial Light and Magic locked Lucas out of the gigantic special effects facility that he had helped design. This may be the reason that Lucas chose to shoot the new film Star Wars III: Total Bummer entirely in black and white with no special effects. But the film is so effective, so singular and consistent in its vision, that one wonders if the original screenplay wasn't intended for black and white.

The new Star Wars film isn't an action film. It is psychodrama: a character study. There is a lot of drinking and smoking and crying. There are very long shots with motionless cameras of small sparsely furnished rooms and barren landscapes, and lots of silence. Everybody falls apart. There are a number of deaths, mostly suicides, and the camera lingers on every wound and the expressionless eyes of the dead.

Although almost none of it is actually seen in the film, the plot is that the Empire has come to power and destroyed all hope of Democratic government in the galaxy for a long long time. The Jedi Council has fallen apart, and Yoda has gone off to live alone on Dagobah the fetid swamp planet, where he chews on snakes and listens to the Force. (Incidentally, perhaps because Lucas couldn't get Yoda for his film, the Dagobah scenes are shot from Yoda's point of view, which has quite a striking effect). Meanwhile, Obi Wan has realized his mistake in taking on as his pupil young Skywalker, who has joined the Dark Side, abandoning two children and his mistress - the former queen of a planet - into slavery on Tattoine. Kenobi is shattered, and takes on the wretched existence of a hermit in a cave in the desert on the worst planet in the entire series of films, his light sabre gathering dust in an old trunk with other clutter and memorabilia and a few old photographs, his Jedi powers greatly diminished from the rancid whiskey he brews himself using the Force and the few cacti able to survive in the harsh climate. And you watch these scenes and think about how R2-D2 and C-3PO are going back there in the next film, and the bleakness is stifling, the sense of doom is agonizing, the feeling that this wrenching low-budget masterpiece has followed all those bright candy films it now precedes reorients you to the idea of the summer blockbuster movie.

Go see the new Star Wars movie. I warn you that it will be difficult, but you will be the stronger for having endured it. It is a film about totalitarianism and despair. It is a film about Obi Wan Kenobi and his struggles against the Dark Side and the bottle. It is as if millions of voices had cried out in existential horror, and were suddenly silenced.


Newspoetry at Spineless Books