1977: A year that will live in infamy. It was the year of my birth and the year that George Lucas attempted to birth a dream.
George Lucas was a young filmmaker with a little success under his belt and had managed a small budget to produce a pulpy space opera, reminiscent of the stories he loved in his youth, tales of action and adventure in strange and wonderous locales. He combined elements torn from many of these stories he had read, along with archetypically simplistic characters and plots taken from any number of other sources, and forged a movie that was, one day, to be lauded as one of the greatest successes in movie history. But it did not begin as such!
Star Wars, when first released to the box office, was a dismal failure. Competing with my birth and the Saturday Night Fever-induced disco craze, Star Wars sunk at the box office like a stone and was gone from the memory of the populace. People stayed home in droves to watch "Alice Cooper & Friends" on TV and had no time for fanciful science fiction adventures. Star Wars would have been forgotten entirely...
But, the next year, Star Wars finally found its popularity in midnight double-feature showings with Deep Throat at revival theaters. And, more and more, people that came to see Deep Throat found themselves staying for Star Wars. Soon, the movie was making enough money to be shown on its own and this new sensation caused the studio to re-release it in first-run theaters. Continuing to make money for some time, its success brought about the funding of two sequels and the franchise as we know it was born.
Star Wars itself was the most simplistic and banal of concepts: the young good guy in white rode off with his odd and eclectic band of companions to the castle of the scary evil guy in black to save the princess. Having done so, the forces of good return to destroy the evil legions in a heroic battle. In the midst, you have odd characters, strange settings, and wise father figures. All the earmarks of pulpy sci-fi and not a single new idea in the bunch. But never had this kind of space opera been put on screen for the general public. Sci-fi had been nothing but sad, dull, low-budget affairs in the 50's or dull, strange harder-edged sci-fi (like Lucas' THX 1138) ever since the days of the serials. This new reinvention of a genre that had previously been marginalized or best left to Godzilla was now back in force.
The movie itself wasn't bad. It wasn't good either and, despite the classic status it would receive, it was nothing more than fun and fluffy time-killer. But the chemistry of the actors, the fresh design, and the wit of actors like Harrison Ford gave the movie a somewhat greater impact than it would have received only a few years later.
The Empire Strikes Back, coming out 3 years after the first film, set out to make the series something more than the fluff pulp of the first film by adding an edge of pathos and seriousness to the mix at the expense of some of the fun. Likely the dreariest of the three original Star Wars films, Empire began with some of the adventure and humor of the previous film in its Hoth scenes, but moved on to a dull middle, scenes mainly comprised of rambling between the young, petulant Luke and Yoda, the puppet living the swamp, before screaming toward its even more dull and downbeat climax, with hero Han Solo being frozen in carbonite and Luke getting in a rather un-adventurous lightsaber duel with Vader, who chopped off his hand and then claimed paternity. Rather an odd tactic for claiming visitation rights, to be sure. The triumphs of the movie and the reason it is considered the best of the series likely have much to do with the fact that the movie was taken away from the guiding hand of Lucas, who only wrote the plot of the film, which was then handed over to a more competent director and writers, to be made with Lucas' focus left on the effects, the mythos, and a 14-pound block of black tar heroin that he would lovingly refer to as Darth Horse-Pusher for the remainder of the movie's filming.
Coming only 3 years after the success of Empire was Return Of The Jedi, confusingly helmed by a director, Richard Marquand, who had made no impressive films up to that point and, since, had only managed to spurt out Jagged Edge, by no means a technically impressive film. But glossier, clearer film stock, better effects, and more action paved the way to this being a more enjoyable film, returning Han Solo to the fold and retrieving some of that exciting spirit that possessed Star Wars. And, yet, Lucas was more involved in this film, co-writing the script as well as plotting it, which can been seen in its moments of incoherence, its lack consistency throughout, and its need to pile Muppet upon Muppet until every Star Wars fan (at that point calling themselves "Warsies" and holding tremendous conventions where they would dress as Greedo and shoot at Han Solo first) had taken out their own eyes with their ticket stubs, folded to a point, or drink straws. These lucky few that did gouge out their eyes never lived to regret Episodes I through III.
There was much quiet after the initially disastrous effects of that much Ewok on screen at one time and, for many years, Lucas went into seclusion, living off the millions made from his self-owned Star Wars franchise: its toy licenses, its drink cup licenses, its real estate franchising in the nationwide Tatooine Town communities, etc. Lucas took on the appearance and lifestyle of his fictional Hutts, growing large, speaking in a muttered, growling tongue, keeping a monetary stranglehold on his underlings, creating a private army, controlling those around him through fear and intimidation, and keeping a harem of slaves that he occasionally fed to giant ravenous beasts when displeased: typical Yuppie behavior in the Republican 80's.
What would shake this man from his stupor to do more than eat a ham & cheese sub and a creamsicle, masturbate, and cash in by re-releasing a film with some new visual addition or producing yet another video version of the only things he'd created that anyone ever cared about?
Public outcry rose over the 90's for him to get off his huge, syphilitic ass and get back to moviemaking. He considered it briefly and then waited until 1999 to actually get around to doing it.
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, as the films were now labeled in their long-winded, marketing-minded title structure, was born out of a month spent in a Meth-fueled haze, Lucas wandering the halls of the Skywalker Ranch, grinding his decaying teeth, only sleeping minutes per day and stopping in his paranoid drug-induced ramblings only to fire an employee or go outdoors to shoot guns in the air in defiance of "Big Government", which, he claimed, was listening in on his thoughts with the alien mind-reading devices... At least that's what Spielberg had told him.
As he broke from this sweaty month-long fever dream, he came up with new ideas to inflate his cash cow to before-unseen levels. The technology was there to churn out the movies without even using sets! He would direct and write the movies himself, for the first time since the series' inception, and he would make them even better: he would create a complex plot of espionage and intrigue, leaving behind the pulpy space opera format and making the series "classy"!
After reading a Ludlum novel, he decided that he could easily write a space-borne tale of political intrigue. I mean, look at all the experience he had with the aliens reading his thoughts for the IRS! He had the collection of tinfoil hats to prove it, not to mention all the teeth he had removed from his jaw with a pair of pliers to prevent his fillings being used against him to transmit the radio brain-control-waves (only beating out natural tooth decay's destruction of those teeth by about 14 months).
And so The Phantom Menace was unleashed on an unsuspecting public, excited to finally see more of their beloved series, having conveniently forgotten about Lucas' betrayal of his viewers with the advent of the "Ewok Menace", much as Holocaust-deniers refuse to accept historical events for what they were, instead making outrageous or distorted claims to defend their indefensible positions and maintaining their lives behind the blinders of delusion. His sins were forgiven or, more accurately, entirely forgotten by the viewers and old and new fans alike stormed the theaters, only to leave, retching and teary, after it was all over.
Phantom Menace is the only one of the films that this journalist has yet to see, but based on my interviews with a variety of expert sources, its plot involved the opening of the maw of hell, spilling out two hate-fueled entities: the child actor portraying the annoying Anakin Skywalker and Jar Jar Binks, the dark prince himself. (It also seemed to revolve around the intricacies of the space vehicle parts supply industry, though I don't have the information to illuminate this particular subplot further.)
One cannot help but feel that any child actor has a good chance of being a tremendous disaster just by appearing onscreen, worthy only of inducing the hate of your audience, who wish for nothing more than to punch the little shit-pile, over and over, but for Lucas the choice of child star must have been even harder, given his tin ear for acting, dialogue, delivery, and characterization, which had also been unused for decades and was left, at best, rusty.
Jar Jar Binks was a calculation on his part, misaimed and misguided, that his films were for children and children would find a walking alien minstrel show to be endearing, much as they had so loved the Ewoks, somehow forgotten in the interim between films as the death knell of his career and of his talent, a thing most closely likened to Santa Claus: something only believed in by children who were too young to know any better.
And so it was that Lucas took these elements and combined them with his belief that he could write dialogue on par with Shakespeare, without an iota of campiness or wit to this notion, and make the most serious epic ever seen in the world of science fiction. Sadly, the syphilis had eaten away at his sanity and his ability to make decisions.
The audience, after months of waiting, screamed out in pain, all as one. It was one of the worst movies ever... But as the complaints left their lips, they forgave him this horrible wrong. "Well, that one thing was kind of cool," they'd say, as they bought tickets to see it again, only to leave, vomiting and crying, once more. It was a circle of masochistic self-defeat. And, yet, the church of Lucas was strong and, despite all logic, he was forgiven for this egregious, monotonous pile of horseshit and its lame details, idiotic dialogue, awful characters, and abysmal acting, all forgotten in favor of its shiny computer-generated graphics, which looked almost as cool as the model work done 21 years earlier, and its fight scenes. It was a movie carried sheerly on the look of Darth Maul, whose screen time was equal to that of the background characters in the original film's Mos Eisley cantina, before he was abruptly shorn in half. He had no real character or personality, but he was red and black and had small horns... Long live the Sith! (And long live nerds wearing face paint to movie theaters and conventions everywhere!)
It was only a matter of time until Lucas trailed out his next disaster, an ear-rape-fest called Attack Of The Clones. Sadly, the clones did very little attacking and we were left instead to sit through hours of performances that make many a high school production of "Our Town" look like Tony-winning extravaganzas with all-star casts. Despite bringing on a writing partner and diminishing the role of "Uncle Tom" Binks, the dialogue was worse than ever and audiences would have been stunned and dismayed into self-mutilation were they not too busy masturbating and working themselves into a froth over how cool it was that the computer-generated puppet Yoda flew around the screen in physically impossble ways, fighting an octogenarian. It was almost as impressive as the original Yoda puppet effects. If only it had looked vaguely realistic or been anything more than an unnecessary wish-fulfillment for Warsies... Instead, it serviced what little there was of the scattered plot in no way whatsoever. But it was only one of hundreds of things that made no sense and seemed to contradict the notions and sensibilities of the original series throughout the body of the film, the spirit and ideas of the original movie apparently forgotten in the flood of fan-appeasing tie-ins and self-indulgent mental revisionism throughout the years between Return Of The Jedi and the new attrocities.
And, of course, there's the legendary dialogue and acting between Anakin and Padme. Every moment they speak is like 1000 razor-sharp spikes being driven into your ears, but in a bad way. Studies have shown that their acting and dialogue actually increased the infant mortality rate in all countries the movie was shown in by at least 5%. It was that poisonous to the environments where it was witnessed.
The plot was nearly incomprehensible with incidents of clone farming, plots to destroy the Jedi, and all-out war breaking out, seemingly for no good reason at all. And none of it fit the spirit of Star Wars in any way.
As Episode III drew close, interest grew yet again, the fans claiming that this one would actually be good. Hope springs eternal, they say, especially in the stupid. And so people went in droves to see Anakin finally become Darth Vader and hopefully be a badass, despite the fact that there hadn't been any character portrayed yet or a whit of decent dialogue or an adventurous plot written in two decades. But people wanted to see it tie back in to the three movies that were actually watchable, stupidly believing that they would get what they were expecting.
Revenge Of The Sith was, yet again, a total disaster, but people ate it up because it had a bevy of droids talking in funny voices getting chopped apart by lightsaber-wielding maniacs, incoherent fight scenes in different diverse locales, people jumping around and using crazy force powers that no one seemed to possess anymore in the original series of movies (but would surely be added in the next CGI-enhanced re-release of the trilogy), and the revelation of a petulant, moody retard wearing the costume of an intelligent savvy villain from the first films.
The fact that the characters didn't make much sense, that they didn't fit into the same fictional "world", and that reactions and knowledge of characters in the first three movies conflicted directly with the "latter" earlier films didn't seem to matter or phase people, who at this point were now taking the same meth as Lucas. That everyone ended up being an unlikable asshole and the plot floundered into stupidity only bothered a few long-time fans, who were probably as glad as I was to see Anakin sheared apart and somewhat disappointed to see him saved, as... well, the little whining bitch really had it coming. I mean, was there any possible way that this angsty imbecile could become the cold, cruel, James Earl Jones-voiced baron of kick-ass that people loved in Star Wars? No, of course not.
If anything, the central thesis of the movies' progression was "You are stupid and an asshole for caring about these people in the first place." I imagine Lucas thinks that viewers got their just desserts for not giving him all their money without him having to make movies to get it. Or perhaps he figures that you'll all a part of The Conspiracy and, therefore, deserve to be bilked and have your face shoved into the pile of steaming shit that he served up to you. Regardless, the searing waves of hate for the audience billowed off the screen and burned away the dignity and self-love of all that viewed the films, leaving them hollow shells of what they once were and might have been.
So we can clearly take from this one thing: the "Star Trek" franchise won.
The Warsies may disagree, but they're too busy having sex with a 16" Princess Leia doll in their parents' converted garage to do anything about it.