Wednesday, May 18, 2005

RotS is almost here, so last pre-game thoughts

I'm seeing it tomorrow at 7 ish, at the Arclight, dunno if it's in digital or not. A good friend passed me the screenplay beforehand, and my expectations are in the gutter. Perhaps that's where they should be, after two films that went from modest to awful. The reports I've heard back have run the gamut, from reading the over-enthusiastic, to Anthony Lane's pithy pith off. It's stunning that even the positives (like A.O. Scott and Roger Ebert), who rave about the project essentially say, "You know, the acting and writing isn't very good" (shout out to the friend who mentioned that previously). On some level, the honest evaluations of the film probably won't and can't be made for quite some time for most people. Because Star Wars always plays with a crowd, and I think a lot of people will walk out with opinions inflated by nostalgia. I'm hoping I don't piss off the people I'm sitting next to if I think the movie stinks to high heaven. At this point I sort of doubt that it will, but I can't raise my expectation, because if I raise them even a little...

And though I have no problem talking about new Star Wars to a certain length, mostly in anticipation, a part of me must acknowledge that when I was in pre-K I hung upside down on the jungle gym (though in that cowardly 4 year old way where you'd still use one hand to support yourself) and tried reaching for my lightsaber, while five years later, I'd have a friend over and we watched Return of the Jedi all night, I think a collected four times before we passed out. If I can find it I will scan in a Polaroid I have of my brother and I in our homemade fort consisting of deck chairs and bean bags, with our Hoth playstation and Speeder, with drawn in lasers where we proudly displayed our action figures. The first two films hold a place for me stronger than simple nostalgia, though, and they are why I keep going back even though some evidence suggests I shouldn't - but what is cynicism except the bitchings of a burned romantic? This though, at least, will be the first time I've paid to see a new Star Wars film since 1999. But no matter how good this is, it's still going have huge problems because the schism Lucas created for himself by essentially destroying the mysteries of the OT, and further polluting them. Plainly and simply, they cannot be watched in the order they've been chaptered. There's no point. Perhaps when Lucas dies someone else could come in and do their version of the PT. It would almost be great to have a Lumiere-esque collection of PT versions, since - as Lucas has proven time and time again - these texts aren't sacred.

I have read some people talking about how this marks a chapter in their life, and to a certain extent, it's going to be a while before cinema develops another franchise of such mythic proportions. But the first Star Wars series was an organic process in comparison, and simply calling it a franchise seems to suggest that it's meaning is minimized... perhaps it is. I can't see this as a chapter, it's just the biggest big summer movie of my adult life, but like most summer films, I expect little of it besides popcorn thrills. Though I love summer movies, they are not where my cinematic heart or interest lies, and it hasn't been since I realized the full power of cinema (not to knock visceral cinema, I still love it). I think after seeing the disaster of Batman, my expectations of big summer entertainment have been rejiggered to fit in context of the usual disapointments, with Spider-Man 2 the rare exception (I can think of few summer movies that have been as good or perfect as it since Die Hard). The Summer season is arguably like St. Valentine's day, something made up to make money, but damn if it doesn't feel good to do something nice for someone you love, be with someone you love on that day regardless. And so sometimes we settle for our Jurassic Parks, and Independence Days, because fun machines can be fun even if (and usually) they are nothing else.

The world has changed immensely since that time, though, those early eighties summers of fare like Ghostbusters and Gremlins, and Temple of Doom (Which may be no better or worse, though is arguably more seminal for someone of my age group), and geekdom has dug out a corner for itself, and is comfortable with its corner, not necessarily wanting or needing guests.

Studios are beginning to understand the meaning of niche marketing, and the success or failure of Serenity (a film made for fans, and pretty much only for fans) opens a door that Star Trek - The Motion Picture didn't. But in this niche-a-fying, ultimately whatever interest I will have in genre pictures will become even more removed, and that's disappointing - Star Wars wasn't genre entertainment, but it sure as hell became it. Escapism comes in many shapes and sizes, but there's escapism that you can go with, and other kinds that make you feel dirty for having seen it, escapism that doesn't seem far removed from Hentai. Escapism that somehow fulfills the escapist with the illusion of leaving self or fulfilling real life fantasies. I like science fiction, and genre material, but I blanche at the dress up factor, and there's an entire section of the population who's more than comfortable with that, and if more and more stuff like this becomes successful, there will be no need to court the crossover audience (and this is where I see the future of Star Trek heading, if they're smart). Like anything that courts a niche, the further it does so, the less it cares about anything but sustaining its faithful. Ultimately you can't make films for genre dabblers in our target-audience driven market, but I think it's going to be a while before someone figures out how to tickle me this way again.