The More the Criticisms Change, the More They Stay the Same

I found a fascinating clip by chance while clicking around for other things on YouTube after someone mentioned Roger Ebert. It’s an extant debate about Star Wars.

What strikes me about it is not just the fact that Siskel and Ebert really did change things for the way critics work; pay attention to how they keep going back to the context of the films they’re discussing. As in, the way you judge things needs to take into account its goal. As a nerd/geek/fanboy it’s something that we touch on in our Words With Nerds podcast from time to time.

What this clip really drove home for me though was that the film being savaged by John Simon was The Empire Strikes Back — the Holy Grail of Fandom for an entire generation of geeks.

He was dismissive of it because there were too many effects. Because the story and the acting were thin. Because Yoda was nothing more than a child’s toy marketed well.

Two decades later, these criticisms were being tossed at the prequels by the very children who were the target audience for the originals. So I ask as I often have: Isn’t it just possible that we’ve beheld the enemy and they are us?

Well really, the Haters, because I like to think I’m on the At The Movies side of the prequel debates.

14 thoughts on “The More the Criticisms Change, the More They Stay the Same

  1. Haters gonna hate. I hated the Star Wars series. BWAHAHAHAHAHA. The only faults I had with the prequels was the kids acting. But that wasn’t their fault. Kids just aren’t actors.

    Episode V was the crux of the series. That made the series. Without that film, there would be no extended universe. There would be from a certain point of view

    Just to put it right … I loved the series

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    1. I agree Empire “made” the series. It’s not my “favorite” of the series, but without its success, everything would have ended. It was different back then, when a single bad sequel could have ended the entire line (Iron Man 2 proves this is no longer the case).

      Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment!

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  2. There’s just no way to convince people that the reason they hate the prequels is that they’ve grown up and forgotten to be young. Not that this is a failing, mind you. If you’ve grown past that kind of movie, more power to you, but if that’s the case stop defending your love of the original series as anything more than nostalgia for your younger years. It was no better or no worse than the original trilogy, and they really should all be taken together as parts of a whole anyway.

    I’ve had the same discussion with people about Legend and Ferris Bueller’s Day off. I saw those movies for the first time less than three years ago. They were horrible (though Tim Curry did a great job). However, if you were a kid when you saw them (as I should have been, considering they were in my generation), then the message of “dad sucks because he won’t let me drive his expensive sports car, which by the way I just destroyed, justifying his view” probably resonates well with you. When you’re an adult, not so much.

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    1. Yes! Totally agree – the biggest problem is that no one in our generation wants to admit they’ve gotten older. And when one gets older, it’s far to easy to believe that it’s the world that’s different and not you.

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      1. These are fair enough points, especially with regard to Yoda vs. Jar Jar (I’d considered all of the very cheap laughs at the expense of Chewie and 3P0 – which, to your point, only became a buzzkill after I’d grown up and started taking myself too seriously – but never Yoda).

        And, yet….I can’t bring myself to budge. I think it has a lot to do with the innate heroism those characters brought to the screen, vs. Jar Jar, who seems to have been deliberately crafted to be the “America’s-Funniest-Home-Videos-Guy-Taking-It-In-the-Nuts” of Star Wars characters.

        On a totally different level, matters of his general movie-making style aside, I’m not entirely sure it is unfair for people to have expected Lucas to have tightened up his game over the course of 20 years. In an industry teeming with out of work script writers, I just can’t help but to be offended by bad dialog.

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        1. The prequels, as I’ve admitted, have a more difficult arc. It’s got no one to cheer for because you know that the main character is going to end up being an assh*** murderer. Another difficulty is you know who lives already; Yoda’s safe, Obi-Wan’s safe, etc…so there’s no peril for a number of main characters. Without peril, an audience can feel easily disconnected from the main characters. But they still resonate for me, and more people than the public at large thinks.

          Jar Jar was supposed to be a Buster-Keaton-esque character, in Lucas’ own words. I think had he shelled out the larger amount of money, and animated the head only (while leaving the body in the suit intact) it would have read better to people. But my take has always been, even if you don’t like him, he’s not really different than the Ewoks, except he actually interacts with the characters on a more direct level. Is he a perfect character? Nope. But I still chuckle at him overall.

          As for the dialogue, this is one where I think the audience needs to pause a moment. It’s antiquated, but it’s supposed to be. The world in which the primary characters are living is stilted, sterile. As the prequels move forward the language loosens up as the “world” around them changes and progresses closer to the one we “know”. In other words, what read as charming outdated dialogue from Obi-Wan, Palpatine and Vader in the original trilogy becomes dominant for a large part of the first two films in the prequels, and it’s not how “we” speak anymore. But it never was, it just carried more weight to us when it was the exception and not the rule.

          Love having you on here to debate things. I really do. Need to get you on the podcast.

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          1. Man, I love you and respect your willingness to scrape well beneath the surface of the prequels. But this:

            “As for the dialogue, this is one where I think the audience needs to pause a moment. It’s antiquated, but it’s supposed to be.”

            I simply cannot buy. Even if its affected for the purpose of context (which…listen, I accept that you’re the expert here), I’m not on board that it was a good or well-executed idea. Bad dialogue just has a way of announcing itself to an audience.

            (Interesting aside: the Ewoks never offended me, and they still don’t. If one is digging for defenses, it kind of supports the broad allegorical battle between man and machine…A theory that belonged to SCL, I believe).

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          2. Well we’ll have to disagree then. You don’t have to like it, but the style of the films is a certain way to reflect the stilted nature of the society. Compare the way Vader and Obi-Wan speak in the originals and you’ll see what I’m getting at. πŸ™‚

            Lucas stated on more than one occasion that the Ewoks were the Viet Cong, which I jokingly refer to something of a paternalistic racism…and offensive as hell, though he did make comments in 1977 that the Empire was the U.S., so at least he’s consistent. Though I love the irony of a hippie worth billions.

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  3. Fair enough. At the risk of needlessly extending the debate, it actually was never the Jedi speak that I found to be cringe-worthy (and, truthfully, I don’t recall Qui-Gon Jinn’s speech being at all affected in the way you suggest….though I certainly haven’t watched the film enough to say that it necessarily wasn’t).

    ((McGregor’s cadence was occasionally just plain off in the prequels, but he nailed his Alec Guinness often enough that I have always been willing to overlook it)).

    Lines written between Padme and Anakin, however? A very, very different story. As in a “honey, did you remember to take out the trash last night?” kind of story.

    But I am certain this has something to do with the nature of romantic love and gender roles in the pre-revolution Chommel Sector, right? I mean, naturally…that’s just how boys and girls courted back then. πŸ™‚

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    1. I am impressed that you went all the way for the Chommel Sector reference. Well done, sir. πŸ™‚

      But yeah, it’s supposed to be melodrama/operatic. To quote Christopher Lee: “Method acting is *a* method, not *the* method.” There is a very clear theme in the prequels that the galaxy itself is sterile and emotionless. Padme and Anakin break through that and it leads to a more emotional world; they don’t know how to express emotions until it’s too late (especially Anakin).

      I know it’s not for everyone. *shrug* I just dig the debate because I don’t think people need to agree about the movies. There are other movies people disagree on that they don’t feel quite so fiery about. In a way, it’s fascinating.

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  4. Yeah, yeah…knew you’d go that route. I’m more inclined to believe that Lucas had never actually directed a love scene (much less that much dialogue for such a feminine character) before in his career. But that’s simply a theory.

    [teasing filter on]

    There are times I suspect that it you were so motivated, you could educate the rest of us that the double fake field goal was actually *not* a bad coaching decision, but instead a commentary about the isolationist nature of the Pacific Northwest, and how Jim Zorn’s formative years there – combined with his sense of further isolation after watching Dave Kreig replace him and take the Seahawks to their first playoff appearance — actually forced him into a self-destructive relationship with Daniel Synder. He was replacing himself before the boss could replace him…again. A pragmatic decision, really.

    [filter off]

    Truthfully, you know I don’t really give a crap about Star Wars. But I do like teasing you over the possibility that you may be in denial over the fact that you are in denial about the quality of these films.

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