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Star Wars Episode VII: The Hope That It Doesn't Suck

-By Nic Brown-

The announcement of the start of production for the newest “Star Wars” film - Episode VII: “The Return of the Milkable Disney Cash Cow - has filled me with mixed emotions. I grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy. I remember my mom taking me to see the first film at a small movie theater in Frankfort, Kentucky when I was just seven. I’d been particularly good and she said that we could stay and watch it twice if I enjoyed it. Needless to say my younger self didn’t just enjoy it, I was beside myself with glee from it and looking back I appreciate her staying to see it again at the very next show, even more now than I did then. The two subsequent parts of the original trilogy proved to be just as magical for me as I matured, although the darkness of “The Empire Strikes Back” was somewhat lost on me at the time. I was even okay with the cuteness of the Ewoks; they weren’t exactly my favorite alien race in the series, but they had their place.

Then came the next installment in the story - “Star Wars” Episodes I-III. I really wanted to love these films. They had so much promise: Jedi Knights at their prime, the origin of Darth Vader and, perhaps most importantly, 22 years of special effects magic lined up to help make the journey to a galaxy far, far away, even more magical…. What a letdown.

There are many reasons why I was disappointed by the second in George Lucas’s trilogy of trilogies, but perhaps the biggest reason was the special effects. Episode I: “The Phantom Menace” took us to new and exotic worlds in amazing starships and introduced us to new races of aliens to love and fear. Only, it didn’t. The worlds felt flat and lifeless, the aliens too perfect. The spaceships - there the effects didn’t disappoint. But at the same time, most of the film occurred either on planets or in the spaceships so that saving grace was limited. 

The problem was that the film was shot primarily in front of a green screen and all of the environments, the aliens and everything else was added in later. While the effects themselves were state of the art, there was something about them that just didn’t feel real. Don’t get me wrong; when I watched the original trilogy I didn’t think it was CNN footage of the action on the front. I knew the Deathstar was a model and that Chewbacca was a tall guy in a furry suit. However, from the deserts of Tatooine to the forests of Endor, I knew that the places were… well… places. The environment the films were made in was real, the interactions with it were real and the film was better for it.

I admire the way Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic has revolutionized the special effects used in film. I think the technology is amazing. But somehow the interactions just don’t feel the same when the whole world created is really just code in a machine.

Episodes I-III suffered from other issues as well: poor acting by some, poorly written female characters, and cardboard villains that gave no true feel of menace (except for Darth Maul who was menacing as Hell, so they killed him right off). Those are just a few of the drawbacks that “The Phantom Menace” and its sequels suffered from. But then again, the original Star Wars trilogy didn’t break that much ground with its cut-and-dry good guys and bad guys (up until the Vader switch hit at the end of “Return of the Jedi” anyway) but the rest of the films’ elements made up for that. With the second trilogy, nothing seemed to line up to make it all work.

Does that make them bad films in my opinion? Not really. But whereas I could sit down right now and watch the original “Star Wars” trilogy, I just don’t feel the same about the second set of films.

I should have seen that coming in 1997 when they re-released the whole original trilogy with enhanced digital effects. The enhancements generally did very little to improve the film and in some cases, namely the infamous ‘Greedo shot first’ scene, they actually spoiled the feel of the movies. But I didn’t think about that. I leapt into the theater at the first chance I could get and settled back to watch the spectacle. I’m still waiting.

Ultimately, I’m a grown man whose tastes and interests have matured beyond those of a seven year old boy sitting through a wonderful new sci-fi movie… twice. But, I guess I’m just feeling hopeful. The gang is back together for the third trilogy installment with the return of most of the original cast. There is also word that Disney, having listened to what the audience was saying with the second trilogy, is planning to use more practical effects, real sets, and actual locations for this installment in what has become one of the most iconic stories ever brought to the screen. So for me, my feelings are that “Star Wars Episode IV” was incorrectly named. The “New Hope” is the next series of films. There’s a seven year old boy inside of me who’d like to see magic once again when the lights go down and we journey to that galaxy far, far away.

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