WARNING…There are some minor spoilers posted in the text of this article. If you wish to keep your Star Wars viewing completely pristine, turn back now!
While in Part I of this article, I discussed the upcoming backlash against Star Wars in financial terms, in Part II, I will discuss the content of the prequels and the subsequent fan reaction.
The initial reaction of the fans to Star Wars: Episode One – The Phantom Menace is very predictable. The initial wave of fans (the line-dwellers) will emerge from the theater glowing about the film, whether or not it is good at all. The sheer fact that it is “STAR WARS” (combined with the fact that they have spent a good portion of their lives pining for this moment) will outweigh all faults.
Then, again without regard to the quality of the film, the tide will begin to turn. People who have been building the film up in their minds for the past sixteen years (and further prompted by the initial raves) will be disappointed. Even the most perfect film in the universe will not be able to live up to the heightened expectations (and there are hints that Episode One won’t quite be perfect…see below).
The fan population will disolve into two camps: the rabid (primarily younger) supporters of the film, and the haters. The Rabid will polemically claim that Episode One is not only the best Star Wars film, but perhaps the best film ever. Some may say this out of denial, but most will probably (in their limited experiences) actually believe this. The Rabid are already trumpeting the film’s success (weeks before its premiere), and are quick to attack anyone who suggests the contrary.
The Haters will nitpick and criticize the film to death. In part, some will be bitter that the film didn’t reach their astronomical expectations. Some will join the Haters as a reflex against the gigantic hype/promotional machine that is at work. And others are just born contrarians.
In any case, it will take quite a while for all of this reflexive loving/hating to die down and for a fair judgment of the film to take place. However, in the meantime, the Haters will rule the day. Why? First of all, their numbers will be strongest during the first few weeks of the film’s run. Overwhelming expectations be fresh in their mind, and, compared with the Rabid raves, everything will fall short. The Haters will also provail due to the nature of their opposition. Even those who genuinely liked the film will be lumped in with the Rabid, whose outlandish claims will be easy to dismiss.
But, in the end, the Haters will have their day because the media loves a controversy. They will latch on to any negative vibe from the fans, and use it to fuel their “What Went Wrong With Star Wars” stories. In addition to the relatively “disappointing” financial results of the film (as discussed in Part I), entertainment writers will be able to pull stories from theater owners and executives who will be struggling under the excessive hardships imposed by Lucasfilm’s unprecedented demands. And then they’ll have the disgruntled fan base…the Haters.
The strongest card in the Haters’ hand is quite possibly the quality of the film itself. From what has leaked out, the film itself certainly won’t be the disaster that some will say it is…but it’s not looking like it will be the excellent film everyone is hoping for (and perhaps expecting). You have to remember that Lucas struck gold with Star Wars, and managed to do the unthinkable: he surpassed it with Empire. With Jedi, he began to falter (but not enough to derail the Holy Trilogy). Can Episode One hope to be nearly as good as either of those three? Really? Let’s take a look at the potential problems.
The dialogue. Lucas has never been a “wizard” with dialogue. The best written entry in the original trilogy is by far The Empire Strikes Back, which owes a great deal to Lawrence Kasdan. And yet, for the first time since the original Star Wars, Lucas has gone on his own as a screenwriter. Will he be up to the job? Hopefully so. However, the little that has leaked out has been suspicious. Take the naming for example: “Padme”, “Jar-Jar Binks”, “Naboo”, “Darth Maul”, “Darth Sidious” and even the film’s title “The Phantom Menace” leave something to be desired. Add to that reports that Anakin uses “slang” in the film (as if child actors aren’t precocious enough…), and things seem troublesome.
The plot. The good news is that (unlike “blockbusters” of recent years) Episode One will have one. The bad news is that it is mostly recycled. We’ve seen this before from Lucas (does anyone remember the Second Death Star?). Some of it has to do with how he developed the original trilogy, and his concepts of mythic structure. And yet (as was the case with Willow), you can draw a one-to-one correspondence from the main characters in Episode One with those in Star Wars (even down to a character-building tragic loss in a climactic battle). I can forsee some gripes that the movie feels way too familiar…
The effects. Lucas deserves kudos for pushing the envelope. However, there are signs that he pushes things right off the edge. He has been so eager to get his imagination on screen, that he exceeds the limits of today’s technology. Take a good long look at the digital Jabba the Hutt in the Star Wars: Special Edition and shudder. Two years later, the same artists can do a much better job…but good enough to be believable? Some of the effects that have been released are superb…others still scream “computer-generated!!!”. ILM will be tweaking up until the film’s release, so we can hope for the best. The good news is that thing likely won’t be worse than the distracting matte and stop-motion work from the original trilogy (which was also groundbreaking for its time).
Jar-Jar. From viewing the trailers and the limited footage publicly available, I can already predict that Jar-Jar will become the most reviled Lucas creation since the Ewoks. Lucas has gone too far in his attempts to create a wacky, humorous sidekick. Humor and beloved characters should never seem forced…Jar-Jar is the film’s most obvious backfire, and is simply a case of trying too hard.
The humor. Episode One has been called the “funniest” of the four Star Wars films…and that is not necessarily a good thing. The original trilogy had its moments of comic relief, and Episode One shouldn’t be bleak. But, starting with Jedi, Lucas has shown a tendency to add an overabundance of broad, juvenile comedy. If Episode One is worse, as it seems to be, the whole movie will suffer as a result. Take the Jar-Jar tongue scene as an example, or the series of coincidences and accidents that resolve critical issues in the film’s finale. It would be as if the Emperor slipped on a banana peel and fell to his death in Return of the Jedi (oh, wait… I think that’s Lucas’ plan for the Very Special Editions… 🙂 Humor has its place, but it should never distract from the remainder of the film.
Again, I wish to reiterate that although these are all potential problems, nothing is set in stone until the film is actually released. However, even if the film is the best of the four, there will be a backlash. The purpose of this article was to explain that fact, and the various reasonings (valid or not) behind it.
What can be done about the backlash? Wisely, Lucas has recognized the dangers of overhyping, and has tried to stem the flood. He has failed. The marketplace (and the internet) is already abuzz with everything Star Wars. And there’s still much more to come. The best advice is to try and keep a level head. Don’t believe the Rabid when they build expectations of the film up beyond all possible proportion. And, don’t believe the Haters when they have their say during the backlash. Just sit back and enjoy the film…it might not be shaping up to be the best film ever, but it looks like one heck of a ride.