Note to John Seavey

Hey, John:

I did, in fact, see your blog entry called John Scalzi and the Myth of Inerrancy, which was a rebuttal on my column on The Lie of Star Wars as Entertainment. I tried to leave a long comment about it on your own site, but inasmuch as the Blogger comment tool appears buggier than an ant farm, it doesn’t appear that it took, and I don’t want to keep trying to work with it, only to end up looking like a deranged, incompetent spammer when/if multiple instances of the same comment show up in the comment queue. So I’ll just leave it here and assume you will find it in the fullness of time. It’s below.

You write:

Scalzi’s basic assertion, for those of you who couldn’t be bothered to follow the link, is that the reason the prequels weren’t any good… is that Lucas doesn’t actually have any talent as a film-maker

Well, no, that’s completely incorrect. Here’s what I think of Lucas as a filmmaker, which is detailed in the entry immediately following the one you link to:

I’ve long and publicly said that I believe he’s unquestionably the most significant filmmaker of the last 30 years and possibly ever, because of what he’s done for the technical aspects of filmmaking. Special effects, sound production, computer graphics, film editing, post-production, digital filmmaking — basically if there’s a filmmaking process around, there’s a damn fine chance that Lucasfilm or one of its subsidiaries or spinoffs was a pioneer in it or refined the process substantially. We watch film the way we do because of George Lucas, end of story, period. The guy’s a genius, or knows how to hire them, which is almost as good. Indeed, the only two aspects of filmmaking where he falls down on the job are writing and directing, which is ironic (and not only because he has two Oscar nominations for screenwriting, and another two for directing). But, you know what? No one’s good at everything.

Likewise, you both alter without notice and misattribute the subject for the following:

anything good in the movies is either (to quote Scalzi) ‘unintentional, achieved through special effects, or is the work of hired guns, notably Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett’.

The full quote, including what it refers to, is:

Now that the magnum opus of the Star Wars cycle is done, we can see that any entertainment value of the series is either unintentional (Lucas couldn’t suck the pure entertainment value out of his pastiche sources), achieved through special effects, or is the work of hired guns, notably Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett (those two wrote The Empire Strikes Back, the only movie in the series that has a script that evidences much in the way of wit, much less dialogue that ranks above serviceable. Kasdan and Brackett were clearly attempting to entertain as well as serve the mythology, showing it is possible to do both).

The argument is in fact not whether Lucas is a good filmmaker (he is, albeit better at some things than others) or whether he’s responsible for what is good in the Star Wars series. The argument is whether the Star Wars films should be considered as “entertainment,” and whether what is entertaining about the series is the work of Lucas himself or those he’s hired, whose sensibilities, as I have argued, are more attuned toward what is actually entertaining.

Because you appear to have fundamentally misapprehended what is actually being discussed in the essay, you end up making arguments that are aside the point of the essay and/or are points I find entirely unobjectionable.

For example, the point you make about Lucas ultimately being responsible for the final form of Empire is obvious; by that time he had final cut on the series. Kershner, Kasdan and Brackett (among the other filmmakers involved in the film) didn’t somehow sneak Empire past Lucas; rather they did what Lucas wanted and also contributed their own sensibilities as entertainers to the work. The argument is not that Lucas objects to the films being conventionally entertaining, rather that it’s not his goal. If others helping him make the film can manage it, great, as long as his own goals are achieved. If not, oh well.

On a side note, your smack on Empire director Irwin Kershner is a bit uninformed. When Kershner took the Empire gig he was a well-regarded director in Hollywood, both critically (for films like Loving) and commercially (Eyes of Laura Mars). For television he directed Raid on Entebbe, which garnered him an Emmy award nomination for Best Director.

To sum up, it does appear you’re making an argument countering an argument I did not actually make.

104 thoughts on “Note to John Seavey

  1. Note to folks:

    1. Don’t comment on Mr. Seavey’s essay unless you’ve actually read it, please.

    2. If you have a point you want to address to Mr. Seavey, it’s best to do it on his own site (perhaps you will find the tool less buggy than I did; I was leaving an admittedly long message).

    3. If you do address Mr. Seavey there, I do assume you will treat him with the same respect and courtesy that you would use with me; I would be dreadfully embarrassed if someone who is a regular commenter here made an ass of himself over there.

    4. Likewise, any comments here bashing Mr. Seavey for daring to disagree with me, disparaging him as a human being, etc, will be looked upon as Malletable.

  2. It’s sad when people fight over non-existing problems. But, it’s sweet that you went to point out that he mistook what you wrote.
    My husband points out constantly that more problems arise with blogs and texts. Most of the problems occurring because of the simple loss of many ways we communicate through actions and tone of voice that accompany our words when we speak person to person. When left to our own devices, many times people mistake reading things from something that was never meant to be read or someone reads something, translating it into something else entirely.

  3. Was going to make the obligatory popcorn joke, but somehow I don’t think this is going to turn into that.
    I can only get so worked up over star wars anymore. I will agree with John Seavey on one point; New Hope was my favorite as well.

  4. Ben:

    The fact that you call it “New Hope” instead of Star Wars suggests you must be purified in a fire.

    But aside from that, yeah. Lots of people prefer the first. And who can blame them? When I was eight and that Imperial Cruiser just kept coming, I thought I would wet myself with joy.

  5. Hmmmm… you’ve definitely given me a lot to think about. I thought that the Star Wars movies got more self indulgent with each one after “The Empire Strikes Back” mainly because George Lucas had no more limitations imposed upon him. From what I’ve seen, limitations and overcoming them force creativity in a way that little else does.

    My main gripe with the whole Star Wars double-trilogy is it that many think of it as “science fiction” but it deals with “destiny” which is more the realm of fantasy. That’s why the early incarnations of Star Trek were science fiction to me even if they weren’t as grounded in science as one might want. The characters were in Starfleet and at their respective positions because of hard work and talent. Unfortunately, the 2009 Star Trek movie ended up going the “destiny” route…

    In the end, though, I still think it’s the limitations that the creators have to overcome that force them to be entertaining, as you (John Scalzi) indirectly pointed out in your original post when discussing “Battle Beyond the Stars” (which I did and still do find entertaining, by the way, despite the distraction of a spaceship that looks like it has breasts).

  6. “To sum up, it does appear you’re making an argument countering an argument I did not actually make.”

    Sir, apparently you have not previously read the Internets.

  7. I dont know if lucas was *trying* to be entertaining or not. Having watched “The Searchers” and noting the similar character arcs and similar plot arcs and smilar settings, i dont know if he was trying to entertain or if he was writing fan fiction (as a ‘fan’ who thought the original got it wrong and he would correct it sort of way)

    ep

  8. John @6
    I know, right? And the Death Star trench run? Friggin sweet!
    And I was born in 1982, so that would be just after the re-release with the Episode number and the subtitle. Victim of circumstances, I am.

  9. I saw the first Star Wars movie (that I still call “Star Wars”) when it was first released. I even remember reading the Time Magazine article about it (the movie made the cover) along with grabbing a Starlog Magazine that had an X-wing on the cover.

    I was then and still remain a hard-core Trekkie though, because my big impression from the silver screen of that era was the first Star Trek movie, at the opening, when the Klingon warships approach the camera, and the camera rolls as the ship passes beneath it. The music, the rumbling of the ship, the detailed model like nothing seen before in Star Trek, it took my breath away. That wowed me more than anything since.

  10. I really can’t see any point to getting involved in the “is Star Wars any good” argument that’s been going on for what, since the 1970s? I will say that, in my opinion, Lucas has a pretty decent visual sense. In terms of writing dialogue and directing living, breathing human beings, well, he sort of sucks. On the other hand–there’s always an other hand–in Peter Lefcourt’s hilarious novel about the film industry, “The Deal”, Charlie Bern rather cynically points out that in his opinion, the only good script is one that gets made into a film, and although I would certainly ultimately argue that point, I think it’s safe to say that in the film industry, Lucas gets things done.

  11. Ep 4,5,6 are basically the searchers in space. except he manages to have them in the exact same setting on Lukes home world. the scene where John Wayne and the boy ride up on the burning wreckage of the log cabin is beat for beat identical to the scene with Luke pulling up to his aunt and uncles burning home. right down to both of them looking at the smoldering bodies of their foater parents.

    John Wayne walks into a cantina. The Greedo character does not shoot first. Wayne actually shoots one of them in the back. familiar?

    Was lucas trying to entertain? dunno. he started with a story that was clearly entertaining (the searchers is on the top 100 movies of all times list on many sites). and then he turned the indians into storm troopers and the cowboys into rebels.

    he may have been trying to entertain or not.

    what is clear is that once the plot arc of The Searchers was used up (ep 4,5,6), Lucas waz forced to write from scratch with nothing to borrow from. and ep 1,2,3 made clear that Lucas cannot write without someone to crib from.

    the prequels also demonstrate that lucas doesnt understand writing. you cannot show everything. it is important that the world have things in it that are not on screen. how anakin became vaderthe thing is that by doingwas the ‘myth’ for episodes 4,5,6. it was a reference to something that happened offscreen. to something before. it made the world of star wars extend beyond what we saw on screen.

    but lucas seemed intent on putting it on screen. and by doing so, he removed the myth and made it specific.

    the thing is that by removing the myth, he removed the one place where viewers could add their own contribution to the story. watching episode 4,5,6 we could each create our own backstory for how anakin became vader. we coukd be part of the world in a way. part of the creative process.

    when lucas viewerspecifity to the myth, the alternate stories created by viewers

  12. My first thought was to skip this, as I rarely find blogger-to-blogger discussions all that interesting. But I had never seen “The Lie of Star Wars as Entertainment,” which is a work of brilliance. Those of you who didn’t click through should take the time. It finally pins down for display something I had strongly felt the presence of, but only hazily glimpsed.

  13. George Lucas couldn’t write a convincing grocery list. That said, the Star Wars movies — all six, but especially the original — are iconic and Lucas may have made the greatest single contribution to science fiction becoming a major force in popular culture. I can’t imagine a movie like Inception having anywhere near the exposure and popularity it had in the absence of Star Wars.

  14. I think the most telling thing in the George Lucas history is the “The Beginning” documentary on the Phantom Menace DVD. At one point, he’s talking to Spielberg and he’s talking about Jar Jar and how “once people see this in this picture, they’re going to want it in their picture”. It’s pretty clear that the Phantom Menace was an ILM demo reel.

    There’s another great part where they watch the rough cut of Phantom Menace and you can tell that everyone in the room is like “oh shit what have we done”. Rick Macullum looks suicidal.

  15. @Greg: Excellent point. Sci-fi writers love to show off their worlds, often to the point of totally killing the joy. I as a reader might say I want to know more, and I surely do. But that doesn’t mean that I’ll be happier when told. E.g., as a youth I loved Brin’s early Uplift works, but was sad that he kept going until I could see the seams. It’s hard to have a sense of wonder after somebody tells you all their answers, even the hand-wavey ones that tell you more about them than the story itself.

  16. when lucas spelled out all the details of how anakin became vader, he removed the one part that had allowed for audience participation.

    i think it is pretty clear that many fans had better backstories for vader than what lucas came up with.

    i think that by making the prequels, lucas took away from the fans any chance to be part of the story writing process. and lucas didnt expand the world to add more myths. the only myth was how did anakin fall? and lucas wrote a very bad answer to that question and didnt add any new myths that fans could play with.

    The Searchers starts out by establishing that John Waynes chacter has a long and colorful history before the movie starts. and much of that history is left a mystery.

    lucas kills any mystery.

    i dont know if he was solely trying to focus on the mytbology without regard to entertaining the audience. it could be that he felt compelled to retell the story of the searchers and then committed the most common writers mistake of all: he started the story too early.

  17. Greg, you’re posting from your phone again, aren’t you. It’s the lack of capitalisation that gives you away.

  18. Lucas waz forced to write from scratch with nothing to borrow from. and ep 1,2,3 made clear that Lucas cannot write without someone to crib from.

    There aren’t any other works that have the tragic fall of a hero as their central story arc? Strikes me that Lucas would have an embarrassment of riches from which to crib.

  19. Greg, he cribbed from Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress and Lord knows what else. Why he couldn’t keep cribbing along, I could not tell you.

  20. John, as a result of this I just read the original post from 2006 for the first time. I have some questions. I note that comments are still open there.Would you prefer that I contribute to that (albeit quite dusty) discussion, or this?

  21. What really struck me about your earlier post about George Lucas is how similar you made him sound to JRR Tolkien. Tolkien was explicitly more interested in developing his overall mythology than he was in telling entertaining stories. Most of the complaints about the Lord of the Rings (such as Tom Bombadil, the extraordinarily slow beginning, and the pages of elvish poetry) are absolutely spot on, but miss the point because they misunderstand his goal.

    And both of them completely remade their genres. I guess when this mythology stuff works, it works really well.

  22. You’re both wrong, I think.

    Star Wars, at least the first three, are entertainment. Even if you’re going with the argument that something is only entertainment if the creator meant it to be entertaining, which I’m not sure I agree with, the first three are clearly designed to entertain. It’s not an accident or by product of myth building, it’s what the movies were primarily designed to do.

    I suspect that the prequels are probably meant to entertain as well, although I’d venture it’s somewhat of a secondary consideration. Lucas actually is a pretty good storyteller, at a macro level. If you do a synopsis of what the prequels are actually about there is a pretty good story about the rise of banal evil and the fall of hero. It just tends to fall to crap when the details are added. You can see this in the orginal movies as well, because a lot of the good world building is done in throw away lines that, once we find out more, aren’t nearly as interesting as the mystery.

    I don’t think that having a goal other than (or rather, in addition to) entertainment automatically pushes something out of the entertainment category. Ayn Rand clearly and admittedly had an agenda that was entertainment when she wrote Atlas Shrugged or any of her other fiction, but that fiction was still meant to entertain. That she could push her philosophy through entertainment was the point, obviously.

    On the other hand, the Star Wars franchise is a masterbutory exercise for Lucas. I just don’t think that precludes the final product being entertainment.

  23. John, I would assume that wordpress would report all sorts of info about where each post came from, including operating system and such. But yes I am posting from my phone. It upgraded something on me last week and ever since text entry has been twice as hard. The display keeps jumping around. The text I am entering slides out of sight and I have to manually slide back to see it. And there are no arrow keys, si I have to push on the screen to move the cursor, but the ‘publish’ button is just below the text window and right above the vitrual keyboard. So I keep hitting publish by mistake.

    If the lack of capital letters really bothers you I shall try to do better.

  24. Well, that thread’s been dead almost 4 years, but my question is germaine to the original essay, not to Mr. Seavey’s response, so I’ll post it there.

  25. Justin Jordan:

    “the first three are clearly designed to entertain.”

    No. They are designed to build out Lucas’ mythology; they may or may not also be entertaining depending on other factors, including studio involvement/requirements (on the first film) and the involvement of others who have more functional ideas of what entertainment is than Lucas does.

    “Lucas actually is a pretty good storyteller, at a macro level.”

    Meh. This doesn’t actually mean anything, though. Lots of things seem fine as a synopsis, but when you’re watching two hours people intoning woodenly while a plot thuds along, and you end up relying on the special effect to get you through, whether something works as a synopsis doesn’t matter. To that end, it doesn’t make Lucas any better a story teller than the guys who come up to me and tell me they have a great story idea about aliens, and how the humans go to war against them, and all I have to do is flesh out the details.

    “I don’t think that having a goal other than (or rather, in addition to) entertainment automatically pushes something out of the entertainment category.”

    I’m not aware of making such a general argument. I am making the argument relating to the Star Wars films specifically.

  26. Some people seem determined to see what they want to see rather than what’s really there. I have a kid like that and it’s totally annoying as hell, even more so now that she’s an adult and still persists in it.

    As for the Star Wars films, I’ve always maintained the problem was that by doing the last three first, Lucas pretty much painted himself into a corner for the first three films. Certain elements had to show up even if ultimately they made no sense in the story line.

    I’m learning to work through one novel before doing more than some basic outlining on the next novel in a series for the same reason. As things change in the first, the second has to take those changes into account. Can’t do that very well in reverse.

  27. David. No, I cant think of many stories where the plot was to watch the downfall of the main character. The movie Troy showed us the downfall of Achilles but that was a side story to that of the ten year war, the face that launched a thousand ships, the Trojan horse, and so on.

    The problem is you can’t have a story with absolute evil like Vader and faceless evil like his stormtroopers, and then back it up and try to make people sympathetic to absolute evil and put a face to what was faceless evil. That is exactly what ep 1,2,3 tried to do.

    Star Wars has a child’s view of morality. Good. Evil.

    To pull off a sympathetic view showing how a good man becomes evil, you’d need a much more mature handle on morality.

    Lucas doesnt have it.

    Watching Episode one, Lucas was born into slavery, his mother died before he could save her, and the entire basis to his beef with ObiWan was “you just dont understand”, are all the sorts of things I expect to see in a Disney cartoon. Anakins capacity to relate to Padme was the capacity of a boy who would dip a girls pigtails into the inkwell.

    I dont think Lucas has the emotional capacity or the personal development to write a sympathetic downfall of a good character becomi.g evil. His idea of romance appears to be stuck in 8th grade.

  28. I wasn’t crazy about Seavey’s rebuttal. (Anyone who thinks EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is a bad movie has tastes so different from mine that a useful conversation on the subject is unlikely.) But I think your 2006 column is a little problematic. One of the purposes of myth has always been entertainment (μῦθος means “story” among other things), so any argument that depends on an either/or distinction has problems. The second is that it’s really an argument about Lucas’ motives, and nothing as complicated as a movie (or a sandwich, or a pun) is made from one motive alone. Anyway, I’m pretty sure some of the worst things in RETURN OF THE EWOKS were put their for their perceived entertainment value.

  29. James Enge:

    “I’m pretty sure some of the worst things in RETURN OF THE EWOKS were put their for their perceived entertainment value.”

    I’m pretty sure they were put in there for the value as toys, not as entertainment.

  30. i thought Lucas wanted wookies, but couldn’t find a whole bunch of 8 foot tall actors. So we got Ewoks instead.

  31. I love “behind the scenes” documentaries on DVD. The “Lord of the Rings” extended versions are veritable film schools, covering everything from screen-writing to model-building to acting. Peter Jackson can’t stop talking about the story, he loves the tech, but he can’t wait to tell show us a battle, or capture a moment between two characters, or let his actors show off.

    By contrast when you watch the Star Wars extras the focus is entirely on the technical achievements. There were a number of them on the prequels DVDs wherein George Lucas would walk into a room, inspect models, drawings, computer screens, give feedback, and walk out. It had the feeling of an architects office or a design firm. In the interviews about the story, the focus was always on how they pulled off various feats, not on the characters or (*shudder*) dialogue.

    I think Lucas is a brilliant technical filmmaker, and in terms of marketing and monetizing intellectual property, the guy has no equal. But the Star Wars films are delivery vehicles for technical achievement, not necessarily entertainment.

    I think Francis Ford Coppola, who was close with Lucas back in the day, said that Star Wars robbed us of all the original films Lucas could have made. Looking at THX1138 and American Graffiti…yeah.

  32. @Mg Farrelly,

    I totally agree. Complete freedom to do as he pleased ruined Lucas as a movie maker in my opinion.

    As was said above, if he had had to work within limits, he would have worked harder.

  33. @Greg #31 – Wow, really, you can’t think of many stories where the plot was to watch the downfall of the main character? Does the term “Greek tragedy” ring any bells? How about “Hamlet” or “Macbeth”? Hell, how about “Scarface”? Tragic downfalls are some of the oldest stories people have ever told each other – have you heard the one about the two naked people in the garden and the snake? Also, you are misunderstanding the story of Achilles (hint: consider the phrase “Achilles’ heel”). May I suggest leaving behind that hunkocrap “Troy” – I mean, how it is even POSSIBLE to have ruined one of the oldest and best stories of Western Civ using half-naked Orlandos and Brads? The mind, it boggles -
    and reading Fagles’ translation of “The Iliad” as a terrific starting point.

    I’m with David #21 and John Scalzi on this one (I think). Anakin’s Downfall *could* have been a compelling enough story to fill 3 movies, and would have been with better attention to script, and a better actor. The things that didn’t work had much more to do with Lucas’ weaknesses as a director/entertainer than they did with the SW mythology per se.

  34. Not sure the “intent” argument holds up. A-list mass market films exist for the sole purpose of being entertaining (defined as putting butts in seats). If a film is entertaining the studio and crew succeeded; if not they failed. Intention of the auteur doesn’t really enter into it.

    As for Star Wars itself, it did not succeed because it was simply better than the films that preceded it. Close Encounters of the Third Kind came out the same year and had a hopeful message, mind-bending special effects and vastly better writing and acting. Audiences were entertained; no one wanted a sequel.

    Star Wars succeeds on something that is unique to Science Fiction and Fantasy: world-building. Previous films were hobbled by lack of budget or film-making technology, so they resort to tricks like pointing out a window at a matte painting and saying “a teeming city of beings from thousands of star systems.” Lucas actually showed us that instead of telling. The cantina scene is iconic, and even that took budget-minded shortcuts.

    The second reason Star Wars captured the imagination was it wasn’t about us. Previous SF films were of the “humans go into space and find trouble” variety. Of course in the future and in space we still take our racial issues along or we have to compete with the Russians or there’s an evil capitalist or some other very Earthly problem. That gets very tedious. Star Wars let us forget all that. This was long ago and far away, and even if most of the leads were white males, that wasn’t something we needed to worry about right now.

  35. There is one thing here I’d like to point out, being perhaps the token oldster among all you young ‘uns.

    I was (if foggy memory serves) twenty-two when Episode IV came out, and I sat and watched it thirteen times in the first two weeks of its run. I don’t think you can truly appreciate the contrast to the TV and movies of the day, even from intensive study, as well as those of us who lived through that revolution. Yes, Planet of the Apes, Logan’s Run, etc, all foreshadowed the change, but Episode IV was fundamentally unlike anything that had gone before, and I truly believe that if you did not have the childhood steepage the older ones of us (ahem) enjoyed, then you’re never going to see it the way we did.

    Entertaining? Yes, you bet. But it was clear that the entertainment was coming from the trimmings, and not from any putative story or characterizations. The relatively long wait for V and VI allowed a lot of CG explosions to sear themselves into our critical centers, enabling us to see through the smoke and ashes to the skimpy and derivative underpinnings. The near-infinite lapse (in CG terms) between the original trilogy and the second was even more fatal, and to tell the truth, were it not for my children, I wouldn’t have bothered with anything after Episode V.

  36. jack*:

    “Audiences were entertained; no one wanted a sequel.”

    Considering that this was Columbia’s highest-grossing film until Ghostbusters showed up, I very sincerely doubt that no one wanted a sequel. One of those who wanted a sequel at the time was Spielberg (and possibly he should have done that rather than 1941). If Spielberg had in fact pitched a sequel to Columbia, it almost certainly would have been greenlit. What he ended up pitching them, however, was ET, which they thought was too wimpy. I suspect someone might have been fired for that.

    Also, Close Encounters came out after Star Wars.

  37. John I recently finished the 30th anniversary making of “Empire Strikes Back” book written by Rinzler. The book reproduces draft scripts from Leigh Brackett as well as the meeting notes that Lucas gave Brackett. This new book states that Brackett’s script is at best tangentially related to what ended up on the screen. The book also states that Lucas pushed for Brackett to get the screenwriting credit given that she died of cancer a few days after the submission of the first draft.

    According to Wikipedia, the draft itself can be reviewed at two locations (Lucasfilm Archives, Eastern New Mexico University). Given that the script is (indirectly) publically accessible and that this new “definitive” account of the making of Empire could be easily challenged on these points, it might perhaps be time to reexamine the legends behind Lucas’s non-authorship of Empire. Several sources (this official book, the book Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays by Bourzereau) have said that the Empire Script, as written, was primarily the work of Lucas. (Check Leigh Brackett’s bio on Wikipedia – the Rinzler book on Empire (and his previous one on Star Wars) are excellent accounts of how both films were put together.

    In essence multiple sources have stated that Lucas wrote almost all of Empire, considered by many to be the best Star Wars film.

  38. OK, so I’ve read both essays now, and I must say, I think you’re being unfair to Mr. Seavey.

    First, telling him that he’s wrong about your assessment of Lucas’ filmmaking ability by quoting a follow-up blog post. The original post was pretty scathing, and it’s easy to see how someone would get the impression that you ultimately think Lucas is a terrible filmmaker, as well as a conman, a fascist, and a kicker of puppies. I imagine that’s why you wrote the follow up post in the first place. But Seavey isn’t working from the blog, he’s working from the book. Does the book also have both posts?* If not, Seavey is responding to what you wrote. If you later clarified, in different medium from what Seavey had in front of him, that isn’t his fault for not including it in his response.

    Second, I agree that Seavey is conflating the ideas of “entertainment”, “entertaining”, and “good”. But I don’t think the original essay is very clear on the distinction, other than to say “entertain =/= entertaining, entertaining =/= good, Star Wars ≈ entertaining, Star Wars =/= entertainment”. As I mentioned elsewhere, despite several readings, I’m not sure what you mean by “entertainment”. So, while you’re right that he’s arguing a point you didn’t intend to make, I also don’t think the confusion is entirely Seavey’s fault.

    And third, Seavey’s comment on Kershner isn’t misinformed, unless you think that Kershner didn’t direct Robocop 2 and Never Say Never Again. I think Seavey’s point is not that Kershner is a hack, but rather that he wasn’t some infallible genius. Kasden as well would go on to be responsible for some pretty horrendous crap (I mean, c’mon, Wyatt Earp?). This goes to his rebuttal to the argument that Star Wars was successful in spite of Lucas, not because of him.

    *I, erm, don’t have my copy in front of me. What? Stop looking at me like that. It probably fell behind my copy of Android’s Dream. Or maybe it’s in my Nook with Zoe

  39. Blarkon:

    “it might perhaps be time to reexamine the legends behind Lucas’s non-authorship of Empire.”

    I’m not aware of suggesting Lucas did not write the story. I likewise don’t doubt he was involved in the screenplay. I suspect you’re undervaluing Brackett’s contribution, both in terms of the development of the screenplay, and the influence it had on the final version. Likewise, I note you sort of skip over the involvement of Lawrence Kasdan, to whom Lucas handed his iteration of the script. His contribution is not really skippable, particularly because of his adeptness with characters (ensembles are at the heart of two of his three Best Screenplay Oscar nominations).

    Lucas wrote the story; his screenwriters made it more interesting.

    Doc Rocketscience:

    “But Seavey isn’t working from the blog, he’s working from the book. Does the book also have both posts?”

    He links to the blog and appears familiar with it; likewise he notes he read my book on science fiction film, in which I also discuss the significance of Lucas as a filmmaker. However, even if he were not aware of my thoughts about Lucas, it doesn’t change the fact his assessment of the “basic assertion” of the essay was incorrect. This part is also independent of any confusion between the relationship between the movies being “good” and the movies being “entertainment”; no matter how you slice it he’s working from initial bad premises. His assertion is therefore, in point of fact, flatly incorrect.

    “And third, Seavey’s comment on Kershner isn’t misinformed, unless you think that Kershner didn’t direct Robocop 2 and Never Say Never Again.”

    I didn’t say “misinformed.” I said “uninformed,” which is a different thing. When he noted that “you don’t exactly hear people lauding Kershner’s other films,” and mentions Robocop 2 and Never Say Never Again, it suggests to be he’s very probably unaware that Kershner’s earlier filmography has its share of praise — and for that matter, at least one of the movies he mentions received decent critical praise at the time. Which again suggests he didn’t know. The alternative is that he’s just snarking to snark, but let’s assume otherwise.

    So, no, I’m not being unfair to Mr. Seavey. He’s incorrect on a number of counts. Although, as I note, I find some of what he concludes in his own essay perfectly unobjectionable, as it regards Lucas’ relationship to the finished film.

  40. IrishUp, episodes 1,2,3 were about how Anakin fell. Specifically, how he became the *evil incarnate* we see in ep 4. It has been a while sincee I read or saw Hamlet, but I do not recall the danish prince becoming Evil incarnate. Achilles was a warrior who seemed interested in war and not so much which side was right, but even then he did experience a *downfall* into evil, he was invulnerable but for a tiny exhaust port on his foot and some lucky rebel hit that weekness with a proton torpedo.

    Anakin lost his *soul*. Hamlet and Achilles suffered unlucky and unfortunate deaths.

    the only story I can think of that remotely approaches acknowledging that the main character has lost his soul to evil is the novel version of “Rambo” where the story ends with the colonel shooting and killing Rambo because he realizes that Rambo has become lost.

    That didnt make it into the movie for a number of reasons. it would killl any chance for a sequel and it would be fucking dark as hell and not something often seen in the box office.

  41. Sorry, my intent wasn’t to devalue Kasdan – the Rinzler book provides excellent examples of where items like the dialog were tightened up by Kasdan to their substantial betterment. The examples in the book show Kasdan’s ability to turn turgid dialog into the quotes many of us can recite from memory.

    My main point was that what amounts to the Lucasfilm “Official History” of the development of Empire (in the form of Rinzler’s 30th anniversary making of book) substantially deprecates Brackett’s contribution. This is certainly a *bold* position to take given that the Brackett script is available to the public. I haven’t read the Brackett script (only the excerpts and synopsis in the Rinzler book) – but *assume* that such a claim wouldn’t have been made if it could so easily have been discounted by reviewing the appropriate source documents.

  42. Greg@46:

    Um, you skipped right past the citation of Macbeth, which pretty squarely fits the category of “protagonist loses his soul to evil”. See also Kurosawa’s film Throne of Blood, adapted from Shakespeare’s “Scottish play”; Elsewhere in Shakespeare, one might make a case for Othello, and there’s Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus for perhaps the purest example of the archetype.

    Indeed, my initial take when I first learned about the plans for the prequel-trilogy was that Lucas was setting himself up to do something like a classic Shakespearean tragedy in space-operatic clothing. I kept hoping for that scenario right up till Episode II came out….

  43. Monsieur Scalzi wrote: “I don’t want to keep trying to work with it, only to end up looking like a deranged, incompetent spammer when/if multiple instances of the same comment show up in the comment queue. ”

    Very wise. I HAVE done that on a number of occasions…. and, yep, it always makes me look deranged and incompetent. I must remember to NOT do it again.

  44. “If Spielberg had in fact pitched a sequel to Columbia, it almost certainly would have been greenlit. What he ended up pitching them, however, was ET, which they thought was too wimpy. I suspect someone might have been fired for that.”

    You are undoubtedly right. Note to self: never make unjustified generalizations, especially to professionals in the field. I should probably put that one on a flash card, actually.

    Allow me to clarify. In 1976 I was a 13-year old Sci-Fi geek. At that time none of the recent offerings could compare to older films. Silent Running was no 2001. Both SW and CE3K were in production and were generating a lot of excitement. I was, frankly a lot more personally interested in UFOs at the time, so I was more looking forward to the latter. All I had seen of Star Wars were some stills of robots in the desert and some sets and costumes that wouldn’t have been out of place in 1960′s Italian Sci-Fi (I’d have to dig up some old Starlog’s to know for sure).

    So although CE3K technically came out later, in my mind these are parallel productions — like a case-study on separated twins. One came and went; the other arguably changed the world. It certainly changed the course of my life and career, as it did many geeky 13-year olds who I have had the good fortune to meet as adults now working in the special effects industry.

    I also realize — to flesh out my previous argument — that the SW series started to decline at the exact moment the world-building faltered. In the first movie we got a thousand-world multi-species, multi-cultural empire; we got a galactic senate, interstellar rebellion, a bewildering variety of sentient machines apparently content with their slavery, hover-cars, hyper-drive, massive battlestations, a nearly extinct order of knights with mind powers and laser-fricking-swords. Desert planet, blown-up planet, jungle moon, yeti co-pilot.

    In the second movie the streak continues: ice planet, swamp planet, sage gnome, asteroid field, asteroid monster, bounty hunters, cloud city, carbonite, laser-sword duel. Again, standard tropes but woven into the imagery in such an offhand way as to suggest yet more amazing wonders just as commonplace.

    So in the third movie what new wonders do we discover? Back to the same desert planet for another cantina-like scene of multi-species cavorting. Another moon-sized battlestation, another jungle moon, another laser-sword battle, more mini-yetis. OK, we’re done here.

  45. About a month ago, someone I’ve never heard of (but who seems to have a reasonably well-trafficked blog) quoted me accurately on some argument I had made elsewhere… but then wrote, “What she’s REALLY saying, of course is…” And then put words in my mouth. Words which assigned to me opinions I do not hold, and which I do not agree are in ANY WAY IMPLIED by the words I -actually- wrote–the words I -actually- wrote being, in and of themselves, -exactly- what I was indeed “really” saying.

    Then the blogger’s essay and several comments proceeded to argue again the blogger’s misinterpreted “what she’s REALLY saying” of my comments, rather than against what I had =actually= said.

    I considered posting a reply… but I was already way too confused (I am very EASILY confused) by seeing people arguing against “me” about an opinion I did not hold and had not stated or implied. So I decided to pretend it didn’t exist and that I hadn’t seen it.

    And now you’ve REMINDED me.

  46. David. No, I cant think of many stories where the plot was to watch the downfall of the main character. The movie Troy showed us the downfall of Achilles but that was a side story to that of the ten year war, the face that launched a thousand ships, the Trojan horse, and so on.

    IrishUp has already tried to educate you, but, really? That you are unaware of an overwhelming stream of historical literature–western, eastern, northern, southern–is not an argument, it’s an indictment of whoever provided your degree.

  47. “Um, you skipped right past the citation of Macbeth,”

    Ok. I didn’t say they didn’t exist.

    David@21 said “Strikes me that Lucas would have an embarrassment of riches from which to crib.”

    And I said I couldn’t think of many. I can think of a few. But not such quantity as to call it “riches”.

    Macbeth lost his soul because of greed. OK. that’s 1.

    Doctor Faustus, sold his soul out of… boredom? and then didn’t get much for it and didn’t do much with it. 2.

    Othello murders his wife in a jealous rage, but was tricked into feeling that jealously by the real bad guy, and in a fit of guilt Othello kills himself. Not so much of a lost his soul story as, say, coldly murdering an entire planet before breakfast. Even at the end of episode 6, Anakin/Vader doesn’t feel guilt for all those he’s murdered, even though it is implied that Luke somehow “saved” his father.

    Hamlet? He was surrounded by evil people, and was trying to avenge the murder of his father. But I think he still had his soul by the end. Maybe not.

    So, 2 is less than “riches” but might fit into me sayign I couldn’t think of “many”.

    Lucas seemed to have invoked something along the lines of the “deal with the devil” plot for Anakin, with the Emporer playing the devil, like happened in Faustus. And the emporer decieved Anakin about Padme and the others as happened in Othello.

    But if the story Lucas was trying to tell was really the story of Anakin, the plot line looks like this:

    Anakin is born into slavery. The Jedi rescue him because they think they can use him but in a fit of shortsighted idiocy, they allow his mother to languish in slavery. Anakin falls in love with a rather myopic woman, which would probably be a job requirement for being Anakin’s lover (not being able to notice that you’re having sex with a serial killer who might kill you if you look at him wrong) Like a standard Disney trope, Anakin’s mother is killed. Anakin wipes out a whole bunch of people in a rage. The Devil shows up and makes vague references to immortality being available to those who sell their soul to him. Anakin’s Jedi training appears to be little more than Anakin yelling at the other Jedi “You just don’t understand!”. And the Jedi really have no clue who they’re dealing with or what they’re getting into. The Devil tells Anikan the Jedi are trying to murder him. Anakin in a fit of exceedingly bad judgement, believes the devil, and attacks the Jedi. Anakin goes on a murder spree including killing all the “younglings”, the young Jedi in training, innocent souls murdered. The devil and his army kill most of the remaining adult Jedi.

    Anakin’s girlfriend appears to be confused about the moral implications of what Anakin has done and still tries to save Anakin. Anakin immediately tries to kill his girlfriend. One of the last Jedi alive steps in and tries to save the girl and… do something… what exactly I’m not sure… to Anakin. In a fight involving two Jedi masters who can move planets with their mind, the “high ground” suddenly becomes tactically important, and Anakin gets his legs cut off and is left for dead. Apparently, Jedi cannot arrest wrongdoers nor kill a killer, but are forced to allow them to fry slowly amongst the lava and… leave him for dead???

    The devil shows up and saves Anakin. Anakin has lost both legs, an arm, and an eye. But luckily, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. The devil lies to Anakin and tells him that Anakin murdered Padme. Anakin/Vader screams and crushes all the medical equipment around him in a fit of rage. Padme is alive long enough to deliver her two babies, and then dies…. of a broken heart? I guess they don’t have the technology to fix that.

    Vader then rules the galaxy alongside the emporer for the next two decades. The exact number of people he murdered is not clear, but hundreds of thousands propbably wouldn’t be a gross overestimation.

    Vader’s offspring finally grow up and start rebelling against their father. Vader tries to kill both of them. Vader tortures his own daughter. Vader tells the Devil that his son will join them or die (and vader will make him do the dying). His son keeps telling the last Jedi taht there is good buried somewhere in his father, that he can feel it. To the dismay of the Jedi who saw what Vader can do, the son tries to “save” his father, whatever that means.

    Vader kills a bunch of red shirts working with his offspring. Freezes his son’s friend as a test to see if he can freeze his own son and bring him before the devil for conversion.

    The son confronts Vader, Vader takes him to the devil. The devil makes the son feel hopeless, that his friends are all goign to die. The son tries to strike down the devil. Vader saves the Devil from the son. Vader fights his son. The son maintains a defensive stance. Until Vader says he’ll go after the daughter if the son won’t convert. At which point the son goes all berserker rage and cuts off vader’s hand.

    The Devil is happy by all this and tells the Son to kill his father and take his place beside the Devil. The son refuses. The Devil attacks the Son by rubbing his hands on wool and then zapping the son with electrostatic discharge. Vader, knowing that the Devil was ready to chuck Vader to the wolves and replace him with his son, feels no reason to be loyal to the devil anymore and chucks the Devil down an exhaust port. But the Devil was full of static electricity and Vader picked him up without groundign him first and the Devil zapped all of Vader’s electronic equipment, because even with all their technology, they haven’t figured out a way to make electronics safe from static discharge.

    Vader appears to be dying from a broken heart and nothing can save him. No medical droid would be able to stop his death. His son takes off his helmet, Vader says “you saved me”. and then dies without exlpaining the morality or connotation he means by “saved”.

    The son burns his father’s body, and sees the spirit of his fatehr alongside other “good” Jedi. And the son and daughter live happily every after.

    That’s the long version. and it doesn’t make a very good story. If you break it down into a thee-act play, it becomes utter nonsense.

    Star Wars told as a three-act play with Anakin as the protagonist:

    Act 1: anakin wants…. What? Freedom from slavery? To save his mother? To never have to die? To rule the galaxy? Every story starts with a person, place and problem. Anakin doesn’t have a problem in Episode 1 that is solved in Episode 6. Anakin has problems in 1 that are solved in 1. And his mother dies by… 2? 3? Then his “problem” becomes “no one understands me”??? Or “I don’t want to die”???

    Act 2: Anakin should be trying to get the thing he wants in Act 1, but fail. Well, this doesn’t fit because there is no one thing that Anakin wants throughout the 6 episodes.

    Act 3: Anakin should try to get the thing he wanted in Act 1, but adjust for the failure in Act 2, and this time succeed. Except Anakin never wants anything in particular. His goals are changing throughout the episodes. He gets his freedom by the first episode. But fails to free his mother. You’d think the Jedi would have a coffee fund that could chip in and buy a slave their freedom on extraordinary conditions as this. Seriously? The Jedi have no budget? WTF?!?

    The deal with the Devil is contrived based on Anakin wanting to avoid death, sort of. He’s angry that his mother died. BUt the devil doesn’t promis he can bring his mother back, only that he could avoid death if he sells his soul. So Anakin sells his soul.

    For the next 20 years, Anakin murders thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, for the Devil. And durign that time, his fear of death never changes? He never questions the morality of murdering others so he can learn the secrets needed to avoid death? Even vampires eventually have that conversation while feasting on raw human.

    Act 1 should establish what the protagonist wants. This is never established for Anakin.

    Act 2 should have the protagonist attempt to get what he wants and fail.

    Act 3 should end with the protagonist attampting and succeeding (or failing).

    Apparently the final scene of episode 6 indicates that Anakin had been trying to save his soul all this time but just couldn’t see through the moral haze clearly enough to understand that blowing up a planet wasn’t the way to achieve his goal.

    If Lucas really seriously thinks that the real story of Star Wars is the fall and redemption of Anakin, then he doesn’t know shit about stories.

  48. Hint: People have different opinions. And that’s ok. Arguing about opinions on the Internet is a complete waste of time. Say it once and let the world go fark itself.

  49. I don’t agree with that. Further discussion can be a way to elucidate and illuminate, so long as everyone discusses in good faith and people treat each other with respect.

    And if they don’t, I have a Mallet.

  50. “IrishUp has already tried to educate you, but, really? That you are unaware of an overwhelming stream of historical literature–western, eastern, northern, southern–is not an argument, it’s an indictment of whoever provided your degree.”

    Uhm, yeah. I really am unaware of many stories that have someone go down into the depths of immorality to the point of murdering hundreds of thousands of people, and then have that person be “redeemed” somehow by the end of the story.

    Vader wasn’t the main character of StarWars. If you plot his character path out as I tried in #54, you end up with someone who commits mass murder, for some vague reason I’m still not entirely sure about, who commits mass murder for decades, and who is then somehow “redeemed” at the end of the story because he chucked his boss down a chute after the boss tried to have him killed.

    That’s a hard fucking story to sell.

    And yet I think Lucas himself has said that the overarching story of Star Wars is the fall and redemption of Anakin.

    Redemption? Seriously?

    So, no I don’t know of many stories that has the story arc of how a character comes to commit mass murder over a couple decades and then somehow “redeems” himself in the end.

    Lucas apparently thinks that Episodes 1 through 6 achieve that effect. I beg to differ.

    Othello murdered his wife, and soon after kils himself out of guilt. Not quite the same as Vader’s path.

    Faustus, I’m not entirely sure what he did after seling his soul. I’m not entirely sure if he really did anything that would “redeem” it either.

    But, yes, I am unaware of a “riches” of stories that tell the tale of a protagonist who falls so far as to murder thousands (millions?) and then manages to “redeem” himself by the end fo the story.

  51. Oh, wait a second…

    Is it ever established that Vader is the only one who can kill the Emporer? I mean, if Luke can’t kill the emporer because the emporer is too strong or whatever, then Luke’s only option is to convince his dad to do it.

    Or did Luke have the capability of killing the emporer? But for some still unexplicable reason chose not to?

    If Luke could kill the emporer, its sort of a moral failure on his part to refuse to do so when he had the chance, and just dumb luck that his dad decided to do it for him. Really dumb luck.

    If Luke could NOT kill the emporer, then the only alternative would be to get his dad to do it. At which point, his goal would be to “save” his dad, so his dad would kill the emporer.

    If that’s the case, then the six episodes sort of do fit a weird three act play with Vader as protagonist because act 3 is “vader somewhat redeems himself by killing the emporer when no one else can”.

    I’m not sure what Act 1 would be, though. Vader wants to do the “right” thing? Act 2 is vader wants to do teh “right” thing but fails when he is taken in by the Emporer. Act 3 is vader does the “right” thing by killing the emporer.

    He doesn’t neccessarily redeem all the bad things he’s done, but in taht moment, he did the right thing.

    If luke had the capability to kill the emporer, though, then Luke’s actions become extremely questionable.

    Course, Lucas got sqeemish about “good” guys doing “bad” things, so he changed the scene so Greedo shoots first and Han shoots in pure self defense. So, it’s a bit hard to tell if Luke had that power to kill the emporer but Lucas couldn’t have him pull the trigger, so he had Vader do it instead. Or if Luke simply didn’t have enough power, and his mission was to turn his father to their side so dad will kill the emporer for him.

    Man, from that perspective, Lucas’s moral compass is spinning like a top.

  52. did you really say “youre not a true fan of sci fi if you dont like Buckaroo Bonzai”?

    I dunno man. I love the movie, but I’ve seen it a dozen times or so. I watched it a few months ago with someone who had never seen it before. and he kept asking questions during the movie. who is that guy? how did they get there? who is that? what just happened.

    and it occurred to me that Buckaroo Bonzai has a whole lot of weird ass shit happen that doesnt get fully explained until about three quarters of the way in. which i am not entirely sure qualifies as good writing with some kind of edge or just bad story telling.

    i love the characters. the world. the plot. its just that the narrative witholds so much from the audience that it doesnt make sense on the first viewing. when i watch it now, i laugh at all the bits but thats because I know the whole story.

  53. Uhm, yeah. I really am unaware of many stories that have someone go down into the depths of immorality to the point of murdering hundreds of thousands of people, and then have that person be “redeemed” somehow by the end of the story.

    You’re unaware of the many stories in which someone with heroic characteristics fails because of their own tragic flaws? You appear, then, to be unaware of much of western literature.

  54. Speaking of “picky-picky”, I don’t typically comment on spelling mistakes, especially not if they only appear once or twice in a post, but it’s ‘emperor’. Reading that particular post was the literary equivalent of hitting a speedbump every 10 to 20 feet.

  55. “To sum up, it does appear you’re making an argument countering an argument I did not actually make.”
    But John, thats the easiest argument to win!

  56. David, no, I am not aware of many stories where the protagonist falls to the point of committing mass murder *and then* manages to do something that redeems his entire past.

    yes, i am aware of some stories that show the downfall of the protagonist. but they seem to most ofter stay down by the end.

    I am fairly sure that lucas has described all six episodes as showing the downfall and redemption of Anakin.

    show me a story where the protag commits mass murder for a couple of decades and then somehow “redeems” himself, and then you wilm have responded to what i actually said is rare.o

    show me a atory abiut the downfall of someone who stays down and youre talking about something else.

    Faustus died and lost his soul forever. O
    Macbeth murdered and was lost and stayed lost.

    adam and eve lost paradise and to this day humans are suffering the original sin for their actions.

    i dont know of many stories where the protag falls as far as vader does and then somehow manages to redeem themselves. if you know of some of those, i’d be curious.

    not just falls, but falls that far and then is redeemed.

  57. out of curiosity, i googled “fall and redemption of anakin” and got about 50 hits. the first ten appeared to be talking about anakin’s fall and redemption shown through the six episodes of StarWars. if look at all six episodes as one story and anakin is the prrotagonist, he falls to the point of committing mass murder and then Lucas declares him “redeemed” at the end by showing anakins soul hanging out with yoda and obi wans soul.

    that is anakins arc. from little boy to 20 year mass murderer to redeemed soul.

    googling around seems to support that this is how lucas and many fans view the six episodes.

    and it is that particular arc taken to the depth that anakin fell and somehow managed to save his soul that i havent seen many examples of.

    fall as far as anakin fell and still manage to redeem himself enough to save his soul.

    the only way lucas manages to get away with it is he distracts the audience by splitting the atory up into six smaller stories. the smaller stories are morally straightforward. good versus evil. good wins in the end. the overarching story about how anakin falls and is redeemed probably woukdnt fly with most audiences if told as a single story.

    most people would have a hard time allowing for the redemption of a mass murderer as the main plot for the main character. I cant think of any stories that do that.

    fall, yes. but fall as far as vader and manage to redeem themselves in the end, no.

  58. Greg, I’ve lost track of where you’re trying to go here.

    When I initially waded in, I thought you were focusing on the Anakin trilogy (Episodes I through III), and complaining that you couldn’t find examples of literary/theatrical tragedy as a basis for comparison.

    Now you seem to be focusing on all six films, and complaining that you can’t find comparable examples of I’m-ot-sure-what (since “tragedy” doesn’t fit the model, and “heroic fantasy” isn’t quite right either) as a basis for comparison.

    And whereas you discuss at length what other writers (including Lucas) seem to believe about Anakin’s character or the overall story arc (of either the “Anakin” trilogy or the sextet as a whole, depending on where we are in the thread), I don’t think I’ve seen you clearly articulate what you think about whether the films do or don’t work.

    To be fair, I should note that I haven’t done this either; back when I last jumped in, my comment was focused on pointing out examples of tragedy suitable for comparing to Episodes I through III as you had then described them.

    What do I think about the films? I liked Episodes IV through VI, but I’d agree with what seems to be a fairly wide consensus that Episodes I through III, and most particularly II and III, generally fall apart if you try to look at them as character-driven works. As for looking at the six films as a whole — one of the problems with trying to analyze them as a single collective work is that they really don’t constitute a complete story, and may never have been intended to do so. Sticking purely to film, recall that for awhile Lucas’ stated plan was to do three trilogies for a total of nine films. Alternately, if one looks at the way Lucasfilm has approached the Star Wars novels, then what you’ve got is story sprawling out all over the place — and darned little of it focused on the Anakin/Vader/Anakin progression.

  59. Seavey has a point about “Empire”. The last third or so of it, on Cloud City, when Vader reels everyone in like fish on a line, and makes his big revelation to Luke, is golden. Maybe the best sequence in the whole series, though at the time the cliffhanger was intentionally unsatisfying.

    The rest leading up to it, not so much. The big battle on Hoth is good-looking, but the Han/Leia romance is awful–Han comes across as a creep, not a charming rogue–and the Yoda sequences drag.

    The most consistently entertaining movie of the bunch is “Star Wars”, the original. It pops. It never lets up. The remarkable thing is that, judging from Lucas’s early drafts, it could have been much, much worse, and some of the messed-up sensibility you can see in those drafts made it into the prequel trilogy. I’m not quite sure how the finished film managed to be as well-crafted as it was.

  60. David, no, I am not aware of many stories where the protagonist falls to the point of committing mass murder *and then* manages to do something that redeems his entire past.

    My original comment, to which you responded, was explicitly about the first three episodes.

    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/12/29/note-to-john-seavey/#comment-233897

    Your response was “David. No, I cant think of many stories where the plot was to watch the downfall of the main character.”

    When a number of people pointed out that literature is filled with examples of such plot, you changed your argument to “I am not aware of many stories where the protagonist falls to the point of committing mass murder *and then* manages to do something that redeems his entire past.”

    This is a different argument and non-responsive to my original point.

    I will thus repeat my first point: there are lots and lots and lots of stories in literature that focus on the downfall of the main character. Lucas could have cribbed from any number of those.

  61. I am occasionally tempted to watch the prequels in Chinese with English subtitles, since I seem to have extraordinary tolerance for awful dialogue and great fights when it’s in Chinese with English subtitles.

    It came extremely late, but the point I gave up on Lucas when he brings up the whole “Jedis can talk to the dead” thing until the final 45 seconds of the third prequel. It’s a major point in the main three movies, totally undercuts Anakin’s “fear of death as reason for fall” and Lucas tacked it on right at the end like a toddler breathlessly telling a story (“and then a dragon came in and ate them all the end!”). I used to say that at least he was good at world-building, and at that point I just gave up.

    But all 6 movies have moments of brilliance that are almost worth the price of admission.

  62. (posted a reponse and somehow lost it. Trying again.)

    John Bunnell: “I’ve lost track of where you’re trying to go here.”

    Googling “fall and redemption of anakin” seems to support the notion that Lucas and a large number of fans view episodes 1 through 6 as a long story about the rise, fall, and redemption of Anakin.

    I believe Lucas came out at one point and said there was only ever going to be six episodes, the story of Anakin. And that the rumors of 9 episodes was a misunderstanding or misstatement that was not cleared up until recently. This too would support the notion that Lucas views the 6 episodes as telling the overarching tale fo the rise, fall, and redemption of Anakin.

    I have never heard anyone discuss StarWars as if episodes 1-3 were the fall of Anakin and episodes 4-6 were the rise of Luke. It has always been Luke’s story is a coming of age story spanning 4-6. Anakins story is rise, fall, redemption spanning 1-6.

    Lukes story episodes 4-6 works for me. It fits the three act play. Luke wants to join the rebellion. He learns his father was a jedi and he wants to become a jedi. He fails at some of his first steps. and he learns that achieving his goals doesn’t look like what he thought they would when he started. His actions are consistent with what he wants.

    Anakins story, whether you wish to look at it as ep 1-3 fall or ep 1-6 fall/redemption, doesnt’ work because the “fall” part is mechanical and the “redemption” part is inexplicable.

    Anakin falls because Lucas wants him to fall. Either with the fall or fall/redemption plot, there is no way to put the story into a three-act play. In act 3 Anakin should get or lose something that he wanted in Act 1. There is no consistent “want” for Anakin in the first three episodes. He wants freedom frmo slavery in act 1 and gets it by the end. He wants to free his mother in act 2 (which happens 10 years after act1, by the way), and is unable to come up with the money and his mother dies in his arms

    (side note: if one of your promising Jedi is distracted by the fact that his mother is a slave, you’d think the Jedi Council could have a fucking bake sale and buy his mother out of slavery. Anakins mother was owned by someone who owned a junkyard, for fucks sake, slaves can’t cost that much. And you’re telling me Obi Wan and Yoda never thought to pass the hat around and buy Anikin a present like, just picking random fucking ideas here, his mother for his birthday?)

    By the beginning of Act 3, anakin murders Dooko in cold blood at the urging of Palpatine. He has already started to fall. Why? I have no fucking clue. He kept having bad dreams about padme dying in childbirth. Bad dreams??? Are you kidding me? The ultimate source for turning someone into the devil’s right hand man is bad dreams????

    Anakin falls because Lucas needed him to fall.

    If Anakin is Lucas’s personification of the unresolved issue Lucas had with his own father (Luke => Lucas), then i think StarWars is a reflection of the fact that Lucas never resolved those issues. Luke’s father is evil because he is evil. The fall of Anakin is never explained in a way that someone could understand it without neccessarily condoning it.

    Macbeth wanted power? Faustus wanted knowledge? Vampires want immortality and power?

    Anakin was having bad dreams about his wife dying. Dying during childbirth in a world where you can have someone like general grievious who is little more than a brain and some internal organs walking around in a mechanical exoskeleton.

    Get a C section for fucks sake.

    But no. Anakin decides the way to save his wife is to sell his soul to the devil rather than get good prenatal care.

    His mother dies and he wipes out a whole bunch of sand people. It was at least an attempt to get people to understand, but people get murdered all the time and their surving relatives don’t go on genocidal cleansing operations as a response. So, not really an explanation.

    We never see enough into the heart of Anakin to “get” what the hell is going on there to understand why he falls. he just falls. Inexplicably at times. To his downfall.

    For Lucas to resolve his issues with his father, it would probably help if he understood his father’s poitn of view. I don’t think he ever did. If you have a lousy childhood, you grow up and eventually grow beyond it in part by understanding yourself and partly by understanding whoever it was that tormented you. You get old enough and realize at some point that you could easily go down the same path that they did. You understand. Hopefully you make better decisions, but you understand why they did it. They become less “evil” and more human in your mind. You grow. you move on.

    Vader is pure evil. Anakin becomes vader through a sequence of mechanical and otherwise inexplicable actions. I have no fucking clue why Anakin sold his soul when so many other paths existed. I’m not even sure what it was that Anakin sold his soul in exchagne for.

    Lucas never wrote vader as someone who understood how Anakin could become Vader. Lucas never wrote Vader as someone who understood that he could follow that same path.

    I dont’ think Lucas ever really resolved those issues with his father. I don’t think Lucas ever understood his father’s path. So on some level, I think Lucas held his father as evil, rather than with soem level of understanding without condoning.

    I don’t think Lucas really understands people very much. His idea of “romantic dialogue” pretty much screams that he has no clue.

    I think Ep 4-6 worked because Lucas cribbed from The Searchers. It is almost beat for beat a mechanical translation of the Searchers into Episodes 4,5,6. The main difference is John Waynes character got split into three charactsr in star wars: Obi wan, Han Solo, and a little bit of Darth Vader (yeah, its a bit weird, but its in there). So, all teh characters in Star Wars work in a way that makes sense with their internal motivations because The Searchers makes sense. If you mechanically convert a story, keeping all the characters the same, and the plot the same, but change horses to spaceships, cowboys to rebels, and indians to stormtroopers, you can have a story with realist characters because you didn’t really change the characters behaviours, actions, or motivations.

    But ep 1,2,3 didn’t have anything for Lucas to crib from. He needed a story wher Anakin falls by episode 3. But that was part of a larger story where Anakin is redeemed by Episode 6. So, we see wooden characters, parrotting wooden dialogue, and making mechanical decisions based on plot requirements ratehr than internal motivations. I mean, seriously, the Jedi Council had ten years to buy Anakins mother out of slavery, the lazy fucks, and just left her there to rot. Fuck them. Why did they do that? Because Lucas wasn’t thinking “OK, these characters have these internal motivations and are operating in a world with the following circumstances. What would they do next?” No, he was thinking “OK, Anakin has to fall. How do I justify it? I know, I’ll have his mother suffer in slavery for a decade while he works for some massive interplanetary special operations group with a huge budget, their own arsenal, and their own space ships and fleet to right wrogns all across the galaxy, and they’ll just sit on their asses and do nothing about mom for ten years, so Anakin can grow up enough just before she dies, and he’ll go into a murderous rage”.

    Fuck me.

    The characters in ep 1,2,3 act like cogs in a machine. And the machine is Lucas’s plot or mythology. Anakin must fall. So anakin falls. Does it make sense that he falls? What? Who cares? He has to fall! So he falls!

    Anakins redemption is just about as mechanical. He never shows the effects of guilt. He never tries to wash the blood off his hands but cannot. He had nightmares about the death of his wife. But he doesn’t dream about the death of teh thousands he’s murdered. He serves the devil faithfully for twenty years. At which point, his son shows up, and the Devil tells Luke, kill Vader and take his place by my side. Luke says no. Devil slowly kills luke.

    It is at this poitn, after the devil has betrayed him and is killing his own son before his own eyes, that Vader finally alters his path and throws the devil down a chute.

    Not because he suddenly realized the wrongs of his ways. Not because the guilty of his deeds finally pushed him over some edge.Not because the ghost of christmas future showed him that his soul would be forever burning in hell. Because the devil betrayed him adn was murdering his son. Vader changed paths for entirely selfish reasons. His boss was prepared to kill him. Then was trying to kill his son.

    This is Lucas’s definition of “redemption”?

    Are you kidding me?

    Eps 4-6 work telling teh story of Luke coming of age.

    The story of Anakin, either the fall of anakin from eps 1-3 or the fall and redemption fo anakin from eps 1-6, makes no sense at all. The “fall” is purely mechanical. Anakin falls because Lucas wanted him to fall. And the “redemption” is equally mechanical. Anakin changes his path for purely selfish reasons and somehow is able to “redeem” two decades of genocide.

  63. David: “My original comment, to which you responded, was explicitly about the first three episodes.”

    My original comment, which I think started this whole thing was this:

    “what is clear is that once the plot arc of The Searchers was used up (ep 4,5,6), Lucas waz forced to write from scratch with nothing to borrow from. and ep 1,2,3 made clear that Lucas cannot write without someone to crib from.”

    No where in there do I say that episodes 1,2,3 must be a self contained story of Anakin. No where do I say that Lucas wrote a story that ends with the downfall of anakin at the end of episode 3.

    Eps 4-5 is the story of Luke coming of age. It also shows the redemption of Anakin.

    If Lucas is going to crib some story for episodes 1-3 that shows the downfall fo Anakin, it has to dovetail into Episodes 4,5,6. It has to explain how Anakin will have twins and not even know it. It has to explain how Obi Wan tried to teach Anakin but failed. Whatever story lucas wrote for 1,2,3, has to dovetail into all the stuff that is in episodes 4,5,6. Including, surprise, surprise, the Redemption of Anakin Skywalker.

    I did not explicitly state that because partly it was simply an underlying assumption that 1,2,3 has to tie in with 4,5,6 and partly because I didn’t think someone would take the lack of this assumption being explicitly stated and use it to accuse me of saying something I didn’t.

    Yes, there are some stories to crib from that show the fall fo teh main character. But I assumed it was fairly common knowledge that Anakin doesn’t just fall. He is eventually redeemed. And no where does Lucas present episodes 1-3 as some sort of “reboot” where the previous movies (eps 4.5.6) are irrelvant and can be ignored by the new movies.

    The only thing I can think of that would have worked for me would be if somehow Palpatine forced Anakin to be his right hand man against Anakins will. Maybe Palpatine held Padme hostage and forced Anakin to do things Anakin didn’t want to do. Something like that would at least allow for Anakins redemption that we see in Episodes 6. Anakin was forced to become evil.

    But that’s not the story in eps 1-3. Anakin pursued the dark side. He wanted it. he wanted it badly. Exactly why isn’t clear to me. The dreams of Padme dying in childbirth has got to be the silliest possible justifciation I can think of. Especially given their technological devlopment around medical issues. doctors can give a person total body prosthesis and you’re afraid of childbirth?

    Even holding Padme hostage would eventually cause moral problems that would hinder redemption. You cannot murder a peaceful planet wtih billions of innocents and attempt to play a moral get-out-of-jail card because your wife was kidnapped and you had to push the button. At some point, the numbers overwhelm the one personal tie.

    I don’t know how episodes 1-3 could have been written so that Anakin could morally deserve redemption at the end. It migth have been possible, but I can’t think of any story that has ever done it yet.

    Certainly, Lucas could have cribbed Macbeth and had Anakin fall down the dark side for simple power. But how does that justify his redemption in episode 6?

    Lucas would have had to have some serious creative writing juices flowing to explain how Anakin could serve the devil for twenty years and still deserve redemption at the end of episode 6.

    That’s how episode 6 ends. Anakin is redeemed. His soul is saved. We see his glowign form smiling beside the glowing form fo yoda and Obi wan. he is redeemed.

    Why?

    It might be possible to come up with some story that he was evil against his will. Somehow. he was forced into it. Tricked into it. The thing is, watching episoded 4-6 without the prequels, it is possible to *assume* that whatever happened to Anakin, he didn’t want to do it, and he deserves redemption. We could watch the end of 6 and just assume that there exists soem explanation taht would fit. even if we don’t know the explanation.

    The problem is that eps 1-3 gives us an explanation of the fall of Anakin that doesn’t fit with the redemption we see in 6.

    Anakin wasn’t forced against his will. He pursued the dark side. The particular story we are shown in 1-3 doesn’t dovetail with the redemption we see in eps 6.

    So, while I did not explicitly state that eps 1-3 needed to dovetail into eps 4-6, I think it a bit unreasonable that you jump on me for not stating something I’d say is rather obvious. eps 1-3 must fit with eps 4-6.

    Eps 1-3 explains how anakin fathered twins without knowing it. Eps 1-3 explain how obi wan tried to train anakin but failed. Eps 1-3 show us what the clone wars look liked that was mentioned in ep 4. Eps 1-3 shows us a whole bunch of things that ties in with all the stuff we knew in episodes 4-6.

    Except the redemption of Anakin in 6.

    We see Anakin redeemed in 6. But nothing in Eps 1-3 explain how that redemption is possible.

    Lucas needed to crib from a story that has the main character fall, fall hard, fall a long, long way from the light, and somehow manage to return to the light by the end of the story. Lucas needed to crib from a story that explains Anakin and dovetails in with the redemption we see in Episode 6.

    And no, I didn’t state that explicitly because I assumed you saw episode 6 and saw Anakin redeemed, and because I assumed that wahtever happened in 1-3 has to dovetail into everything we knew in 4-6.

    There might be a way to have Anakin serve the devil for twenty years and redeem himself at the end. But what Lucas showed us certainly doesn’t do that.

  64. 2700 words (#74 & 75) to get the same things wrong again. Impressive. I’ll stick with my response at #71, thanks.

  65. David: “to get the same things wrong again”

    Dude. The problem appears to be that neither of us is wrong, we’re just operating from completely different assumptions.

    I assume that Anakin’s fall in ep 1-3 should justify the redemption we see in ep6. And in my opinion, how Anakin falls in ep 1-3 does NOT justify his redemption. He embraces the dark side. And he does little or nothing to gain his “redemption”. Either Anakin needed to fall being forced into it or tricked into it, or he needed to do a hell of a lot more than wait till Palpatine betrayed him before doing something. There might be stories that would explain his fall that would justify his redemption in Ep6. But I can think of no such story.

    I don’t know what exactly you’re thinking here. But it appears that you think that Anakin could do anything during his “fall” and he could still be “redeemed” by what little he did in ep6. Or maybe ep3 and ep6 are so far apart, and ANakin’s story is so dilluted, that you don’t really care. You want a backstory, and any backstory will do, even if it doesn’t really jive with Anakin being “redeemed” in six.

    I’m fine with that, really. But that is such a fundamentally different position than I’m coming from that you and I are speaking with totally different assumptions packed into and underneath what we are both saying. And hey, guess what, it was blindingly obvious to me that Anakins fall in ep 1-3 should jive with and make sense with his redemption in 6. So obvious that I didn’t bother to even say it. And you’re operating on such a different assumption that it is in direct conflict with my assumption. Either you think anakin can fall any way Lucas wants him to fall and he could still be redeemed by what he did in ep 6 (which is your choice and your morality and is fine by me), or you think Anakin’s story ends at episode 3 and you don’t think his “redemption” is part of any story (which conflicts with what Lucas says about his mythology but what does he know), or some other point of view so different from mine that I can”t even fathom it.

    But if you have to be “right” and I have to be “wrong” for you to drop this, then you got me. I give full confession. I made an assumption. And based on that assumption, I made a technical misstatement. Yes there are plenty of “fall” stories. I had assumed that the fall story would have to have ANakin fall as far as he did for as long as he did and still justify his “redemption” that we see in ep 6. And given that assumption put into explicit terms, I think it is safe to say that there are nigh to naught stories to crib from that has a character fall that far and be redeemed in the end.

    But, you are correct in the most technical interpretation. I was speaking from an assumption. And so from a legalistic interpretation, what I said, that there wern’t many fall stories to crib from, without explicitly stateing my assumption that redemption be possible by ep 6, was wrong. Oh, so wrong.

    If that’s what you want to be right about, then you are right, sir. Congratulations. You win the internets.

  66. what I said, that there wern’t many fall stories to crib from, without explicitly stateing my assumption that redemption be possible by ep 6, was wrong. Oh, so wrong.

    Good to see you finally realized it.

  67. Quick poll to folks who have seen all six star wars episodes:

    Who here thinks Anakin earned his redemption that we see in Episode 6?
    He served under Palpatine for roughly twenty years.
    We know from episodes 1-3 that he murdered Dooko after Dooko surrendered
    (something that would be a violation of the Geneva convention here),
    and we know that he slaughtered all the young Jedis-in-training at the start of
    the Emperor’s rule, another war crime here. He then served under Palpatine
    for twenty years. What exactly he did isn’t shown in the movies.
    But when we see him by Episode 4, he is murdering rebel prisoners,
    torturing prisoners (and his own daughter unknowningly), launching attacks
    and covering them up, stands by as one of his generals ordes the destruction of
    a peaceful, unarmed planet, kills numerous rebel soldiers in combat,
    kills a number of his own generals, tortures Han, Leia, and Chewie to use
    them as bait for Luke’s trap, turns his son over to the Emperor knowing his
    son will either join the dark side or die, protects the Emperor from Luke
    when Luke finally has the cajones to attack him.

    In the end, Palpatine tells Luke to kill Vader and take Vader’s place by his side.
    Luke says no. Palpatine starts killing Luke. It is at this time that Vader finaly
    stands up to Palpatine and tosses him down a chute.

    Is that enough to redeem someone who commited war crimes for the two years
    or so that we witness and unknown crimes for the intervening decades?

    Personally, I’d say no. But that’s just me.

    At the end of Ep 6, vader kills Palpatine, but if he hadn’t, the rebels destroyed the
    deathstar and Palpatine would likely have been killed in the explosion.
    or maybe not. Luke may or may not have had the power and ability to overcome
    the Emperor and kill him. It might be that the only person who could kill the
    Emperor was Vader. That wasn’t explicitly stated anywhere that I know of,
    but if so, then Vader’s actions were worth something. If others could kill
    the Emperor, then Vader’s actions aren’t quite as special.

    Since it was never stated anywhere that only Vader could kill the Emperor,
    I will assume Luke could have if he hadn’t tossed his lightsaber away,
    and either way, the destruction of the deathstar would have killed the
    Emperor because it happened minutes after Vader killed the Emperor
    and Luke barely got away as it is.

    So, vader killed the Emperor, but the emperor would likely have died
    when the deathstar exploded anyway. and if not, Luke might have killed him,
    and if not, possibly Leia would have become a Jedi and she would have killed him.

    So, in exchange for two decades of war crimes, Vader kills the Emperor who would
    likely have been killed in a few minutes anyway. And the question is, does that
    buy a war criminal a pardon in the cosmic court of souls?

    I dont think so, but that’s just me.

  68. Well I will say the original post on Star Wars did come off a like a whiney rant and seemed a little bitter. The movies made money because people liked them which is the best critic. Having also read the Seavey post and this one it now sort of reminds me of a bum fight…. curious to watch but not important

  69. no, but seriously, we dont like Campbell? should I scratch the hero of a thousand faces off my to-read list?

  70. @David You (and IrishUp) are obviously right on your point about the great tragedies of literature and that Lucas had LOTS of things to crib from for episodes 1-3. The important thing, to my mind, is that by the time Lucas got around to making those episodes we all pretty much knew he wasn’t Shakespeare (or Shakespeare divided by quite a large number even) so the tragedy of Anakin was pretty much doomed to being an absurd failure. Greg is correct in that it is not remotely possible for someone as evil as Vader to ever be “redeemed” and it was equally absurd for Lucas to think that such a thing is possible
    This is not as uncommon an error as it should be. Speilberg does something similar, but on a lesser scale , in Close Encounters, when he expects us to believe his aliens are benign and friendly (after ruining at least hundreds of lives). Of course, as incredible as that thesis is, Speilberg seems to have gotten most of his audience to believe it. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at this, as there are almost certainly tens of millions of people who still think the greatest mass murderer of all time, Stalin, was a great man. (there were substantial numbers of even Americans who believed this at one time).
    I can’t agree with John’s orginal thesis about Lucas though. For all his failings as a director and screenwriter, I don’t believe he didn’t think he was doing “entertainment”.

  71. Well, Greg, to respond to your poll, no, I don’t think Vader earns redemption. I think a redeemable, sympathetic Vader appears only twice in Episodes IV – Vi, and both during RotJ: one throw away line (“It’s too late for me, son.”), and when he pitches Palpatine over the rail. Trying to justify that kind of heel-face turn on the basis of one line – and a shitty line at that – is a tall order for even the best writer. And you’re right, it’s hard not to see his actions as “Well, someone’s gotta pull Luke’s stupid, lightsaber discarding ass out of this mess.” This is but one reason why I contend that Episode VI is the worst of the series.

    One of the problems with Star Wars is that, in the end, Lucas wants us to see the entire series as Anakin’s/Vader’s story. But Episodes IV, V, and VI are definitely not. They’re Luke’s story, though he ends up with Frodo’s ending.. In fact, throughout the second trilogy, Vader isn’t even the villain. He’s the henchman. Tarkin is the villain of IV, Palpatine is the villain of, well, every other episode, despite being off screen for all but III and VI. Sure, in V he gets to add treacherous bastard to his resume, but that only moves Luke’s story along, not Vader’s.*

    By trying to make Star Wars all about Anakin, Lucas ends up trying to create a back story for him that leads to a Vader that Lucas wants us to see, not the Vader that already is. He’s also, strangely, not in a hurry to even get to Anakin’s story in I. Instead of focusing on Anakin, Episodes I, II, and III should have been Obi-Wan’s story. Or presented Anakin’s story from beginning to end. Or, at the very least, had Anakin’s transformation into Vader complete by the end of act one of Episode III, so he could then plant the seeds for the climax in Episode VI.

    *Going into VI, Lucas still had the opportunity to walk back the “I am your father” moment as Vader, like the rest of the Jedi, trying to manipulate Luke.

  72. You (and IrishUp) are obviously right on your point about the great tragedies of literature and that Lucas had LOTS of things to crib from for episodes 1-3.

    Thanks.

    The important thing, to my mind, is that by the time Lucas got around to making those episodes we all pretty much knew he wasn’t Shakespeare (or Shakespeare divided by quite a large number even) so the tragedy of Anakin was pretty much doomed to being an absurd failure. Greg is correct in that it is not remotely possible for someone as evil as Vader to ever be “redeemed” and it was equally absurd for Lucas to think that such a thing is possible

    I don’t think that’s necessarily true. A fair number of people have cribbed Shakespeare (and remember Shakespeare cribbed from earlier writers) and produced successful works. What Lucas needed to do with the three prequels was somehow surprise the audience: make the inevitable (Anakin’s turn to the darkside) come from a direction that no one was expecting. Instead, it was a terrible cliché.

  73. Scalzi@82: I thought Lucas did an ok job with Lukes coming of age story in ep 4-6. up until luke threw his lightsaber away in 6 it was alright. the fact that lukes actions were completely irrelavant to the rebelion in 6 is pretty bad. the rebels blew up the death star with the emperor on it and would have killed the emperor even if vader hadnt. but ep4 was ok as lukes story. ep 5 and ep 6 up to the reascue of han was pretty good for showing luke going from farmboy to jedi warrior. after han is rescued in 6, things go downhill as far as the storywriting for luke goes.

    rescuing han showed luke come of age. after that luke had to do what lucas needed to show vaders redemption in the end.

    ya know now that I think about it, John Waynes redemption in the end of The Searchers is inexplicable too. he spends a good part of the movie making it clear hes going to commit murder. the ‘luke’ character says several times that hes tagging along so murder isnt committed. and on the end, when faced with the person we all think hes going to murder, Wayne doesnt do it. inexplicably.

    at the end of six, vaders turn is equallyinexplicable. guess thats what happens when you crib. yku make the same mistakes the guy yiure copying from made.

    realta fuar: yeah. lots of tragedies show the chacter fall. few show the character fall as far as vader and still manage tk redeem himself and save his soul. lucas tried. but i dont think it works.

  74. rocketscience, lucas couldnt walk back the “I am you father” line because the entire series was Lucas as Luke working out issues with his father as Anakin/Vader.

    David, it doesnt fail because its cliche. it fails because it doesnt fit. ep 1-3 doesnt fit with ep 4-6.

    the fall of anakin in 3 doesnt jive with the redemption in 6.

    If Lucas really wanted to make the whole series about Anakins rise, fall, and redemption, he needed to either come up with a backatory the would allow anakin redemption dking what little he did at the end of six, or he would have had to have rewritten 5 and 6 to show vader working against the emperor and earning the soul saving redemption scene we see at the finale on planet ewok.

    ebeneezer scrooge shows a life of mean cruelty for decades and manages to redeem himself at the end by doing a lot more than saying “merry christmas” to everyone. he earns it through deeds.

    but he didnt commit genocide either, so I stil dont know how Lucas could have written 1-3 so that Anakin deserved redemption.

    I think he would have had to have spent some time working against the emperor and then sacrifice his life at the end to justify the saving of his soul. he sacrificed his life at the end killing Palpatine, but that was a pointless avt since the rebels were about to blow up the station anyway and only happened because of the total nonsense scene of Luke throwing his lightsaber away.

  75. I realize this is a bit off topic, but I wasn’t sure where to ask the question: what is your background for the creation of new words or new usage?

    (I’m new – BRAND new – here. But what I see makes me think, “Am I completely out of it? Why haven’t I heard this before?”)

    What I mean is your use of “smack on Empire director,” and words like “trollage.” The terms and their use are completely understandable, and I like them. I’m just wondering where they come from, or how.

    Is there a thread on this I haven’t seen?

    Thanks!

  76. Agreed. Greg, as a general rule, beyond anything other than the shortest of posts, lack of standardized formatting cuts into the readability of one’s posts. If you’re going to commit to a long post, please also commit to making them readable for everyone. Otherwise people simply aren’t going to read them.

  77. Greg,

    He certainly had the opportunity. In 1980, all the audience knew was that Kenobi told Luke that Vader had murdered his [Luke's] father, and that Vader claimed that to not be the case. One of those statements was true and one was a lie (“certain point of view”, my ass). At that point, Lucas had the opportunity to make either choice. He could have looked at the two films, said to himself “Y’know, I’m not sure I’ve really set up Vader’s redemption quite the way I had intended. Let’s take this a different direction.” One possible direction: further cribbing Lord of the Rings, the villains turn on each other, Vader still kills Palpatine, and Luke really gets a Frodo ending.

    Obviously, he didn’t take this opportunity, but he could have.

  78. If Anakin had been somehow “bound” to do Palpatine’s bidding, to crib from LotR, then redemption might be more believable.

    Hm, maybe not. those who were tempted by the ring and resisted had the cleanest souls. Frodo succumbed and briefly pushed Sam away but turned back soon after. Smeagol killed his friend to get the ring and was lost after that. The Ring Wraiths succumbed and served Sauron and were irredeemable. Anakin was on par with a Ring Wraith.

    I keep trying to come with a story that has the character fall as far as Anakin and still redeem himself in the end, and nothing I can think of comes close.

  79. Doc, have you seen “The Searchers”? The ‘Luke’ character who follows John Wayne around is named Marten. Marten is living with his Aunt and Uncle and is one-eighth Native American. I believe the identity of his father is unknown. And in “The Searchers” the Native Americans are the bad guys.

    Lucas seems so tied to the plot of “The Searchers” that Luke had to be part bad guy in one way or another.

    In “The Searchers” John Waynes character was Marten’s Uncle. And Waynes character became three characters in Star Wars: Obi Wan Kenobi, Han Solo, and Darth Vader. And the only bad guy in that split was Vader, so Luke had to be related to Vader somehow. At least Uncle/Nephew as in The Searchers, but Lucas brought in his unresolved issues with his father and made things a bit more personal.

    So while plot wise Lucas COULD have retracted the “Luke I am you father” line, given how Star Wars is a one-for-one mapping of The Searchers, it seems like Lucas was writing a plot on rails.

  80. “Waynes character became three characters in Star Wars”
    ” Star Wars is a one-for-one mapping of The Searchers”

    I’m not sure these statements reconcile.

  81. Hmm. On the one hand, I feel like it’s difficult to claim that something can be good, but not entertaining (I’d buy the reverse, that something can be entertaining without actually being any good, but to me entertainment is a prerequisite for quality.) On the other hand, you’re pointing to a clarification I hadn’t read (I’m more familiar with your dead-tree work than your online stuff) where you do explain what your views are on Lucas in more depth. (If I had a third hand, I’d point out that “significant” is damning with faint praise, the sort of thing you say through gritted teeth about someone you absolutely hate but can’t ignore the critical opinions about…but I don’t.) But I’ll agree, I did conflate “good” with “of entertainment value”. My apologies, no malice was intended.

    I would still, however, point out that my basic point stands: Lucas did more on the “entertaining” films than he’s given credit for, and less on the “godawful fucking dull” films than he’s given blame for. (No, I’m not quoting you on “godawful fucking dull”. I’m quoting me.) He’s ultimately responsible for all six, and clearly, he does better when he’s got people reining in his tendency to speechify and pontificate (and when he’s not been out of film-making for two decades…I can’t stress enough how much of his problem comes from just plain old not having directed for so long.) But the thought that he only entertained by accident still feels like something said by someone who is either unaware of or willfully ignoring the realities of film-making. Sorry.

  82. Well, Waynes character starts out as Obi wan and takes Marten on a damn fool crusade. Then he morphs into Han Solo. He is the rogue running around, wise to the ways of the world, and shoots first at the cantina scene. Then at the end he morphs into Darth Vader as he seems more and more intent on murdering Marten’s sister. (Marten’s sister who was captured by indians and held captive by them until Wayne and Marten could rescue her.)

    In the big finale, Wayne is chasing down the sister and Marten is chasing after Wayne because he thinks Wayne is going to murder her. (If you wont turn perhaps she will).

    Wayne covers three characters in Star Wars, but he basically does it in sequence. He is never simultaneously two characters. The Searchers was stretched out into three Star Wars movies, but you can see the resolutions in Searchers pan out into Star Wars.

    Marten’s sister is captured by indians. Marten and Wayne rescue her. Leia is captured by the Empire. Luke and Obi Wan and Han rescue her.

    Wayne seems intent on murdering Martens sister, but in the end has a change of heart, saves the girl, and redeems himself. Vader seems intent on murdering Luke (or his sister if he won’t turn), but in the end has a change of heart and saves Luke and redeems himself.

    Marten doesn’t know who his father is and is living with his aunt and uncle on a farm in the desert. His aunt and uncle are murdered by Indians. Martens sister is captured by Indians. Marten goes on a damn fool crusade with Wayne. They go to a canteena where a greedy informant comes after them. Wayne shoots first. they find and rescue the sister. The cavalry mounts a large attack on the Indian Base. Wayne appears intent on murdering Martens sister but has an inexplicable change of heart and saves her instead.

    Waynes backstory is that he fought for the confederacy during the civil war, that he fought possibly as a hired gun in Mexico, that he won’t swear an oath to fight for the good guys (Texas), and there is a price on his head. Han Solo I believe used to be an Empirial officer, became a smuggler, had a price on his head, and wouldn’t join Luke in their first attack on the Death Star (until he came out of nowhere and shot Vader off of Luke’s tail).

    There is even a small recurring bit where a couple of the good guys are running around with civil war sabers.

  83. John Seavey:

    “But I’ll agree, I did conflate ‘good’ with ‘of entertainment value’. My apologies, no malice was intended.”

    None was assumed, so no worries there.

    “But the thought that he only entertained by accident still feels like something said by someone who is either unaware of or willfully ignoring the realities of film-making.”

    As I started writing professionally about film, film making and the film industry in 1991 and continue to do so today (literally, I’ll be writing a film column later this afternoon), you can assume it’s not ignorance.

    However, here you once again mischaracterize what I said in the essay. I never said he only entertained by accident. I said the entertainment value of the Star Wars series was unintentional (i.e., Lucas’ inability to suck out the entertainment value of his pastiche sources) or primarily achieved through the efforts of those he hired. You may or may not think in this context “accidental” and “unintentional” are equivalent states, but I don’t see them as such, and it makes a difference.

    Again, I don’t think Lucas is opposed to his films having entertainment value for others. I just don’t think he actually cares if they do or not, so long as they achieve his mythbuilding goals. That he then outsources the task of making the films entertaining to underlings isn’t actually that controversial a statement, I think; it means he’s the “big idea” guy and he lets everyone else handle fiddly details, and his this case one of the “fiddly details” is “making the film accessible to people who don’t live in George Lucas’ head.” I’m not entirely sure how this ignores the reality of film making.

  84. I get a little confused by what you’re meaning by the word “entertainment” sometimes. The focus seems to be whether or not Lucas wanted to entertain others versus whether other people were entertained.

    I have read first draft stories that were all about plot and little about characters.or world. And the writer thought it was entertainment. He thought others would enjoy it as much as he did. And I have read drafts that were all world building and little character or plot. And the writer thought they had written a story that others would enjoy.

    I have written stories that I thought other people would really like. And then dusted them off a year later and realized they needed to be rewritten.

    If the definition hinges on Lucas’s intentions, the problem is that there’s really no way to know his intentions. I mean unless there is an interview with Lucas somewhere where he said he just wanted to create this myth and to hell with whether anyone else liked any of it.

    Even if he created JarJar as a way to demo some ILM technology, one could complain similarly about Avatar being a demo for using cameras to capture body movements and translate them into cgi characters. Its just that Avatar stole its plot from Dances With Wolves whereas Lucas didnt have anything to steal from for ep 1-3.

    I just watched Inception for the firat time (Leonardo di Caprio) and that movie seems to have defined “entertain” as “get the audience to think about reality on a meta level”. Which may or may not be the working definition.

  85. So if I get this correctly, you’re saying that it’s not so much that Lucas doesn’t focus on the details (because if there’s one thing that comes across about Lucas, it’s that he’s detail-oriented) as it is that the details he focuses on are not necessarily the ones that you or I (for example) would focus on, and without strong collaborators keeping him on track, he tends to produce work that is…shall we say, too esoteric or abstract to really connect to the general audience. And that the prequels, made without any such strong collaborators (since he no longer had to kowtow to a studio) are inaccessible at best because they’re a case of Lucas doing something that only interests him?

    Because if so, then yes, that makes a lot more sense to me. Thank you for clarifying, and I will be linking my blog to this post and its comments.

  86. Generally speaking I love Scalzi’s writing and usually find myself agreeing with him, however, on this topic he is as far off as you can possible get.

    Entertainment: (noun)
    the act of entertaining; agreeable occupation for the mind; diversion; amusement: Solving the daily crossword puzzle is an entertainment for many.

    By that definition, how could anyone argue that Star Wars is not entertainment? I mean really Scalzi?…you weren’t diverted? amused? there was nothing in the prequal trilogy that did that for you? Webster’s basically calls crossword puzzles entertainment…are you seriously saying that the Star Wars franchise is less entertaining than a crossword puzzle?
    The only thing I can imagine is that Scalzi is using some definition of entertainment that I’m unaware of. Perhaps he is confusing it with art?

  87. Paul, I am a bit cofused by the intended meaning of entertainment myself.

    Based on evertything else Scalzi says about Lucas and Star Wars, I think he’s pointing to the notion that Lucas wrote what he wrote and did what he did solely for his own interest and didnt care if anyone else liked it, understood it, was entertained by it, or something.

    I am not sure if there is a word for that behavior.

    I can see how that exact behavior by an author could be viewed as good or bad depending on who you ask. I’m thinkning of the stereotypical scene where someone is describing an artist as bold, expressive, courageuos, and all around awesome. And then the scene pans to canvasting of theirs and it looks like someone spilled a can of paint on canvas.

    On the other hand, worrying too much about what everyone else thinks can cause a person to freeze completely or turn into a commercial hack.

    Is there a term for artists who do (and do not) worry about what their audience thinks? It would seem that either end of the spectrum ought to have a term but I cannot think of one.

  88. I’m coming to this a bit late, but I just have this to add: The pod race in Phantom Menace, the trench run to destroy the death star in Star Wars, the sequence in the factory where Anakin and Padme must dodge a bunch of blades and whatnot on conveyor belts, the escape from the starship that opens Revenge of the Sith (everything after they rescue the Chancellor)…all of these things in no way contribute to the mythology. They’re intended as pure entertainment. They give us the thrill of watching the characters getting out of dangerous situations, which could be done much much more efficiently. There’s no reason the podrace needs to go on that long, or that we need to see Anakin almost lose his lightsaber in a factory, or Padme almost get melted. These sequences don’t always work well as entertainment, but there’s no mythological content to them. They’re meant to be thrilling.

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