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By Doug Brunell | May 19, 2005

I am a “Star Wars” fan, and The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite of the bunch. I read the Dark Horse comic books and the prose novels. I collect some of the toys. I have a bantha skull tattoo (done in anarchist red and black) on my arm. I didn’t think the first two episodes sucked.

Boy, that paragraph just killed half my readers.

I’ll admit the first two episodes didn’t live up to the feel of the original trilogy, but I don’t know if that was even possible. I don’t even know how the first installment could’ve lived up to all its hype. The original Star Wars took audiences to places they had never been to before, but the world that spawned it is a lot different than the one that birthed Episode One. Special effects got better, audiences got a bit smarter, and bad acting is much easier to distinguish and mock. It’s a new world, and many people think Episode One didn’t try hard enough to fit in with what we’ve come to expect in a movie.

Episode One had many flaws. In fact, it is my least favorite of the films. I feel, however, that it still maintains some of that “Star Wars” magic, as does Episode Two. Are they as good as the originals? No. They are different, and they should be. Nobody wants to see a carbon copy of the originals, and I, for one, was happy to see the saga take on a new feel. I thought it was bold not to have a Han Solo character or even a villain on caliber with Vader. That was a good move on Lucas’ part, though I wonder if he actually planned it that way. Some people obviously felt differently.

Lucas took a lot of heat for the first two episodes, and some of it was deserved. Critics, fans and even some actors blamed him for a bad movie, but what they didn’t realize is that while the movie had problems, they were really blaming him because he wasn’t able to make them feel like adolescents seeing their first sex scene. “Star Wars” could only happen once, but they forgot that. They pointed to The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Matrix as to how things should be done. Obviously, The Lord of the Rings is not new. It’s based on a book that set the standard for fantasy literature. If its “prequel,” The Hobbit, came out twenty years from now, people would complain it didn’t live up to the feel of the first three — that’s a given. As for The Matrix, it’s an entirely different kind of movie. Neither is supposed to be “Star Wars,” but I bet both of those films’ creative teams were heavily inspired by the original trilogy. Audiences and critics ignored that, though, and were happy to point out that Lucas was a failure because he didn’t deliver the same jolt the second time around.

Say what you will about the first two episodes, but if Lucas would’ve followed the same formula he did with “Stars Wars” and “Empire …,” people would’ve complained about that, too. When it came to the new movies in the franchise, certain people were destined to be displeased. To blame Lucas for that is not only unfair, it’s immature and inaccurate.

My problems with the first two episodes don’t stem from bad acting or characters. I think Jake Lloyd did an okay job, and Jar Jar Binks doesn’t really bother me any more than R2-D2. I also don’t have a problem with the dialogue, which I think fits the era the movie is set in (which is far more formal than that of the original trilogy), and I don’t think the story needed all that much editing (the “convoluted” climax of Episode One makes sense if you really think about it). No, I had a problem with midichlorians and the lack of screen time some good characters (Darth Maul comes to mind) received. Lucas turned to science in Episode One, which fits the movie, but takes away some of the spirit. And the fact that Darth Maul wasn’t seen nearly enough made it hard for viewers to actually become emotionally involved with his character.

Episode Two fixed the science problem, but did little in the way of villain development, and that’s not something I see being fixed in “Episode Three.” The ultimate evil fights what should be the ultimate good in Return of the Jedi, so anything else is kind of anticlimactic and that does pose a certain problem. Lucas realizes this and uses these new movies to concentrate on something missing from many American films — character and plot development.

The first two episodes are riddled with interesting character development and intricate plot lines, but that’s something that escaped most critics. That isn’t very surprising, though. While they were bitching about not feeling awed by seeing spaceships fly across the screen (something that is fairly common in sci-fi movies these days), they missed that Lucas was going a more serious route, and the director has been paying for that ever since.

The test will come when all six movies can be viewed in one sitting. That’s the real sign of success. Does it work? Will it work? I don’t know, but I’m content to take the ride.

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