Sunday, September 6, 2009

Star Wars I

I watched Star Wars parts I and II with my family in the last week. I had seen part I years ago -- not too long after it came out -- and it was so bad that I didn't want to waste my time seeing part II. I only picked part II out of a video store because I was having trouble finding a PG-rated movie that the whole family would like. Actually, I was having trouble finding PG-rated movies at all. Browsing the shelves of a video store, anything outside of the "Family" and "Kid" sections seems to have about an 80% chance of being rated at least PG-13. I was actually grateful to come upon Star Wars.

Part II turned out to be better than I had expected -- quite a bit better. Then the kids wanted to watch Part I, which I was happy to do, because I realized how little I had remembered from it. On watching it a second time, I now understand why I thought it was so bad. It's because it actually is really, really bad. Let's start with the acting, which was incredibly wooden and uninspiring. In fairness to the actors, however, the script gave them virtually nothing to work with, and I'm sure George Lucas didn't help things with his directing. The plot was confusing, and I still don't understand why it's called "The Phantom Menace." Of course, there's also Jar Jar Binks, whom even my kids found annoying. In addition to being stupid (his most easily recognizable fault), Jar Jar is also very hard to understand when he is speaking. It's not just him, though; many of the characters in Part I speak indistinctly, which is part of the reason why I had such trouble understanding it the first time.

Jar Jar is also exemplary of George Lucas's utter failure at naming people and places in his fictional universe. Great writers can make up unique names that nevertheless sound appropriate in their setting. J.R.R. Tolkien was a master of this: who wouldn't recognize an elvish name from an orcish one, just from the name? He was a linguist, so perhaps that is an unfair comparison, but almost any writer is better than Lucas. I thought Frank Herbert's names were usually quite good. Lucas had a couple of big hits -- fortunately for him, involving major characters -- with Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. And then you have Greedo; I'm sure a lot of thought went into that one. And Lando Calrissian. And Schmi. And Count Dooku, and Darth Tyranus, and of course Jar Jar. Then there are the place names, like Naboo and (my favourite) Tatooine. Don't these names sound silly to him?

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