I am re-watching the Star Wars films again and showing them to my son, who is 4. I was 4 when the original Star Wars came out, so I figured it was a fitting time to introduce the series to him. I had wanted to do this before he was even a person, before he was even a concept– it is one of the things where I thought, ok, having a son will allow the following things: among them, being able to see Star Wars through the eyes of a child. Similar to a lot of things that I get to do these days, I get the absolute pleasure of discovering things through how my son sees them, reacts to them– its a pretty cool way to look at things in a new way.
I have to say that the first film released, A New Hope as it is now titled, is suitable for a 4 year old. The first three episodes went swimmingly well. (I showed him the films the way that they were released). The story gets more advanced, from the first one, the themes in Empire are more evolved for a young mind, there is more fighting, but the first three still manage to keep the violence manageable to explain to younger mind. People don’t die onscreen, they are shot with lasers, they fall and you don’t know if they are dead, there is no blood. The lightsabers slice everything off cleanly, again no blood, death is implied, but NOT direct.
This may seem irrelevant, but to children it’s not. Exposure to violence is something you have to be very careful of, children learn through watching and if they see too much violence, it can easily impact how they approach social situations, etc. Of course none of this is scentiific, I am a master of nothing, but I see it firsthand.
Which brings us to the first point of why the last three movies kind of suck. Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing things about them, but they don’t seem to compare over time to the first three. At first, CGI was blamed, then of course Jar-Jar, but I think the problems are seeded a little deeper in the narrative– the approach is off, which makes the actors off, which in turn, over time, turns people off. Below I am going to list the issues in order of how problematic I think they are to the overall Star Wars franchise. Warning: I am going to go all over the place here, because I am going to discuss whats sucks in order of suck and not in order of when it happens– so hang tight.
- The creation of Darth Vader is predicated on Anakin’s obsession with Padwan
The series was brought back to life to explain how Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader. Lucas and Spielberg do a terrible job of creating the story. Throughout the last three films, Anakin appears more like a stalker of Padme. From the time of their reunion, Anakin is obsessed in such a creepy way that you think shes more likely to issue a restraining order than accept his almost childlike advances. She tries to push him away, he’s confused, she falls in love, they get married in secret, the Universe falls into dispair, Skywalker is left with a choice, join the dark side or she dies, he takes the bait– it’s all to simple for a storyline that is complex in its nature. The galaxy created in these stories is complex– various worlds, creatures, cultures are created for the story and the arc of the story is all based on one young man caught between love and responsibility. To me there is so much more you could do with such an iconic character like Vader. To base the whole story of Anakin turning to the dark side to save his secret wife from death– it discounts the entire world that was created. More on this on point #3. Long story short: Anakin comes off as a stalker, an awkward, gross stalker and no one can give a stalker the benefit of the doubt.
2. The Violence of Revenge of the Sith: Killing Jedi Children? Really?
I’ll be clear: I found Revenge of the Sith violent. It was the only film in the series (so far) to get the dreaded PG-13 rating in the entire series and it is well deserved. When I saw it in the theatre, the day it opened, the 30 something me found it acceptable, but now that I go back in time and watch it with my young, impressionable son, the tune changes, hence the need to write this out in an article. Which is another big thing I discovered– I am in that generation of people that are very lucky that the Star Wars franchise managed to land in. I grew up with those films and they were made for us– now that I am taking the next generation on a crash course through 6 films, some 14 hours of footage, I see that some of (most of the last 3) are too fast, too violent, too complex for them to really comprehend on their own. The senate scenes are a great example– all of the tension in the Senate– that is all lost on the children.
The downward spiral of Anakin starts at the death of Mace Windu (another character who is way underplayed). The was the first point where my son wondered, “What happened to Master Windoo?”. This wasn’t the only point where my boy was scared. Anakin, confused, quickly chooses evil over good and the Empire seizes on this and sends him off to murder the Jedi childrens. This is something that the old films would have skipped over– there was enough going on to get why Anakin was turning– the child killing doesn’t do anything but make Hayden Christensen again step more into the creepy role (as discussed above), than evil. Killing children isn’t just evil, its psychotic. I prefer my Darth Vader to be the James Earl Jones style, apologetic, yet gentle. This character that they create with Hayden Christensen doesn’t match up to the one we see at the end of the first films. The portrayal of Anakin as Hayden is more of a serial killer in training than it is a merciless villain intent on power. We haven’t finished the last film because he was so freaked out at the level of — I wouldn’t call it violence– its more of implied violence than actual. We will finish it before the new film, in small spurts with lots of discussion, but it will be interesting to see if JJ Abrams takes the story back to safe land or if he keeps on the PG-13 slippery slope.
2. Character Development: Why do we care about any of these characters?
The first three movies, it wasn’t about the acting — it was about the characters. You didn’t need much background to get into the story line– it wasn’t complex either– classic tale of good vs. evil: Luke Skywalker is this average kid who becomes the chosen one and he randomly finds himself a Jedi knight by happenstance. The dark side is building this death star thing and it destroys Lea’s planet and were in– we buy these “rebels” and we buy their plight. Simple characters allows for development– we jump into the exciting part of the story and at the end of the first three, we do end up wondering where did these characters come from, but I think we would have been slightly better off if those characters would have just remained in our creative noggin.
We do care about Ben Kenobi, certainly– he’s one of the staples in the storyline and Ewan McGregor manages to play him well, and Liam Nelson is a favorite of mine, but Qui-Gon whatever his name is, is a great example of poor character development– we know nothing about him, yet he is commanding everything. According to the Star Wars Wiki, his character was a much deeper character than we actually see in the film (no surprise). I get it– the focus in the first film is cute Anakin, the second one is confused Anakin and the third is evil Anakin. Qui-Gon is Gone before his character really comes out and when he is gone. There is a ton of information on Qui-Gone here:
4. The POWER is missing
With all of the other Jedi’s– either their power is accepted (Mace Windoo) or it is shown as the person grows into being a Jedi (Luke Skywalker). Anakin–>Vader, we never really see the power– its the first issue they teach you in writing school– SHOW don’t TELL. The power of the force is a common theme throughout the Star Wars series– a Jedi respects the force, A Sith abuses the power. So it makes sense that Anakin has this force but its too powerful for him to use it properly, but the same thing was done with Luke Skywalker in the first three films– and the only thing that was strange about him was that he nearly schtumped his sister. But Anakin has three full films to showcase his weirdness because we know what’s going to happen– we just don’t know HOW and I think this is really where they get lazy– they make it easy, but not convincing. The movie “Carrie” you see rage.
This– I don’t sense the evil, but I just sense confusion. Desperation. Loneliness. Things we all feel. My son is afraid of this look but he is also concerned. He doesn’t see Darth Vader as scary or as threatening as this person and he doesn’t quite get the correlation of the two either– and that, that is something that I think is fine– he is, after all, just 4– and maybe shame on me for exposing him to such things when clearly, the last episode in particular isn’t suited for children, but the first one and into the second one, one forgets that by the third film, everything is literally going to hell…
5. JAR JAR.
I have to end this on Jar Jar. I could write a whole post on Jar Jar. Again, I get the intention. The original series had Cherie and R2D2 and C3PO and then eventually we even got Ewoks (which pass the litmus because they were passive aggressive kinder bears, so I can see how they needed to create the Jar Jar, but the WAY that he is in the movie, his voice, etc. makes him more of a Dick and Fart joke than a legitimate secondary character.
But here is the thing: My son LOVES him. He’s funny, he’s easy going and he’s easy to laugh at because he is so silly. He is a character that young children can identify with- but the problem I think we will see is that when those kids get a little bit older, I am not sure that the appreciation will still be there– I still LOVE Chewy, I still love C3PO and the personality of R2D2, I wouldn’t even mind a future EWOK, but MEESA DONSA WITH DA JAR JAR.
That’s all I got for now. Please leave comments and share this around– I’ll be happy to do a follow up if there are some questions– its a lot of material to go through, but sharing is very much appreciated.
May the force be with you (and JJ Abrams).