It’s never fun to bury a friend, especially one you’ve watched wither away and die right before your eyes. Harder still is the realization that, for many, this onetime companion continues to live on, bigger and brighter than ever. Two decades ago, a perfect little trilogy was formed, a series of science fiction films that took the genre into worlds of unbelievable imagination and action-oriented invention. Spawned from this matinee mannered speculation was a fanbase so devoted, so affected by what creator George Lucas had wrought that they supported each and every facet of its growing legacy. Even horrific examples of capitalization like the Wookie-ccentric Christmas Special held a special place in the hearts of the devoted.
But now it can be said with some certainty - Star Wars is dead. No, not literally. As long as there are novices, unaware of the backstory that began in the year of the Bicentennial, the cash flush franchise will continue to live long and prosper (to borrow a superior series’ sentiment). Yet in my eyes at least, the beloved story of Luke Skywalker, his Dark Lord father Darth Vader, and the rise and fall of the Republic/Empire ceased to exist last week. True, the motion picture monopoly had been on life support ever since the cancer that was the prequels reared their ill-conceived incompetence. And at the moment the horrible Hayden Christiansen became the black man-machine menace, screaming a sophomoric “NO!” over his fate, Wars was, in my view, clutching for breath.
But with the arrival of the kid-friendly flotsam known as The Clone Wars, the last vestiges of the original trilogy have been officially purged from the myth’s creative corpse. It’s not just the grade school age focus of the new animated movie (and eventual TV series), or the poorly rendered cartooning that turns adored characters into cake decoration versions of their former selves. In fact, one could argue that the very reason Clone killed the original Wars was due to an overabundance of ambitions. In an attempt to broaden the concept’s appeal, and pull in even more fans to the fray, Lucas and his Skywalker Ranch regulars have figured out a way to alienate the very individuals who gave him his dollar-driven dynasty in the first place.
We need to get a few things out of the way right up front. I admit that I have been very harsh on Lucas and his Hutt goitered grandstanding ever since he made it perfectly clear that his old fans need not apply to the prequel’s Jar-Jar jive. His love of money and the million ways he can successfully shill his sparse space operatics have given rise to many a rant - and often over-pitched ridiculousness. But as someone who stood in line for nearly seven hours to see the original Star Wars - sans Special Edition tweaks - upon release, and then went on to sit through it seven more times (a personal record for the ‘70s) I believed I earned the right to vent.
Of course, no one could have anticipated the diabolical double cross that was the updated digital versions of the classic Wars triptych. In retrospect, an artist has every right to tweak his creations to fit his final designs, and Lucas does own everything in that galaxy far, far away. But his early attitude - the original films would NEVER again be seen in their un-doctored state - indicated a despotic delusion and disinterest. Not just with those who supported him through the tough times, but for the very artform he was working in. Say what you want about the Special Editions (good, bad, indifferent, what?) but the flash free version of Episode IV was actually nominated for an Oscar. Imagine the uproar if someone, say Steven Spielberg, took Jaws and added a digital shark. You get the idea.
Yet it was the moment the prequels were announced that the fanbase took sides. Some wondered why it took Lucas so long to realize his original aims (he had announced an eventual series of nine films to fill out the franchise), while others smelled a revisionist rat. Fast forward several years, and the foul stench of The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and the highly over-praised Revenge of the Sith continues to permeate the Star Wars universe. While the films have their champions, most consider them pale comparisons to the movies that first fired their intense motion picture passions.
So how exactly does The Clone Wars obliterate the last remaining vestiges of the old Wars world? Easy - it treats it like it doesn’t exist. Clone is the first film in the entire Lucas legacy that feels like it was made out of something different. Maybe it’s the technology, or the introduction of random new characters that will NEVER be referenced again in any other Star Wars storyline (that is, until the new ‘Ultra Special Editions’ come out, right?). Perhaps it’s the general dumbing down of everything to fit a Saturday Morning cartoon mentality. It could be the unnecessary nature of the project, considering that Lucas had already commission material like this from animator Genndy Tartakovsky and his Cartoon Network crew.
Whatever it is, Clone Wars plays like someone’s bad interpretation of what Star Wars should be. From the infantile way the new padawan, Ashoka is portrayed (critical comparisons to Hannah Montana are not that far off) to the shocking pseudo hate crime that is Ziro the Hutt, everything here in rendered is regressive, aggressively adolescent tones. Sure, we see some interesting space battles, including a vertical assault that really captures the thrills of old, but when tempered by Jabba’s drag queen Uncle and his equally annoying son (a baby slug lovingly referred to as “Stinky”), the visuals dim and then disappear.
Indeed, the moment Ziro opened his Truman Capote piehole (a voice mandate from Master George himself, so the story goes), I felt my affection for Star Wars finally die. I recognized that I had been a fool for falling for Lucas’ line time and time again. I remembered my dismay at the way he handled the romance between Anakin and Padme. I re-winced at dialogue that sounded like badly written middle school mush notes. As with every other piece of this seemingly infinite creation, I tried to process it and put it into perspective. I could argue for its comic value - if only barely - but as the performance continued, the flamboyance fostered nothing but rage. And then grief.
Over at Ain’t It Cool News, Drew McWeeny - aka Moriarity - has decided to stop writing about Star Wars forever. His decision comes from a combination of things: an issue over embargo dates; his ongoing distrust of Lucas’ intentions; the rabid response to his opinions on messageboards and comment lists; a personal ‘enough is enough’. Yet one imagines that, like me, he’s sick of figuring out ways to defend his fandom, especially in light of what’s going on now. As Clone ramps up for a Fall premiere, and a live action TV series scouts locations in Australia, it’s clear that the old guard aficionados who kept the franchise afloat between bouts of sequel/prequel/trequel-itis are no longer important to Wars’ world. In that regard, more than any other, it’s time for us to return the favor.
Call it a eulogy or a grand kiss off, but I’m done. Star Wars is dead, at least to me. Somehow, it doesn’t seem all that surprising. Or sad.