April 17th, 2006

distributed postmodern agitprop

Meanwhile, in a galaxy far, far away

T-minus ten days. It feels like the last month has absolutely sped by; I can't believe how little I've been perched in front of a computer. All this gear buying and trip taking and trying to adjust to the fact that in a little over a week I won't see home for several months.

But not all of the time has been spent in obsessing over the upcoming trip. If nothing else, kadyg and I took some time off of planning and preparation last night to watch -- finally, for my first time -- the original Star Wars. (She may have been prodded by frameacloud's recent viewing.)

It was ... kind of disappointing.

I guess a certain part of this is that, after having not seen it for 29 years, and after having had it beat into my head through endless cultural reference, it had an impossibly high bar to leap. I mean, it's a movie that singlehandedly altered human entertainment expectation; spawned a universe and a dedicated fandom over the course of my whole lifetime; built the George Lucas empire; and created a generation of "Who would win in a fight - Han Solo or Captain Kirk?" arguments. On top of that, all of the most memorable lines are the ones that have been drummed into my head for decades, to the point where I was reciting lines like "Mos Eisley spaceport ... you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy" and "These aren't the droids you're looking for" along with the on-screen characters. They kind of lose their impact that way, although a certain "Oh, that's where they come from" cultural fascination remains.

It probably didn't help that I was watching the new remastered edition. Unfortunately, it was rather obvious which scenes were new and which were original. (Hey, look! Pretty CGI! Hey, look! 1970s Tron-line computer displays!) It kept jarring me out of my film absorption. Compounding this was the absolutely wretched, vile, hard-to-overstate-in-its-badness sound editing -- most of the movie, we had to crank the volume up to 11 to make out the dialogue or music, but new scenes would cut in ear-piercingly loud and clear. There may have been some necessary continuity fixes in the new edition, I guess, but beyond that, I can unambiguously say that everyone involved in the remastering should have been fired.

As in, out of a cannon, and not toward a safety net.

As a story, the film held together pretty well -- by George Lucas standards, anyway. In the entire Star Wars series, he seems to have a bad case of Storyteller's Voice -- jumping between the parts of the narrative he finds interesting without so much as a "meanwhile." (Am I the only person who is a little annoyed by the "Hey, we're skipping over three movies' worth of material, here's the backstory we didn't care about" nature of the opening credit rolls?) It's not as jarring in the original as it is in the newer ones, but you can still see the signs of the sloppy narrative shorthand that stands out to me as one of the series' trademarks.

Speaking as a first-time viewer in 2006, Star Wars' visuals were just ... dated. I regret that my instinct is to harsh on it, because in a few ways it's aged well, and because it really was one of the defining films that made science fiction cool. They did remarkably well for their time -- which makes it painful that the three prequels were made so recently, because the difference in eye candy was like night and day. After having seen the full glory of badass Yoda saber-fu, the 1970s light saber scenes made me wince; and I found myself shifting uncomfortably in my seat during the final, climactic Death Star battle as they kept cutting back and forth between the same three sequence shots. And the planet-sized explosions? Ick. The final scenes made me nostalgic for the old, vintage Star Wars arcade game, which strike me as a greater technical achievement (though admittedly through the soft haze of memory).

And speaking of dated ... "Greedo" the money-grubbing bounty hunter? "Porkins" the overweight rebel fighter pilot? *twitch* I guess it's good to know that as Lucas aged, at least his ham-handed stereotypes gained a little bit of weight in the deniability department. (... Er, or something.)

And so I find myself in the odd position of having finished Episode 4, looking forward to the last two with the same sort of odd trepidation I imagine many longtime fans felt after seeing Episode 1 and being slapped in the face with a wet Jar-Jar. Most fans swear by the original trilogy over the new trilogy ... I don't think I can agree at this point, although I'll reserve judgment until I can watch the other two movies.