Friday, 10 April 2009

Friday-Night Blog: I Blame Rick McCallum...

So, I was watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars (the 3D animated series) yesterday, which seems to be showing on Cartoon Network here in the UK, after having been isolated to Sky Movies before, and I thought it was quite good, which got me to thinking... Where did it all go wrong for the Star Wars saga?

I used to love Star Wars - no, actually that's an understatement. I used to eat, drink and breathe Star Wars. I used to watch my VHS copies of the Trilogy on an old black and white TV in my room, snatching a few minutes of Jedi while I got ready for school in the morning. I used to read and re-read all the books I had, and hunt for old second-hand copies of annuals and storybooks - this was in the dark times, before the coming of the second merchandising wave, when there was, frankly, sod all new Star Wars around!

And then, Dark Horse Comics published Star Wars: Dark Empire, in 1991; Timothy Zahn's novel Heir to the Empire was published in 1992, and the ball started rolling again. More books, more comics... And my Star Wars reflex kicked in! I bought nearly everything I could that had the Star Wars name on it, spending all my available money on it. Everything was fantastic in the Star Wars Universe. Us fan boys were happy, very happy. And then...

And then, George Lucas announced that he would be making Episodes I to III of the series, and we would get the full story - we'd see Anakin Skywalker's fall from grace, his voyage to the dark side, Obi-Wan Kenobi fighting in the Clone Wars... The anticipation was immense. And before that, we'd get new, spanky, souped-up versions of the Original Trilogy IN THE CINEMA!

And that's where I think the rot set in. George Lucas had the chance to go back and "tinker" with our beloved films. Don't get me wrong, I like most of the changes made in the films - the attack on the Death Star needed sprucing up, Cloud City's windows do open up the landscape, and the um, well, no actually most of the changes in Return of the Jedi were totally unnecessary (and they got worse when Hayden Christensen was dropped into the film on the DVD...) Most importantly, GREEDO DID NOT SHOOT FIRST.... ahem.

To help with all the work on the Special Editions, and the Prequel Trilogy, Lucas enlisted Rick McCallum, who had worked with the Great Beard on the Young Indiana Jones series. Alarm bells should have rung then, quite frankly...

And so, in 1999, we got Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. God we wanted to love that film. I watched it two and a half times (fell asleep watching it on my stag-night...). I didn't mind Jar-Jar, Jake Lloyd as young Anakin was OK, Darth Maul was pretty cool with his double-blade lightsaber, Liam Neeson was solid and Ewan McGregor was over-keen as young Obi-Wan, but there was something a bit, well, hollow in the whole enterprise. It had Star Wars on the label, but it felt like something else was on the till.

Three years later we got Episode II - Attack of the Clones and we also got the afore-mentioned Christensen. Well, to say he was wooden would be insulting to trees, but he just didn't fill the role of the nascent Dark Lord of the Sith. He was just a whiney brat who apparently didn't like sand. The romance between Anakin and Padmé was risible, and you got the feeling the Natalie Portman was trying her best, but couldn't muster up the enthusiasm to deal with her love interest...

And then, in 2005, we finally got to see Anakin become Vader. Possibly the strongest film of the prequels (save for the fact that Portman seemed to have died inside somewhere - probably when she saw her script), it still lacked... soul. We knew we should be feeling something, we knew we should love these film like we loved the original films, and we've tried to convince ourselves to love them over the last four years, but we really can't....

Where are the heroes? What kid wants to be Anakin or Obi-Wan or Padmé, like we wanted to be Luke or Han or Leia? In what way were any of the ships cooler than the Millennium Falcon or the X-Wings (or TIE Fighters, come to that?) Even Yoda's gymnastics were a little bit, well, silly, if you think about it. The over-reliance on CGI for the special effects already looks dated in some cases, whereas the model work from the Original Trilogy still stands the test of time.

So why do I blame Rick McCallum? Well, I don't think the man had the cojones to say no to George Lucas. I believe that every artist needs an editor, a critic or an executive to stand up to them and tell them when something just isn't good enough. Prince hasn't really made a consistently decent album since he parted company with Warners as he's been allowed to indulge himself - even such celebrated writes as T.S. Eliot had editors to send them back to the drawing board. I believe that Lucas needed that, and Rick McCallum wasn't the man for the job.

I've given up on the majority of Star Wars products these days. There are too many books (I gave up after the New Jedi Order series), comics and video games to buy. I'm looking forward to the live-action series due to arrive in the next few years, because I'm an optimist. I hope I get to see more of the Clone Wars TV show, but it seems to be a bit random at the moment.

I still love Star Wars, I really do. I just wish the Prequels had been so much better.

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