Friday, February 15, 2013

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

(Originally Written for Jedi News)

We all have things we love that, looked at objectively, have flaws that surpass our normal sense of taste. We acknowledge that they aren’t “good,” but we like them anyway. We call these things “Guilty Pleasures.”

To many people, loving Episodes I, II, and III might count as a guilty pleasure. However, I don’t think it should be. You shouldn’t feel guilty for liking them because they are actually good movies. Not perfect, not in the slightest, but equal in overall quality to many other films that are considered classic greats, including IV-VI.

I-III was action-packed, deep, and technically groundbreaking, just like IV-VI (well, III and VI weren’t breaking any new ground with technology, but who cares). I-III was also packed with some silly melodrama, just like IV-VI. But in this context, in this kind of story, it works. I-III shouldn’t be a “guilty” pleasure unless you feel IV-VI should be. If that’s the way you feel, fine. My whole point with this column is to judge the six films fairly and equally.

You might be thinking that I don’t have any guilty pleasures. Indeed, I think nobody should feel guilty about finding some measure of connection with a piece of art, no matter its flaws. However, there are such things as flaws in movies, and they can accumulate too much for one to really call the movie “good.” So yes, I do have “guilty pleasures.” Here’s the thing though, I can admit when a movie is too flawed. For a perfect example, I turn to the Lucasfilm archives. I think you all know where this is going.

I love all six Star Wars films because they’re all incredible films. Howard the Duck is mediocre, but I like it anyway.

Yeah, I like Howard the Duck.

Hear me out.

First of all, George Lucas gets way too much blame for it. He didn’t write it or direct it. He merely threw money at it. Granted, it was his idea to option the property in the first place, and he gave the director a pep-talk when he was having second-thoughts…okay I’m not helping myself here.

Second of all, as movies go, it’s really not that bad. It’s not great by any stretch of the imagination. It falls flat far too often. But I’ve seen movies from that time period fall flat just as bad if not worse and escape the negativity this film engenders. I think HtD’s biggest flaw is that it’s just…weird. It’s too weird for most people. Me, I like the weirdness, and even when it falls flat I appreciate what it was trying to do. But I do recognize that objectively it’s kind of okay at best. That’s still better than people give it credit for, and it’s always going to have a special place in my heart, but at the end of the day the movie has more problems than it does successes. I can accept that.

What I refuse to accept is the notion that people – people who revere IV-VI (or at least IV and V) as great classics – could possibly say the same about I-III. Again, not because I-III have no flaws. They have plenty.  But as I’ve been saying they’re the same flaws that IV-VI have and have had all along. And like the guilty pleasure, those flaws have become the basis of most of our fandom.

Remember the Tuskin Raider from New Hope who wasn’t shot for long enough so they rocked the film back and forth a few times? That was a cheesy trick even in 77, and super-obvious to boot. Even the poorly animated Dug in Attack of the Clones’ speeder chase, an obvious homage, wasn’t as badly done as that. Yet most people remember the “Tuskin Rock” fondly. Why? The same reason I giggle every time that falling pot sound effect clangs from offscreen in Jar Jar’s general direction. Real fans embrace the cheesiness. But the cheese always comes with a cinematic mastery that the “guilty pleasures” either don’t have or misuse.

So yeah, don’t be guilty. I-III are good movies. Or at least up to the same standard that says IV-VI are good movies. Shame has no place here. Enjoy!


  1. I never saw the problem with the Tusken raider effect- indeed, I never even knew it was done that way until I saw the behind-the-scenes doc, so it maybe isn't "super-obvious".

    And I would still argue that I-III have problems independent of how IV-VI have problems (or at least IV-V, as ROTJ shares many of the same issues due to Kurtz's leaving).

    1. Kids don't notice that stuff as much as adults do. Hence why it is kind of a kid's movie.

      And I think you give Kurtz a little too much credit.

    2. I didn't see the behind-the-scenes doc until I was like 15, so it's not necessarily 'not noticing it 'cause I was a kid'.

      As to your second point, I do think there was a shift between Empire and Return in which Lucas's attitude towards filmmaking and franchising changed, and the departure of Kurtz because of that change is part of what led to several of the failings of Return as a conclusion to the saga. So yeah, it's not quite "everything bad happened 'cause Kurtz left", but I think his leaving is just a good indicator of the changes that took place between the two films.

  2. Kurtz didn't want Irvan to direct TESB and fought with Lucas over it. Then Kurtz gave Irvan free reign and didn't keep production on time or on budget. Things got bad fast and Lucas was forced to crawl back to the studio for money. Then Lucas had to fly out to the UK to personally get production back on track. To make up for lost time and money he had to forego filming many planned scenes. That was what started the rift between Lucas and Kurtz, Kurtz's own incompetence which almost sunk the production of TESB. I wonder if he was trying to give Irvan enough rope to hang himself which lead to so much trouble. The Empire Strikes Back also received mixed reviews from critics upon its initial release. It was not widely liked as it is now, through I think it is mostly due to groupthinking caused by the geek culture. It is my least favorite SW film, to me it just has more flaws than TPM.