Thursday, June 28, 2012

Star Wars Through a Kid's Eyes: The Originals

The Star Wars watching was going nicely.  I expected to be able to follow up the Prequel Portion of these reviews in short order.  That was not the case, though; as the Rebellion was almost crushed by a foe it had never seen the likes of before:

Harry Potter.

He came from yet another franchise that I had tried to peak my daughter’s interest in for years, which she completely ignored until it came up as part of an after school craft activity.   I originally wanted to read her the books before she saw the movies.  However, since they planned to watch some of the later films in class, she needed to get caught up right away.  We did start reading the books at the same time, and there were enough, “That wasn’t in the movie,” moments in just the first book to guarantee she’ll know which medium Mr. Potter works best in.

Near the end of our magical cinematic journey, her interest in a Galaxy Far Far Away renewed and we were able to finish the saga.

A New Hope

Yes, A New Hope.   

Starting at Episode I, it made the most sense to watch the Special Editions instead of the originals.  They were not the Special Editions with the most recent changes and updates, which I believe can only be kept up with at the daily screenings in George Lucas’s living room.  We went with the editions released with the untouched original versions as bonus DVDs. (Coincidentally, the only ones I would purchase.)

My daughter was interested in the story and the people (and things, which were also people), and seemed to find Artoo and Threepio much funnier and more engaging than she had in the prequels.

As it was the “Special Edition” close to mid-way through the biggest change hit during Han and Greedo’s confrontation.  I was good, and my daughter didn’t hear any comments from me.
(At least, she didn’t hear them during this particular viewing, I’m sure everyone in the hemisphere has heard some comments from me about this scene by now.)

Greedo fired first. 
Before the scene could further unfold, my daughter yelled, incredulously:
(That’s my girl!)

She was into everything going on for most of the film, zoning out only in the middle for a bit. Honestly I think that had more to do with blocking out Obi-Wan’s death than anything else that was happening.  She had no recollection of it at the end of the movie, and we had to go back and watch it again afterward, as it’s kind of important to later events.

The Empire Strikes Back

Sometimes, quality triumphs.

Empire has the least changes in the special edition and has always been my favorite. As an adult, because it has the most character and plot development, and as a child because the side I was rooting for won. 

Sometime I may have to do a post detailing the theory I had when this film first came out explaining the only reason the Empire looked as harsh as it did was because they had to impose martial law to deal with those communist rebels.

Actually, since I was only ten at the time – the above sentence pretty much sums up my entire theory.

More important than my own multi decade long insanity is my daughter’s reaction to this movie. Not counting Episode I (seen in 3D, in a theater) this was the only episode that held her attention completely all the way through.  She also danced in her seat almost every time the “Imperial March” played. (That’s my girl!)

Yes, she was excited about seeing the Wampa after loving his singing-skating version in Robot Chicken.

Yes, she was anticipating Luke’s “big NO.”

But I could see it was what was happening on screen that really held her attention. The real evidence of this came near the end of the film.

She had full knowledge that there was a final episode coming, and that Luke played a major role in it. In fact, she’d seen the part of Jedi with Luke fighting the Rancor as we flipped by on cable one time.  However, after Luke fell - following losing his hand to Vader - and was hanging under Bespin while the Falcon was about to fly away, she completely panicked. 

“Where are they going? They can’t leave him there! How will he get down? They can’t leave!!!”

That is proof of good storytelling. It also shows that, as much as I’ve enjoyed being involved with message board conversations about the best viewing order of the series, it doesn’t really matter. The stories are so ingrained in our culture now; almost all of the good reveals are common knowledge.  Pick any starting point and enjoy the ride.

A final personal note on this episode (which my daughter agrees with):

With full apologies to the ILM effects guys who are pioneers in their craft, puppet Yoda has infinitely more screen presence and realism to him than CGI Yoda does. It will be a real shame if the next “Really Super Duper Special Edition” of the originals replaces Frank Oz’s artistry.  

Oz’s manipulations may be the reason, as well, that after seeing him in three films previously and making no connection, my daughter immediately said, upon hearing Yoda speak in Empire, “He sounds like Grover.” She also reacted to him far more in puppet form. She went from laughing at his antics to being genuinely afraid when he assured her (and Luke), “You will be…YOU will be.”

Puppet Yoda is a fully realized character who occupies space and story with the same substance as the people he shares scenes with.  CGI Yoda, while more mobile and unrestricted lacks the heart, soul and expressiveness of Puppet Yoda. 

The digital version also does not convey the proper amount of emotion and gravitas in the “Yoda frowny face.”

And CGI Yoda… why you fail.

Return of the Jedi

My daughter liked this one as well. Though she, again, zoned out a bit in the middle between Tatooine (which she was fully into) and the Endor battle.  Although she did comment that the speeder bike scenes made her a little dizzy and expressed concern about seeing them in 3D. Given the rate Lucasfilm tends to release things, she may be bringing her grandchildren to that premier.

The end light saber battle between Luke and Vader really caught her attention and interest. This was far more than the saber duels in Episodes II and III which she mostly ignored. (Substance over style, my friends, substance over style.)

She also found the Ewoks to be cute, funny and very entertaining, proving:

1) These movies are primarily for kids, not complaining fanboys.
2) George Lucas does know what he’s doing for the most part.

Once again, she commented on how funny the droids were and how much she liked them.  The prequels tried to copy their behavior from the originals, (Threepio worrying, Artoo saving everyone’s heiney several times an episode) but somehow didn’t recapture the magic. I could blame CGI again, but I have no real basis to do that. (I probably will anyway, though, being an old grouchy Star Wars fan.)

My wife is a much better litmus test for how regular people view things than I am. For the most part, she didn’t react to, or even register, any of the special edition changes to the movies…

Until the end of Return of the Jedi. 

It started innocently enough during the extended celebration scenes on the other planets with the new song.  She said, “I don’t remember this, is it new?”  (My daughter was very excited to hear Jar Jar when they showed Naboo…See number’s 1) and 2) above.)

Then the Jedi ghosts appeared and it was someone else in my family’s turn to be outraged as my wife yelled:

(That’s my sweetie!)

I told her I planned to show our daughter the proper “Lug Nuts” ending song anyway.  Once the confused looks finished forming on their faces and the credits rolled I put the disc of the original version in.  We all agreed we do like the new Jabba’s Palace song with the love child of James Brown and Cookie Monster better than plain old Lapti Nek.  However, we also agreed there’s no way they should have put young Anakin at the end, and given that my daughter danced through the whole thing (as did I) the Ewok “Lug Nuts” celebration song is far better.

As a final proof of my daughter’s taste I offer the following.

At the end of Return of the Jedi, every single time I watch it (now a freakishly large number, and counting) after Luke sets his father’s bier on fire, much to the complaints and annoyance of all my relatives I say EXACTLY the same thing:

“I would have kept the hat.”

This time, a small voice next to me said:

“Well, yeah - DUH!”

That’s my girl!


Brian said...

I completely agree about how much puppet Yoda adds to the character and moods. Your picture choice was a great sample of that.

Jeff McGinley said...

Many thanx. I use that line and face myself often when things are done badly. In fact, I used it so often when my sister was making a campfire she threatened to beat me to death with the poker.