Like millions of others who were lucky enough to see it for the first time on the big screen, my world was rocked by Star Wars back in 1977. It wasn’t simply that it was the most incredible sci-fi spectacle I had seen up to that point. It’s that I never had a cinematic hero quite like Luke Skywalker before Star Wars. He was the pop culture hero I never knew I was looking for. The emotional void of never knowing his parents resonated with me at a deep level. His yearning for a greater sense purpose and meaning seemed a mirror image of my own. His frustration with his surroundings and the determination to escape the provincial shithole he grew up in felt identical to mine. It wasn’t simply that I could relate to Luke Skywalker. I felt at some level that I was Luke Skywalker.
When George Lucas announced his intention to tell the story of Darth Vader’s slide to the Dark Side, I was intrigued but somewhat perplexed. Return of the Jedi ended on such a triumphant note. Does Star Wars even work as a Shakespearean tragedy? Does it make sense to recast the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as a Star Wars film? Ladies and gentlemen, the answer is a resounding No. I realize this isn’t a particularly new or controversial opinion, but I wanted to put down a few words about why they’re bad films as well as why I believe they’re toxic pieces of social engineering. As much as I am tempted to attribute all blame for the corruption of the Star Wars franchise to Kathleen Kennedy, Rian Johnson, JJ Abrams, and their minions at the Disney Corporation, George Lucas managed to hasten that process completely on his own.
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
Yes, it’s a turd. I know.
I still think the most persuasive case for the prequels is Nick Gillespie’s piece which casts them as an allegory for the moral collapse of the Boomers. This story had potential for being coherent and good, but it would have required too many risks for someone as entrenched as George Lucas.
When he finally enlarges the Star Wars lore and attempts to deepen the story of the Old Republic, the less sense it makes. Whether it was ideological possession, laziness or myopia, the sheer quantity of bad choices he visited upon this screenplay boggles the mind.
- Midichlorians? WTF, George. When Obi-Wan first describes The Force, he says it’s “an energy field created by all living things”. Now access to the Force is determined by the quantity of microscopic cells. So that means the Jedi quest is only accessible to people who are blessed with the right genetics. Very progressive, Lucas.
- The inexplicable ineptitude of the Jedi Council. This was supposedly the Jedi at their peak, but they were blindsided by the reemergence of the Sith? No one picked up the fact that Palpatine was the Phantom Menace? Obi-Wan knew that Alderaan had been snuffed out, but not a single Jedi felt a disturbance in the Force? Really? Not even Yoda? Speaking of Yoda, he actually laid down some deep shit in Empire, but in every scene with the Jedi Council they just seem like effete dumbshits. Even Qui-Gon’s pronouncements are lame. Yes, it has continuity with Kenobi’s teachings to Luke, but it made more sense inside the larger context of Jedi ethics. This just seems like the wrong message to impart to the youth.
Qui-Gon Jinn: Remember, concentrate on the moment. Feel, don’t think. Trust your instincts.
- Tatooine’s gangster/slave economy. This was the Pax Galactica before the Fall, and you’ve got an entire world that’s run by slave owners and gangsters? How does anyone make an honorable living on this planet? This was the period of peace and freedom before the iron fisted dominion of the Empire that we’re rooting to see restored? Not exactly a ringing endorsement of a multi-planetary democratic imperium.
- Pod racing as gladiatorial sport. I realize Lucas is reaching for a Ben-Hur parallel here, but at a basic level, they’re allowing a kid to compete in a life threatening competition. This was a sort of proto-Hunger Games scenario.
- War as video game. This criticism is hardly limited to this film, but the battle scene between the Gungans and the droid army felt like an ad for the LucasArts game. You are supposed to make a cursory effort to portray the danger, fear and carnage so that the audience perceives the gravity of the situation.
When you combine the plot problems with the character problems and your bad guys sound like they have Down Syndrome, picking on Jar Jar Binks just seems pointless.
Lucas wants you to empathize with Anakin, but there’s not much to go on. You knew this was his wunderkind period going into it, so there was no real growth arc with which to identify. At no point do you ever sense that you’re actually watching a child. He performs amazing feats of technical wizardry and displays virtuosic piloting skills without fear. His final farewell to his mother reeks of falsehood. I realize he’s the Chosen One and everything but this is exactly why Rey was so unbelievable too.
Neeson and McGregor come out the most unscathed overall. I don’t particularly love Natalie Portman in the first place and this is easily her most dreadful performance.
Good lightsaber fight though.
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
Though almost unseated by the abysmal dungheap known as The Last Jedi, Attack of the Clones still holds the dubious distinction of being the nadir of the once glorious Star Wars franchise.
Pointing out the flaws in AOTC feels a bit redundant at this point, but I think the biggest Jedi Mind Trick of this film was Lucas’ attempt to make you believe it’s not itself a piece of propaganda for global Empire.
The heroine of the film is a monarch and a functionary in the Old Republic? Her world was invaded and occupied as a consequence of bureaucratic inertia in the last film and she remains a true believer in “democracy”? Star Wars celebrated the restoration of a monarchist aristocracy, but the emergence of a secessionist sentiment is a calamity that heralds the onset of tyranny? Granted, the Separatists were controlled opposition, but still. There weren’t any grassroots planetary sovereignty movements?
We’re meant to see Anakin’s slaughter of the Tusken Raiders as an act of barbarism that foreshadows his moral collapse, but why should we feel sympathy for Tusken Raiders? He may have taken things a bit too far, but come on. They kidnapped his mother! They shoot podracers indiscriminately! They attacked Luke! Fuck the Sandpeople!
I am beginning to think the epic cringe of the Padme/Anakin affair was a cinematic act of demolition on heterosexual romance itself.
The subplot surrounding the clone army presages the advent of gene editing and suggests the potential for Brave New World-style eugenics and dysgenics.
And there’s just no excuse for this, George. Come on, dude.
Anakin Skywalker: I don’t like sand. It’s coarse, and rough, and irritating, and it gets everywhere.
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
It’s the most tolerable of the three prequels, but this doesn’t compensate for the outright malevolence of its underlying message. Lucas undoubtedly wants this to be perceived as a space opera reinvention of Julius Caesar, but a more sober analysis suggests that this film represents a grand scale act of vandalism on the heroic male archetype.
What we see in Anakin is essentially the caricature of the impetuous, impulsive, romantically challenged dudebro/incel dumbshit that is now omnipresent throughout the culture. In short, I believe the story of Anakin Skywalker’s submission to the Dark Side was a Trojan Horse for the vile and idiotic “toxic masculinity” meme. Just scan any article or blog post by a feminist and I guarantee that her baseline assumptions about men can be mapped to some aspect of Anakin Skywalker. Part of me thinks this is why Lucas chose an actor as unlikable as Hayden Christensen and then gave him such a turd of a role to play. The goal was to make him awkward and unsympathetic.
Despite the negative archetype he represents for men, the film is also by extension a stealth commentary on one of feminism’s sacred cows: single motherhood. Anakin Skywalker may have singlehandedly ushered in the “toxic masculinity” meme, but let’s not forget that he was raised exclusively by a woman prior to meeting Qui-Gon and Obi Wan. What mother would just hand over her son to a couple of occultist/spy warrior monks she barely knew and show so little anguish? Whether this also suggests the manner in which children are groomed for Hollywood is yet another angle to consider.
Anakin’s perfectly natural desire for a father figure is also subverted and sabotaged. The Jedi oath of celibacy seems virtuous in a world of profligacy and indulgence, but it’s never explained well. Obi-Wan’s advice to Anakin amounts to little more than “Stop getting a boner”. His allegiance to the Jedi pits his natural urge to have a wife and a child against the Jedi code. He has no role models for traditional chivalry, courtship or fatherhood. No wonder the Naboo frolic scenes are so painful. When Palpatine dangles the possibility of preventing death through knowledge of the Dark Side, it speaks to his natural urge to be protective. Of course he would find that power tempting. He’s in love. Men will do anything for the women they love. But Lucas wants us to see him as this man who had allowed himself to be corrupted and manipulated by pure evil.
What we have in Anakin Skywalker is a man who sought what men have fought for centuries to preserve. A sense of duty and honor. A sense of pride and purpose. A legacy to hand down to his progeny. A desire for peace and order. The love of a woman. The joy and fulfillment of a family. What George Lucas did in this trilogy is portray the pursuit of those virtues and ideals as a path to moral degradation. He took the best attributes of manhood and perverted them into something to be shunned and condemned. Utterly reprehensible.
On the positive side, Lucas is giving us a subtle and valuable lesson in managed geopolitical dialectics. The Jedi are properly viewed as an occult/espionage organization roughly analogous to the CIA. Just as in real life, the CIA have controlled assets in the criminal underworld as well as vast intelligence gathering networks. Lucas’ clever cinematic trick is to portray the Jedi and the Sith as the two presumably opposite sides of this dichotomy. One Good and the other Bad. Marvel uses the same device with SHIELD and HYDRA. The Bond series also uses this device by portraying SPECTRE as the shadow cabal who stands in opposition to MI6 and our beloved 00 agent, James Bond. Palpatine was, in essence, the Manchurian Candidate/double agent who kept his true identity as Darth Sidious hidden. As a Sith, he was controlling the Separatists and as a politician, he was able to exploit the chaos to secure greater power. Does this have a real world analogue? You bet your ass. The way these films always navigate the moral conundrum of absolute power is simply by saying that it must never fall into the Wrong Hands. That’s really all Lucas is saying by this film’s conclusion.
By the end, we don’t really understand why Padme dies. It just seems like another arbitrary script decision which brings the film to its predetermined conclusion resulting in two infants without parents. Because they’re children of elite pedigree, they remain in the care of elites. Luke gets the shorter end of the stick, but his CIA handler/Jedi Master-to-be sets up shop on Tatooine just to keep tabs on him and initiate him into Skull and Bones/the Jedi Order when the time comes.
I believe that Nick Gillespie was fundamentally correct when he argued that the prequels marked the Boomer generation’s embrace of Empire. They came of age promising revolution, peace and freedom, but in the end, they left a legacy of war, bureaucracy, and social unrest papered over by the most vacuous platitudes. The only thing I’d add is that final film embodies the sheer contempt the Boomers hold for the younger generations. The Original Trilogy made Luke heroic. If you were a boy, you wanted to be him. Anakin is not given the same treatment. How many boys are still going to walk out of Revenge of the Sith wanting to be Anakin just because he looks cool with a lightsaber and bagged Natalie Portman? Whatever your guess is, I guarantee it’s higher.