Last night, the third trailer for the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens premiered on YouTube and ESPN. Did you shit your dick? I definitely shat my dick. I think the dick-shittingest moment, for me, was when the new Darth Vader guy was doing the Force to the other guy’s brain, but the low-altitude aerial combat was strong as hell, too.
Hey, remember the nasty Jewish stereotype who owned 8-year-old Anakin Skywalker and his mother in The Phantom Menace? Remember how the Trade Federation aliens came straight out of World War II anti-Japanese propaganda? Remember Jar-Jar Binks? Remember when the first Star Wars movie in 16 years climaxed with an army of Jar-Jars catapulting goddamn bubbles at an army of frail-looking CGI robots on a grassy knoll, and your wallet leaped out of your pocket of its own accord and slapped you across the fucking mouth right there in the theater?
I shat my dick at the first teaser trailer, too. That deep, cruel voice, seeming to speak directly to viewers; the X-wings roaring over the water; that dark, mysterious figure storming through the snow and then abruptly, furiously unsheathing that wicked Cross of St. Peter-shaped lightsaber. And then, oh man, that moment, the iconic score bursting forth and the Millennium Falcon—the Millennium Falcon!—soaring and twisting and dodging a sudden spray of TIE fighters. The sights and sounds of the Star Wars universe I loved so much as a kid! No 90-second video has ever made me shit so much of my dick, or do it so suddenly.
Hey, hey, remember how Darth Maul was butt? Remember how he was in The Phantom Menace for like 12 total minutes, how he was an overcaffeinated ninja try-hard with a stupid bo-staff lightsaber and got chopped in half and tossed in the garbage by a shitty Padawan with a braided rat-tail? Remember how the scary bad guy in Attack of the Clones was an octogenarian with a lightsaber hilt that bent like an old man’s flaccid dick? Remember how he handled both Obi-Wan and Anakin at the same time?
It bent. He even pointed it downward. In related news, George Lucas was 58 years old in 2002.
The second trailer was a bona-fide dick-shitter, too: the sight of the impossibly vast Star Destroyer half-buried in the sand; Mark Hamill’s voice talking up the heredity of the Force and connecting this film to the first three; and, oh God, that badass chrome stormtrooper. The official Star Wars YouTube of this trailer has been watched over 65 million times, and I’m probably responsible for a good third of those. It’s two minutes long, and it is a better and more exciting movie than Jurassic World all by itself.
But, hey, remember in Revenge of the Sith, when the evil Darth Sidious, the most cunning and calculating Sith Lord of all time, finally gives Order 66—the culmination of his entire subtle and slow-burning master plan for the annihilation of the Jedi Order and absolute power over the entire galaxy, the one fell stroke toward which all the events of the prequel trilogy were manipulated, the checkmate he’s been setting up literally since before Anakin Skywalker was born—and it’s “Do lasers at the Jedis when they’re not looking”? Remember how literally every Jedi in the universe except Yoda and Obi-Wan gets killed at the same time because they neither detected this plot nor were able to fight off small groups of soldiers firing exactly the kinds of beams Jedis had spent the preceding 2.8 movies deflecting like so many harmless “yo mama” jokes?
What upcoming release has ever stoked as much feverish anticipation as The Force Awakens? It almost certainly will claim, by big monstrous margins, every box-office and viewership record in the history of filmmaking. It may well wind up as the most widely consumed entertainment product in history. Already I—a fairly casual fan of the overall Star Wars oeuvre, relatively speaking—have made plans to see it more than once: one time on the biggest, loudest screen I can find, and then one more time in that one theater where I can bring my kids and order dinner for them while we watch. I’ve never even considered doing that before, much less with a movie still two months from its release date.
Fine, but do you remember how the Podrace scene somehow went on for seven hours, even though The Phantom Menace was only 136 minutes? Remember the endless, world-historically boring, laughably phony-looking arena battle in the second half of Attack of the Clones? Remember how the only enjoyable things in Revenge of the Sith were Ian McDiarmid and Ewan McGregor not even pretending to take the proceedings seriously anymore and just hamming it up as much as they could? Remember, oh God ... remember “I don’t like sand”?
Remember how your face turned inside-out the first time you sat through that shit?
So much of what has made the trailers for this upcoming movie so exciting is how pointedly they refute the horrendous prequel trilogy. The slick, gleaming, overly-CGI’d look of those disasters is gone, and the shabby, run-down, space-Western look of the original trilogy is back. There are no little children, no gimmicky alien sidekicks. The action sequences appear to be consequential to the larger narrative outside the characters themselves, unlike the stupid Podrace. The message seems to be: This time, the filmmakers have taken more responsible stewardship of the rich Star Wars fantasy world; these movies will truly pay homage to the classic trilogy you loved so well.
Hey, remember the Ewoks? Remember how, in Return of the Jedi, the Rebellion hadn’t assembled a squad for the absolute most crucial job that needed to be done in order to destroy the Death Star until like five minutes before their attack was about to commence, and they just threw it together on the fly right there with what amounted to a show of hands? Remember how their plan amounted to, “Walk through the woods until something happens”? Remember how this forest moon’s huge population of indigenous teddy bears caught them—and the Empire—completely by surprise? But seriously: Remember the fucking Ewoks?
Here is the problem. Most of the Star Wars movies are not good, but bad. Betting on this one to be good—to be the best movie of all time—is betting against the trend. The overall mean grade of the six existing Star Wars films is, like, a D.
Of those six, two (the original Star Wars, plus The Empire Strikes Back) are unqualified classics. Three others (the prequels) are among the worst films ever to receive wide theatrical release. That brings us to the sixth, Return of the Jedi, the one nearest to The Force Awakens in the narrative chronology. I am very sorry to say that Return of the Jedi is butt.
Sure, it contains around an hour or so of terrific, visually spectacular space-fantasy adventure. Unfortunately, this space-fantasy adventure shares its running time with nearly 80 minutes of embarrassing bullshit. Here I am referring to: the too-long-by-half Jabba the Hutt sequence at the beginning, which tries and fails to recapture the sleazy fun of Mos Eisley; the excruciating scene in which a visibly embarrassed Alec Guinness delivers a block of exposition revealing Obi-Wan Kenobi to be the most hapless doofus who ever lived; what only feels like a month of intolerable Ewok nonsense; and more.
Crucially, the bullshit parts also include the following completely unforgivable scene, which foreshadows the abysmal prequel trilogy to come:
We need to talk about this scene. This scene is an atrocity. It is as bad as nearly anything in the prequels, and—because it is part of the original trilogy, and thus can’t be ignored as easily as, say, the disastrous talk about midichlorians in The Phantom Menace—far more ruinous. To illustrate why, let’s talk about a different sequence first. This one:
This is Luke and Vader’s confrontation in The Empire Strikes Back (edited by a YouTuber to remove the bits of Leia and Lando’s B-story sprinkled in there). By the end of it, Vader is so terrifying, so huge and cruel and relentless, that he’s hard even to look at; you’re afraid he’ll catch you peeking at him and fuck your shit up through the screen. Take a moment to consider what Vader does in this sequence.
After wearing Luke out with furious lightsaber skills from one end of Cloud City to the other; after bashing him to a pulp with flying space toasters; after blasting Luke out of a window and chasing him out to the end of a lonely windblown plank far from everyone who has ever known or cared about him, he lops the little pissant’s entire hand right the fuck off and then, then, only then, figures the time is right to go, Oh and also, I fucked your mom.
As our own Tim Marchman put it, it’s the rawest own in cinema history. The crucial line—“No. I am your father.”—lands like an atomic bomb precisely because the dude saying it just spent the previous movie-and-three-quarters making you wet your pants, and is saying it to the young cock whose hand he’d just hacked off like it was nothing. That was his son he did that to! Just now! Luke’s reaction, horror and revulsion and shame so great he literally chucks himself into a bottomless pit over it, feels downright understated. Darth Vader, at that moment, is as stark and evil a villain as any movie has ever had.
With that in mind, let’s return to the scene from Return of the Jedi, in which a completely unafraid Luke Skywalker kicks skin-crawling televangelist game—I feel the conflict within you! Let go of your hate! Don’t you have somethin’ you wanna say to Jesus? Somethin’ you wanna ask Him for?—at the giant evil cyborg who chopped his hand off the last time they were in each others’ presence. Who is this soggy piece of shit wearing Darth fucking Vader’s clothes? Who is this whiny, slumping sad-sack, mewling about how he must obey his master?
This is neither the absolute cruelty nor the equally frightening true-believer zeal of the Darth Vader we knew. This is the angsty, vapid, self-pitying emo shit-for-brains we’d later come to know in the prequels—the pathetic, un-frightening goomba henchman who for all intents and purposes gets pranked into becoming a villain in the first place. This is not the bad motherfucker who gleefully slices his own kid’s extremities off and then owns him all the way to attempted suicide; whose flair for cruel showmanship led to the memorable scene of him having Han and Leia delivered to him at a dinner table. This is a defeated, excuse-making heap of garbage.
This is Darth Vader. Does he seem all that sad about being Darth Vader to you? No he does not.
I’d want Luke to give this cybernetic Robert Smith a wedgie, but where the fuck is Luke? Gone is the sweaty, athletic, ballsy young insurgent of Empire, replaced by this neutered megachurch-pastor bag of crap. The hammy, cackling Emperor is the only motherfucker in this Force-sensitive triad who has any spunk, any zest for life. I wish he’d Force-lightninged both of these impostors to hell.
This one scene completely ruins the climactic clash between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor—what’s supposed to be the crux and emotional peak of the entire epic trilogy. Vader, one of the great terrors in film history, isn’t frightening anymore; he’s already all but explicitly told us he doesn’t like his job and doesn’t want to do it. He’s just a big weak-willed bodyguard acting out of a sense of duty. My God, he’s already Hayden Christensen’s Vader.
Remember at the end of Revenge of the Sith, when Anakin has gone over to the Dark Side and done all types of evil shit, and he and Obi-Wan are battling above the lava, and a desperate Obi-Wan, hearing his beloved best friend raving like a lunatic, yells, “Anakin, Chancellor Palpatine is evil!” Remember how Anakin’s response—the actual thing he says in reply, out loud, this unstoppable malevolent force who earlier that same day slaughtered a building full of young children one by one with a laser-sword—is, “From my point of view the Jedi are evil!” That is not a different Darth Vader from the one who mewls, “I must obey my master” at Luke. That is the same Vader. What if the one from Episodes IV and V was the lie?
When Luke is hiding under the stairs and Vader’s shit-talking about the totality of Obi-Wan’s failure and how he’s gonna turn Leia to the Dark Side, it plays like he’s talking more to the Emperor than to Luke, trying to impress his boss. See, boss? I’m evil as hell! Ain’t I evil, boss? Huh? Ain’t I? This sorry loser is no threat to Leia or to anybody else; he’d have to pause Beaches long enough to shave his helmet-stubble and scrounge up a clean cape first, and we all know he’s not up to it.
(Also, the Leia-as-sister thing is a fatal mistake, too; it forces us to understand both Vader and Obi-Wan as complete idiots. Vader stood face-to-face with his own daughter at multiple junctures of the first film and never once noticed a resemblance to himself or his dead wife—the woman with whom, according to the prequel trilogy, he’d been in love since he was eight years old? He never once detected that the Force was strong with this one? A random astromech droid shows up at Obi-Wan’s hut in the company of Darth Vader’s secret son, spits out a video recording of that son’s secret sister, and Obi-Wan doesn’t even blanch or bat an eyelash at this? Doesn’t even notice that Darth Vader’s secret son clearly has the hots for his own fucking sister? These people are fucking morons!)
Return of the Jedi is not good. C’mon. You’ll feel better when you just put it out there and name it. And the ways Return of the Jedi sucks are the ways the prequels suck: The prequels are not a betrayal, but a coherent expression of where the original trilogy was headed in 1983. It was already sprouting cutesy sidekicks and miserable plotting; the Jedi were already shifting from wise warrior monks to bland New-Age self-help gurus; it had already ruined Darth Vader.
Once you acknowledge these undeniable truths—you can do it!—the next step is recognizing that mostly, the Star Wars universe has given us movies that are bad. The prequels are not the aberrations. Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back are.
Maybe The Force Awakens will be great! I sure as fuck hope so. J.J. Abrams is at the controls, and his crack at the Star Trek franchise yielded one terrific film followed by a frustrating misfire. If that 50-percent success rate doesn’t look all that much like a reason to feel confident, it’s a hell of a lot better than the 33-percent Star Wars is batting so far. That’s Naked Gun territory, for chrissakes.
Two great movies, one mediocre one, and three of the worst major motion pictures ever made. The odds are against The Force Awakens. Minimum bet is the cost of one movie ticket, and I kinda feel like a sucker already. But I’ve already bought two.
Remember when Luke took Darth’s helmet off? Remember when what was inside looked like a bald Richard Dreyfuss? Remember the look on poor Liam Neeson’s face throughout The Phantom Menace? Remember when a battalion of Stormtroopers surrendered to rock-wielding Ewoks? Remember Jar-Jar Binks? No, seriously: Remember Jar-Jar Binks?
Image by Jim Cooke, source via 20th Century Fox.