EPISODE III, YOU'RE MY ONLY HOPE
Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace was, inarguably, one of the world's most disappointing epic pictures of all time. On opening day in 1999, the collective sigh of mild to severe fan disgruntlement was picked up by the world's most sensitive seismographs, and would have confounded the usually vigilant seismologists had they not been at the movies at the time.
Of course, no film could have withstood the cataract of anticipation that had built-up around the expensive prequel, no matter how wonderful. In order to exceed that first moment of titillation when fans everywhere downloaded the teaser trailer and felt the hairs on the back on their neck stand up at the mere notion of the reality of new additions to the franchise, the picture itself would have to have been all things to all people executed with the precision and flair of a god...
So, Episode I had all of that going against it from the start. Matters were not helped much by the fact that Episode I actually did fairly suck...
And, while Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones was by most reports significantly less horrible, it did not for most fan allay the raw wound that had been opened by the clumsy direction and limp screenplay of Episode I.
Plenty of folks pointed out that Episodes IV, V and VI hadn't exactly been Shakespeare, after all. The original movie is a gem in isolation, at once campy and quasi-satirical and yet awe inspiring in its revolutionary visuals and sound design. The first sequel was appealing in its mildly darker tone, but it is here that Lucas abandons camp in favour of his version of being serious, leading us to the disasterously cheesy and underwhelming pabulum of Episode VI with its cutesy ewoks, cocaine-addled Carrie Fisher and lacklustre deja-vu climax.
...Frankly, if you get right down to it, none of the Star Wars movies is a particularly solid piece of filmmaking. But this we already know, and is beside the point. Let us take it as read that growing up with a saga, even a craptacular one with coolio special effects and grand music, leads to a certain affection for the franchise. Let's just let the students of soft sciences wasting their parents' money at unchallenging universities figure out the whys and wheretofores of why people obsess over pop cultural artefacts the way they do. Suffice it to say that I love the saga, despite its many obvious flaws.
Still, I was largely disappointed with Episode I. I was expecting standard Lucasian cheese between achetypical characters, but not the gross writing ineptitude and complete lack of credible characterisation we ended up with. I was indeed slightly mollified by Episode II with its snazzy effects and hum-dinger soundtrack. But now all of my hopes are pinned on the final sequel, which just recently wrapped principal photography: Star Wars: Episode III: Title TBA.
Why? How can I have any hope at all that Episode III repeat the anticlimax of Episode VI?
It is because I feel that Episode III will likely render Episodes I and II disposable. I believe that it will contain enough of the essential story and connective tissue for us to view it as a single, ultimate prequel to the saga, watchable without having to endure the mire of the liberation of Naboo or the romance of Anakin and Padme. We will be able to watch the original trilogy, and then cap it off with a single, refreshingly modern backstory picture.
And, consider this list of cool things we know are featured in Episode III:
1) Jedi massacre
2) Darth Vader
With the exiting necessity to hit these plot points, even Lucas can't go very far off course. Granted, he'll probably try to stuff far too much into the two-and-change-hour movie (too many locales, too many sets, too many intercut lines of climax) in an effort to gussy things up some for the big finish, but I myself will concentrate on how cool these myriad locations look and sound, not how badly they mangle the movie's pacing.
Secure in the knowledge that in the end the Empire and a new lord of the Sith are born, I'm prepared to give Lucas a lot of leeway in order to get there.
It gives me new hope, for my future Star Wars Day. When my Star Wars Day comes, I will hole myself up in the barn with big, monsterous speakers, an HDTV and refreshments; I will order my family scarce, lock the door, and watch me up the whole saga crystal-clear, private and proper, without distraction or noise-sensitive neighbours. I will even pee into a cup.
Uninterrupted, I will digest Lucas' ham-fisted life-work, guilded in industrial light and magic and John Williams' brilliant scores. One day, my Star Wars Day will come, and Episode III will make it great.
Yours truly, A Big Nerd.