artistic unknowns by Chris Matarazzomovies

Leave George Lucas alone, for the love of Yoda!

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You know what I am sick of? George Lucas bashing. That’s what I am sick of. That said, I don’t think George Lucas is the Jesus of movie makers. I like Star Wars well enough. I really like Indiana Jones. The guy is great, but I’m not going to declare him the Shakespeare of Hollywood. He makes good, entertaining films with enough depth that they hold up for numerous viewings. What more can you ask?

But can we admit something, please? The original Star Wars trilogy is not the apex of film-making. Are those films the equals of Citizen Kane or Lawrence of Arabia or, heck — Schindler’s List? No. Of course they are not.

So, why, when Lucas made the second trilogy, did people act like he was spitting on the grave of Mother Theresa? — or even like he intentionally demolished a church he had built so many years before?

The Indiana Jones films are better than Star Wars, I think. This is certainly due to Spielberg’s genius. But I would wager that even Spielberg doesn’t see them as his finest work. I’m sure he is proud of them. He should be. They are iconic and wildly entertaining. But, as an artist, I think he has reached higher vistas.

So, why, when he and his pal George made Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull did people react as if they had laid a big fart and floated a fedora on it? Why do they seem to act as if the two actually conspired to make a bad movie?

Oh, I’ll tell you why. But not yet.

Cut to earlier today and the question that inspired this article: My seven-year-old, a huge Indiana Jones fan (and a lad committed, he says — albeit not without some disappointment — to being an archaeologist one day, even if they don’t really carry guns and whips), asked me, “Dad — what was the very first Indiana Jones movie?” It was then that it occurred to me: the kid simply did not experience Indy the way my fellow forty-somethings and I did. We saw one movie and waited for the next and the next and the next, etc. I made sure my boys saw them each, the first time, sequentially, but, now, they pop them in all of the time and watch them over and over, including Crystal Skull and even “Young Indiana Jones.”

See, we oldies waited, and as we waited, we built up expectations, learned quotes, bought Yoda T-shirts (and, consequently spent prom night with a bag of Doritos and a Lindsay Wagner poster) and, over the years, allowed the earlier movies to grow into legendary megaliths in our own minds. The question is: are the earlier Indy movies and the Star Wars original trilogy really that much better than the new ones? — or better at all?

Granted, there are things not to like in the new ones. CGI in the new films makes certain things hokey. Jar-Jar is annoying. But, as a whole, are they really worse as films? (I can never, ever again watch the desert chase scene in Last Crusade. Enough, already. And those teddy bear guys in Jedi? Cripes.)

(Somewhere, a guy with a goatee and a soggy Slurpee cup just sputtered and said, “Really? Sure. Yeah. This guy should be critiquing Star Wars,” called his friend by voice-command on his new Droid and said, “Yeah, Cooper? Dude. That arts dope on When Falls the Coliseum just called Ewoks ‘little teddy bear guys’!” — to which, they sang out, in unison: “Tool!”)

Wait for it . . . Here come the flood of reasons why Lucas has “lost it” and why I am an idiot to compare the new films to the old ones, blah, blah, blah. And I accept everyone’s opinions, but I also accept that even though there is a lot to criticize about the old films, no one does it because the movies are thought of  as classics — which they truly are. But the viewing public is much less likely to see a follow up to a classic as a future classic than they are to pre-judge it as a substance-less cash-in.

Well, there is only one way to really answer my question. When my boys are my age and their generation of Indy and Star Wars fans have lived into adulthood with both the originals and the sequels, we will ask them. It will be interesting to see the opinions of mature minds that have taken in the movies as a group and not as cinematic miracles that became a challenge fueled by decades of idealization — and quoting. Lots of quoting.

Chris Matarazzo’s ARTISTIC UNKNOWNS appears every Tuesday.

Chris Matarazzo is a writer, composer, musician and teacher of literature and writing on the college and high school levels. His music can be heard on his recent release, Hats and Rabbits, which is currently available. Chris is also the composer of the score to the off-beat independent film Surrender Dorothy and he performs in the Philadelphia area with the King Richard Band. He's also a relatively prolific novelist, even if no one seems to care yet. His blog, also called Hats and Rabbits, is nice, too, if you get a chance...
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10 Responses to “Leave George Lucas alone, for the love of Yoda!”

  1. As for whether the newer Star Wars films are really that much worse than the original triology, I answer “yes,” and think that while nostalgia certainly influences the high opinion we have of the movies of our youth and the building up of expectation can make it difficult (or impossible) for the newer films to have satisfied those who grew up with the original movies, the main reason so many disliked the newer ones is that they are not good movies0. This series of video reviews (there are seven altogether, running ten minutes each), in-between the crude humor, explains the failure of story and character that makes the first new film, The Phantom Menace, so bad in comparison to the original and other competent action adventures.

  2. The second part, about story.

    The rest are available on YouTube if anyone is interested.

  3. When I was a kid, I saw the first three Star Wars movies as commercials for the toys, which I enjoyed a lot more than the movies themselves. Never bothered to watch any of the second trilogy, although I did enjoy those video reviews.

    I saw the first two Indiana Jones movies. They were alright.

  4. I guess the problem is that I have always seen Star Wars as just okay, so that might mean that my expectations were much lower. As for Indy, which I always liked infinitely more than Star Wars, I really do Crystal Skull was good — better than Temple of Doom, at least. (I am certainly in the minority.) I would have to do more critical viewing to answer my own question about Star Wars, I suppose. But I still look forward to hearing how the current young generation feels about all of those films when they reacgh their forties. Let’s all meet at my nursing home in 30 years . . . Bring the kids.

  5. . . . oh, and I do think that character was not as strong in the second trilogy, which got pretty wrapped up in space politics, but I also think that weakness is a result of weak acting, almost across the board, with the exceptions of Liam Neeson and Ewan MacGregor. The Darth Vader kid (not the little one — the older one), whose name I can’t even remember, was absolutely worthless as an actor.

  6. Chris, your son’s question about the first Indiana Jones movie remionded me of a chat my Younger Son and I were having after this past week’s umpteenth broadcast of “Crystal Skull” … cross-promotion for “Cowboys vs Aliens” … like running Craig’s Bond movies over and opver again the last couple of weeks.

    Anyway, I was trying to describe to my son what it was like when Indiana Jones was brand new … the first time Harrison Ford cracks that whip and steps out of the shadows … the first time we experienced the now-classic scenes that are today such routine fodder for ‘Best – or Worst – of All Time’ lists, Lego sets, and ‘Robot Chicken’ parodies.

    For me, at least, it was fun, it was exciting and it was eye-popping wonderful. And I rather like the way the series (with “Temple of Doom” being my only let-down) was carried on by “Crystal Skull.”

  7. Chris, I implore you to purchase a copy of my George Lucas Pedia Press book, detailed in this WFTC post:

    http://tinyurl.com/2cruzcj

  8. Thanks for chiming in , Jeff — yeah, they are all “fun,” to me — at least to some extent. Michael — I may just have to purchase a copy, at that — thanks for the link.

  9. Indiana Jones is so much better than Star Wars…but what do I know? I’m a girl, and girls weren’t really the target audience of these genres.

    Let’s put aside for a moment that my favorite shows in the world were Sid and Marty Kroft’s Land of the Lost and Sigmund the Sea Monster…I have pretty good taste, if I do say so myself.

    And so do my kids–three boys, ages 5, 9 and 12 (the prime viewing age for this)–they all like both but their preference breaks down like this: they talk about the originals as if they were that cool, older kid that lives one block down. Someone or something to idolize.

    But the new ones, they’re the kids they see every day at school that they feel comfortable enough to punch in the arm, to hang with. And in a pinch, when they want to shoot baskets–either will do. It’s all good.

  10. Donna — Sigmund was my FAVORITE!! Haha. Very well put, by the way. Interesting that your kids do see a difference . . . the older ones ARE the cool older kid.

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