Retro review: STAR WARS EPISODE III

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(Originally Published May 19, 2005)

May 1999 was an awful month for many Star Wars fans.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the first movie in George Lucas’ prequel trilogy to his revolutionary Star Wars films, was hitting screens. It was getting thrashed by critics and disappointing many fans. I know, because I was among the critics thrashing and the fans disappointed.

At the time I had a job at an online entertainment magazine in Los Angeles. The critics’ screening was in San Francisco seven days before the release, but I loved these movies enough to think driving 350 miles was no price to pay. Afterwards a fellow editor and I drove back through the night, talking Episode I the whole time.

Gone were the charms of the original Star Wars. No mythic portent of a Luke Skywalker driving toward his destiny. Gone was the strut of a Han Solo. A quick mouth like Princess Leia’s couldn’t be found. In their place was a shiftless story, the awful acting of Jake Lloyd as proto-Darth Vader Anakin Skywalker, and the noxious pratfalls of Jar Jar Binks, an offense to race, comedy and special effects all at once.

By the time we arrived in Los Angeles, the shock of seeing a bad Star Wars film had morphed into an examination on the insanity of fandom. Why did anyone place such devotion to movies, TV shows, rock bands and sports teams when those things could not love you back? Was this our lot in life?

We drove past Grauman’s Chinese Theater and saw the rabid fans camped out for tickets, sleeping with their plastic light sabers and chest-covering Darth Maul tattoos like kids on Christmas Eve.

Santa was coming with a lot of coal.

With a job covering Star Trek, The Matrix, The Simpsons and all things nerd, I was used to talking to geeks about the loves the rest of the world abused them for. Now I was wondering if I was a fool to love Star Wars as I did.

My non-fanatic friends tried to console me with “it’s just a movie.” The sentiment seemed false. Popular culture can mean a lot more than a fun night at the movies or a great summer read. If someone dismissed Casablanca or The Shawshank Redemption in the same way, I’d rightfully wonder if they knew anything about the heartbreak of struggle or the better parts of human nature. The Great Gatsby was a smash on the best-seller charts. Isn’t this why we have culture?

It’s a hard argument to make given the world Lucas’ success has wrought. When Return of the Jedi left screens in 1983 and the studios rushed in for those blockbuster dollars, most of what followed was nothing more than teen boy revenge fantasies. Enter the murdering robots of The Terminator, the gunmen of The Matrix and the vapid noise of Hollywood’s Michael Bay quarter.

It irked me because when you really talk to Star Wars fans, they don’t talk about light sabers or space battles. They talk about that moment in the original film, when farm boy Luke Skywalker stared off at a twin sunset wondering if he’d be able connect the dreams of his youth to the years of his adulthood. It doesn’t inspire cruelty or cheap irony but a durable, hopeful outlook that even if your dad is evil and cuts off your hand and it turns out you’ve had a crush on your sister, if you work hard and use the Force, everything can come out OK. Let’s see this summer’s Batman Begins do that.

Since 1999, being a Star Wars fan has been a mixed bag. Once the cool fans of geekdom, we’ve watched as The Matrix Trilogy made off with our zeitgeist swagger and The Lord of the Rings outstripped the Original Trilogy’s sweep. Once a phenomenon, where everyone was a Star Wars fan, we were now seen as being a mild kind of crazy, consigned to sit with Star Trek fans who have seen their franchise turn into something akin to a computer trying to write poetry. Many have made the same charge about Lucas’ prequels, with wooden acting and stilted dialogue marring 2002’s Episode II: Attack of the Clones, and so there’s not much hope for Episode III.

So now, really, how is Revenge of the Sith?

In a word, awful. Awful in the old sense, terrible and spectacular, where doom and hope claw it out, and we learn lessons by seeing doom prevail. Awfully good. Awful in the Empire Strikes Back sense of the word. But no, it’s not that good.

From the first scene, with Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) flying through a spectacular space battle to rescue the kidnapped chancellor Palpatine (the wickedly good Ian McDiarmid), this episode flies like a laser shot. Gone are the stilted political maneuverings and meandering spectacles of Episodes 1 and II. Here the fights are great and terrible, striking down, twisting or tarnishing forever the souls of Obi-Wan, Yoda, Anakin and his secret wife Padmà. This is the prequel where all the emotional punch lies, and it’s almost been worth the wait.

Since returning to directing with 1999’s Episode I, Lucas has slowly been getting back the chops he showed in the 1970s, with pitch-perfect blends of technical artistry and emotion in American Graffiti and Star Wars. While Episode II: Attack of the Clones was a vast improvement from Episode I, it still had too few personal consequences to move much emotion. Episode III is a flourish of Lucas’ biggest strengths and weaknesses. The action sequences are better than they’ve ever been. And the nimble clarity he shows jumping his plot from thread to thread to thread reminds us how he acquired his filmmaking empire.

The acting however is … not great. The scenes between Anakin and Padmà (a weirdly flat Natalie Portman) underwhelm when they should be heartbreaking. But the imperfection is not enough to mask the real heartache and tragedy of a man turning his back on his wife, his brothers in arms and even himself. And let’s be honest: The acting in the original Star Wars was similarly ungreat.

The final fight between Obi-Wan and Anakin is as harrowing for its emotions as its spectacular danger. As the climax of seven hours of prequel events, it delivers. And while most of the movie seems a half-step too fast, Lucas still respects his story and fans such that he spends as much time on the ripples of aftermath as the fight.

Still, there are a few moments that strike notes so off-key (one with the newly helmeted Darth Vader nearly sinks the enterprise) they oddly make me thankful so much of this is so good. This is not the film fans had a right to expect after the wasteland of The Phantom Menace. And yet here it is.

So what’s it all come to? Episode III is not as good as those in the Original Trilogy, but it is good enough to closely miss the cut. Given what passes for blockbusters these days, it’s nice to have one last real visit to the galaxy far, far away.

May the Force be with you.

Score: 7/10

Feel like arguing about this? Come over to my Letterboxd page and let’s fight. Or, if you only have time for 140 characters, find me on Twitter at @JettJergens

Attack of the moans: STAR WARS EPISODE II review

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(Originally published in Cinescape Magazine in May 2002)

STAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES delivers on every cinematic promise George Lucas has made… and is somehow lacking. Such is the fate of a transforming genius.

In a career spanning decades in directing and producing, Lucas has put his spin on nearly every genre in Hollywood’s pantheon. He reordered the way a generation of filmmakers created stories through the abstract THX-1138 and hot-rod flick scored by ambient rock ’n’ roll with AMERICAN GRAFFITI. He helped revive the lusterless B-movie with RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, and in TUCKER: A MAN AND HIS DREAM (along with his pal Francis Ford Coppola), unleashed on us a surprisingly blunt creator-in-America tragedy, a dark mirror of his own success.

From his sanctuary of ambitions, Skywalker Ranch, he’s spearheaded the transformation of movie exhibition, inventing new sound systems and higher standards for image projection, as well as stoking two decades of special effects wonders until we now find ourselves in a world where we can never really believe what we see.

He’s constantly been striving for two nearly mutually exclusive things: innovative, cutting edge technology and editing techniques which serve to tell the oldest, most basic kinds of stories. He has promised our eyes, ears, heads and hearts new and dazzling experiences with the daring of a braggart jumping off a cliff without knowing if the lake below is deep enough to catch him safely. And when the culmination of his efforts, STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE, debuted in 1999, we were presented with one clammy question: What have all the years to struggle been for?

With its passionless acting, disjointed screenplay and mutations of things we loved about the original STAR WARS trilogy, it seemed as though Lucas had been waiting for the technology of filmmaking to catch up to his capacity to disappoint.

So with this as prologue, what do we find in the second installment of his prequel trilogy STAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES? What do we, his longest-time fans, fearful on his recent work, still basking in the glow of his earlier brilliance, see in the second film of his prequel trilogy?

Glimpses of wonder, fun, spectacular showmanship, and a sophistication of emotion touched on briefly in EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. We see all his bets threatening to pay off.

Like his best work, the plot outline for ATTACK OF THE CLONES is deceptively simple. Ten years after the events of EPISODE I, which saw Naboo’s Queen Padme Amidala fight back a droid invasion and witnessed young slave Anakin Skywalker liberated from bondage by Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn, Anakin is now all grown up and wielding a light saber of his own in the defense of Senator Amidala. His Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, meanwhile, is trying to track down the assassin bent on killing Amidala before she can halt the Chancellor Palpatine’s efforts to create an Army of the Republic and halt a separatist movement lead by onetime Jedi Count Dooku.

The table set by the opening titles, CLONES kicks into high gear with its first full action sequence, Obi-Wan and Anakin in a speeder chase for an assassin through the cityscape of Coruscant. Far from being a car chase transferred to a city-of-the-future setting, the sequence is the best speed-demon tendencies of Lucas melded with the kind of computerized special effects that lends amazing reality to the most fantastic images. With the action, the audience corkscrews, pinwheels, skydives and cartwheels with Anakin’s pursuit, going from miles in the sky to a skidding crash in the deepest recesses of the planet city. What Lucas’ years of effort have produced is an artificial world as believable almost as our own. The crystal clarity of the imagined world and the free movement of his camera made possible only through massive computing power, allow us to suspend disbelief more freely than ever. It is a thrilling run of something literally never seen on screen before. And after 100 years of film, how often can you say that anymore?

And yes, Lucas did something very similar at the end of EPISODE I, with the CGI Gungans fighting the CGI droids. But considered beside EPISODE II, EPISODE I seems like the tentative test run of a hotrod, a nervous trip around the block after its owner spent his savings just to get the bucket back together. EPISODE II is the first Saturday night at the drag strip, and it wins every race it runs.

Lucas has regained his joy of filmmaking, and for the first time is truly liberated by his technology. Along with an ease of effort not seen since from him since GRAFFITI, Lucas is as playful as ever, cribbing images not only to cowboy movies (in a battle in a GLADIATOR-like arena) and THE MATRIX (when Yoda finally pulls the gloves off), but even referencing an AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME joke which itself was a referenced joke to the EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (watch the leader of the Techno Unions in the meeting with Count Dooku, and you’ll see what I mean). And the final stages of this film are the most lush visual rocket ride through the STAR WARS universe we’re likely to see. We get to see Yoda act as Patton and Bruce Lee in the space of ten minutes, and we’re treated to Samuel L. Jackson’s Mace Windu being as bad an ass as we had hoped.

But the most important improvements and strengths go deeper. While Lucas vacillates in interviews between dismissing the saga as Saturday afternoon fare and building them up as mythic capsules of wisdom passed to new generations of kids who have stepped away from religion, we know they can be a perfect blend of both. Like his mentor Francis Ford Coppola’s highest achievement, THE GODFATHER series, Lucas’ best work has been produced by a belief that high ambition, high art and high entertainment are not mutually exclusive, but mutually necessary. You can find any ten arty pinheads to laud a smear of paint on a museum wall, but to connect real, normal people, that is truly succeed as an artist, a creator has to enliven the senses, the mind and the heart with the same piece of work.

This is what Lucas attempts and succeeds in with CLONES. Like all the WARS before it, the dialogue is bland in spots. Yes, the characters are simple, though there are enough sharp exchanges here to revive the vivid blend of visual and auditory thrills these films can hold. Something his harshest critics have never understood is Lucas works in broad, bold strokes. We’re not going to get minutely pitched and finely calibrated character studies, with Robert DeNiro style acrobatics required to pull them off.

Lucas has found that fine line between thrill and myth, and with every action here by Anakin, Padme and Obi-Wan, there are reverberations of fate and destiny that lace through their actions to the events of Luke and Leia which come later.

The precursors to the original trilogy come fast and thick. There are more than a few echoes of Luke’s adolescent torment of A NEW HOPE. For every note of hope and destiny for Anakin’s boy, there is a counter note in CLONES of tragedy and pain. In fact, in probably Lucas’ best moments in the film, Anakin finds his fate turning on the same dune on the Lars homestead where Luke watched the twin suns set in A NEW HOPE. Hayden Christensen as Anakin produces perhaps the most revelatory performance in any WARS film, allowing us into the wrenching transformation of Anakin from a boy with a future to a man with a grim fate. And there is more and more that can’t be fit in here.

The rough points, and they are here, fall well within the imperfections of the original trilogy. While not every moment hits on all emotional cylinders, the misfires don’t hit the sour, clanging notes of MENACE. For first generation STAR WARS fans, MENACE hit the senses like a fever-fueled nightmare: familiar, close to the heart, but strange and horribly foreign in so many important ways. CLONES hits like something close to the second coming of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

The biggest blemish is technical. The digital images captured by Sony’s High Definition video cameras are not ready for the big time. While I’m sure it helps cut out technical steps in the melding of actors and special effects, I believe Lucas when he says all those levels of work with film degrade the image from the original pristine 35 mm film image, the HD image is so pixilated (especially in Amidala’s apartment, and several other dark settings) it is the worse of the two choices on balance. Perhaps things will be worked out for EPISODE III. Another sore spot, unfortunately, is Natalie Portman’s performance as Amidala. It veers from a listless flat reading to a trembling, fragile that makes he haiku speed romance with Anakin believable… but only just. We’ve seen Portman’s acting abilities are far beyond her years, but like MENACE, her best work does not make it to the screen here. And while there’s so much to love, there are a few moments of tin-ear acting which jar at the eyes like anything from MENACE. When… and if you haven’t seen the film and don’t want a big spoiler, skip over the next paragraphs… Anakin finds his mother only to watch her die in his arms moments later, her death is the worst kind of gasping, GENERAL HOSPITAL departure yet seen in the STAR WARS saga. She literally throws her head back and exhales like a child play dying on a schoolyard.

But the wonders outdistance the imperfections with ease. Yoda’s CGI incarnation is a revelation. While we’ve known his character since EMPIRE, it is only here where we can read his expressions with the subtle wit that his words always carried. Yoda’s role returns from the bland President of the Jedi from MENACE to the cipher of wisdom and cagey teacher of EMPIRE. After MENACE, one could almost forget Yoda’s persona is, by and large, that of the magical frog in fairy tales. Like the methodology of the frog in those tales, he’s not small and frail because he’s weak and vulnerable, he’s small and frail because it’s the best camouflage for his immense powers, and it draws out the true character in those around him. Here, we find out just how thorough and confounding the camouflage is.

Following his blistering fight with Dooku, he returns to his familiar cane and crouch, but he does not return to his small stature in our minds.

And here’s the biggest shock. I can’t believe these words even as I’m writing them, but here they are: I liked Jar Jar Binks. Where in EPISODE I he pounded our hopes with the worst kind of Stepin Fetchit fumbling (the voice is still in evidence here, but the damage has already been done to the series) his appearance in CLONES actually uses the basics of his character to humorous and chilling effect. Palpatine’s manipulation of the water-brained Gungan comes off like a twisted and very funny joke. In EPISODE I he was a reincarnation of a Hollywood tradition best left in the past. Here he’s the stand-in for apathy in a democracy (if you can believe it) and the consequences of his uninformed exercise of power are as instructive as they are warped.

So with that final amazement, I’ll simply say drop what you’re doing and go see this film. The series, the closest to my heart in all the film world, has regained its footing and promises to do what Lucas has threatened all along… entertain the child within us while revealing the wisdom of the world in a Saturday afternoon lark.

Score: 6/10

Feel like arguing about this? Come over to my Letterboxd page and let’s fight. Or, if you only have time for 140 characters, find me on Twitter at @JettJergens

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN gets a sequel, kind of… in SPOTLIGHT

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Quick thoughts:

I have a feeling I’ll be liking SPOTLIGHT more and more every time I see it.

Maybe it’s the former journalist in me, but watching a group of smart, flawed, dedicated reporters taking on a story, (in this case the cover-up of pedophelia in the Boston Archdiosis) and unlocking it piece by piece is just so satisfying, inspiring and moving to see.

It’s a bracing reminder of what real journalists do real journalism can mean.

It doesn’t hurt there’s a murderer’s row of the best actors working today.

I’ve seen a lot of good movies in 2015… but I’m not sure I’ve seen one better. The best way I’ve come to think about it is a spiritual sequel to ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. I cannot wait to find a Saturday afternoon in a few months and have a great double feature.

Score: 9/10

Feel like arguing about this? Come over to my Letterboxd page and let’s fight. Or, if you only have time for 140 characters, find me on Twitter at @JettJergens

You can’t win them all: A quick Good Dinosaur review

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What do you say when a great artist misfires?

With a miracle like Pixar, the studio which found an incantation to reliably create storytelling magic somewhere around 1995, The Good Dinosaur is best viewed as a well meaning minor entry.

The story of a farming dinosaur and a wild-child human he finds in the woods, Dinosaur is the kind of movie with so many edges rounded off it becomes shapeless even as you can see the contours of where its story is taking you.

Lacking the strange left turns of a Brave, the fathomless charm of Finding Nemo or Toy Story, or even the misfiring plot of the Cars 2, The Good Dinosaur is a beautifully animated story which just kinds of sits there. Try as it does, it never takes flight as Pixar movies do.

For me at least, just a few hours after viewing Dinosaur fades into a cloud of a thousand other movies just like it… mildly amusing, non-threatening, missing the sharp inspiration which makes something memorable. I wouldn’t be surprised if a week or two from now, it is gone, never to break the surface of memory again.

Score: 5/10

Feel like arguing about this? Come over to my Letterboxd page and let’s fight. Or, if you only have time for 140 characters, find me on Twitter at @JettJergens

The phantom STAR WARS

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(Originally published in EonMagazine.com on 05-23-1999)

Writing every word of this will hurt.

I saw STAR WARS EPISODE ONE: THE PHANTOM MENACE a week and a day before it came out, and I’m sorry to say it’s not good. It might even be terrible, but I can’t really bring myself to realize that now. I was a boy of the STAR WARS generation and a lot of my life, like many of you reading this now, was formed and sprang from the inspiration of George Lucas’ vision of a galaxy far, far away.

Now, the disappointment is bitter. The mistakes, flaws, and weird insets into his galaxy are there, in stone. They’re undeniable and marring in their starkness, clumsiness and, as confounding as it is even now to write, what I can only call racism.

I’ll spend the coming weeks and months explaining, but here’s my start.

In the years leading up this fever dream of anticipation and speculation,
this giddy time when the promise of a new STAR WARS is close but not yet here, I was careful to distance myself from the spoilers, the increasingly accurate web leaks, and the stolen photos and pirated scripts. If I could not relive my childhood surprise at discovering STAR WARS unexpectedly I could sure do my best to at least protect my surprise at the plot and events. Why science fiction fans, STAR TREK fans especially, read spoilers or even complete scripts before their big events is beyond my understanding.

I saw the trailers and the 60 MINUTES interview, and the images mixed in me childlike thrills and subtly disturbing earmarks of things to come. The pod race stuff looked amazing. The moment in the trailer where Anakin asks his mother, “Will I ever see you again?” twisted in me a childlike fear of loss. Jar Jar looked so cloying and cartoony I cringed. Maybe it would work in the full movie. Outside of that, I ignored the coming wave and waited.

My waiting ended Tuesday, May 11, 1999 at 7:30 p.m. I went into the theater expectant and ready for what might come. This was Lucas’ game, and I was ready to play by his rules. I wasn’t one of these fans who’d already made the prequels in my mind. I couldn’t have made the original trilogy a millionth as good as did Lucas, so I was content to let him paint his picture.

I came out of the screening numb. An hour later, I was disappointed. Two hours later, I was stunned. And now I live in a world where there’s a STAR WARS movie that flat out sucks.

For all you, who like me, tried to forgo the plot points, let me just sketch them out generally. The film opens with a blockade of the peaceful planet of Naboo by warships from the sinister Trade Federation (STAR TREK jab anyone?). When the Galactic Senate based on Coruscant sends Jedi’s Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi to mediate the crisis, their presence actually prompts an invasion. Unable to fight off the droid army of the Federation, they rescue Queen Amidala, hoping to take her to the Senate to plead her case. On their way, they have to stop off on Tatooine for repairs, where they meet a young Anakin Skywalker. The rest, I’ll leave up to you to find out.

Now, the high points. Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor shine as master and apprentice Jedi’s Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. While there’s already been criticism that McGregor’s stunningly Guinness-like reinterpretation of Obi-Wan goes to waste as he’s relegated to fixing ships and bowing to Qui-Gon’s wishes, what comes across is a Jedi coming into his own under the wing of a more learned, more world-weary trainer. The give and take between Neeson and McGregor is interesting, strong and tender to watch. McGregor is the best thing in the movie, easily giving the sense of a great Jedi warrior to come.

Natalie Portman is less even, but still engaging and hooking in the dual roles of Queen Amidala and Padme. At once she is vulnerable and tough as she tries to hold the idea of her pastoral planet together under mechanized attack. The few moments with Jake Lloyd’s Anakin, though fleeting, begin to lay down the foundation of the troubled romance in chapters to come. Outside of Neeson and McGregor, Lucas didn’t make a better casting choice than Portman.

Then, of course, Darth Maul. As stark a villain as he’s portrayed to be in the trailers, Ray Parks’ screen time is slim, and Maul’s lines are slimmer. Though he gives Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon a run for their money in saber fighting, the verbal exchanges that made the duels crackle in the classic trilogy are absent here. Nearly all his lines are shown in the commercials and trailers. That being said, his acrobatics (as computer aided as they are) are eye-popping to watch.

Now what’s not good, and chillingly bad. First, Jar Jar Binks. It’s not that he’s a cartoon, and despite the digital mastery displayed by Industrial Light and Magic, he does come across as a bubbly, rubbery cartoon. Despite their boundless talent with painting him realistically, Jar Jar has all the bulgy-eyed, bouncing motions and hyper extended expressions of a bad Don Bluth character. It was like watching AN AMERICAN TALE: FIEVEL GOES TO TATOOINE. This is to say nothing of his irritating, comically overdrawn actions. Gone are the subtle, character derived humor of C-3PO and Chewbacca of the original trilogy. The comic relief provided by Jar Jar is at first fumbling, then overkill, then surreal.

But what’s worse, what’s the worst thing I’ve yet witnessed in any of the
STAR WARS movies is Jar Jar’s speech. He sounds like a GONE WITH THE WIND style Negro-era racial stereotype, with his “We’sa ganna dieee!” and “Dissin berry good” I’m sure I didn’t, but there were moments where I thought I heard Jar Jar refer to his Jedi savior as “Massa.” Beyond being a bad oversight or wrong creative choice, this puts a chilling, fun-curdling pall over THE PHANTOM MENACE that I will never be able to shake. Piled onto this are the bad, broadly Asian stereotypic voices of Trade Federation baddies Nute and Rune. As they talk to Queen Amidala, they seem to display the same vocal stylings as a bad World War Two era “jap” heavy, with the dropped “r” sounds and breathy “ahs” thrown into their lines. Piled onto Jar Jar’s
already warping presence, this firmly plants MENACE in racially questionable territory that makes me wish this chapter were only marred by cute Ewoks and a few plot holes.

Beyond this development is a truly perplexing one. Despite my self-imposed moratorium on net info, I’d have to be deaf to not hear the rumblings about how Yoda looks in this movie. Well, it’s worse than I could have imagined. The new Yoda puppet looks half finished, glossy somehow and unpainted. It’s all the more frustrating that this should stick out as a drawback, given his character was done in such a realistic, satisfying way in EMPIRE and JEDI. I remember reading interviews with Lucas about his concerns centering so much of EMPIRE on a puppet, because if it didn’t work, the scenes would lose their believability. There we know his fears were unfounded, but ironically they come true now, with 16 more years experience in puppetry and special effects. While Frank Oz’s voicings are good, one can’t help but notice Yoda looks not like a wise master, but an animatronic creation greeting you at Star Tours.

Then there’s Anakin. I’m sure Jake Lloyd tried his best, but almost every moment with him plays like the more cartoony patches of HOME ALONE. Worse than Lloyd’s child actor mannerisms is the fact there is no real hint, besides some enigmatic musings of Yoda and Mace Windu, that he’ll amount to anything we recognize as Darth Vader. He’s the most cheerful of kids, and again it should be dropped on Lucas’ doorstep that when Anakin gets the news he’ll be going to become a Jedi his reaction is, literally, “Yippee.”

Finally, fatally, the plot holes. While this entry is a lot talkier and politically minded than the first trilogy, this script’s main weakness is not plotting but logic. Specifically, there are two holes that so dramatically mar the action it’s hard not to feel like Joe Eszterhas got a hold of Lucas’ word processor. When Anakin returns to Naboo with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, he’s taken into the heat of danger, and only then told by Qui-Gon to find a safe place to ride out the battle. This begs the obvious question, why bring Anakin to Naboo at all? Why not leave him on Coruscant with Yoda while the older Jedi’s save the day? Because Lucas got lazy as a writer and he couldn’t abandon the child character he’s so desperate to use to connect with the youngsters of this generation. That may sound jealous, i.e. that the movie is not aimed at those of us who first loved it in 1977, but it isn’t. This is tragically bad writing that breaks the carefully spun spell of Lucas’ universe. In the past he’s always been so careful to create logically and believably flowing stories. Of course, on the previous three installments, he wasn’t the sole writer. Here’s hoping with EPISODE TWO and THREE he’ll hire a writing partner. Wait though — this isn’t the worst.

To be fair, if you haven’t seen it, I can’t tell you the worse point. I’ll just say this: If Luke had destroyed the Death Star by accident in the original STAR WARS, there would have been no EMPIRE striking back. The fact Lucas toiled for so many years and left such gaping holes in his work is truly discouraging.

It’s a weird place to be, in a world where there’s an episode in that mythic saga that is no good, but here it is. It’s like waking up in a mirror universe, where right is wrong and those you love become those you hate. It’s disorienting in a sharply specific but also elusive way. On seeing some of the choices Lucas made with his creation, I now wonder if he ever understood what he had in the first place.

In recent weeks, as in recent years, he’s talked of the fans of his WARS in much the same way someone would speak of an irritation. He stressed to remind them it’s only a movie, a harmless Saturday afternoon children’s lark. Well, bullshit, and he knows it. I’m not saying the mythological and religious undertones in the classic trilogy could form the basis of a real religion, as Frances Ford Coppola tried to convince Lucas in the late 1970s, but he’s talked at length about the carefully constructed values and messages he wove into his work. It’s no accident Yoda is a most beloved teacher. Lucas created him that way. It’s not in doubt when Obi-Wan says several times in STAR WARS, “Trust your feelings Luke.” It’s no chance event Lucas read Joseph Campbell’s HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES before setting to work some 25 years ago. He meant for STAR WARS to be more than a popcorn movie, and he succeeded brilliantly. What he has done to his saga now, we’ll only fully know after EPISODES TWO and THREE come out, but for the first time I look to the future with fear, and a little anger.

I can thank Lucas, Yoda and Obi-Wan that I know not to let those emotions dominate my destiny.

Score: 5/10

Feel like arguing about this? Come over to my Letterboxd page and let’s fight. Or, if you only have time for 140 characters, find me on Twitter at @JettJergens

Simply Beautiful Metal

Not much to say here, other than this is some simply beautiful metal. This is a ship on the scale and with something of the feel of those in the story we’re writing. And it’s by a fantastic artist, Andree Wallin.

There is something about unexplained rods and spires on a ship that just look damned cool.

As for us, we continue to peck away at Chapter 2. We’ve got 12 outlined, of roughly 17 or so in the first book. But all that comes when we post some specifics about how we’re trying to do what… we’re trying to do.

Silence Means Writing… Or Chapter 1, Draft 1 is Finished

Hey all,

We’ve been quiet for a bit, and that’s for a good reason. Typically, when we’re quiet here, it means we’re writing on JET Book 1.

The good news is we’re finished with Draft 1 of Chapter 1 of Book 1. What is it they say about the journey of a thousand miles? Well, it’s good to know our first steps are behind us.

We’ll be back soon of course, but when the words are flowing, it’s best not to deflect the flow.

See you soon…

Visiting Places That Don’t Exist

With the news of George Lucas’ retirement from big canvas filmmaking, today finds us a little bittersweet. Despite the significant damage he’s done to his legacy in the last 15 years (that’s a topic for another time) it’s churlish beyond endurance to not think of what he’s given nerd culture and not say thanks.

Ralph McQuarrie's original concept art for the Darth Vader/Obi Wan Kenobi fight from A New Hope.

In fact, Lucas was already in mind with us as we prepared this blog entry. Back in the early 1970s he feared he’d have an uphill climb convincing the studios, lost in the midst of that grim decade, to pony up for his very retro Flash Gordon-style movie. He could see how different it would be, but all his images were in his head. He knew he’d need to get something in front of them they could see.

That’s when he tapped Ralph McQuarrie to knock out a few pieces of concept art to give the money men an idea of what he was attempting.

Ever since then, we’ve been inspired by great pieces of concept art. In fact, we’ve been hanging around Reddit’s SpecArt quite a bit, looking at all the fantastic imaginings of people with a talent for images and unknown worlds. As much as we love McQuarrie, we’re almost more drawn to pieces of speculative art which have nothing to do with producing a show, movie or comic… pieces that do nothing but let us see inside the worlds that only exist in daydreams. Yes, we’re aware of how hoity-toity that sounded, and we’re fine with it.

So, from time to time, we’re going to post things here that we like, that inspire us, and when we see some, we’ll point out ones that evoke something of the world of Jet Jergens. Enjoy this first batch.

This one you'll recognize from the masthead. It's a pretty cool cruiser setting a course above a massive nebulae.

First off is Tiger Fortress… Perhaps it was Chris’ early exposure to STAR BLAZERS in the late 1970s, but for some reason we’re always attracted to ships that look like battleships.

The first piece we loved you’ll recognize from our masthead. It’s from a pretty cool artist named Shimmering Sword, and it’s over in a collection of similar word at Deviant Art. There’s something about they way Shimmering uses light that we just love, and seems very, well, McQuarriesque.

The weirdest neighborhood watch meeting ever.

The next one embodies what we REALLY love about concept art. The fact we have no idea who anyone is, or what’s going on. It’s called THE MEETING, and it’s by Donmalo, also over at Deviant Art. We’ve got no idea who’s meeting who, why, what’s going to happen, what’s already happened, and we prefer it that way.

The last one for today is another battleship, maybe in space, maybe not. It’s by Anjulnked, and is another flying battleship that evokes not the look or the tech or anything of the developing Jet Jergens world. What does it evoke? Something like the feel of Jet. Could we be more vague? Probably.

This is why we love flying battleships.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed these images. From time to time, between musings on nerd culture, the in and outs, ups and down of writing our project, we’ll be posting images we think are worth admiring. Thanks for reading…


Delusions of Grandeur

Greetings people of the Internet.

We are Christopher Allan Smith and Harrison Smith, a father and son nerd team setting out on a project of ridiculous ambition. To create an entertaining, thrilling, emotional, action packed and memorable novel.

Yes yes fine, you may say. People write novels every day. Big deal.

To this we say: What’s with the attitude? We just met. Come on. Nobody wants a fight here friend.

To this we also say: You’re 100-percent right. But here, before we even put a word to paper, we’re outlining our goal: To create a story with characters so real and meaningful, with a plot so grabbing and relatable, with a conclusion so emotional and satisfying that our story will rank up there with the classics of nerddom. We want to create something people will love forever, and will last long after we’re gone.

When we’re finished, we want our story to rest proudly along side STAR WARS, SHERLOCK HOLMES, ROBIN HOOD, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, HARRY POTTER,and…, well, that’s probably shooting high enough.

They say write what you know. Well, we’re two pretty big nerds. Proud and out nerds. What we know is geek culture, nerd lore and the pleasure of sitting down to a book, movie, TV show or graphic novel that send waves of coolness right to our nerdy cores.

With this blog we’re going to report on our journey and hopefully garner some readers for our mad task. We’ll post chapter snippets, inspirations, opinions and fears. We’ll be asking questions, taking feedback, talking about geeky things totally unrelated to the project. And hopefully lighting a fire under a few people who need a little push to attempt something insanely great.

When Stage 1 is finished, we’ll have the whole book here. When the entire plan has run it’s course, we’ll have an entire series from beginning to end, and our victory will be complete. Except probably the ‘It’s a classic of the ages’ part, but we can dream.

Here’s where we start from: Chris is a 40-year-old geek from way back. He can remember seeing STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE at a drive in movie theater. And a theater in the mall. And a big dome. He saw that damned movie a lot. He’s got a degree in journalism (so he can write a bit). His day job is as a video producer/director. He’ll be doing most of the prose at the start.

Harrison is an 11-year old nerdling who has already become a talented writer himself. His course was set when his father showed him a STAR WARS movie at too tender an age. He never had a chance. Now he’s our resident expert on coming of age stories, HARRY POTTER being a significant favorite. It’s usually playing on audiobook in the background while Harrison designs space ships out of Legos. (Yes we know the official plural is Lego. We will ignore emails on this subject). We’ll be uploading pictures of his designs, and basing eventual concept art on his creations. He’s a major HUNGER GAMES fan as well.

So that’s about it.

Oh, one last thing you’ve probably already guessed. Right now, the story is called “The Adventures of Jet Jergens.”