Math Tells Us the Best Movie Franchise

What’s the best movie series? Impossible to know, you say? Movies are works of art which can only be known in the human heart? True. But also, the correct answer is Peter Jackson’s MiddleEarth movies.

Somedays you just want to start a fight, you know?

Sometimes, when I’m mired in the bogs of middle-chapters, I like to take a look at what I like, and why.

Today’s diversion is reveals a truth that’s been staring us all in the face. As a culture, these are the movie series we love most, laid out with cold, hard numbers.

While I was surprised the series made up of Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT trilogies came out on top, I was not shocked to see Michael Bay’s THE TRANSFORMERS series coming in below EVERYONE ELSE.

While lists and ranked lists especially are rightly scoffed at, sometimes they can reveal some interesting trends. But enough yapping. I’ve put it all together in this table for us to look at and distract ourselves from what we should be doing right now.

Best Movie Franchises Ranked-FINAL

Star Wars – The Force Awakens – Review

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Posted on my Letterboxd account as well. Come on ever and yell at me there too.

There has probably never been a better use of movie magic than STAR WARS.

In its potent mixture of human archetypes as old as our deepest past, laser blasters and starships from as far in the future as we can gaze, in its perfect counterpoints of the familiar and strange, the exciting and deeply moving, this universe George Lucas created 40 years ago is the kind of thrill best experienced in a moving picture. In just its original three films, it contains more iconic moments than almost any other set of films.

Even the maligned prequels, at their most stumbling and frustrating, there is some undeniable spark in what Lucas made, pulling generation after generation into that galaxy far, far away. But more on that later.

Today I come to praise STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, the newest entry in the Skywalker saga, and it feels almost as good to write this review as it felt awful to write on THE PHANTOM MENACE 16 years ago. Back then, my first words for that film were “Writing every word of this will hurt.”

But what director JJ Abrams has done, along with vaunted STAR WARS writing partner Lawrence Kasdan (THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, RETURN OF THE JEDI) is return this saga to the glimmering joys, the raw blasts of fun Lucas first provided with A NEW HOPE in 1977.

That’s what makes THE FORCE AWAKENS wonderful to watch, and what puts a cap on its potential.

Like the STAR WARS films, the essential plotline can be summed up simply: 30 years after RETURN OF THE JEDI, a new collection of unlikely allies find themselves pulled into the echoes of the Skywalker saga. Unlike previous STAR WARS films, whose simple storylines covered complex themes and deeper human dilemmas should the viewer care to look, there does not seem to be much interesting going on beneath the surface of THE FORCE AWAKENS.

In broad strokes, the story begins with a diminutive droid (ball of fun BB8) as custodian of a secret vital to the success The Resistance (once the Rebel Alliance) all the while being hunted by The First Order (once the Empire) under the direction of mask wearing, black clad, red-saber wilding Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

Marooned on a desert planet, BB8 soon finds a protector in a teenage girl, Rey (Daisy Ridley), and her new friend Fin (John Boyega). In the midst of the thrills and escapes, it comes to light the First Order has a new, planet destroying mega-weapon pointed at the heart of peace and freedom in the galaxy. We soon find ourselves hanging out again with Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia and C-3P0. Is the structure starting to sound familiar?

Beyond this point, I’ll forgo the plot points and let you enjoy discovering them for yourself. Suffice to say, the galaxy has a weirdly small feeling even while our heroes, new and old, visit planets we’ve never seen before.

As an enjoyable film-going experience, it delivers. What else can reasonably be asked of a movie, after all? As a STAR WARS film, falls somewhere between the original films in the prequel trilogy, and evidences unsure portents of future STAR WARS films.

Having seen it twice, I find myself with the feeling that it will have an aftertaste similar to other Abrams projects: thrilling and enjoyable at first, but less impressive and impactful as my mind pulls with and pulls at specific moments and meanings. Where are most of the film has the familiar greased lightning momentum Lucas first perfected 40 years ago, there are a few moments which seem less mysterious than written-around. There’s a ‘don’t look behind the curtain’ feeling when old story beats aren’t being retread.

When asked a reasonable question by Rey, on the mind of every STAR WARS fan, Lupita Nyong’o’s character literally says, “A good question for another time.” You can almost feel Abrams pointing behind the viewer sitting in the theater and shouting, “Hey, look over there!”

THE FORCE AWAKENS is the work of a world-class mimic. It’s amazing and nostalgic to see Abrams put his toy through its Technicolor paces, but like all mimics, Abrams cannot take us anywhere the original creator hasn’t already tread. As a STAR WARS fan, it’s there we find what might be the film’s biggest shock. Probably not one intended by Abrams and his crew.

For the last 16 years, STAR WARS creator George Lucas has been getting kicked around by fans of his creation, lambasted as tone-deaf and somehow unaware of just what made people love his era-defining creation. He gets thrashed for wrecking STAR WARS, as though he had noting to do with its creation.

But as THE FORCE AWAKENS unspools, it becomes clear Lucas perhaps knew it better than even the most die-hard fans will concede.

A kind of controlled experiment has been going on since A NEW HOPE was released, and only now can we really see its full shape. When it came to the greatness of STAR WARS, what part was Lucas, and what vital parts were provided by others?

In the 1970s and 80s, with Episodes 4-6, Lucas was a growing filmmaker with a studio to please, serving as director/executive producer/story guru as he worked with others to flesh out and vitalize his pocket universe. What he created were three delightful, moving and amazing films, STAR WARS, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI. They stand alone as unrivaled imaginative achievements, different and challenging each in their own way.

Each one highlights a different and unique cinematic thrill, both new and as old as Republic Pictures serials: In A NEW HOPE, the X-Wing attack on the Death Star; in EMPIRE the walker attack on the Hoth base, Han Solo frozen in carbonite and the wrenching the climactic lightsaber fight between father and son; in JEDI we have the swashbuckling fight on Jaba’s sail barge, the blinding fast speeder bike chase through the forests of Endor, and the space battle to end them all around the new Death Star.

Under the surface, Episodes 4-6 examined the way humans move through their lives, how they choose who they want to be and what those choices mean for the world around them. They were quick and brilliant amazements, almost perfect at every moment, playing at a pace every 10-year-old could enjoy and most adults could appreciate. They stood alone in the history of film.

But who did what to make them great? From the outside, it was hard to know.

By the 1990s and 2000s, with Episodes 1-3, Lucas was an industry legend, bankrolling his own films with only his creative impulses to placate. We got to see a STAR WARS without the influence of anyone but Lucas.

What he created were THE PHANTOM MENACE, ATTACK OF THE CLONES and REVENG OF THE SITH, which highlighted Lucas’ genius for binding story structure with theme, but buried all his good work under his anti-talent for dialogue and directing actors. We learned Lucas needed someone to blunt his worst impulses.

The talent for melding the familiar and imaginative were on full display; MENACE’s BEN HUR-style pod race, the threeway light saber fight in the techno-catacombs of Naboo, the capital-of-the-galaxy nightscape of Coruscant; CLONES gave us the seascape army-factory of Kamino, the gladiator arena of Geonosis; SITH revealed to us the perfect setting for Anakin’s fall to anger, the epic saber fight on the lava planet of Mustafar, the heartbreaking sequence of Order 66, and the grim way tyranny is usually begun with the votes of free people. All new vistas, and all unique and different from Episodes 4-6.

At their core, the prequels were less occupied with human level questions than how corruption and systematic collapse tear apart what has endured for 1000-generations, and in the midst we watch a young boy, Anakin Skywalker, trampled under that galaxy-wide push and pull until he is manipulated into Darth Vader’s suit of evil.

In the prequels, the awful and the wonderful were smashed together so tightly they could not be separated, becoming a frustrating mix that still drives fans to distraction 10 years after their release. The poetry of human pain and regret rests side-by-side with Jar Jar’s pratfalls. “You were my brother Anakin. I loved you. You were supposed to bring balance to the force, not leave it in darkness,” rests side-by-side with “Yipee.”

Now, beginning with Episode 7, we see STAR WARS without Lucas’ hand at all. And we learn STAR WARS without Lucas is missing an eye for the new horizon. While Abrams never visits a familiar world, Jakku may as well be Tatooine. Starkiller base may as well be Hoth. The Resistance’s military base may as well be Yavin. Abram’s new entry is it cycles back and reveals just what Lucas’ strengths as a producer and world builder were. As we found Lucas needed the influence of others to make STAR WARS, THE FORCE AWAKENS reveals STAR WARS just might need Lucas’s influence for the same reason.

Say what you will about Lucas, but he never had a fear of treading new territory, even while his audience might not want to follow. Abrams seems content to play with the pieces as given, reliving past story moments with new sheens, never really showing us the kind of strange and imagined vistas which are a key to what we love about this.

Overall, THE FORCE AWAKENS is enjoyable but somehow blunted, as though everything had been channeled through an enthusiastic focus group. There’s nothing here we haven’t seen before, which say what you will about the prequel’s, was not a fault they shared.

What does this mean for the future of STAR WARS? At this point we can’t say for sure. We’ll have to cast our eye to the horizon, watch the twin suns set, and wonder about the future like someone we all know.
Christopher Allan Smith was the news editor of the late, great EonMagazine.com and Cinescape Magazine. Since then he has become an Emmy Award winning producer and director. His first novel, JETT JERGENS AND THE INFINITY KEY, is due out in 2016.

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

Originally published on AssignmentX.com

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

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

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…