Happy Lupercalia!

BBB:

Happy Lupercalia Day!

Originally posted on Alison Williams Writing:

Lupercalia heart

Yes, I know it’s Valentine’s Day and lots of you will be receiving bouquets of roses and planning romantic dinners (not me- my husband knows I have no time for the gross commercialism that is Valentine’s Day and is under pain of divorce not to buy me flowers – and I mean it), however, it would seem that Valentine’s Day has always had a lot more to it than hearts and flowers. In fact, it originates from an ancient pagan ritual that was celebrated for years before anyone had heard of Valentine.

In Rome, many centuries ago, the festival of Lupercalia was celebrated from the 13th to the 15th of February. On the 14th of February, a day devoted to Juno, queen of the gods and patron of marriage, young women would place their names on slips of paper put into jars. The young men would pick out a name…

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Would ‘Star Wars’ be a hit movie today?

It’s a compelling question.  But in the end, it’s an impossible question to answer because of the widespread impact that Star Wars has had on business franchising, copyright licensing, pop culture, and now officially in the U.S., even religion.  Yes, ‘Jedi’ will officially be an option to check on the next census.  No more write-ins, my Jedi brethren!  But the question remains, in an age where Star Wars fans are divided between defenders of the Prequel Trilogy and old guard assailants of George Lucas’ maligned Episodes I-III, are Prequel fans’ criticisms of the Original Trilogy right in saying they were overrated to begin with?  That they would be outdated and laughed at today?  Although I know the answer to those questions is ‘no’ from any learned film fan, its still an interesting thought:  What impact would the original 1977 ‘Star Wars’ have at today’s box office?  And I consider this question separate from analyzing the subsequent sequels, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, both of which created the religion and franchising property that we know today.  So, in considering only the 1977 original Star Wars release…my answer is simple, it would still be a film held in high regard for its editing, ensemble cast of characters, outlandish setting, sound, and score.

First of all, Star Wars is a space opera.  You cannot name a film of the space opera genre that has had both the commercial success and critical acclaim that Star Wars had in 1977.  It quite simply was the first AND ONLY of its kind.  Subsequent space opera films, including stories that inspired the making of Star Wars in the first place, can only attain cult classic status within genre fans like myself.  Flash Gordon (1980), the original target of George Lucas and Gary Kurtz, is a mostly terrible film that attained cult status as a terrible film with awful special effects.  Sales of Flash Gordon film merchandise are only here today because of its mention in Seth Macfarlane’s Ted.  Frank Herbert’s Dune (1984), another huge influence on Star Wars (George Lucas’ early drafts appear to be right out of Herbert’s universe), is a Sci-Fi channel throwback shown on slow weekend afternoons to take up 4 hours of programming time.  Disney’s own John Carter (2012) comes from one of the defining works of the space opera genre, Princess of Mars, written in 1917 and it, along with Chronicles of Riddick (2004), was a huge flop.  These are epic flops and mostly terrible movies.  Even Joss Whedon’s Serenity (2005) was a commercial flop, even though its a solid film of the space opera genre.

Yoda is not impressed with other space opera films.

The only space opera film to put together excellent filmmaking to achieve commercial success close to 1977 Star Wars is Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).  Critically, it put together the ensemble cast, notable if not original soundtrack and outlandish setting and editing pace to put it in a similar ballpark of successful space opera films, and that ballpark is small, but notable.  And Star Wars gets there without the ‘Marvel’ stamp on it.  Notable indeed.

Although its impossible to compare visual effects, its clear that George Lucas would have tried to push the barrier of visual effects no matter what the era.  Strange Magic (2015) is said to have incredible animation, even if it doesn’t make up for lack of coherent story.  And while George Lucas isn’t the director that we all wish he was, he did come up with the idea to cut together stock film of World War II dogfights to inspire his visual effects nerds to create the Death Star dogfights.  That was unique in science fiction.  Hell, the dogfight sequences in Star Wars are better than ones in Top Gun (I’m dead serious about this, look at the awful stock footage used in Top Gun).

Also, nothing, seriously, NOTHING, sounds like Star Wars.  From Chewie’s growls, to Vader’s respiration, to the iconic ‘snap-hiss’ of a lightsaber, there is no movie that sounds like Star Wars.  The sounds of Star Wars are all familiar to the audience, but foreign at the same time.  That is a lauded feature of Star Wars that often gets overlooked.

Don’t get it twisted, Chewie’s got growl game.

There is a similar uniqueness of the ‘weathered’ or ‘lived-in’ galaxy that George Lucas created.  Prior space films’ environments are sterile.  From the Star Trek television series to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), space was a sterile, hospital-like world.  George Lucas was the first one to create a dirty, industrial, weathered look for a space civilization to live in.

Star Wars was unique in these aspects and its tough to say that ‘Oh some other filmmaker would have thought that out in 40 years since 1977′.  That’s a cop out.  If a similar film would have come out today with the uniqueness of Star Wars, even without the cultural moment and subsequent impact of the original film, we would praise it for originality and uniqueness and difference from darker and more technical space films like Interstellar (2014) and Gravity (2013).  Those films did not have the editing style as quick as Han Solo’s wit and soundtrack that creates the uniqueness of the Star Wars galaxy.

Some Clone Wars fans weren’t even born in 1998. Damn.

So yes, although we can pick apart the flaws of George Lucas’ direction and writing today, the 1977 Star Wars is an impressive combination of editing, characters, sound and score that no other space opera has ever put together.  It’s not without flaws of course.  Its not the most intricate storyline.  Carrie Fisher’s accent is puzzlingly inconsistent.  The camera direction isn’t groundbreaking outside the Death Star dogfights.  But overall, there is a uniqueness and quality that earned it several Oscar nominations and a win for Best Editing.  We may argue over the prequels, which we shouldn’t, they’re not good films.  But the original film released in 1977 is a true cinematic masterpiece that we can’t take for granted.  It could have easily been Flash Gordon.  But it’s not.  It’s Star Wars.

AND EITHER WAY, IN THE IMMORTAL WORDS OF BART SCOTT:  “CAN’T WAIT!!!”

STAR WARS EPISODE II: CALLING A DIRECTOR, SOMEWHERE, ANYTIME NOW, PLEASE, ANYBODY, PLEASE?

Ok ok, so you saw Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and now George Lucas sits down to film Episode II.  And you’re sitting there, trying to get George Lucas to take what is a shallow and reference filled cartoonish script to the camera lens and make a successful second prequel film.  What do you see in the script.  You see Anakin Skywalker, our supposed hero who will eventually be placed in the unenviable position to make a decision that will doom a galaxy into darkness for 25+ years, until Skywalker’s son, Luke, helps him redeem himself by demonstrating the bond of family and the challenges it must face.  Ok, that was pretty cheesy, but we’re not here debating what was going through Darth Vader’s mind as his son was getting electrocuted by organic lightning.  We’re debating on how to depict our hero, Anakin Skywalker, in an adventure that will demonstrate: (1) How engrained and powerful Palpatine/Darth Sidious is in the galactic government, (2) the flaws in Anakin’s character that are ultimately understandable and more importantly, human, and (3) what the hell the ‘Clone Wars’ actually were.

What is interesting is that, while we all hate Phantom Menace because its the moment that we realize: “I have a bad feeling about this”, I honestly think that Attack of the Clones was a worse movie, cinematically speaking.  Its a tougher task to take Lucas’ cheesy script and turn it into something that would be loved by all audiences, and not just the ones watching on a video player with a remote ready to skip every single scene with Natalie Portman and Hayden Christiansen.  Anyway, we’ll have time enough to replay the “I hate sand” moment in our heads.  Let’s get to making the movie that George Lucas would have written, and we would have filmed….and how freaking far away from one another those two works would be.

Anyway, after you yell at George Lucas after reading his final draft, or first draft, or even if he had a damn draft of the script, let’s get to saving a movie that somehow is supposed to incorporate a hero in Anakin, a love story, a Fett, a clone army, another Christopher Lee villain and Palpatine’s behind-the-scenes evil genius.

The movie starts off logically, explaining Padme’s opposition to a civil war and militarization.  Of course, its a complete mystery to us as to who is actually pushing for war in the Galactic Senate.  Palpatine is portraying a pretty passive Chancellor, not really pushing back against the ‘Pacifists’ led by Padme and Bail Organa.  If there was actually an antagonist in the galactic government, we’d be more emotionally involved in what Padme is trying to stave off.  I mean, really, what is assasinating Padme going to accomplish?  The senate is barely acting as it is.  There’s just no weight to that conference scene with the Jedi and Palpatine.  Count Dooku, who we’re supposed to be afraid of, is mentioned in passing in exposition dialogue with no rhythm and no importance.  We have no idea of who we’re really supposed to fear.  ‘Civil war’ is a construct that doesn’t really work unless we get a glimpse of it.  That’s what Dooku is supposed to be.  So how about actually showing Dooku in that scene?  Whether by hologram or in-person, actually discussing peace or conflict with his former Jedi colleagues and Palpatine.  If Christopher Lee is going to bring anything to the table, let him be that evil son-of-a-gun in the opening scene.  A perfect cynical and semi-sarcastic line to Padme about:

“My deepest sincere condolences to you, Senator, for your obviously terrible loss, if there is anything that the Seperatists can do for you…”

in the best Christopher Lee snark….oh man, that is way better than: “Oh yeah, he used to be a Jedi, so, um, I guess he’s not a murderer, or something”.  It would be a nice addition to a scene that ultimately adds nothing to any character or plot or any damn thing.  Speaking of characters, aren’t we also supposed to be enthralled with the Not-Quite-Boba Fett but Still-Referencing-Boba Fett character?  If Jango Fett is this incredibly impressive bad ass, why the hell is sub-contracting a hugely important political assassination to another hapless bounty hunter ?  To be blunt, NO FETT SUB-CONTRACTS ANOTHER BOUNTY HUNTER ON HIS BOUNTY CONTRACT.  Seriously, just have him punch something pretty, like a galactic cosmetic ad, when he realizes there was a decoy.  That’s the freaking Fett we deserve.

So, to sum up the first 5 minutes of the movie, there are two major changes: (1) Show Count Dooku in all his snarky glory and (2) JANGO FETT DOESN’T SHARE HIS BOUNTY WITH A SUB-CONTRACTED HAPLESS BOUNTY HUNTER (yes, the caps button is necessary).  Now, on to the entrance of the love story……hope you’re still there.

I’m not a screenwriter, and I’m pretty damn sure you’re not either.  But, for the sake of sanity, just say that somebody wrote a better script for Hayden Christiansen and Natalie Portman here.  Still, how stupid is Padme?  Yeah, we’re trying to be safe, but let’s go and investigate what’s going on with your family back on Tatooine, the backwoods of the galaxy run by gangsters.  No, we’re not forced to do it, we’re just going to go there because Anakin hates sand.  I can’t even…..just….good lord.  But whatever, keeping with the theme that Anakin’s past is sure to determine his choices in the future, or whatever goodie goodie plotline George Lucas sets up here, let’s try to get them to Tatooine.  And let’s make Anakin be somewhat necessary on this ‘super secret escape from the public eye to somewhere safe’ for Padme.

One of the not so disastrous lines from Anakin in this movie is his explanation and rationale about love and compassion and how it relates to being a Jedi.  Its actually a beautiful rationale and contradiction regarding Jedi teaching, and something that definitely serves the narrative of Anakin’s story.  Love is forbidden but compassion is essential. That is an interesting concept.  Therefore, let’s keep that exchange on the refugee transport and scrap everything that happens on Naboo.  Screw Naboo.  Its a stupid planet of pacifists that fell prey to electing Palpatine to the office of senator who played them to the very end. ‘LOL’ to that.   But if Anakin, a powerful Jedi hero, is really required to have on this super secret mission to smuggle Padme out of the capital, let’s have him actually save Padme from something.  

I propose an assassination plot by two lowly, starving and desperate refugees who recognize Senator Amidala on the refugee boat.  If Anakin will be pissed at somebody, let him be pissed at the downtrodden refugees, who try to kill the love of his life.  So insert a short action scene where Anakin has to improvise and get Padme off the refugee transport and into a smaller transport, without a hyperdrive, so that they have to land somewhere safe.  Is it a repetitive plot mechanism?  Yeah, but we avoid the sand line.  And we must, for we value our sanity.  We also show Anakin as a capable Jedi – something that George Lucas apparently forgot to do in this movie.  So yadda yadda, they get off the refugee ship and have to travel – cautiously – to Tatooine to hide Padme.

So we successfully get Anakin to where he doesn’t want to be, confronting a good family who just lost his mother to a bunch of Tusken Raiders.  He tracks them down, kills a bunch of them BEFORE getting to his mother’s side, where she dies in his arms.  Them’s the shakes, kid.  And if George still wants to film that scene where Padme shrugs off Anakin’s complete admission to the genocide of a tribe, then we put Jack Daniels in his coffee and tell him to take a freaking nap.  Some pacifist senator Padme turns out to be.  Marrying a Jedi who is also an admitted genocidal maniac.  Yes, I’m taking that scene out.  An emotional scene at his mother’s grave is all that is needed here.  Written better, it will set the tone for Anakin’s frustration going forward.  Let’s just take that writing out of George’s hands.

Oh, what’s that you say?  The actual real action of the movie is about Obi-Wan and Jango Fett?  Yes.  It is.  And thank god.  Let’s get to that.  Let’s get to JANGO FETT being chased through the streets of Coruscant by a Jedi apprentice and his master.  Because seriously, Jango Fett ain’t getting caught because he’s a bad ass.  But, alas, he loses a blaster which Obi-Wan is able to trace back to Kamino.  How he does it is not important.  He gets there and gets an explanation that is never actually explained by George Lucas save a mini-story arc in the last season of the Clone Wars television series.

Way better writing than George Lucas is capable of.

I sincerely to apologize to the writers and talented people who worked on the Clone Wars, it really was a better depiction of Anakin than what George Lucas threw at us in the prequels – but I’m scrapping the entire Sifo-Dyas character.  Its just a name to separate Dooku and Palpatine from the creation of the Clones.  Palpatine would be deposed for going behind the back of the Senate and the Senate wouldn’t have used clones ordered by Count Dooku against him in a war (or maybe with George Lucas’ logic circuits, they would, can’t be too sure).

So we have a hole to fill.  Actually we have two holes to fill.  An actual opposition for Padme’s pacifists in the Senate, and a buffer agent between Darth Sidious/Palpatine/Dooku and the creation of the clones.  Let’s fill both holes with somebody.  Eh, what the hell, let’s do the Lucas thing and shoehorn somebody in there.  Somebody with the guile to order a whole army behind the Senate’s back but somebody who Palpatine can credibly blame it on.  How about somebody in the Senate or the galactic government who would take a hard line on security issues?  Somebody like…..THIS GUY:

GRAND MOFF TARKIN IN THIS BITCH

Seriously.  Tarkin’s a psychotic nationalist neoconservative, ‘might is right’ type dude who would definitely try to go behind the Senate’s back to create an army because Tarkin crushes threats before Darth Vader even takes a look at them.  He’s the boss.  He held Vader’s leash.  Put this freaking dude in charge of something.  Maybe he’s a senator, maybe he’s some sort of security advisor or minister of security or something.  Maybe he’s informed by Darth Sidious or not, but either way, Tarkin orders the clones, Palpatine is free to use them to defend the Galactic Senate but has to put Tarkin away in jail, laughing all the way.  So that when he’s in charge of everything in Episode IV, you know this dude means business.  And that feigned deal with Princess Leia over the fate of Alderran….BWAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHA, you don’t know who this Tarkin dude is.  He’s blowing up your planet because his alarm clock was one decibel too loud, and maybe the Star Wars Galaxy’s version of the Spice Girls are from Alderran.  Either way, introduce Tarkin as the voice that’s telling the numbskull Jedi and Padme’s pacifists that they’re idiots from the very beginning.  And no, I don’t care that the damn cloners can’t speed up the growth of the clones that fast.  But apparently they can put pre-determined orders in their head and completely make them into docile cannon fodder?  So yeah, we’re going to shoehorn in the Grand Moff into this to at least give us some notion about how much power Palpatine really has, either manipulating behind-the-scenes or putting the pieces in place to rule the damn galaxy.

So decent things happen after that exposition about Tarkin ordering the clones.  Decent scenes between Obi-Wan and Jango Fett, an ok script saved by pretty good actors playing off one another.  The only not-so-decent thing is Boba Fett being a clone.  Just….no.  Boba Fett is the illegitimate child of Jango Fett and one of Jango Fett’s numerous galactic hookers.  Because its that kind of outlaw that’s going to disintegrate people and not care what Darth Vader’s trying to do to Luke Skywalker, he just wants his damn bounty.  Other than that, we’re good up until that horrible, last minute factory scene added by George Lucas after wrapping up filming. I just wonder what the hell Hayden and Natalie were thinking when they got that email that said they have to return to the set to run away from a bunch of blue blocks.

Get rid of that damn cartoon.  I’m not saying get rid of that particular plot device, just that factory. Just have Anakin and Padme run through the caverns of Geonosis, killing termites until, here comes that man, Jango Fett, grabbing Padme, putting a blaster to her head and saying:  “Cut the bullshit”.  OK Ok ok, maybe not that.  But what will get Anakin, this powerful young brash Jedi, to immediately drop his lightsaber?  Threatening Padme like only a Mandalorian can?  Oh yes.  Oh yes.  And will Anakin somehow come full circle to this later on?  YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT HE WILL!!! So Jango Fett arrives to the slaughter of his termite brethren and catches Padme, thereby persuading Anakin to accept capture, without the cartoonish crap in the factory.  And without R2-D2 flying around like a weather balloon.

So what’s left to change from here on out?  Unfortunately, A WHOLE DAMN LOT.  Everybody has questions about the last act of Attack of Clones.  From the uselessness of the Jedi, to Yoda fighting, to the Death Star plans that apparently have seen more hands than a Red Hook hooker.  So let’s take a breath and tackle this hodgepodge of Jedi, termites and droids.  <Insert ‘Let the Battle Begin Cliche here>

So, yeah, there’s a gladiator type scene that gets interrupted by Sammy L. Jackson threatening to cut Jango Fett’s head off.  Dumb because Dooku has no reason to care about Jango and Jedi probably shouldn’t do those types of things.  But its Samuel L. Jackson, so its cool.  But let’s visit the Jango Fett-Mace Windu thing.

SOMEBODY PLEASE TELL ME WHAT JANGO FETT WAS THINKING WHEN HE ENTERED THIS BATTLE FOR NO REASON?!?!?!?!

Ok, now that that is off my chest, do you remember that whole, Jango threatening Padme thing?  Well, Anakin doesn’t forget that when the battle begins.  He gets a lightsaber and goes full tilt on catching the fleeing Separatist leaders.  Cutting down termites, droids, Trade Federation lackeys, and whatever else with Obi-Wan, both of them pursuing Dooku and Jango Fett through the tunnels of Geonosis.  At some point, Dooku tells Jango to slow them down.  And, boy, is it on.  Anakin and Jango confront each other.  Anakin’s rage about Jango’s previous capture of Padme makes this an intense fight.  As good as Jango is, he can’t face down an enraged, soon-to-be Darth Vader, and well, he loses his head.  But as you imagine that fight taking place, we’ll have to cut to the Dooku-Obi-Wan showdown with concerned Yoda patiently commanding the battle.  Obi-Wan, our hero counterpart, is not the swashbuckling Jedi that Anakin or Mace Windu is.  Dooku takes care of him and tries to drop a column on him, but that column is held up by a shadowy minature figure in the corner.  The H.N.I.C. of the Force himself, Yoda.  Yeah, Dooku will try to force lightning him into oblivion, but Yoda is too good for that.  He deflects it, all while still holding up the column, forcing Dooku to block the powerful counter-attack from the indomitable Yoda.  Dooku, coming out of his amazement with Yoda’s power, and with a Christopher Lee smirk and glance at the heavy column, Dooku puts away his lightsaber and retreats to his now-ready ship, escaping, as Yoda calmly places the column down next to an injured Obi-Wan.

Dooku’s ship flies away, past a recovering Anakin, revealing a scene where Anakin notices his fallen opponent’s head, being lifted by Jango’s young son, Boba Fett.  Anakin is reminded about his own upbringing on Tatooine, without a father, taken from his mother 5 or 6 years ago, and knowing how it is to lose a parent.  All this, foreshadowing what will befall the galaxy.

The epilogue will proceed as it did, with one difference.  Padme and Anakin won’t be on some secret honeymoon masquerading as a trip home for Padme.  As two young leaders in the Republic capital, they have something to do.  Something that will reinforce Anakin as the soon-to-be fallen angel.  Padme and Anakin drop off the young and begrudging Boba Fett at an orphanage.  Padme trying to reassure Anakin that Boba Fett will be cared for, just as Padme kisses and embraces him as their speeder lifts off the ground and into the Coruscant horizon.

Boba don’t need no orphanage

And now you know why I have previously said that The Phantom Menace was probably an easier film to fix.  Boy is my saber-hand tired.