Nic's Response to IGN's "A Newer Hope"

[Edit: This article was originally written in October 2013. On May 1, 2014 IGN decided to rerun the article that this article is responding to. So here we are again. I've made a few minor edits here and there to 'celebrate.']

Back in August, IGN posted an article entitled "Star Wars Episode VII: A Newer Hope." Its central thesis is that George Lucas never really understood Star Wars and its greatness. He created it, and presided over it. But he "never got what made it so special." However, the sequel trilogy there's a new hope that Star Wars films can be enjoyable again.

You know us. Here at The Inner Dorkdom we enjoy the Prequels. And we believe that although entertainment can educate and inspire us, it's something that should never cause us to despise other people, or treat them poorly.

But I must admit, when I read articles like this (even if they are written with more civility than normal) part of me wants to punch people (the authors in particular) right in the mouth.

Of course I would never do that. That’s taking things incredibly too far.

So instead I offer you, dear Inner Dorkdom readers, a point-by-point response to the article.

In the opening paragraph, the author says, "for too long the history of that galaxy far, far away was at the mercy of an incurable revisionist, someone who didn’t mind treading on the memories of others."

A couple of things here.

First, for too long? Star Wars was being presided over by the man who created it for too long? I must ask: According to what standard? Certainly not any objective standard. In fact this, like much in the article, is nothing more than a subjective preference stated as an objective fact.

There is no standard for how long the creator of Star Wars needs to be in control of Star Wars. It's just a matter of tastes. And since I like the stories George Lucas tells, and the way he tells them, I for one am glad he was involved with Star Wars for as long as he was.

Second, how much has Lucas revised over the years, really? I mean, I hear people make this charge from time to time. But the claims always seem larger than the actual facts of the matter. From a plot point standpoint, what has Lucas changed over years? (I'm not counting any decisions he made contrary to EU canon, because, well, we've been over that one.) Ep IV had the scene with Jabba added and changed it from Han to Greedo shooting first. Ep V changed the dialogue between Vader and the Emperor, gave Boba Fatt Jango's voice, and changed Vader's line after his confrontation with Luke. Ep VI changed the song Sy Snootles sang, gave Anakin a couple of "no"s, and made his Force-ghost reflective of his young mid-twenties self. And that's it. The rest of the changes were cosmetic. Fancier shots of ships flying around, some shots of the Wampa, and so on. Of course one can discuss how one enjoys (or doesn't) the changes. But to say they show Lucas to be an incurable revisionist is just silly.

Third, the memories of others bit. Though he says it with more tact and civility (which I thank him for), this is really akin to the old "George Lucas raped my childhood" chestnut. And, I'm sorry, I just don't understand that. He has done nothing to your memories. What you saw back in the day is still what you saw. That hasn't changed. Again, you don't have to like that he's made revisions. But just because he's made and released them doesn't mean your memories have been trampled. To think of it that way is, if I may, an awfully self-centered way of looking at an author modifying HIS work.

(And it is his work. If he wants to alter something, it’s his prerogative.)

Next up: "...hopefully we can now all admit this publicly, Episode I never felt like Star Wars."

I'm going to ignore the problem of taking a subjective opinion and stating it as a universal fact. Otherwise, we'd be here all day. (Just know that I noticed it.)

How can one say it didn't feel like Star Wars? It is Star Wars. Thus, by definition, it feels like Star Wars. It can't not feel like Star Wars.

What I assume our author really means is that it didn't feel like the Original Trilogy. What do I make of that?

First of all, I think we should ask, should it feel the same? Does a film set in a very different era, featuring characters with very different backgrounds, occupations, and goals need to feel the same? I argue that it shouldn't. At least, not in every respect. How else are we going to feel the impact of the Sith conquering the Galaxy and all the changes that brings?

Second, granting those differences, Phantom Menace still 'felt like Star Wars' to me. Jedi, lightsabers, Tatooine, hyperspace, Tusken Raiders, Jawas, Jabba, Palpatine (played by Ian McDiarmid), Yoda (played by Frank Oz), space battles, ground battles, a dialogue-free ending, wipes as transitions, all with John Williams music throughout.

I think it's worth asking: Is the reason for Mr. Krupa's feeling simply due to the fact that the elements The Phantom Menace didn't have (scoundrels, flirtatious banter, Vader choking people, etc.) are the things he likes most about Star Wars?

Next: "Exciting moments are scattered throughout the prequels, as are likeable characters and moments of intrigue,..."

Which, the negative connotation of the word "scattered" notwithstanding, is the best that could be said about any quality story. Not every moment is, or should, be exciting. Not every character should be likeable. And every event doesn't need to produce intrigue.

Next: "...but it’s all so haphazardly assembled that I’ve long suspected that these are little more than kind accidents."

How is it haphazardly assembled? Our author just plops that statement down as though it were a well established fact. But it's a rather large statement that could use some supporting evidence.

But here's the thing. So the Prequels have a slightly different tone than the Original Trilogy (just as each film in the Saga has its own distinct tone). Why conclude that the difference between the two trilogies is probably attributable to George Lucas' incompetence, and that anything good about the new films is purely accidental? Why be drawn to the conclusion that carries with it a critical, even derogatory, attitude toward an artist?

Given that Mr. Lucas was involved in all three original Star wars films (including ESB), as well as the Indiana Jones films, it just doesn't make sense to conclude that the guy doesn't understand how to create likeable characters, enjoyable action sequences, and so on.

Isn't it also a possibility, and more consistent with the facts, that the differences between the OT and PT were purposeful? That Lucas simply wanted to tell a different kind of story with Episodes I-III? Indeed, did he not tell us beforehand that such was going to be the case? Are the seeds of the different kind of story not clearly evident in the notes that he wrote back in the late 70's?

Next: "’s clear they’re [the Prequels - NW] deficient in so many of the qualities that the originals had in abundance – genuine warmth, wry humour, real charm..."

Slow down, man. Let's take them in turn.

genuine warmth - I think it's safe to say that for the most part the Jedi are the main characters of the Prequels. And I think it's also safe to say that the Jedi can come across as a little distant and cold at times. I loved Episode I, but that was one of the few things about it that disappointed me a little. But then I remember the first time I saw Episode II noticing and enjoying several of moments right in the opening minutes that almost felt like I direct attempt to reverse that trend (Yoda and Mace concerned about the Separatists, Yoda's warm feelings over Padme's surviving the terrorist attack, Obi-Wan and Anakin joking in the elevator). I realize that still might not be the sort of heart-on-sleeve wearing that people would prefer. I get that.

And, if I may, it seems like perhaps that's part of the point of the Prequels. The Jedi, out of fear of themselves going to the dark side and using their powers in vengeful or controlling ways, have decided not to have attachments. Better never to be close to anyone than to be close, get hurt, and have to fight the temptation to respond negatively. This philosophy, which, granted, many of them don't seem to always follow, helps get the order decimated. It's Luke's compassion and obvious warmth that brings Anakin back in the end, allowing him to destroy Vader and Sidious, bringing balance to the Force.

wry humor - Allow me to retort: "That's why I'm here." "Good job." "Not to worry, we're still flying half a ship." "Another happy landing." "Today you were the hero, and you deserve your glorious day with the politicians." "Alright, but you owe me. And not just for saving your skin for the tenth time." "Ninth time. That business on Kato Nemoidia doesn't...doesn't count." "I'll try not to destroy all the battle droids before you arrive." "So uncivilized." Etc. Yes, most of those quote are from Obi-Wan. But didn't most of the wry humor in the OT come from one or two people (Han, and to a lesser extent, Leia)? Also, the wry humor increases as you go from Ep I to Ep III. Just as darkness increases in the galaxy.

real charm - This one is really subjective. What one person finds charming another won't, and vice versa. When I watch the Prequels, I see what I feel to be be real charm. So now what? Neither one of us is objectively right or wrong.

Next: "Nothing in the prequels ever came close to drawing out this emotion." [i.e., "that less tangible property that made Star Wars so unique. It differs between viewers, but for me, it was always a hopeful sense of wonder, a secret knowledge that a greater destiny waits for us amidst the constellations. I think its at its most palpable when Luke watches the twin suns set on the desert planet of Tatooine."]

Again, this one is very subjective, and is a simple case of your mileage may vary. Indeed, our author acknowledges this by saying that what he's talking about differs between viewers. Yet he says it's nowhere to be found in the Prequels. That doesn't make sense to me. If it's a differing thing from person to person, how can you definitively say that it's absent from the Prequels?

But for sake of discussion, let's take what the author says is that quality for him--this sense of wonder / knowledge that a greater destiny awaits in space.

First, I'm not convinced that's what Luke was thinking when he looked at that sunset. I personally never read him that way. I've always figured he's thinking, "When's it going to be my time? Will it ever be my time? Cause, boy, I'd like to get off this rock. I think I would enjoy it. But who knows if I'll ever get to." I don't take it that he's also thinking, "Deep down inside I know that I will. Secretly, I know it is my destiny." I read him 100% yearning, 0% secret conviction.

Second, even if we granted for sake of discussion that Luke did have that secret knowledge, where's that quality in Episodes V and VI? This is, after all, something he argues the OT had (not just A New Hope) and the Prequels lack.

Third, do the Prequels actually lack it? Little Anakin looking up at the stars with Qui-Gon, the Jedi council testing Anakin, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon looking out over a Coruscant sunset, and Anakin kissing his mommy goodbye may not have been accompanied by swelling music from the excellent John Williams (except that last example), they may have been more subtly-stated, but story-wise they are dealing with the same thing. Characters wondering what their future holds.

It seems to me that much of the flack the Prequels get comes from the fact that with them Mr. Lucas wanted to tell a more complex story. In my experience, adding complexity to a story sometimes results in a sacrifice of archetypal and emotional resonance. "Farmboy dreams of leaving his family farm in the desert, and when his family is killed he follows an old warrior on a mission into the starts to rescue a princess, following in his late father's footsteps," is different from, "slave boy with a mysterious origin has no illusions of ever being free, but some religious knights show up due to a broken ship, and one of them wagers for his freedom, believing him to be a prophesied chosen one who's destiny is probably to do something good but there's debate about the prophecies' interpretation."

Next:  "...too bogged down in recounting the bureaucratic origins of the Empire to ever truly reach out to grab the stars."

Like I said, a more complex story that perhaps sacrifices some archetypal resonance. If you’re not interested in complexity, or don’t desire that type of complexity from Star Wars, you’re naturally going to be disappointed.

Also, how else does one tell the story of a republic collapsing from within (due to political machinations) and turning into an empire? How do you tell a story about politics without dealing with politics?

Next: "And ironically Lucas’s passion to innovate and use cutting-edge technology, which made the originals such landmarks in the history of cinema, actually undermine the prequels quite badly – so much is left looking synthetic, cold, and dated."

We're going with the 'CGI looks fake' argument, it would appear. I don't want to be the bearer of bad news, but model work composited on an optical printer with visible matte lines/rectangles and occasionally awkward looking motion also looks fake and dated. A puppet whose mouth only opens and closes and occasionally suffers from extreme bouts of lazy eye looks fake and dated. It looks fake in a different way, granted, but it still looks fake.

If I may expand on that. I was talking about Star Wars with my father-in-law the other day, and he made basically the same point as Mr. Krupa. As we discussed the matter I developed a theory I'd like to share with you for your consideration Internet. Is this a generational thing? People like my father-in-law grew up on analog special effects. He'd been a full grown adult for some time when Jurassic Park came out. Non-digital matte paintings, miniatures and model photography, analog compositing, people in costumes, these look more real to him than CGI. On the other hand, kids today feel the exact opposite. The old tech looks bad to many of them. CGI looks more real. And then in the middle there are people like me. Born in 1978, I grew up with both types of technology. Analog visual effects were the norm when I saw a little boy. But I was only in early high school when Jurassic Park came out. To my eyes, both practical effects and CGI look fake. Or, I should say, they can look fake to varying degrees based on the quality of the work. Neither one has an inherent advantage in my eyes. They can both look fake, just in a different kind of way.

Point being, what looks synthetic, cold, and dated to one person looks perfectly fine to another. Thus the author's point, yet again, is actually a subjective preference.

Next: "Lucas mistakenly believed the magic of Star Wars resided in the Universe he had created, and that simply showing more of it would be enough to satisfy fans. He was wrong."

He didn't just simply show more of it. But anyway.

I was satisfied with the Prequels, and I'm a fan. Josh was satisfied, and he's a fan. Todd was satisfied and he's a fan. Thus your claim is shown to be factually inaccurate.

There's no arguing, many Star Wars fans didn't like the Prequels. Seeing the galaxy far far away again wasn't enough to outweigh their disappointments (one or more of the following: plot, scripting, casting, acting, art style, visual effects work). I don't deny that.

But many Star Wars fans did like the Prequels. Some in spite of those things, some because of them.

I don't understand why those who dislike the Prequel continue to act like they are the only ones who exist, or the only one whose opinions count.

Next: "Recently, I attended Star Wars Celebration Europe where I saw Kathleen Kennedy, the executive producer of Episode VII, talk about the approach of the new film. Character and story were being prioritised above everything else, she said; effects would be at the service of the story; CGI would work in tandem with more traditional forms of effects work – miniatures, set-building, shooting in exotic locations. As Kennedy presented this new creed, it was greeted with hungry applause by the congregation."

New creed? Is it really new?

I realize that people on the internet talk all the time as though it is. 'Lucas cared more about CGI than character development.' 'He cared more about CGI than analog forms of effects work.'

People say it, but they offer little support. From what I know of the Prequels, CGI got Lucas excited about making them because the technology allowed him to write almost whatever he could imagine. He could conjure characters and places freely. CGI was great, because it could serve the needs of character and story. And when it came to actual production, ILM used a combination of digital and analog technologies. Even in Episode III.

But about Ms. Kennedy's statements at Celebration Europe, yeah I remember hearing about that. It didn't send me over the moon with joy and excitement. The emotions it created in me were more subdued, because it seems to me this indicates one of two possibilities, neither one I'm overjoyed at.

First, it’s possible that perhaps this doesn't reflect Ms. Kennedy's views on the George Lucas and his work with the Prequels, and is just PR-driven Prequel-disliker baiting. You know, like click-baiting, but for people who didn't like the Prequels. I mean, come on. In that one presentation she dealt with all of the major over-arching complaints the stereotypical "Original Trilogy only" Star Wars fan has with Eps I-III. Disney/Lucasfilm is certainly going to want the enthusiasm (and money) of that portion of the fan base. Everyone already knows Lucas won't be scriptwriting or directing these new films. Thus, that crowd is already feeling some hope. Why not throw them a few bones, say some things they want to hear, to further excite them? My problem with this option is that Lucas and the Prequels are implicitly being thrown under the bus simply for marketing purposes.

Second, to me the more troubling possibility is that the new head of Lucasfilm might actually believe those criticisms herself. (Given the Lucas appointed her this possibility is doubtful, but you never know.) My problem with this option is that, again, I think those criticisms of the Prequels are unfair and unwarranted, and as such I'd rather the head of Lucasfilm not believe them. The Prequels had a story. A complex one. They had characters. Granted, most of them were stoic Jedi, awkward Jedi (I tend to think written and directed that way on purpose), and politicians. So, maybe not the kinds of characters some people wanted. But they had characters. I've watched the Prequels literally dozens of times. And I just don't see the argument that they are more about the visual CG spectacle than they are anything else. And as for special-effects techniques themselves, again I don't see the criticism as valid. All three Prequels had model work. They all had sets. They all shot on-location. So, in the Prequels the two approaches already were working in tandem. If we're just talking about what the ideal balance is between CG and practical, isn't that a function of individual tastes and, for the filmmakers themselves, budget considerations?

The common thread in both options is the possibility that throwing Lucas and the Prequels under the bus is going to be an on-going part of Lucasfilm's PR strategy. This is a possible trend that I'm not excited about, since I respect Lucas as a filmmaker and want to believe that he was sincerely trying to make the best films possible, and I like the Prequels.

Next: "The fallout from the prequels has made audiences realise that it wasn’t simply the universe they loved – it was the timeless approach to storytelling and the way it had been made, principles that had been forgotten at the turn of the millennium."

Except that a great many audiences enjoyed the Prequels and felt they still exemplified a "timeless approach to storytelling."

But, regarding the specific differences between the Original Trilogy and the Prequels, again the author here assumes that Lucas forgot certain storytelling tools, instead of entertaining the possibility that he simply chose to do some things differently. I'm personally really growing tired of the almost arrogance that seems to be at the heart of this oh-so-common assumption. Can't one just say that he/she didn't like the changes and leave it at that, instead of moving beyond that into things about which one doesn't know (i.e., Lucas' mind), and making personal criticisms?

Next:  "She was involved in the very first use of CG in cinema..."

Allow me to be annoying for a moment.

No she wasn't. Ep IV, which itself wasn't even the first use of computer graphics in film, had primitive CG for the Death Star trench run briefing. That was '77. Ms. Kennedy didn't get a producer credit on a movie until '81. And if we're talking CG used to represent something "real" within the film's story, then she still wasn't, since she didn't work on TRON or The Last Starfighter.

Next: "and produced Jurassic Park, a seminal film in the history of CG effects. At Star Wars Celebration, she spoke about the excitement she experienced when she first saw that wireframe model of a dinosaur sprint across a CRT monitor at ILM. She knew, using this technology, it was possible to make the impossible – that dinosaurs could return from extinction. The brilliance of Jurassic Park lies in the sparing use of CGI and how it’s deftly balanced with the use of more traditional special effects, like animatronics, and shooting in fantastically beautiful or strange real-world locations."

But it isn't like they had a choice. The state of CG work when Jurassic Park came out in '93, both in terms of raw technical ability and costs, precluded fully-digital photorealistic environments or the elimination of animatronics. They couldn’t have done those things even if they wanted to.

Next: "It was clear that Kennedy recognised the dangers of embracing CGI too openly, forgetting its limitations and the deadening effect it can have despite its inexorable march towards photorealism."

That may be. But the fact that Jurassic Park used CGI sparingly is no way proof of that.

Next: "But it’s the emphasis on writing that’s really reassuring. They’ve even called Lawrence Kasdan to attend daily script meetings."

That is indeed cool. I'm not complaining that Kasdan is involved. But, he did co-write Return of the Jedi, which many Star Wars fans dislike. So, there is that.

Next: "Kennedy, when she spoke about the film’s director, described J.J. Abrams primarily as a storyteller, with a background in screenwriting and television touted as his most impressive and valuable credentials."

People's mileage varies on this. But, for me, when one starts talking about J.J. Abrams, they run the very real risk of getting me started.

But for now, I'll just say that Abrams wasn't hired as a writer, but a director. So, even if he is a wonderful writer, that doesn't necessarily mean anything. There are many great writers who would make horrible directors, and vice-versa. Will he contribute to the story? Probably. But he isn’t writing it.

[UPDATE: Since the time this article was written, Disney/Lucasfilm announced that Arndt was out, and a writing team of Kasdan and Abrams would be penning the screenplay to Episode VII. So, well, it could be good. But, my gut feeling is, "oh poodoo." Hope that gut feeling is way off. No way to know until December 2015.]

Next: "His Star Trek reboot pulled off that most paradoxical feats: a canonical reboot."

I'm serious now. Don't get me started.

Next: "It didn’t ignore the disregard what came before..."


Next: "...but with one swift movement, it avoided forty years of densely-tangled continuity."

Uh oh, here comes the windmill....

Next: "And nobody’s delicate memories were trampled or even wrinkled in the process – every mission of the Starship Enterprise still took place but just in another timeline."

Of course no one’s memories are trampled on. (See above.) But things are messed with. Significantly. The reality is that for most practical purposes it did ignore and disregard much of what came before. And the notion that every mission of the starship Enterprise (and those of the Enterprise-D, Enterprise-E, Deep Space 9, Voyager, and everything else in the pre-Abrams world of Trek for that matter) still occurred just in a different timeline is one of the most inconsistent cop-outs in the history of quantum mechanics and inconsistent cop-outs.

(Incidentally, you don’t need the “many universes” quantum mechanics angle to create a canonical reboot. Just have Nero and Spock travel to the past and change the timeline as they would in any old Star Trek episode or movie, and then don’t have them try to fix it. Sure, everything that happened before would be erased from the timeline. But you would still have an in-universe canonical reboot.)

Next: "It had moments of sentimentality, but on the whole it was a remarkably forward-looking, assured film that decanted what made Star Trek special."

By...spoiler alert...destroying Vulcan? Having a Starfleet cadet become captain of the Federation flagship? Inventing a stable version of plot-eroding transwarp beaming? Hooking Spock and Uhura up? Having Deep Roy walk around a beer factory...I mean starship engine an alien suit? Not bothering to put "tripods" in the filming budget?

Don't get me wrong, despite the negative bias I had going in, I fairly well liked Star Trek 2009. But "remarkably forward thinking?" I don’t see it. It was yet another time-travel story.

Next: "(Incidentally, one of my biggest problems with the sequel, Into Darkness, was its decision to revisit old frontiers.)"


But, interestingly enough, my wife, who likes Trek but hasn’t watched that much of it (unlike Josh, Todd, and I), rather enjoyed the movie. The revisit didn’t feel like a revisit to her. And what many fans lamented as a departure from the style, tone, and substance that is at the very core of Trek, she wasn’t bothered by. Yes, Abrams and company changed things. But she was ok with the changes, because she liked the results and wasn’t tied to the original.

Next: "The reboot proved it’s better to be daring, than deferential."

That's exactly what the Prequels did! They changed some things up! Yet our author think they're a disappointing mess, for the very fact that they didn't adhere closely enough to what it was about the originals that he liked.

Next: "This desire to look back to the originals for inspiration..."

Uhhh....I'm getting whiplash. Now deferential is good again?

Next: "...seems to extend across other Star Wars projects now in the works. The new animated show Star Wars Rebels, for instance, is revisiting the legendary concept art of Ralph McQuarrie, which had such a profound influence on the look and feel of the Star Wars universe. The show’s producer Dave Filoni..."

Don't be too proud of the "Lucas-era is behind us" mentality when bringing up Dave Filoni

Next: "Filoni and his team have studied the film’s shooting itinerary, trying to replicate not only the exact camera movements and lens used in the space battles but also trying to recreate the grain of the original film."

I can't find any corroboration on this point.

Next: "There seems to be a newfound respect for the past, and a humble desire to learn from it, not rewrite it."

I refer back to the beginning of this article about rewriting.

Next: "The new creative talents involved have a reverence for the source material in a way that Lucas never could. And by looking backwards, Star Wars Episode VII may have inadvertently picked up its most potent weapon: nostalgia. As fans of Mad Men know all too well, nostalgia in Greek refers to the pain from an old wound – a nagging, dull sort of pain, tugging at your insides, making you remember the initial cut. And that’s how I feel about Star Wars – I remember the way it was, how it made me feel as a child, but those feelings have faded over time. Episode VII has re-opened those old wounds, and that twinge is the dormant pain you only get from a new hope."

Blah blah blah....

My translation: "I didn’t like the Prequels. People I talk to didn't like the Prequels. People on the internet didn't like the Prequels. In other words, no one liked the Prequels. They weren't what I and the aforementioned groups of people wanted them to be. Thus, they were bad. And they show that Lucas' success with the Original Trilogy was kind of an accident. He didn't understand what he was doing. But fortunately for us, a new generation of filmmakers, along with acceptable and approved remnants from the old guard, actually get Star Wars and thus can do a better job of making quality Star Wars films. And by that I mean films that, when compared to the Original Trilogy, keep the same that which I personally want kept the same, and change that which I personally am OK with being changed. So I'm still sad that the Prequels were such a mess. But I'm hopeful that finally Star Wars can be set right. And by that I mean "exactly the way I want it to be."

I guess I’m being a bit provocative there. In the end, the points are argued by Mr. Krupa with more tact than that. (And certainly with more tact than how many other folks dissatisfied with the prequels have approached the subject. See the article’s comments section.) But when it’s all boiled down, it seems to me to be a simple matter of a person not respecting the role of an author/creator, not liking three films in a franchise, not being able to see past the subjectivity of his own opinion, and ascribing deficiencies of skill on the part of the film’s creator rather than allowing that it might be a simple matter of differences in goals between the filmmaker and himself (thus engaging in what psychologists call the fundamental attribution error).

I’ll end with this:
No one has to like the Prequels.
No one has to dislike the Prequels.
No one has to like the Prequels more than the Original Trilogy.
No one has to like the Original Trilogy more than the Prequels.

And the Sequel Trilogy will be what it will be

 - Nic

Posted on May 1, 2014 .