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  • Lance Mannion
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Well, I'm not entirely certain that that message isn't what Lucas had in mind. As you mention, it's not hard to find villains in literature or art who are led to villiany by wanting to do good and getting misled (whether through character flaws, miscalculation, extremism of one kind or another, etc.).

A big part of the Spielberg/Lucas project was to remove precisely any moral ambiguity within their films or even to have hints that moral questions existed in the universe. That's why they revived the prior cinema and art of boys' novels, low-grade sci-fi, low-end horror movies, etc. The official excuse was that such precursors were "exciting". The problem is that these precursors were "exciting" nearly exclusively for technical reasons - manipulation of the timing of schocks and thrills, technical craftsmanship, etc. Lucas and Spielberg took this type of cinema to a new level of profitability by using unprecedented amounts of cash budgets.

Lucas and Spielberg intentionally avoided the equally (if not more) "exciting" cinema of Anthony Mann, Robert Aldrich, Sam Fuller and so on - which relied more about the internal excitement generated by the plots and the director's creativity - partially because they wanted to avoid the moral ambiguity of that school of cinema.


When the title was announced some months ago, I misheard it in my mind as "Revenge of the Sissies" which could be a very funny little film. C'mon, creative geeks, I want to see that Quicktime movie on the internets.


Lucas has always sought out help with his dialogue. He doesn't give screen credit to his script doctors some of the time, but he does use them. On the very first Star Wars, Lucas's old friends Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz helped out (the writers of "American Graffiti"); then he brought in Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan for TESB; Kasdan returned for ROTJ. For TPM, Frank Darabont and Carrie Fisher helped doctor the dialogue. Lucas brought in a full-fledged co-writer for AOTC, Jonathan Hales, and it's recently been confirmed that Tom Stoppard pitched in for ROTS.

Now, maybe he's picked the wrong people and followed the wrong advice they've given or whatnot -- as vocal a defender of STAR WARS as I am, I certainly would never advance dialogue as a strength of these films, although I also would never claim that dialogue is as big a flaw in them as many people think -- it simply isn't true that Lucas won't ask for help with his dialogue. If anything, the man has always been up front about his shortcomings in that department.


Jaquandor, I didn't know about the script doctoring by Carrie Fisher. And that's great about Stoppard's helping out with ROTS. Is it true that Stoppard was fired from the His Dark Materials adaptations?

The first two movies were so much better written than any of the next three that I have to think that whatever help Lucas got for the later movies was more in the way of advice and a few good lines here and there. If he'd had real help Anakin's infamous sand line in AOTC would have ended before he got around to comparing sand to Padme's skin. It was actually a good line up till that point. But I think it was you who wrote in one of your posts that Anakin's awful dialogue is actually in keeping with his character.

The dialogue isn't as big a flaw as people think, you're right, because the movies, when they work, are driven by visuals. They are like the best silent films that way.

Burritoboy, I meant that I didn't think Lucas wanted the message to be that none of us has to worry about turning to the Dark Side. I think that behind that confused anger leads to hate, hate leads to fear, or fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, or hate leads to etc., however it goes, is the idea that we can all be undone by our passions, but I think that Lucas gets so caught up in the easy formulation and how EVIL is personated that he makes it easy to ignore his own point. You're right that moral complexity is something he has consciously avoided.


Just to nitpick, in the LofR novels, Boromir and Faramir's mother was named Finduilas. (She died when they were young, and is only mentioned in passing.) Guess that means she's related to Legolas.

And while it's true that in the movie version, Saruman didn't show much if any interest in the Ring, in the original novels he was hunting for it just as hard as Sauron. That's why Marry and Pippin were dragged off alive by the Orcs at the end of The Two Towers; being hobbits, Saruman was hoping they'd have the Ring, or at least information about it.

As for Sauron being the Devil or not.. you may be right thematically, but technically, he's the Devil's last surviving arch-fiend, after the Devil (aka Melkor) has been long cast out of the world into the Void.


Geoduck, Yeah, I blew that one. I was thinking of the movies more than the books and when I saw the movies I thought that Saruman was chasing the Ring for Sauron not himself.


actually, the name finduilas is taken from a
elf character in the silmarillion.
i believe she was the unrequited lover of the
man, turin turambur.


I'll get to the rest at my place, a bit later, but, first, Fuck Anthony Lane. His problem with this one - as it is with most of what he is forced to write about - is its vulgarity, about which he moans in his last paragraph. Well, mate, you're in the wrong business.
Lane's problem as a writer about movies (as opposed to being a critic) is that he seems to feel they are beneath him. I fell out with him a long time ago when he started a review of "The Age of Innocence" by complaining that Michelle Pfeiffer's hairdo reminded him of Lucille Ball as Lucy, and - well, after such an association, it was all too silly. Asshole. I have a movie buddy who reads him regularly, never agrees with his judgments, but, "likes the jokes." I wish I did, but for all the cleverness, they're empty and mean, and they burn me up.
By the way, as you highlight Lane's making fun of Lucas's goofy namings, I wonder what he thinks about Henry James: Fleda Vetch, Lambert Strether, Hyacinth Robinson - there are many more at that level. The Master - that Old Vulgarian.


I should add, for those who don't know, that "Hyacinth Robinson" is a guy, in "The Princess Casamassima", and that he's a member of a terrorist cell. Go figure.


O - and for a genius at the naming thingy: Nabokov, with - just in "Lolita" - Clare Quilty, Charlotte Haze, Vivian Darkbloom, and, of course, Humbert Humbert. Thomas Pynchon (his student, btw), caught VN's attention with Dewey Gland, Benny Profane and Mafia Winsome, just from "V". "V" - that must have stood for "Vulgar"...or something.


"I meant that I didn't think Lucas wanted the message to be that none of us has to worry about turning to the Dark Side. I think that behind that confused anger leads to hate, hate leads to fear, or fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, or hate leads to etc., however it goes, is the idea that we can all be undone by our passions"

Whether that's Lucas' intention or not (and I'm not entirely certain it is), it's so poorly and crudely expressed, again, that's it's actually less morally interesting than even much of children's literature - you have to seek out pulp children's books like Doc Savage to get to Lucas' level.


In my Episode III, there are two story arcs: Anakin is being slowly corrupted by Palpatine, but at the same time, Dooku is being slowly redeemed by Yoda. Without, mind you, ceasing to be a Separatist. Anakin puts on the armor early: his sacrifice, to bring himself to Dooku's level, to attempt to equal the best lightsaber duellist of all time. It's tight-focus, none of these instantaneous travels from planet to planet. Anakin and Obi-Wan chase Dooku through the galaxy.

In the end, they catch up, and Dooku contemptuously disarms Obi-Wan, and Anakin and Dooku duel. Dooku wins. But... what now? If he loses, Palpatine wins. If Dooku wins, he'll shatter the Republic. He doesn't really want that any more.

So he dons the armor himself, and settles in to begin decades of lies, waiting for the time when he can complete the circle and help his enemy's son rid the universe of the Emperor. Any other Jedi would be incapable of such a grand falsehood. BUt Dooku went to the Dark Side a long time ago.


I am so tired of people banging on about the "mythology" of Star Wars. Lucas is no master storyteller, they're simple good/evil movies for crying out loud, your average B-movie Western has the same level of complexity. And what kind of master storyteller starts his story with Chapter III?

Al Roker on the Today Show this morning actually cracked a funny joke about the word "Sith" said by Sylvester the Cat.


I found Lane's to be one of the most deeply satisfying reviews I've ever read; the last 600 words or so are a riot (and plenty thoughtful). Then again, like Lane, I lack the profound spiritual attachment to Star Wars that seems to possess so many folks; I just see a series of decreasingly interesting movies that underpin the true Empire--that of the marketeers. As to the apologists for Lucas's dialogue as not being what the movies are "really about," well, yeah, we all know these pictures weren't written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, but, alas, the characters DO talk, which obliges their creator to give them something at least nominally interesting to say and in a manner that doesn't leave the listener cringing.

I haven't read the Tolkien books--too many other wonderful things in this life, it seems to me--and had avoided the nine-plus hours of movie on the same principle. (Ditto the Potter express/merry-go-round.) At last, though, strong-armed by a Tolkienaphone girlfriend, I submitted to the first Lord movie, the endless director's cut no less. Let's just say I'm cutting my losses.

(Ok, now I've pissed off 90% of humanity. Sorry, friends! But here's a final thought.)

It seems to me that the Star Wars, Potter, and Tolkien movies are enterprises driven so much more by self-importance and commerce than by the logic of an outward-looking art. I mean, how is it that films like Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago, Kurosawa's Ran, Lean's Great Expectations--numberless grander, more interesting stories--can be told, from start to finish, in no more than a third of the time that the Star Wars, Potter, and Tolkien sagas arrogate to themselves?


I'm not entirely sure that the intent of "Star Wars" was to "remove ... any moral ambiguity within their films or even to have hints that moral questions existed in the universe." Lucas is a smarter storyteller than director (or scriptwriter), and he drew heavily not just from Campbell, but from his interest in philosophy and ethics. In the total SW arc, as fumblingly and poorly-told as it is, there's a conflict between the deontic ethics of the Jedi and the teleological outlook of the "dark side."

A "close reading" of the SW arc leads us to see that, (A) the Jedi's ethics are insufficient to stop the Republic from crumbling and the Empire taking hold; (B) the teleological ethics of the Dark Side are, perhaps inevitably, perverted into a lust for control, with the ends justifying the worst means; and, (C), Luke's actions in RotJ show a path out of the deontic/teleologic trap through virtue-based ethics.

Or, to put it another way, if the Jedi are "good," why does Luke basically disobey every order given to him by Yoda, and still come out as the hero? Because, according to Lucas, deontic ethics are insufficient to prevent undesired outcomes, while teleologic ethics are not ultimately grounded on a necessary moral base. Only personal virtue can bridge that gap and, as we are incessantly reminded by Lucas' characters, "restore balance to the Force."

The Heretik

Here's a link you might enjoy, Lance.
Tolkien Sarcasm


Finally got an LOTR commentary (I hope appropriate to this post and to other things) up -

I continue to be interested in the pull of this kind of thing. I can't get Frye's "Secular Scripture" out of my head, especially when you show how shallow Santorum's readings are. Grrrrr!

Rosie Powell

Dude, do you really expect me to believe that the characters in the LORD OF THE RINGS Trilogy are more complex and ambiguous than those in the STAR WARS saga? Because if you do, you'll be holding your breath until you drop dead. Out of all the characters in the LOTR trilogy, the only one who really had any sign of ambiguity was Boromir and Faramir's father - Denethor. Everyone else was either affected by the Ring . . . or not.

Your essay is a joke.

Rosie Powell

"as fumblingly and poorly-told as it is,"

You criticize Lucas' writing and yet, praise the philosophy in his movies? Now I know that human beings are capable of great hypocricy. As if you could do better. Which I doubt.

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