In a clever “Back to the Future” parody segment from this year’s annual Simpsons Halloween special, Bart travels back in time to 1974, which he describes as an era “before everyone was mad at George Lucas.”
Indeed, in this polarized, divided nation, there’s one thing upon which the vast majority of Americans and, indeed, the citizens of the world, can unanimously agree.
The "Star Wars" prequels were all kinds of awful.
Of course, good people may disagree about why they were awful. Some claim it’s because Hayden Christiansen is an atrocious actor. Well, sure. But even Laurence Olivier couldn’t have delivered a speech like Anakin’s “I don’t like sand” monologue from “Attack of the Clones” without sounding like a grade A idiot. No, the prequels were awful because they were written by someone who didn’t seem to grasp the reasons why “Star Wars” has been an iconic cultural touchstone for more than three decades.
George Lucas created “Star Wars,” but he doesn’t seem to understand it.
“Star Wars” matters to geeks young and old not because of its whiz-bang special effects, which become visually oppressive in the cluttered prequels. It remains important because it confronts morally serious issues in a popcorn-friendly way. The universal conflict between good and evil, the tensions that separate power and compassion, and the temptation of the Dark Side are all moral lessons that resonate with viewers of any age. All these are absent from the vacuous prequels, which took the profound mystery of The Force and reduced it to a medical condition.
Still, the prequels don’t make me angry at our friend Mr. Lucas, because it is very easy to simply pretend they don’t exist. But Lucas, unfortunately, isn’t content simply to diminish his prior creations with his subpar cinematic backstories. He insists on meddling with the original material itself, and he does so in ways that are not just superfluous, but undermine the very essence of what “Star Wars” is.
Case in point: “Greedo shot first.”
You all remember the scene. We first meet Harrison Ford’s dashing scoundrel Han Solo in the seedy Mos Eisley bar, where he’s confronted by a bug-faced alien by the name of Greedo. Throughout the scene, Greedo has a gun fixed squarely at Han’s head, and it’s only by means of misdirection that Solo manages to pull his own blaster out of its holster and dispatch Greedo just moments before the bounty hunter can claim his bounty, dead or alive.
Hopefully, your memories of that scene are indelible, because the scene as originally filmed no longer exists on any media currently available. Since the 1997 Star Wars “special release,” Han only shoots after Greedo fires on him and inexplicably misses at point-blank range. In a ridiculously clumsy bit of computer manipulation, Han’s body lurches to the right as if it’s yanked there by giant magnets.
Lucas insists this is a necessary change, because otherwise Han, a beloved character, is portrayed as a cold-blooded murderer. But that’s nonsense. Han’s life was clearly in jeopardy; this was clearly self-defense. But even if Han’s actions are judged to be morally dubious, this episode provides the character with an opportunity to abandon his selfish instincts as the story progresses. If Han is already a guy who wouldn’t hurt a fly, then his character has nowhere to go, and it makes his later redemption essentially meaningless.
“Star Wars” has power because it shows flawed people who better themselves. So to wipe out those flaws by saying Greedo shot first is to erode the value of the film’s moral universe.
It’s not that Han shot first. It’s that he was the only one who shot at all.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.