I thought the prequels had permanently soured me on Star Wars, but then I saw the cast announcement for Episode VII, and my geek juices started flowing again. Not only are the original three stars back on board, but the rest of the cast is pretty impressive, too. Andy Serkis? Max von Sydow? A Star Wars movie that includes both Gollum and Ming the Merciless? How could it not be all kinds of awesome?
Yeah, not so fast.
The Star Wars prequels had a formidable cast. But the combined efforts of Liam Neeson, Ewan MacGregor, Christopher Lee, Ian McDiarmid and Natalie Portman weren’t enough to counterbalance the presence of Jar Jar Binks.
And there’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” to consider.
For decades, people were clamoring for a fourth Indiana Jones movie. There were a number of false starts and scripts that were written and discarded, and it seemed like the project would never get off the ground. But when things started moving forward and a picture of Harrison Ford sporting Indy’s trademark fedora appeared online, geeks everywhere rejoiced. This seemed like a sure thing.
Now here’s where it gets interesting.
When people talk about "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" today, they refer to it as a miserable failure on the same order of magnitude as “The Phantom Menace” or “Attack of the Clones.” On Facebook, my sister scolded me for my mild defense of Indiana Jones 4. “You should hate Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” she insisted. “It's a horrible movie.”
Is it? That seems to be the consensus now, but people forget that this wasn’t what people were saying at the time it was released. Critics generally praised the film, and it holds a solid 78 percent “fresh” rating on RottenTomatoes.com. From my own perspective, I thought a crystal skull was a weak MacGuffin in contrast to the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail, and the ending with aliens returning to the “space between spaces” was silly and confusing. But the movie had some solid character work and fun action sequences. Best of all, Harrison Ford brought his A game to the title role.
In short, I loved it because it was an authentic Indiana Jones movie.
Sure, it wasn’t nearly as good as “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” but how many movies are? “Crystal Skull” was tonally and thematically consistent with the other entries in the series and certainly on par with “Temple of Doom.” While admittedly not the strongest title in the Indy canon, it had the same basic characteristics as what had gone before.
The same can not be said of the Star Wars prequels.
Where the original movies were swashbuckling epics filled with adventure and crackling wit, each prequel was a joyless, plodding mess. The characters were all stiff nobodies without a whiff of humor, and the plot was larded with convoluted political weirdness and the most awkward romance ever put to screen. The similarities between the two trilogies are superficial at best, and I only consider Episodes IV through VI to be genuine Star Wars movies.
That’s why I’m optimistic about Episode VII. With the inclusion of the original actors, the producers have aligned themselves with the Star Wars trilogy that wasn’t awful. So it could be truly great, or it could be a fun blast of nostalgia and not much else — “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” all over again.
But that doesn’t scare me. Remember, it could be a whole lot worse. And with the prequels, it was.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.
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