Sunday, May 19, 2002

The family went to see Star Wars Episode II last night in Front Royal. We have an old movie house on Main street reopened by local folk. The balcony has been turned into a separate theatre, but the main part is still there with a traditional (meaning large) screen. My wife is a loyal fan, as are my two boys, ages 9 and 12. Hard to believe that the first installment (now called Episode IV) came out in 1977. Seems a lifetime ago, watching it on a date the summer between college and law school. Never imagined then that I would be taking my own children to the fifth in the series. I liked this one, which is more than I can say for Episode I. I will grant you that the double sided light saber was cool, but it, and a few other bright spots, were not nearly enough to compensate for the leaden pace and the execrable Jar Jar Binks. I never knew it was possible to actually loath a purely digital creation.

The new film, coming in at a bladder bursting two and half hours, has flashes of the old Star Wars magic. The city of Coruscant is wonderful, a filmed version of the 1950's city of the future that we were all supposed to be living in by now. The diner may have been a little over the top, but the reference was fun, much like the swing band in the cantina scene. The plot returns to a little of the darkness and complexity of The Empire Strikes Back, my own favorite in the series. The dialogue is still wooden, the acting leaves something to be desired, but it gets the job done. Digital technology has allowed Lucas to do things he couldn't have dreamed about in '77, but at a cost. The digital effects look like digital effects. We've all been trained well enough to suspend disbelief, but somehow the new effects are less real than the old hokey miniatures and masks. Some of the action sequences show the effect of the digital age. The action in the original Star Wars was a homage to old war movies, Saturday serials, westerns and adventure films. In this one the points of reference are video games. In the sequence on the droid assembly line, I kept waiting for "Next Level" or "Game Over" to flash on the screen. I never had the feeling in the original Star Wars that anyone was thinking during filming "This will make a great merchandising tie in. Give me a mock up for an action figure." Can't say the same about this one.

The boys each gave it a "10." I probably won't watch it again in the theatre, but will grab the DVD when it comes out.