Star Wars and special effects

I did a bad thing. While my father was here last week, I made him watch the Star Wars prequel trilogy. He didn’t like those movies, no sir. (Sorry about that, Dad.) Oddly, he hated Phantom Menace but didn’t mind Jar Jar. His complaints were more fundamental: a weak storyline where characters were engaged in pointless activity up until the second half of the third movie; inane dialogue; poor writing; too many damn coincidences (in a word: droids); too little lightness and too much tendentious focus on the epic; and an over-emphasis on special effects.

In particular, huge battle scenes that go on too long: it’s a chronic condition that also, for example, afflicts Peter Jackson — but that is symptomatic of the movie industry lately. I think it’s because directors are still having fun with their new toys; they were, until the last decade, limited by technology from putting anything they wanted on the screen, and now they’re going all out. But those limitations made for some inventive storytelling: look at any threadbare BBC production from the 1970s and see how much story can be told on a shoestring. (Current indie films, on the other hand, aren’t necessarily interested in storytelling, so it’s not necessarily a fair comparison.) I imagine the pendulum will swing back once directors get bored; it always has before.

Back to the Star Wars prequels. No, they’re not great. But they do have their moments, in isolation: audiovisual confections. Ambitious failures in that it’s extremely difficult to write a story whose outcome is not only known, but the whole point.