Star Bores: A Critique

Kunk Fu Zoby Kung Fu Zu1/6/16
I must be getting old. I was a big fan of the original three Star Wars films when they were released. In the spring of 1977, the back page of the International Herald Tribune featured an article about a new science fantasy film which was about to hit the silver screen. The title of the film was “Star Wars” and, as I recall, the article mentioned the film’s huge box-office potential and the lift the film’s distributor, Twentieth Century Fox, would get from the film’s success. Accordingly, I advised my father to buy Fox stock. He didn’t.

My father may have missed an investment opportunity, but I didn’t miss the film. And I thought it was a real winner. I also saw the second and third installments, which were both very good, the second being the best of the three. I won’t mention my thoughts on the three prequels as it is not pleasant to dwell on the failures of a great movie maker.

With the release of the latest episode, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I became a little nostalgic and decided to return to the original, A New Hope and try to approximate the feeling I experienced so long ago.

So last night I sat down ready to be entertained. But after sitting through the film again, I have to admit the thrill is gone. I asked myself, “What happened?” After all, this was the same film which had enthralled me as a young man. This was the film which had captured the imagination of a whole generation of people around the world. But now, in the year 2016, I found the film (dare I say it?) somewhat boring.

I know this will be heresy to millions, but before all you Star Wars fans start burning me in effigy, please count to ten and have a look at what I have to say.

A small gripe I have with the film is the slow pace of some of the scenes on Tatooine. But one could maintain Lucas needed to fill out the biographies of a couple of the main characters so I am not overly bothered about this.

Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about my main complaint, which is the mediocre performances of some of the cast. JarJarIt should be said that Peter Cushing and Alec Guinness were believable as General Tarkin and Obe-Wan Kenobi respectively.  But when a giant in a burka and a couple of droids act better than the other main characters, something is wrong. 

I have always thought Harrison Ford over-rated, but I found his somewhat dimwitted, yet supercilious Han Solo silly. It is one thing to have a devil-may-care attitude toward life, but it should be expressed with more élan. If Ford couldn’t pull that off, he should have been more cynical. In either case, he was not very believable.

Mark Hamill reminded me of a lead in the yearly high school play put on by the lit. class. He was willing, but trying too hard to act thus not very convincing. There was nothing deft about his performance.

It could be argued Carrie Fisher fulfilled her main role, which was to run around in a closely draped garment which did not show too much, but enough for young men’s imaginations to shift into high gear. Otherwise, she did not contribute a lot.

One particular aspect of the film irritated me last night as much as it did in 1977.  That would be the inability of anyone with a ray gun to shoot straight. It’s wasn’t as if anyone was taking shots at 3,000 yards. But for all the flashes bouncing around the film, a surprisingly small number of people/beings seem to be hit. This was despite the fact that though those ray guns were like lasers and one could see exactly where one’s shot was going.   

In the end, it is only one thing that holds the film together, and that is not the special effects. Technology which is 1977 was ground-breaking is somewhat passé in 2016. No, what holds A New Hope together is the story. Without the mythic power of the story, it would be just another sci-fi flick with its cult-like followers.

Perhaps I am being too harsh. No doubt my tastes have changed during the intervening forty years since the film originally burst on to the scene. However, last night, I was honestly disappointed once the film came to an end. Not because I wanted more, but because the old magic was gone.

Kung Fu Zu is a conservative prognosticator who has traveled widely and lived outside the United States. • (1373 views)

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28 Responses to Star Bores: A Critique

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    You are indeed getting older, Mr. Kung. And more cynical. 😀

    Granted, A New Hope is not Shakespeare. But it was never meant to be. It was meant to be a high-budget nostalgic glorification of a Saturday matinee sci-fi film: great fun, great adventure, but with a Grand Theme mixed in.

    Granted, when Lucas started going PC and obsessing over if “Han shot first,” he revealed his creeping cinematic dementia. But I thought the cast was outstanding. Luke was supposed to give off a newbie vibe, which he did.

    But, yes, clearly Stormtroopers do not have very good aim. And why bother with those fancy plastic white suits when they don’t seem to stop a thing?

    A New Hope certainly did flirt on the edge of being frivolous. And that’s where I think the performances of Cushing and Guinness (not to mention the voice of James Earl Jones) anchored this film in something more substantial than Buck Rogers.

    Both Harrison and Fisher were playing a “type.” Harrison was the lovable rapscallion. Fisher was the high-maintenance bossy princess (sort of an early incarnation of “girl power,” I would grant you…but in a much more interesting package).

    When do simplistic types cross over to just being the kind of shallow characters we see in The Force Awakens? Clearly that is partially a matter of taste and a matter of cultural relevance. What we see as stupid in The Force Awakens is what many people relate to now as normal. Shallow often no longer even makes some people’s radar.

    Good movie characters tend to be slight caricatures of a type. That doesn’t make it wrong. But there is still a whole lot more to it than that. Bogart is a type in Casablanca. But skillful acting, great writing, and other elements breath wonderful life into that character. The caricatures have the potential to shed more light on the human condition (and thus to be much more interesting) than all today’s modern morally ambivalent or obtuse characters….or those awash in vapid political correctness. Of course, in Casablanca, Bogart’s character was, on the surface of things, morally ambivalent. But that was the “type” that needed to be planted so that the later scenes could germinate helping to produce what is arguable the best movie ever made.

    I thoroughly enjoy A New Hope even when I watch it today. The Grand Themes and story are still there, as are the wonderful characters and settings that transport you to another time and place. The villains are outstanding (a must for any type of movie of this type…another very prominent problem with The Force Awakens).

    One thing we must do is not expect too damn much out of a movie. If you’re not in the right mood, so be it. If your tastes have advanced past the ability to enjoy a simple, yet profound, popcorn movie, then fine. I know there are movies that I enjoyed when I was younger that I just wonder what the hell I ever saw in them.

    But A New Hope is not one of those movies. In fact, it is movie I still see new things in (and I’m not talking about the clutter that Lucas has weighed them down with in later revisions).

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      A New Hope is not Shakespeare. But it was never meant to be. It was meant to be a high-budget nostalgic glorification of a Saturday matinee sci-fi film: great fun, great adventure, but with a Grand Theme mixed in.

      I have no problem with this and think it fulfills this role very well. It is simply, I am no longer terribly interested in Saturday matinee flicks. (As a kid, I went to the Preston Royal Theater every Saturday for years.)

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        If you’re finished with the Saturday matinee shtick, then perhaps you are thirsting for the mind-numbingly pointless and superficially juvenile. If so, run out and watch The Force Awakens as soon as you can then. 😀

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    A small gripe I have with the film is the slow pace of some of the scenes on Tatooine.

    And here is where my most profound disagreement with you resides…even beyond your dissing of the newbie, Luke.

    One of the banes of modern films is the juvenile aspect. A central element of that is the short-attention-span mentality — the kind where if there are not a hundred jiggling things on screen at one time, the modern film-goer gets easily bored. This, in part, has led to films abundant in special effects (and their miraculously and spectacularly jiggling pixels) but being bereft of all the things that are inherent to a good story: good characters, good villains, profound and interesting character development, good dialogue, and great themes.

    I’m in agreement with those who see those slow scenes on Tatooine — especially with that iconic one of Luke staring off into the setting sunset as he pines for adventure and the somber music rises — is what makes this film. Yes, there is plenty of action. But the pacing of A New Hope is outstanding. It builds to a climax instead of bolting out of the gate in hyper-kineticism.

    Extraordinarily lacking in most movies today is proper scale and pacing. A good film will not be non-stop action (unless, of course, there is no story and no real intent to tell one). It is a basic of film-making that you have to give the audience pause once in a while to absorb what has occurred. Plus, if everything is HIGH ENERGY then there is no song. As the Zen or Buddhist saying goes, it’s the silence between the notes that makes the music.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I’m in agreement with those who see those slow scenes on Tatooine — especially with that iconic one of Luke staring off into the setting sunset as he pines for adventure and the somber music rises — is what makes this film

      I must confess I watched the 1997 CGI version of the film which added some completely superfluous scenes. Nevertheless, I still think some of the time on Tatooine could have been cut.

      As someone who can sit through Tristan und Isolde, I don’t think I am easily bored if I am viewing quality. But I have noticed that I have less patience for the little faults which are inherent in just about all films. After all, as Lilly Tomlin said, “They call it Show Business, not Show Art.”

      As for mood setting scenes, I don’t think any which I saw in “A New Hope” were a patch on some of David Lean’s great shots in “Lawrence of Arabia”, for example. That is not to say, the scenes were bad.

      I agree that most contemporary films are of the lowest order. But they should not be our benchmark for comparison.

      As I grow older, I have less interest in fantasy and more in real life. I have had my share of adventures so the yearnings of a teenage boy don’t really speak to me. Perhaps this is why a fantasy film which appealed to me forty years ago holds less appeal today. As such, I am less inclined to gloss over weaknesses which I would have let slide years ago.

      And this brings me to another point which I find more than a little annoying. That is the continuous stress for Luke to stop thinking and do what he feels. In effect, the film praises emotion and feeling and belittles rational thinking.

      I understand we are talking about mythic, heroic characters which humanity has a need for. But I believe, given the audience, the message is somewhat unhelpful. Like the many little monsters who read Nietzsche and think they are all Supermen, I think a lot of those viewing Star Wars probably come away with the thought they are all little Luke Skywalkers; a damaging, forlorn hope.

      I know it is just a film and one should not go to films to discover the great truths of life, but I fear this is just what too many of our poorly educated yutes do.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        As for mood setting scenes, I don’t think any which I saw in “A New Hope” were a patch on some of David Lean’s great shots in “Lawrence of Arabia”, for example. That is not to say, the scenes were bad.

        Well then you’re not a complete hack, Mr. Kung, if you can enjoy those moments in Larry of Arabia. That is a film that certainly doesn’t score high on the sugar-buzz meter, that cultural-wide scale that values the hyper-kinetic uber alles.

        Do you know those political focus groups (which I think are slightly farcical) that Frank Luntz does? Well, whether he is accurately gauging the opinions of his audience or not, I like the idea of a dial that people turn (or buttons they push) that shows engagement (or agreement) or a lack of engagement (or disagreement) with what is being said at the time.

        If you take a horrible (but popular) movie like “Transformers,” it will be very high on the cinematic kinetic “move as much shit on the screen at one time as you can to keep the short-attention-spans engaged” meter. That needle on the dial will be pegging to the top most of the time. And it seems movies these days are made to keep that needle pegged.

        But sit a typical movie goer these days in front of Lawrence of Arabia, and it’s unlikely that needle would move much. It would be dead at zero, maybe showing some signs of life during the raid on Aqaba. A baby is stimulated by bobbles and bright colors that move and that maybe make cute sounds. But adult (or, frankly, even young adult) taste becomes more refined. We’re ready for more depth. We move beyond Fisher-Price.

        I submit that pop culture has, intentionally or not, worked to atrophy and impede depth or good taste. I don’t put A New Hope amongst those movies. But there are those types of movies. The Expendables is a good example, although I’ve watched them all…sometimes the brain needs to disengage or there is a kind of dark humor in watching stupid.

        Of course, Star Wars (IV) isn’t trying to compete in the same category as Lawrence of Arabia. But for its genera, I think its pacing is quite sophisticated.

        And notice what Lucas has tended to do with the updates to his movies. Sure, clean up the sound and special effects. No problem with that. But what he’s mostly done is try to pack ten pounds of excrement into a five pound bag. He’s tried to fill every frame with bobbles, bright colors, and lots of moving things. Granted, perhaps some of this is legitimate in the sense that Lucas says that he had neither the time or the money to do all that he wanted to do with the original trilogy at the time of its making. But now that we see how unlimited time and money can produce such crap (the prequels), that seems a lame excuse for just regressing to the lowest common juvenile denominator and trying to peg the hyper-kinetic needle.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          If you take a horrible (but popular) movie like “Transformers,” it will be very high on the cinematic kinetic “

          I didn’t know about these movies until I happened to be in Singapore in 2009 on a job. I had a young man (about 27 years old as I recall) from the States with me and we had a free Saturday afternoon. I asked him what he wanted to do and he wanted to go see the latest Transformers movie, so off we went.

          Let me say it was a horrible horrible movie. I could not understand how anyone would waste time and money to see such tripe, but as we walked away from the movie the young man was quite happy to have seen it and said something like, “that was a good movie wasn’t it”.

          Ahhhhhh. We are lost.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Then get your little keister out and see the Mother of All Hyper-Kinetically Bad Movies with Wandering Plot and Too Many Damn Characters and Twists: Spider-Man III.

            That these types of movies make the money they do is one of the Signs of the Apocalypse.

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    I hadn’t yet seen the original movie when I heard it praised while I was on a business trip in Cincinnati. Eventually I saw it several times, and it remained fun — no doubt helped by such lines as “the ship that did the Kessel run in under 12 parsecs” and “Only imperial stormtroopers would shoot so precisely” (considering how rarely they ever hit anything, that was utterly hilarious). The Empire Strikes Back wasn’t the same sort of fun, but was very well done. The third movie had a lot of good points, but then there was that gagger of an ending scene.

    I haven’t seen them in years, so who knows how I would react to seeing them today?

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      there was that gagger of an ending scene

      Yuk. I am convinced that was included as a sop to the adolescent female demographic.

      To my mind, the Ewoks were almost a total waste of space. But at least they didn’t blather on like Jar Jar Binks.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        The Ewoks were arguably the beginning of the toy-ification or cute-ification of Star Wars. Word is that Lucas was playing to his grandkids with this stuff (not even 13-year-old juvenile taste which is said to be today’s norm…I think they were younger than this at the time).

        The ending, even if one disagrees with the redemptive premise, was just badly written. Vader’s death bed conversion didn’t seem to give him a place on a seat next to Yoda, all sparkly-like. That was just tone-deaf writing, a happy-ending squeezed in there using the cinematic equivalent of the jaws-of-life.

        To the credit of Lucas (or someone), they did clean up and replace that awful ending music and gave a grander sense of victory as they had short scenes from various planets who were all celebrating the downfall of the emperor, Vader, and the Death Star.

        That said, I am still in therapy because instead of the elder Anakin on that sparkly bench next to Yoda there is now (thanks to these revisions…some good, many not) a sparkly Hayden Christensen, if I recall correctly. And if I don’t recall correctly, you can correctly chalk it up to movie trauma.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          That said, I am still in therapy because instead of the elder Anakin on that sparkly bench next to Yoda there is now (thanks to these revisions…some good, many not) a sparkly Hayden Christensen,

          I agree 100%. It is horrible that instead of an older father-like figure there is now a slightly post-adolescent Hayden Christensen who looks about ten years younger than Luck.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          My particular reaction was to the apotheosis scene in which Luke sees the images of Obi-Wan and Anakin (who wasn’t named as such yet). I liked the movie otherwise, but that really turned me off.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      “Only imperial stormtroopers would shoot so precisely”

      Hahaha. That’s a great point, Timothy.

      Don’t get me wrong. I love the real Star Wars (the original trilogy). But one of the ongoing jests we have here is how mind-numbingly obtuse Master Yoda was, particularly in the prequels. This Jedi master had concentrated evil right next to him but didn’t have a clue. And they couldn’t keep Anakin from wiping out the Academy either.

      And for all the sometimes ridiculous fortune-cookie wisdom of Yoda, it was Luke who, despite some youthful over-exuberance, got the job done. Look at it this way. Under Yoda’s watch, the Jedi were wiped out. It took a newbie (Luke) to take out the emperor and Vader — and almost the whole way Yoda was dead set against Luke doing any of this at all.

  4. Rosalys says:

    When did the original “Star Wars” become “A New Hope”? I just remember it as “Star Wars” and its becoming “Episode IV” when the first of the prequels came out.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I believe it says at the start of the rolling credits “A New Hope.” I don’t believe the original film was titled or marketed that way. But when the sequels and prequels got added on, it gained prominence as a name. Whether this is merely a nickname of convenience or if it’s registered that way somewhere, I don’t know.

      It gets complicated. What is the first Star Wars? Episode I or IV? Some try to solve the confusion by referring to the original trilogy as “TOT.” But then you must be in on the in-language and know what that acronym means. Or maybe I’m thinking of the wrong acronym. It gets confusing. Anyway, I find it easier to say the REAL Star Wars. Then people know what I mean…unless they were of the type who liked Jar Jar Binks. And I know the type.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        When The Empire Strikes Back came out, it was referred to as Episode V, with the original movie being Episode IV. I don’t know when it gained the title A New Hope. I just refer to it as the original movie.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Here is the opening crawl of the titles in Star Wars IV:

          Episode IV
          A NEW HOPE
          It is a period of civil war.
          Rebel spaceships, striking
          from a hidden base, have won
          their first victory against
          the evil Galactic Empire.

          During the battle, Rebel
          spies managed to steal secret
          plans to the Empire’s
          ultimate weapon, the DEATH
          STAR, an armored space
          station with enough power
          to destroy an entire planet.

          Pursued by the Empire’s
          sinister agents, Princess
          Leia races home aboard her
          starship, custodian of the
          stolen plans that can save her
          people and restore
          freedom to the galaxy….

          • Timothy Lane says:

            The question is when they made the change. When Star Wars out, it was theoretically just a single movie, not part of a series. So that is not the original version of the opening sequence.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              I finally found the info on Wiki. And you’re right, there was no “A New Hope” or “Episode IV” in the scrawl in the initial release. That was added in a re-release sometime after there had been a sequel. It sounds as if Lucas did indeed want that there but the studio nixed it because they (rightly) thought the audience would have been confused.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        unless they were of the type who liked Jar Jar Binks. And I know the type.

        There are people who liked Jar Jar Binks???

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I have a nephew. But the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

          But, in retrospect, considering what the rest of the prequel was like, I really can’t blame Jar Jar for ruining it. Oh, that idiotic idea of a cartoon did enormous damage. But it wouldn’t have brought down an otherwise tightly-written movie. He would have just been the Ewok that we all sniggered about.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Speaking of bores, and I’m going to join Mr. Kung’s pessimistic view of things momentarily, and at the risk of incurring some wrath (which I’m okay with), I tried watching the first episode of season four of Downton Abbey and was bored to tears.

    I liked the first season. The second season was a worthy successor, especially dealing with the war as it did. The third season was watchable, although growing old.

    Not that I couldn’t get into season four if I sat down and watched a few. But I realized I was watching characters deliver dialogue that wasn’t particularly inspired. I think the producers have reduced the formula for this show. Apparently everyone is so enthralled by the characters, they needn’t do much more than stand in front of the camera.

    This show really needs a reboot. I’m bored with the characters. The homo character needed to go a while ago. He’s just the same scratch in the same record. And I realize (major spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the special episode after series three) is that it should have been Mary Crawley, not Matthew Crawley, who was killed in a car accident. Neither Michelle Dockery nor the character of Mary Crawley are adding anything new. On the other hand, Matthew had been a breath of fresh air in the show. That breath is now trying to be carried by Tom Branson (Allen Leech). But that character had already run its course and now seems but a hold-over.

    Anyway, fifteen minutes into the first episode of season four and I realized I was bored with it. All the characters now seem to be too self-consciously the characters that they are. Certainly Joanne Froggatt as Ann Bates had been one of the primary sympathetic characters. But now she just seems to be the now-famous Joanne Froggatt playing to the crowd with that character.

    But from what I saw of Phyllis Logan as Mrs. Hughes, she was as in-character as ever. Maybe I’ll watch a little more. But I think I’ll move on to “The Wire” and see what that’s all about.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I haven’t seen the series (I believe it’s on one of the premium channels we don’t get). But I have read about it, and I gather that this is the final season. Sounds like a good idea (and maybe even a season late).

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        My sister-in-law recently added me to her Amazon Prime family account. That gives me a few movies and TV series that I can stream for free. Also, I may get back to watching a little more “Boardwalk Empire” (on Netflix) and give it another chance. It was just-okay through about five or six episodes. But I didn’t think it was anything special. Still, it wasn’t horrible.

        But gangster films can get a little old, especially if they just depend on the regular set of cliches (violence, violence, a little betrayal, and still more violence). You need good dialogue and characters to carry these and this one was a little thin in that regard. I hear that “Sopranos” is a pretty good series, and they do have that for free on Prime. But although I don’t mind the occasional quality gangster film, a steady diet of that kind of violence and filth at the end of a day isn’t quite my idea of relaxation.

        I did finish the third season of “Mr. Selfridge” which is suitably bland. And yet it wasn’t quite as cutesy-annoying as I found “The Paradise,” another department-store drama, although I thought the stories in “The Paradise” were markedly better. But there’s just something about Joanna Vanderham as Denise that is so cutesy, it’s like a steady diet of cotton candy…good for a couple nibbles but not as a main course.

        Still, if one is looking for a bit of relief from the typical juvenile-oriented potty-mouth garbage that is so typical these days, either one of these department-store series could be a nice diversion.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I had pretty much the same reaction to season 4 of “Downton Abbey” that you had.

      I watched a couple of the episodes, but that was about it. I don’t think I watched a single episode of season 5.

      I tuned in Sunday night to watch, I believe, the second and third episodes of season 6 which will be the last.

      One observation I have to make about the characters is that they are a bit stereotypical. Their characteristics seem a bit too pronounced so as to maintain a certain tension. For example, the characters of the dowager duchess and Matthew’s mother are constantly in conflict over this or that. I also found Rose was a bit over the top. Lady Mary is basically an obnoxious clothes horse, who seems to learn little from the experiences of life thus she is always getting into trouble of one sort or another.

      As is often the case when a series goes into its final season, the writing seems to have tightened up and loose ends tend to get tied together. I hope the rest of season 6 is of the same quality of the episodes I saw on Sunday.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Well, what you write is a little encouraging. Maybe they just went through a spell.

        But also, I think much of the novelty of these characters has just worn off.

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