Sunday, July 12, 2015

Thoughts on Star Wars

Introductions

I wrote a long essay on Star Wars about 3 years ago on the now popular blogging site Medium. It can be read it here. To sum up, I root for the artistic failure of Star Wars because I believe it represents the apotheosis of culture's obsession with nostalgia. However, I can't help but be excited by the two trailers (two as of July 10th -- I assume the panel at SDCC will reveal another -- probably tonight); I can't help but be swept up in the nostalgia myself. I love Star Wars despite hating it at the same time.

Recently, my partner asked if we could watch the Original Trilogy in advance of the upcoming film. Of course, any excuse to watch Star Wars is an excuse I would jump at. For background, I've seen the Original Trilogy probably around 40 times apiece. On the other hand, my partner doesn't believe they've watched any one of the OT in its entirety. Thus, watching it would be a new experience for them.

I let them know that the only way I will watch the OT is if it's the untouched version. Not because I'm a purist, but because I find the additions to be rather superfluous and unmotivated. And, as every SW fan knows, the only legal way to watch the untouched versions is to have the DVDs released in 2006. So my reader must mentally substitute these particular versions when considering my comments on the films themselves.

On these two disc sets, the Special Editions are remastered and featured on the primary disc. However, the true value of these DVDs are that the theatrical editions are included as a special feature on the bonus disc. Oh but wait -- these aren't quite the theatrical editions. In typical Lucasfilm fashion, these special feature versions are actually the non-anamorphic Laserdisc versions. Which is interesting.

To be specific, anamorphic cinematography means that the image is being filmed on the entire cell of the filmstrip, distorting the image vertically, but providing higher resolution. The playback of this strip through the proper lens will adjust the image, resulting in black bars across the top and the bottom (usually). The method, which was standard for a long time, is meant to increase the resolution and amount of details in the image and film at a wider screen ratio.

Televisions these days are almost all 16:9 which is remarkably close to 1.85:1. On a 16:9 TV, the anamorphic image will be displayed at a 2.35:1 ratio, resulting in black bars along the top and bottom, but delivering higher resolution in the image and (obviously) a wider canvas for composition. The anamorphic image will adjust according to the display. Which is the key to its standard issue.

However, the non-anamorphic versions of the OT are not going magically fit the screen. The images will stay as a small box without adjustment unless your TV allows you zoom in or manually change the display ratio. My partner's TV had the "Cinema Zoom" option which changed the DVD image to fill up about 1/2 of the screen, resulting in a black frame around the entire movie.

Star Wars (before it was called A New Hope) was released in a 2.35:1 ratio, which is a current standard. Thus, the DVD preserved the aspect ratio but at the cost of a smaller image. Here's a picture of the TV displaying the film.

Unfortunately, this is the only way I will watch these films. I cannot abide the Special Editions, no matter how good they might look on the screen. In fact, since the 2006 DVDs are the only way I've watched Star Wars since 1999 (ie The Phantom Menace ie the Year I Gave Up on Star Wars), I'm become quite attached to the utterly low fidelity image quality. These films look terrible in this version and counter-intuitively, this increases their charm. Star Wars is supposed to look lived in, gritty, grimy, and opposite to the antiseptic austere aesthetic of futurist visions such as Star Trek or 2001: A Space Odyssey. The OT were meant evoke the golden age of serials, with their ramshackle sets and dirty locales. Thus, the grain of the film in the digital image, for me, increases this feeling.

The terrible transfer of the film means that glaring problems with the special effects are noticeable -- and exacerbated on a big screen. The technique of transparent images layered onto the film cell is even more noticeable when the stock of the image and the stock of the film differ! When TIE-Fighters are zooming across a matte painting of the Death Star, this effect is more noticeable and less immersive, but still, charming.

As for the films themselves? This is the first time I've watched the OT since 2010 I think?

Star Wars

The first film is a mixed bag. The slavish following of the Chosen One narrative is a bit hard to swallow, especially when Mark Hamill's Luke is so whiny. "But I was going into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!" remains one of my all time favourite film lines -- if only because it's so wonderfully whiny and wonderfully empty of meaning. The first film has all sorts of random nonsense science fiction stuff that sounds cool but doesn't really have denotative meaning. The Kessel Run sounds cool but it's meaningless. The line has two meanings: to indicate the speed of the Millenium Falcon and to indicate Han Solo's boastful nature. It accomplishes both connotatively, but nothing denotatively. In other words, it's one of the rare cases that Lucas manages to show not tell. 

The middle of the film really bores me. Specifically, the infiltration of the Death Star just leaves me cold. Obviously, the plot demands the rescue of Princess Leia and the destruction of Obi-Wan in order to advance both story and character. However, I don't find any of the sequences to be filmed in any compelling way. Nor do I find the sequences very suspenseful.

Really, the magic of the first film is in the coordinated attack on the Death Star. Allow me to put on my David Bordwell hat and try to unpack why this sequence works so completely. Here's Bordwell talking about Mission: Impossible III:
a great many scenes of physical action depend on a basic narrative principle: overcoming obstacles. The action scenes in M:I:III are little stories in themselves. Each one is governed by a goal, an effort to achieve it, a conflict with circumstances that block achievement, a redeployment of efforts in light of the obstacle, and so on….until the goal is definitely achieved or not. These mini-stories often operate under a deadline as well.
With the attack on the Death Star, we know exactly the objectives and the parameters of those objectives. Okay, so let's go over the basics of the parameters. The Rebel base is located on Yavin IV, a moon orbiting the planet Yavin. A homing device planted on the Millenium Falcon allows the Empire to discover the location of the Rebel base, which results in the Death Star being moved into position to obliterate the moon. Thus, we have a deadline, a clock ticking down to when the Death Star's weapons will clear the planet and strike Yavin IV. Here's an image from the film:



This image is from the Empire's perspective, on the Death Star. At the bottom of the right side, a clock ticks down to the moon's position. The Rebels, with their only base, have only this one chance to destroy the Death Star or else the Empire will destroy them. These are absolutely clear objectives: kill or be killed. There are few conflicts more immediate and accessible than this.

The entirety of the film previous to this has been about putting Leia and R2-D2 in position with the Rebels in order to transfer the secret building plans of the Death Star in the Rebels' hands. Many spies lost their lives to give the Rebels this information, which is that there exists a vulnerable exhaust port that connects to the main reactor. The pilots must fly down a trench and at the right moment, fire a photon torpedo down into the exhaust port which starts a chain reaction.

During the expository scene, the commanders explain to the crew of pilots -- and to the audience -- how this destruction will come about.


In order to explain this to the audience, the film uses an early computer animation of the exhaust port and the photon torpedo necessary to ignite the reactor's core, resulting in the total destruction of the imminent battle station. Here is a screenshot of the computer animation indicating the trench the pilots must fly down:


Here's a series of screenshots during the closeup on the computer animation of the photo torpedo's ideal trajectory:





To recap: the objectives are to destroy the Death Star. The parameters of the objective are that the exhaust port must accept the photo torpedo. They must complete this before the deadline of the Death Star's orbit overlapping with the Rebel base on Yavin IV. All very crisp and clear and accessible.

Once the X-Wing fighters (the Rebels) arrive in the vicinity of the battle station, TIE fighters are deployed to thwart their efforts. Now the proper action sequence begins. I won't bother going shot by shot, but I will talk about the structure of the sequence.

There exists something called The Rule of Three that posits we find things more satisfying, more funny, more effective when depicted in a series of three rather than two or four (or more). A great example of the Rule of Three in action is the classic three wishes joke, in which the two wishes set a pattern only for the third wish to contravene, overturn, and/or surprise the audience's expectation of how the pattern will assert in the third iteration.

Three works perfectly because two is enough to establish a pattern which primes the audience. Three is the lowest number required by the human brain to establish this pattern. Bordwell's work is based on the idea of cognitive participation in the making of meaning in the film, for example in that the story relies on the audience's knowledge of conventions. If the story wants to use new conventions, it must set them up, typically using a pattern. In the three wishes joke, the audience parses the pattern in two steps, resulting in humorous disharmony with the final item in the series by contravening the audience's expectation of the direction of the series.

In other words, at its most simple and biggest functions, stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. We find the fulfilling of the pattern, the end of the pattern, satisfying. Allow me to digress even further and pull apart the word "satisfaction." Satisfy comes from two Latin root words: satis for enough and facere for make. To make enough. So, to satisfy is to fulfil, to make enough. The Rule of Threes satisfies because it makes enough for the audience -- not too much and not too little -- just enough.

The beginning, the middle, and the end are enough to tell the story. Remember that Bordwell called the action scenes of Mission: Impossible III "mini-stories"

The approach:


The X-Wing fighters approach the Death Star and fire at the "turbo lasers." After some shots of various X-Wings attacking the battle station, there's a cut to inside the Death Star. A commander approaches Darth Vader and tells them that the X-Wings are too small for the larger guns.


Vader then says they must destroy the X-Wings on a ship to ship basis. He orders the TIE fighter crews to mobilize. Here we have the mini-story starting to play out: the X-Wings approach, they attack, the Empire responds, creating conflict with circumstances that block the achievement of the objective. And this is only the first five minutes of the sequence.

Let's remind ourselves of the 180 degree rule. Here's a picture I made in Paint, the world's greatest image toolkit.


The 180 degree rules asserts that in order for the audience to maintain understanding of the spatial relation between things, an invisible line is drawn on the set. The camera can move along the 180 degrees of the half circle, only ever shooting what is occurring in the other circle. In the case of this sequence, the camera will always shoot from the left side of the circle in the image and shoot what occurs in the right side of the circle. Obviously, this is backwards in the above shot because this is an establishing shot. Once in the trench, a reverse shot will establish the 180 degree rule. The characters will always keep the camera 180 degrees on their left.

The first attempt:


Here is the first sequence that will begin to establish the pattern. Here is the announcement that the attack will commence.


The trench from the outside that the X-Wings or Y-Wings in this case will fly down.


The character announces the switch to the targeting computer. This computer will allow the pilot to fire the torpedo at the right moment. The leader of this squad commands all three Y-Wings to switch it on, implying that the targeting computer is necessary and mandatory to succeed.


A cut to inside the Y-Wing and a shot of the targeting computer. The red lines on the outside move in slowly as the fighter approaches the exhaust port. Notice that the distance is also, in a way, a ticking clock, a countdown to the achievement of the objectives.


Here is a shot of the Y-Wing fighters. This shot and others like it help establish that the movement is always going to be right to left in the trench, helping the audience maintain spatial awareness and coherence, an important and necessary component of a successful action sequence.


The team of TIE fighters led by Darth Vader (in the visually distinct fighter on the left of the screen) approach the trench in order to stop the Rebels from achieving their goal. Notice that the TIE fighters also move right to left across the screen. Since this shot comes after the Y-Wings have entered the trench, the audience understands that the enemy ships are behind them. 


A shot inside Darth Vader's ship. He also has a targeting computer. This specific screenshot identifies the moment the computer has "locked" onto the Rebel fighter.


The destruction of the Y-Wing. This is repeated as the other two (of the three) fighters are destroyed. Attempt number one is a failure thanks to Vader's superior piloting skills. 

The second attempt:


A reminder of the ticking clock, reminding the audience that defeat is imminent if they do not succeed in their attempts.


Three X-Wing fighters, repeating the pattern from the first attempt.


Down the trench, not breaking the 180 degree rule.


A reminder that the TIE fighters thwarted the previous attempt.


Moving right to left, not breaking the 180 degree rule.


The targeting computer is activated.


A shot of the targeting computer's display. Again, a countdown.



Vader has the X-Wing locked on, indicating to the audience that this X-Wing will be destroyed very soon. 


This time, the X-Wing pilot makes it further and fires.


A shot of the photo torpedos going towards the exhaust port. Again, not breaking the 180 degree rule.


The attempt is a failure. 

The third and final attempt:

Now, the audience has expectations. They expect to see: the trench, three fighters, a targeting computer, a countdown, enemy fighters, an enemy targeting computer, and thus a failed trench run. The Rule of Three will dictate that the third attempt is the successful one (it's successful because the tone of the film indicates that the heroes will succeed) and the third attempt will deviate from the pattern.


The score, using a past motif (the main theme), cues the audience that this will be Luke's attempt.


A reminder of the ticking clock.


A callback to Luke's past on the planet Tatooine when he was one of the best pilots.


Three X-Wing fighters. The pattern begins to assert itself.


Approaching the trench.


Moving from right to left again.


A reminder that the TIE fighters are close behind.


Here, we skip ahead a smidge. One of the fighters has already left the arena (Biggs, I believe) and the other fighter has been destroyed by Vader. Thus, Luke is all that remains. He is the last hope of the Rebel movement.


Countdown again, reminding the audience and increasing suspense. Will Luke be able to fire the shot in time?



The targeting computer makes it return. The pattern continues to assert...


...until the ghostly voice of Obi-Wan tells Luke to use the Force. This is a callback to Luke's training with Obi-Wan, when he fights a drone with his eyes closed. The eyes can deceive, Obi-Wan taught Luke and the audience. Better to trust the Force than computers.


Darth Vader senses the Force in Luke. The pattern is starting to contravene audience expectations. Previous pilots did not have the Force, or at least, not enough for Vader to explicitly comment on it. This indicates to the audience that Luke is different than the other pilots and that he might have a chance.



A few shots to establish that Luke is no longer using the targeting computer, which the audience has come to expect as necessary and mandatory.



The Rebels' time is up. The Death Star is going to fire their planet. The subsequent shots mimic the first time the Death Star powered up and destroyed Alderaan. The audience recognizes the sequences of shots and knows that the main gun will fire any moment. 


Vader's targeting computer locks onto Luke. The audience has come to associate this locking on gesture with failure. The pattern might reassert itself....



Until Han Solo and the Millenium Falcon appear, firing at Vader and taking him out of the trench.



Luke fires the photo torpedos. The audience has seen this shot before....


But not this shot, which indicates that the photo torpedos have successfully entered the exhaust port, igniting the chain reaction, resulting in....


Success! The Death Star is destroyed.

Notice that each attempt has a beginning, a middle, and an end, like a mini-story within the larger story. The beginning has the fighters, in a team of three (not coincidentally) approach the trench; the middle overturns their ease of approach by introducing enemy fighters; the end features the attempt at firing into the exhaust port and either their failure or their success. The mini-story repeats, but with a difference, with each iteration changing slightly but not altogether. Only the third attempt, which gathers up the loose threads of the narrative (Luke's nascent understanding of the Force, Han Solo's selfish behaviour) completes the series and completes both the mini-story (exhaust port penetration) and the overall narrative (the Rebels' fight against the Empire). 

This is why the Battle of Yavin is the best action sequence in the entire Star Wars franchise. Other sequences have increased the intercutting, the scale, the stakes, but none of the narrative streamlined so well. None of the other sequences use the triads nested within triads and repetition as well. In fact, I'm reminded of the opening sequence to Revenge of the Sith, which follows a huge space battle and then the Jedis rescuing Senator Palpatine. There's a lot of sound and fury, but none of it has any narrative momentum because a) we know Palpatine is evil and has engineered this fight and b) the characters jump from bit to bit without any overarching structure. It's a cartoon. It doesn't work.

Not all action sequences must mobilize a triad structure to be effective. However, good action sequences should be mini-dramas in of themselves. Consider the climactic sequence of Back to the Future. A mini-drama unfolds when Doc Brown observes a fallen tree disconnect the cable running from the clocktower to the street. A beginning, then. He must climb the clocktower and plug the cables together. Yet, when he arrives at the top, the fallen tree has caused the street's end of the cable to be slightly too short. There, the middle. Finally, he connects the cable at the moment the lightning strikes the clock (the end, and a deadline). This sequence does not need to happen in threes, but it should have the structure of a story in order to be effective.

The first film is not my favourite but it certainly has the best climactic sequence, and probably, one of the best climactic sequences in movie history. 

The Empire Strikes Back 

Rest assured, I won't be delving into the remaining two movies with the same intensity. 

The second one is the superior one, without a doubt. This is not a controversial opinion, I should think, as many people agree with me. However, this begs the question of why the second film works so much better than the other two. Firstly, getting George Lucas out of the director's chair made a huge difference. While Lucas might be adept at concepts and marketing, his skill with composition and other filmic tools are less than optimal. Lucas put Irvin Kershner at the wheel; Kershner might not be the greatest director, but it was a serendipitous and fruitful move. Additionally, Leigh Brackett (a super talented and bankable screenwriter) and Lawrence Kasdan (co-writer of the upcoming Episode VII) crafted the screenplay from Lucas's story. These two differences from the first film elevate it over anything else ever produced in this franchise.

While the composition is the most noticeable improvement (Kershner knows how to use shadows, lighting, angles, and implication to great effect), the more subtle improvement is in the dialogue. There's still the same empty sci-fi nonsense that I can help but be charmed by, but it's more effective because it's either narratively motivated or character developing. For example, the famous line of "scruffy nerf herder" makes little denotative sense, but the connotative meaning is quite clear. Through a combination of the words and Carrie Fisher's delivery (which is stumbling on purpose), the audience understands that Leia is attracted to Han but also needs Han's expertise to achieve the Rebels' goals.


Over at Deja Reviewer (whatever that is), Robert Lockard breaks down the structure of the second film to show how perfectly balanced the film is, how moments at the beginning of the film are mirrored through the form of the chiasmus (which we can helpfully define as two things related to each other in reversal). Lockard shows that moments and actions that occur at the beginning are mirrored at the opposite end, cascading outwards. Here's a screenshot (apologies for the weirdness of the .gif) that shows three different actions with the beginning on the left and its mirror on the right near the end of the film.


I hadn't ever noticed this, so I'm grateful to Lockard's work. Go on and click the link and read how tightly constructed the screenplay is. The chiasmus structure helps echo elements for the audience, even if they do not consciously notice it (I certainly didn't!).

While the script and the structure are more subtle, the composition and other visual elements are more noticeable. Here, then, is the best single shot in the entire film:


Everything is so dynamic. Notice, also that the shot uses the rule of thirds (the compositional rule, not the rhetorical rule). If you overlaid a grid -- three lines horizontally and three lines vertically -- you'd see the crossed lightsabers are in the very centre square of the grid. Notice too the depth of the image. Vader and Luke are in the middle, with the stairs in the foreground and the structure in the background. Notice also that the figures are in silhouette, making the lightsabers not only the focal point of the composition but the brightest element of the image. Notice that the orange of the stairs contrasts perfectly with the blue of the background (on the colour wheel, orange and blue are opposites and thus provide the deepest contrast). It's a great moment both aesthetically and narratively (the film has been building to this moment).

However, all is not perfect with The Empire Strikes Back. The middle is in sore need of a trim. Lucas's insistence on a 120 minute running time feel artificial, a solution in search of a problem. Nothing would be lost if things were nipped and tucked here and there. Consider the Millennium Falcon in the asteroid. This detour is essentially placeholding, eating up time while Luke trains on Dagobah. Sure, it's a credit to the film that Luke's training isn't a montage sequence, but the consequences of that decision is that the other storyline feels unmotivated.

My partner enjoyed the second one the best -- not just because of the aforementioned improvements, but because Yoda is a cool character and the puppetry was state of the art.

Return of the Jedi

I wonder what it must have been like in 1983, waiting three years to see the epic conclusion. The excitement must have been at a fever pitch. I can only imagine the glee and stomach butterflies as the opening crawl brings the audience up to speed. Likewise, I can only imagine the audience's confusion when the film introduces a race of cuddly teddybears who coincidentally are able to defeat the Emperor's best soldiers. The commercialization of the franchise, already begun, reaches full steam with the Ewoks. They are awful.

However, the third film has the best opening sequence: the protagonists' infiltration of Jabba the Hutt's palace. The sequence mirrors, in many ways, other sequences from the previous two films. Let's dive in, shall we?

In the first film, the Mos Eisley Cantina scene performs a multitude of narrative, thematic, and character labour (it also functions to subconsciously remind the audience of the Western and the genre's use of the saloon as dangerous space, the only space in town where the legal and the illegal mingle). In terms of character, the scene functions as the threshold between the known and the unknown for Luke's Hero's Journey. The numerous shots of the aliens works to indicate that this is alien territory and that there is not way but forward for Luke. Additionally, the Cantina scene demonstrates Obi-Wan's prowess as a Jedi through the severing of an alien's arm. Finally, in terms of character, Han Solo is introduced as a braggart, an ace pilot, and as ruthless (the murder of Greedo).

Jabba the Hutt's palace mirrors this sequence in various ways (eg. both sequences use an alien band performing a (now famous) John Williams piece) but most importantly, it mirrors in reverse Luke's movement between the known and the unknown. Jabba's palace is back on Tatooine, Luke's former home. Recalling the old adage, "you can't go home again," Luke is completely different. His movement into the palace is more confident, more assured. He mirrors Obi-Wan's Jedi mind trick ("these aren't the droids you're looking for) when telling that weird neck guy that Luke will be shown to Jabba's throne. Additionally, his response to the aliens is no longer fascination but considered and patient. He no longer dives in, impulsive, but slow and confident.

The other echo is to the tripartite structure of the Battle of Yavin. This time, instead of ships, the approach is people. First, C3PO and R2D2 approach the palace. They have never been here before so their experience and affect (intrigue, disgust, fear, suspense, confusion) matches the audience's. There are more shots of the doorway, the hallway to the throne room, and more establishing shots of the room itself this time. The second approach is Leia in disguise as a bounty hunter bringing in Chewbacca. There are less establishing shots. The third and final approach mirrors not only the first approach, but mirrors the final trench run during the Battle of Yavin: the musical cues are different, Luke's approach is different (Jedi mind tricks as opposed to diplomacy or subterfuge), and the end result is categorically different (Luke ends up in the Rancorr pit).

Everything about the Jabba sequence is great (except for maybe the Slave Leia thing and only because what that has wrought upon the imagination of the male nerd) so it's all the more disappointing when the protagonists all split up, with Luke returning to Dagobah and Han and Leia... going back to the Rebel Alliance. Luke's return to Yoda is narratively sluggish, longwinded and awkward with dumped exposition. Then, this redundant exposition is doubled as Obi-Wan appears to Luke and gives the audience no new information that they haven't already gleaned or inferred.

However, the script introduces the major goal of the film quite well (as well as introducing Ackbar, one of my favourite character creations). The Rebels find out another Death Star is being built. This time, however, a straight assault on the battle station is not going to work. Because that would be boring for the audience. Rather, the script introduces the complicating circumstance of a shield generator that must be destroyed on the "forest moon of Endor." The protagonists volunteer to disable this generator (which allows for the film to depict the interaction between famous character and Ewok toy).

To the script's credit, the assault on the Death Star uses pre-established characters and circumstances, such as Lando and his previous ownership of the Millennium Falcon (mentioned in the second film). In order to break up the main pack of protagonists, the film has Luke surrender to Vader to force the conflict to come to a head. Which is really the only conflict between characters.

To recap: Luke's training is complete (he is self-actualized), Han and Leia have announced their love (2nd film), Lando and Han have made up (third film), C3PO, R2D2, and Chewbacca have no arcs. There are no more character dramas to be played out beyond Luke's conflict with Vader.

There are narrative stakes in the Battle of Endor (the shield generator must be destroyed) but only the one. The climaxes of the other two films juggled multiple narrative and character strands expertly (consider Han's 11th hour return to the fray during the Battle of Yavin); the third film has empty action scenes. Lando's not really motivated by redemption because he's already been made a general and nobody gives a shit about his betrayal. Han and Leia are only motivated by the objectives, not by character attributes. Frankly, what character attributes does Leia have beyond strong-willed and competent?

However, the intercutting between the three different narrative strands during the climax is a great example of how to maintain audience interest. While the confrontation between the Emperor (the second worst part of the OT; Ewoks as the first) and Luke is dragged out, it's dragged out organically, as in Luke is fighting his temper and impatience (a character trait established and developed all throughout the trilogy). The Rebel assault tries different manoeuvres and gambits as the shield generator hasn't been turned off. Each little space fight is its own little mini-drama. Likewise, on Endor, the protagonists team up with cuddly store ready teddy bears (who have zero motivation nor character traits) to defeat what the Emperor refers to as his elite squad.

The Ewoks also demonstrate the jarring tonal shifts in the film. While the Emperor, scary and disgusting, is plotting the total annihilation of the Rebel Alliance, the teddy bears are swinging around using rocks to clobber soldiers. It's tonal whiplash. It doesn't work. It's especially jarring when two Ewoks are caught in a blast, one gets up and thinks his buddy is still alive, only to be tragically made aware of the cost of war. It's a weird scene and it doesn't work. It reminds me of Jurassic World's brontosaurus death scene. We've been gleeful watching dinosaurs fuck up this park which the film encourages and then without warning, the film wants us to feel extreme pathos for a dinosaur we don't know about or care about.

The third film is the worst of the bunch, I'm afraid, but it's still lightyears ahead of the garbage that is the Prequel Trilogy.

Conclusions

The Original Trilogy is a masterclass in conventional classical Hollywood storytelling techniques and formal elements. It's like distilled Hollywood -- built out of the parts of other cultural objects (Kurosawa, serials, monomyth) and cranked up to the maximum setting. I've watched these movies probably 30 to 40 times apiece. I know all the beats, I know all the characters, and yet, I can still find stuff to talk about.

I hate and love Star Wars. As a franchise, it's as soulless and rapacious as any capitalistic structure, engineered only to acquire more capital. Yet, as individual films, they're charming and effective (mostly). I hate what the franchise has wrought. Though, it's hard to chastise the franchise for its sequels as the serial aspect is built into its very nature (it opens in media res with Episode IV). Its constitutive elements are all nostalgia based, and despite my virulent dislike of nostalgia, I still watch these damn movies. Hate and love, co-mingling forever.

I wonder, like so many of us, if we'll see the Original Trilogy restored when Episode VII is released. I hope so; I wouldn't mind watching them in ideal conditions (ie anamorphic, 1080p, etc).

I wonder if I have the stamina to watch the Prequel Trilogy (for the record: I enjoy the second half of the second one and parts of the third one.... the first one can go fuck itself) and do the same analysis that I did here. Probably not.