George Lucas, Not Guilty

Today, on the premiere of ‘The Last Jedi’ – the eighth official episode in the Star Wars saga, creator of Star Wars – Mr. George Lucas – stands trial. He is accused of being a hack.

The prosecution (The internet)
Of the many things that catch blame for ‘ruining’ the Star Wars prequels – Jar Jar Binks, midi-chlorians, almost every line of dialogue George Lucas wrote for Padme and Anakin – there is one moment that makes almost every fan cringe, no matter how dedicated. We’re talking about Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader, literally the jumping-off point of the entire Star Wars saga.

In this moment, Vader learns that he has lost his wife and unborn children…and has been transformed into, like, a Space Robocop. So, what does he do? He breaks free from his shackles and lets out the now infamous, “NOOOOOOO!” that felt like it had a Kanye-level of autotune to it. It felt ridiculous when it should have been the defining moment of the prequels. What the hell was Lucas thinking?

The defense (Johnny Cochran)

This defense will be short and easy. This is the man who gave us Star Wars after all. The original Star Wars films still form the best trilogy ever created hands down. Even the third part – which is never the best in any series – is in case of Star Wars nearly perfect: ‘Return of the Jedi’ contains some of the best stuff of the series. Legendary film critic Roger Ebert (1942 – 2013) gave each of the three original films the maximum rating of four stars (read his awesome reviews here, here, and here).

So why is Lucas so hated despite being the man who gave us Darth Vader, Yoda, Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker amongst many others? Because he also gave us Jar Jar Binks? Because he writes remarkably terrible love scenes? So what? Didn’t the other great filmmakers of his generation make similar mistakes? Francis Ford Coppola cast his daughter in ‘The Godfather: Part III’ and it nearly ruined the film. Yet, he is never criticized in the way Lucas is.

Statistically, after sunshine comes rain. Lucas gave us the best trilogy ever made, so the prequels were never going to top that. Still, that is no excuse for not making better movies. But are they really so terrible?

Episode I: The Phantom Menace is the worst, most will agree. But look at what it does have: the pod race, Darth Maul (IMDb-poll names him the second greatest SW villain after Vader), and the return of many great characters: Palpatine, Yoda and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor is perfect casting as a young Alec Guinness). There is also fun foreshadowing going on of all that is to come. Finally, the world building is spectacular and unforgettable.

Roger Ebert – who gave ‘The Phantom Menace’ 3,5 stars out of 4 – concluded: “Mostly I was happy to drink in the sights on the screen, in the same spirit that I might enjoy ‘Metropolis’, ‘Forbidden Planet’, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, ‘Dark City’ or ‘The Matrix’. The difference is that Lucas’ visuals are more fanciful and his film’s energy level is more cheerful; he doesn’t share the prevailing view that the future is a dark and lonely place.”

Episode II: Attack of the Clones – The greatest weakness is the love story, we can be clear about this. But it would be a shame to let that ruin the whole movie experience, because episode II has a lot going for it. First of all, it has a terrific Raymond Chandler-style mystery plot. Also, there is a great sense of urgency; the battle for the galaxy has now really begun. And the filmmaking in general – the editing, sound, production design, music, etc – are all A-grade. There are few filmmakers with such imagination, and with the ability to bring it to the screen, like Lucas.

As for villains, usually the best thing about a Star Wars-film, I don’t like Jango Fett so much, but Count Dooku – played the uncanny Christopher Lee – is terrific, and so is his lightsaber duel with Yoda. The dark side is really prevailing now and Lucas effectively uses the principles of Eastern Philosophy to craft the story development. People may not like Hayden Christensen, but what is actually accomplished by his performance is that we get an uneasy feeling about Anakin. The air gets thick in the confrontational scenes. Unlike Obi-Wan – who was the perfect Jedi-student in episode I – Anakin is the pupil you always have to worry about. And these foreshadowing shots with Palpatine are grand. His quest to the dark side is thus very well handled.

Episode III: Revenge of the Sith  Episode III is a return to the classic space opera style that launched the series, and many agree that Lucas really approaches old trilogy greatness here. In the saga’s darkest chapter, Anakin really journeys to the dark side under the influence of the demonic Palpatine. Aside from the infamous ‘Noooo’-moment, episode III is a thoroughly exciting and enjoyable film with some of the best action sequences in the series.

And so, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, if George Lucas is a hack, then Chewbacca lives on Endor, and therefore you must acquit! The defense rests.

So let us all shut the hell up and enjoy Lucas’ legacy.

The Story of Film: Time Traveling For the Cinemad

By Jeppe Kleyngeld

It had to be done someday; making a literal odyssey through the history of cinema and documenting it into a film. The traveller is Mark Cousins. The film is a 15 hour documentary called ‘The Story of Film’. Through cinematic innovation, the story of film is told, from the silent era to the multimillion dollar digital age, covering all continents, major cinematic hallmarks and most talented people in cinema.

The Story of Film 1

The beginning
In 1885 George Eastman of Kodak came up with the idea of film on a role. Then Edison figured that if you spin the images in a box you get the illusion of movement. Lumiere went on to invent the film projector and with that: Cinema! It is not difficult to imagine the excitement of those first screenings. When cinemas started appearing everywhere, it enabled people – who did not travel back then – to see other countries. Not just places, but other worlds. Like what the position of woman was in other countries.

After the invention came the content. And despite of what many believe, it is not the money men that drive cinema. They can’t. Because what you need is the visual ideas, and a clear understanding of what is in people’s hearts. It is psychology that became the driving force of film if anything.

Cousins continues to show us the birth of basic cinema language and techniques that are now common, such as editing, the close up, tracking shots and flashbacks. The road trip then takes us further to the places and the people that brought life to this sublime art form.

1910s
In this period a lot was happening in Scandinavia. Maybe it was the Northern Light, Cousins comments. Or the sense of destiny and mortality in Scandinavian literature that made Danish and Swedish movies more graceful and honest. In 1906 the first feature film was shot in Australia: ‘The Story of the Kelly Gang’. The first feature film in Hollywood was ‘The Squaw Man’ (1914). In 1911 the first movie studio was build. Another interesting thing about this period was that a lot of women were working in Hollywood writing and directing, such as Lois Weber and Alice Guy. They did not always get the credits though.

1920s
In Hollywood, cinema became big business in this period (and a men’s world as well). The 1920s saw the birth of an industry in Hollywood. But the studio system did not get in the film, according to Stanley Donen (director ‘Singing in the Rain’). There were also rebels that emerged – like Orson Welles – that tried to break the bubble. In Europe, cinema developed also. Thematically, the city was often the Big Evil. Think for example ‘Metropolis’ and ‘Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans’. In Japan it was as if the Japanese filmmakers tried to compensate for the massacres their country caused by making very humanistic films. In 1921, the first great Japanese movie was made: ‘Souls on the Road’.

1930s
A lot of innovations were introduced in the 1930s like sound and the use of two camera’s with overhead lighting. From Hollywood came horror movies like ‘Frankenstein’ which borrowed heavily from Germany (Der Golem). And the first gangster pictures appeared, which is an original American genre. The cartoon also arrived and was a very successful new genre. Mickey Mouse was a smash hit and in 1937 came the even more successful ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. In Britain, the legendary Alfred Hitchcock started working. He understood the basic human emotion ‘fear’ like no other, and his films are still extremely influential to this day.

1940s
The war years meant less glory, and more gloomy films. In Italy we witnessed the birth of neo realism. The sensational ‘The Bicycle Thieves’ (1939) is a movie that best illustrates this style. In 1941 came ‘Citizen Kane’ – a film that is still often considered by many as one of the greatest movies of all time. It used deep staging so audiences could choose where to look. This was previously used in films like ‘Gone With the Wind’ (1939) and ‘Stagecoach’ (1939), which Welles said to have seen 39 times. A dark genre arrived in Hollywood, called Film Noir. These films, such as ‘Double Indemnity’ usually had characters with flaws that drove them towards their faith, even while they tried to avoid it. The decade ended as depressing as it began with a massive communist hunt in Hollywood: the studios had to fire the (alleged) lefties. This is still a major trauma in Hollywood.

1950s
In America in the fifties, we had the suburban, Christian society. But under the surface there was anger, frustration and tension. Classic films like ‘On the Waterfront’ (1954) and ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ (1955) best illustrate this. In Europe four legendary directors led the way in changing cinema. They were Jacques Tati, Robert Bresson, Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini, and they made films more personal and self aware than they had ever been. The era ended with the new wave to which French director Jean-Luc Godard belonged and in Italy Pier Paolo Pasolini. The later used religious music for everyday struggles. He felt consumerism was taking over.

The Story of Film 2

1960s
Sergio Leone made his first ‘spaghetti western’ (Italian made Western) and introduced deep focus, which was made possible by the Italian cinematic invention technoscope in 1960. This gives Leone’s movies an epic feel to them. Thematically, Leone was inspired by Japanese Master Akira Kurosawa (lone gunman / lone samurai). Filmmaking went global in the sixties. In Eastern Europe, directors like Roman Polanski and Milos Forman started their careers. In the Soviet Union, one of the greatest directors ever started working: Andrei Tarkovsky, who knew how to create remarkable imagery. According to Tarkovsky: ‘Imagery contains an awareness of the infinite.’ Late sixties, film schools were popping up all around the USA and a new generation was on its way.

1970s
After the realism in movies in the sixties, the seventies saw a return of old fashioned, romantic and entertaining cinema – and of the box office smash hits, think ‘Star Wars’, ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘Jaws’. ‘The Godfather’ was the return of an old Hollywood genre: the gangster film. New kids were fighting to open up new form, most notably Martin Scorsese with ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘Mean Streets’. When people think of the seventies, they think about Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola and Scorsese. But there was more. In i.a. Britain and Italy, identity was a major theme. In Germany, Rainer Werner Fassbinder (woman in closed places) and Wim Wenders (men in open spaces) had their glory years. And Werner Herzog the explorer went across the world. He was not so much interested in the feminism or Americana of his contemporaries, but in prime evil life. After John Ford, he is the most important landscape filmer in the history of film. The 70’s also saw the arrival of Asian mainstream, epic films from India (‘Sholay’) and a lot of cinematic activity in Africa.

1980s
After the magnificent seventies came the not-so-great eighties. ‘Protest’ is the central theme of this decade. The 5th generation in China – Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou – made interesting movies. From Russia came one of the greatest war movies: ‘Come and See’. In America, ‘Top Gun’ was a smash hit, and many movies were influenced by music video’s, like ‘Flashdance’. In France, filmmakers got more into popular culture, which was a protest in itself. Notable directors that moved up in the film world were David Lynch (with ‘Blue Velvet’) and David Cronenberg in Canada with ‘Videodrome’, a prophetic vision of the modern world in which the real and the televisual are dangerously confused.

1990s
Described by Cousins as the last days of celluloid, before the coming of digital. And directors like Wong Kar Wai and Hou Hsiao-hsien used celluloid devotedly. The 90s saw passionate films about other worlds (‘The Matrix’), but also an obsession about reality, for example in the work of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami who tried to eliminate all dolly’s and clapperboards from the set. From Japan came horror movies about the fear for technology, like ‘Tetsuo’ about a man blending with metal. In Copenhagen, filmmakers returned to primitive filmmaking with Dogma, while Hollywood saw the increasing use of digital effects (‘Terminator 2’ / ‘Gladiator’ / ‘Jurassic Park’). Not only what was in the camera changed, what happened in front of the camera changed as well. Modern became post-modern: The idea that there are no new truths and everything is recycled. Tarantino made this his trade, but respected established directors, like Scorsese, used it as well.

2000s
Documentaries – like ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ – did as well as blockbusters and blockbusters tried to be like documentaries. Innovative movies were made in the USA. Like ‘Requiem For a Dream’: The great distortion movie. The subconscious got at work in ‘Mulholland Drive’. And in Thailand: ‘Tropical Malady’, a film that changes from simplistic tale of friendship to the mythical story of the hunter and the hunted. The film reincarnates like its main character. Another innovative example is ‘Russian Ark’, which consists of one 90 minute long take showing Aristocrats walking downstairs in a massive palace towards the slaughter.

And the future of cinema? Who knows. Perhaps one day we can share dreams like in ‘Inception’. One thing is for sure: Whatever form it may take, the art of cinema is here to stay and deserves to be celebrated likes this.

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