If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at a political website such as this one, well lemme tell ya—there’s a lot of intellectual heft that goes into it. Explosive debates among opinionated writers seem to happen almost every day, with each of us picking apart vital issues and flinging facts and figures at one another like it was the food fight scene from Animal House. It can be mentally exhausting, but equally as rewarding—especially when you land on a hot–button topic like we did today.
It all started out innocently enough. Stacey Lennox brought up how Mark Hamill had retweeted Erick, and I made some snide comment about how Erick had hated The Last Jedi. Pretty soon we were all talking smack about how that movie ripped off a lot of stuff from both the old AND the new Battlestar Galactica. Then Nick Kammer dropped the bomb—he said Indiana Jones was better than Star Wars, about which I couldn’t give a flying fig, but then he also said Indy was better than Star Trek and that’s when things really hit the fan.
In case you were wondering, yes, we do occasionally discuss politics as well.
But that’s not important right now. What really matters is settling this debate once and for all—and since there ain’t a lot left to say about Paul Ryan’s retirement that hasn’t been said already, I thought I’d kick off a ratio storm by facing down this subject the way Apollo Creed faced down Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. Of course, Apollo got killed in that fight—which probably doesn’t bode well for my odds after posting this. But what the hell? It’s almost Friday.
So who did it better? Star Wars, Star Trek or Indiana Jones? Let’s have a look at the numbers.
Yes, it’s the king of all sci-fi franchises (I don’t count Harry Potter because that’s fantasy), and turned George Lucas—who hasn’t demonstrated any particular ability to write or direct—into a literal billionaire. More than that, Star Wars has also become the latest Disney cash cow, with a new movie every year and even a theme park in the works at its Hollywood Studios that promises to immerse visitors (and their wallets) deep in the Star Wars universe. Who could argue with that kind of success?
Well, the audience for one. Let’s face it—for all the fanfare in that rousing John Williams score, the actual movies are a mixed bag of good, bad, and just plain ugly. Yes, the original Star Wars (I still refuse to call it A New Hope) was a lot of fun and extremely re-watchable, and The Empire Strikes Back introduced a level of darkness and complexity that really established the foundation of the universe, but it was pretty much downhill from there. Return of the Jedi had its moments, but that whole business with having to destroy a new-and-improved Death Star seemed like a retread of the fight they already won in the first film. And don’t even get me started on the Ewoks, which I knew was a crass marketing ploy to sell plush toys even when I was a mere lad of fourteen. Also, did we really have to go back to Tatooine? Like Luke Skywalker, I couldn’t wait to get off that rock and into space when I saw the first Star Wars. Why did we have to go back?
Things only got worse when George Lucas decided to go all independent filmmaker and write, produce and direct the three prequels. It takes a whole lot of effort to make Samuel L. Jackson boring on screen, but somehow Lucas did it, while draining what little chemistry existed between Natalie Portman and Hayden Christiansen like a high school janitor wringing dirty water out of a mop. By the time I saw the name “Count Dooku” appear in the opening crawl of Revenge of the Sith, I had ceased to care.
That brings us to the newest entries into the franchise. While most fans agreed that The Force Awakens was a lot better than any of the prequels, it also slowly dawned on them that the movie is basically a retelling of the original Star Wars—although by that point, they were so starved for anything even remotely entertaining that they were willing to grade on a curve. The nostalgia factor earned a lot of goodwill, and made for an enjoyable experience at the movies. The Force Awakens was also disposable entertainment, though, which is why I never felt any compulsion to watch it a second time. I felt differently about Rogue One when it came out a year later, because it seemed that the filmmakers had some latitude to do things a little differently. Sure, they were working within the confines of established canon by telling the story of how the Death Star was built and what ultimately led to its destruction—but it had a grittier, Dirty Dozen kind of appeal that we hadn’t seen in the other films. It also showed that the Rebel Alliance could be very Machiavellian when it needed to be, even killing innocent people or allowing them to die. Citizen Kane it ain’t, but it was good enough to make me want to watch it a second time on Netflix.
Finally, we have The Last Jedi—the film that probably led Disney, for the first time, to utter the words “uh-oh” in connection to the Star Wars franchise. Like The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi is rather inoffensive entertainment, and like its immediate predecessor, it made a ton o’ money—just not the tonnage Disney expected. Reviews were generally good to excellent, and it‘s not like the Tomatometer was keeping people away—but audiences just sensed there was something wrong. Maybe the magic just wasn’t there, but as people had a chance to reflect on the film they started to like it less. You know how when you’re ready to break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, and literally everything they do starts to annoy you? The Last Jedi is like that. The plot holes became more manifest. The climax, with its tiresome similarities to the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, became glaringly apparent. And that whole casino planet thing? Yep, totally ripped off from the original Battlestar Galactica, only when Galacatica did it, the story was far more interesting.
So let’s tally up the score, shall we?
- Star Wars: Great movie.
- The Empire Stikes Back: Really great movie.
- Return of the Jedi: Meh, but watchable.
- The Phantom Menace: A wooden, cluttered snoozefest. With midi-chlorians. At least it had a good music score.
- Attack of the Clones: Wake me up when it’s over. And that title!
- Revenge of the Sith: No worse than the other two prequels. Not much better, either.
- The Force Awakens: Fun nostaligia trip.
- Rogue One: Not great, but close.
- The Last Jedi: That people wanted to like it but still couldn’t says a lot.
By my lights, that’s 4/9.
Tomorrow, we take on Star Trek—so stay tuned!