By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Heather Baysa
By Calum Marsh
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Simon Abrams
By Alan Scherstuhl
Q: Why do they assign the bombing run on Death Star II to Lando? OK, yes, Han Solo won his ship, the Millennium Falcon, from Lando in a card game or something, but Lando's recent job experience is as the administrator of a mining facility on the planet Bespin. ("If we are to take out the Death Star — again, yes — we'll need someone with nerves of steel and a thorough understanding of the galactic tax code who knows how to take advantage of the incentives for tibana gas extraction facilities, which the Imperial Senate seems unlikely to renew at this juncture.")
A: Because this is a movie, and moreover, a movie primarily for kids. Fair enough. But why then does Ford spend so many scenes shrugging and mugging and bugging his eyes? The moment that seems to foreshadow his death — minute 53, when he looks at the Falcon and says to Leia, "I just got a funny feeling, like I'm not going to see her again" — is Ford's most convincing line reading of the film. It's the only time he's playing the arc he wants to play.
Imagine for a moment that the same strain of insanity that led Warner Bros. executives to envision Superman III, one of Jedi's competitors in the summer of 1983, as a Richard Pryor vehicle, had led Lucas to recast the role of Han Solo with Chevy Chase. What would that movie have looked like?
The correct answer is that it would be identical in every way to the Return of the Jedi we all saw. Harrison Ford is Chevy Chase in this movie. Whether this was an artistic choice or simply Ford's unwillingness to conceal his boredom, Han Solo has been reborn as a neutered, hapless dad. Even his haircut is 70 percent less cool than it was in Empire. "Hey, it's me!" he reassures Luke, seconds before stepping on a twig that gives his position away to an Imperial soldier. When it comes to guerilla warfare, Han Solo is one hell of a space pilot.
Ford's voiceover for the original release cut of Blade Runner — which he'd famously made as dull as possible in the hope the producers who'd demanded it over director Ridley Scott's objections would reject it as unusable — is better than his bored line readings in Jedi. His performance in the pilloried Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is better than his performance in Jedi.
You know what's light years better than his performance in Jedi? His swaggering star turn in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom only a year later. The violence and unpredictability of Indiana Jones in Temple of Doom is everything that Jedi's emasculated, minivan-driving, twig-stepping, Ewok-hugging, freely-sharing-his-feelings Han Solo isn't. Same with the movie, which feels tense and dangerous and utterly bonkers. (And more than a little — what's that word? — racist, but no more so than The Phantom Menace.) The point is that sneering, calculating, first-shooting, Nerf-herding Han Solo was still kicking around inside of Ford, but Ford wanted to save him for Indiana Jones. You can't blame him, really. After the triumph of The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas never really allowed Han Solo to become unfrozen.
Lucas has always been obsessed with control. After Star Wars, he risked his shirt to finance the three-times-as-costly The Empire Strikes Back himself so he could retain complete creative control along with sequel and merchandising rights — and take notes from nobody. Indeed, Lucas paid for the latter five of the six extant theatrical, live-action Star Wars movies out of his own deeper-than-a-sarlacc's-belly pocket. They are as indie, in the most literal sense of the term, as it is possible for indie films to get. This means that all the fart and whoops-I-stepped-in-shit jokes in The Phantom Menace are there because they're an essential part of Lucas's precious creative vision. If he's got a motto for Star Wars, it's No Child Left Behind.
Last week fans thrilled to a black-and-white photo from the first table read of the script for Abrams's Star Wars: Episode VII — which, if you're looking for reasons to be optimistic, was penned by Kasdan, who wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, in addition to writing and directing many films that've probably sold fewer lunchboxes: Body Heat, The Big Chill, Grand Canyon, etc. Kasdan was in the photo. Fresh young faces Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Domhnall Gleeson were there. Familiar but unrecognizable faces (because usually they're behind digital or physical masks, you see) Peter Mayhew and Andy Serkis, too. Oscar Isaac, the brilliant star of the brilliant Inside Llewyn Davis, showed up. And Abrams and R2-D2, watching from an open packing crate just outside the circle of chairs. (Droids get much affection but no respect.) Also present: Original trilogy stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and, most surprising of all, 71-year-old Ford.
The cosmic generational comedown of the prequels remains fresh in our memories. The last and least terrible of them, Revenge of the Sith, hit theaters nine years ago this month, which means any Blade Runner–type critical reconsideration suggesting that perhaps we judged George Lucas's busy, noisy, lifeless latter-day movies too harshly would've happened by now. What enthusiasm there is for the upcoming films — and there is a lot — is on account of the still-strong residual affection for the original movies, though Lucas can't stop tinkering with them. And because Abrams seems like he just might have a clue how to inject some life back into Star Wars, as his two Star, er, Trek films have demonstrated.
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