26 April

We seem to still be here.

The second season of Star Trek: Discovery is better than the first season but suffers in comparison to Picard. The introduction of Pike as a character is quite sly, because he gets to be all gung-ho and old-fashioned and square-jawed and Kirkish without anyone saying that he isn’t as good as William Shatner. The big experimental space ship has settled down into being a bog-standard Star Fleet vessel albeit with more aliens and more 3D computer tech than normal.

There is a story arc — some GLA’s have seeded the universe with seven giant glossy plot coupons: but the crew have agreed to mostly ignore them and just do Star Trek plots. There is a planet of pre-tech human refugees who don’t know about Star Fleet: would it be a breach of the Prime Directive to help them? (Yes.) The nice socially awkward scientist is being followed around by the ghost of a dead school friend. Is there a perfectly rational explanation? (Yes.) And there is an ongoing sub-plot about Mr Spock, who seems to have solved the mystery of the plot coupons but is now in a psychiatric hospital. There are some scenes in which Klingons get together and recite their favourite bits of Game of Thrones, but I’ve largely ignored those.

We did the first two episodes of Prequel Star Wars. We couldn’t really see why Phantom Menace was so universally hated: it stands up as a perfectly good adventure-romp, with all the aliens / spaceships /laser swords  that made Real Star Wars fun. There are a few missteps, certainly: the battle at the end seems to be all over the place, and there needed to be a much better reason for Li’l Anakin to be involved in the spaceship battle. L was quite bothered by Amidala’s age and the whole concept of an elective monarchy; I was more bothered about the absurdity of Anakin making C3PO in his bedroom. Jar-Jar is funny in some places and not so funny in others; but it is very hard to see now what all the fuss was about. Jake Lloyd is largely adequate and even likeable as The Kid: the bad scenes come from bad writing. (The director should have said “Try and show everyone that you are excited now” rather than “Deliver the line Yipee as it is written in the script.)

Attack of the Clones, on the other hand, now seems very nearly unwatchable. It feels as if the only purpose of the film is to inform the audience of Lucas’s current ideas about the backstory and move the pieces into position for the climax. There is a heap of incident, but no actual plot. The one moment of psychological interest — the death of Anakin’s mother — is rushed over in a minute and a half. Phantom Menace offered us Jar-Jar Binks, a cartoon character in a realistic world: Attack of the Clones turns C3PO into an action figure to be waved around and pulled apart in order to introduce slapstick at the one moment where slapstick is least needed. The film seems to consistently get its tone and register wrong: Obi-Wan meets an informer in a 1950s milk-bar; Anakin and Amidala travel to Naboo on a Greyhound Coach. (Granted, the Cantina is meant to remind us of a wild-west saloon; and the rebel base is meant to make us think of the Dambusters; but this doesn’t extent to giving characters stetson hats, tin stars and handlebar moustaches.) Anakin speaks like a contemporary teenager in some scenes and like a badly dubbed opera singer in others. I am haunted by the memory of the kiss I should never have given you. Do not let that kiss become a scar. I think that the love scenes, for all their corniness, had the right idea: if all the characters had spokeneth in that kindeth of ye high style the whole time the film would have been easier to take. The senate of the republic needed to sound more like the Court of Henry VIII or the Council of Elrond and less like a reject episode of the West Wing.

Attack of the Clones presents us with a lot of what has become established Star Wars mythos; and a lot of that mythos is not uninspiring. I would like to have heard much more about how Qui-Gon’s old master turned into Christopher Lee. (Was Qui-Gon’s knowledge of the Force faulty because he was trained by Saruman? And if so, does that mean that Obi-Wan and therefore Anakin’s training was also flawed?) A very great deal more could have been made of Anakin’s mother’s relationship with the father of Luke’s fosterparents.
Lucasfilms must know that Attack of the Clones is a franchise breaking disaster. I think Lucas himself knows it. The Clone Wars is a thirty five hour cartoon apology for the catastrophic live-action movie; a desperate, and dare I say it, mostly successful attempt to incarnate Lucas’s world-building into a coherent and enjoyable series of narratives.

I expect we will watch Revenge of the Sith one evening this week.

1 comment:

Richard Worth said...

I wonder if the 'elective' monarchy of Naboo is less like finding a new Pope, more like the Great Llama of Tibet? If it is possible to measure The Force, it becomes a lot easier to pick someone to rule without having to go through all the business of hustings or qualifications. More cynically, it may be like the Japanese emperors under the Shogunate, expected to abdicate and become monks when they are old enough to rule for themselves.