Love Does Not Make Something Great


I remember the last time we got a new Star Wars trilogy – the summer of 1999. I was in college, and the anticipation amongst my friends was at a fever pitch. And then the movie came out, and we quickly split into two camps – those who defended The Phantom Menace, and those who hated it with a cold and fierce passion. The e-mail debates (because that’s what we did in those days) were harsh and fierce. And let’s face it, we all know that by early 2016 there will be new lines drawn all across the internet about The Force Awakens.

I here am making a plea, giving an observation. Remember this: just because you love something, that doesn’t mean it’s great. So often the passion I saw against The Phantom Menace was levied against it because it didn’t live up to the greatness of Star Wars. It failed because it wasn’t as epic or sweeping as Star Wars was!

I then went about bubble bursting among my peers. Star Wars wasn’t great. We all loved it – but it wasn’t “great”. But Star Wars had great dialog and TPM’s dialog was terrible. Oh really? “Would somebody get this walking carpet out of my way” is not great dialog. If you doubt me, ask Alec Guinness – or think on Harrison Ford’s great observation – “You can type this ****, George, but you can’t say it.” Not exactly great dialog there – but it’s okay to love it.

jarjarthumbsupAnd over and over the complaints would be how something didn’t live up to Star Wars’ greatness – no. It was just there was something folks loved about Star Wars that they didn’t particularly love about TPM. They didn’t see the wonder and joy in the lightsaber battles or the podrace. But here’s the thing – most of the folks in my group were too old, but there are tons of people where those very things are their first love for Star Wars, the things that they think make Star Wars “great”. And while they may not be, abstractly and objectively, what makes Star Wars great – that’s okay. Love them away.

It’s okay to love something that isn’t great. I just moved back to the Chicago area – I had been born here but moved away twenty-eight years ago. And here they have White Castles. I love White Castle cheeseburgers. There’s just something homey and wonderful about them. My wife, who is from California and didn’t grow up with them can’t stand them. And she’s probably right – the burgers aren’t all that great. In fact, the folks who say they are terrible are probably right (especially if you grew up with In-and-Out burgers). That’s okay – I love them, and if others don’t, that’s fine. I’ll still enjoy them by myself.

Star Wars fandom is a big place – now even bigger than an Expanded Universe. And within that, there are many things I love… but I don’t have to define them as great to love them. In fact, I find it is helpful to acknowledge the dire flaws of things I love. I love Michael Stackpole’s X-Wing series. How could I not – high school and college had me flying X-wings and TIEs on my computer! Besides – Mr. Stackpole was kind enough to respond to me while I was in college and give me advice on a pen and paper Star Wars game I was running – he has my loyalty. But that doesn’t mean I can’t admit that the Alien Combine trial in Wedge’s Gamble is utterly hamfisted. Still, I love the series – but that love doesn’t make it great.

deathtroopersAnd other people love other things. I’m sure there are people who think that Deathtroopers and Maul: Lockdown are the greatest things ever; me, I don’t dig horror that much. But whatever, it’s cool. I never got into the comics all that much – for some, that is their thing. Enjoy them! There may even be folks who think the Denningverse is wonderful – I might think they are deranged, but let’s have a big tent Star Wars where lots of folks are welcome!

And then will come the day. December will be here, and the hopes will be high for The Force Awakens — and let’s face it. We don’t know how it will turn out. I hope I’m happy and in love – I hope that I’ll be taking my then-four-year-old to see it in the theater so that his first movie on the big screen will be Star Wars, just like mine was. But… maybe I’ll hate it and those plans will change. Still – even if it goes bad from my “point of view” – there’s going to be some folks who love it. There will be folks for whom The Force Awakens *IS* Star Wars at its finest. And even if it isn’t for me or for you – let them have their love and their fun and delight. And when it’s time to discuss – we can discuss calmly and rationally. We can admit that even the things we love have flaws (and even that there may be good points to the things we don’t care for at all). But all the while we can be glad that more and more people love this big jumbled mess that we call Star Wars.

10 thoughts to “Love Does Not Make Something Great”

  1. How dare you argue we should all try and get along! Do you know nothing of the Internet?

    More seriously – I enjoyed reading this a great deal.

    1. How dare you say I know nothing of the internet! I will go to that Cheezedog place and find an appropriate nene thing where with to mock you once I can find the site with that ebay search engine!

  2. At first, I thought this was going to be directed at everyone who thought the prequel trilogy was great just because they loved it. That would have been good because the prevailing attitude is anyone who says the PT was bad is just a “hater”…and old. However, I think this statement applies much more to the prequels than it does to the original trilogy.

    But when someone says the prequels (…or the OT, I guess) were good or bad it would be a lot more helpful to know what a person thinks a “good movie” is. If you base it on special effects production and exciting video game graphics & action, the prequels have more of that. I guess that means it’s a “good movie”. You’ll probably like Independence Day, too.

    If you base it on dialogue, story, plot details (or lack thereof) screenplay, directing, cinematography, performance & chemistry, then the prequels are bad movies. You can’t get out of it by saying that since the original trilogy wasn’t high-art like Citizen Kane (if you would even sit through that…) that they are in the same boat as the PT.

    Usually, Return of the Jedi is cited to make this case. It actually makes the case against the PT. ROTJ was the beginning of ramp down in quality (which, by the way, did not improve by ROTS to the degree people think it did. It’s still cringeworthy.) At the time of ROTJ, Lucas has less oversight then ever. He left the Director’s Guild and didn’t need 20th Century Fox for much more than distribution. He was basically the second director on set (look at Richard Marquand’s face in the production photos. Everyone knew who was REALLY in charge). This was Lucas’ baby and it had the least amount of editorial oversight of any of the OT. That’s what you get without a good editor telling you that Ewoks are dumb. The PT was this on steroids, except (and you can tell from the TPM documentary) everything went into pioneering the CG and everything else suffered, right down to the cinematography, which had to present as little challenge to the CG department as possible.

    Thought experiment: think of the most memorable lines and quotes from the Star Wars saga. How many are from the OT? How many from the PT? I don’t even have labor this point, do I?

    In short, the prequel trilogy was an ILM test reel for technology that would eventually be used by better future movies. It also happens to hold a special place in the heart of people who saw it as a child and had no perspective or experience seeing anything before it. First impressions count…

    1. You made Eric’s case for him in your second paragraph—“good quality” and “bad quality” movies are completely subjective. We could debate effects and writing and directing all day—and frankly, I think we’d both be on your side—but that’s not the point; the point is that how popular something is or isn’t has no bearing on its quality (like, say, Independence Day), and that it’s perfectly okay to love things that are low-quality (like, say, Independence Day).

      1. I think you’re right, Mike, but I think the majority of prequel defenders out there (who become rabid if they sense any criticism) are arguing that anything that people hate about the PT is also true of the OT, and the only reason people love the OT and hate the PT is because they’re old and that was THEIR generation’s Star Wars.

        I also don’t necessarily agree that it’s good just because people are loving Star Wars, no matter the product, because I think it sends a message that future creators can make anything, Star Wars logo on it, and it will be fine.

        Man, I really hope The Force Awakens is good…

      2. … I just can’t do President Lone Star. It just blows all suspension of disbelief.

  3. For what it’s worth – I totally prefer the OT. In my humble opinion, they are much better movies. But… I’m not going to disdain the PT because they aren’t the OT… nor should I crush someone who really digs the PT. Hey, you like something Star Wars – that’s cool, man.

    As for lines – there were a few good ones in TPM – There’s always a bigger fish, the negotiations WERE short. However, the problem is that most of the humor shifted from the main characters (like Han or C-3P0) to Jar Jar and the droids… and it just doesn’t work nearly as well.

    And finally, as sending the message that they can make anything with Star Wars on it and it will be fine… well… that only works if *someone* loves it. If the PT had utterly bombed… we wouldn’t be getting any more Star Wars. And while I might not like it nearly as much as the OT… plenty of people do. So I won’t knock ’em.

    … and the Order 66 scene was beautifully well done… and Dual of the Fates was awesome. But yeah, the OT is still better… even with Ewoks.

    1. Be honest: if the prequel trilogy had been made first, do you think the original Star Wars movies would have ever been made?

      I think we’re getting new Star Wars based on the lasting power of the OT, maybe the quality of the Clone Wars series, and the PT’s ability to freshly capture a younger generation with indiscriminate tastes. I would say it mostly has to do with the promise of these movies continuing the story of the “good” trilogy.

      I’m not disdaining the PT because it’s not the OT either. In 1999, I went into the theater wanting to LOVE the prequels. I now criticize the PT because they were a huge letdown in almost every category of what makes a film good.

      I expected that from the 1998 Godzilla movie, not Star Wars. Ironically, on one of the doors at the Lucasfilm offices (or ILM?) during the making of TPM was an image making fun of the Godzilla movie, saying ‘Plot Matters’ (a crack at that movie’s ‘Size Matters’ tagline). If that wasn’t the pot calling the kettle black…

      “And finally, as sending the message that they can make anything with Star Wars on it and it will be fine… well… that only works if *someone* loves it.”

      I thought the name of this article was ‘Love Does Not Make Something Great’…

      As for those examples of PT dialogue being as funny or memorable as the OT, we’ll have to agree to disagree, I guess.

      These comments aside, I don’t go out of my way to crush anyone who likes the PT movies. However, I get a little exercised when it is suggested that the OT is of the same quality or that the only discernable difference comes down to how one feels about it.

      1. The OT was groundbreaking in many ways — visually, it was stunning. The soundtrack was fantastic. Special effects were devised and perfected for it – the use of computers for animation.

        And the story was fun… and okay. It wasn’t a great story (although Vader being Luke’s dad is one of the great twists). But no writer is going to look at the OT and think, “that is how you do it!” In acting class, if they want to show stellar performances they aren’t going to turn on Empire.

        But that’s okay — Star Wars wasn’t written to be “great”… it was written to be fun. It was the old Saturday matinee come back, but done with unbelievable technical skill.

        The PT did tons of stuff with effects, and while impressive, we missed the old effects. Why? Because that throwback, old feel is part of what made Star Wars Star Wars.

        The PT had fantastic costuming and visuals. Some of the vistas and world designs in the PT were wondrously well done. But the background doesn’t makes a great film.

        The PT had John Williams knock the ball out of the park. Duel of the Fates is a fantastic piece of music. Also, the way he weaves OT themes into new pieces was masterful. But again, that can’t top the problems with the plot.

        Whereas the OT was a fun, old time adventure… the PT strayed away from that. And that’s why to folks who grew up with the OT, it fell flat.

        However – to the younger folks, there were still new vistas and wonders and amazing lightsaber battles… their wondrous first step into a larger universe as it were.

        Star Wars is Pulp… not fine cinema. And it’s at its best when it remains that.

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