Note: This is NOT a review. There are NO spoilers. I talk about the film for one sentence. Now quit yer bitchin. Thank you. -joe
You'll have to forgive me if I skirt around a formal review of Attack of the Clones. For starters, I already said it would suck, and it didn't, so consider crow eaten. I'm also aware a lot of people haven't seen it yet, and I couldn't do the film justice without dropping a spoiler or two. So...
First 20 minutes, awesome. Last 30 minutes, awesome. In between, dicey.
Are we straight?
I caught Clones on opening day in a theatre with broken air conditioning on the coast of South Carolina, where I was vacationing, so most of my experience was married to the unpleasant feeling of being sticky and moist. Thus, I'll have to see it again before I can pass judgment on its place in the annals of cinematic history.
But I can tell you this. It was one hell of a video game.
Put yourself in the characters' shoes and you're going to have quite a PlayStation experience, whether wielding a lightsaber like Mace Windu or jumping from speeder to speeder through the busy skyways of Coruscant.
Unfortunately, that's not where it ends. LucasArts is about to drop the ultimate Star Wars experience, Galaxies, an online next-gen roleplayer that will not only put you in the Star Wars universe, but will also let your play determine the very fate of said universe.
Imagine, I don't know, Dungeons & Dragons or Strat-O-Matic baseball or something of a similar, sociopathically addictive nature. Now multiply the die-hard factor by four to equal the loyalty and rabid nature of commitment that the Star Wars geeks have grown to demonstrate. Now multiply the social factor by about a million, as the game could snare, conservatively, that number of players in its first iteration. Jack it up a notch or two for the techies, because we're no longer dealing with the imagination and notebook sketch drawings, but rather Pentium-IV-pretty and broadband-quick three dimensional interaction. And finally, just draw a line through the new figure and run away screaming when you realize the timing of the release, squarely between hype cycles of Episodes Two and Three, will create a boiling point of mythic proportions.
And that's scarier than Darth Vader in a dark room on a cloudy day.
Galaxies is the Oh-ficial Star Wars entry into this relatively new multiplayer, online, real-time roleplaying genre, brought into the mainstream by Ultima Online and made infamous by the lawsuits surrounding Sony's Everquest, a game in which the players don't play, they live. A faction of Everquesters think nothing of spending 8 to 12 hours a day in the game, blurring the lines between reality and pixels in a manner that ranges from the ridiculous - say, demanding to be referred to as one's character name at the local Con - to the scary - allegedly Everquest related suicide.
And I assure you that, legally anyway, these are adults.
Why should the Star Wars version give you the sweats? It all goes back to the visuals. Say what you will about the franchise, but, if nothing else, George Lucas is a master at walking the fine line between the special effects that pop and those that just grate. Sure, there's a scene or two over the years where the limitations of the technology make some things just look silly, but he can be forgiven one or two blunders in a series of films that have no equal in the richness, uniqueness, and sheer beauty of the worlds they deign to create.
Lucas's effects choices, while also very pragmatically nudging the take, serve to reinforce the validity of this alternate universe. You'd like to shoot at stormtroopers, you'd love to pilot the Falcon. You wouldn't mind a word or two with Yoda. Maybe he'd help straighten out your financial situation.
"Mutual funds, you should be in. With individual securities there is risk, with risk there is volatility, with volatility there is suff-fer-ring."
And therein lies a good chunk of the Star Wars magic. Lucas doesn't just build sets, he designs a deliberately deep and complex backdrop, carefully crafting each aspect of the various star systems, planets, races, and technologies. And LucasFilm and LucasArts, his make-this-happen entries into the motion picture and video gaming industries, go to great lengths to secure the unfathomable continuity that exists in such an endeavor.
You get the feeling that he's as much of a Star Wars geek as the rest of you, and he'd be the first one up in arms if a Wookiee said the wrong thing to a Hutt.
But people. People. This is backstory. All of it. This is supporting information to a set of screenplays that, no matter how cool or hip or timeless, are still the work of imagination.
Most of you know this, but a growing number of you no longer care.
This is where I draw the line at what separates art from science, or, more to the point, what removes the individual experience from the calculated, sort of computer-modeled facts and rules that make up the vast majority of science fiction.
It also makes for some stiff dialogue:
"Why, this is the ray-gun of Ascraq 5 that would destroy the entire galaxy if it fell into the wrong hands. Let's all pray to Krakhor that never happens."
But that's more of a pet-peeve.
I'll never be the joker in the back of the theatre sniffing, "Right. That would never happen." Plausibility, to me, has more to do with the human condition than the limitations of the expectations of modern science. I don't care how a blaster works, I just want to know if Han Solo would really let Greedo have the first shot.
As far as the strict continuity of science and society goes, somewhere along the line Star Wars turned into Star Trek. The hype went from "Whoa! A lightsaber! Cool!" to "Whoa! A rare three-fingered Rodian! Cool!"
It wasn't hard to see it coming. For example, Boba Fett is essentially a costume, not a cult-hero. And the first time people started lining up dressed as Darth Maul, basically a gymnast in red facepaint - I mean, I felt like I could have kicked his ass in a fistfight - you got the idea that the fans were going to buy whatever Lucas had to sell.
Well, what he's selling now is a ticket into this vast backstory. You can be Boba Fett (or some carefully thought out and licensed virtual copy) and you can make him do whatever you want him to do.
Furthermore, and this is where it gets quite crafty, it's the clones part of Clones that makes all this possible. Although you can't be Chewbacca, you could be Chewberka. And if you "die," well then you could always whip up a Chewborka.
But do I really care about the saga of Chewborka? Not really. Not at all.
Many will though. There will be Chewborka web pages and trading cards. Chewborka and dozens of others like him will show up on eBay, and some idiot will eventually plunk down four or five figures for the right to be Chewborka.
This is where we leave gaming and get into fantasizing and escapism. Competition is replaced by simulation. There's no winning or losing, only interaction. And as escapism, it fails. The players are no longer readers, that is to say, receivers of the input, and they're not quite writers - they'll always be limited to the parameters of someone else's carefully crafted exposition.
As for the artistry involved in the entertainment, if you think the movie based on the video game was a bad idea (see: Super Mario Brothers or Final Fantasy, for example), then the concept of the movie and video game stemming from essentially the same source ought to give you the shivers.
So you'll have to forgive me when I skirt around a formal review of Episode III. I have a sneaky suspicion that the universe has become bigger than the story that spawned it, and, once Galaxies hits the culture, I'm not going to understand the significance of the three-fingered Rodian slipping the cloned Wookiee the ray-gun of Ascraq 5.
I'll probably end up just telling you about the terrific special effects.
Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
6.3.02 @ 11:58a
I haven't seen it yet, but I know I will. It's just one of those. But it'll be at the Uptown for months, so I'm still waiting for the crowds to die down.
6.3.02 @ 2:14p
I, on the other hand, have seen it twice. Not that I really thought it merited two viewings, but I'm glad I saw it again because I spent less time going "wow" (not often) and cringing in my seat (often). I'm actually surprised it's taken this long for them to come out with a Star Wars game of this kind. It seems to be an obvious move. I don't think it will have any effect on the way most of us watch the movies, though, even Episode III.
6.3.02 @ 2:27p
Well.. the Star Wars role-playing game has existed for years and years, and the people that I know who play it are really dedicated to it.
The move to an on-line format, one where thousands and perhaps millions of people can affect the outcome of the Star Wars universe alternately fascinates me and scares me.
How many brilliant young minds will we lose because they're too involved in being Chewborka than going to their college classes. I know a lot of people that failed out of college because they were MUDding too much. Something like this? Take a giggling fanboy and plug him into the computer where he can actually take his fan-dom "live?"
Fascinating, but like I said, scary as hell.
6.3.02 @ 4:54p
Wha-Wha-Wha-What?!!! Strat-O-Matic baseball, a sociopathically addictive game?! Before you continue spreading these malicious untruths, Joseph, I must let you know that I have been playing Strat-O-Matic baseball (or "Strat-O", as we aficionados tend to refer to this brilliant pastime) for over 15 years now and I take great offense to your characterization of it as "sociopathically addictive." In fact, I can honestly say that Strat-O kept me out of trouble and off the streets throughout my youth, and that if more kids were introduced to this fine game at a young age, we wouldn't lose so many of them to truly horrible "sociopathic addictions" such as illicit drug use and the WB.
Addictive? Puh-leeze. Spare me. I could stop playing Strat-O tomorrow - I just don't want to. Because I can handle it, dude. I'm in control of the game, not the other way around.
Sure, I've borrowed some cash out of my old lady's purse before, when I needed to score a twenty-sided die. But I always paid her back. And if I ever missed time at work in the days preceding a big draft, I always made it up after the waiver period ended. Are these signs of some kind of a sociopathic addiction? I think not.
6.3.02 @ 4:58p
RE: Strat-O-Matic (continuation):
In fact, this wonderful game has taught me a number of fine values and skills, e.g. the benefits of hard work and preparation; how to manage a project from conception to reality; and the satisfaction of assembling a group of employees that can succesfully accomplish their goals. One day, when you get the opportunity, I can show you the 187-page scouting report I completed prior to last year's draft of players from the 1975 season. It was very hard work and it consumed the greater portion of my waking hours for four months, but my team won the Stephen P. Hundley Memorial Strat-O League championship that year. I'm sure that when you see the report, and are done analyzing the scorecards for each of the 154 games my team played that season (plus playoffs), you'll understand that you were mistaken in comparing Stat-O-Matic to Dungeons and Dragons, video games like Galaxies, and other games of make-believe worlds and diluted fantasies that have no redeeming value. Please do a little more research before you refer to a perfectly fulfilling and harmless hobby as "sociopathically addictive."
SPHMSOM League Champions ('75)
6.3.02 @ 6:05p
I stand corrected. Please accept my sincerest and humblest apologies.
By the way, the entire staff thinks I'm making you up.
-Joe "Boba Fett" Procopio
The Dagobah System
6.3.02 @ 7:12p
I dunno. I lost interest after Jedi and haven't looked back. Episode 1 was lame, as we all agree. And I haven't even bothered to see AOTC yet.
I think Lucas' problem will be that the target age for his movies/toys/games are barely old enough to remeber Jedi. I think more people would play an online Harry Potter role playing game these days.
6.4.02 @ 9:17a
I think one of Lucas' problems is that he's so enchanted with digital effects that he uses them to the exclusion of character development, plot, and, oh yeah, acting in his films. Therefore a video game would be a much more appropriate venue for his work. Makes sense to me.
6.4.02 @ 9:29a
Oh yeah.. and in replacement of, even, directing. I was watching some making-of for Ep. I where it showed how he didn't like where Liam Neeson was standing in a shot, so he actually digitally moved Liam Neeson within the shot, as opposed to, you know, shooting it right in the first place.
6.4.02 @ 11:17a
Sounds like a case of fairly colossal stupidity to me. Or poor planning. Or something.
6.5.02 @ 11:02a
OH MY GOD! This is funny. Triumph outside the NYC Star Wars premiere.
6.5.02 @ 11:53a
That was beautiful.
6.7.02 @ 10:27a
Also funny, on this week's Onion.
And if the Absolut Spectrum ad comes up -- that's one of the coolest web ads I've seen.
6.8.02 @ 1:27a
I still haven't seen the film. I will, eventually. Now if Yoda could just advise me in the current real estate market in NJ, and perhaps suggest a nice nuteral career choice where I wouldn't feel like killing customers, er, stormtroopers, yeah, stormtroopers every time one walked into my office, I'd really appreciate it?