Memo to Disney and George Lucas: Kill Jar-Jar (and the Midi-Chlorians)

JarJarUnless you live under a space rock, you’ve probably heard that next year, Disney and director JJ Abrams will re-boot the Star Wars saga, first unleashed upon the real world back in the 1970s by George Lucas.  If you don’t care about any of that, then I have no idea why you are still reading this.  Stop now.  Go  away.  Go back to your much more productive and fulfilling life.

But if you do kind of care a little bit, or if you’re like me and you spent a few years in your childhood scanning the stars, waiting for the Millenium Falcon to land in the football field next to your house and sweep you away to a galaxy far, far away, then I need your help.

I need you to re-post this plea to Disney and George Lucas and anyone else who will listen.  Make it go viral.  Make them listen.  Our message is simple:  It’s time to kill Jar-Jar.  And please God, it’s time to erase all memory of Midi-Chlorians.

A long time ago, in a galaxy…

Let me explain.  The Star Wars universe is a beloved example of what psychologists call a “paracosm.”  It’s an imaginary world, a complex make-believe milieu that exists with its own internal logic, its own rules and natural order.

Yes, there are characters — Luke, Han, C-3PO and on and on — but a huge part of the charm and the fascination is that the setting itself feels sort of weirdly real to lots of people.  It takes on a life of its own, a shared existence, sort of like Narnia or Middle Earth or Oz.

Even when the original Star Wars movies weren’t so fabulously great, you still felt like you were sort of — going there.  Those star destroyers were on there way from someplace, going to someplace.  You didn’t know where the hell the “Kessel Run” went, but you wanted to find out.

But after releasing the original trilogy of films, George Lucas began tampering with his paracosm in ways that freaked everybody out, and rightly so.  He re-crafted the films, adding bits, changing key sequences, larding on new digital special effects.  The “there” of his imagined universe, its texture and tone, became more and more muddled.

Then he produced a series of prequel films that attempted to recast explain much of how his imaginary universe worked.  He wanted us to believe that Darth Vader, one of the most evil villains in film history — a guy who murdered children and helped blow up whole planets –was really just sort of a whiny college kid gone wrong.

Then Lucas kept adding more and more weirdly absurd and unfunny characters, including a vaguely racist Rastafarian-themed alien named Jar Jar Binks.

He even ginned up a long, bizarre theological ramble in which the mysterious Force that empowered his Jedi knights turned out to be tiny “Midi-Chlorians,” sort of like sentient, ESP-powered bacteria.  It turns out Lucas’ paracosm was being powered by a parasite.

But it’s not to late…

star warsWhich brings us to the present moment.  Since taking over the Star Wars franchise, Disney has made it clear that many of the things that fans thought they knew about the Star Wars universe might not be true after all.   This is, after all, meant to be a re-boot.  It’s a chance to freshen the narrative, bring Lucas’s world back to life.

Among fans, this has produced a weird mix of anticipation and anxiety, but I say it offers a huge opportunity.  Here’s why. In the lead-up to next year’s release of the brand new Star Wars film, the old movies are being released 3-D, beginning with “The Phantom Menace,” arguably the worst film of the franchise.

Before Phantom Menace hits theaters, Disney and Lucas should collaborate on a radical fix, going through and eliminating or minimizing parts that just sort of suck.  The whole Midi-Chlorian speech?  That can go altogether without hurting anything.  About two-thirds of Jar-Jar, including the scene where he steps in poo.  That should get the snip.

They should also axe the most embarrassing, wooden, dead-fish-eye “love” scenes between Anakin and Padme and slash the long minutes of blather about trade talks and embargoes and anything involving legislative maneuvering and filibusters.

Finally, many of the racist voice parts — the Jewish slave-owner, the evil slant-eyed Trade Federation dudes with creepy “Asian” accents, the Jamaican jive of the Gungins — should be re-recorded and dubbed over.  Gungans could be passably cool if they weren’t burdened by the blackface patois.

If you don’t think that simply by dubbing in better voice acting you could vastly improve the “prequel” films, check out this hilarious video.  It shows what the “real” Darth Vader sounded like.  This is the voice of the actual actor playing the big baddy, before James Earl Jones stepped in and made the character work.

See what I’m saying?  Do the same thing with the Gungans, make them sound more like people we care about and less like blubbering Smurfs, and you might have yourself a movie.  My point is that if you can make horrible changes to the Star Wars, like swapping the ghost of Anakin for the ghost of Vader in “Return of the Jedi,” or making Greedo shoot first in “A new Hope,” you can use the same creative license to clean up your terrible, terrible blunders.

So here’s my fan-boy list of demands.  Lop about 15 minutes apiece out of “Phantom Menace,” “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith” and tweak the voice tracks and you’ll launch your series reboot with far better, leaner, more entertaining films.  Not perfect, but no longer cringe-inducing baroque messes.

You could also snip out about half of the Ewok scenes. And yeah, please, we beg you, make it so Han shoots first.   Don’t you get it?  f Han shoots first, he’s bad-ass.  If he shoots second, then he’s a sap who got lucky and Greedo goes from being a cold-eyed-killer bounty hunter to a joke who can’t shoot straight at point-blank range.

It’s worth pointing out — as a sop to Lucas’ sensitivities, if nothing else — that this kind of latter-day tweaking and fine-tuning is nothing new for imaginary worlds.  JRR Tolkien had to go back and clean up tons of little messes and inconsistencies and wobbly bits in “The Hobbit” and his “Lord of the Rings” novels.  CS Lewis wrote each of his Narnia books with no idea that there would be sequels and prequels and, eventually, a fully-imagined world of Narnia.  He spent years sorting out how all the parts of his paracosm fit together.

As the Star Wars universe comes to life again, it’s time to demand once and for all that some parts of it — not a lot, but some the worst, most cringe-inducing bits — belong on the cutting room floor.  And finally, as a sop to my own sensitivities, I’ll point out that if you think this is much ado about nothing, here’s the opening segment of Stephen Colbert’s show this week, where he unpacked the design of the latest iteration of the Star Wars light saber.

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9 Comments on “Memo to Disney and George Lucas: Kill Jar-Jar (and the Midi-Chlorians)”

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  1. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    The first Star Wars movie (by release date) was genius. It was fun and had the feel of mystical allegory. Lucas was in a sense working as a disciple of Akira Kurosawa. After the third release (and setting the second aside) Lucas had obviously gone to the dark side, seduced by the Force of adulation and money, and also probably caught up in the new high technology of Industrial Light and Magic.

    Like so many great partnerships in music (like Lennon and McCartney) Lucas alone was not as good as when he tried to be in a sense a partner with Kurosawa.

    And now Disney – the Dark Empire of Blandness – has dug its parasitic self into the franchise.

    But there is a hope. JJ Abrams may have the ability to save Star Wars, if and only if Abrams can moderate his tendency for excess and find his way back to the lessons of the true Master: Kurosawa.

  2. Brian Mann says:

    KHL –

    I actually agree with you on the Kurosawa linkage. And there’s one other pattern here that’s kind of interesting.

    Two other great imaginary world creators, JRR Tolkien and JK Rowling essentially began writing children’s stories and “grew up” with their fiction.

    “The Hobbit” is a kid’s book. “LOTR” was originally conceived as the same, but eventually became something much closer to an adult myth cycle.

    “Harry Potter” in a very deliberate way went from childhood to adulthood, deepening its themes, growing darker and more complex.

    Lucas went in exactly the opposite direction. Star Wars “A New Hope” was a merging of Kurosawa and Jungian myth and space opera — and was really incredibly dark.

    Han Solo really is kind of a murderous badass. The Empire blows up a whole planet just kind of because it can and because it will scare the #*#* out of people. Darth Vader is a monster.

    But movie by movie after that, and especially with the prequels, George Lucas became more and more convinced that he was telling a children’s story, with poopy jokes and cute little stuffed animals and sight gags.

    He even found a way to build one of the movies around a child actor.

    It is — in pop culture at least — one of the most unfortunate creative decisions we’ve ever seen an artist make.

    –Brian, NCPR

  3. Elaine says:

    I haven’t even seen all these films but muscled my way past your warning and read this, just to see what the fuss is all about.

    Ohdear. Here I was, thinking that I had identified the worst of the wrong stuff in this world and pretty much where the worst wrongness was happening. But, somehow, I missed all this. Now wondering what other abominations may be lurking out there.

  4. Walker says:

    Elaine, I’m guessing you don’t watch a lot of TV, or surf the web much.

  5. Hank says:

    I agree with knuckleheadedliberal when he says: “The first Star Wars movie (by release date) was genius. It was fun and had the feel of mystical allegory.”

    But I actually think that the second movie – – The Empire Strikes Back – is the best of the entire series but then, living up here in Canada, I’m partial to movies set at least in part in wintry conditions!

  6. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    It’s been a long time since I’ve seen all these movies and I have yet to see all of the Harry Potter movies ( not sure Ive seen any but the first all the way through, and I haven’t read any of the books) so now I feel like I have to do a marathon of all of these. Maybe re-read the Tolkien books too. If I get some elective surgery I might have the time.

    Interstellar was pretty good but I don’t really like it when studios throw so many big “stars” into a movie. I find it really distracting. Often unknown actors would probably do a better job too. Loved Guardians of the Galaxy, but it was pretty fluffy. Though Brian Mann could be the kid looking to the stars hoping a spaceship would land and take him away. I wonder if he would send an audio postcard for the 8 O’clock Hour from Alpha Centaury?

    Hardly any movies have the heart and soul Kurosawa brings.

    Maybe directors need to suffer oppression in order to project humanity. There are some very good movies coming out of Iran these days.

  7. Brian Mann says:

    Hank – Hoth is just a bit like southern Ontario in February… :)

    Brian, NCPR

  8. dave says:

    The real offense, in my book, is not just that he went back and tweaked and fine tuned some loose ends – or even that he decided to fundamentally change what we knew about the nature of the characters, like he did with Solo (although that was a pretty big offense). To me, the ultimate offense is that he has done everything in his power since then to bury the very existence of those original, unaltered movies.

    Right now, if you wanted to see the original Star Wars, as it was originally released, as we saw it, and as we remember it… it is almost impossible. It isn’t being sold. You can’t stream it. You would have to be lucky enough to get your hands on the very old original VHS tapes of it, or the even rarer original Laserdisc. And then of course you would also need to have a VCR or a Laserdisc player.

    Reality is, in the not so distant future, those original movies will exist only in our memories. And man, it raises my blood pressure just to type that!

    For those who are not Star Wars geeks, this must seem like a silly thing to get upset over. But think of it this way… Remember several years back when it was in fashion to “colorize” old black and white films to show them on TV? They looked pretty terrible, but it was a novelty and occasionally fun to watch. Well, can you imagine if when they colorized Casablanca or Citizen Kane they then went ahead and destroyed the originals so you could never watch them in black and white ever again? That would be terrible, wouldn’t it? Now, can you imagine if along with colorizing Casablanca, at the end they added in some special effects that altered the scene so that Rick doesn’t actually shoot Strasser?

    That is what Lucas did to Star Wars.

    So I am personally ecstatic that the story and the franchise are out of his hands now. I’m not sure what Disney and JJ will do, my expectations are tempered. I doubt it will go back to the dark, dangerous, western-esque universe it originally was – I suspect it will be a little too flashy, a bit Star Trek-ified – but I’ll take whatever they come up with because nothing can be as bad as those prequels.

  9. Mitch Edelstein says:

    Brian, Thanks for bringing up this topic. I am so very with you & Hank, Dave & KHL. Jar Jar is such a mistake. I know there are Jar Jar edited out versions of Star wars and they get great reviews.
    Have you all seen this version of New Hope: The effort to make this is amazing! This proves how much this film is loved.

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