Speaking of Jonathan Last, his actual review of Star Wars: Episode III is now online at The Weekly Standard. Right at the start, Jonathan has a great observation:
It is now safe to declare the Star Wars prequels a failure. Whatever their merits as films, the three panels of George Lucas’s new triptych, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and The Revenge of the Sith have failed to add permanently to the Star Wars mythology. Try to name one character or image or line of dialogue from these prequels that will, 30 years from now, have the cultural resonance that Darth Vader, the Death Star, the Millennium Falcon, the Mos Eisley creature cantina, “Use the Force,” or “Luke, I am your father” have today.
The only iconic figure to emerge from the prequels is Darth Maul, the horned, red-faced Sith who had barely any dialogue and was dead by the end of Phantom Menace. But at least we’ll remember him. Next to Darth Maul, the image most likely to endure from the prequels is Jar-Jar Binks, who is regarded as a campy mistake, like the ewoks from Return of the Jedi. The rest of these three movies–some seven hours of story-telling–has turned out to be merely disposable cinematic product, like Tomb Raider or Planet of the Apes.
You can judge the size of the prequels’ cultural footprint by studying the merchandising. For instance, when Cingular began hawking its Star Wars tie-ins recently, they used characters from the original Star Wars movies–Chewbacca, Vader, Storm Troopers–not characters from Revenge of the Sith. The Star Wars toy industry has likewise become a shell of its former self: Where toy stores had permanent aisles devoted to an ever-growing collection of Star Wars vehicles, action figures, and paraphernalia from the late 1970s throughout the 1980s, toys tied to the prequels are now seasonal items–they blossom every three years when a movie comes out, and then quickly recede.
I noticed a variation on the same phenomenon in the audience last night:
The audience in the theater I saw it in, in a San Jose suburb, was filled with at least two geeks in full Darth Vader regalia, a pony-tailed fellow in his mid-30s wearing Obi-Wan’s khaki and brown robes, and someone in an orange X-Wing pilot’s uniform, and helmet. In addition, several who weren’t otherwise in costume brought their own plastic D-cell powered light sabers.
These were the hardest of the hardcore Star Wars geeks, and nobody was dressed like a character from the prequels. As Jonathan noted–other than Darth Maul, with his demonic black and red grease paint, who would be iconic enough for the fanboys to bother getting dressed up as?
Update: Glenn Reynolds also buries the film.