This month, I give thanks to George Lucas and Peter Jackson. The creators of the greatest sci-fi and fantasy movie franchises of all time.
Disclaimer: The following post, and series of posts, contain very geeky material. There will be many references that pertain to the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings movie franchises. If you do not know these movies very well, you will probably be bored. Many of you who do know these movies very well will probably be bored. Should you choose to continue reading, you may find that your opinion of the writer greatly diminishes and you may experience an inexplicable urge to run and do something very ungeeky. Whatever that may be. You have been politely warned.
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It is finished. This undertaking proved more challenging than I ever could have imagined. What was intended to be a friendly debate between two Brads, spiraled out of control and nearly swallowed my brain. It starts off sanely enough. Simply me attempting to rationally debate why I believe Lord of the Rings is better than Star Wars. But as I continued to immerse myself fully into this epic fantasy/sci-fi debate, you can sense, while reading, that I was being succumbed by it as the two worlds merged and I found myself trapped within. And as it became apparent that Brad Denny was not going to be able to participate in this Battle of the Brads, I allowed this immersion to become unhealthy, finding myself jumping so frequently between Middle Earth and a galaxy, far, far away that they actually did become one. At one point my wife found me delirious, in a cold sweat with my eyes rolling back muttering \”Ben, Ben.. Dagobah System, Dagobah.. Yoda..\”. I’m lucky I made it back.
I’m going to post this in a series of posts. Again, it begins fairly normally, but with successive posts, it will become obvious that I got way too into this. Even though Brad Denny is not going to post an argument, I’m going to post this as I wrote it originally, including references to Brad and our battle. Brad is welcome to comment on the argument as he wishes, but he’s working three jobs now, so I anticipate that he will not. I suppose I should feel some shame in knowing that he works three jobs while I write this meaningless blog when my family goes to bed. But I don’t. This was fun! And so, in honor of the excellent news that the Star Wars movies are going to be re-released in theaters in 3D, and the even more excellent news that The Hobbit has been green lit.. I give you Star Wars vs Lord of the Rings!
Battle of the Brads
The Great Debate: Star Wars vs Lord of the Rings
First, I would like to thank Brad Denny for bringing his celebrity to my humble little blog. It is an honor to debate such an acclaimed Arizonan. Also, I would like to thank Brad in advance for his humble concession of my victory when this is over.
Ladies and gentlemen of the bloggery, I would like to first say that there are no losers in this. We are fortunate to live in a world in which brilliant masterpieces called Star Wars and Lord of the Rings coexist. I imagine that in many parallel universes, only one, or even neither of these stories exists. I shudder at the thought. But here we are.. blessedly dazzled by two stories brought to life in a way that has inspired religious-like devotion by we geeks who sucked in this sweet nectar syrup candy of the imagination. However, after multiple viewings of these wondrous trilogies, and after our euphoric fantasy/sci-fi high settled, a question inevitably started creeping into our minds… which one do we love more?
When this question first entered my mind I was shocked. I, like millions of others, grew up idolizing Star Wars. I have spent countless hours watching the movies, playing with the toys, pretending to be various characters, reading related books…. There had never been a doubt in my mind that Star Wars was the most awesome and influential movie story that I had ever seen.. until some time in the mid 2000’s when the Lord of the Rings (LotR) series had concluded and my wife and I rewatched the entire trilogy on dvd. Afterward, as my mind lay wasted in awe, the internal conflict began:
Forefront of Brain: “Wow. That was a truly incredible experience. My mind is awash with sights and sounds that have induced a perpetually goofy grin that I can’t seem to shake off.”
Corner of Brain: “Your weapons- you will not need them.”
FoB: “What? Who are you?!”
CoB: “I am your insecure youth. A place where all your fondest movie memories are meant to lie. The cave.. you will not need your weapons.”
FoB: “My insecure what?! What cave?! What weapons?!”
Suddenly, a mist overcame me and I found myself in a dense, swampy region staring at a cave. On a rock near the entrance was a sword. Ignoring every survival instinct I have, I grabbed the sword and entered the cave. Brushing aside the moist foliage, I came to a
clearing. There stood the Dark One himself, Darth Vader! Suddenly, things started to move in slow motion. Pulling up my weapon, I realized that I wielded the legendary sword Anduril, reforged for Aragorn from the shards of Ilsildur’s legendary Narsil, famed for de-ringing the maleficent Sauron. Darth approached menacingly, wielding his blood red blade of light. Enchanted steel met concentrated heat and sparks flew. The Sith Lord’s robotic inspiration accelerated with the exertion of meeting my skilled parries. After several slow-motion seconds of Jedi reflexes, Vader slipped and provided an opening. My blade struck true. Darth’s severed head flew to the ground and rolled several feet. It burst open. Dumbfounded, I stared in disbelief at my own face within the tattered mask. The face within shed a tear. It then screamed, “I am your insecure youth! A place where all your fondest movie memories are meant to lie! Why did you bring your weapons!? You have destroyed me!!”….
And so it happened. I (begrudgingly) concluded that Star Wars was inferior. I disappointed my youth. I gleefully greeted Gandolf and my Hobbit friends, and then I sailed off into blissful oblivion. The little Aragorn on my shoulder pumped his gauntleted fist in victory while the little Luke Skywalker on my other shoulder looked up into the sky, as if at the two suns of Tatooine, and then dropped his head in dejected defeat.
…. I realize I have made no points yet to argue this conclusion I came to, but I thought it was important to testify the difficulty with which I came to this realization. It was with extremely serious and trepidatious caution that I allowed this flower to blossom. A love of youth is very hard to kill. But now I will compare, contrast, and strip down these two delightful franchises to show all of you judgers why LotR is the greatest geek pie of them all.
Story: Let’s face it, these stories bear a lot in common… A relatively small motley crew of heroes band together and overcome preposterous odds to thwart a powerful evil that threatens the galaxy/world. Along the way, the heroes experience jubilant highs, heartbreaking lows, disheartening betrayals, acts of redemption, tragedy, romance, comedy… they have it all. There are two things, however, that make LotR’s story better. One is in the way the journey unfolds. If you go back and watch LotR, this really hits you when you first see the conclusion of the tense council to decide the ring bearer and volunteered fellowship. This small band of men, dwarf, elf, and hobbits knew that they were undertaking a daunting task, but the repeat viewer knows exactly how daunting. As you watch through one movie to the next, it actually feels like a perilous journey that crescendos into a seemingly disastrous end. Star Wars has this also, but from the very beginning of LotR it was clear what the quest was and where it was to conclude. Destroy the ring at Mount Doom. The idea of a finite story is the other thing that I feel makes this series better. With the exception of Bilbo’s story in The Hobbit (please let Peter Jackson decide to create the movie), this story actually concluded. Tolkien did a service in this.
The Star Wars franchise has a ridiculous number of branching stories that have extended out in books, video games, animated series, and just about any other medium available to consume. Lucas continues to pimp his story out for everything it’s worth, and it really dilutes the essence and charm of the original cinematic creation. Not to mention that the later-released episodes 1-3 were really more showcases for CGI effects than they were character development or story telling. As with every category I will debate, I love them both… but I love LotR better.
Production: When Star Wars came out, there was nothing like it. Lucas famously created the Industrial Light and Magic special effects company that he applied in bringing his movies to life. The brilliant mixture of models, puppets, and rendered backgrounds in Star Wars were awe-inspiring. The ground-breaking nature of the effects gives Star Wars an advantage here. However, I feel that the series lost its soul a little bit when it produced episodes 1-3 with all CGI. It clearly felt less organic. It was practically a cartoon, at times. I would take puppet Yoda over computer Yoda any day. There were scenes in the newer episodes where I got a headache trying to watch it because there was so much going on. The stupid conveyor belt scene from Attack of the Clones comes to mind. It looked like a video game. This said, nothing can take away the awesomeness of the original three Star Wars films.
Lord of the Rings has incredible production. If you have seen the behind the scenes footage on the dvds where they detail the production, you know how much care went into it. The artificial coloring and sound effects stand out in my mind. What makes LotR better overall, though, is the acting. While special effects are no doubt important in epic sci-fi and fantasy movies, the acting is often… unconvincing. The acting in Star Wars is decent, for the most part. The acting in LotR is brilliant. This is an incredibly important point in this debate, as I think it is one thing that really tips the scale. If LotR had been cast with a bunch of hack actors, it would have suffered greatly. I have seen way too many fantasy shows and movies that were ruined by terrible acting. LotR brought true respectability to the genre by casting a distinguished group of actors and actresses, bringing believability to an unbelievable world and an unbelievable setting. This respectability is evidenced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarding Return of the King with 11 Oscars, including best picture. Across the board, every single character is portrayed superbly. I am grateful that Mr. Tolkien’s story was brought to the screen with such passionate care.
Metaphysical powers: Each series features an unseen power that can be wielded by certain people. In Star Wars this is called the Force. Obi-Wan provided our first insight into the nature of the Force: “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” There is no debating the awesomeness of the Force. Even if Han Solo dismisses it as “simple tricks and nonsense.” However, I would argue that the magic within Tolkien’s
creation is cooler. While it is implied by Kenobi that the Force is a power that is innate within all creatures, the movies do not leave you with that impression. While Gandolf and Saruman clearly had to toil in their craft for many years to trade their drab grey robes in for sterling whites, Luke merely had to go away to summer camp, find a green, backwards-talking puppet camp councilor, and mentally lift some rocks while standing on his hands to become a Jedi. Yeah, yeah, I know he wasn’t technically a Jedi after that… but he was. There’s a better message in LotR: If you study and work really hard for a long time, you can achieve great things. This is a message that a child can work with. Star Wars’ message is: If you luck out genetically, you can achieve great things. This is a message that discourages a child when he reaches out for something, concentrates, and it doesn’t fly into his hand. Kids, go to your local library, sneak into the basement by candle light, blow the dust off of some centuries-old tomes, use the elf
translator app on your smart phone, and by the time you’re a very old man you will be manipulating the natural world with your powers…. sigh.. or just hope that you have great genes.
**The next few categories are out of order from where I originally planned to discuss them. But my ‘Memorable Moments’ and ‘Characters’ categories were so fun, I’m saving them for last**
Random Gripes Against Star Wars: There are a few things that bug me about Star Wars. They are petty things, but I am arguing that LoTR is better, so I will exploit every advantage I can.
The Lightsaber: Awesome weapon, no doubt, but the movies are inconsistent in its effects. We first see it used as a weapon in Mos Eisley when Obi-Wan bails Luke out of trouble. Kenobi disarms the irritable bar patron and we see the dismembered arm on the floor, bloody… When Luke cuts off the Wompa’s arm on Hoth, there was no blood.. When Darth Vader later cuts off Luke’s hand in their first duel, there is no blood. The laser blade cauterized the wound… When Han uses Luke’s lightsaber to open the Tauntaun to insulate Luke, we see intestines spill out of the beast… When Qui-Gon gets pierced by Darth Maul: cauterized wound. When young Kenobi avenges Qui-Gon’s death by halving the Sith: bloodless halves fall away… All I’m saying is that the lightsaber is not a sophisticated thing that can choose when it should and should not cauterize when it cuts flesh. It’s a weapon of hot, concentrated light energy. Keep it consistent.
The Rematch: Another beef I have is with the Darth Vader vs Obi-Wan Kenobi duel in the Death Star (episode IV). The two hinted through dialogue that they knew each other well, and had drawn light against one another before. The two battle and it is fine. But then episode III revealed their initial duel. A duel so epic and out of control, that I wasn’t sure it was ever going to end. A duel that ended with Kenobi essentially putting the cheese on the Vader Burger. It lead to the creation of Vader as we came to know him. Dark. Helmeted. Breathy… It was a great duel. But now go back and watch the rematch. A Jedi and a Sith Lord. Masters of The Force. Kenobi, representing one of the last of the Jedi. Vader, facing the man that he perceived to take his woman, who took his leg.. who finalized his descent into darkness. This was a rematch that had been brewing for years. Now watch it. They hardly move. They look stiff and arthritic. It is a duel that does insufficient justice to the great history the two share. Perhaps it isn’t fair to knock Lucas for something that he could not have predicted, but hey.. he’s the one that decided to do his story all out of order.
The Incest: It occurred to me after already posting this that I forgot to discuss a very large issue. This is a post-post addendum… that people will never read, since everyone who has actually read it are very unlikely to read it again. Still, I feel compelled to add this important gripe.
Now, I understand that the 70’s and early 80’s were supposedly pretty wild. I was just a kid, so I only know what I’ve heard through retro shows and my parents’ stories. There is one thing, however, that I’ve never heard in a story that was considered a wild, yet acceptable practice during that era. And that is making out with your family members. When we saw Leia lay the long smooch on Luke, it was humorous because she did it to tick off Han who was standing right there watching. But when it was revealed in the next movie that Luke and Leia were brother and sister, it was the first thing most of us thought of.. “Eeew!” I’m pretty sure that’s what Han was thinking too, at first. There are a couple
of things that really make this disturbing… well, other than the whole siblings-making-out thing. One is that Lucas clearly knew about this when he wrote the kissing scene. It occurred in episode V, which ends with a clear sequel in mind. If this had been the first movie, with uncertainty regarding its success and funding for sequels, the scene would have been fine. Nobody would ever have found out that they were sibs. But Lucas wrote Empire Strikes Back knowing that he would reveal their relationship in the next movie. Yoda says in the same movie they made out in, “There is another [Skywalker]…” So Lucas was totally cool with this. Gross. The other really disturbing thing is when Luke and Leia are having their conversation in Return of the Jedi, revealing their ties, Leia says, “I know. Somehow, I’ve always known.”……. umm, WHAT?!?! Did you know when you were mouth wrestling with him a movie ago?! I don’t think Luke knew, the way he laid back all cool after you made out, clearly pleased with your lingual performance. What is wrong with you, woman?! Lucas, what were you thinking, man?!
The last gripe I will discuss concerns a character. His name is Lando Calrissian…
Brad Denny loves Lando Calrissian. During one of our text debates, we had a whole argument on just Lando. And so I must include it here. Brad finds Lando to be very cool and heroic. I do not. Now, granted, when you put a lone, smooth-talking black dude next to a bunch of feather-haired white dudes, he will come off as very cool. This is a given. But look beyond his relative smoothness and you will see a selfish and reckless man who almost destroyed the Rebel Alliance.
We first meet Lando in Cloud City. Han admitted to Leia that he couldn’t trust him, but felt that they would at least be safe from the Empire there. Oops. But let’s back up. Even when they first meet, we get a sense that this a guy not to be trusted. First of all, Lando pulls the ol’ pretend-to-be-mad-at-you game on Han. “Why you slimy, double-crossing, no-good swindler. You got a lot of guts coming here after what you pulled.” And then they embrace with Lando having a hearty laugh. Haha. You know who also pulled that trick? Joe Pesci in Good Fellas. We all know how stable he turned out to be. As if that hilarious greeting wasn’t enough for the nervous guests, Lando goes on to disrespect Han when he
greets Leia. “Why hello, what have we here?”- all smooth-like. Kissing her hand and talking about her appropriateness of being in a city in the clouds. Sheesh. Chill out, Pimpo. For all Lando knew, she was Han’s wife, or at least long time lady love. The dude already put on a crazy fake smile for the people he already knew he betrayed to Vader, and then has the gall to practically dry hump his old buddy’s girl when they show up. No class.
Now, Lucas tries to redeem Lando several times during the series. After his betrayal, Lando helps lead the liberation and escape of the remaining, un-carbon-frozen Rebels. Whoopee.
Let’s move on to Lando’s next gaffe and attempted redemption. In Return of the Jedi, we discover that Lando is part of the plan to free Han. Now, I’m not sure why they would let this ego monster in on this crucial rescue, but they did. What did Lando do?.. He tried very hard to let everyone know he was there. We see some dude in a dark corner with a mask. He very conspicuously pulls down the mask very far so everyone can see that hero Lando
is on the scene. Smooth. Check your ego, man! You’re gonna blow the whole operation!! Of course, Lucas bails him out by having him be helpful on the sail barge to the Sarlacc Pit.
Later in episode VI, Lando gets to fly his old ship, the Millennium Falcon on the final assault against the Death Star, and the Empire. Again, his actions could have proven catastrophic for the Rebellion. Led by Admiral Ackbar, Lando pilots the Falcon into battle. Somewhat clumsily, I might add. Yes, he was rusty flying the old bird, but step it up, man! You knew you were gonna fly the thing in the biggest assault in history. Maybe some practice would have been a good idea?.. Anyway, his poor piloting was not the big issue. His insubordination was. When Ackbar discovers that the Death Star is fully operational, and it starts blowing the shit out of Rebel battleships, he gives the command to pull back… So what does Lando do? Macho Lando
argues with the Admiral. Meanwhile the Emperor laughs and orders Rebel ship after Rebel ship to be obliterated. Thousands of lives lost, for Lando’s arrogance. Now… I know what some of you are thinking. Lando holding out for Han to lower the shield is what ultimately allowed the Rebels to destroy the Death Star. True. But for all Lando knew, Han was a well done pitted Ewok roast. He could have cost the complete destruction of the Rebels. Shame on Lando. The most rebellious of the Rebels. He is no hero in my book. And shame on Lucas for glorifying arrogant insubordination. At some point, repeated redemption just becomes enabling.. even if it is just in a story.
The only parallel I can sort of draw in LotR is Boromir. Boromir suffered a moment of weakness and attempted to take the Ring from Frodo. Later Boromir was redeemed by valiantly battling off multiple Uruk-hai, allowing the Hobbits to escape, costing him his life. There are two huge differences, however. One, Boromir was corrupted by the evil of the Ring. He selflessly considered the well-being of Gondor in attempting to take the Ring, wishing to turn its power against Mordor. Foolish, but with good intent. Second, Boromir’s redemption concluded with his death. Lando goofed multiple times and kept getting bailed out. And he lived. True redemption should include some suffering. Lando got a huge deal peddling Colt 45. The only people who suffered from that were the consumers.
Humorous Happenstance: While I was running on the treadmill one day at the gym, they had Return of the King up on one of the monitors playing. In order to listen to it, you need to have earphones plugged in and tuned to some frequency. I don’t have earphones, so I just listen to the music that they blare through the speakers while I run. During the part of the film where Gandalf is sleeping and Pippin sneaks the crystal ball away to look at it, the song Pinball Wizard by The Who was playing. I was running there on my stupid treadmill cracking up as I watched Gandalf and friends struggling to rip this crystal ball from Pippin and it fell to the floor and started rolling around and they’re chasing it while Daltrey was singing “He’s a Pinball Wizard…”. The people around me must have wondered what I was cracking up about. This personal experience only adds to why I love LotR more.
..I think I’ll stop there for this first post. Again, I kept it together okay for this part. It starts to unhinge a little in the next post when I discuss each movie’s memorable moments. And then after that… oh boy. Stay tuned…