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Sci-fi rant: When did Star Wars jump the shark?

Last week, we determined when Star Trek passed the point of no return as a respectable science fiction franchise. This week, we move on to that other mega-universe that dominates mainstream sci-fi: When did Star Wars jump the shark?

Last week, we determined when Star Trek passed the point of no return as a respectable science fiction franchise. This week, we move on to that other mega-universe that dominates mainstream sci-fi:

swtpm.jpgQ: When did Star Wars jump the shark? A: Star Wars: The Phantom Menace--Midi-Chlorians

The first time I saw Star Wars, I wanted to be a Jedi (I was six, and hadn't yet tuned into the princess-impressing coolness that was Han Solo.) Sure, I wasn't a Skywalker and The Force wasn't naturally strong with me, but a short hyperspace jaunt to Alderaan and some personal time with a Jedi master and I could take my first steps into a larger world. There was some work involved -- just like training for any martial art of superhero skill -- but with enough effort, and a pure heroic heart, I could become a techno-mystical knight protecting order and justice in a galaxy far, far away. It was a question of character, just like any great fairy tale always is.

Click to view original comic.And then Phantom Menace came along and, with all due disrespect to Jar Jar Binks, gave us the single worst Star Wars moment in a rapidly expanding history of awful Star Wars moments: Midi-chlorians.

Jedi, you see, aren't made, they're born. They're of the blood, nobility, maybe even a master race. If your midi-chlorian count isn't high enough, don't even bother to apply. Anakin Skywalker was basically the equivalent of a can't-miss basketball prospect from the mean streets of Tatooine who got a Jedi Academy scholarship despite being a punk. Yeah, that's going to resonate with all the athletically addled dorks who used to idolize the franchise.

Yoda wasn't awesome because he was a zen-master adept who spent centuries honing his communion with The Force, but because his little frog-pig body was jam-packed with psionic parasites. That single slap in the face to Star Wars fans was the first of many attempts by Lucas to expand and explain the mechanics of his franchise, and in the process he knocked out the foundations of what was once the coolest character concept in all of sci-fi. Thanks, George.

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Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

68 comments
myangeldust
myangeldust

Had Lucas made episodes 1 to 3 first it would've been dogma to the fanboys. All those stop motion robots (or dudes dressed as them). Then a decade or so later we'd be re-introduced to the unimpressive Darth Vader running the daily ops of an empire. Those fanboys would debate Vader being no Darth Maul. And Boba being a sorry replacement for Jango. They would've trashed those weak stormtrooper suits. And lampooned the use of the biggest MacGuffin known to Hollywood: the Death Star. The Gen-Y actors playing Luke and Leia criticized for their inexperience whilst the Gen-X actor playing Han would've trashed his own role so he can find "real" work on "serious" movies. All those CGI tauntauns and AT-ATs would've been labeled overkill and unrealistic. And that gawd-awful dialogue in the final movie. That final movie with the furry creatures with sharp fans and razor spines eviscerating imperial troopers on their "moon", more like dwarf planet, am I right? Yeah. There's something about folks who obsess over other people's work that tells me they will never be happy unless they get to dictate to its creator how it should be done.

myangeldust
myangeldust

Lucas gave us an explanation of the Force. And I thank him for that. Before that explanation it was some ability that only god could give someone of some special bloodline. Basically, you had to be part of some royal family (or master race, as Garmon calls it). It's an aristrocratic view of it. Midichlorians makes Star Wars less religious. Of course, I am not the typical fan. The so-called fanboys see the three original movies as scripture that can be interpreted by them but not amended or explored further by the guy who created it. The ONLY fault with the script is often weak dialogue. However, the plot at the saga's core is solid. PS: This will be seen as heresy but I'm going to say it anyways: it's George Lucas' Star Wars. Ewoks and Gungans are always welcomed. If you think you can do better go ahead but remember you'll always be imitating George Lucas.

matthew.persico
matthew.persico

Star Wars jumped when we ended up with a half finished Death Star and Ewoks.

a.southern
a.southern

For TRUE star wars efficianardos the TRUE sell out point was the Christmas after the release of the first film (SW:A New Hope). At that point George Lucas decided to add depth to Chewbacca by introducing his son and family in "Star Wars Holiday Special" - A TV stunt far to blatently rubbish to even get shown on UK TV. Even ITV. (probably too bad to even be shown on ITV4 now!). That was BAD. He redeemed himself with "Empire Strikes Back", but then jumped another Shark at Endor. Ewoks? Are you hitting me? The whole franchise had gone downhill from there, and now we have sad-os putting down "Jedi" as their religion on census forms, on the grounds they want to be a Jedi Knight. I'm not even sure the Jedis follow a religion called Jedi........ ....but if you put that as your religion on the census forms I'll happily strike you to see if you become far more powerful than I could possibly imagine. -AS

RAnthony
RAnthony

The moment when Star Wars jumped the shark was the moment when George Lucas was convinced he could script a motion picture. That also happens to be the same film in which the Midi-chlorians are introduced, but the parody wasn't in the introduction of the plot device, it was in the brain of director who could in fact only parody what he had shot on film before. This becomes quite obvious in Attack of the Clones. Several of the lines are word for word repeats of lines in previous films. I'm sure it was done as a tribute to the previous film, but the line between tribute and parody is very fine indeed, especially if the previous work is your own (think of M. Night Shyamalan casting himself as a major character in Lady in the Water; which, if it was SciFi, would count as one of the Most Awful) paying tribute to yourself isn't something one should do in public. -RAnthony http://ranthonysteele.blogspot.com/

Tig2
Tig2

Return of the Jedi killed the whole thing for me. Luke had spent two full episodes building a credible rep as the perpetually horny (but not likely to get any) WATB with a Leia fixation. Given the actor (who is someone I used to know back in the day) I completely bought the character. But from the first frame of Jedi, he had completely re-invented himself and not in any way that I found even remotely plausible. I haven't seen a Star Wars release since. We may have them on DVD somewhere but they aren't on MY playlist. Oh... and Han shot first. I clearly recall seeing the first one. No amount of retcon can erase my memory.

bryan.coyle
bryan.coyle

When I first heard that Phantom Menace would chronicle the life of Anikin Skywalker, I was estatic... I was overseas when the movie came out, but my brother wrote me a letter saying that Anikin was born a YOUNG SLAVE on Tatooine... This REALLY excited me... I could imagine the character in my mind -- a dirty little street rat with unnatural insight that was rescued from the muck of the seediest metropolis in the Star Wars franchise. But then I saw what George Lucas considered a "Slave"... What the $#%*? I hear the same complaints about Anikin's character that are indicative of Luke's... whiny whiny whiny. Oh, poor me... I have it so hard!!! Maybe, JUUUSSST Maybe, If Lucas were actually to put a little edge on his "GOOD" characters (Han's edge was ALL Harrison Ford's doing), it might generate a little sympathy for the whininess. As it stands, though, Star Wars jumped the shark the very moment that little orphan Annie stepped onto the screen and his owner/master did NOT slap the pee out of him for back talking.

rushingj
rushingj

That was the first and most critical jump...but several others stand out for me... Droid 'control' ships - puh-lease Anakin flies unimpeded into the bowels of the only control ship in the vicinity of Naboo during a major battle, then fires torpedoes into a critical ship component sufficient to send it into a cascade of destruction. Darth Maul completely fails to react to Obi Wan's unlikely comeback attack. ...but my personal favorite... giving speaking parts to Hayden Christiansen. :)

stephenballot
stephenballot

I disagree with the author. I find it awesome that a Jedi is ordained not by choice but by being born with a high midi-chlorian count. I find the post pure evidence of the author's age.

georgeou
georgeou

As the W Bush caricature in robot chicken says, get me a taco!

seanferd
seanferd

My apologies to the fans.

Shiftymckool
Shiftymckool

Sorry, to burst your bubble but that was not the first time we found it was biological. That was just the first time that we found out the name. In the book Jedi Search we found out that Luke at a device that could see if people could use the force. In The Thrawn Trilogy, we found there were organisms that could block someone from using the force. I think that was a good hint that it wasn't something magical and in fact I assumed it meant biological if you could design a device to test for it.

flyingboxcutter
flyingboxcutter

For me it was when Leia became Skywalker's sister. After that the whole thing too on a distasteful and incestuous feel to it. Add to that the damn Ewoks and you have a still-borne steamer even before Phantom Menance.

buggeryou
buggeryou

I waited in line (#12) for the first Start Wars. I saw all of them on first release. I really enjoyed the first three. The first trouble started with the "re-mastered" remakes. I can see adding a few clips of Jaba moving around, ok. But to change what seemed like major plot elements (Han is a scroundrel who shoots first) was the height of Hollywood bungling. I really thought it couldn't get worse. I was wrong. "midi-chlorians" really REALLY turned me right off the whole thing. Jar Jar simply made me want to kill the marketing asshole who figured he (has to be a HE, has to be.) could sell more toys or something. But "midi-chlorians" can't be sold as toys. They're just a complete plot wrecker, a story killer. I really wonder what kind of bad crack was being smoked when they came up with that particular pile of shite. Now I just want to drag Lucas behind a horse through some cactus. He deserves to be put through the same kind of pain I forced myself to endure to see the prequel trilogy. I was really looking forward to the first. I gagged. I forced myself to go see the second, figuring they would redeem themselves. I damn near walked out. I guess I was in shock when bothered to go see the third one, but at least I knew what to expect. I'll not see any more of this particular franchise. It's been eviscerated and turned to tripe in the hands of the marketing idiots.

g.marshion
g.marshion

What about Obi won... did his mind get wiped too... he doesn't seem to remember r2 or c3po in the very first Star wars...But he sure spent a lot of time with these forgotten droids in the last 3... I don't know despite it all I still liked the series

techy
techy

Remember when Endor was supposed to be Chewie's home world? That final battle was supposed to be between Wookies & the Empire. Then someone at Lucafilm decided that cute little teddy-bears would sell better on the after market than toy Wookies. It was a mis-calculation; the teddy-bear market was already saturated that year.

w2ktechman
w2ktechman

the new trilogy. think back just a couple of years previous. They released the improved, digitally remastered Star Wars trilogy, with some new effects. Ok, overall, they were pretty good. But think back to Han Solo on Tattoine, going to his ship, and guess who is awaiting. Yes, none other than Jabba the Hut. This scene should have never been added. Basically it gives Han a free pass to pay, once his run is complete. So now, there is no reason for the rest of the Han Hunting. Han got paid, and had the time to pay off Jabba.... Also, it puts Jabba in some new light. He is a giant Wussy. This scene almost ruines 3 movies by itself....

kj7gs
kj7gs

I liked the whole Star Wars set, because I have long since learned how to forgive gaffs and just enjoy the movie. Jar-Jar was a bit of a stretch, but I could even go with the marketing ploy and just have fun with it. But what really bugged the snot out of me was how Anakin was born. No father, Mom just became pregnant. George, is that all you could think of was to hitchhike Christianity like that? Yoda was super-old, why not just make him the dad? Ewww.... never mind. But that whole scene should've just been left out. Just leave it as a mystery.

BenOddo53
BenOddo53

I was a twenty-something when Star Wars first hit the big screen in 1977. I sat there with my jaw dropped in total awe at the very first scene as the Imperial Cruiser appeared from the top of the screen. I went at least another 6 times to see that movie in the theater before its run was over. I was hooked. When I heard of a second episode, I couldn't wait for it to be released. But I was skeptical about the sequel as I am of all movie sequels. Again I was blown away, not only by the visuals but by the story as well. I never thought that Empire Strikes Back would top Star Wars, but it did, and again, I went to repeated showings in the theater. A short time later, there was news of a third episode. Wow! By this time I bought a VCR and my first video I bought was Star Wars in full screen (boo.) It cost me 80 bucks at the time, but I was happy to spend it and enjoy Star Wars whenever I wanted. By the time Return of the Jedi was released I was no longer a twenty-something and my year old son was already playing with Star Wars merchandise. I still eagerly awaited the Episode 6 as it was now being called. But I wasn't prepared for the let down. Gone were the stunning visuals, replaced by a "puppet show", at least in the first half of the movie. It didn't jump into hyperspace, it jumped the shark. The terrific visuals in the second half couldn't bring me back from the initial let down. The story, by that time, was too predictable and commonplace. Years later when Episode 1 was released, yeah I went to see it in the theater, this time with my sons. I wasn't disappointed though. I didn't expect much and that's what we got. Episode 2 was revolting. By the time Episode 3 was released, I wasn't about to spend good bucks on what I thought would be a bad flick. I didn't want to buy the DVD, but my oldest son did and I saw it at home for the first time. It's been in the box ever since. I recently purchased the theatrical release of Episodes 4, 5, and 6 on DVD (widescreen versions of course.) Episodes 4, and 5 have seen more play time than 1, 2, and 3. I thought that some the updated versions of the originals were a waste of time, money and technology and better left undone. I groaned when I first heard Han Solo tell Jabba, "You're one fine human being."

darealnic
darealnic

Good Gravy, I thank the stars that the folks who developed the Star Wars Battlefront video game were keen enough to add some of those Jar Jar characters into it. This allows me the unprecidented opportunity to virtually gun down those idiotic, annoying, bug-eyed, broken Jamaican-dialected (trust me, that fact wasn't lost on West Indian folks) simpletons that burst my Star Wars bubble! Jar Jar was the shark jump to end all shark jumps.

bwebster
bwebster

Ewoks. Ewoks, for crying out loud. Beating stormtroopers no less. George Lucas forcing the screenwriters to put Ewoks into ROTJ was plenty of warning for how truly wretched the prequel trilogy would be. ..bruce..

ernestm
ernestm

So Return of the Jedi came close to jumping the shark, what with all the Ewok shenanigans. But there was still so much cool in Jedi that it didn't quite get there. Phantom Menace was an all-out suckfest, true, but it was actually all of the folling around Lucas did in the meantime that hosed the franchise. The Special Editions, with all of their "Greedo shot first" retconning and goofy CGI additions, coupled with refusing to put out the originals on DVD... That's when it became clear Lucas had transitioned from skilled storyteller to trash marketer.

foruseonforums
foruseonforums

I actually think that Phantom Menace was under-rated as a film, mainly due to the fact that it was always going to be judged against the originals. Judge it on its own, and its a decent film. It wasn't without its faults though. The fact that Qui-Gon was Obi-Wan's master went against what the original series had said, as in the original we are lead to believe that Yoda trained Obi-Wan, there was never any mention of Qui-Gon. I think the whole story in the "new" trilogy was told quite well. It's just a shame they got a rubbish actor to play Anakin.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

I thought Phantom Menace was solid. It was certainly not up to the standard of the original series but it was still a decent story and maintained some of the fun and the spirit of the franchise (as long you disregarded the Midi-chlorians bit). AOTC and ROTJ were simply horrible. Really bad storytelling and character development and I just could not stomach Anakin's incessant whining. By the end, the story wasn't as tragic as it should have felt -- it made you practically want to beg Obi Wan to finish Anakin. Please! Make it so we don't have to hear his whiny little rants ever again!

jimkz
jimkz

Wrong. SW jumped the shark with ROTJ.

myangeldust
myangeldust

YEAH! Only Anakin's son is allowed to fly unimpeded into the bowels of something and fire torpedoes at critical stuff that sufficiently sends it into a... a... uh, what did you call it? Oh, yeah, you're under arrest! Roger, roger. LOL

myangeldust
myangeldust

Dude, good memory. Thrawn kept one on his shoulder to keep his cloned Jedi Master frenemy from attacking him. The Lucas-approved Thrawn story came out some 9 years before Phantom Menace. The story might even come to the big screen as a sequel now that Disney and Kathleen Kennedy are helming Lucasfilm.

w2ktechman
w2ktechman

in Episode 1. That crossed my mind then, and then it slipped back out...LOL

detours
detours

The SW special editions first betrayed the franchise. GL called it the expression of his 'original vision', but they were a pathetic marketing and technical exercise that I would have been ashamed to put my name on. If you're going to work on a franchise that captured the imagination of a generation, you have to follow the rules. Rule 1: Don't change the plot. Restoring scenes that were cut for time or rebuilding damaged footage electronically is great, but stick to relevant scenes that enhance the storyline without altering it. The new scenes with Biggs are fine, but don't make Greedo shoot first or add a wimpy Jabba the Hut. Rule 2: Avoid gimmicks. Expanding the environments like adding a digital Mos Eisley, background elements, and Cloud City views was fine. But not stupid floating robots that bump into walls and obscure main characters. Rule 3: Integrate new scenes with the whole movie (visually). All scenes must look equally polished, with matching quality and special effects. So if you rework one X-wing flight sequence, you have to redo them all ... and the TIE fighters too. Rule 4: Fix ALL the special effects errors. Sure, the semi-transparent snowspeeder windows (that few noticed) are solid now. But Obi-Wan's lightsaber still doesn't glow from every angle, and the actors position still shifts when doors shut fast or lightsabers activate. Rule 5: Keep it simple stupid, and don't overkill. Why make Han Solo stumble into a huge squadron of stormtroopers when the original patrol size makes more sense and provides the same surprise and comic relief? Rule 6: Always provide the original theatrical version. This one, GL finally got right when he belatedly released the original versions on DVD last year, based on the 1995 VHS release. It's unremastered, and non-equalized (audio), but at least it's digital.

online
online

George Lucas's moment of perfection was the first movie. If he'd left it there and done nothing else, it would have gone down in history as another 2001 or Forbidden Planet. TESB was a bit of an improvement, certainly a worthy film, a ROTJ, while not as good as its predecessors, was a good ending to the series. I'm grateful for episodes 1, 2 and 3 because they tell the complete story. There are definite worthy additions to the SW universe in them. Anakin is fairly awful throughout, but Padme gets better as the movies go on. ATC is definitely the best of the three, which isn't saying much. I just wish my 13 year old was as much in love with the original trilogy as he is with the new trilogy. A parent can only do so much...

Antagonist
Antagonist

They should have had palpatine rape anakin's mother and then the seed of evil would have started at conception. His struggle to become good would have been more entertaining than george's lame attempts to show his decent into darkness. The problem was that the originals were more pg-13 and the prequals should have gone the r route instead of the g route. They could have stood out as sci-fi epic masterpieces instead of devolving into utter crap.

gcarl
gcarl

I agree that the virgin birth of Anakin was a baaaaaad moment for the franchise. As a Christian, I'd have to say it was the worst. But the shark was being jumped long before that; the immaculate conception was a kicking in of booster rockets far above the surface of the water. The ramp to jump the shark was built of a number of events, many already referred to in other posts. I think the ramp started with the Ewoks and reached its zenith in PM (pick your spot in that movie where it went airborne). As a Christian, I was extremely offended at the whole virgin birth deal.

jtmkt
jtmkt

the shark jump for me was when they had Yoda battling the Count in Attack of the Clones. It immediately removed any dignity that might have existed for the character. The ridiculous light saber battle looked like what it was; a muppet being jerked around the set with a light saber glued to his hands. I have 5 sons and decided not to spoil their Star Wars experience by having them see Attack of the clones or the Darth Vader story that came next. Natalie Portman can't act ( I think Carrie Fisher makes her look bad) and Hayden C. may be the worst actor ever on screen. Someone has got to tell George the truth. I think he (Lucas) surrounded himself with yes men and no one had the courage to tell him that the story sucked.

jayhormel
jayhormel

Lucas considered Comparative Mythologist Joseph Campbell (www.jcf.org) his "Yoda", and consulted his works when writing Star Wars. One of Campbell's central tenets was the folly of "concretising" religious and mythical stories, ie. taking them as literal, thus destroying their true power to move the human psyche. The concept of "midichlorians" brings the mystic power of the Force too close to a mechanical, mundane concept. So yeh, I agree...it sucks!

w2ktechman
w2ktechman

I liked the entire trilogy. However, ROTJ could have been much better, I thought it a disappointment when I first saw it. The I, II, III trilogy ruined most of it completely. Sure there was action, but too many problems with the story. Yes, it told a 'new version' for what happened, but they screwed up a lot of details in trying. NAd it brought more questions. One main problem I had was Palpatine with the Midi-Chlorians. C'mon, what a load... Here is a question that comes up. If everyone is tested at birth for Midi-Chlorian levels, then how come nobody knew that Palpatine had them. One could answer that he was from a non regulated system. In that case though, how did he become a Senator? Just one of the many BS things that were done to screw up (I mean explain) everything.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

as that is the method of the darkside... it seduces rather than conquors.

info
info

The Immaculate Conception refers to the birth of Mary (w/o the stain of original sin), NOT the virgin birth. I've won drinks over that one.

w2ktechman
w2ktechman

was one of the highlights in the movie...

chancea
chancea

Yoda was made entirely CG after PM. He was not a muppet being yanked around at all.

Antagonist
Antagonist

How would a light saber battle between yoda and ANYONE look? Yeah probably ridiculous but we had to see yoda in action. So i disagree with that. However, your assessment of natalie portman and hayden c. is dead on. Two of the worst actors I have ever seen and they ruined the prequals. I found jar jar binks' to be more believable than those two.

seanferd
seanferd

Joseph Campbell? Lucas? I didn't need to know that. I suppose he read Harold Loomis also? Whoa!

seanferd
seanferd

Shortly after his secret birth, he was taken in a basket and hidden near a river in tall reeds...

Guitockey
Guitockey

Ok, I'll bite. On what do you base that idea? There's nothing Biblical to support that assertion, nor the idea that Mary was sinless. BTW, definitely the mita-clorians. Sounds like some galactic swimming pool cleaner. Why try to justify or explain something that was more meaningful when it was unknown?

seanferd
seanferd

Perhaps I was not very clear, and it was somewhat of a jocular statement, but I have a lot of respect for Joseph Campbell. However, I cannot say the same for Lucas. He's very popular, and entertained a lot of people, and I won't argue with that. I didn't come to troll, so I'm sorry if I offend. It's just that, for me, the farther into the past I look, the more respect I have for Lucas. Currently, not so much. Anyway, guys, have fun. If you want to comment on my lack of respect for Lucas, go ahead. Don't misunderstand me and rail me for not respecting Campbell, as that would be inaccurate. Like I said, have fun. :)

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

Campbell's "Hero with a thousand faces" is a must read for anyone interested in epic stories or mythology.

Antagonist
Antagonist

What is your problem with that? The guy is a genius of mythology. Check out his books and the documentary. It's quite interesting.

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