I’m back from a weekend of 103-degree heat in Portland, Oregon, where I did just what I said I was going to do (sans the beer-drinking) with friends and family… I lounged, I read, I sipped coffee, I ate UNBELIEVABLY SCRUMPTIOUS desserts at Papa Haydn’s (something you should add to your DO BEFORE I DIE list), I saw Anchorman again and laughed even harder, and I enjoyed some brief but deep sleep in a small air-conditioned hotel room at the new Jupiter Hotel. At Powell’s Book Store, Portland’s pride and joy, I purchased many heavy volumes, including a new English Standard Version Bible… the first time I’ve picked out and purchased a Bible for myself. (My parents always kept me in Bibles when I was growing up, and I’ve never been in need of one.) I also purchased my first SACD (surround audio cds) for my new home system… Peter Gabriel’s Passion and Shaking the Tree: Sixteen Golden Greats, along with Beck’s Sea Change and Bob Dylan’s Oh Mercy. This week, our house is going to rock until the windows crack.

And I return, eager to hear about the exciting things that happened in Movieland over the weekend. What do I learn?

STAR WARS: EPISODE THREE–REVENGE OF THE SITH.

Huh?

Why not name it STAR WARS: EPISODE THREE–FAILURE OF IMAGINATION?!

When the rumor mill got started (yes, I participate gladly in the spreading of frivolous rumors like movie titles, because the game’s so much harmless fun), I was trembling with joy at the whisperings that said the film might actually be titled THE CREEPING FEAR. I mean, THE PHANTOM MENACE was a wild, weird, gutsy, and creative title. Sure, it enraged some Star Wars fans, but I loved it for its audacity. ATTACK OF THE CLONES was the stuff of Saturday morning sci-fi… not terribly imaginative, but at least arresting in its promise of action. THE CREEPING FEAR was off-the-charts crazy. It was too good to be true.

But alas, I felt a creeping fear myself… a creeping fear that Lucas would do something dull and dumb like BIRTH OF THE EMPIRE. And yes, he did. REVENGE OF THE SITH is a title that arrives with a thud. It’s just big and obvious. Sure, it give the series titles some symmetry, with RETURN OF THE JEDI being the close of the second trilogy. But this? The inevitable joke is all over the Internet already… the obvious and all-too-tempting way of misplacing a letter in that last word.

Sigh.

Oh well. This is one more nail in the coffin of the Star Wars franchise. Lucas lost his grip on characters with personality. Then he lost his grip on dramatic, involving plots. Then he lost his grip on how to direct actors. And, this time, he’s blown his last opportunity to come up with a great title. Let’s all hope and pray he hasn’t lost the only things the Star Wars series has left… great visual spectacle.

I still defend the first two prequels from the waves of negative reviews… I still think they’re better than most sci-fi adventure films, and I like the way he has expanded our understanding of the Star Wars universe. I love Obi-Wan’s detective story, the mystery of Qui Gon-Jinn, the battle scenes, Lucas’s great soundtracks, and the duels. But they still groan with bad dialogue and lackluster performances. The original trilogy succeeded, I am realizing more every day, because of Lucas’s collaborators. His insistence on too much control is driving the prequel-ship into a nosedive more spectacular than that plunging star destroyer. He’s caught in the tractor beam of mediocrity and it’s pulling him in. There’s gotta be something he can do about it, but no, it might be better if he just shut down.

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