The Jedi Lounge: Interview with Frank Witte

It’s Monday so it’s time for another interview at the Jedi Lounge with Frank Witte (@Alarcos).

1. Which Star Wars movie did you see first?
The first Star Wars movie I saw was A New Hope in the cinema in 1977 as an 11-year old boy 🙂

2. What Star Wars means to you?
I have had two loyal companions in my life, Star Wars since 1977 and the canadian rockband RUSH also since the late 1970’s. I never expected back in those times that these two would stay with me for that long. But I felt so blessed when I could watch the Prequel Trilogy with my own daughters in the cinema. Star Wars has throughout those decades become a reference frame for me in which I can think about morality, religion and ethics in a way that is free from the entrapments of organized religion or established moral philosophy. I love that freedom and I love how it reconnects one with the traditions of mythology and legendary stories.

3. What’s your favorite part of the Star Wars saga and why? (it can be one of the six movies or even one of the tv shows)
The part that touches me most is Revenge of the Sith. Already as a kid I was fascinated by the question how Darth Vader came to be who he was and somehow I was always certain that it was a special story. I was very happy but also moved to see Anakin being driven by fear and worry for the ones he loves into his cataclysmic choices. I thought that was a very fitting and meaningful storyline. One that needed to be told.

4. If you wanted a subtitle for the Star Wars movies what would it be for you?
No for me it is just fine as it is 🙂

5. How important do you think it was to have the Prequels telling this story of the rise and fall of Anakin, the fall of the Republic … and why do you think it was important to tell this story? For you, how does it connect to the First trilogy?
I think it was absolutely crucial. For me, I have always suspected that Darth Vader and the Emprie had this kind of a backstory. But I was of course never sure whether George Lucas had that in mind as well. You could infer much of that by reading between the lines in the Original Trilogy. Yet it is so easy to mistake the original trilogy for another popcorn franchise. It isn’t! But it is easy to think fo it like that. But together with the Prequel Trilogy it becomes evident that it isn’t. I think for many OT fans this was a bridge to far because for all their adoration … they jusy wanted it to be cool, not deep. Because being deep is kind of uncool. Well .. Star Wars is deep under a very thin layer of superficiality that allows people to also enjoy it as just another popcorn movie. But undernearth is that heart-breaking political drama intertwined with an equally heartbreaking personal drama. George Lucas did not hold back with showing Anakin’s fall and he deserves much more credit for that than he gets. The violence and murder in Revenge of the Sith is all perfectly dosed, perfectly timed and nowhere is it ‘cool’. That’s how it should be!

6. What do you think of Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman’s performances in the Prequel trilogy for their respective roles?
For me Obi Wan is McGregor’s Obi Wan and Alec Guiness was good at playing an old McGregor 🙂 I am also very satisfied with Hayden Christensen’s portrayal of Anakin. I think they have managed very well to steer clear of the Hollywood stereotypes for romance and heroism. Yes the dialogue is sometimes painful and cringeworthy, but that is the way it usually is in real life when people try to express big emotions with big words. I think Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Amidala is equally fine, with her I just have the feeling she takes far less pride and joy in having had that part, which I find a pity.

7. Do you think starting the Star Wars story with Anakin as a boy was a good choice and why?
I think it was an excellent choice and I think it was absolutely neccesary. The Phantom Menace had to breakthrough the fog of erronous expectations fans had built up over the years. So may of them were expecting a ‘reversed Luke’ where at the end a triumphant Vader would establish himself as this strong force for evil. But that would have been such a two-dimensional story that had not just failed to add anything relevant to the OT, it would have in fact retrospectively have degraded the OT to just another hypocritical redemption story. We have enough of those.

8. What’s your view on the use of CGI, Practical Effects and how they fit into a story? Do you think the special effects were at the service of the story in the Prequel movies?
I like the way Geoge Lucas uses his special effects. Whether an effect is ‘practical’ or computer-generated I honestly don’t give a s@#t. It’s a movie … so it’s not real to start with. But Lucas always uses special effects to tell a visual story. If I think of movies with special effects only to make some ‘artsy’ or ‘philosophical’ statement then I think ‘Space Odyssee 2001’, ‘Silent Running’ or ‘Interstellar’ which in my view have all failed. These are movies that scream at you “hey I am trying to show you a really smart idea” but they never manage to actually touch me. The symbolism in Star Wars however is so dense on the screen, so primal, so immersive that you don’t need much dialogue about many smart and deep ideas. Lucas’handling of special effects is crucial for that.

9. What’s your favorite aspect of the story in the Prequels and why?
What I love is Lucas’play witht he notion of destiny. Throughout the OT Vader talks a lot about Luke’s destiny and you sense it is an important concept for him. But only in the Prequels do you understand why. From the age of 8 he is haunted by this prophecy that he will bring balance. But instead of inching closer to that supposed destiny the unrelenting forces of classical tragedy drag him towards that dark and bitter abyss in Revenge of the Sith where he loses everything. But he manages to hold on to just enough faith in destiny to grab that one last chance of redemption when it comes. Not redemption in the eyes of a galaxy, only in the eyes of his son and possibly of himself. Vader’s death gets a very personally peaceful dimension through the Prequels. Not a victorious one, not at all. But a peacefully accepting one.

10. Do you think it was important to tell the story of The Clone Wars and do you think animation was the right medium to tell it?
A proper understanding of the Clone Wars is crucial to truly appreciate how the Republic fell from grace. It was not merely a fiendishly elaborate plot by a mastermind. Rather it was the work of a brilliant chess-player who never missed an opportunity to take another pawn. It was the long dig of its own grave by the Jedi Order. A tale of moral decay but also of the growth of individuality from the roots of industrial mass-production of life. The increasing individuality of the Clones may very well have been the most crucial legacy of the Jedi Order, the only remaining proof that they were doing something right despite all their religious vanity.

11. What impact did The Clone Wars leave on the six movies for you? How did it change your way of watching the six movies?
Just an a single example, the arc of Ahsoka across all 6 seasons makes Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope just so much more impactful. Not only does Anakin’s fall become more understandable but also the degree to which the Jedi were flawed is illustrated so fantastically. I love how Bariss becomes a symbol of the inner division and how the Clone Wars are seen to tear at the very substance that used to hold the order together.

12. What’s your favorite aspect of the story in The Clone Wars and why?
My favorite aspect? The three women: Ahsoka Tano, Bariss Offee and Assaj Ventress. They together display everything that is great about Star Wars. Their addition and the addition of their story-arcs to the Star Wars universe is momentous.

13. George Lucas said about the six movies “It’s ONE movie and it’s meant to be seen I through IV.” Do you agree with this statement and why?
I agree that this is how it is meant to be seen. This is the natural flow of the arcs of Anakin and of Luke. But I also see that there is a lot to be said for the order IV,V,VI,I,II,III. I could even find good reasons to watch them in ‘prequel flashback mode’: IV,V,I,II,III,VI

14. How do you feel concerning the promoting of The Force Awakens in a kind of Prequel hate atmosphere (I’m especially making reference to what happened on SDCC this year)?
When I first saw the SDCC reel I interpreted as a reel celebrating the artistry and craftmanship of moviemaking, which I thought was wholly apropriarte. Only a little later did I realize many Prequel fans took offense as they interpreted the reel as barely disguised repetition of stereotypical Prequel-bashing. I noticed that seeing it that way did make me feel better so I wondered what I would see it that way? I still have the feeling that many Prequel-fans don’t see that by taking such things as prequel-bashing they actually surrender to the basher’s narratives. I think both PT fans as well as OT fans need to realize quickly that the ST will have a target demographic that is 10 to 26 years younger than they are.

15. Final question: What is your level of anticipation for the upcoming Star Wars movie – The Force Awakens?
I am very excited for this movie and I think it is a great opportunity for JJ Abrams to show us what he can do. I like that Lucasfilm asked him to make sure this will be his movie, i.e. an author-movie and nto a movie produced to please someone else. I hope that that is what he has done. From what I have seen so far I think that that is what he has done. It will be impossible for him to please all fans, those fans will need to do that by themselves. I think what will determine whether you are going to like The Force Awakens, is with which attitude you enter into that cinema. I’ll be there hoping for everything but expecting nothing except one thing: recognizing this as the film JJ wanted to make. I am not expecting to see the delicate visual artistry of Lucas, nor the intricately woven pattern of echoes and rhymes that are the hallmark of the first six. But I do expect to see JJ’sense of fun and adventure, his sensitivity to personal stories and to see his individual investment in a story that catches the attention of the current 8 to 18 year olds 🙂

May the Force be with you!

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