It was brought to my attention that some readers were disenchanted by my STAR WARS series due to the heavy criticism of the Prequels. I can understand that. My counter to this was, and is, Well, tell me I’m wrong, and tell me why. Some people confuse “informed debate” with “arguing.” My point here was to initiate critical discussion, not to tell you why something you love sucks ass through a straw.
This, of course, brings us around to Red Letter Media and their mascot, the infamous “Mr. Plinkett.” No discussion of the post-Prequel STAR WARS malaise is complete without at least touching on Milwaukee’s favorite serial killer/movie critic.
For the three STAR WARS fans out there who’ve never heard of Red Letter Media, a bit of background is in order. In 2004, independent filmmaker Mike Stoklasa (ORANGES: REVENGE OF THE EGGPLANT) began his production company with a handful of low budget features before moving on to the world of monetized YouTube movie reviews. Using the off-screen persona of narrator Harry Plinkett -- a deranged serial killer with an encyclopedic knowledge of film theory -- Stoklasa deconstructed each of the latter-day STAR TREK films beginning with GENERATIONS. Judiciously editing footage from each respective film against behind-the-scenes footage and cast and crew interviews, Mr. Plinkett mouth-breathes his way through a critical (and irreverent) analysis of the films, using the history of the franchise to support his often hilarious observations. Gaining a cult following, “Plinkett” would ultimately review films as incongruous as AVATAR, BABY’S DAY OUT, TITANIC, and (my personal favorite of the bunch) COP DOG. It paid to watch them all, regardless of one’s interest in the particular film: each was filled with keen and insightful analysis of film tropes, and avoided a dry and off-putting academic tone through the liberal use of potty humor. A recurring plot device was the ongoing saga of Plinkett’s love life (involving the murder of his elderly wife by cutting the brakes in her car, and later meeting a stripper named Bambi whom he violently murdered in a bathtub), all of which unfolded in each successive review via throwaway dialogue and accompanying B-roll.
However, it was his review of THE PHANTOM MENACE that put Red Letter Media on the map. Over the course of seventy (!) minutes -- by far the longest video they’d produced at that point -- Plinkett broke down everything that was wrong with the film, using film history, genre theory, and both thematic and visual analysis, to support his claims. He avoided the obvious criticisms (Jar Jar) and instead turned his focus on aspects of storytelling: the lack of a protagonist, the overly-complicated storyline, and the tonal disharmony with the previous films in the series. The opening scenes in STAR WARS and THE PHANTOM MENACE are compared to show how one tells us everything and the other tells us nothing; likewise, the lightsaber duels from all six movies are discussed in terms of emotional storytelling versus spectacle.
In one particularly insightful bit, Stoklasa/Plinkett interviews four friends, asking them to describe a given STAR WARS character without mentioning their costume or job/position; he alternates between Original and Prequel Trilogy characters such as Han Solo, Qui-Gon Jinn, See-Threepio, and Queen Amidala. The responses from the interviewees are genuine; the implications dawn on them as they dawn on us. “I get it,” one friend chuckles, realizing the point being made. “This is really funny, by the way.”
While everything I listed above is interesting to a STAR WARS fan (pro or anti-Prequel), film criticism is hardly classified as “entertainment” to any but the most pretentious of snobs (cough). Who wants to settle in to watch a feature-length tear-down of THE PHANTOM MENACE, anyway…?
Presentation is key with the Plinkett reviews. Aside from the serial killer subplot mentioned earlier, the character, for all his knowledge of film, chronically mispronounces words (he struggles with “protagonist” while insightfully educating us on the functional necessity of the role). He confuses key historical events, while raping and/or eating his pet cats, and then offers to mail his audience Pizza Rolls in exchange for “liking” his video posts. The humor is lowest common denominator while the analysis is university-level. One has to ponder how many students a teacher could reach by simply pretending to be a grossly overweight elderly man with a spastic colon.
Social media turned Red Letter Media into an overnight sensation. STAR WARS fans Simon Pegg and Damon Lindelof both tweeted the PHANTOM MENACE video (“Your life is about to change,” Lindelof told his followers. “This is astounding film making.”), and both movie websites and mainstream media alike pushed the review into the Nerdosphere. The success prompted RLM to produce the inevitable reviews of ATTACK OF THE CLONES and REVENGE OF THE SITH (each longer and, shockingly, more insightful than the one before it). Later reviews of THE FORCE AWAKENS and THE LAST JEDI were far less successful, as there is a noticeable resentment toward the fruits of their success – namely, inferior imitations. The analysis suffers for it.
The Plinkett reviews and their criticisms have now become the unofficial final word on the Prequel Trilogy. Prequel haters cite Red Letter Media’s arguments. Naturally, Prequel supporters are openly hostile toward Pinkett’s assessment, while also slamming the juvenile humor in an attempt to invalidate the source. One fan was so incensed by the PHANTOM MENACE review that he wrote a book-length response designed to refute each claim, and also attempt to character-assassinate Stoklasa in the process. I’ve read it. That way leads to madness.
(In fact, Plinkett’s criticism have become so widely-quoted that, when writing my Prequel arguments for this series, I asked myself: Am I saying anything original? I’m not just rehashing Red Letter Media, am I? I tried very hard to find something new to say, or to find a different angle. That’s how thorough these guys were.)
I’m going to be honest: I’m a big fan of the Red Letter Media reviews (though I’m less enamored of their weekly review show, HALF IN THE BAG, mostly because requests to review my most recent film went unanswered, and I’m petty). It took a little arm-twisting to get friends to actually sit down and watch the first Plinkett video back in 2009 (“A seventy-minute review? Of that movie?”), but five minutes in, they would invariably became converts. I’ve had people over to the house specifically to watch each Prequel, immediately followed up by the corresponding RLM review. In fact, it became an annual Myers ritual every May to watch the Original Theatrical Trilogy, followed by the Prequels, and then end with Plinkett. A lot of tequila has been consumed in my home in this fashion.
But after a while, I began to feel a little shitty about laughing at STAR WARS. I hate the Prequels, and I find the Plinkett reviews hilarious, but it still comes back around to watching something I love -- and in this case, something I love that deeply disappointed me -- hate-fucked while the world cheers it on. This really occurred to me the last time I did the series as a marathon, during which my wife screened the original movies, then left the room for the Prequels, saying, “Let me know when you’re gonna start the reviews,” for which she’d return, rubbing her hands together in anticipation. It looked like she was sharpening a knife. I guess it’s kind of like jerking off to something you know you shouldn’t be jerking off to, which makes it even better -- until you finish, at which point you feel guilty.
So yeah, to those people who have felt progressively ostracized by this series of mini-editorials designed to celebrate STAR WARS: I feel ya. I get it. And I’m sorry to make you resent that the fun got sucked out of a topic you want to discuss without having to defend it. My intent is to state my views, for whatever they’re worth, and let you take the discussion wherever it leads. If you agree with me, cool: high-five. If not, so much the better. Discussing something we both love in a passionate and intelligent way that hopefully leads to new insights for all involved, is the entire point. So let’s be friends again. Let’s enjoy some Pizza Rolls, and let’s try not to notice the hooker bound and gagged in the corner over there.
STAR WARS: it’s like a high school relationship that never ends.
Erik Kristopher Myers (aka ekm)