This article originally appeared in Empire magazine, Issue #192 (June 2005).
Empire loves Star Wars. Kevin Smith loves Star Wars (it’s a legal requirement that every Smith flick features a reference to George Lucas’ space saga). Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, the brains behind Shaun Of The Dead, love Star Wars (at least, the original trilogy). So it was a bit of a no-brainer to get us all together recently in a top London hotel for a dedicated discussion of all things Starry and, indeed, Warsy. What resulted, though, was far from a no-brainer, being instead a passionate,insightful and very funny debate taking in everything from prequels to fandom, and the excitement that geeks can feel when they see a man in a helmet. Enjoy…
When you re-enacted Star Wars in the playground, who was who?
SIMON PEGG: I was always Luke because I had blond hair, and my mate Stu was Han. Han was the cool one. The Jedi were never the cool ones.
But didn't you like the idea of what a Jedi could be?
KEVIN SMITH: I had no impression. I remember they were always very mystical and priest-like – the fighting monk. And then when you saw them at work at the beginning of The Phantom Menace, you were like, "Ohmigod, these guys were fucking pimp!" They took their 'sabers and they did shit that you'd always wanted to see them do, like drive it into steel and cut shit open, like just taking the top off a can. Amazing shit. And more hardcore.
EDGAR WRIGHT: Yeah, but even in Return Of The Jedi, Luke becomes less interesting the more Jedi-like he becomes. In Empire he's kinda like a... What's the in-between in Harry Potter?
SP: A mudblood.
KS: I played Vader in the playground. I thought Vader was bad as hell. There was always something great about the Dark Side. And he always had this vaguely dog-like look, so he was sweet and evil at the same time.
SP: I love that shot in Jedi where he tries to get Luke to turn to the Dark Side on that little bridge outside the space station on Endor. Luke doesn't and walks off, and the shot stays on Vader. And you can see everything, even though there's nothing there. You can see the beginnings of him coming back and that's beautiful.
What's been your greatest Star Wars experience?
SP: Coming from Gloucester, where I grew up, to see Return Of The Jedi in London. It was such a huge event. I watched it at the Dominion at the top of Tottenham Court Road, which was a cinema then, on a proper huge screen where the sound of the ships came from behind you. And the speeder bike chase, on a screen that big, was the greatest thing I'd ever seen. It was just fantastic and I'll never forget it.
EW: I think it was the summer of Empire for me. I went to see it with my brother and we both had these cuddly teddy bears. And my brother – I was six, he was eight – lost his during the film. So not only was it a really bleak downer ending, but he lost his teddy bear as well! He came out going, "Waaaaaah! I lost Bluey!", and I was thinking, "And Han's in carbonite! Waaaaaah!" (Laughter) We were crying our eyes out. It made it a particularly bleak cinema experience.
The speeder bike chase, on a screen that big, was the greatest thing I'd ever seen.
Has he seen the film since?
EW: Yeah, but he never found Bluey! (Laughs)
SP: He has a fake Bluey that he keeps in a black leather pouch.
You should mount a rescue mission for Bluey, involving a Wookiee...
KS: Bluey's hung on some gangster's wall! You guys send somebody in dressed as a bounty hunter. "Somebody who loves you, Bluey!"
EW: There's an evil usher who sits at home surrounded by the spoils of children.
KS: One of my moments was when I saw Attack Of The Clones at a screening, where Yoda pimps around the corner before he goes, "Count Dooku." I had no idea he was going to have a lightsaber fight. And when he draws and lights up, I just remember it being one of those moments where I was like,"Ohmigod, I'm so not this guy, but I'm gonna fucking scream! But it's going to be drowned by the cacophony of other screams." So I was like, "Wooooooooooo!" And there's a point when I realised I was alone - nobody's backing up the "Wooooooooooo!" I thought, "Shit, I'm alone - I can either peter out, or I can commit to the sheer fuckingjoy of seeing Yoda unsheathe and finish my 'woooo'." I was committed, I was in, so I just kept going. I finished my "woooo" and looked at my wife. She was like, "Do you feel better?" I said, "Actually I do." (Laughter) But that took me back to being a fucking kid. Very few moments are like that in movies anymore.
How did you all approach the prequels?
KS: I didn't go in with the same expectation that I had going in to see Return Of The Jedi when I was 13. I was like, “I’m an adult and there's no way this movie (The Phantom Menace) is going to work on me in the same way that those first three movies did, so I'm just going to take this for what it is." So the movie ended and I wasn't like, "Awww fuck! Let's toss the theatre! " I was just like, "Well, it's a kids' movie." And the weird thing is that I watched it with kids, and the kids fucking loved it! Kids went nuts for it. You didn't hear them go, "Well, the digital guy..." So it worked for the audience it was intended for. I just don't think Lucas intended it for us.
SP: But how can you populate a script with talk of trade routes and taxation and say that's a kids' movie? If it is a kids' movie, make it for kids...
EW: One of the main reasons I was disappointed with The Phantom Menace was that it made the world smaller. By trying to tie up things like R2-D2 and C-3PO, it shrunk the universe rather than expanded it. If you're gonna do three new films, why bother taking us back to Tatooine, and particularly the whole thing with Threepio? I don't know. It just seemed out of place.
KS: Just so he could ignore him years later and pretend that he didn't build that fucking droid.
SP: Hey, that's my droid.
KS: It would have been so much more poignant in The Empire Strikes Back, in the prison... Instead of Chewie putting Threepio back together, Darth Vader creeps in and starts putting him back together. (Laughter)
EW: It was the little things that bothered me about the first ones, like Ben Kenobi telling Luke: "When I first met your father, he was a great pilot." And then when he met his father, he's a fucking child!
"I love you"; "I know" has always been my favourite moment.
He was a great pod-racer, though.
KS: "When I first met your father, he was a speed demon."
SP: With bowl hair.
KS: "He was owned by a Jewish stereotype of the worst kind. Reeeeeal anti-Semitic motherfucker with wings." (Laughter) But I still remember the first trailer for The Phantom Menace, when it was, "Anakin Skywalker, meet Obi-Wan Kenobi," and I was like, "Aaaaaahhhh! "
SP: I know. My heart stopped.
KS: But part of the problem, I think, was that they went too young with that character. Because for the Padmé romance, it's like, "You could have babysat for this kid!"
SP: Also, one thing as a kid I loved and I really appreciated was that Star Wars had nothing to do with my life, nothing to do with my planet. Everything was completely alien. Even the Cantina music, although it was jazz, sounded kinda alien. And in the new ones, he's got American football droids on the TV and sportscaster droids and that awful line, "Hey, you wanna buy a deathstick?" Well, it's a fag, isn't it? 'Course it is. Don't link it to my world!
EW: The other sad thing is the lack of a cynical or human element, because there's no Mark Hamill or Harrison Ford.
SP: I honestly thought that The Phantom Menace would have been so much better if he'd given the old fans a little bit of what they wanted, in just topping and tailing the whole new trilogy. The film starts in the Falcon, and all the old guys are in there with beards and Chewie's a bit grey. And they've got a little place to go - they're flying in hyperspace and one of Han's kids goes, "What happened in the beginning, Uncle Luke?" and he goes, "Well..." And then the story unfolds. Just to see those guys again would have been fabulous.
KS: Like tying a knot.
SP: But at the end of the day, despite all the disappointment and the complaints, I will still be there front and centre when Sith comes out, with my fingers crossed. Because I still love it. I really do.
KS: And you're only disappointed because you give a shit. You wouldn't be disappointed if you were like, "Ah, it's only a fucking movie." You're only disappointed because you care. I imagine it's like a preview of what happens if my daughter turns out to be pure shit. "I had such high hopes for you! You started out so good!" (Laughs)
Are you guys jealous that Lucas gets to do Star Wars? Wouldn't you love to try?
KS: It's his, so let him do it... No, the movie he needs to make right now to get to nine, to say that he fulfilled the promise he made aeons ago, is the Porkins movie. (Laughter) The heavy-set need their own Star Wars, I believe, because that's the guy I identified with most when I saw those movies. I was like, "Fat guy - yes!"
SP: But don't you think that some of the best Star Wars experiences since the first three films have been on the ancillary media? Particularly the games, like the Jedi Outcast game on the PC where you get to be a young Jedi and it's after Star Wars. You see Luke in the temple, and he's a bit older now and you're in really recognisable Star Wars places. There are no robots - "Roger roger! " - none of that crap. It's Star Wars as you know it and you're running around with a lightsaber, kicking arse, and it's brilliant. And that wasn't made by him, but by Star Wars fans who ultimately answered to him, but nonetheless they seem to know it better than he does.
KS: And that's what it needs. If he's not going to shutter the whole affair, he should just turn it over to a whole bunch of people who are fans and then just sign off on it. As long as you're not going to do obscene things with the characters, and do great fucking stories that honour the memory of what has passed, rather than trying to rewrite history or something.
Okay, gun-to-head time. Pick a favourite Star Wars moment...
KS: "I love you"; "I know" has always been my favourite.
EW: Yeah. See, you picked the coolest one already! (Laughs)
KS: That is the best moment in the series. It's got everything going for it. You've got the visual representation of sci-fi, you've got the classic romance at the heart of it. That's a fucking movie moment. That doesn't happen in real life. dy says "I know" that perfectly well-timed back to "I love you" without getting punched in the nuts. That's a wonderfully cinematic moment, specific to that film and that genre.
EW: I'd say another Harrison moment. I'd say the original version of him running down the corridor, seeing some stormtroopers and running back. The original version - it didn't need another 15 stormtroopers to make it funny!
KS: That moment is echoed with Harrison Ford in Raiders Of The Lost Ark...
EW: And Temple Of Doom.
Jedi-bashing became quite fashionable.
Simon, your favourite?
SP: I think one of my favourite moments is when Wedge saves Luke right at the end of the Death Star battle in the first one, when his X- Wing comes right towards the camera. In fact, they redid it on the Special Edition because you see him flying through the thing. But actually in the original, it just comes up there and you see it from the back. I also love it when Luke says, "I got a little cooked, but I'm okay..."
And your favourite film?
KS: The Empire Strikes Back, hands down. It's not just a perfect Star Wars film, but very nearly a perfect film. '
SP: Empire, no question.
SP: The AT-AT attack, even now, looks amazing. And that's another one of my favourite bits, when they zoom right in on the leg and come out on the main thing.
KS: That was a forerunner for the Jurassic Park water thing, just hearing the thud and then seeing the AT-AT walkers. Have you seen the internet avatar - the two humping AT-ATs? That just completely robs them of their majesty. Somebody has it on our web- board, and it's like one AT-AT on top of another, humping like a dog.
EW: Everybody says The Empire Strikes Back. As a kid, Return Of The Jedi. Yeah! When I was nine, I thought it was fucking amazing!
KS: That's like liking Temple Of Doom over Raiders Of The Lost Ark. When I was a kid, I loved Temple Of Doom. And then you rewatch it and you're like, "Ooh..."
SP: Jedi-bashing became quite fashionable. A lot of people said, "Ooh, Return Of The Jedi wasn't very good," but you know, it's got things going for it.
The Emperor-Vader-Luke fight is amazing.
KS: Yeah, and saving Han on Tatooine...
EW: When I was nine and that Ewok threw that bola and wrapped it around his neck, that was amazing! I loved that!
KS: Your father sat there watching that bola shit, going, "Ugh! Oh, they've ruined it!"
But there's no part where Ewoks step in dog shit...
KS: No Bantha poo there!