08 December 2010

Yoda and Reading Comprehension

It's come up in several conversations I've had lately, so I can't tell you exactly where it began.  What "it" is, though, is pretty straightforward.  I maintain that there is a shot in Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones that stands near the top of greatest moments of modern cinema.  I don't say that with any sense of hyperbole (unlike those who insist that the prequels "raped" their childhood).  The moment is near the end of the movie, after Count Dooku has defeated Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker.  All of a sudden, the camera focuses on a corridor.  We hear the sound of footsteps accompanied by a wooden cane striking the floor.  We see the shadow cast by Yoda.  And we know what's about to happen.


That's the moment.  Not the actual ensuing duel.  Not the rest of the movie.  Certainly not the entire prequel trilogy.  Just.  That.  One.  Moment.  I don't know why this is so hard for people to understand.  Even if you're entirely incapable of isolating the moment yourself, why is it so difficult to respond to my statement, in which I have isolated it, without conflating it with all the rest?

I first saw the movie with an enthusiastic midnight release crowd on opening night, and it was immediately hushed when the moment I've described occurred.  We were all silent, but the anxiety was palpable throughout the theater.  We were finally going to see Yoda in action, after 22 years of speculation.  Some of the loudest cheers I've ever heard in a theater came when Yoda appeared on screen and the place erupted when he pulled aside his robe and withdrew his lightsaber.  It was genuinely thrilling, and it was all set up by that singular aforementioned moment.

I was blasted earlier this morning in a forum by a poster who insisted that I must have been ten years old, because that was the only way he could imagine I felt this way.  Thrice I tried to clarify the specificity of the moment I favored, that I was not saying the duel itself was amazing (I was rather underwhelmed, in truth).  I'd like to say that this attitude is nothing more than the knee-jerk "George Lucas is destroying my childhood" hyperbolic nonsense that arises anytime the prequels are discussed.  Unfortunately, I think it's symptomatic of a far greater issue; namely, reading comprehension skills are devolving before our very eyes.  I don't blame teachers, video games or any of the usual scapegoats.

In fact, I don't even care about assigning blame, beyond the point of trying to establish where to begin fixing the issue.  Which, of course, leads to the inevitable conclusion that most people are beyond saving in this regard and our only real hope is to encourage today's youth to do better.  God help them, though, because they're growing up in a world where their elders can't even separate a prelude from a duel in a Star Wars movie.

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