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When I was seven years old and I first saw Star Wars in the theater I had a revelation. While some kids wanted to be Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, I wanted to be George Lucas. I realized that someone created that world that I enjoyed so much and I wanted to be that guy. Ever since then I’ve followed sci-fi and fantasy, not only with wild geek-boy abandon, but with the critical eye of a creator.

I just saw the latest Star Trek film, Nemesis, and I’ve had another revelation. The sci-fi franchises that I’ve grown up with are showing their age. Someone recently asked me a question in this regard. She wondered if I had never seen the first three Star Wars films, and sat down today to watch them for the first time, whether I would revere them as much now. My answer to that question is yes.

The first three Star Wars films were infused with actors and scripts that were compelling. The first three Star Wars films had plenty of revolutionary effects, but it was the story and characters that drove those films to become the juggernaut that they are today. While Episode Two was far better than Episode One, we’re just going through the paces now. The punchy dialogue, charismatic characters and emotional plot are replaced with digital indifference. Ewan McGreggor and Samuel L. Jackson are two of the finest actors we have today, but they are reduced to reading lines like a newscaster off a teleprompter. The guy who is supposed to be driving these films, Hayden Christianson, is such a piece of wood that no one will really care when he turns into Darth Vader. In fact it will be a relief, because we’ll get to see the baddest costume in the galaxy and large scale Jedi death scenes!

Star Trek has been around since before I was alive and has become a franchise on a par with Disney’s creations. Actually, that’s part of the problem. Star Trek has embraced the same philosophy that makes Disney properties so boring. They’re too afraid to offend anyone and they don’t want to risk changing anything for fear of losing their audience (and money). Disney and Trek have a built in audience that will consume anything that is thrown at them. When you have books, comics, TV shows, films, video games and a hotel to support, you don’t want to rock the boat.

Nemesis was a wandering nightmare with better-than-average production design and cinematography, but less-than-average writing and direction. There’s no reason for anyone who is not a Trekkie to see this film, it was clearly made with them in mind. There’s a wedding and a “death” of a major character, but who cares? The script for this film must have been written on toilet paper and either taped together or flushed at will, depending on the whims of the producer, and Nemesis was the best of all the Next Generation films!

So, am I proclaiming the death of Star Wars and Star Trek? No. I’ll still see Episode Three the first night it comes out and I watch Enterprise when I can, but it’s mostly for nostalgia. Actually Enterprise is the best of all the Star Trek series, but you wouldn’t know it from the ratings. While these franchises will continue to make money, what happens when their built-in audience grows up or moves on? They certainly aren’t offering anything that will create a new generation of fans.

While the old dogs are looking pretty gray, there’s plenty to be excited about in geekdom. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy is fantastic. Here’s a property that was made with the flourish that Lucas possessed when he made the first three Star Wars films. Who green-lighted a three-part epic fantasy film, directed by a guy whose greatest film was The Frighteners, and would be shot consecutively and each released a year apart? No one has ever done that with an unproven property and I question if it will ever be done again, but just look at the results. The first two Lord of the Rings movies are a critical and box office success. The films are seamless, emotional, revolutionary and inspirational, just like good fantasy should be.

The television landscape is far more friendly to sci-fi and fantasy than at any time in the past. It remains to be seen, but the two new Matrix films have a lot of promise. Sci-fi and fantasy animation is in an explosion, thanks in no small part to the Cartoon Network and their dedication to bringing good stuff from overseas and creating new programs for us.

I think if you’re a fan of the genre, you have to give some recognition to Star Trek and Star Wars despite the fact they have lost their luster. If they hadn’t made truckloads of cash on those properties, the good stuff we’re getting today wouldn’t even get past the first money-cruncher in Hollywood. We’d still be getting television like Buck Rogers or movies like Flash Gordon (and porn like Flesh Gordon) instead of Farscape and The Matrix. Sci-fi and fantasy makes money if it’s good, and sometimes if it isn’t. That means the sharks are willing to take the risk on something like Lord of the Rings and we all benefit from that.

Dig it!

-The Beefboy