“Boondocks” cartoonist Aaron McGruder strikes back at Star Wars and George Lucas
Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This is not a review; rather, it’s a freewheeling, tangential discussion of art, alternative ideas, and popular culture.
What was that? What did the voice on the phone just say about Annakin Skywalker?
“Annakin Skywalker,” repeats Aaron McGruder, laughing, “is a whiny little bitch.”
McGruder, the controversial cartoonist and social critic behind the popular hip-hop comic strip The Boondocks, has a wicked, rocky rumble of a laugh, a deep, sharp-edged baritone–that is also quite melodious and disarming. Which is kind of nice, considering he just called Annakin Skywalker–the future Darth Vader, the saber-slashing Lord of all Evil, the ultra-potent progenitor of both Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia–a whiny little bitch.
Shortly after catching George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode 2–Attack of the Clones, McGruder’s on the line. working his way down a lengthy list of critical observations. According to the self-described “near-fanatical Star Wars enthusiast,” the film is too long by at least 30 minutes; It labors under a surplus of forced comic-relief; Much of the plot is repetitious and boring. The list goes on. But in regards to poor Annakin (played moodily by Hayden Christensen), McGruder admits that the guy’s thin-skinned whininess is not really inconsistent with the whole Star Wars story.
“Luke Skywalker,” he says, “was also a whiny little bitch.”
If you’re among the millions of readers who routinely follow The Boondocks–arguably the best, most politically-tenacious comic strip since Doonesbury went all soft and floppy on us–you probably already know what McGruder thinks of George Lucas. Through the character of Huey Freeman–the adolescent, African American intellectual at the heart of his strip–McGruder’s been lobbing comic hardballs at Lucas for weeks, taking him to task for the Jar Jarring-racism of The Phantom Menace. “George Lucas has offended me as a black man and ruined his franchise,” Huey recently said, proclaiming, “I am no longer a “Star Wars” fan! Period!” That said, Huey’s moral resolve rapidly waned as the movie opened–and all of his friends rushed out to see it. Yet, by the middle of the next week, Huey was still holding his ground.
McGruder, on the other hand, has now seen the movie twice.
“I haven’t decided yet how Huey is going to respond to the movie,” he admits, “but I know I liked it. It didn’t make me mad like the last one did.” While agreeing that Episode 2 is much better than Episode 1, McGruder adds that that isn’t really saying much. “Episode 1,” he reminds me, “was one of the worst movies ever made.”
This one, insists McGruder, was basically a good movie.
Unlike a lot of other critics, he didn’t even mind Hayden Christensen.
“The guy really felt half-crazy,” he says. “Early on you’re thinking, ‘Wow! This guy’s really not all there.’ And I liked that.” He also gives thumbs up to Sam Jackson, as Jedi leader Mace Windu. “Yeah, he was great. You only wish you got to see him whup more ass.”
Nobody, though, gives a better performance in that movie than Yoda, he says.
“Yoda stands head and shoulders above everyone else,” laughs McGruder, “no pun intended. I was just mad that he had a green light-saber, because, you know, if Mace Windu gets a purple light-saber, Yoda should have gotten his own color, too. It should have been yellow or orange. Other than that, Yoda was fantastic!”
The film’s major failures, he says, are mainly in the storytelling and the editing.
“If Lucas was a better storyteller in terms of all this political stuff he really wants to do, maybe it would be different,” McGruder says, “but as it stands now, he’s telling a very simple story in the clumsiest way possible.” In less than 15 seconds, McGruder succinctly sums up the political story of Episode 2. “There’s an external threat to the Republic. The President, Palpatine, is using this as an excuse to expand his powers, and ultimately we find out that they’re all in the same league with each other. This is an incredibly simple thing. It’s not unlike many of the conspiracy theories surrounding 9-11.”
As an illustration of that (literally), he mentions the June issue of The Nation, for which he drew the cover. It’s an Episode 2 parody portraying President Bush as the Emperor and Bin Laden as his clandestine accomplice, Count Dukoo–with Huey as a Jedi. “And the Clone Troopers all have FBI written across their chests,” he says, “because it’s easy to make the connection to what’s happening today. But that said, Lucas uses the clumsiest ways of putting that across. It’s a big, big mess. It’s bad storytelling.”
McGruder is most annoyed at Lucas’ habit of cramming those sight gags–and giant crabs and long “Mission Statement” speeches–into the middle of things right when the action is getting good.
“These conversations about fucking Democracy–nobody wants to hear that shit,” he says. “Not in a Star Wars movie! Here’s the thing. It’s so simple. We want to see Jedi with light sabers cutting shit apart. It’s literally that simple. You give me two hours of that, I’m happy. I’m real happy. But Lucas keeps giving me ‘humorous sight gags'”
He mentions a major fight scene in a giant stadium.
“There are 40 Jedi with light sabers in that scene,” he says, “and for some reason I’m looking at C3PO acting silly. Get the robot off the screen and show me a Jedi knight killing something. Or like, Mace Windu is about to go head to head with the bad guy–and here comes this alien bull creature. I don’t want to see a bull right now. There are important things happening. Why am I looking at a bull? Yes, it’s a very big bull, but it’s a bull. It’s not interesting.
“So, here’s the formula, George,” McGruder concludes. “Mace Windu with Light Saber–interesting. Bull–not interesting. Learn that, George Lucas, and I guarantee you, Episode 3 will be even better!
“But, I’m not counting on it.”
From the May 30-June 5, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.