On ABC News in 1983, “At the Movies” co-hosts and renown critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel joined National Review film critic John Simon on television to discuss the end of the original “Star Wars” film saga. As the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” looms, a video of the exchange — which surfaced on RogerEbert.com — shows Ebert and Siskel defending the sci-fi trilogy against Simon’s harsh criticisms — and maybe even feeling a little sorry for the guy.
“I think the raves for the early ‘Star Wars’ have been so violent and so extravagant that I feel one cannot afford to mince one’s words, if one dislikes these things,” Simon opined. I feel they’re so bad because they’re completely dehumanizing. Obviously, let’s face it, they are for children or for childish adults. They’re not for adult mentalities, which means unfortunately they’re not for a lot of my fellow critics who also like adult mentalities.”
“They are for children, and they are brutalizing children,” he continued. “They’re making children dumber than they need to be. A great work for children — like ‘Huck Finn,’ for example, tells a child something about reality, about people, about life, about growing up. These films try to keep children stupid children forever, and that I think is wrong.”
“I don’t know what he did as a child, but I spent a lot of my Saturday matinees watching science fiction movies and serials and having a great time and being stimulated and having my imagination stimulated and having all sorts of visions take place in my mind that helped me to become an adult and to still stay young at heart — not that I am childlike, but that he is old at heart,” Ebert shot back.
“I thought it was a lot of fun. Honestly, I feel badly that this other critic, John Simons, didn’t have a good time at these pictures. That’s too bad for him,” Siskel added.
Ebert almost seemed to predict the future in one of his statements, discussing how the “Star Wars” films were of Disney quality. “These are the kinds of movies Disney should be making and the kinds of movies Disney made 20, 30 years ago. I think all movies are special effects. All movies are not real; they’re two-dimensional. A film goes through the camera, the projector throws the light on the screen, and that makes a special effect. It’s a dream. It’s an imagination. Whether this film is good or not, it made me excited. It made me laugh. It made me thrilled, and that’s what a movie like this is for… I try to be board enough in my movie taste that I also understand why a bunch of people might want to get together and see a ‘Star Wars’ movie and enjoy it.”
While Simon refused to budge in his opinions, Siskel did get him to admit to enjoying Yoda, even just for a second. “Now just as my experience in seeing it again with a whole bunch of kids — they were able to sort out who was who very easily. They had no trouble with this picture, understanding what was going on. I got to ask Mr. Simon a question… wasn’t your heart warmed even a little bit by Yoda?” Siskel asked.
“Well, yes,” Simon responded. “I mean a little. But let’s say, if I saw him in a window… and I looked at him for three seconds and say ‘That’s a kind of cute little figurine,’ I would have had enough of Yoda.”
You can check out the entire exchange in the video below. Directed by J.J. Abrams, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” stars franchise veterans Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker, joined by newcomers John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, Gwendoline Christie and Max von Sydow. The film will be released wide Dec. 16 in France, Dec. 17 in the United Kingdom and Dec. 18 in North America.
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