Back to the future with Roger and Gene

By Dennis Hartley

Apropos to the opening weekend of The Force Awakens, Chaz Ebert unearthed a fabulously entertaining vintage Nightline clip over at her blog that features a three way dust-up (quite civil, actually) between her late husband Roger, Gene Siskel and venerable New York-based critic John Simon. The year was 1983, the subject at hand was the original Star Wars trilogy. Return of the Jedi had recently opened, apparently prompting Simon to go on a tear reiterating his disdain for the franchise. He had famously lambasted the 1977 original, writing:

Strip Star Wars of its often striking images and its highfalutin scientific jargon, and you get a story, characters, and dialogue of overwhelming banality, without even a “future” cast to them: Human beings, anthropoids, or robots, you could probably find them all, more or less like that, in downtown Los Angeles today. Certainly the mentality and values of the movie can be duplicated in third-rate non-science of any place or period.

I sense hostility.

Anyhoo…Ted Koppel was the moderator, John Simon played Darth Vader, and Roger and Gene stood in for Luke and Han. Check it out:

God, I miss Siskel & Ebert (I wrote a tribute a few years back). They may have not have always seen eye to eye, but as evidenced in the clip they could be a formidable tag team. I love the part where Simon champions Tender Mercies over Return of the Jedi as a filmĀ  he would take his (hypothetical) children to see. Tender Mercies is a great film, but if I wanted to treat my (hypothetical) kids to a Saturday matinee, I’d probably opt for the fun space western with the cute robots over the painterly character study about the, erm… recovering alcoholic .

But that’s just me.

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