I know this is heresy, but Star Wars isn’t a great movie. (KABOOM. Whew, that lightning just missed me.) Its first sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, may deserve that overworked label, but Star Wars was just that — star wars — and if you were ten or under, you thought it was the best thing this side of a birthday party. It wasn’t; it was just a rehash of adventure-serial tricks that a generation of kids was seeing for the first time. (The same was true of the more openly parodic, and thus more satisfying, Indiana Jones series.)
All of this is an effort to explain why StarGate, a heavy and boring new space opera directed by Roland Emmerich (Universal Soldier), is scoring with kids and twentysomethings. Kids, of course, won’t recognize the constant swipes from Star Wars, Dune, Flash Gordon, and every other fantasy film of the past two decades; to them it’s Star Wars 2, like Woodstock 2 for Gen-Xers who weren’t around for the first one. Twentysomethings, on the other hand, may enjoy StarGate because Gen-X is nostalgic for anything that smells like the ’70s, and StarGate is certainly as mythical-lightweight as Star Wars. Actually, it comes closer to the TV rip-off Battlestar Galactica (which some Gen-Xers loved as kids and look back on fondly).
I apologize for the following sentence, but it’s my duty. James Spader is an Egyptologist pressed into service by the government to decode a series of symbols that will activate a giant ring leading to another world. (Whew.) Kurt Russell, a bitter colonel wracked with guilt over his little boy’s death (the kid shot himself playing with Kurt’s gun), leads a platoon accompanying Spader to a desert planet ruled by Jaye Davidson with Darth Vader voice enhancements. (Whew.) StarGate is loud and convoluted, and unless you get off on special effects the only reason to see it is James Spader, who underplays and rescues his scenes just as he rescued his other big-budget beast this year, Wolf. Russell, in his Falling Down buzz-cut, looks vaguely embarrassed yet hopeful that StarGate will continue the box-office streak that Tombstone began. It will. But he shouldn’t respect himself in the morning.