Revenge of Red Letter Media (in 3-D!)
Thirty-five years ago, George Lucas released a film that changed the way movies were made. Thirteen years ago, George Lucas released a film that changed the way fans behaved on the Internet. Three years ago, Milwaukee’s Red Letter Media took it upon itself to offer a scathing criticism of The Phantom Menace. The so-called “Mr. Plinkett” video went beyond the usual “Jar Jar sux!” and “Lucas raped my childhood!” level of criticism, and into something both savagely funny and thought-provoking. The A.V. Club recently stood in line with Red Letter Media’s Mike Stoklasa for the 3-D re-release of The Phantom Menace to discuss life as an Internet sensation and what the future holds for Red Letter Media.
The A.V. Club: Has Lucasfilm ever contacted you?
Mike Stoklasa: I received a crank call from Rick McCallum once. He said, “What is it with Mikes?” and hung up. I heard George Lucas laughing in the background, too. It was awesome. The call was so dense—every second had something going on in it!
AVC: What’s been the most amusing reaction to your prequel videos from a fan?
MS: A guy wrote a 108-page response to the Phantom Menace review, citing how I was wrong about all of my opinions. He then went on to explain how the audience “should have known” all these mysterious facts and leaps of logic. I didn’t read the whole thing, but I’ve seen snippets, and he didn’t seem to get the obvious parts where I was joking about something. He probably goes on a lot of dates and is a big hit with the ladies.
I’ve also received a lot of really nice e-mails from people saying how they look at their own writing or films differently after watching my reviews—which is neat to have made some kind of positive impact, especially from a horrible person like me.
AVC: What do you think of Lucas’ seeming willingness to laugh at himself now over things like Jar Jar?
MS: He’s laughed at himself over Jar Jar? I hadn’t heard that. I read recently he was saying that Han was never intended to have shot first—that we just didn’t understand how it was edited—which makes no sense at all given the way the scene was shot. I don’t know. George has made some strange statements recently, from Red Tails to the prequels, and so on. I’m not sure if he’s genuinely irritated with people, or if he’s just fucking around with them for fun. He seems to be responding more to criticism, which is something he hasn’t really done. I wish him the best in his retirement.
I imagine it would be because of the bottom line. Lucas used to be really strict about the Star Wars copyright, but as the Internet grew, and fan films and remixes became more prevalent, he had to change with the times. Or someone told him he had to change with the times. Lucasfilm started holding fan film contests and encouraging it, and so on. With things like Robot Chicken and Family Guy, I assume it’s strictly financial. Any kind of sanctity the characters and the story had is lost, and Star Wars is now this ubiquitous thing smeared all over the place in every possible way, including self-parody. I don’t think it really matters to him much anymore.
AVC: Why do you think he released the Star Wars films in 3-D starting with the least popular?
MS: Financially speaking, it would have made more sense to release Star Wars (a.k.a. A New Hope) first, since that’s the film that would do the best. But logically, if you want to tell the saga chronologically, you have to start with The Phantom Menace. So that’s the official reason, I suppose. But I think it would look like an admission of guilt if he started with Episode IV. It would look as if he was agreeing with the prequel detractors. But George doing something not based on money is strange. Isn’t it amazing that we’re still talking about Star Wars? The saga ended six years ago. It’s like Weekend At Bernie’s with the corpse of Star Wars.
AVC: Did the prequels introduce the idea of dreading sequels rather than being excited for them?
MS: The Star Wars prequels raised the bar for ruining a backstory. Remakes do the same thing, essentially: Take pre-existing material and get it wrong or miss the point about what made it good before. And I can see how that frustrates fans. So there is a lot of, “Oh no... they’re remaking THAT?” kind of reactions from people. We’ll say, “They did it right before, why remake it?” But people that think that way aren’t the great swath of popcorn-munching audiences. They’re in the minority. The great unwashed masses will flock to recognizable brand names. I watched a little of The Phantom Menace in 3-D, and the theater was filled with parents and kids. It was dead silent except for the sound of eating. Even when Jar Jar was doing his goofy stuff on screen, no kids laughed. Silence and eating. I wondered if the audience had independent thoughts in their heads, or if they were just like cattle chewing in a large room because the movie was called “Star Wars,” and it was something they recognized. Meanwhile, when I saw Hugo, it was with three other people in a mostly empty theater.
AVC: What projects have you tackled outside the Star Wars films?
MS: Well, Mr. Plinkett has reviewed all the Star Trek: The Next Generation films as well as Avatar, Cop Dog, Baby’s Day Out, and the fourth Indiana Jones. But we’ve also made a horror comedy feature called Feeding Frenzy, as well as a talking-fruit-and-vegetable film called Oranges: Revenge Of The Eggplant, and a psychological horror film called The Recovered. That’s in addition to making a lot of short films and a fun web series called The Grabowskis. We’re gearing up to shoot another feature this summer. A sci-fi comedy starring Rich Evans as a cop from the future... of space!!
AVC: What’s in the future for Red Letter Media?
MS: The future is so bright, I have a high-powered flashlight. Is that the expression?