Earlier in the week, my nephew wanted me to see The Phantom Menace (I decided not to put the words “Star Wars” with it.) with him. I didn’t want see it, but I didn’t want to disappoint him either. He’s 18 and has seen all of the good (read: original ones). Apparently, he just couldn’t miss the 3D, big screen version of this one. A smart lad, he made a 35 on the ACT, but I knew that he didn’t know what he was doing and would be disappointed.
How did I know that? Because I was disappointed when I first saw it. I could remember the awe of seeing Star Wars (before they added “New Hope”) on the first row of the old Capitol Theater. The music. The spaceship flying across the screen. It was beautiful. I hoped against hope that The Phantom Menace would provide the same feeling but deep down knew that it would be impossible. George Lucas should have known it would be impossible too.
Anyway, we went to the movie and donned our glasses. The music played and an old feeling of awe emerged. Then, the paragraph hit the screen with the words “taxation” and “trade routes” Who in the world would make a movie about those things? A lot of action there. That feeling of awe seeped right out of my soul. Throughout the movie, I kept thinking about all of the problems.
1. They made a complicated series about economics and politics. I have to put up with that in real life. When I go to a movie named Star Wars, I want to escape my world. The first movie (I mean the real first one.) was a simple good guys v. bad guys affair. The story has been filmed countless times. Lucas just added some special effects to it. Although, he says otherwise. I am convinced that Lucas had one western-type story to film, and it hit huge. When the studio saw that money could be made, they asked for more. There couldn’t have been a grand plan for an epic. If so, then why did a brother kiss a sister? There is no way he thought past the first one.
I know. This is going too long. However, the richer Lucas became the more he thought people were interested in his views on the world. We are not. We are interested in him making simple stories with a lot of cool effects.
Oh, and how do you democratically elect a queen?
2. Everybody complains about Jar Jar Binks, but he is actually the most endearing member of his species. The fat leader was ridiculous. I know people jumped on Jar Jar because of racism, and there is no way he is a good sidekick replacement for Chewy. However, the absolute worst character is the announcer for the race. In action films, comedy should be subtle. You don’t need clowns spouting off everywhere.
3. Computer generated aliens are not as good as people dressed like aliens. Lucas got all happy with his technology and made too many insect-looking creatures. The cool ones were walking around on two legs with humanoid features. Like the plot, some things should be kept simple.
4. Lucas introduced a kid. How can we believe that a cute little blonde kid is going to grow up to be one of the greatest villains in movies history? It should have started with him being a pissed off teenager. And, how gross is it to see Natalie Portman and this kid together when we know that they will eventually get it on? Very upsetting.
I could go on, but I don’t want to be like Lucas and drag this thing out. When the film ended, I asked my nephew how he liked it. He liked it. A lot. In fact, he liked it better than the original. How could that be? Maybe it was seeing it on the big screen. He has only seen the first ones on TV, and, honestly, that does take away some effect. He’s a smart kid. I had to know. So, I asked why. He replied that the first one was too slow with too much talking. I couldn’t believe it, so I watched it the next day. Turns out that he is right.
Star Wars was groundbreaking movie that changed the audience and the industry, but, like many things, it seems bigger as a child. Like I tell my history classes, people talk about the good old days, but they were never really that good. All generations have problems, but we look at the past through rose-colored glasses. I think some Star Wars fans, including me, have done this. The first movies had such an impact that nothing else could compare. But, young people like my nephew have a different perspective. Not just about Star Wars but about the world.
So, maybe Lucas was right after all. They are his movies to do as he pleases. Just like a professional football team, there are fans, but there is also an owner. In the end, it belongs to him. Star Wars belongs to Lucas. Maybe he realized the purity of the first ones needed to be changed for a new world view. Perhaps he realized that 21st Century audiences needed a more complicated story. It could be that he wasn’t making them for the 1970s/80s fans.
With that in mind I started thinking about The Phantom Menace with a more positive view.
1. It was cool to see the Jedi Council building. I only wish that Samuel L. Jackson had looked at Liam Neeson and said, “Look motherfucker! Can’t you see that this little punk is going to become the baddest ass we have ever seen?!”
2. Darth Maul was cool too. How can you go wrong with a red dude with horns? After all, only Satan could precede Darth Vader.
3. Liam Neeson made an excellent Jedi. At least he made the movie and didn’t bitch afterwards like Alec Guiness did for years.
4. Jar Jar and the gang turned out to be pretty good on the battlefield. They stood up to the droid army and didn’t slobber on themselves too much. Besides, how bad could they be compared to Ewoks?
In the end, my nephew changed my mind a little about The Phantom Menace. Then, he asked, “Which is better, Star Wars or Star Trek? Sigh.