Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ten Years After

I just realized something-- May 19, 2009 was the TENTH anniversary of the premiere of "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace."

It's hard to believe it's been TEN years since George Lucas foisted this horse-faced, lop-eared frog onto an unsuspecting public. It just doesn't seem possible that we've been living in this Post-Jar Jar World for an entire decade. How quickly the years roll by.

My theory is that it hasn't really been ten years since the movie came out. What's actually happening is that the world wants to distance itself from the movie so badly that it's begun to spin faster in order to send it into the past quicker.

As you may have gathered, ten years hasn't mellowed my opinion of "The Phantom Menace." As far as I'm concerned, it still stinks.


  1. There were moments I liked out of the movie, but obviously, it has a lot of problems. Right off the top of my head, I can think of a couple:

    If Anakin came from Tatooine, wouldn't that be a crappy place for Luke to hide?

    The magic Jedi Juice. I think they were called them Meta Chlorians or something like that, but I don't feel like looking it up. Back in 1977, I thought the Force was like Zen in that if you worked hard enough, you could channel the Force. Now I find out that it's either something you have like herpes or you don't. Kind of puts a damper on the phrase "May the Force Be With You."

    All of the cutesy crap like Jar Jar that was meant to be funny. Makes you wonder if George Lucas watches or even likes movies.

    Being King George. My guess is that Lucas is so rich and powerful that he's surrounded by obsequious suck-ups. Nobody was going to tell him that the emperor was buck naked.

    Digital film making. King George could never decide when enough was enough. He must have flustered armies of underlings with his inability to get off of the pot.

    Rust. George hasn't directed too many films. He had the good sense to turn the original sequels over to other directors. That sense fled him with the prequels. If only Sam Raimi or Peter Jackson were given a shot. An opportunity of a lifetime blown and a mythology sullied. What a shame!

  2. Haw! Good points! I agree with all of them.

    Yes, the midiclorians were a horrible idea. It changed the meaning of "May the Force be with you" to "May your genetic predisposition for telekinesis be retroactively altered in your favor."

    You hit the nail on the head in regards to Lucas surrounding himself with yes men. From what I've read, he started out producing movies with a partner named Gary Kurtz. Kurtz wasn't afraid to say, "That's a terrible idea, George." Shortly after "Raiders of the Lost Ark" they had a falling out and went their separate ways. Now there's nobody at the ranch with the guts to tell George "no." We've all been suffering for it ever since.

  3. Some things that still bother me about the film after all this time:

    It's Unnecessary
    "The Phantom Menace" reminds me of an old Daffy Duck cartoon, where he's pitching a concept to a movie mogul. The mogul suggests he start at the beginning. Daffy says something like, "OK. First, there was darkness. Then BOOM! KABAMM! Light pierces the dark, as entire galaxies erupt into being!" The studio chief says, "Not THAT far back!"

    That's how I feel about PM. Did we really need to go all the way back to Darth Vader's childhood to find out what makes him tick? I'll answer for you: No, we did not. In fact, the entire PM movie could have been summed up in a five minute prologue, just like at the beginning of "The Fellowship of the Ring." Actually there was more substance and drama in "Fellowship's" prologue than in the entirety of PM.

    I have no insider knowledge on the subject, but I have to assume that when George Lucas finally sat down to assemble the prequel trilogy he realized he didn't have enough material for three movies, so he was forced to go back even farther into Vader's life and start the tale when he was a wee lad.

    Whose Story Is It, Anyway?
    It certainly doesn't seem to be Anakin's. He doesn't show up until half an hour or more into the movie. Even after he does finally arrive on the set, his presence doesn't drive the story. He has little or no effect on the plot.

    It's not Obi-Wan's story either, as he disappears from the middle of the movie altogether.

    Is it Padme's story? She's there for two reasons-- to meet young Anakin and plant a seed of desire, and to unite her people against the Droid Army. She hardly seems the main character.

    How about Jar Jar? Actually if you can resist the urge to fast forward through his scenes, he has something that faintly resembles a character arc. He starts out as an inept and clumsy cretin, but his awkwardness actually saves the day in the battle at the end, earning him the grudging respect of his peers. Odd that a ill-advised and unnecessary CGI creation gets better treatment than the so-called main character.

    It seems clear that this is Qui-Gon's story. He's in practically every scene, he makes all the decisions and fights all the bad guys, and even gets a heroic death. Isn't it strange that the first chapter of Vader's life concentrates not on him but on a character we've never heard of before, and will never see again after this movie? Personally I think Lucas wanted a shocking death in the movie, and he couldn't very well kill Obi-Wan, so he created Qui-Gon just so he could kill him at the end.

    Obi-Wan's Wig
    Back in 1999 George Lucas could be heard crowing about the fact that his actors were under contract to come back after principal filming to shoot "pick up" scenes-- scenes that helped the movie flow better after he assembled a rough cut and found it lacking.

    Apparently when Ewan McGreggor came back for his pick-ups, his hair was much longer than it originally was. He either wouldn't or contractually couldn't cut it, so they put him in a very obvious spiky-haired wig. One would think that on a multi-million dollar production such as PM that they could have scrounged up a wig that wasn't from a high school play, but there you go.

    I'm not going to provide a full list of wig scenes; besides, just look closely and you'll spot them easily enough for yourself. The most obvious example is when Obi-Wan first meets Jar Jar.

    The Gungan Language
    If you want your aliens to speak an alien language, hire someone to create one, like Star Trek did with Klingon. DO NOT under any circumstances have your alien characters speak in faux pigeon English such as "Welly, it's a longo tello," or "Thissen Hissen." Any time a Gungan spoke it made my ears bleed.

  4. More stuff that still bothers me about Phantom Menace:

    Set Pieces Masquerading As Plot
    You don't have to analyze the film very hard to realize that there's no actual plot. It's really just a series of big, loud set pieces strung together in order to showcase ILM's capabilities and to satisfy Lucas' obsession with racing and speed.

    Being A Slave Is Fun!
    For someone who we are told is a slave, young Anakin seems to have a pretty sweet life. He and his mom live in a fairly nice apartment dwelling. He has his own room. He has enough spare time to tinker together his own robot, and to somehow become proficient at pod racing. I would have killed for such a life when I was a kid.

    He does have to toil against his will, but it appears that he only works 9 to 5 and does little more than light cleaning duties at Watto's junkyard. Watto himself doesn't seem all that cruel a master; he even lets Anakin knock off early for the day ("Yippee!).

    Everything Young Anakin Does Is By Sheer Dumb Luck
    Because Anakin is a child, Lucas can't have him going around saving the universe without it looking preposterous. Therefore he has to contrive ways for Anakin to take action without actually doing anything. The space battle at the end is a prime example. Anakin hides in a space fighter, and accidentally sets it in motion. He blindly switches on the autopilot (and we're given a very weak reason why R2-D2 can't shut it off) and the ship flies straight into the hangar of the enemy ship. He then fires off a few laser rounds just for the hell of it, and somehow manages to hit a reactor that blows up the ship. Heroes should be in control of their heroics, not fall ass-backward into victory.

    The Whole "Virgin Birth" Thing
    When Qui-Gon asks Anakin's mom who's his daddy, she says there was none. I thought maybe we would eventually get a better explanation for his birth, mainly that Palpatine Force-hypnotized Anakin's mom and impregnated her, but the matter is never brought up again in any of the subsequent movies (unless it was covered while I dozed off). Apparently Lucas wants us to believe that the Force somehow impregnated Anakin's mom. I don't condsider myself all that religious, and even I find that idea offensive

  5. Okay, a few more:

    The Jedi prophecy is crap. Anakin is the chosen one and supposedly he fulfills that role by killing the Emperor in R.O.J. Some Messiah! Sheesh. He takes out Palpatine after killing all the Jedi and destroying some planets and snuffing out countless lives across the galaxy. It's kind of like helping Hitler destroy all of Europe, kill millions and in the end bash Adolph's head in with a rock. Ditch the Jedi prophecy or at least let it be about Luke.

    Why does C3PO have to be Anakin's creation. I wouldn't have missed the droids if they were in the prequels.

    Lucas is not an actor's director. I've seen most all of the members of the cast in various separate movies, and they are all pretty good. Somehow Lucas managed to extract wooden performances from a talented cast. Depressants in the cast punch bowl?

    Too much telekinesis! Did Carrie need a laser sword when she was throwing the kitchen at her mom?

    I liked Darth Maul a lot. In such an overwrought film he was so wonderfully simple. Just grease paint and contact lenses. Killed him off too soon.

    Move along! There's been a number of series of films that could have been one and done. Fresh ideas, please. We didn't need the prequels as we didn't need a Matrix trilogy. Aren't there other properties these guys could develop?

    I've probably got a few more.

  6. You got that right about Lucas not being an actor's director. I think the problem with the wooden performances was all the green screen shooting that Lucas was so proud of.

    In every interview I read, he would constantly crow about how he was pioneering a brand new way of shooting films. He was very proud of the fact that he shot everything on an empty green screen stage, and he could assemble a finished shot from all sorts of bits and pieces that had been filmed separately.

    The poor actors were forced to stand on an empty stage, trying to hit their marks and figure out where they were supposed to look. Most of the time they were saying their lines to someone or something that wouldn't be added until months later. No wonder their performances were stiff!

    It might be a new filming technique, but it's no way to make a movie.

  7. Another thing is where is the stuff I've never seen before? It's a more abstract point, but in 1977, I was blown out the back of the theater. I'm thinking of the production design. The idea of the storm troopers being in white fiberglass armor. The idea of light sabers was new, and the sound. The movie seemed to come out of nowhere fully formed. It created a genre, and now everything seems derivative particularly the sequel/prequels. The war scenes in the sequels seemed to be plucked from every sci-fi paperback cover published in the last 40 years.

    Will there ever be any thing like it again?


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