If it's crap ... We'll tell you
So this blog in one way, pays homage to the marketers and advertisers, since they did a great job getting fans primed and ready for a non–stop thrill ride; as well as a commentary on the writers, actors, producers, and directors who should have their wages garnished for giving us such schlock.
Of course a column of this nature could only start with a film that has probably the most hyped marketing to let down ratio of all time, Star Wars: Episode I–The Phantom Menace.
Every saga has a beginning...but why did this saga have to have this bad of a beginning?
Sixteen years after the Jedi returned, George Lucas was set to give us a new trilogy of Star Wars flicks. These films would tell of the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker set against the backdrop of the rise of the Empire. Sixteen years of die–hard fans waiting, wondering, and conjuring up their own ideas of what the prequel trilogy should be. How could any film live up to that many years of hype? That in mind, I doubt anyone was ready for
the supreme letdown of this first (fourth) chapter of the Star Wars saga.
First things first–George Lucas took all of the lively fun of the original Star Wars, all of the wonderment of going to strange places and meeting stranger characters, and made the Episode I version of this journey very postmodern. It was almost as if he thought, 'We need a villain that rivals Darth Vader, a woman as headstrong and stubborn as Princess Leia, a hero as clueless, yet devoted as Luke, and comic relief as cute as the droids.
What do we get – Darth Maul, Queen Amidala, a ten–year–old Anakin, and Jar Jar Binks.
Let's run it down.
In Darth Maul, you get something never before seen in a Star Wars film–an actual Sith apprentice, and one that can move. Portrayed by martial artist, Ray Park, Darth Maul proves quite a match for Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, in one the films better sequences, not to mention one of the series' best lightsaber duels. Two issues I take here are that the character is made central to the story as if he'll be a true threat to the Jedi all trilogy long, and he's dispensed with almost as easily as Vader dispenses with Luke's hand. Another aspect of the film was the over marketing of it. I have held a belief since the film came out that if you didn't already know that he would wield a double–lightsaber, as seen in every trailer for the film, the film would have had a completely OMGWTF moment that might have made the film more bearable–your enjoyment would have increased ten–fold. Don't believe me? Just remember how amazed you were when you saw a regular lightsaber for the first time. I’m not saying keeping the reveal would’ve made Episode I an instant classic, but it would have helped create an eye–popping cinematic moment to remember fondly, just like a little film that released a few months earlier – when Lawrence Fishburne revealed the horror that humanity had be reduced to a Duracell.
Natalie Portman’s Queen Amidala, among other characters in the prequel trilogy is proof positive that it's either mighty hard to act in front of green–screens (which is doubtful), or Lucas writes and directs wooden dialogue. It was 25 years after he wrote and directed the first Star Wars, maybe he forgot. After all, the visionary didn’t write or direct Star Wars’ sequels. But considering Natalie Portman has given tour–de–force performances since she was 14, I doubt it was her fault. Maybe she doesn't know how to act with green screens because she never did it, maybe since decoys played by Keira Knightly and Sofia Coppola just as sub–par are to blame, but
considering Portman doesn't get much better as the series progresses, I think her director and writer are to blame.
Enough chatter has been made about ‘Mannequin Skywalker’ over the past ten years, and unfortunately it's all true. Somehow George Lucas picked Jake Lloyd over Haley Joel Osment to fill the young shoes of Darth Vader?!?! Hmmm, Oscar-nominated actor or the kid who was in Jingle all the Way? Yeah, let's go with the Jingle kid. Another problem with casting Lloyd is his age. We all want to know how Anakin became Vader, not how this kid became a teen who becomes Vader. I understand what Lucas was trying to do–trying to change Star Wars from a multi–character adventure to the life and death of Anakin Skywalker so it had
to start at the beginning, but did the future scourge of the galaxy have to be 100% precocious and have zero % any indication that this boy will be one evil SOB (no offense, Shmi). There is a deleted scene where Anakin is about to pulverize some little Greedo kid, which would have been all the indication we needed, but they cut it out. So not only did lil’ Lloyd give a stale performance, there was no believable scenes that foreshadow the future events of the series, except a cutesy exchange between the boy and Senator Palpatine at the end of the film.
Do I have to even speak on the make–shift, Rastafarian alien jerk store?... I didn't think so.
One last negative on the film, Midi–chlorians. These little buggers apparently mix with a person’s bloodstream and help create the force. The people born who are more apt to tap into this power have the potential to be Jedi. So, this whole great concept established in the original trilogy, with the notion that the Force is some sort of pseudo–cosmic religion and the Jedi are the Buddhist Space Monks keeping the faith is shot to intergalactic Sarlaac bits in an instant when Qui-Gon explains this to young Anakin. Georgie, some things don't have to be further elaborated on. When left to the imagination, The Force is badass, it's Tom Cruise in Top Gun. When explained as a space–age infection of sorts, the Force is Tom Cruise on Oprah's couch.
This is the Force...
This is the Force on Midi-chlorians. Any Questions?
So does that mean that Star Wars: Episode I–The Phantom Menace is a terrible film to be never be seen by anyone, anywhere? Not by any means. No we'll leave the unbearable to Terminator 3, or the Matrix Revolutions. This is still Star Wars, that's a huge amount of nostalgia there. Besides, for any complete marathon, you have to watch Episode I. There's still some decent scenes that make the film bearable. First, there's the Podrace – just watch it on mute so you don’t have to hear the two–headed commentators. One of the coolest race scenes of modern day cinema, complete with cameos from Jabba, Warwick Davis, and bounty hunter Aurra Sing. Obviously, we all know that lil' half-orphan Annie is going to win, but how we get to this point has a lot of cool action, and some fancy explosions.
One thing the prequels gave us were some of the best lightsaber duels in Star Wars history, this one was of the start of the trend.
Liam Neeson does an admirable job at playing the crafty and
Obi-Wan Kenobi is another sweet addition to any Star Wars flick, and Ewan McGregor does a great job in all three movies at channeling Sir Alec Guinness, and giving us a version of the Jedi Master when he was just a stud...er padawan. In Episode I, the Scot adds a bit of padawan mischief and youth to the future Jedi Knight. In each film, Ewan has a line that evokes old Ben, and here, he is given the honor of uttering 'I have a bad feeling
about this,' the instant we see him.
interesting arch in scenes with Amidala’s hand maiden, playing with the fact that he knows he’s really dealing with the Queen.
One other reason that Episode I was a decent flick–being the first part of the Star Wars saga, the film has echoes and rhythms that are callbacks to future events in the story we've already seen–foreshadowing events
that we already know will happen. Meeting R2 and 3P0 for the first time, seeing Jabba and Warwick Davis (albeit out of his Wicket suit). We are also of course privy to witnessing the golden age of the Jedi. The only Jedi we see in the original trilogy is Ben. Here we see the entire council and how they operate. Not to mention, again one of the best fight scenes of the entire saga. Stunt coordinator Nick Gillard should be commended as the lightsaber duel that closes out Episode I is a sight to behold and foreshadows that, at least in terms of space–age swashbuckling action, Episode I–The Phantom Menace was just the beginning.
So what do you guys think looking back on Star Wars: Episode I–The Phantom Menace? Was the first chapter of the Star Wars saga way over–hyped or just right?
Standing in the shadow of Vader, in more ways than one.