Sunday, March 11, 2012

Reflections on Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

After finding that Pulp Shakespeare video earlier today, I got thinking about Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.  And since the film was recently re-released in 3D I figured this would be a good time to express my feelings about the film.

To say that Episode I (as I like to call it) was one of the most anticipated and subsequently one of the biggest letdowns in film history is probably an understatement.  For whatever reason, despite the fact that it had a stellar cast, the movie never really coalesced.  Yes the film looked amazing (except the Yoda Muppet looked really funky) and it included what I consider the best light saber duel of the entire franchise, but many of the performances were stilted (Samuel L Jackson’s JedI Master Mace Windu) and some were just terrible (Jake Lloyd’s Anakin Skywalker).  On top of the film’s attempt at levity (Jar Jar Binks) was just kind of sad.  In many ways Episode I set the stage for the rest of the prequels, more so than in just setting up the plot, but in setting the tone for being pretty bad (don’t even get me started on the horrific acting done by Hayden Christensen in Episode II--thankfully he got a bit better in Episode III but not much).

I remember leaving the theater after seeing Episode I and just thinking “huh.”  I was a bit flabbergasted actually.  This film, which should have been amazing, was mediocre at best and a disgrace at worst.  Later when the movie came out on DVD, I watched the feature-length making-of documentary (which even if you couldn’t care less about Star Wars is a fascinating look at how this money was made and something that should interest any with a deep love of the filmmaking process).  What was so interesting about the documentary is that you got the sense that everyone involved thought they were working on something really special and I suspect that on paper the project looked amazing.  Sometimes things that look good on paper though don’t translate that well in execution.  It’s this fact that led me to coin one of my favorite lines/catch phrases (for lack of a better term) which is used in response to situation where a policy or idea that probably looked good in writing turns out to be an epic failure -- “It’s one of those things that looks good on paper.  You know like communism and Star Wars Episode I.”  With all of the expectations leading up to the release of The Phantom Menace, it’s no wonder that it was viewed as a disappointment.  It didn’t help matters though that it turned out to be such a dud of a movie (an IMHO the other two were really any better…in fact Episode II was worse).

So here we are well over a decade after the film’s release.  The prequel trilogy complete and we know the entire story behind Anakin Skywalker’s descent into the dark side and eventual redemption through the six films, along with a popular cartoon series, and lots and lots of books/comics.  More than anything else what bothers me most about the prequels is how George Lucas completely abandoned the original timeline for the series.  Or more accurately that it has become painfully obvious that Lucas was completely making all of this up as he went along.  If you doubt my conclusion, just go and watch the documentaries that were released as part of the original trilogy’s DVD release.  Unfortunately because he completely disregarded any previous notes he may have had, Lucas went against the information that he gave author Timothy Zahn to use when  he was writing the Thrawn Trilogy (which even though it takes place after Return of the Jedi, deals with the events of the Clone Wars).  The timeline change is most glaringly obvious in the character of Obi-Wan Kenobi.  In the original Star Wars film, Kenobi was a very old man (my guess is that he was well into his 70s).  In TPM (The Phantom Menace) he was said to be about the same age that Luke Skywalker was in the original film.  In that movie, Luke was about 20 so that makes Kenobi about 20 in TPM.  Episode II Attack of the Clones takes place 10 years after TPM, putting Obi-Wan at 30.  Episode III Revenge of the Sith takes place about three years after AOTC, making Obi-Wan 33 at the end of the prequel trilogy.  There is about 20 years in-between the end of ROTS and the original film (Episode IV A New Hope).  So that would make Kenobi about 53 years-old in ANH and I’m sorry but unless he was doing some seriously hard living while watching over Luke on Tatoonie, there is no way he aged that badly.  In fact, the Force is supposed to help you age better and Obi looked like he’d just completed a two decade long bender.  Not that I’ve put a lot of thought into this or anything…

The one thing I remember the most in anticipation to the release of Episode I was the fact that Samuel L. Jackson was going to play a Jedi Master.  How cool is that?  Samuel L. Jackson as Jedi Jules…that’s what I’m talking about.  Well before the film came out, someone put together a website that had the “10 things I want to hear Samuel L. Jack say in Star Wars Epsode I.”  The list was hilarious and full of references to Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction Jules Winnfield.  Sadly that original page is no more, but I did find the list in a message board post and I had to leave you with what is probably the best thing to come from Episode I --
From before Star Wars Episode 1:
The TOP 10 Things I Want To Hear Samuel L. Jackson, "Jedi Master Mace Windu," say in the upcoming Star Wars Prequel. 
10. You don't need to see my goddamn identification, 'cause these ain't the motherf***in' droids you're looking for. 
9. Womp rat may taste like pumpkin pie, but I'll never know, 'cause even if it did I wouldn't eat the filthy motherf***er. 
8. This is your father's lightsaber. When you absolutely, positively, have to kill every motherf***in stormtrooper in the room...accept no substitutes. 
7. If Obi-wan ain't home then I don't know what the fuck we're gonna do. I ain't got no other connections on Tattooine. 
6. Feel the Force, motherf***er. 
5. "What" ain't no planet I've ever heard of! Do they speak Bocce on "What"? 
4. You sendin' the Fett? S**t, Hutt, that's all you had to say! 
3. Yeah Chewie Rocky Horror's got a hair problem. What the brother gonna do? He's a wookie. 
2. Does Jabba the Hutt look like a bitch? 
1. Hand me my lightsaber... it's the one that says, "Bad Mother F***er."


Scott said...

LOL this list redeems it a little bit. It seems to me like the big thing lacking in the prequels that the original trilogy has is bravado. There was a certain feel the original series had like you were in a space western with a rough bunch. In the new ones, try as they might, that feel wasn't there any more.

Also the acting. Sir Alec Guinness + Harrison Ford + Carrie Fischer + James Earl Jones + Mark Hamil > Samuel L. Jackson + Ewan McGregor + Natalie Portman + whoever + whoever.

Dave said...

Agreed. The acting in the original trilogy was much better.