Robert's Reviews



Here there be spoilers - by Robert Delaney

Crap. Total crap. Irredeemable crap. Sitting in the theatre, I could almost hear the voice of the late Sam Kineson screaming. "Ohh! Ohh! I'm in Hell! I'm in Hell!!!" I had thought that The Phantom Menace was a profound disappointment, but...

Maybe I should be more constructive. Let's go back to the beginning (I'm tempted to say, "A long time ago, in a movie theatre far, far away," but I'm much too sophisticated to go for anything that obvious). When I first saw The Phantom Menace at that midnight premier showing, I was really disappointed, but I got to thinking that maybe I was being too harsh because, after seventeen years of anticipation, no film could possibly live up to my expectations. So I watched it again when it came out on video (someone gave it to me; I certainly wouldn't spend my own money on it), thinking that, now that I knew what to expect, I could approach it more objectively and realize that it wasn't so bad after all. But this was not to be. I thought it was even worse on the second viewing. I watched it for the third time a few days before Attack of the Clones opened, and it was worse still. Having had this time to digest it, I think that the biggest problem is that The Phantom Menace is a children's film. As an adult viewer, I found young Anakin Skywalker to be a bit too precocious, and the ending, where he accidentally destroys the enemy ship, saving the day, elicited a deep "oh puh-lease." (And if Anakin was able to destroy the bad guys' space ship by flying into it and firing one shot at the main reactor, one would think that someone would have suggested fixing that little design flaw by the time Luke Skywalker came along.) However, I could also see that young children wouldn't be bothered by this and would, instead, identify with young Anakin, finding the whole thing to be very exciting. It's a shame that George Lucas made a film that no one who was alive when the first Star Wars was released would be able to enjoy ("Thank you for keeping the torch alive for twenty years; now go to hell").

In all fairness, The Phantom Menace does actually have a germ of a genuine idea buried deep within it (very deep; set Rationalizors to full power): the planet Naboo has two races - humans and Gun-Guns - who mistrust and dislike each other; when threatened by a common enemy, they put aside their differences and ultimately forge a lasting friendship. If this had been the central plot of the film rather than a peripheral element, it might actually have become a good film. Unfortunately, no such idea exists anywhere in Attack of the Clones. Perhaps, one day, when scientists have unlocked the secrets of the matter/antimatter, reaction, future generations will be able to build Rationalizors powerful enough. Nor does Attack of the Clones have a child protagonist so that we can merely dismiss it as a kiddy film that doesn't need to have any intelligent content. Who's this one for, George?

The other big problem is that the new trilogy is not showing us the only two things that we really care about seeing. The first is how Anakin crosses over to the Dark Side to become Darth Vader. In The Phantom Menace, I kept looking for that hint of darkness that we know must be there. When we find out he that grew up as a slave, I thought that the enslavement could make him bitter; the bitterness could lead to anger; and the anger leads him to the Dark Side. Instead, he seems pretty content with his life: playing with his friends, building droids, and flying podracers. There could have been a scene where he's working on Threepio, but the droid's not activating. He throws down a tool in anger; a blank look comes over his face; the Force theme music plays; he gets an idea, makes an adjustment, and Threepio activates. This would show that he's intuitively tapping into the Force and that the Dark Side is rushing to aid him just as Yoda had warned Luke it would. There could also have been a moment in the pod race where we see him becoming surprisingly ruthless to one of his opponents in order to win - maybe using the Force to damage another racer's controls. Instead The Phantom Menace ignores it completely. Attack of the Clones actually has one scene that deals with this - only one - when Anakin kills the Tuskin Raiders who killed his mother. It's the only genuinely dramatic moment in the entire film; the rest is just filler.

The second thing that we want to see is how Palpatine becomes the Emperor and turns the "Old Republic" into the "Evil Imperial Galactic Empire." As soon as a character named Senator Palpatine is introduced in The Phantom Menace, we know that he will become the Emperor (we were told so on the first page of the Star Wars novelization twenty-five years ago) and therefore must be the mysterious hooded man who is shown pulling the strings. I kept waiting for the scene where the hooded man takes down his hood, and we go "Oh my God! It's Palpatine!" Then the scene where the queen places him in the position of power could have been played for tragic irony. At the very least, during the final celebration in The Phantom Menace, there could have been a closeup of him, and an evil expression briefly crosses his face that nobody but we in the audience see. (Shakespeare's Henry VI Part 3 has that exact ending with Richard revealing to the audience that he's already plotting the events that will be portrayed in Richard III). Attack of the Clones continues to ignore this by not suggesting that Palpatine is anything other than a nice guy and not spending any real time with the hooded man so that we can learn more about his ultimate agenda even if we're not supposed to know who he really is. There's an awful lot of stuff that has to take place in Episode III to rescue this trilogy from being a total loss.

Let the nitpicking begin!

In conclusion: crap, crap, crap. And I'd like to say something about the audience too. I saw The Phantom Menace at it's midnight premier, and, even though I didn't like the movie, it was one of the best movie-going experiences I've ever had. One of my biggest pet peeves is people talking during a film, but this audience was completely silent. They were the true fans who were there because they really wanted to see this film. However, at the midnight premier of Attack of the Clones (in unlucky cinema thirteen of my local multiplex) the audience was quite different - having conversations, heckling the screen, and laughing at inappropriate times. Clearly, they were there to be part of an event and not to "merely" watch a movie. It would seem that the people who truly loved Star Wars have abandoned the series and have been replaced by the common rabble. I know Attack of the Clones is going to be very popular anyway - although I'm smugly pleased that it's not breaking Spider-Man's record - and that its fans will surely accuse me of being a big, elitist snob. And so I am. There's a phenomenon I've observed: from time to time, a work is created that is so good that it appeals to both the discriminating as well as the undiscriminating audience. As it spawns the inevitable sequels, the magic eventually runs out, and the quality begins to drop. The discriminating audience loses interest, but the undiscriminating audience is so large that the series continues to be wildly successful as happened with Ann McCaffrey's Dragonrider books, Wendy Pini's ElfQuest comics, all the recent Star Trek episodes, and now George Lucas' Star Wars films.

So, is it ok to like it anyway? No, it's not. I'm reminded of a scene in the movie, Broadcast News, where Albert Brooks descibes William Hurt as being the devil. The other person is skeptical, but Brooks warns that the devil will not appear to us with pointed horns and fiery breath; instead, the devil will appear to us with a pleasant face, and his method of corruption will be to gradually lower our standards. In this context, George Lucas is, beyond any doubt, the devil. And anyone who likes his latest film is most certainly damned.

Guide for parents: Violence is about the same as the previous films. A head and an arm are cut off by lightsabres, but no graphic gore is shown. There are scantily clad dancers briefly shown in a bar, and Padmé wears a couple of revealing outfits - one without a bra, if you know what I mean. However the real issue is not whether your kids should see it, but whether you should see it, so here's the plan: call up your parents and say, "Mom, Dad, I was just thinking that you don't get to spend enough quality time with the grandkids; how about taking them to that new Star Wars movie, my treat?" This way, you don't have to sit through it, and you get to punish your parents for all the mean things they did to you when you were little by making them sit through it. I know that revenge is not the Jedi way, but we're not Jedi, are we?

Links: Official website and Internet Movie Database Entry

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