Of late, I’ve heard and read a lot of negative commentary for Star Wars: Episode I: the Phantom Menace.
About how it’s 7th out of 6 (right after the Holiday Special).
About how it’s racist, simplistic, and hackneyed.
About how it’s a betrayal of all that Star Wars was a long time ago, in a genre-starved landscape far away…
I have a very short, and straightforward response to this commentary.
Suck it up, nerds.
Before we begin, you should know that I also have a deep dislike of the 90 minute poop joke that is Jar Jar Binks. Similarly, I don’t defend the trade federation, that interminable pod race, Watto, or YiPPEE!
I concede all of those points and more. Mainly because those same tPM haters almost universally revere Ep. III as the redemption of the prequel trilogy, which for me completely invalidates any anguments they want to make.
More on Ep. III in a bit, but here’s how it breaks down, for me. The Phantom Menace is a slightly less competent Return of the Jedi, with a horrible script wrapped around an overly simplistic, but still original plot. On my (very) infrequent rewatchings (usually with a LOT of alcohol at hand) I can see what George Lucas was trying to do, and more or less where he went wrong.
And I still saw it six times opening day.
Sometimes with friends, sometimes alone, often falling asleep during that focacta pod race. My memories of that day rank right alongside seeing the original Star Wars in the theater with my family, then more or less every day for a year afterwards.
You know what else wasn’t a good movie? Star Wars. Not only was it stolen whole cloth from Kurosawa’s A Hidden Fortress, but it’s replete with holes and the limitations of 1977 special effects. And while I don’t agree with the constant tinkering, as a writer myself I completely understand why Ser Lucas wants/wanted to improve the work.
I saw the re-releases in the theater. I bought the highest quality VHS copies I could, twice, then the best possible laserdiscs. I have the remastered and “original” movies on DvD, and someday will have the best possible digital transfers.
Star Wars for me hit at exactly the right time. It gave me something to rebuild my life around, at a time when the world around me literally made no sense. I could lose myself in Luke, Han, and Leia, and when the credits ran I was able to face reality.
The Phantom Menace is not that movie. It never will be. Its fatal flaw is that it tried to be all three previous films at once, and it didn’t spend enough of its ponderous 136 minute run time on its own defining characteristic.
Fully. Trained. Jedi. Knights.
Qui-Gon Jinn kicked so much ass, they had to ship some in from other star systems just to keep up. He gave zero fucks about what the Jedi council thought about it, listened to the Force, and then choked and mind-wiped and lightsabered whoever he thought needed it.
He steals a spaceship with a head of state aboard, lands for gas, then kidnaps a little kid because he feels like it. His apprentice is worried that he (Obi-Wan) isn’t kicking enough ass, and Qui-Gon essentially tells him “Nobody else can, don’t worry about it. Now go make me a sammich.”
Then they get jumped by a pointy-headed, dual lightsaber wielding evil freak. Qui-Gon sends the kids off to play, and then gets down to BIZNESS.
That’s my movie. That’s what I want to see, again and again. Qui-Gon Jinn kicking ass and not even bothering to take names.
And then the coolest character in all cinema gets stabbed in the gut with an instant death weapon for no reason whatsoever. Mind you, Qui-Gon manages to live a while longer to give Obi-Wan his marching orders and deliver his chosen one prophecy again but still. That’s George Lucas’s movie, that he wants US to see, again and again.
So I did, as mentioned above.
Ep. II, not so much. Twice in the theater, twice at home, and two hours of “OBI-WAN IS HOLDING ME BACK” and war criminal Yoda burned away whatever goodwill Qui-Gon generated, bringing me to a place of “have I wasted my life with this crap?”
Ep. III was so bad from the jump, that on my one and only viewing I had to be physically restrained from leaving the theater.
I may not have been clear on this point, so let me state it more succinctly. Ep. III is a steaming pile of Bantha poodoo, and I’d rather watch the Battle for Endor (for a fifth time) or Caravan of Courage (third, although another one might have slipped in sometime in the ‘80s, I’m not exactly sure) then ever see it again.
How bad do I think Ep. III: Revenge of the Shit is? I don’t own it. That’s right, me, Captain Fan Boy, does not and will not own a copy of Ep. III. I have a copy of that shitty Transformers movie (that I also walked out of.) I own Manos, Hands of Fate (and not the MST3K version). I even have a movie about zombie-fighting baseball players.
Which is a musical.
Why? Because if I own a DvD of something, it means I want to watch it more than once.
And I never want to see that crap again.
Don’t bother trying to sway me on this point. You can’t win, I have the higher ground. And only the Sith deal in absolutes.
Does this mean I no longer like Star Wars? Nope. Far from it. In fact, I love it all the more. There are some craptastic Star Trek episodes and movies too, but I still bought them. I’ve already got tickets lined up for The Force Awakens, and every teaser, every trailer that we were expressly told we were not going to get ramps up my excitement a little more.
See you nerds in line.