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Star Wars (1977-2005) [movie series]

Every generation has a legend. Every journey has a first step. Every saga has a beginning. | Episode I guide

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Old Jul 6, 2004, 12:17 AM   #1
JACKER
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Unhappy I Miss arguing about TPM

So here we go. On his site James Berardinelli wrote this defence of phantom menace
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
June 22, 2004 (Tuesday):

The Phantom Defense

It has become fashionable over the last five years to bash all things related to George Lucas in general, and The Phantom Menace in particular. Let me be the first to say that Lucas deserves a fair amount of criticism. He's not what one might call a fan-friendly man, and, over the years, he has been guilty of money grubbing of the worst kind (think of all those people who bought about eight different versions of the original Star Wars movie on VHS and laserdisc, just so they could have the new bells & whistles). But casting down a perfectly entertaining space opera on the grounds that it's not the second coming of Star Wars is ludicrous and unfair. So the time has come for someone to step up and defend The Phantom Menace. And, since I gave the movie ***1/2 at its release, and have not changed my opinion since then, I'll accept the task.

Think back to May of 1999, a week before the release of Episode 1. No film in the history of cinema had been more anticipated. The level of expectation was through the roof. Hardly anyone was talking about anything else. You couldn't go anywhere or read anything without running into a Phantom Menace reference. I was asked dozens of times each day whether I had seen the movie (I had, but was sworn to secrecy until the day before it opened). Not since the opening of Star Trek: The Motion Picture had I witnessed such a fan-inspired frenzy. However, this time, the spillover washed over all aspects of pop culture, spreading far and wide from the hardcore fan base. It was insane... glorious, but insane. And it necessitated a major letdown.

It isn't possible to have that kind of humongous buildup without a similarly large letdown. You drink too much and get high, then crash and wake up with a hangover. The two go hand-in-hand. Those who went into The Phantom Menace expecting it to be the best movie of the year, or the decade, or the century, or ever, were misguided from the start. Why saddle any movie with such unreachable expectations? I approached the film modestly, remembering that Return of the Jedi had been a disappointment, and there was no reason to expect The Phantom Menace to be better. What I saw on that evening when I attended a pre-release screening was a movie that was more engaging than the Ewok-infested, poorly-paced Episode 6, but something that was not quite up to the level of storytelling provided by Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. In short, the biggest foe faced by The Phantom Menance was the level of anticipation. Fair? No. But realistic.

Frankly, a lot of people went into this movie expecting to have a similar experience to what they underwent on a balmy summer evening in 1977. No matter how good The Phantom Menace was, that wasn't going to happen. The genie was out of the bottle. In 1977, Star Wars was new and fresh (although not original). It crashed unexpectly into pop culture and dug out a niche. By the time The Phantom Menace arrived, the niche had become a well-fortified trench. And everyone around it had grown up.

Most die-hard Star Wars fans are around my age - between 30 and 40. They saw the first film when they were a child, and it left a lasting impression. The passage of time, which always amplifies a cherished memory, made the experience of seeing Star Wars something more than just sitting in a darkened theater watching images on a screen. There's magic in the memory, and to ask The Phantom Menace to re-create the magic isn't fair, because the circumstances are so different. Ask a 9-year old kid who saw The Phantom Menace in 1999 what he/she thought of the film, and you're likely to get a postive response. (I know, because I have asked quite a few.) 9-year olds liked The Phantom Menace. With them, it wasn't competing with any ghosts. 35-year olds didn't. The question is, is that because it wasn't a very good movie or because their perceptions were colored by shades of past Star Wars images? I believe it to be the latter, and I'll continue this defense by looking at some of the most common charges leveled at Episode 1.

The Plot: Considering the corner he backed himself into by deciding to make prequels (rather than sequels), Lucas did a respectable job crafting the story. It's got all the important bits - a beginning, a middle, and an end; segments on various planets; comedy, action, and tragedy; and it introduces all of the major characters and themes. Like the original three movies, it's a simple tale of good vs. evil. And, in the climax, it uses the same kind of intercutting that was a hallmark of Return of the Jedi. This generates a surprising amount of tension and energy. The main complaint about the plot seems to be that it lacks originality. You won't get an argument about that from me, but I don't see it as a drawback. The same criticism can be leveled at Star Wars, which was just as straightforward and occasionally hokey. Yet what was viewed as charming in 1977 is suddenly crass and creatively bankrupt in 1999? Huh? Lucas isn't cannabilizing himself any more in The Phantom Menace than he was stealing from Kurosawa, earlier serials, and space operas in Star Wars. Plus, I think a lot of the die-hard fans are simply pissed off that the movie didn't go in exactly the direction they had wanted. Expectations again.

The Screenplay: I hear all the time about how painful the dialogue is. Granted, it's not Shakespeare, but it gets the job done. Lest a reminder be needed, the original Star Wars had its share of clunkers and howlers, and even the line that everyone remembers ("May the Force be with you") is silly - it's just that it caught on and was repeated everywhere. If you're attending a Star Wars movie in search of meaningful dialogue and deep character interaction, you have wandered into the wrong theater.

The Actors: The actors appearing in The Phantom Menace take a lot of abuse, but I would argue that this ensemble is an improvement over the group that headlined Star Wars. Okay, so Jake Lloyd is a little raw, but he's also a kid. Natalie Portman is a better actress than she shows here, but she's okay. Ditto for Ewan McGregor. Liam Neeson and Ian McDiarmid are good. Look back to 1977, when it's hard not to cringe every time Mark Hamill utters a line of dialogue. Harrison Ford's woodenness is striking. And Carrie Fisher's performance doesn't scream "Oscar." All we're left with is Peter Cushing and Alec Guiness, both of whom are admittedly superb. (I don't count Darth Vader, since he's wearing a mask and is voiced by someone other than the actor playing him.)

The Villains: Here's where The Phantom Menace falls short of Star Wars. There's no Darth Vader. And, although Darth Maul is a perfectly acceptable short-term bad guy, there is a little bit of a vacuum, because Vader is only ten years old and is still on the good side. In limited screen time, Maul radiates enough malice to capture the attention of kids, proving that Lucas understands what's needed to fashion a villain. And Sidious, although more malevolent, is too much in the background to be a factor.

The Pod Race: A lot of people don't like this sequence, but I think it's one of the most exciting and visually interesting portions of the movie. And, in addition to being fun, it reveals a few things about Anakin's character.

The Special Effects: It's hard to imagine anyone complaining about the effects in Episode 1, but some people did. I guess they thought there were too many or that the movie looked overly computer-generated. Personally, I thought what Lucas accomplished added a rich texture to the story. For the most part, the effects were integrated seamlessly. Lucas has always been about pushing the edge when it comes to visuals, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that the effects eclipse the characters. To an extent, they did that in 1977 as well. (It doesn't look that way in retrospect because, by today's standards, those effects are modest. But that wasn't the case when the movie came out.) The light-saber battle between Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, and Darth Maul showed us a battle the likes of which we had never seen in a Star Wars movie.

Jar-Jar Binks: Sorry, but I don't have a defense for this one. It was a colossal mistake, although kids seem to like the CGI embarassment. Fortunately, Lucas dramatically downsized his role in Attack of the Clones.

I have a feeling that, once all six movies are available, The Phantom Menace will be looked upon more kindly. Stripped of expectations and set in its proper place as the first chapter of a six-part story, it is a more appealing experience. It's hard to imagine anyone expressing dislike of The Phantom Menace without using the word "disappointing." That's a subjective evaluation that can't be argued against. Ultimately, this is Lucas' vision, and not anyone else's, and, as far as I'm concerned, what he has done with The Phantom Menace (and also Attack of the Clones) is consistent with the way in which he developed and concluded the original trilogy.

Feel free to argue, but I'm holding my ground...
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------


I absolutely agree with just about everything in that article. I think TPM is some good fun. Too much expectations from thirty year-olds expecting the same experince with a fantasy movie that they had when they were seven. Needless to say, of course they were disapointed. Was the movie made for thirty year-olds or familes? In that case, were the original movies made for thirty year-olds or familes? Nostalgic geeks didn't enjoy the TPM. So sorry.
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Old Jul 6, 2004, 06:45 AM   #2
videonaut
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Re: I Miss arguing about TPM

I have a similar opinion. All the kids I've been around {15 yr.s and below} prefer the prequels over the originals. The only difference I notice, the characters in the prequels seem to have colder personalities. In the case of Anakin, I think his personality traits are portrayed in a way to show why he turned to the dark side. He was not supposed to be as likeable as Luke.
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Old Jul 6, 2004, 09:37 AM   #3
ThinWLady
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Re: I Miss arguing about TPM

(And I also agree - maybe not completely but anyway...)
I'm pretty sure that TPM will get more "honour" when time passes. In fact, I've already began to like it more than "a little while" ago... After the next two decades it will look as wonderful as some (quite stupid) films of 60's and 70's to me (and retro lovers). Let's just wait.
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Old Jul 6, 2004, 01:44 PM   #4
Nexus
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Re: I Miss arguing about TPM

Quote:
Originally posted by videonaut
I have a similar opinion. All the kids I've been around {15 yr.s and below} prefer the prequels over the originals.

What, really? Cos me and all my friends hate the prequels...
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Old Dec 15, 2004, 07:43 PM   #5
anster13
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Arrow i agree with nex...

i hate the prequels too and I'm only 14 I can't stand that stupid Jar Jar Binks I hop[e he dies a long slow painful death in Episode3! I no it sounds sick but i hate him so much
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Old Jan 10, 2005, 03:32 PM   #6
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Re: I Miss arguing about TPM

the prequels suck ****
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Old Jan 10, 2005, 06:13 PM   #7
SF_not_Sci-Fi
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Re: I Miss arguing about TPM

HE GAVE IT THREE AND A HALF STARS?! Damned fool! He complains about the Ewoks and gives Jar Jar Binx a free ride?
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Old Jan 11, 2005, 09:55 AM   #8
JACKER
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Re: I Miss arguing about TPM

He does not give Jar jar a pass, he just points out that he's no more annoying than the Ewoks or Chewie.
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Old Jan 11, 2005, 10:15 AM   #9
Jove
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Re: I Miss arguing about TPM

While I agree with some of what the guy says, I think he is arguing against a view of TPM that actually isn't held by most people.
Most people do NOT think that TPM is a pile of poo, which he seems to suggest.
What they DO think is that TPM is a CGI-fest with average story, average acting and great music.

On its own it is a 3 or maybe 3.5 stars out of 5.
It's not a classic - but it isn't a "Plan 9 From Outer Space" either.

Furthermore, he seems to think that every Star Wars fan thinks the first film is beyond criticism.
This again just isn't true.
The dialogue is ropey, the acting again isn't that great.
Even hard-core fans accept this.
But it was so fresh and new that it is fully deserving the 5-stars that fans give it.

TPM is no longer new, relies too much on CGI and blue-screening, and it's worst mistake is having Lucas himself in the Director's chair.

But the guy is correct that TPM has negative press from existing SW fans based purely on expectations that TPM just didn't live up to. Noone expected an equally awe-inspiring film but most had hoped for something less cheesey, less ropey in the dialogue and far more intelligent.

And it's small things that irk the SW fan - like having R2D2 suddenly being able to fly around!!!
And insisting that J.J.Binks is a fun character!

The fact is that it's not TPM that SW fans dislike so much as GL himself. He basically ignored the fans that have made him the richest mofo in the film industry and shat all over them so that a new generation of fans can go and buy all eight versions of the same films and keep the money rolling in so he can continue to wipe his arse with gold-leaf toilet paper!!
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Old Jan 11, 2005, 10:32 AM   #10
JACKER
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Re: I Miss arguing about TPM

Why would you expect something more intelligent yet also expect the same magical experience that a seven year-old would have? It's the same movie, you're just older and the original series you're nostalgic about and the new movies you can't be. These are all family action movies made to put get the families out of the home and into the lines and then into those seats to make people rich. Nothing wrong with that, just that you're not the child anymore.
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Old Jan 11, 2005, 11:10 AM   #11
Jove
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Re: I Miss arguing about TPM

I know that - which is why I agree with the fact that it's a matter of expectation of TPM and not the film per se.

Most fans didn't expect the same "magical experience" as we did when we were younger. We expected a competent, engaging, reasonably intelligent film. Most fans of the OT hoped / expected the prequels would be made for them - and not for a new breed of pre-pubescent fans.

Instead we were treated to layers of sweetened cheese.

Pure expectation on our parts - and pure disappointment.


But even taking TPM as a film - it still is not a great film.
The acting, the dialogue, the over-reliance on CGI, the cheese, the lack of any true suspense in the film etc. All make it a watchable but not great film.

And we expected so much more.

The only thing that comes out with any semblance of true goodness is the score - and especially the "Duel of the Fates" segment. That alone lifts the film - and the lack of such a stand-out piece of music in Ep.2 is noticed.


As I said - I do not disagree with much of what the guy said and agree with the "expectation" element - and I also think there isn't the bashing of TPM that the guy would have us believe. There's certainly bashing of specific elements (Jar Jar ****ing Binks!) but as a whole not many people think it a pile of poo.
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Old Jan 11, 2005, 11:15 AM   #12
JACKER
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Re: I Miss arguing about TPM

Right, TPM is not that great...and neither were the films of the original trilogy quite honestly. Thjey're certainly fun though and that's why we like them.
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Old Jan 11, 2005, 11:26 AM   #13
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Re: I Miss arguing about TPM

The difference is that to create the original trilogy GL created Industrial Light and Magic - as many things he wanted to do were not technically possible at the time.

In TPM (and especially in AotC) he went the incredibly lazy route and basically gave us a CGI-generated film with a few real-life actors (although the jury is still out on Hayden Christiansen).

He gave us nothing new - and certainly nothing that we hadn't already been used to.
No innovation.

Again - expectations that he didn't even start to meet.
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Old Jan 11, 2005, 11:29 AM   #14
SF_not_Sci-Fi
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Re: I Miss arguing about TPM

As far as I am concerned, equating Jar Jar with Chewbaka and even the Ewoks is giving him a free pass. For elaboration on this see my comment in the 'Bad CGI' thread in Offworld. As I have said earlier, I enjoyed TPM when I first saw it. Three out of five? I thought we were using a four star scale. In that case i withdraw my objection as half of a star really isn't worth arguing about.
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Old Jan 11, 2005, 11:31 AM   #15
SF_not_Sci-Fi
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Re: I Miss arguing about TPM

Quote:
Originally posted by Jove
The difference is that to create the original trilogy GL created Industrial Light and Magic - as many things he wanted to do were not technically possible at the time.
Thank the gods. Have you seen his 'Special Editions?' Want is the deadbeat father of ingenuity. Giving Lucus everything that he wants appearantly turns him into Ed Wood with a budget.
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