The Phantom Greatness: This is Bull-Sith Edition
Usually when celebrating a milestone it’s generally a positive thing. Anniversaries, birthdays, and other events are a joyous benchmark in time. There are exceptions, however, such as memorializing the death of a loved one. Or in our nerdy case this week, lamenting what could have been for a beloved franchise. I am talking of the somewhat, sort of, kinda train wreck known as the prequel trilogy of the Star Wars saga.
Episodes I, II, and III are regarded in very different ways by people across varying spectrums of the movie-going public. Some see them as the natural progression from the way movies were made during the era of the original films to the modern times. Some see them as superior movies. Others (basically anyone who is a fan of Episodes VI, V, and VI) think they are sub par when even compared to non-Star Wars fare.
Actually, to say sub-par is REALLY understating it. Here’s a fairly decent summation of the prequels as seen by a nerd and fan of the originals (I don’t mean to speak for them all, but I can assume the following sums it up for most nerds):
An appalling attempt by the creator of the franchise to recapture the magic and adventure of said franchise, in which he made decisions that desecrated the childhood of countless Star Wars fans by reducing their beloved movies to a smoldering pile of dog shit filled with the remnants of broken dreams and unfulfilled promises. Those ruined dreams and promises, exemplified by his decisions, also indicating how much other people must have really had input or control creatively on the originals, include plot choices, poor dialogue, bad acting, and more attention to the business of small droids and creatures than making an emotionally investing movie about what should have been interesting characters and situations. The drive to sell merchandise, as well as a basic misunderstanding of what made the originals so popular and loved paved the way for a movie geared toward and for children, with humor and characters that serve no other purpose but to induce eye-rolling, vomiting, and the runs but not necessarily in that order.
Whew. Sorry it was so graphic in spots, but I can have a potty mouth, too.
It seems odd to commemorate the 15th Anniversary of Episode I: The Phantom Menace (released May 19, 1999) by essentially roasting it for its inherent and obvious flaws, but for the majority of fandom it is how that movie will always be remembered (a similar legacy for the two entries following it- though, they did get “better” as they went). The build-up to this flick was like no other. The only thing I can think of since then that comes close in comparison is my only Marvel reference (I promise)- The Avengers.
I can remember, being a young nerd, junior in high school, getting my first look at Darth Maul in the upper corner of the cover of Entertainment Weekly. It was almost as good as an issue of Cosmo at that age. Almost. He was the first Sith Lord to be seen in addition to Vader and the Emperor in the movies. There were similar characters in power and function in the Expanded Universe of books and comics, but this dual-sided light saber wielding devil man was in the flesh. The ass-kicking flesh.
You see kids, as I’ve mentioned, back in 1998,and 1999, the Interweb was a baby. Or, more like a fetus. It was not the easily downloadable, as-much-as-you-can-digest movie spoiler hub that it is today. It was starting, but not nearly as instantaneous as we have now. Trailers, like the one for Phantom Menace, made their debuts on shows like Entertainment Tonight. I think I still have the VHS somewhere on which I recorded the debut of said trailer on said show. Back from a time when both videocassettes and entertainment news programs were a little more relevant.
The hype from this thing was all over. It covered media outlets, merchandise (including, I think, the beginning of release street dates for toys), and everything you could imagine. Not that Star Wars needed much advertising, but it was bananas. Then the movie came out, and…What. The. Hell.
I went to the midnight show that Thursday. It was a shitty theater, when even compared to shitty theaters, that is now a church of some kind. But it was packed, we were all jazzed, and then we sat through over two hours of erectile dysfunction. Oh, we tried. We really did try to talk about all the cool parts, and the awesome light saber battles. But the cool parts were few and far between, and the battles- well, there was just one. And that awesome Sith killing machine known as Darth Maul was freaking killed (though, he would later be resurrected by people who seem to have a better handle on the character and the franchise than their creator when he appeared on the Clone Wars cartoon).
Episode I was Star Wars, but it was New Star Wars. It was Crystal Star Wars. As much as the flavor wanted to be the same, it just fell short. The problem wasn’t even the story, or the characters themselves. That’s why many nerds and fans like me were so pissed. All the pieces for something GREAT were there, and it could have been on par with, or dare I say almost better than, the originals. But the first prequel failed, and it was all in the execution.
Before continuing, I’d like to point out that many fans were apologists for the movies, mostly to other fans. George Lucas might be a little rusty. We all want to see the eventual turn to Darth Vader, but that’s not this movie. You know, bullshit. None of the excuses could excuse the fact that this movie was bad. I don’t care how rusty Lucas might have been, you don’t take actors like Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, and Natalie Portman and make them look like amateurs off the street. You are either doing that on purpose, a lousy director, or a little of both. Which Georgie-Boy might be both as he has said he wanted the movie in a certain “style.”
Lucas may have come up with the story, which as I said was a pretty good one, but he must be an awful screenwriter. The dialogue hit you over the head with what it was trying to accomplish/convey. Less is more, George. One of the best examples of this came in the next installment, Attack of the Clones. The scene in which Padme and Anakin confess/profess their undying love for each other, and debate the reasons for and against a relationship was painful to behold. Han and Leia LOOKED at each other in The Empire Strikes Back and did all the talking that way.
A short list of some other head-splitting stupidity would include- Ani as a nickname, young Jake Lloyd who played Ani and his darn “yippees,” Midichlorians, Jar Jar (who, if handled correctly could have been a good character- seeing as how he was actually pretty important later on), Ani as a nickname, Midichlorians, and Midichlorians. Did I mention Midichlorians? What better way to destroy a mythological, ambient energy than try to explain and quantify it? Did filmmakers learn nothing form giving all those slasher movie killers motivation? Explaining doesn’t work, because the explanations rarely live up to expectations or the things they are trying to explain.
The worse part about all this is that you can dissect these three movies for hours, and still not cover everything. As a trilogy, and individually, the Prequels are loaded with points of contention. Red Letter Media does that sort of thing for all kinds of flicks on the YouTube, and put a humorous spin on it. Rehashing and bashing these movies as they do is one small way to not feel so bad about having watched them in the first place, and to know you’re not alone having a distaste for them (or parts of them).
It’s sad for many reasons. One, Star Wars as a saga is eclipsed by something like Harry Potter as a whole, despite it being a much younger franchise. But HP accomplished more movies whose overall quality is better than that of SW. I hate to say that, but I’d rather watch the worst Harry Potter movie than the best Prequel. Second, there is a whole generation that is being raised on the Prequels. I have actually heard children say they prefer them to the Original Trilogy. How frightening is that?
So what I’m saying, if I’m saying anything at all is I can’t believe people don’t want to win prizes. C’mon! You know you want something free. All ya gotta do is answer one little question, and I stop using the phrase and you get something neato. Plus it proves people actually read this….so, from last week:
“So what I’m saying, if I’m saying anything at all…is that I’m going to discontinue using that phrase. It’s starting to annoy me. However, we are going to retire it with a contest. Name the Marvel movie in which that phrase is said, and who said it, and you will receive a neat little trinket from yours truly. Comment here or on the Facebook post sharing this story.”
I’ll make this easier and give a hint…expo. There. Let’s see if anyone takes the bait this week.