To recall the hysteria surrounding the weeks leading up to the release of the first brand new Star Wars movie since 1983’s Return Of The Jedi is like trying to remember some distant, far fetched dream…
Was it REALLY featured in every magazine, shop and ad break, even those that had no business carrying it? Newspapers carried beefy Sunday supplements dedicated to it, various soda drinks rebranded to tie in with it and you could find the logo emblazoned on literally everything, everywhere – I have no idea if there was Phantom Menace tie shoe polish but it wouldn’t have surprised me in the least.
And then we saw it… And for a while we whooped and cheered and awkwardly pretended to be Darth Maul with any pole like implement we could find and all was right with the world.
For about two weeks.
Disgruntled rumblings started gaining traction that after our 4th viewing, maybe, just maybe, The Phantom Menace isn’t as good as we all conned ourselves into thinking it was. In fact maybe, just MAYBE, The Phantom Menace is *whispers* a big pile of shit.
Harsh words, yes and maybe even a tad unfair; but for all it’s twirling, 3-way lightsaber duels and careening Pod Races, for the most part George Lucas’ long mooted directorial return is more plodding than an arthritic sloth with a double hernia.
It’s all the politics you see. It seems that, just like real life, even the Star Wars universe can get bogged down in red tape but it’s still a mystery why Big George thought that kids hopped up on candy and cola woukd give the slightest of shits about votes of no confidence and things being discussed in committees. Amongst all these things what could possibly hold their attention? Enter Jar Jar Binks, surely the most hated sci-fi/fantasy character in modern history, who immediately gets busy being excruciatingly unfunny and astoundingly annoying. Aside from that there’s also a distinct uncomfortable feeling enimating from the main cast that this green screen extravaganza was not what they were expecting when they signed on. Ewan McGregor looks disappointed, Liam Neeson looks bemused and Natalie Portman looks like she’d rather be anywhere than being chatted up by a child barely half her age. Hideously misjudged by filmmakers who should really know how to gauge their audience better you start to pray that SOMETHING good will come of this.
The pod race helps – a mid film, balls-to-the-wall, 3 lap, adrenaline pumper – but it’s the the final 45 minutes that barely manages to salvage the day where all the plot lines converge, everyone finally wakes up and Lucas finally let’s Darth Maul and THAT lightsaber off the chain to produce a blinder of a duel that remains a franchise high point to this day. It’s enough, but it’s still technically too late from stopping TPM from being a two hour equivalent of the mid film ewok bits from Return Of The Jedi -and I didn’t even mention the weird racial stereotypes…
Back in 1977, Star Wars literally dropped us smack bang in the middle of an intergalactic war and we all kept up, in 1999 we start at the true beginning of the “Skywalker Saga” and felt lost and disjointed. We all loved Phantom Menace at least at one time in our lives but it was long ago in a galaxy far, far away.