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Star Wars: Episode I Redux
Hopes are high for 'Revenge of the Sith,' but the original prequil was a bad start
David Michael Weber (crossfire)     Print Article 
Published 2005-05-18 15:50 (KST)   

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Lucas In Force With 'Revenge of the Sith'

©2005 Lucasfilm
As the release date quickens to the opening of the third installment of the Star Wars saga, I thought I would dig out this old review I wrote many moons ago shortly after watching "Episode I: The Phantom Menace" (1999) and realizing I had been screwed out of $8.

I should make it clear that though I am fan of the original three Star Wars movies, I do not hate the recent movies out of some kind of fanatical fanboy reaction. I just don't like the films because they are not good films.

Defense of the film has been fierce in the wake of wrath from many disappointed fans and haters of Jar Jar Binks. Recently, die-hard fans showed their loyalty to the Star Wars franchise by paying out over $500 to see the premiere of "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith."(2005)

Phantom Menace: A Phantom Movie

The Phantom Movie has a ghost of a plot and a phantasm of characterization. Mainly, it is just one long joyless ride of mediocrity relying more on flash than substance. As many critics and fans have pointed out over the years, the first three movies have many flaws, and yet they were good films.

One of the most controversial moments in the original trilogy has to be the introduction of the Stone Age teddy bears known as the Ewoks, from "Return of the Jedi" (1983). However, one really has to admit that Jar Jar Binks of "Episode I" redeems the Ewoks; at least some of those teddy bears had the decency to die and you couldn't understand them when they were talking.

The very cool but very sub sub-plot of Darth Maul
©2005 Lucasfilm
One of the main reasons for the enormous success and popular acceptance of the Star Wars films is that they are grounded in ancient primal myths that people from all generations and cultures could relate to. In addition, the first three films are nostalgic of 1950s and 1930s sci-fi adventures films and serials. There is a lot of just sheer, campy fun in lines like, "I'm Luke Skywalker. I'm here to rescue you!"

Nothing like this in "Episode I." Dialog is appallingly poor and lifeless. The characters are uninteresting, with the exception of the rarely seen Darth Maul -- and even he comes off second best to Boba Fett of the original films. Alec Guinness' Obi-Wan character has far less screen time in "Star Wars" (1977) than Liam Neeson's practically unpronounceable Jedi character.

And yet Obi-Wan's death had far more impact on audiences than the latter's because Obi-Wan was more of a recognizable, developed character an audience could feel for. I felt Neeson's character was a stranger throughout the whole movie, more cardboard than Jedi. I sometimes forget that he even died in the movie, his character being so forgettable as it was. I don't blame Neeson for this. I blame poor storytelling and characterization.

Battle robots as intimidating as walking broomsticks
©2005 Lucasfilm
Perhaps I'm getting too old for special-effects eye candy, but I found the CGI in the film overbearing and fake. Give me the old clunky-looking models and men-in-rubber-suit aliens. It seems that when Lucas and company has less money and technology they were forced to be more creative. Now blessed (or cursed) with an abundance of both, the end result is Jar Jar Binks, one of the most hated sidekicks to darken the silver screen. As for the battle robots, they are wimpy-looking talking broomsticks with guns.

The humor of "Episode I" is degrading and pandering to kids with primarily all of it delivered by Jar Jar through poor slapstick routines Buster Keaton would have been nauseated by. The humor of the first three films works mainly because there is chemistry among the characters.

An overlong underwater journey
©2005 Lucasfilm
The story of "Episode I" doesn't hold interest well either. We have a plot about a blockade over trade regulations (at last! economics and sci-fi!) and a kid with extraordinary powers but possessing all the personality and charm of a piece of furniture.

Then there's the very subtle sub-plot of Darth Maul that's so sub it's practically a submarine. And there's just too much repetition in certain scenes, such as the underwater voyage on Naboo, as big fish devour big fish, and the overly long, never-thought-it-would-end pod-racing scene. Perhaps NASCAR racing fans liked it.

Overall, things happen more by blind dumb luck rather than by the Force, such as Anakin blowing up the mother ship completely by accident. And speaking of the Force, gone is the mystical, Zen-like idea that so grabbed audiences and pop culture of the past. Instead we have a scientific Star Trek interpretation of the Force as some kind of blood disease.

One of the biggest problems I had with the film was Anakin Skywalker, often lovingly referred to by many critics as "Manakin Skywalker." Jake Lloyd's acting abilities aside, presenting the future Darth Vader as a kid is not so crucial that a whole film should be devoted to it. The "Episode I" storyline could have been easily condensed down to about 15-20 minutes at the beginning of "Episode II: Attack of the Clones" (2003).

Hugh Quarshie asking the Queen for permission to shoot his tailor.
©2005 Lucasfilm
The story behind the prequels is the fall and transformation of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. But a child is not an interesting character for the type of overall story George Lucas is presenting in these newer films. I would rather have had Anakin first revealed as a youth in his mid to late teens as a flawed but sympathetic hero who slowly descends in the course of the three prequels into darkness as of result of his own decisions and things outside of his control. And at absolutely no point should he shout "Yippee!" no matter how well he does something.

A few other notes of irritated concern:

  • Why do the robots in the film need to talk out loud to each other?

  • Why did they have Hugh Quarshie all funked up like a 1970s chauffeur for a pimp? (referring to the Queen of Naboo's bodyguard's highly questionable fashion)

  • How come Obi-Wan forgot about C3PO and R2D2 in later years? Was it Jedi senility? (I know the answer: They were just in the film to establish a flimsy continuity. Logic isn't even an option).

  • And for that matter, how come Darth Vader doesn't remember Tatooine? Dark Side senility?

  • Why would the rest of the Republic delegates give a toss for a backwater world like Naboo and call for a new election of their leader, Supreme Chancellor Valorum (Terence Stamp)?

  • How is 7 or 8 too old for Jedi training? Do they have an embryo training academy? (And just forget the fact that Luke made some considerable progress in a couple of years from farm boy able to lift only small household objects to Jedi superhero challenging the Emperor and Darth Vader.)

  • How come all the Naboo pilots look like close-to-retirement office workers seemingly without an ounce of combat training and wearing only safety glasses and leather baseball caps? (They looked like the clueless adults in Disney movies that the hideously adorable kids have to fill in on what is really going on.)

  • Why did Obi-Wan lie about his first meeting with Anakin? Anakin was not the best pilot in the galaxy when they first met; he was a wet-behind-the-ears, 10-year-old domestic servant.

    Jar Jar Binks doing his best to make us forget the Ewoks.
    ©2005 Lucasfilm
    Sorry for the long rant. Just venting the pain. I hope Episode III surprises me.
  • ©2005 OhmyNews
    A native Tennesseean, David M. Weber is currently at the grammatical grindstone cranking out gerunds, dangling modifiers and perfecting tenses as an English teacher in Japan. In his travels, he has hiked the Inca Trail, been mugged in Mexico City, broke his leg in Switzerland, attempted to bike through Mexico and failed, climbed Pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, drank great quantities of beer at Oktoberfest and gambled at Monte Carlo.
    Other articles by reporter David Michael Weber

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