My first grader was jazzed for this one. Either this or the whale movie(Big Miracle). It’s his birthday this week, so-totally his choice. Silently, I rooted for “Star Wars”, because I nearly needed an insulin shot just watching the commercial for “Big Miracle”. Anyway, needless to say—got my wish. And as usual, seeing a Star Wars movie is an event. We went to one of the new state-of-the-art mall theaters with tiered seats and a pulsating sound system. In the lobby there were performers dressed as Anakin Skywalker, Darth Vader and Darth Maul. Some moviegoers were wearing their Star Wars paraphernalia too. Face-painting tables were set up in the theater hallways and people played a pod race video game on a giant television screen. Seems they spared no expense. Imagine if the film was actually any good.
This was my 3rd go-round with “Phantom Menace” in a theater-twice when originally released in 1999 and now this incarnation. I think I’m done waiting for it to get better—even if George Lucas tries to add some more bell-and-whistles a decade or so down the pike. 3D works zero magic on those dull stretches. It also can’t make Jar Jar Binks any more palatable(although I must admit…I’m kind of used to him at this point). And the highlight of the whole shebang is STILL the pod race, which is, of course, the centerpiece—with an hour to kill on both sides! My little guy sure was getting fidgety during that second half. So was I.
Is it necessary to rehash the plot? Same old mumbo-jumbo that opens with a scroll and ends with a celebration. In between there are princesses and light-saber battles(Darth Maul has the double light-saber, like when Sigourney Weaver taped the two guns together in the second “Alien” movie). “May the Force be with you” and cute, loyal droids abound. Late in the film there is some kind of war, which seems completely computer-generated. Listen, I was 11 when the first S.W. was released. Computers weren’t used for film-making then, except maybe on a minimal basis. Everything felt lived in in the 1977 film. The robots were clunky and the spaceships were dirty. The bar scene was full of actors wearing masks for crying out loud! Now, some guy with a mouse makes the movie. It has no heart, no soul. Nothing beats…it’s all manufactured. It has become “The Thing That Sells Toys”. And it will only get worse if George Lucas follows through with his promise of 3D for, at least, the next 2 installments. I mean, we haven’t even seen Hayden Christensen yet.
What to recommend besides the aforementioned pod-race extravaganza? Well, the light-saber battles are still super cool. Darth Maul looks AWESOME…even though he doesn’t emote beyond glowering. The John Williams music for the final Maul battle is as stirring as anything he’s composed for this series before. And, of course, any nostalgic sight and/or reference to the original trilogy gets one giddy with delight. But it ain’t enough, and it never will be. 3D can’t save it and, I imagine, neither will the next technological advance. It will always be the tepid follow-up to the first 3. Oh, btw…it’s also made about a billion dollars since 1999. And that doesn’t include the merchandise. So, Lucas, Industrial Light & Magic and the diehards don’t give a rat’s butt what I say. But, I believe, even they realize it is second-rate.
There was a time when George Lucas was the hot new director on the scene. He began with his 1971 expanded college project, “THX 1138″, and started building his empire from there. His second film(and his best for my money)”American Graffiti” featured an unbelievable roster of soon-to-be-stars, made a fortune, received unanimous critical praise, and spawned a 50’s nostalgia(even though it was set in 1962)that gave us an array of similar themed films, along with the smash television series “Happy Days” and “Laverne & Shirley”. And, of course, the first “Star Wars” film from 1977(now referred to as “Episode 4-A New Hope” by the fanatics…oy)was the most gigantic thing to grace the movie industry since “Gone with the Wind” in 1939. Then a 22 year hiatus as a director until this. No, he did not direct “The Empire Strikes Back” OR “Return of the Jedi”. In that two-decade plus hiatus, George lost something. His ability to create magic has vanished. Now he just constructs monstrous play-things. And slaps on 3D…which, interestingly enough, doesn’t even WOW you like it should. But we all keep on buying tickets—me included. So, I guess Lucas will just keep on tinkering until the end of his days. Barnum said it best—and it certainly applies here. Grade: C