Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace

   No movie was ever more of a victim to an uncontrollable hype machine than The Phantom Menace was. But, recently, the majority of Star Wars fans have officially invalidated their own opinions (in my eyes), making themselves look like fools in the process. They complain about shoddy storytelling in the prequels, yet make excuses for the regurgitated nostalgia mess that is The Force Awakens- which isn't ANY better in the storytelling department. The difference? The Phantom Menace actually feels fresh again after the regressive nonsense of The Force Awakens.

   Even when nostalgia is done right, it's still nostalgia. Rogue One was an excellent Star Wars movie, but it's still a success made in the safe zone of the original trilogy. George Lucas may not have known how to craft a convincing romance, or how to plot effectively, but he showed us things with the prequels that were breathtaking. The Gungan city, the cities on Naboo, Coruscant, the podrace, and the most stunning lightsaber duel in the entire franchise. He gave us Liam Neeson as a motherfucking Jedi master, and if you don't think that's the best casting decision in the history of mankind, you can get the hell out of my face.

   I'd also argue that Obi Wan's character was more developed by Ewan McGregor than it was by Alec Guinness. Casting absolutely no negative sentiment on the work of the latter, but McGregor added to the character in smart and respectful ways all while making it his own. He's an absolute highlight, not just of this movie, but of all three prequels. His sharp wit and sly sarcasm are a delight. I should also point out that The Phantom Menace was the first movie to show us other Jedis- period. Before this movie, the only two Jedis we'd seen were Old Ben and Luke. But here? We have the whole Jedi council and more. We have a look into this world that was only guessed about beforehand.

   From an underwater chase with gigantic sea monsters, to a thrilling space-faring escape, the movie speeds along, albeit haphazardly, to its next series of stunning set pieces. Not the least of which is the iconic pod race. Each action scene seems to eclipse the last. And, while some of the characters can be a bit annoying, and the gushy sentimentality at time is a bit overdone, the good elements of the movie absolutely outshine the bad. The sprawling battle scenes, and sweeping sense of space-bound adventure are ever-present in this unfairly maligned sci-fi flick.

   Fans wanted something that couldn't have been delivered to them. They didn't just want more Star Wars, they wanted their own idea of Star Wars sold back to them. They didn't want Lucas to innovate and move in a new direction, they wanted him to stay on the given course. It's no wonder that most all of the Star Wars books, games, and toys out there revolve around the original trilogy. The movies generate a contagious and generational nostalgia that's hard to shake. If you didn't grow up with Star Wars, it can hardly be explained to you. This is the sentiment that J.J. tapped into with The Force Awakens. Its shoddy storytelling, regurgitated nostalgia, and copycatted plot are all eagerly forgiven and excused by fans who just wanted more of the same.

   Yet in a movie like The Phantom Menace, it's technical flaws are offered up as irrefutable proof that it is an awful movie. There is no mercy, no quarter, because it doesn't stick to the specific thematic and visual aesthetics of a bygone era. That's a seriously unfair standard. I tip my hat to George Lucas for The Phantom Menace. If I ever met him in person, I would shake his hand, and thank him for this specific movie and all the amazing places it took me. He tried something new, and it didn't catch on, but shame on fans for acting like he pissed on the graves of their ancestors and produced the worst movie ever. The bandwagon sentiment that The Phantom Menace is a terrible movie is wholly inaccurate.

   It's fun, adventurous and full of sci-fi craziness. Sure, it has it's fair share of missteps, and Lucas couldn't have found a more convoluted way to tell a very simple story, but that hardly matters in the face of what is otherwise a stunning blockbuster achievement. I do firmly believe history will look back on the knee jerk reaction that lasted thirty plus years and shake its head in confusion. I think history will also be equally harsh on J.J. and The Force Awakens for being a redundant money machine, and little else. Bottom line? The Phantom Menace is not just underrated, it's actually pretty decent, guys.

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