Monday, October 20, 2008

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Episode I confirmed for long-time Star Wars fans what they feared after seeing the Special Editions of their beloved series: George Lucas doesn't know what a good movie is any more. I didn't really notice this when it came out, because I was 12, and I could relate to annoying little kids, and I liked sword fights, especially ones with glowing magic swords. And watching it again now, I don't see it so much as the beginning of the end for Lucas, but a funeral for his good sensibilities. In retrospect, it's the best of the trilogy, and not just because it contains the two best action scenes: the pod race and the fight with Darth Maul. Sure, it introduced many of the things that made the prequels shit on the old movies. Turning Jedi from people naturally attuned to the universe's mysticism into people with a larger infestation of parasites than others was a tragedy. Making everybody know everybody for the sake of cute winks to the audience (Haha, Darth Vader built C-3PO!) is stupid, and just hard to believe when your setting is a galaxy filled with turmoil and not a small town. But it did some things right, before the sequels continued the vicious cycle of more and more visual effects and absurd characterization until we ended up with The Clone Wars, also known as when Star Wars died.

Hell, Yoda's still a puppet in this one. Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor are two completely likable actors from the British Isles, Natalie Portman is somewhere between cute and gorgeous (Did you know she was born in Israel? Just found this out.), and the three form the nucleus of a decent adventure movie. Yeah, Jar Jar Binks sucks and is mildly racist. Yeah, Jake Lloyd is one of all too many kid actors who piss off grown ups in one or two movies and are never seen again. But the Battle Droids are just soldiers with digitized voices, not an army of fucking clowns. A lot of the sets actually existed in real life. "Duel of the Fates" is probably my favorite piece of Star Wars music. There's still a soul in the production somewhere, and as long as the main characters are good, you have a watchable film. I would not call it a good movie, because as I said earlier, George Lucas forgot what that is. But it's not that bad.

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