My night at Essex Cinemas didn’t end with the conclusion of Raiders of the Lost Ark. In fact, this was going to be a George Lucas double bill because opening at midnight last night on the T-Rex was Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D. Wait, before you stop reading or find something else to do on the internet, hear me out. I might not convince you that The Phantom Menace was a great movie or even get you to admit there were Star Wars movies made besides Episodes IV, V and VI but I just might surprise and/or entertain you with my take on this particular dark chapter of the franchise.
So a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, or more accurately back in ’99 there was a disturbance in the force. A new, that’s right new, Star Wars movie was set to be released, something that I know I never thought I’d see after the conclusion of 1983’s Return of the Jedi. I mean Emperor Palpatine was dead, the Death Star II was destroyed, Luke Skywalker had saved Darth Vader’s soul and in spirit he had returned to the light side of the force, the Ewoks hosted a celebration on the forest moon of Endor; it was over. Or was it? It was time to go back before the Rebel Alliance was formed. Back before Han shot Greedo (that’s right Han shot first), back even before the birth of Luke Skywalker, to the story of another Skywalker. These prequels (a phrase not coined by Lucas but thanks to him really added to the American lexicon) would tell the story of the rise (or fall depending on how you look at it) of Darth Vader. I, along with all of the other fanboys out there, was foaming at the mouth. New Star Wars? And it was all about Darth Vader, the baddest of the bad guys in the whole universe? How could they go wrong?
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace was released in May of 1999; I was not one of the people standing or sleeping in line waiting to see it. Don’t get me wrong, I was really excited about the prospect of seeing a new Star Wars movie, I was also eighteen and wanted girls to think I was cool and have no idea that I spent my time when I wasn’t hitting on them playing videogames, reading comic books and watching way too many movies. So I downplayed my excitement for the film in public but on the inside I was going crazy waiting to see the movie. The reviews came in and well… They were not all that positive. It seems that Mr. Lucas had added a CGI character that would become the punching bag of the new series, the infamous Jar Jar Binks, but unfortunately this isn’t where the disappointment ends. There were inconsistences with the three previous films, the characters weren’t as engaging or in most cases memorable but as said best by The Clerks Cartoon, “The pod race was pretty cool.”
The Phantom Menace isn’t my favorite movie by far and there is something about Jake Lloyd’s acting that just makes me wish he’d get abducted by a sketchy thick glasses wearing guy in a Members only jacket driving a van but let’s face the facts; there are some pretty cool events that happen. No matter who you are, you can’t deny that Darth Maul is a badass Sith and your only regret is there isn’t more of him. And Qui-Gon Jinn seems like he’s a pretty great Jedi Master, both thoughtful and skilled with a light saber. I mean the man taught Obi –Wan, so he had to have some skill, right?
Just incase you’ve been boycotting the film and don’t want anything ruined, I put up the Spoiler Alert. So I know I said Qui-Gon Jinn was skilled with a light saber and the irony of that statement is you see him lose to Darth Maul but come on, we knew going into these movies that there were only a couple of characters coming out on the other side. Basically if they weren’t in or mentioned in Episodes IV, V and VI then they were not going to survive the prequels. And that added to much of my personal disappointment. Each film introduces us to some sweet new characters (The Phantom Menace you get Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul, Attack of the Clones you get Jango Fett and Count Dooku, and Revenge of the Sith you get General Grievous) but each of these characters has a short lifespan due to the fact they didn’t exist in the original trilogy. Some of the characters, thanks to the excellent TV series Star Wars: The Clone Wars get to have a little bit longer lives but overall you knew not to get attached because as Jar Jar Binks so eloquently put it, “Yousa thinking Yousa people ganna die?”
With all that being said, I am as I previously stated a Star Wars fan, and my friend Sammy Danger might be an even bigger one. It was because of him I gave The Phantom Menace a second chance back at Burlington College and because of him I was really excited to see Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 3D last night. I can’t say the 3D was amazing or awe inspiring (I have seen better use of 3D technology) because in my opinion Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two used it better (compare the pod race to the escape from Gringotts if you don’t believe me). But it did add depth of field and made a movie that always felt big even bigger, especially on a 60-foot screen. As much as I was indifferent to seeing The Phantom Menace on the big screen when it was first released, I’m proud to say I got to see it on the opening night of its 3D return thanks to Essex Cinema.