The problem with Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D is that it’s not in 3D. So the only reason why I would even consider going to see this latest LucasArts circle jerk turns out to be for nought. Because guess what kids – George Lucas Hates You.
I imagine George Lucas sitting in a sunken hot tub (ala Tony Montana in Scarface) at his Skywalker Ranch, paid for by the merchandising of the original trilogy (that’s right – the money that bought his space fortress came from the collector’s edition toys he shilled to children everywhere – like the remorseless Space Santa he is), being amused by that light-skinned protocol droid from the opening scene of A New Hope.
He’s just slouched in the soapy water of our dreams making disgusting Jabba the Hutt noises while lesser beings work to pleasure him like the spineless sycophants they are. Because George Lucas, like so many Premiership football players in so many hotel rooms, surrounds himself with people who can’t say no to him.
“I don’t care if Han shot first. Greedo had it coming, and Han is a criminal. That’s why I like him.” This is something nobody at Skywalker Ranch ever said to Lucas, for fear of being force-choked in front of all their friends. Lucas is the intimidating Darth Vader of his own little empire, surrounded by peons who don’t believe in him or his sad devotion to an ancient religion – but follow him instinctively out of naked fear.
That’s how Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D got made. It’s all still here. The lousy, clunking stilted dialogue and endless political noise. And the heart-breaking death of The Force when we learn that it’s all just microscopic bacteria, because George Lucas is a magician who can’t help but reveal his secrets.
But then here too are the Pod Races, still breakneck fast and exhilarating – the closest analogy this movie has to the breathless excitement of the Death Star trench run. And that’s not to mention our first introduction to oldschool Lightsaber combat – when the blast doors open and there stands Darth Maul, poised for his Duel of the Fates with Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Everything about that scene, from the arbitrarily opening and shutting shield doors to the unstoppable, kinetic frenzy of Obi-Wan coming at Darth Maul after the death of Qui-Gon, still gets me.
And that’s what I really hate about this movie. I Love the Star Wars universe. I love Lightsabers and X-Wings and The Force and the Millenium Falcon and the Skywalker family and droids that aren’t welcome in bars and giant slugs with criminal empires and faceless bounty hunters with jetpacks and the overwhelming feeling that all of this is my own imagination better realised and snapped to a more logical frame of reference by a master storyteller.
And that’s what the original trilogy was. It didn’t need CGI, I was fooled by the models. I bought Frank Oz’s Yoda as a real person. It didn’t need green-screen – even though I Know where Tatooine was shot in our world, Mos Eisley is still more real to me than anything I saw in the prequels.
What it needed, and this is something Irvin Kershner and to a lesser extent Richard Marquand (the directors of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi respectively) understood a lot better than George Lucas (A New Hope and all three of the prequels), was Story.
Phantom Menace has no Han Solo, it has no plucky princess or indomitable farmboy. It’s got Jar-Jar Binks, Natalie Portman doing a Keira Knightly impression and the kid from Jingle all the Way.
There’s no Empire to strike, unless you count the Trade Federation – a nebulous consortium that’s about as threatening as Global Warming. There’s just no impetus here, I mean come on – “Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is being disputed.” This is supposed to be STAR WARS!
George Lucas has turned his back on everything that made the Star Wars story part of our cultural psyche in the name of perpetual modernization and unchecked revision. He’s made it a franchise and devoted that franchise to the masturbatory display of modern technology. And Yet, here he is again at the forefront of trendy techno gimmicks – 3D – and he comes out with a movie that ISN’T EVEN IN 3D!
Do Not Go See This Movie. If you find yourself tempted at any time to indulge the morbid curiosity George Lucas is banking on hooking you with, I want you to leave a comment for me on this post and I promise to do everything in my power to talk you down.