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Carry On Up the Franchise

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  • Jeremy Robinson
    I wonder if The Phantom Menace was disappointing as a piece of narrative film because it lacked clarity. An old Hollywood adage is that a film is only as good
    Message 1 of 4 , May 5, 2002
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      I wonder if The Phantom Menace was disappointing as a piece of narrative film
      because it lacked clarity. An old Hollywood adage is that a film is only as
      good as its vilain, and The Phantom Menace didn't have a really decent baddie.
      The first Star Wars film was beautifully simple in this respect: the villains
      were fascistic Imperial forces (clearly modelled on Nazis), with Darth Vader
      as an archetypal movie villain. Result? The heroes won out. The second film
      reversed things, and complicated the narrative by the revelation of
      Skywalker's parentage (and introduced the humanizing of the villain). (One
      wonders if Clones will contain as big a bombshell as Vader's in Empire). In
      Return of the Jedi, the heroes fight back and win out, with Vader moving
      wholly towards the light and good, taking his place in the final shots beside
      Yoda and Kenobi. The problems with The Phantom Menace concerning villains were
      manifold. There was the trade war and the Fu Manchu-like viceroys - not very
      satisfying. Then there was Darth Maul, a good fighter, but ultimately only a
      heavy. Behind him, the real villain was McDiarmid's Palpatine and future
      Emperor, who was also the chief Sith. But Palpatine was more of a politician
      in The Phantom Menace than a true movie villain (yes, politicians are among
      the scariest people in real life but not necessarily in a fantasy blockbuster
      film, and not the way McDiarmid played him - which was a sly, manipulative but
      affable Republican).
      Were audiences really clear about what was at stake in The Phantom Menace? I'm
      not sure. In the first 30 minutes, with all that stuff about trade federations
      and ambassadorial missions, it was a mess. In the first Star Wars trilogy it
      was obvious that the Imperial forces were threatening to smother anything
      decent in the galaxy, and the heroes had to fight back. The first trilogy was
      gripping because it had Vader as the embodiment of evil (at first, anyway). He
      storms into the first film in the few minutes, looking every bit the movie
      villain. It's no surprise, either, that Vader was the most ineresting
      character in the first Star Wars trilogy. Lucas had recognized this in
      returning to the Star Wars universe a second time in 1999, and making the
      prequel trilogy primarily Vader's story (of descending from good to evil).
      Across the six films, Vader traverses from good to evil and back to good again
      (via his redemption). In The Phantom Menace, and Attack of the Clones, Lucas
      has needed to invent new antagonists (the various Counts and Fetts) to fill in
      the gaps.
      Lucas violated his own rule in The Phantom Menace of the first 5 minutes and
      last 20 minutes of a film being critical. The Phantom Menace also ignored most
      screenwriter's manuals, which require: (1) a major turning-point at around
      25-30 minutes; (2) the early (and clear) introduction of goals and motives;
      and (3) a clear idea of exactly what is at stake. I guess Lucas thought he had
      earned himself the good will from an audience desperate to see anything
      vaguely Star Warish to meander a bit when he returned to the Star Wars saga
      after 16 years. Trouble is, the direction The Phantom Menace first meandered
      in wasn't particularly fruitful (or interesting or - most importantly -
      entertaining). The good will was squandered and dissipated in an unfocussed
      narrative and an over-abundance of CGI. The Phantom Menace took too long to
      introduce its major characters, too long to get to the real conflict, and too
      long to introduce the parallel plots about Anakin being the top Jedi ('the
      one') and Palpatine's manoeuvring. The Phantom Menace would have been improved
      if Anakin had been introduced earlier, and there had been far less screen time
      with Jar-Jar. In short, the real problem with The Phantom Menace wasn't the
      technical aspects, acting, production values (high, as usual), music or
      whatever, it was, as Hitchcock put it, the script, the script, the script.
      The Phantom Menace disappointed for any no. of reasons:
      - the expectation was immense
      - the plot was flawed
      - narrative incoherence; lack of clarity
      - the characters were unappealing
      - too much fussing about with CGI
      - too much time wasted on superfluous material

      (Apart from not nailing the script, Lucas seemed too preoccupied with the
      possibilities of CGI, overloading The Phantom Menace with extraneous detail,
      and making it resemble a computer game version of the film. The pod race was a
      too-obvious video game tie-in. Sorry, but the reason given for the race - to
      raise money for the ship to flee Tatooine - was feeble. The idea that in such
      a technological age the Jedi or the princess didn't have access to funds or a
      million other rescue methods was unconvincing).

      But if The Phantom Menace is a try-out, a test or a lead-in to making Attack
      of the Clones a really excellent film, then all the misfires in The Phantom
      Menace will be forgiven.
    • WendellWag@aol.com
      In a message dated 5/5/2002 12:04:06 PM Eastern Daylight Time, ... Lucas apparently had the basic story of Darth Vader s life worked out when the first film
      Message 2 of 4 , May 5, 2002
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        In a message dated 5/5/2002 12:04:06 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
        jrobinson@... writes:


        > It's no surprise, either, that Vader was the most interesting
        > character in the first Star Wars trilogy. Lucas had recognized this in
        > returning to the Star Wars universe a second time in 1999, and making the
        > prequel trilogy primarily Vader's story (of descending from good to evil).
        > Across the six films, Vader traverses from good to evil and back to good
        > again
        > (via his redemption).

        Lucas apparently had the basic story of Darth Vader's life worked out when
        the first film came out in 1977. By the time of the second film in 1980, he
        had already announced that he would be making another trilogy as a prequel to
        the first trilogy. I agree that the story of Vader's life is fascinating and
        that it's what's holding the entire series of films together. See my review
        of _The Phantom Menace_ at http://www.dcfilmsociety (Click on Reviews and
        then on _The Phantom Menace_. It's also appeared in a slightly different
        form in _Mythprint_.) I'm more favorable about _The Phantom Menace_ than you
        are, but I think that it's the overall story of the Star Wars series that
        makes it great.

        Wendell Wagner


        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      • David S. Bratman
        Hiding in all of Jeremy s comments about Phantom Menace are some good points: the storytelling simply did not hang together. On one broad level, the plot can
        Message 3 of 4 , May 5, 2002
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          Hiding in all of Jeremy's comments about Phantom Menace are some good
          points: the storytelling simply did not hang together.

          On one broad level, the plot can be summarized as: a delegation from Naboo
          goes to the Imperial capital, and returns. Here lies the problem, for 1)
          given the reason they went (a desperate last throw to get Imperial
          attention on the attack), it made no sense to turn right around and come
          back, and 2) given the reason they came back (the complete failure of the
          political mission), it made no sense to have gone. (The characters might
          not have known that, but Lucas should have.)

          Everything else that happened was subsumed under this flimsy, pointless
          structure. For instance, the entire Anakin episode comes under the heading
          of a pit stop.

          I enjoyed the original SW, and Empire actually approached being a good
          film. But Return was dreadful, and PM was up among the top 3 most
          mind-bogglingly boring films I've ever sat all the way through. It had all
          the excitement and adventure of a childhood family car trip across
          Nevada. I intend to avoid the remainder of this saga entirely.

          David Bratman
        • Stolzi@aol.com
          I m with David. SW #1 in 1977 was one of the great events of my life, film-wise; when that huge ship roared over my head, I knew SF film had just taken a
          Message 4 of 4 , May 5, 2002
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            I'm with David. SW #1 in 1977 was one of the great events of my life,
            film-wise; when that huge ship roared over my head, I knew SF film had just
            taken a quantum leap, and what followed did not disappoint.

            But I've been bored ever since, even with the first two sequels. Didn't
            even bother to see the new inflictions.

            Cuddly Ewoks, faugh! Jar Jar Binks, no no no!

            Diamond Proudbrook
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