Carry On Up the Franchise
- 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
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
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.
- In a message dated 5/5/2002 12:04:06 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
> It's no surprise, either, that Vader was the most interestingLucas apparently had the basic story of Darth Vader's life worked out when
> 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
> (via his redemption).
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.
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- 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.
- 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!