At the time I am writing this, the new Star Wars movie, “The Last Jedi”, has been in theaters for about a month. For the most part, “The Last Jedi” has gotten strong reviews. In my opinion, the movie is great. Director Rian Johnson has created a film that has a lot of action, drama and excitement, and which moves the “Star Wars” saga forward.
And goddamn was it good to see Mark Hamill, again, as the ultimate “Star Wars” protagonist, Luke Skywalker. Like in 2015’s “The Force Awakens”, I found myself openly cheering several times during “The Last Jedi”.
I took my family to see the movie on Christmas Eve, or nine days after “The Last Jedi” premiered. We’ve come a long way in “Star Wars” viewing experiences since the original “Star Wars” came out in 1977. I don’t remember how much my parents paid for the tickets when they took my brother and I to see “Star Wars” at the Roxy Theater in Tacoma, Washington, but I’m going to guess it wasn’t more than $3 each for us to watch the movie with about 1,500 of our close, personal friends, all at the same ground floor level seats.
Now? I didn’t think twice about paying almost $94 for our reserved seats in an IMAX screening that were dead-red center and in a row raised above the row in front of us so that even my seven-year-old daughter had an unobstructed view of Luke, Rey, Kylo Ren and everyone else.
I have completely bought into this new round of “Star Wars” sequels, as well as the “Star Wars” story, “Rogue One”. We can thank the good people of the Walt Disney Company–and its $4.05 billion buy of Lucasfilm back in 2012–for this revitalization of what is arguably the most-popular, most-beloved and definitely most financially successful movie franchise in the history of cinema.
And, I have gotten my kids into “Star Wars”, too. My seven-year-old daughter liked Daisy Ridley’s “The Force Awakens” character, Rey, so much that she even wore a Rey costume around Disneyland a year ago. Needless to say, I had her get a picture with the Stormtroopers walking around the the Star Tours area. I’m pretty sure those guys considered rounding her up and taking her back as a prisoner to the First Order’s headquarters.And while the newest additions to the “Star Wars” canon have received roundly positive reviews by the franchise’s fanbase, the return to glory of “Star Wars” makes one wonder even more about the status of the three prequel movies: “Revenge of the Sith”, “Attack of the Clones”, and, especially, the first prequel, “The Phantom Menace.”
Ah, yes…”The Phantom Menace”.
Remember back in the early days of the internet–Before iPhones. Before social media. Before things went “viral”? Back in 1999, the world awaited the release of “The Phantom Menace” with a level of anticipation not unlike that of my kids waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve. Not only was “The Phantom Menace” to be the first “Star Wars” movie since 1983’s “Return of the Jedi”, but George Lucas himself, who had not directed a movie since “Star Wars” came out in 1977 (Don’t give me this “A New Hope” crap. “Star Wars” was “Star Wars” and will always and ONLY be “Star Wars”) was back in the director’s chair. And, to top it off, one of the high points of “The Phantom Menace” was going to be the introduction of the young Anakin Skywalker years before he turned into Darth Vader, the greatest movie villain of all time.
Oh yeah. Were we ready for “The Phantom Menace”? Hell yeah, we were. And were we disappointed as hell by “The Phantom Menace”? Hell yeah, we were.
About the only thing bigger than the hype about “The Phantom Menace” before it came out was the collective groan that every “Star Wars” geek let out when they saw “The Phantom Menace.” It just wasn’t up to snuff with what we had grown up with, and loved, about the original “Star Wars” trilogy.
Or, was it?
I had mentioned “The Phantom Menace” to my kids during many of my uber-nerdy diatribes about all the “Star Wars” films, and like any “Star Wars” fan, I kept coming back to Jar Jar Binks. My daughters wanted to know who Jar Jar was and why I hated him so much. And this got me thinking that maybe I should re-visit “The Phantom Menace”. After all, it had been nearly 20 years since I had seen “The Phantom Menace”, and if I am being completely honest, there was a lot about that movie that I didn’t remember. Maybe, with time, and some emotional and psychological distance, I would feel different about “The Phantom Menace”? I mean, I remember being furious about that one time back in college when I passed out in a recliner and some of my frat buddies turned my face into a piece of modern, abstract art. Today? I laugh as much at that photo (and the Jamaican Bobsledding Team sweatshirt I am wearing in it) as the guys who desecrated my face. Would I have the same, retro feelings about “The Phantom Menace”?
There was only one way to find out, and that was to watch the movie, at 2 hours and 16 minutes of it, and with my kids. I wanted to get their virgin impressions of “The Phantom Menace” as well as my own thoughts on the movie. So, we went down to Video Stop, which may well be the last DVD rental store in Oakland, and put down six bucks for a week-long rental of “The Phantom Menace”. I made a mess of popcorn, cracked open a Pliny The Elder, and we all gathered on the living room sofa to take in the glory of “The Phantom Menace.” And this is how it went…
Star Wars, The Phantom Menace running diary
6:40 p.m….We put the movie on. Kids have popcorn. I have a Pliny the Elder. I ask the girls what they are expecting from the movie:
Maddo: Jar Jar Binks
Little Sis: All sorts of stuff. Good things turning into bad things.
“Good things turning into bad things.” I fear this is the perfect description of how “The Phantom Menace” turned out.
6:45…The words STAR WARS hit the screen and I get excited. Then, the introductory scroll goes on about trade routes and blockades and Naboo and I feel depressed.
I’m a little concerned about Qi-Gon Jinn’s (Liam Neeson’s) and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s (Ewan McGregor’s) hair. They’re both a little too close to mullet territory, especially for a Jedi master and his apprentice.
6:55…We are 10 minutes in and Jar Jar Binks makes his debut. And the history of Star Wars is forever altered.
Maddo: “I don’t think Jar jar is being that funny. I think it’s just his accent.”
Little Sis: “I think he looks weird and is weird”
My thoughts: George Lucas is a genius for getting Disney to spend $4 billion on Lucasfilm after he created Jar Jar.
7:10…Twenty five minutes into this movie, and based on the overall dialogue and acting, I am convinced that Jar Jar is the best actor on the screen.
7:11…R2-D2 shows up. Everyone likes R2-D2.
Maddo : I miss Han Solo
Little Sis: Daddy? Is Han Solo in this? I have to break her heart and tell her he isn’t.
7:20...At last, we meet the young Anakin Skywalker. Who knew Darth Vader had a bowl haircut as a boy? Anakin brings Qi-Gon them all home for shelter from a sandstorm. He’s working on building 3P0
I begin to question some of my life choices when I notice we are just 40 minutes into this movie. Little Sis wants more popcorn. Qi-Gon tells Obi-Wan that “we are running out of time.” Oh, if only…
I yawn for the fifth time.
7:32...We learn that Qi-Gon thinks the Force is strong in Anakin. Meanwhile, I feel myself staring to doze for the first time.
7:45…Maddo’s asleep and I am dozing off again…The land speeder race is going on.
7:54…Anakin wins the race…I guess this will give him…Something?
8:02…Qi-Gon gets into his first light saber fight with Darth Maul….Anakin meets Obi-Wan. I have to say that the emotion of this event isn’t quite on par with Stanley meeting Livingstone.
Little Sis: He’s a young child!
Me: Oh, yes he is. (I then pull some hair on my arm to keep myself awake).
8:17…Little Sis tries to get on my lap. She says I am cold. I feel I am aging a year for every 10 minutes of this movie. The senate or something voted on something about trade routes. This is just the kind of stuff your average third-grader (or average dad) really wants his Star Wars movie to be about. Qi-Gon goes before the Jedi Council, which includes Yoda, and that is cool. Qi-Gon wants to take on Anakin. Jules from Pulp Fiction isn’t sure…Yoda is Yoda…Qi-gon now describes midichlorians, which, I guess, are microscopic bugs that turn Jedis into Jedis. Also, “Midichlorians” sounds like the name a terrible death metal band out of Florida.
8:22…Queen Natalie Portman says she needs Jar Jar’s help. Good God. How bad does a situation have to be to need the help of Jar Jar Binks?
8:35…We are almost two hours into this slog and maybe, just maybe, things are beginning to pick up. Obi-wan and Qi-Gon take on Darth Maul and his double-ended light saber…Little Sis says she’s falling asleep. Anakin is flying some ship with the rebels, or whoever is fighting the bad guys. It could be the Viet Cong for all I know, by this time…I am now questioning all of my life choices.
8:47…Qi-Gon dies in the light saber fight. Actually, this happened a few minutes ago, but I fell asleep and had to rewind the disc to see him take one in the chest from Darth Maul.
8:48…Now, it’s Obi-Wan’s turn. He knocks out half of Darth Maul’s light saber..Anakin is blasting away in his spaceship…Obi-Wan then clings to the edge of a tube/chute/something as Darth Maul prepares to go in for the kill. Suddenly, Obi-Wan busts out some Jedi mind tricks, flies up into the air, uses the Force to send his light saber flying into his had and then slices Darth Maul in half. I’m hoping this really means the end is near.
8:54…No! Not yet. Yoda schools Obi-Wan about Young Anakin. Yoda thinks the kid will end up being bad news with bells on, but he lets Obi-Wan take Anakin under his wing as his apprentice, anyway. We all know how this is going to turn out.
8:55…Qi-Gon is cremated on what I have to say in a pretty badass funeral pyre. This is exactly how I want to go out. Even if I die in a dumb way like during a proctology exam, I want to be sent off in a giant pile of fire.
Oh Lord. Now all the Gungans are holding some kind of Disneyland-like Gungan parade. I really am not sure about any of this. Queen Natalie then gives the Gungan leader what I think is a glowing orb of some sort. I’m not 100 percent sure because Little Sis is asleep on my lap and her head is in my face. All I know is that it isn’t as dramatic as when Princess Leia gave medals to Luke and Han at the end of the original “Star Wars.”
So, that’s that. “The Phantom Menace” put me to sleep a few times, and knocked both of my daughters out entirely. My wife stayed awake through it all, but only because she was shopping on Amazon and Zulily the whole time.
It’s a difficult movie to review. It’s hard to call it “bad”, but at no point did I feel that “Star Wars” thrill and excitement that every other movie has had in spades. I looked up that “The Phantom Menace” grossed nearly a billion dollars at the box office worldwide. I think that’s because we all saw it because we felt we had to. But nobody I know loves “The Phantom Menace” no matter how many times they have seen the movie. It is the “Van Halen III” of the “Star Wars” franchise.
I had hoped that after nearly two decades away that I would watch “The Phantom Menace” and find something there that I had missed the first time around. But, in the end, the movie just left me with kind of a “Meh” feeling. And because of that, “The Phantom Menace” was worse than bad, worse than any “Star Wars” movie should be.
It was boring.