Star Bores I: A Spent Force…
“I’m sure this one will do fine…” – George Lucas.
Always gratifying to expunge one’s demons, so they say. So it is with the wretched Star Wars prequel trilogy.
As part of a blog-a-thon devised by Ashley over at boxofficebuzz, these much-maligned prequels have come under scrutiny, and she gladly accepted my participation.
Back in 1999, the hype for a BRAND NEW STAR WARS MOVIE(!) was phenomenal. George Lucas was ready to come out of his directorial hiatus and tell us how Anakin Skywalker – the Jedi apprentice of Obi-Wan Kenobi was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force and became Darth Vader. So, what did Brad make of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace?
Let’s just say it was a trip to the cinema he will NEVER forget…
This Post follows boxofficebuzz’s What works/What doesn’t work format, although – let’s face it – the latter is going to be a significantly longer section…
“I was apprenticed to the most powerful being in the galaxy once. I was destined to become… so much more” – Darth Maul.
- Darth Maul: by far the standout element of Episode I.
As a fan of aliens/villains in hooded cloaks, it’s difficult not to be mesmerised by the spectacular choreography of Ray Park. The extraordinary makeup is both devilish and distinctive. And hell, he’s everyone’s fave Dathomirian Zabrak ‘cos of his supercool dual-bladed sabrestaff. Strangely enough, this Sith apprentice was the very first aspect of preview images to catch my attention. Remember thinking at the time: we’re in for one helluva good cinema trip…
Rather than inevitably load up that lightsaber duel scene itself – still amazing after 17 years – this featurette is worth a look:
- The Pod Race
Admittedly, this was fun the first time we watched, and the only sequence not including Darth Maul worth extra viewing. Sebulba is a particularly dastardly figure, and the ensuing carnage makes for compelling viewing. Obsessed with Tatooine’s Tusken Raiders, watching them twenty years later taking pot-shots at the pods was a joy. But please, leave out the two-headed commentator (speaking English?!)
- John Williams triumphs with the music score. As always.
Undoubtedly the most outstanding track here is Duel of the Fates. Could you imagine the lightsaber battle without it?
“How does it feel to see my designs out in the world? All you can do is sit back and watch in amazement” – Iain McCaig.
- The conceptual designs of Iain McCaig:
One of my favourite SF/fantasy artists is Iain McCaig. It was a really exciting day when news broke that he was working on Star Wars: Episode I. He was the artist solely responsible for creating the terrifying look of Darth Maul, and designing the outlandish costumes worn by Queen Amidala.
Although some of his concepts – such as the most reviled alien in the universe – did not make the transition to the big screen so well, his exceptional artistic contribution should be honoured as one of the prequel trilogy’s scant saving graces.
- The J-type 327 Nubian Royal Starship:
Super-sleek, covered in chromium, this vessel carries more class and sophistication than any of the dialogue or acting. Such a wonderful design, it does not belong in such a below-average blockbuster.
“Phantom Menace is, ultimately, so extraordinarily objectionable… Nothing has the right to bore and disappoint us this much” – Peter Bradshaw.
What doesn’t work (where do we begin?!):
At the beginning, of course…
- The beginning: is so lame and monotonous.
“Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute.”
Really? Who gives a monkeys? Suddenly, John Williams’ oh-so-familiar perpetually-stirring theme tune feels incongruous when set to this mind-numbing scrawl. Honestly, this is the intro to a NINE-PART SAGA, and that is the best you can come up with, George?! Remember the opening scene of Episode IV? Yeah! NOW THAT is how you begin a blockbuster!
- The taxation of trade routes:
How was this needless attention to economics and politics supposed to engage with the infant cinema-goers?
- The script: NONE OF THIS RUBBISH MAKES ANY SENSE.
More than the original trilogy, the inanity of the dialogue is called into question; you can’t call any of these figures “characters” because they are never fleshed out/explained. There is no reason/motivation for these figures to stick together, just as there is no reason/motivation for them to travel from one side of the set/planet to the other and – most of all – there is zero character development, so nobody comes out alive (literally).
- The CGbloomin’I
Those aliens aren’t real; that droid army certainly isn’t real; fx over here – fx over there – fx every-frickin’-where. And it’s all so tediously obvious. Thus, the screen is beset with absolutely no sense of wonder. And the magic – that endeared the original trilogy to millions – is depressingly absent. Look, George, it would have been a whole lot easier melting my retinas staring at a video game for 133 minutes instead…
And while we’re on the subject:
- That droid army: What a bunch of fragile, useless, near-sighted scrap piles!
It’s far too easy to destroy them. The old phrase: “Could knock them down with a feather” could not be more apt. Nothing to fear then, especially during:
- The Battle of Naboo:
As a fan of SF battlefields, this should have rocked. Instead, the droids – and their battle-tanks – are assembling on the opposite hill – so what? Everybody has seen how ineffective they are – therefore there is no tension, no trepidation for the battle to come; as for the Gungans, by this point, everyone in the cinema is rooting against them, so it’s such a wasted opportunity. Again, more worthless CGI to sit – and yawn – through. Speaking of yawning…
- Natalie Portman: seems to be a byword for lousy acting.
Cringing in my cinema seat thinking with dread: Shit! We haven’t got to put up with her in the next two episodes, have we…?
- Qui Gon Jinn:
Apart from sounding like he was named afer a bottle of Korean alcohol, WHO THE HELL IS THIS GUY?! The original trilogy was quite specific: Yoda trained Obi Wan. So to learn that this “Qui Gon” fella was not only training the young Obi Wan, but ready to train Anakin as well, annoyed me immensely – ’twas an affront to my supposed status as All-Knowing Star Wars Honcho. Without any character development whatsoever, there is absolutely no audience reaction to his death.
So long, Qui Gon – didn’t know/care much for ya anyway.
Liam Neeson obviously signed up under the impression that he was going to be part of something special… as did:
- Celia Imrie: What was she doing?!
She’s one of the finest TV actors in the UK, so upon discovering she was to join the Ep I cast, it seemed perfectly logical that she would be playing Anakin’s mum, thus providing the right gravitas and emotional intensity required – but no. Bloody typical: overwhelmed to be involved with Star Wars she wrangled her way to big screen mediocrity by appearing instead as one of the fighter pilots. Honestly, her gain was everybody’s loss…
- Ewan McGregor: He does NOT save this movie, despite so many protestations to the contrary.
He just sleepwalks and drones his way through, only “coming to life” during that confrontation with Darth Maul. And cut that lame pony-tail off! Bad, padawan, bad! And hey! He’s responsible for the oh-not-so-cool:
- Death of Darth Maul:
Why kill off the coolest asset of the trilogy in the first Episode?! Maul’s duel with Qui Gon on Tatooine ended with the latter jumping onto that sleek chromium ship. It would have been really clever to end the Obi-Wan/Maul saber-scrap in a similar fashion, with the Sith somersaulting onto an escape ship, leaving the Jedi to watch helplessly as it blasts high into the sky, knowing that this Sith must be hunted down in the next episode... But then again, no one listens to a word Brad says… hello?
Last, and by all means least:
- THAT ALIEN WE ALL ABHOR!
Don’t need to mention the lanky, goofy one by name – everyone knows who it is, and enough antipathy has been hurled in his direction since 1999. There is just one more thing to add here: was this figure deliberately intended to look, sound, move and act as derisory as he did? If so, WHY?!
Having blotted out this confusing but colourful mess of a movie from my mind, it was hoped that this would be a mere unforseen one-off misstep, and George would get his mojo back in order to deliver a darker, more dramatic, Episode II.
Besides, the signs were favourable: we were promised less of the lanky, goofy one; the legend that was Christopher Lee was rumoured to appear(!) and the return of Boba Fett looked more likely than ever.
Really, how could it possibly go wrong?
They couldn’t fuck it up a second time!