Thursday, September 2, 2010

Episode I: A REALLY Long Time Ago in A Galaxy Far, Far Away...

I suppose it was inevitable.  You cannot run a film-related blog, news page, widget, or some other internet dingus without having to at some point talk about the Force, the Empire, and that dysfunctional Skywalker family. God, do I even need to do an introduction paragraph to one of the most successful, popular, and over-played sci-fi sagas in the history of American film?  Probably not, but I'm a long winded person so you'll sit there and read it and like it! Please...pretty please (I'd better make nice, I don't want to chase off my five readers).  Anyhoo, Star Wars isn't just a film or a franchise anymore.  Its become a way of life for so many people.  For some it is a cash cow and the means to keep their pockets lined (those people would be 20th Century Fox, the folks at Lucasfilm, the toy and video distribution companies, and the Dark Lord himself...George Lucas).  For others, it is a source of obsession...a compulsion to know everything, own everything, and experience everything that was ever fated to be stamped with that ever recognizable logo.  Some people even list their religion as Jedi (or Sith...shiver) on their tax returns now and know how to speak Gungan, or Tatooineese.  Its hard to fathom that such a fanatic lifestyle would sprout from a late 70s low-budget sleeper that no one believed would succeed.  Then again, the same sort of fanaticism would also bless (or curse depending on how you feel) Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter.  I guess people just live for fantasy worlds.  At any rate, last week I rewatched all the Star Wars movies in order...something I haven't done in a long long time.  So now I'll start with a look at the technical 4th film in the series, but first in the series timeline (and also probably the most hated)...The Phantom Menace.

The galaxy is in a state of tense peace, but under the surface a troubling conflict is looking to tear the serene calm of the Galactic Republic in two.  On the distent and lovely planet of Naboo a blockade by the Trade Federation is threatening to invade the planet and capture Queen Amidala, the 13 year old ruler of the Naboo.  Two Jedi Knights, Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentence Obi-Wan Kenobi, have been sent to resolve the conflict in a debate.  However, the Viceroy of the Trade Federation orders their deaths and they must escape to the surface of the planet below.  Qui-Gon suspects that there is more going on than a simple trade dispute and he and Obi-Wan manage to escape with the Queen and a Gungan named Jar Jar Binks before the Trade Federation can claim her.  They land on the desert planet of Tatooine and there they meet a boy who displays a remarkable grasp of the Force named Anakin Skywalker and decide that he must return with them to the city planet of Coruscant.  Meanwhile, it is revealed that the Trade Federation is working with a shadowy figure named Darth Sideous and he is the one pulling the strings.  He has a vested interest in disrupting the senate with conflict and taking over and he sends his apprentence, Darth Maul, to deal with the interfering Jedi.

A short summary of Episode I is not really possible, though its detractors would say otherwise.  There is a lot of complex set up and policial intrigue that makes more sense in the context of the three prequel films when taken as a whole rather than as a stand alone film and that contributes to why fans don't care for Lucas' vision for the prequel trilogy.  Fans also stated bad dialouge and annoying characters (*read* Jar Jar) as reason for further dissention.  They do have a point on the first complaint (it was complicated and not much happened) compared to the original where all they had to do was blow up a space station.  However, I've always felt that the original Star Wars had corny lines ("Governor Tarkin!  I should have expected to find you holding Vader's leash...I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board!") and annoying characters (C-3PO and Luke were whiny little bitches).  I think the biggest problem with the prequel films is that they were new and came after 20 years of fanboy entrenchment.  The fans were old and set in their ways and didn't want anything that didn't look like it was filmed in the late 70s or early that means, grainy and with only puppet and rotoscoping effects.  On one hand, I can see that point because the prequels look so shiny and new that they seem like a fancy attempt to reference what had been done in the past rather than actually trying to look like they fit into the visual 'look' of the original trilogy.  On the other hand, however, these films also show a time of peace and prosperity in the galaxy, before the utilitarian and cold Empire, so it makes sense that things would look nicer and fancier.  You can go either way on the topic.  I prefer to just take a neutral position.  I like to just watch them and have fun, and not get bogged down in fanaticism that just makes people miserable and bitter.  I am a Star Wars fan from way back...from when I was a kid actually....but I don't need to base my personal happiness on how well the prequels represent what I remember or whether or not Lucas raped my childhood.  I like to keep my psychological hang ups on real stuff.  Oh...and I like all six case that wasn't clear.

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