Director: J. J. Abrams
Writer: Lawrence Kasdan, J. J. Abrams, & Michael Arndt
Cinematographer: Dan Mindel
by Jon Cvack
After letting it settle for a bit, this movie was exactly what I expected - a pretty good, but not in any way great addition to the series. It made me reflect on what Lucas attempted to do with Episodes I - III, showing the fall of the empire and the rise of a totalitarian ruler. I’ve seen The Phantom Menace at least four times, I revisited about half of Attack of the Clones, and never even went back to Revenge of the Sith, recalling that terrible lava pit lightsaber battle that ushered in an era of VFX that seemed more concerned about providing a good video game setting rather than creating a believable cinematic experience. One person I talked to mentioned how the movies were such a bore because rather than blocking the characters in interesting ways, Lucas had them all sitting down or standing in one place, talking to each other scene after scene. So while we were bombarded with a VFX onslaught for half the film, imagining the most fantastical worlds, Lucas couldn’t create one interesting blocking set up for the lengthy dialogue sequences during the rest, instead having a lot of scenes with characters looking out into fields, off balconies, or with Anakin standing in middle of a bunch of sitting Jedis. Still, the story was at least original; it just wasn’t done all that great. J.J. Abrams flips this situation, in which he grabs a very uninspired story and applies better direction.
I was once an obsessive Star Wars fan. I actually got into the series right before the re-releases hit theaters, launching a marketing frenzy. I collected the countless toys from Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, restaurants my parents hated, which I begged them to go to over and over. I would make my dad take me to Toys ‘R Us on Saturday mornings, before the store opened, when the new figures would be in stock. If there were more than I could buy, I would hide them throughout the store in Pretty Pony backpacks, stuck in the bottom shelf in the last aisle, away from where any serious collector would look. I would stuff extras for my friends who were close to as obsessed as I was. I demanded both original remastered VHS trilogies, the Platinum and Gold edition (the latter which I never received).
It was the first time I recall being obsessed with something - the way films would occur later in college, my first relationship in high school, or my latest growing obsession with literature. Soon I was buying two toys when the new and latter models would arrive - one to play with, and the other to collect. Gradually, the ones I played with were kept within the box, with each accessory going back to where it belonged. The rest of my older figures were split between the Empire in a large white crate-n-barrel box, and the Rebels in a green toolbox I received for Christmas. I recall checking this website (I wonder if anyone can remember this) that would somehow get the latest - and I mean latest - updates on new figures and vehicles. It would show molds, prototypes, or multiple versions of the painted figures. I remember when the Y-wing was put up as a prototype ship, partially colored. The A-Wing had finally come out shortly before and it was my second favorite ship, but the Y-Wing was what I wanted most. I bought the books - "Tales from Mos Eisley Space Cantina" and "Tales of the Bounty Hunters", which I regarded as being the best fan fiction ever made (and the only fan fiction I’ve ever read in my life). During this craze, "The Rosie O’Donnell Show" had a contest for kids to win massive amounts of Star Wars toys if they could answer the trivia. I knew about 75% of the answers. I was confident that I knew more about Star Wars than most other people did. I don’t recall how many times I watched the films. It had to have been at least a hundred during this phase, with each time providing me with a weird and creepy uncontrollable smile when the credits would roll.
A year to eighteen months into this obsessive phase the Episodes I-III were announced. I was thrilled. The world was expanding. Over three years, my dad would pick up my friends and I from school on the opening day and he’d always surprise me with a new shirt to wear. The one I remember most was this black t-shirt with velvet patching to form Darth Maul's face, which peeled apart near instantly.
I recall the credits rolling before The Phantom Menace. I got that smile and it was all so new. I had no idea where I was going. The movie began and I remember really liking it. I watched it a few times after. The podrace was cool and my friend had the N64 podracing video game. I hated Jar Jar Binks. I knew that from the beginning. Some really cool nerd-tech/Hackers ('96) like SciFi channel show that I use to watch did a hip hop, rap duo movie music video parody of him and I can’t find it on youtube. They played this video so much that I still have the lyrics memorized:
Jar Jark Binks
Obi Wan Hates him and so do I
Jar Jar Binks
And on that note, I'll leave it there. Be sure to continue reading with Part 2 of the series...
BELOW: Pretty much sums up I-III
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