Friday, 23 March 2018

The Phantom Force Awakens a Menace

I feel like I may have courted enough controversy for a while, but, goaded by a comment on a recent entry, I'm going to put myself out on a limb again. So here goes: in hindsight, I find myself appreciating George Lucas's efforts in The Phantom Menace a little bit more than I once did.

Now, hear me out. I'm not crazy. I recognise that as films, the prequels taken in toto are dreadful. Attack of the Clones may be a genuine contender for the worst film ever made. It's awful. It has no redeeming qualities at all. Revenge of the Sith is a little bit better, but not much. Nothing about it is good, but passages of it rise slightly above the level of shite. 

But, say what you want about The Phantom Menace: at least George tried to do something genuinely ambitious. The attempt to tell the story of Darth Vader by actually beginning with him as a "lovable" (I use that adjective advisedly) child is, when you think about it, a pretty bravura act that I don't think has a parallel in film history. Certainly not genre film history. The execution doesn't work. But by golly at least he won't die wondering about what would have happened if he'd made that film. You have to give him that.

This dawned on me shortly after watching The Force Awakens. I don't think history will look kindly on that film in particular or Disney's Star Wars efforts in general. For starters, I think we'll get into "diminishing returns" territory fairly quickly if they keep up the pace of a new Star Wars film of some kind every year or two. But more importantly, The Force Awakens was the opposite of ambitious: it was a safe bet, an underarm throw, an open goal. What could be easier to pull off than a remake of A New Hope given the vitriol that has been heaped on the Star Wars prequels and the incredible juggernaut of nostalgia that sits behind the "originals"?

George Lucas caught lightning in a bottle with A New Hope. He went chasing after it again, bottle in hand, in making The Phantom Menace. He came back not so much with lightning but with bird droppings. But as a human endeavour I appreciate the effort. He tried, didn't he? Goddamit - at least he did that.

16 comments:

  1. When Lucas add The Phantom Menace, he made a “kid’s movie,” hoping to thrill children (just as he did with his originals). My kids enjoy it thoroughly.

    They like the new films, too, but they’re a bit scared of them. Perhaps they weren’t made for kids, but for an aging fan base who have a reputation for bitter complaining.

    I own all the films (of course), but it’s amazing (to me) that I feel less compelled to re-watch the newer ones, even in comparison to the prequels.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I think the new films are definitely a bit too scary for the kids who were George Lucas' core demographic.

      Delete
  2. Of the three sequel films I actually quite like Rogue One, but I feel that it's a fluke--the studio wanted shades of a "dark" "war" picture and then balked at what Gareth Edwards gave them. They tried to backtrack to a safer middle with obviously stuck-in bits like the main character's "Hope!" speech at the end of Act II (I don't have insider knowledge but I'm really confident that was shoehorned in) but enough of the original remained to make a great picture in spite of itself (if I haven't confirmed my enthusiastically plebian taste yet this is also how I feel about Suicide Squad). However I have not and really don't care to even see EpVIII--it's clear Disney regards RO as something of an embarrassment and intends to stick to 'underhanded throws' as you put them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm totes with you there. It is the only of the movies (except New Hope, but hey I was like 8 and there was nothing like it) that moved my in the feeling apartment.
      Rogue One didn't feel like a Hollywood movie, it felt much real (not without problems, there was much that could have been done differently, and better).

      Delete
  3. When I saw TPM I enjoyed it....it wasn't the greatest, but it wasn't until a few years later with the internet pouring hate on it that I looked more critically at that film. I actually enjoyed Attack of the Clones and consider it my favorite weirdo prequel movie, but RotS was a close second. In truth, though, my son (6 1/2 years old) watches these movies and looooves them, and seeing them with him has reminded me of who Star Wars is for, and why the prequel trilogy (no matter what Red Letter Media tries to say) isn't as bad as the internet wants everyone to think it is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Red Letter Media reviews of those films are fantastic, but there's an element of unfairness in them. A lot of the criticisms are on the money, but I think if you start watching any film on the premise that you're going to find things wrong with it, you'd never enjoy anything.

      Delete
  4. Did he try? Or did he just try to cash in...

    Looking at the behind-the-scenes footage, I don't see a man with passion, or a story to tell, or even any interest in the project. He looks like he's being paid to be there, and would really rather be somewhere else.

    It shows on the screen, too. The film is slapdash. Shoddy craftsmanship. Like its author just couldn't be bothered to do any more than the bare minimum.

    Makes me sad for the crew, who obviously busted their asses on a project that was - technically, although not artistically - extremely complex.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I dunno. Whenever I've seen George Lucas he comes across like a robot. He's quite a shy, reserved sort of character I think. Just because he didn't look passionate behind the scenes I don't think that means he was just trying to cash in.

      Delete
  5. My kids and their cousins have been slowly working through the prequels together, and love them. All the dumb crap that adults roll their eyes at they love. Probably the same way that I loved RotJ when I saw it as a tot, and now the Ewoks and such really grate on me.

    And I think that the prequels, particularly with TPM really shows that George is an idea man, not a script writer or a director... had he turned it over to someone else, it would have been far superior.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly. TPM and AotC are still bad movies, but E7 made me realize and appreciate what he really braught to Star Wars. It really makes me appreciate his contribution to Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi as well.
      He's apparently not a good script writer or director, but he does have a great ability to visualize an amazing and distinct world. Which I consider the most important part of Star Wars and which the new movies lack. Though Last Jedi did have some moments where it felt like the old world again.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, I agree with all that. I love the feel of his Star Wars films. Even the prequels - something about the tonal palette.

      Delete
  6. The Force Awakens made me greatly appreciate the strengths Lucas had as a creator. They were not enough to save the prequels, but they were sorely missed in TFA.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I really do think that as time goes on people will look back at TFA and wonder why they raved about it so much.

      Delete
    2. Because most people are, at the end of the day, extremely conformist.

      Delete
    3. Well the characters were fun and the escape from Jakku bit was excellent. But most of all it had the right tone. But yeah, history won't be kind to it, deservedly for the most part.

      Rogue One is my favorite of the new movies despite all its many flaws but TFA is the first (and only) Star Wars movie since Return of the Jedi to get the kind of tone that made me love Star Wars as a kid.

      Delete
  7. Of the prequels The Phantom Menace is the one I liked the most. They pretty much get worse from there (with Revenge of the Sith being the worst).

    The Force Awakens I liked but didn't love. Mostly because I could easily envision a better movie just behind the surface that I would have loved. Also, Han Solo sucked in the Force Awakens, he is the worst part of the movie. Chewie rocks though.

    ReplyDelete