await the new saga of "Star Wars" after 16 years of
waiting. They are sharing their moment with their own
children. "Star Wars" was an iconic moment from their
childhood and it will be for their heirs.
Or so the father thought...
"Daddy, can I have more popcorn?"
The frustration of this Generation X parent must have
been similar to the Big Band Generation's reaction to Elvis Presley.
"Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" presumes to
tell the tale of little Darth Vader, a ten year old
slave boy on planet Tatoonie. The boy, also known as
Anakin Skywalker, is a child prodigy on the subject of
mechanics and racing. He meets Qui Gin (Liam Neesom) a
Jedi Knight who thinks Anakin is the chosen one. With
the permission of his mother, young Anakin joins the
Jedi Knights for thrills and adventures.
Anakin flies a spaceship, makes goo goo eyes with a
Princess (Natalie Portman) and comes under the
scrutiny of Master Yoda (Frank Oz). Yoda has his
doubts that Anakin Skywalker is the chosen one and he
reflects these doubts to his Jedi student, Obi Wan Ben
Kenobi (Ewan Mac Gregor). While raising this young prodigy, Obi Wan, Qui Gin and the Princess are being
pursued by Darth Maul (Ray Park), the Sith Apprentice
to the Phantom Menace.
If you have seen "Star Wars" Episodes 4, 5 and 6, you
know the fate of these main characters. Darth Vader
and Obi Wan will duel, Yoda will become an exile on a
swamp planet. The Phantom Menace will be revealed to
be a crotchety old man with a genetic link to the
wicked witch of the West. Those 30 something parents
expecting a religious experience from the Professor
Joseph Campbell inspired myth will walk away unfilled.
To creator George Lucas' credit, he did mention that
"Star Wars" is only a movie. Actually the "Star Wars"
series were first inspired by the bargain basement
studio series from the 1930's which featured Tarzan,
Batman and best villainy of Bela Lugosi. Essentially
producers would film action sequences of daredevil and
then would plot a narrative around them. These
sequences would be edited in into 12 to 15 serials and
released for Saturday matinee consumption.
Nostalgia clouds one's memory. The criticism about
"The Phantom Menace" is the same as the original "Star
Wars," poor acting and poorer dialog. Despite her
previous track record in "Heat," "The Professional"
and "mars Attacks," Natalie Portman appears lost in
the CGI blue screen. Jake Lloyd is not bad, but one
wonders what Haley Joel Osment ("Forrest Gump" and the
soon to be released "The Sixth Sense") would have done
with the movie. It is the veterans Liam Neeson, Ian
McDiarmid and Ewan MacGregor that uphold the human
element with any sense of conviction.
George Lucas excels with technology. While Jar Jar
Binks goofiness becomes as weary as Jerry Lewis on
speed, Master Yoda gives a performance of depth. Add
some spectacular visuals and John Williams soaring
score, "Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace" is
pure Saturday Matinee fun, no more, no less. If you
are seeking a religious experience, one could visit
church on Sunday morning.