With Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens four days away I was trying to remember how I felt after I saw The Phantom Menace. As evidenced by this video, a lot of people thought they liked it.
The thing is, when The Phantom Menace came out I liked Star Wars, but I was not the fan I am now. As a kid, I had watched A New Hope, back when it was just called Star Wars, repeatedly on channel 11 movie night. I mean, it felt like they played it every month, but that’s probably an exaggeration. I knew the other two movies existed, but it wasn’t until a shocked friend lent me his Original Trilogy box set on VHS that I finally saw Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Even then I had thought Empire Strikes Back was an amazing movie but Star Wars to me were just good movies.
So when I saw The Phantom Menace opening week with a group of my friends I had no horse in that race. It was me, Brian (who had lent me the tapes, Mike, Chris, and one other person though who that was I can’t decide between two people.
Here is what I remember: I thought the movie was boring. I remember eating my popcorn intently just for there to be something to do to make time go by faster. I didn’t care about little orphan Anakin, the political landscape of Naboo, or the silly antic of Jar Jar Binks. I didn’t think he was funny, but I wasn’t immediately like “Oh god, he’s the worst character ever.” That came years later. I was interested when characters I knew came on like R2D2 and C-3PO, but the pod racing sequence nearly put me to sleep. I wasn’t outraged by the introduction of midichlorians because I wasn’t paying attention. Oh look, Yoda, I know him. Oh, Padme’s really the handmaiden, that’s a twist. The lightsaber fight was cool, probably the only part of the movie that caught my interest,
The movies end and my first reaction were that I didn’t care. I remember Mike being obsessed with the movie. He thought the pod racing scene was the best part, even buying the terrible Star Wars Episode I Racer game. I remember him convincing me to rent from Blockbuster and being annoyed I had wasted my five dollars on such a boring game.
I don’t remember Chris and Brian’s reaction, but I believe Brian was the first to turn to The Dark Side of the Force, hating the movie as most do today. I just wanted to get back to Brian’s house to play more Super Smash Bros. on Nintendo 64 and trade Pokemon to evolve my Haunter into Gengar. I didn’t care about Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. I probably told my friends I liked it, wanting to fit in, but I really had initially thought it was just okay. I would feel that way initially about the other two also.
Most dislike the prequels because it waters down the mythology of Star Wars. The unstoppable villain, whose presence of unlimited powers has us scared for our heroes in the original trilogy is now a whiny brat and dumb teenager. The mysticism of the flow is now midichlorians in the blood stream. The Order of the Jedi was like an ancient order of knights long since gone turned into a bunch of ninjas who jump around that can’t sense a clone trooper about to shoot them in the head.
I don’t like those things either but what really makes me angry with the prequels is how damn boring they are. Where’s the snark? Where’s the fun? Where are the jokes?
For my Shakspeare nerds, we go from having Bendick and Beatrice to Claudio and Hero. No one likes Claudio and Hero. There just part of the plot for the real romance of Much Ado About Nothing. Han and Leia’s sexual tension is fun, lovable, and full of insults. Anakin and Padme are just gross. Hopefully, and judging from the trailers it does, the new trilogy balance that fun and seriousness like the originals do. Having the original cast certainly helps.
I’m far too used to Doctor Who and Comic Books to angry with screw ups in the mythology. With science fiction, there’s always a way to make new continuity that fixes the mistakes. There already starting to do with what we know of The Force Awakens. The prequels made Darth Vader a joke, so how do you counter react that? You make him a myth. That is what he has become to Kyle Ren and his new order, or, at least, that’s the theory.
The problem I have, in hindsight, with the Star Wars prequels is the problem I always pretended not to have when they were being released. I didn’t have any fun watching them.