Star what?

10 reasons not to see "The Phantom Menace."


Toby Young
May 14, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, the new "Star Wars" movie didn't suck. It was called "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) and some critics -- Pauline Kael -- preferred it to the original. No such luck this time around. According to a few early reviews, "The Phantom Menace" is even worse than "Return of the Jedi" (1983). Nevertheless, industry analysts are still predicting it'll gross more than $100 million by the end of the Memorial Day weekend and eventually overtake "Titanic" to become the highest-grossing movie of all time. It's as if Obi-Wan Kenobi had performed a Vulcan mind trick on the entire population of the world. (Note to "Star Wars" fans: I know the correct term is "Jedi mind trick." I deliberately got it wrong to annoy you.)

For those of you who haven't been completely enslaved by the media-industrial complex, here are 10 reasons not to see it.

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1. The episodes are in the wrong order: Part I

George Lucas is often praised as a master storyteller but what kind of storyteller begins with episodes four, five and six -- sorry, Episodes IV, V and VI -- then proceeds to Episodes I, II and III? Surely, on Page 1 of the storyteller's manual, it tells you to begin at the beginning. Of course, it's possible that the author of the storyteller's manual started straight in on the middle section on Page 1, but only an idiot would do that.

The trouble with prequels is you know in advance how they're going to end. I hate to ruin this for you guys, but Anakin Skywalker turns into Darth Vader and, in Episode 6 -- sorry, Episode VI -- he dies.

2. The light sabre

As a slightly backward 14-year-old, I was at least 10 years too old for "Star Wars" (1977) when it first came out. But I was still quite pleased when I discovered a toy light sabre in my Christmas stocking. My euphoria was short-lived. Even by poor merchandising standards, the light sabre left a lot to be desired. After inserting the batteries (which weren't included), you had to draw the curtains and turn out all the lights before it even remotely resembled the Jedi Knight's weapon of choice. Needless to say, the moment you engaged in any sort of duel, the light sabre crumpled like a blade of grass. Mine was broken by Boxing Day.

Who should we hold responsible for this piece of junk? Step forward, George Lucas. In 1973, following the surprise box-office success of "American Graffiti," Lucas renegotiated his contract with 20th Century Fox, insisting that he retain both the sequel and merchandising rights to "The Star Wars," as it was then called. The rest, as they say, is hysteria.

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3. Anakin Skywalker's hair

OK, the "Star Wars," saga has never been strong on hair -- Princess Leia looks like she's wearing cinnamon roll ear muffs -- but the young Anakin Skywalker's locks are truly revolting. It's one of those sissy, just-washed helmets that no self-respecting kid would tolerate for a second, even on the planet Tattooine.

4. George Lucas is a capitalist running dog

According to Peter Biskind in "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls," a woman who worked on "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981) told Lucas her favorite film of his was "THX 1138" (1971). He gave her a puzzled look and said, "But it didn't make any money."

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Like many children of the counterculture, Lucas has become an arch-capitalist. It's estimated that he made more than $3 billion in licensing fees from the original "Star Wars" trilogy. So far, he's already pocketed $1 billion in tie-in rights for "The Phantom Menace" and negotiated a promotional deal between Lucasfilm and Pepsico worth $2 billion. Does each of us really need to enrich him further by paying up to $9.50 apiece to see the wretched thing?

5. No Harrison Ford

Harrison Ford was by far the best thing in the original "Star Wars" trilogy and he isn't in "The Phantom Menace." According to Biskind, he was one of the few people involved bold enough to stand up to the tyrannical Lucas. "George, you can type this shit," he told the director on the set of "Star Wars," "but you sure can't say it."

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6. It's not the "Special Edition"

In 1997, Lucas re-released the original "Star Wars" trilogy, adding a few minutes to each film and calling each a "Special Edition." If we wait 20 years, perhaps he'll authorize a "Special Edition" of "The Phantom Menace." It would be a pity to ruin our experience of that masterpiece by seeing the current, inferior version.

(Film historians please note: "Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope: The Special Edition" (1997) was the first movie ever to be released with three colons in its title.)

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7. George Lucas is an opportunistic hack

Here is a list of Lucas' less-distinguished credits culled from the Internet Movie Database:

Executive producer: "The Ewok Adventure" (TV movie, 1984), "Ewoks: The Battle for Endor" (TV movie, 1985), "Droids: The Adventures of R2D2 and CP30" (TV series, 1985), "Ewoks and Droids: Adventure Hour" (TV series, 1986), "Captain Eo" (1986), "Howard The Duck" (1986).
Writer: "More American Graffiti," aka "Purple Haze" (1979).
Producer: "Jurassic Park 3" (2000).

8. Jar Jar Binks

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According to Sam I Am, a fan who sneaked into an exhibitors screening and posted a review on the Ain't It Cool News Web site, the character of Jar Jar Binks is like "all the Ewoks rolled into one." Does this mean we can look forward to "The Jar Jar Binks Adventure"?

9. The episodes are in the wrong order: Part II

Once the saga is complete and the episodes can finally be seen in their correct order, the special effects in Episodes IV, V and VI will look much less sophisticated than those in Episodes I, II and III. This will look very peculiar. In fact, it will be perfectly obvious to even the most dim-witted 4-year-old that the middle section in the saga was made before the first section.

10. George Lucas is evil

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Back in the mid-1970s, Lucas was a promising young independent filmmaker who made a conscious decision to make a commercial, mainstream film. After screening "Star Wars" for the first time, Lucas described it as a cross between "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" (1971) and "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes" (1970).

"I'm going to make five times as much money as Francis on these science-fiction toys and I won't have to make 'The Godfather,'" he boasted to cult filmmaker John Milius. "I've made what I consider the most conventional kind of movie I can possibly make."

In short, Lucas chose the Dark Side of the Force. It wouldn't have mattered if "Star Wars" had tanked, but its record-breaking success steered Hollywood toward the Dark Side as well: Without "Star Wars," we wouldn't have had "Armageddon" (1998).

"'Star Wars' swept all the chips off the table," William Friedkin told Peter Biskind. "What happened with 'Star Wars' was like when McDonald's got a foothold, the taste for good food just disappeared."

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George Lucas is Darth Vader. But it's not too late to fight back. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a small rebel force managed to blow up the Death Star. Let's start by exorcising "The Phantom Menace."


Toby Young

Toby Young is the author of "How to Lose Friends & Alienate People" and "The Sound of No Hands Clapping." He is currently in the process of setting up a charter school in West London.

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