Bring on the pain, bring on the noise

So here’s the first installment of my epic Episode I review. I’ve posted this online before, but it’s now my intention to finish it. Not to mention that with my daily posting schedule, it’s going to go much faster here than it did elsewhere.

To understand my review and why Episode I hurts me so, you’ll need to understand a little bit about who I am. I love Star Wars. It has been one of the few constants in my life. I knew Star Wars before I knew Sesame Street. I spent the majority of my high school years watching the whole trilogy every day after school. Not intently mind you, I’d just put it on when I got home and start doing my homework or whatever, but it was the background radiation of my life.

There was a time when my knowledge of Star Wars was so encyclopedic that I could name the race of any alien, tell you how many turbo laser batteries there were on any given class of star destroyer, or tell you which movie in the trilogy we were watching merely from how fast the title Star Wars receded into the background before the opening crawl. I was beyond fanatical, I was a zealot. I was also the biggest Lucas apologist ever. The very notion that Lucas was not a god of film making nor a master of story telling was entirely impossible for me to accept. It took 13 viewings of Episode I in the theatre to finally bring me to the crushing realization that the film was shit. And even then I tried to deny it to myself.

Eventually, I came to grips with it and my life is emptier for it. I miss the warm comfort of having something pure to love. Despite the wounds inflicted on me, I am still a Star wars fan. I have a lightsabre tattooed on my arm, I have shelf after shelf of collectibles, but I’d like to think that I’m more seasoned now. I would like to think that I am now capable of taking on the prequels in a methodical manner and laying bare their shortcomings. Maybe I’ll exorcise some demons. Let’s see!

Today I’ll begin with the Opening Crawl.

The film opens, as do all Star Wars Films, with the ‘long time ago’ preamble, followed by the blast of John Williams’ orchestral score and the enormous Star Wars Logo receding back into the infinity of space. So far, so good. Unfortunately for us, the problems are about to begin. Here comes the opening crawl, and right away, this film is in trouble:

Episode I

The Phantom Menace? what a lame duck of a title. Now I’ll grant you that not all of the Star Wars titles have been winners. A New Hope, the title of Episode IV is certainly not terribly inspiring to be sure. However, that title had more to do with the content of the film than “The Phantom Menace” does with this one. People will make arguments both for an against this title. Some will point to the evidence that they feel clearly shows what the phantom menace is. I’m not really interested in such debates, I just think it’s a poor title. My preference remains “Balance of the Force” which was long rumored to be the title before the official announcement came down. Balance has more to do with the plot of this film, and with the arc of the overall trilogy than “The Phantom Menace” can ever hope to have. All in all, it’s just a sad, silly title.

Turmoil has engulfed the
Galactic Republic. The taxation
Of trade routes to outlying star
Systems is in dispute.

So it is that we’ve hit our first real stumbling block: “The taxation of trade routes”? Is George serious? Every other opening crawl has been exciting and now we start the whole saga off with a tax dispute? That is not exciting, that is dull. Exceedingly dull. No one in the audience is reading that and thinking to themselves “Oh man! This is going to be good!” Turmoil is a good word, but once you find out where said turmoil is coming from, it kind of falls flat. Why are these trade routes in dispute? What is the meat of it? What’s being traded? Why do we care? What we need here is a plot device that doesn’t suck. Moving on…

Hoping to resolve the matter
With a blockade of deadly
Battleships, the greedy Trade
Federation has stopped all
Shipping to the small planet
of Naboo.

Deadly battleships, now that’s more like it! I wonder what they’re doing… Oh, they’re not letting the people of Naboo import or export goods off-world. BORING! Oh no, now the Naboo will have to make do with products and services from their own planet… just like before intergalactic trade. How tragic. It seems to me that here on Earth we’re doing just fine without intergalactic trade. Further, it seems to me that any of the planets in the Star Wars universe who have space faring capabilities will surely be self sufficient by this point, and intergalactic trade will merely be an economic boost. It’s nice to have, but not necessary. So, again, we’re faced with something the average audience member isn’t going to give a rat’s ass about. Come on George, throw us a bone!

While the congress of the
Republic endlessly debates
this alarming chain of events,
the Supreme Chancellor has
secretly dispatched two Jedi
Knights, the guardians of
peace and justice in the
galaxy, to settle the conflict….

This is an alarming chain of events? A trade embargo? Armed invasion of a sovereign nation is an alarming chain of events, a trade embargo is… a footnote in the financial section of the local newspaper. It’s a political issue that carries with it no real or implied threat. This all forgets the fact that the film never mentions what it is exactly that Naboo imports or exports, and why the Trade Federation feels the need to stop them from doing so. Why is it so important? No reason is ever given throughout the film, good planning George. As far as McGuffins go, this is possibly the worst one I’ve ever seen. For a McGuffin to be effective there has to be an underlying logic to it. The Maltese Falcon is a good McGuffin because it has an implied value, thus the characters desire for it is understandable. The Death Star plans are a good McGuffin, because people can understand why the Rebel Alliance or the Empire would want them and be willing to pay dearly for them. This trade embargo carries with it no such internal logic, and as such, no real sense of urgency or importance.

So, that’s the opening crawl. Look at how much awful I squeezed out of the first 20 seconds. That’s depressing. Tune in tomorrow and we’ll get into the film proper.


~ by Pagz on June 12, 2008.

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