Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Star Wars Commentary, Part I

I’ll admit it. When Phantom Menace came out, I stood in line and paid my money like millions of other suckers. I was thrilled to have another chapter in the Star Wars franchise to ogle, adore, and cherish. The first three (they will always be the first three to me, I don’t care if Lucas wants to call them IV, V, VI, they are the first three) were so good they spawned a nerd culture that has lasted to this day. The whole movie rental business didn’t last as long. Of course I was psyched to have more stuff to add to the Star Wars lexicon.
The first few minutes of Menace sucked me in. It was just so good to be watching light sabers again. Then, later, the light saber battle between the Jedi and Darth Maul was stunning eye-candy. It was only much later that it dawned on me how badly the movie sucked, sort of a weird type of “buyer’s remorse.” You mean I paid for this? This? This no-plot-bad-characters-dull-dialogue piece of garbage? Unfortunately, there is no way to demand your money back from a movie theatre the day after. I have studiously avoided paying to watch it ever since, at least.
Every few weeks the thing does show up on TV, though. If there’s been enough of a gap between watchings, I’ll even sit down. “Maybe I’ll like it this time,” I’ll think. Quickly I will be disabused of that notion. The speed with which I come to my senses depends entirely on what part of the movie I happen to start watching. Opening scene with Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor? I’ll tune in until they are crouched in the docking bay, then stop, because I know inside of two minutes they’ll be encountering Jar Jar. Darth Maul fights keep me going until they end. Any other part, with talking, I usually manage less than three minutes before the weak plot and mind-numbing conversation cripple me. If the stupid kid actor playing Anakin is on-screen, I just keep channel surfing. Even for free, watching The Phantom Menace comes with too high a price.
So why did I walk in to the cinema such a wide-eyed innocent? Why was I thinking it would in any way be comparable to the first three? There’s no way a movie would fool me like that today. Was I really that much of a sucker? How could I be so deluded?
The answer, of course, is ignorance. I had no idea what I was going to see. All I knew was “new Star Wars.” That’s all I needed to know. Not that I was purposely blinding myself. Far from it. I watched the trailers, I read the sneak-peak info, I… well, that was about it.
Movie-goers today have many tools at their disposal that my younger self lacked. Between Google, Rotten Tomatoes, and YouTube, today’s discerning cinema patron is armed with the full gambit of movie information. There is scarcely a scene they haven’t been able to examine at leisure long before they decide to queue up and hand over their dollars.
It’s strange to think how much the internet culture has changed since Phantom. The Star Wars fiasco came out in 1999, the same year that Rotten Tomatoes debuted (and long before it actually caught on). Wikipedia drew its first breath in 2001. Google wasn’t around until 2004, with YouTube showing up a full year later. Oh, if only I’d had access to such powerful weapons in Days of Yore.
I certainly use them now. They allowed me to dodge Avatar, which may have been pretty but was otherwise a train wreck. It was like dating a beautiful dullard—fun for an hour, but agony beyond that. Sherlock Holmes, with its emphasis on action scenes instead of sleuthing, was nimbly avoided as well. The list goes on and on.
Would that it included The Phantom Menace and its evil cousins, Episodes II and III.
Next time… new Yoda versus old Yoda. (Guess which I prefer?)

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