Our films, TV series, and novels endure. They not only speak to us in the present -- when we've experienced them for the very first time -- but they continue to resonate well into the years. Some of these new reflections come when we're inbibing them the second, third, fourth, or dozenth time; and it's amazing how we can notice something today that perhaps we missed on those earlier occasions. This may not mean that we weren't watching closely in those days gone by; rather, we -- as a people -- keep evolving, and it's this evolution that more often than not helps us to focus in on something months and years later when we're burying ourselves in the art once again. This might increase our love for a particular element, or -- in some cases -- it may produce a grimace. You never know what you're going to get when you get to whatever it is you're going to know.
In order to bolster attendance, a local budget theater starting bringing back classic showings -- old films and some not-so-old -- into its regular line-up of blockbusters that have overstayed their welcome. In perhaps one of the boldest moves of the summer, the manager opted to bring back the Original Trilogy from Star Wars, and he followed that up with screenings of both Rogue One (2016) and the somewhat ill-fated Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018). As those proved popular with audiences, he then decided to go deep into the well and bring back the Prequel Trilogy ... so this past weekend I had the good fortune of taking in a showing of -- yes, you guessed it -- Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999).
Ahhh ... screen miracles never cease to amaze me!
Think what you will of the George Lucas spectacle (I won't trouble you with a full accounting of its strengths and merits because that's not really why I'm here today), but like any of the installments in the wider Skywalker Saga it's a film that's still best experienced on the silver screen. Nothing but nothing looks so grand up in the lights and shadows than do these bigger-than-life star thrillers; and Menace -- with it's somewhat lackluster pacing -- is arguably just as good up there as it ever way. Yes, yes, and yes: like so many, I've had my share of issues with it over the years, but unlike so many I just don't see the point in giving the flick a full post-mortem. I may do that in this space in some future review, but for today I just want to underscore what I said way back then -- upon walking out of the moviehouse in 1999 -- because I think it's really still relevant today.
Put simply: The Phantom Menace is a feature that's missing one central story.
I thought back then -- like I still do today -- that Menace needed to be an adventure that belonged to one character. While it was great meeting some new players and widened the mythological universe, Lucas' failure to nail down one point-of-view truly hampered the yarn's prospects at reaching out into the hearts and minds of those watching. Instead, I think that Menace unspools in an almost start-and-stop fashion -- perhaps a bit too similar to those classic film serials of old that George has admitted to loving so much in his youth -- and the inability to hone in one a single perspective kills the forward motion in the first two-thirds of its running time. Once the introductions are fully out of the way and the narrative centers on the Naboo conflict, there's finally a thread worth following, and it stays true until the end.
Also -- unlike so many -- I think that result was achievable with just about everything Lucas shot. It would've required a bit of reshoot here and there to tighten the pieces that remained, but when evaluating art I do try to avoid playing the 'Monday morning quarterback.' While I do consider myself a storyteller, I don't like tinkering so directly in completed tales as do so damn many entertainment pundits out there on the Information Superhighway. I may undertake such an exercise some day -- I might tell you what I would've done to tighten the story if I were in charge -- but for now I'll just leave you with my long-stated assessment: there's a good film wrapped up in a lesser one that remains the start of the whole saga.
Be thankful for it. It truly brought Star Wars back to the big screen where it deserves to be. You don't have to love it. Just be thankful it finally happened after such a huge, huge, huge delay.