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The Dark Side of the Force

CINESCAPE reexamines the worst of STAR WARS just in time for the broadcast television debut of THE PHANTOM MENACE

By Andrew Hershberger     November 24, 2001


Jar Jar Binks gives the thumbs up to Fox's PHANTOM MENACE broadcast.
© 2001 Lucasfilm Ltd.
In 1977 cinema was given a healthy dose of fun in the form of the bouillabaisse that was/is STAR WARS (that's STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE to today's ears) and there was much rejoicing. George Lucas in his infinite wisdom, and youthful enthusiasm, had translated a steady diet of classic movies westerns, serials, sword fighting epics, Japanese samurai films and a love of fast cars into what at the time was the be all end all of adrenaline laced pastiche. The most popular film of its day, it's subsequent sequel, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, was that rare follow-up that was actually an improvement over the original (ala THE GODFATHER PART II and GOLDFINGER), resulting in the increase of an already sizable cult following to a level where STAR WARS became to motion pictures what the Beatles are to music the franchise to which all other genre films are judged and compared.

Then one rainy day in 1983 something went horribly wrong well relatively horrible when screens were graced with the lukewarm RETURN OF THE JEDI. If that was the return, well, maybe the Jedi should have stayed home. The film was a more cartoonish take on the franchise that featured even worse acting something no STAR WARS film has ever been accused of having while pandering to the youngest audience possible (Egad! Ewoks, yeck!) and featuring sluggish pacing and a far too unnerving incest angle. It looked like the Dark Side had won via low quality "entertainment" even if on the surface they lost.


Years without new

Jar Jar Binks gives the thumbs up to Fox's PHANTOM MENACE broadcast.

product took some of the sting away and allowed a new audience to find the film via children who had not yet developed the process of critical thought. Suddenly the STAR WARS franchise was excellent again - with nostalgia taking away any complaints - and ready for a new saga, one that would hopefully capture the glory of the first two films. After all, this one was to be directed by the master himself, George Lucas.


Sad to say THE PHANTOM MENACE was anything but excellent, or enjoyable. But that does not matter, for with such a feverish following it will be years before fans will be willing to except that their "hero" had done them wrong and/or had gone insane. A perfect example of the problems with the new film was the explanation that the mystical Force one of the most compelling story aspects of the first trilogy - is the result of a person having a certain level of microscopic "midi-chlorians" in their body. The Force was no longer a religious thing; it was a virus.


Now considering that THE PHANTOM MENACE is the start of the saga of Anakin Skywalker's transformation into Darth Vader one of the most evil of all Jedi and Anakin has one of the highest levels of midi-chlorians recorded, it is conceivable that too many midi-chlorians can make one unstable and prone to act on their darker emotions. Though all the facts are not in, if an overdose of midi-chlorians do a slave of the Dark Side make, perhaps they're responsible for the less than admirable and sometimes downright evil - things that have resulted from STAR WARS' great success.


So with THE PHANTOM MENACE premiering on broadcast TV this weekend (Sunday night on Fox), what better time to explore this notion? Here is a list of a few STAR WARS related items whose midi-chlorian count must have been through the roof. Perhaps if they had gotten a shot of penicillin things would be different, but alas that was not to be.


1. THE ACTING,

The great acting of STAR WARS

OR "STARE AT THE BLUE SCREEN AND YOUR CHECK'S IN THE MAIL"


Sci-Fi/fantasy films have never been noted for their Oscar caliber acting, but STAR WARS films really don't even deliver the goods when it comes to competent performances. Now everybody need not be a Sir John Gielgud, but they should at least try to attempt playing a character that is human, and not, say, cardboard or a vessel to mumble off one of Lucas' patented ham fisted lines. True, the first film did boast the Academy Award nominated acting of Sir Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan and the considerable talents of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin, but both of these actors were of the "talent for hire" school of British acting and could make an evening of reading the contents off the back of cereal boxes interesting. Harrison Ford is also an exception to the bad acting rule, but only for the first film perhaps the joy of a few weeks' rest between bookcase building jobs provided enough motivation.


After STAR WARS though, just look at the pretty pictures and follow the story. Carrie Fisher no longer has that odd "now it's here, now it's gone" British accent, and with the exception of a rather surprisingly good job of filling a slave outfit is at best wooden. Mark Hamill had not discovered his niche in voice-overs and demonstrates a remarkable skill of lack of skill. The rest of the cast of the original trilogy are there to read lines and collect paychecks. These early films though never sink to the level of THE PHANTOM MENACE where even grade A talent no, not Jake Lloyd can't muster up enough enthusiasm to reach the level of pedestrian. Never have Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman and Samuel L. Jackson seemed so dull. One hopes that the next film in the series, ATTACK OF THE CLONES, features enough Christopher Lee to compensate for the past, but how much can one really hope that an eighty-year-old thespian playing next to Jimmy Smits will save the day?


2. "OH YEAH, I'VE

Star Wars confirmed that a nationwide release could make millions of dollars.

HAD THE WHOLE THING PLANNED SINCE DAY ONE"


George Lucas has gone on record saying that STAR WARS the saga has been the plan all along. Not so, according to original producer Gary Kurtz, who claims that the original film was actually planned as a stand-alone and only after its amazing success were sequels discussed. Kurtz also points at the various changes to the subsequently created storyline that Lucas made, changes that eventually resulted in the two parting ways. While it's great to pretend that you're in control, isn't it a bit odd to insist upon it, even when others who were originally along for the ride can dispute it? Then again, why not? If you're George Lucas, who's going to argue with you? Certainly not persons interested in an interview! If you're reading this Mr. Lucas, I'm totally with you.


3. THE TREND

Wookies and Droids on TV

TO MAKE THE FILMS MORE KID FRIENDLY.


While all the films possess enough charm to enthrall kids from eight to eighty, why do the more recent features cater more towards the eight-year-olds? While there are really only two main characters that could be defined as truly "for the kids," their inclusion has the result of making things too saccharine. What unfunny childish comic relief do I speak of? Why, you've already guessed: the Ewoks and Jar Jar Binks. Everybody hates those killer teddy bears from RETURN OF THE JEDI, so why the hell were there two TV movies and a cartoon series based around them? Well, because they obviously weren't as hellishly obnoxious as Jar Jar Binks who, one assumes, will have five TV movies, a cartoon series and a Seinfeld inspired comedy series in the works soon. By the way, need a Jar Jar Binks related toy item? Check the discount section.


4. THE TOYS,

Insta-dork: just add chili - the "Luke Skywalker AM Headset Radio"

AKA "JAR JAR DANCES!"


All right, so many of the toys are great, truth be told, but and this is key not every single one of them. Yes, I dare to say that not every single item that is in some way related to the STAR WARS saga is a masterpiece worthy of display. There are some that, dare I say, stink. Who can forget the dancing Jar Jar Binks doll? Push a button and Jar Jar tells of his love of boogie and dances like a spaz to the Cantina song. Gotta have that one! Or, how about those STAR WARS toy vans? The ones that had either the bad guys or the good guys on the side ala the '70s craze of customizing vehicles with fantasy art and were powered by rip chords. Why, you could pile up a box of tissues and zip these suckers right into it - doesn't that sound crazy?

HOWARD THE DUCK

Doesn't that sound like something Luke would do!? And what about the STAR WARS Luke Skywalker AM headset radio? Why, you could wear this device which kinda looked like the headgear Luke wore in the Millennium Falcon's gun station and listen to those killer AM stations. Boy, you'd never get teased wearing this out in public. There are many, many more examples of STAR WARS toy stinkers out there for you to find on your own but be warned: all of these duds are certain to be priceless collectors items in the future. Well, maybe not the dancing Jar Jar.


5. THE MOVIES

A STAR WARS toy van - at least it's not Conan.

STAR WARS' SUCCESS PAVED THE WAY FOR


True, these include RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and BODY HEAT, but that's not all they include. Who can forget such gems as and remember you have to see them to forget them LABYRINTH, CAPTAIN EO, HOWARD THE DUCK, WILLOW, TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM, LEPRECHAUN (yes, Lucas did help on this one) and RADIOLAND MURDERS. Some might say that the two RAIDERS sequels and the subsequent STAR WARS films redeem these, but I say it's been nothing but diminishing returns since 1981. (Note: We didn't even scratch the surface with the TV atrocities like THE YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES and DROIDS.)


6. PISSY PEOPLE

STAR WARS fan

WHO HAVE NOTHING BETTER TO DO THAN COMPLAIN ABOUT STAR WARS


You know the type: trollish humanoids who dwell in their parents' basement, compiling longwinded lists of things wrong with a film series whose main purpose is to entertain and does so with zeal and not much else. These individuals, these freaks of nature, vent the bitterness of their failed social lives into a colossal waste of time. The only thing remotely approaching salvation for this individual is if they get a chance to write a list of things wrong with STAR WARS for an online publication like... oh, wait...


Damn, what a give away.

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