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Generation Gap: The Phantom Menace

I managed to finish out the Empire and Jedi bonus features last night, and I considered doing a write-up for this site about it as I did with A New Hope.  There’s so much to tell, so I still might.  But this morning over coffee I got through the Ep. I bonuses.  It’s easy to forget in the digital age just how much of that movie was still made the “old-fashioned” way, even in spite of the digital advances.  Nearly everything we awed over in the Lord of the Rings films was made possible by the advances made in The Phantom Menace.  I don’t let anyone forget it, either.

Flashback time.  I remember when TPM was being released, opening day happened to coincide with the finals for one of my classes.  Keeping in mind, I was in classes for Digital Media Design, and all that implies.  Everything from web design to full-blown computer animation was under one umbrella, and I was learning it all.  The teacher actually gave us the option of which date to hold the final, and when nobody else seemed to express a preference, I picked the other date.  When she asked why, I proudly stated, “the new Star Wars movie comes out the other day.  I’ll be in line!”  I got laughed at by damn near everyone in the room, but I held firm, claiming that this movie IS our major.  It’s the reason we’re all in this class, and indeed at that school at all.  Again, I got laughed at, but the teacher conceded.  When class was dismissed, people kept coming up to me, thanking me for making a stand because they too would be in line for Star Wars.  Gee, what are the odds?  A full classroom of cowardly fans who secretly wanted to see the most anticipated movie opening of all time.  My response?  “Where the *bleep* were all of you back there?”  I was a very bitter soul back in those days, you see, far more so than I am now, and I made sure everyone knew it.  Defense of the Wars has always been priority #1, and as you can see, I was used to fighting the good fight even back then.  By that point, ridiculing Star Wars had already become popular, even before anyone knew squat about Jar Jar Binks.  *sigh*  Some things never change. 

My secret wish was for TPM to be so mind-blowingly good that it would shut people up, but of course I should have known it would divide fandom, mostly across the generational lines.  After all, we old-schoolers had grown up with the knowledge of “how it was supposed to go.”  We acted it out with action figures a hundred times.  We were expecting the Clone Wars right after the opening crawl, and we got trade disputes, not understanding how one would lead to the other.  There was no way it would ever have lived up to 16 years of expectation.  The problem was that nobody bothered to sit back and enjoy the ride for what it was, and nobody could see the bigger picture.  It’s the opening shot to a much larger story.  And if you take Jar Jar out, it really is nearly beat-for-beat the same as A New Hope.  Go ahead, tell me I’m wrong.  But some will always think the prequels stand alone.  Each movie must stand alone for some reason.  They were never meant to stand alone.  After the success of ANH, it all stands together.  It’s all Star Wars – one giant, serialized epic, told in chapters the way the old serials of the 30s and 40s were told.  I get it, but then, I enjoy watching those old serials.  Nobody ever watches those and expects the individual chapters to stand alone.  That’s just preposterous!  Why should it be with Star Wars?  Because the serials had a new chapter every week, and nobody’s accustomed to those things anymore, even, apparently, in the age of serialized television.  It’s a different mindset.

My defense for Jar Jar is still the same, now that I’ve figured him out.  He needs a consistent straight man to play off.  In TPM, he’s bounced needlessly from one foil to the next, largely ignored and scoffed at within the story itself.  The audience was predispositioned to hate him because few in the movie could tolerate him.  In The Clone Wars series, they’ve figured him out.  Yes, he’ll always be goofy, and that will always be annoying to some, but the formula for the Jerry Lewis / Lou Costello / Gracie Allen funny man is there, and he needs a consistent Dean Martin / Bud Abbott / George Burns type to play against for his comedy to work.  Watch old episodes of I Love Lucy and tell me that Lucille Ball would have been even half as interesting if Ricky had been any less hard-nosed.  That’s Jar Jar, and I still contend he’s nowhere near as annoying as Lucy’s crying act.  And just for the sake of repeating history a bit, C-3PO started out with the exact same reputation, and like Jar Jar, that rep has softened over time.  The kids always seem to see past the things that frustrate adults.

The other big deal about TPM that drove my generation nuts is midichlorians.  I can already hear this one now.  “Go ahead, fanboy – explain that one!”  Ok, easily done.  I believe it was Arthur C. Clarke that said that any technologically advanced civilization would appear to be wielding magic to a significantly primitive civilization.  The glory of Rome at the height of her power was all about technology and war power.  The medieval era lost a lot of that technology and relied on “spooky religion” to maintain its grip on the populace when the might of Rome collapsed.  That’s Star Wars in a nutshell.  The Force is always there, an energy field.  The midichlorians don’t generate it any more than anything else does, contrary to popular argument, though it should be noted that the Force is generated by all living things.  Think of the Force as radio waves.  The Jedi use midichlorians as a radio to tune into that channel.  The more midichlorians you’ve got, the stronger the signal, hence why Anakin, being a product of Force manipulation, would be the powerhouse he is.  Cut him down to size thanks to some lightsaber amputations, lava damage, and cybernetic rebuilding, he loses a lot of his power and can be maintained at a managable level by Sidious.  Midichlorians don’t diminish the power or the majesty of the Force, they’re merely a convenient plot device that helped Qui-Gon to know that Anakin was the Chosen One.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Understanding how an eclipse or a black hole is formed doesn’t make it any less impressive to a mind that appreciates such things.  By the time you get to the original trilogy, all you’ve got left that even know what a midichlorian is all about are Obi-Wan and Yoda, and neither one of them told Luke.  They were giving him the crash course.  He went from farmboy to Jedi Knight in 4 years and had to unlearn everything he understood in order to do it.  Everyone else was on the outside of the Temple knowledge, so the inner workings of scientific study that the Jedi were known for was reduced to an evil, magical-wielding cult, slandered in the wake of Order 66.  To quote Tarkin, “You, my friend, are all that’s left of their religion.”  But see, my generation didn’t have the pieces in place, and they don’t want to look for them now either.  The blinders are in place.  Me, I try to see it from George’s angle.  The bigger the picture, the more majestic the universe, and the greater the story.

My two cents.  Maybe from a certain point of view, these things can be seen from the point of intent.  Maybe that will help change the perspective enough for people to better enjoy The Phantom Menace and the Prequel trilogy as a whole.  Perchance to dream.