Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Sad to Say, `Star Wars' Is Shockingly Weak

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Sad to Say, `Star Wars' Is Shockingly Weak

Article excerpt

Set aside the hype. It makes no difference and will be spoken of no more here. The most important thing is the movie, the movie on which the hopes and futures of so many ride: Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace.

Bad news. It's not a very good movie. In fact, The Phantom Menace, which opens Wednesday, is pretty mediocre -- shockingly mediocre.

More an anecdote than an actual film, it could have been summed up in a five-minute flashback: Here's how we first met Anakin Skywalker, the kid who became Darth Vader.

Sure, nobody was really expecting a truly great film. But would it have been too much to hope for a joyful escape, a rollicking space opera?

You don't get it here: The prequel is a mostly dour, lumbering, scattershot affair, whose few highlights stand out in sharp relief from the humdrum stuff around it.

The original trilogy, though creaky in dialogue and character, was filled with epic battles between good and evil, with the fate of entire planets -- nay, civilization itself -- in the balance.

The Phantom Menace? It's about a trade war.

Oh, and there's a subplot on power struggles in the Senate.

It's mostly incomprehensible padding -- not compelling enough for adults and way too boring for the kids who'll wriggle around waiting for more lightsaber fighting.

I must confess: The 12-year-olds I was with said they loved it. But on the way home, they were singing Build Me Up Buttercup from There's Something About Mary and discussing the brilliance of Adam Sandler. Nary a mention of the movie they'd just seen.

Fans, hungry after so long without a Star Wars movie, will probably embrace it, faults and all. They'll welcome a visit back to George Lucas' world -- it's a familiar, friendly sight -- and they'll parse The Phantom Menace for clues to what happens in episodes II and III.

They won't miss it. And they shouldn't. But on its own merit, The Phantom Menace is a clunker, lacking tension, drama and heft. Lucas is directing for the first time since the 1977 original, and the rust shows. Actors are stiff. Scenes trail off limply. The story meanders.

This is a case of not enough cooks working on the soup. It's Lucas' vision all the way, and who's big enough to tell George Lucas that what he's got just doesn't work?

For every impressive alien, there's another that looks just like a Muppet. For every splendiferous set, there's another that looks like Styrofoam.

And what do you make of dialogue like this: "If we can't get the shield generator fixed, we'll be sitting ducks"? What do you make of aliens who say "exsqueeze me" and "big doo-doo?"

The movie comes truly to life in just one scene, a way-cool race that young Anakin takes through the canyons and rock archways of the desert planet Tatooine. And even that's sabotaged by a jokey, two-headed alien race announcer who, after a crash, crows this late 20th century inanity: "I don't care what universe you're from, that's gotta hurt! …

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