It’s no secret amongst those who know me just how deeply SW has influenced me and how much I’ve enjoyed being transported by Lucas’ vision. Still, I’m not such a rabid fanboy that I’ll just take his work straight up without questioning where he’s at and where I think his vision has failed to grow with me.
So anyway, this is all by way of saying that I have issues with The Phantom Menace. ("the Fan-dom Menace?")
In the face of the new cgi technology, it seems like Lucas suffered a serious setback. It was as though he was given a new medium with which to work, and it just served to accentuate the worst of his habits. Paul and I were talking about this over breakfast, and he made the most elegant assessment of the film that I’ve heard so far. I mentioned that I actually kind of liked the pod race (outside of young Anakin’s horrendous performance), and he disagreed. "It was unnecessary," he said. "There was so much of the film that was just unnecessary."
The father of a friend of mine is a watercolor artist, and he once explained his love/hate relationship with his medium to me. Perhaps it was particular to him, but he said that the biggest challenge with watercolors was knowing when to stop. He’s had so many beautiful pieces that were reduced to dreck because he couldn’t stop himself from placing that one last stroke, attempting the final refinement. He realized a moment to late that the painting had already been finished, and that adding to it had made it seem overdone.
I tend to look at The Phantom Menace as a piece that was overdone. Lucas has not lost his ability to craft a story or to conjure images that speak to our imagination, but there was a certain lack of restraint that was often jarring. The effect was that elements of the film seemed amateurish, in the same way that a web page crafted by a technically gifted teenager with no sense of design does. (Or, if it’s more to your liking, Homer Simpson’s "Best web page EVER.") There were lots of effects and flashing baubles and blinking, moving, beeping things that served to detract from the overall effect of the piece.
I’m hoping that Attack of the Clones will prove as good a work as The Empire Strikes Back. It was arguably Lucas’ most "adult" film, and despite its being dark and largely free of the frivolities like Ewoks and Jar-Jar Binks, it is considered by a large body of his fans to be the best film that he’s produced. It’s interesting to note that it ended on a morally ambiguous note. Our heroes had not triumphed. Questions were left unanswered, and many of us felt the same torment and disbelief that Luke felt when Vader revealed himself as his father. We were left with a hunger for more, and I think I’d like to have that again... but without the bells and whistles.