GateHouse — Went to see the new, 3Dmafied version of “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” this weekend, and I didn’t hate it. I should’ve hated it. I didn’t hate it. What the hell is going on right now.
Like most “Star Wars” nerds and nerdesses, I have a love/hate relationship with “The Phantom Menace,” and by “love/hate” I mean “Just the hate, with a side of grilled This Sucks and a mug of What Is This Horse Poop?” I saw “Menace” in 1999 with a cadre of fellow nerdlingers (and, inexplicably, our fiances) and we spent the next two weeks struggling to think of nice things to say about it, fighting to justify the emotional investment we’d made, an investment that had been returned to us in the form of jokes involving flatulent space horses and the nuanced drama of intergalactic trade route taxation disputes.
“Menace” was the film equivalent of having someone remove your feet with ice scrapers, except not nearly as understandable. There were some froggy Japanese stereotypes whose lips moved wrong despite $800 trillion of computers, and evil bagel-shaped spaceships containing Lego robots that broke when anything touched them.
There was a corrupt Senate led by General Zod, who was made everybody unhappy and as a result, no one knelt before Zod. There was Natalie Portman, who at one point is revealed to be Natalie Portman, which caused much CGI gasping (later the Portman/Portman character fell in love with Anakin, making him the luckiest second-grader alive). There was a Jedi Council containing Shaft and a coneheaded version of Wilford Brimley, who all decided that though Anakin had been potty trained three years ago he was wayyyyy too old to be a Jedi. Oh, and Anakin, a character who would take the interrogation needle to his own daughter in “Episode IV,” was an 8-year-old boy who won a NASCAR race that made him not a slave anymore, because kids’ movies love slavery! At the end someone told Japanese lizard stereotype that he could “kiss his trade franchise goodbye,” which in space is apparently a massively bitchy thing to say, and there was a Ladysmith Black Mambazo song and a frog passed a glowing bowling ball to either Portman or Keira Knightley and the credits rolled and we were like “WHYYYYYYYYY?”
It went on like this. And over the years I became hardened and insufferable, unpleasant and sort of damp. Yet out of some weird musty combination of obligation and optimism I approached each sequel with some dying shadow of hope. I wriggled my way into a top-secret advance critic’s screening of “Attack of the Clones” in Chicago, where I sat five or six rows ahead of the great Roger Ebert. And my sole memory of that movie is a scene early on, in which Obi-Wan is chasing an intergalactic assassin/action figure who is seen holding a poison dart, loading a poison dart and shooting a poison dart at a victim. Obi-Wan then runs over to the victim, bends down to pick out the poison dart from her neck, considers it for a minute and says, and I’m quoting here, “Poison dart.” Ebert, six rows back, lets out a “HAH!” like he’s Nelson Muntz. I have no memories of the rest of the movie.
By the time “Revenge of the Sith” rolled around I’d had a kid and passed enough dispiriting birthday numbers to feel uneasy with science-fiction based disappointment anyway. I caught another critic’s screening at, of all places, Disney World. There was much less security.
But then last weekend, we visited friends who have a daughter about the same age as my son. My kid doesn’t really like “Star Wars” but he does like Ellie, so was excited to see the big-shot fancypants 3D “Phantom Menace.”
And this is where things get weird, because I kind of enjoyed it? I think? Kind of? I mean, 3D Senate hearings are still Senate hearings and I still can’t figure out how anyone could collect the assemblage of Ewan McGregor, Sam Jackson, Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman and Keira Knightley and tell them to remain as motionless and narcoleptic as possible, but, I mean, ehhhh the pod race was sort of fun in 3D? Mostly though my son’s in the kitchen drawing his own pod racer right now, which, I am told, is like Anakin’s but faster. I was planning to go tell him about how the old movies were so much better and how the crappy new ones obliterated the childhood dreams of an entire generation but it’s almost like he doesn’t even care for some reason.