This morning, Luis Lecca of Nuke the Fridge called to let me know that the first of my two-part exclusive interview with him is now up on their website:
He also promptly reminded me that today marks the 10th Anniversary of the official release of The Phantom Menace in theaters across the US (I don’t even celebrate May the Fourth, so I’m glad someone told me). Happy birthday, Jar Jar! Happy birthday, Midichlorians! So much has happened since then, and perhaps we should all take a moment to reflect on what the past 10 years have meant to the STAR WARS fan community. Or perhaps we should all get really drunk and force three fingers down our throats..! Okay, okay, TIME OUT! I can hear the conflicting Gollum-like voices in my head–probably the result of sorting through hundreds of hours of footage, of equally passionate arguments for the defense and the prosecution.
I always say that the great George Lucas debate doesn’t begin or end with The Phantom Menace. It’s an important component, but in the grand scheme of things, the heart of the growing fan dissatisfaction is about more, much more than simple distaste for some of his latest films. The thing that amazes me the most, in our travels of late, is that it’s really very hard to find anyone willing to step up and tell me that millions of fans can be wrong, and that Episode One is, in fact, a masterpiece. Anyone, that is, except for kids and French scholars. We went to Paris last year to interview Pierre Berthomieu (author of STAR WARS: LE REBELLE ET L’EMPEREUR) and several well-known intellectuals and film critics. With the exception of one, all seemed to agree on one thing: the prequels are far more accomplished films than STAR WARS, EMPIRE or JEDI. I mean, I’ve talked to a small minority of people out there who claim that they like the prequels better (they haven’t really thought about it much–they just like them better, and that’s cool), but these French scholars really tell you why they’re better films, and make a fascinating intellectual argument in their defense!
When you live in a fan culture that almost universally condemns or adores certain films, it’s hard sometimes to take a step back and ask yourself objectively: could so many people be wrong? Could I be wrong? After all, can anyone objectively claim that the prequel episodes are indeed the abominations that my generation of fans (the STAR WARS generation) continually claims they are? I mean, I believe they’re not very good films; and in my heart, I think I know they’re bad films. But for George Lucas, they’re not. And for some of his fans, they’re better than the originals. Operating on the premise that George Lucas is a visionary filmmaker and that he has the ability to release the films he wants to release, surely, Episode One was the film he wanted us to watch ten years ago, and surely, he must be proud of it. So, now that ten whole years have passed, the right question to ask isn’t does The Phantom Menace suck or not, but is George Lucas the artist, the filmmaker, misunderstood? If that’s the case, we’re talking a perception shift the likes of which we’ll probably never see again in the world of entertainment. Through ROTJ, I think it’s safe to say that George could literally do no wrong. Nowadays, it has become a sport to criticize him. So let’s put our feelings aside for a moment here, and reflect on what the world might be like without George Lucas, and, yes, without Episode One.
And you know what? I don’t really believe that any of us truly hates Jar Jar. I think we love to hate him, because it’s fun; and I suppose we could argue that this, along with Han Solo, Jedi and lightsabers, is also very much part of George’s legacy.
Happy birthday, George!