Running Time: 133 Minutes
Picture the scene; Friday the 16th August 1999 and myself and my girlfriend at the time go to the evening showing on the first day of the UK release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The obligatory popcorn and soft drink are bought for around the £15 mark, the screaming kids are kicking the back of your chair, the teenagers in front of you are talking far too loudly and are throwing popcorn kernels at the other group of teenagers sat two rows in front of them who are talking even louder. The 25 minutes of adverts for local Indian restaurants, carpet warehouses and local opticians flash past your eyes. The trailers for new and upcoming films – Austin Powers 2, South Park, The Exorcist: Anniversary Release goes by, with you making snap judgements based on 90 seconds of the best bits of the film. Then hush descends. The curtain’s at the side of the screen widen and the one at the top drops to give you the “envelope” perspective. The BBFC certificate comes up to say the film has been classified….then black. The drum roll at the start of the 20th Century Fox intro cracks into life followed by the Lucasfilm logo shining green to gold. Even through all these trials and tribulations, I turn to my girlfriend and I whisper “I’ve been waiting 16 years for this moment!”
So why, therefore, had I suffered the slings and arrows of a Liverpool cinema on a Friday evening? Because I had to. As a young man who was brought up on Star Wars, it was almost written into my male genetic code to do it.
And yet, I was disappointed. John Williams’ score seemed to seep through every single scene when it just didn’t need to be there. McGregor’s accent, although a good try, was no substitute for Guinness’ dulcet tones. Jake Lloyd was wooden and Neeson just didn’t “feel” like a Jedi. You will notice I have not mentioned Jar Jar as everyone feels exactly the same way about him (The image of a Magnum pistol and his temple spring to mind.)
And so, I persevered throughout the film. At the end, although I felt full, it was like I had eaten a Chinese banquet – I’d feel hungry again in 10 minutes time. I bought it on video (such a strange concept these days) and also bought it on DVD when it came out. The male genetic code could not be altered.
Fast forward, then, almost 9 years to the day of first watching the film – last Saturday to be exact (12th July) – and me and my flat mate talk about watching the films in chronological order from I to VI, with the Clone War animated series as a stop-gap between II and III. Now granted, this is NOT the first time I have seen the film since that fateful night in Liverpool, I have watched it many times before, but this is the first time I have regaled this story.
What struck me most was how much I actually enjoyed this film. What had seemed to singularly pass me by all the times I had watched it before were the “firsts” that had never been in the SW universe before.
This was the first time anyone had seen a “proper” lightsaber duel. Not the subtle prodding’s and parrying’s from the original trilogy, but a full whirling dervish that was Darth Maul and his double lightsaber and proper use of the Force whilst fighting. Seamless sections of the film where you actually felt like it was real – The Pod-race, for example, is greater than any car/chariot/motorbike chase I have ever seen. Coruscant, the city planet with it’s never ending ribbons of traffic and buildings reaching the sky. The Senate, the Jedi Council, the seeds of the Empire that we all came to fear and loathe as children….everything!
And that was when it hit me. Yes, this film is more directed to children with one of the main protagonists being a 10 year old boy and nearly every line of dialogue telling you what’s happening at that moment. But this is exactly it. Were we not once of that age; being swept away on a tidal wave of aliens, spaceships, princesses and villains? Of course we were and is was exactly who this film was being tilted at. What we also need to remember is that this is the first of a double trilogy. We need a starting point and from a certain point of view (sorry, pun intended!) this delivers it to a tee.
Sure, the acting is a bit ropey at times and the dialogue is, well, I believe Harrison Ford said it best when he said “George, you can type this shit, but you can’t say it!”
But taking these two and putting them to one side, this is a solid piece of work and is a worthy contributor to the Star Wars universe. For one of those with this film written into his genetic code, I truly have been turned back to the Light side of the Force.