Just as Annoying in 3D
Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace was burdened not only by a tedious title and too much punctuation, but also by 20 years of pent-up expectations. What had been amazingly creative and innovative in 1977 turned to bloated disappointment in 1999. George Lucas was no longer an indie storyteller (American Graffiti, still a freaking brilliant movie, was his only major pre-Skywalker movie), he had become a died-in-the-wool member of the establishment.
But let's not beat around the bush. The biggest problem with Episode I can be stated in three syllables: Jar Jar Binks.
That a creature so annoying and tailor made for fast-food product placement could be so central to the plot of something that so many earnest nerds cared so much about could only be read as a slap in the face to the "real" fans. Full disclosure: I am not a "real" fan. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the biggest mistake of Liam Neeson's career was rescuing this Binks from the planet Naboo.
On the other hand, Episode I did give us two very important things: 1. The knowledge that Darth Vader was once an adorable, vulnerable little boy; and 2. a 17-year-old unknown named Natalie Portman.
That was pretty much it. Despite a stellar cast -- Neeson, Portman, Ewan McGregor and Ian McDiarmid -- and amazing special effects, Lucas' ever-mediocre writing skills led to a story that pretty much fell flat.
Here's a shocking revelation: Retroactive three dimensionalizing does not improve plot or dialogue. Nor does it make me feel any less stabby about Jar Jar. The most notable difference is that I paid three times as much to see Episode I in 3D as I did when I stood in line for five hours in 1999 because I really, really wanted to see it (or else I was friends with people who did; I forget which).
As it was 13 years ago, Qui-Gon Jinn (Neeson) and his Jedi apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) are sent to resolve an intergalactic trade dispute (when are trade disputes not soooo booooring?) on the planet of Naboo. Instead, the Sith Lord Darth Sidious (McDiarmid) orders his droid army to kill the Celtic warriors and invade the planet. They escape and (sigh) save Binks, who leads them to an underwater city.
Meanwhile, young Queen Amidala (Portman) is is rescued by the Jedi after being captured by the Federation army. She escapes Naboo with the Jedi on her personal starship, which is damaged on its way through the blockade surrounding the planet, forcing them to land on Tatooine. There they meet up with our old friends -- and to my mind, the best of Lucas' inventions -- R2D2 and C-3PO, along with the childish Darth Vader.
There are pod races and queens in disguise and battles that happen for reasons that never seem to make total sense.
If I haven't made it clear before now, I truly believe that in most cases (especially when it involves a re-release), 3D is a giant hoax that is being perpetrated upon the American public. While The Phantom Menace is not without certain redeeming qualities, especially for fans, I cannot recommend seeing this movie in the theater. Not when you can rent it from a video store for a fraction of the price.