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Monthly Archives: December 2015
I had a phase as a teenager where my musical tastes veered toward covers: punk rock versions of old standards, acoustic covers of hard rock classics, and even orchestral arrangements of Top 40 hits. The blend of the foreign and familiar appealed to me at a time when my taste in music was just beginning to expand. When an artist takes another’s work and puts their own spin on it, transforming what a song means or how it works at an emotional level by filtering it through a different lens, the end result can be both compelling and approachable.
The Force Awakens is, essentially, J.J. Abrams’s cover of A New Hope. That’s not a knock. It’s a superb cover, that hits the right notes while still creating something new, and it stands as a genuine achievement that’s all the more notable in light of the franchise’s prior missteps.
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace Is a Cold, Empty Film in a Series Known for its Richness, Excitement, and Warmth
The internet is the land of hyperbole. Everything is either the greatest event in the history of the world or the worst thing to ever happen. So when it came time to watch The Phantom Menace–arguably the most maligned of the already ill-regarded Star Wars prequels–I approached it with optimism. I didn’t love the film when I saw it at twelve, but I didn’t hate it either. Surely the case against it was overstated. Surely there was a charitable interpretation to be made. Surely it couldn’t be that bad.
And then it was.
Make no mistake — The Phantom Menace is an awful film. It’s not the blight on the soul of cinema that its most ardent detractors would have you believe, but it’s not a good movie. In truth, somewhere past the halfway mark, Episode I manages to settle into a groove of mere okayness. There’s a good portion of the film that, separated from the ardor and expectations that come with the Star Wars appellation, would fall into the voluminous “fine but forgettable sci-fi adventure” category, never to be spoken or thought of again.
Unfortunately, The Phantom Menace does labor under those expectations, and the worst elements of the film are front-loaded. The racial stereotypes, the parliamentary procedure, and the bad child acting are all at the forefront in the early going of Episode I. At some point, the movie stumbles its way into a decent-if-unremarkable story about bucking authority and making peace with longstanding rivals to face a common enemy. But it’s a long slog to get there without nearly enough of a payoff.
The Empire Strikes Back has a reputation for being the darkest of the Star Wars films. In contrast to the triumphant mood at the end of A New Hope, Empire closes with our heroes having been thoroughly defeated and left scrambling. Han is frozen in carbonite, placed in the hands of a bounty hunter, and ferried to the crime boss he’s been trying to avoid for two films. Luke fails in his quest to neutralize Darth Vader and has his hand sliced off for the trouble. What’s more, he learns not only that the man he loathes most in this world is his father, but that the people he trusted–the ones who guided him on this journey–have misled him. And Leia, Lando, Chewbacca, C3PO, and R2-D2 are all lucky to escape with their lives after being imprisoned, strangled, torn apart, and dragged through the muck.
The title “The Empire Strikes Back” could easily have been a simple marketing ploy, something that looked good on movie posters and sounded cool enough to rev up Star Wars’s legions of fans. Instead, it became an animating principle for the film. Empire contrasts the unexpected blow struck by the Rebels in the first film, with the measured counterpunch delivered by The Empire in the second. The ending of Empire sent the message that this would not be the type of series of films where the good guys win every time just because they’re the good guys.
But there’s much more to the movie than that darkness. It’s easy to judge Empire based on where the characters are at the end of the movie, but the route the film takes to bring them to that point is not so much dark as it is meditative, not so much bleak as it is serious, and, if I’m being honest, a bit more uneven in the effort than its predecessor.