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Unlearn What You have Learned: Looking back on Star Wars: Episode I

There’s a weird phenomenon that affects me sometimes (and I know I’m not alone in this) where I so fall in love with a story, or a group of characters, that I will watch those characters even in something really really bad.

I know Star Trek V is a terrible movie.  Terrible.  The story is weak (A search for God?  Spock suddenly has a half-brother?), the special effects are terrible (the ending really suffers…and compare the Bird of Prey shots with the much superior effects in Star Trek III made several years earlier), and the beloved characters are treated very poorly (Uhura’s “fan dance,” Scotty knocking himself out in an Enterprise corridor, navigators Checkov and Sulu getting lost in the woods, and, oh yeah, Kirk, Spock, and Bones singing “row, row, row your boat”).  And yet I so love those characters, that every now and then I’ll watch Star Trek V, somehow hoping that this time I’ll find something I sort of like about it.

This is also what happens with me and Episode I.  I’ve probably seen the movie 6 or 7 times now.  (About every 2 or 3 years I’ll make my way through all the Star Wars movies, usually in the order they were made:  Episodes IV-VI, and then I-III.)  And always I sort of hope that maybe this time I’ll be able to focus on the positives about Star Wars: Episode I.  The visuals are, mostly, pretty sweet.  I like Watto.  Darth Maul is cool.  The climactic three-way lightsaber battle is pretty dynamite.

But its hard to get over just how boring the movie is.  For a movie called Star WARS, there’s not a heck of a lot of action to be had.  Just a lot of talking.  There’s a terrific assemblage of actors – a far stronger ensemble, I would argue, than in the OT.  Ewan McGreggor.  Qui-Gon Jin.  Natalie Portman.  Terrence Stamp.  Ian McDiarmid.  These are fine actors, and they are WASTED.  And that’s what’s most frustrating to me about Episode I (and, frankly, the entire prequel trilogy). It just seems like such a wasted opportunity.  I wanted to see more of the Jedi in their prime – kicking ass and taking names.  I wanted to learn more about the Sith.  (In one of Darth Maul’s few lines of dialogue, he speaks of having his revenge against the Jedi.  Revenge for what?  What happened between the Jedi and the Sith thousands of years ago?  How did the Sith now return?)  Most of all, I just wanted another fun, exciting chapter in the space adventure series that I grew up loving.

And it still sort of bums me out that that’s not what I got.

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