Today, May 19, 2009, marks the ten year anniversary of the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Yup, it’s been ten years since George Lucas gave the gift of Jar Jar Binks to the world and did irreparable harm to the standing of the Star Wars franchise in popular culture.
Ten years later, it’s easy to lay such scathing criticism of the film. The pop culture idiot savants of teh interwebz quickly formed such a consensus, and further (marginally better) installments of the franchise failed to completely reverse the negative perception of this film.
But ten years ago, were we all on the same page? I suspect not. Not even all critics were universal in their opinion. Most famously, Roger Ebert gave the film 3 1/2 out of 4 stars and called it “an astonishing achievement in imaginative filmmaking.” And I’m sure plenty of moviegoers came out of the theater thinking they had seen a thoroughly enjoyable action ride that was a worthy edition to the Star Wars franchise.
I should know. I was one of them. This is my confession.
Forgive me, my brothers and sisters in Overthinking It, for I have sinned. It has been 10 years since I saw Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and thought that it was a good movie.
On May 19, 1999, I was a senior in high school and a rabid Star Wars fan. I skipped class to go to the earliest screening possible on opening day. As the words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” appeared on the screen, my heart was racing with anticipation. The moment I was waiting for was finally here.
Two hours and thirteen minutes later, I walked out of the theater in awe of the effects and the epic lightsaber battle. My brain was furiously processing everything from mitichlorians to the prototype C-3P0 and integrating it into my extensive knowledge of the Star Wars universe (I’m talking novels, too). In other words, I had eaten it up. I thought it was great, and I proceeded to tell anyone who would listen to me that it was a spectacular piece of filmmaking.
I was guilty of overlooking the horrible dialogue and the over-reliance on CGI effects at the expense of solid storytelling and pacing. But my brothers and sisters, I am most ashamed of one sin in particular: my acceptance of Jar Jar Binks. I saw no harm in this ungainly creature with a curious accent. I thought he adequately filled the role of comic relief. I failed to recognize the darkness of Jar Jar, and the darkness overtook me.
Now, upon looking at such evil, the error of my ways could not be clearer. It was a supreme moment of failure. I was seduced by the temptations and distractions of gratuitous special effects and the appearance of familiar characters. And lightsaber battles.
Every day since the realization of my sin, I have strove to make up for it by seeing subpar movies and characters for what they truly are. And though I have made much penance over this past year through acts of subjecting the popular culture to a level of scrutiny it probably doesn’t deserve, my reconciliation would not be complete without confessing the shame of these last ten years.
My Brothers and Sisters in Overthinking It, I ask for your forgiveness, but I also ask you to join me in this cleansing rite. Step into the confessional. Open your heart. Admit that you, too, saw Star Wars Episode I and saw no fault in the film itself or the abomination known as Jar Jar Binks. (At least for a few hours/days/weeks before you came to your senses.) This way salvation and forgiveness lie.