Film Studies: I've been to `Star Wars' and I've got the stub to prove it

About two weeks before 19 May, you could feel the air going out of the balloon called Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace. The mounting hype was impatient for that Wednesday, no matter that George Lucas likes to think of himself as someone who doesn't do things the old, manipulative, Hollywood way. Two weeks ago, the papers and the television news were agog with stories of people camping out on the streets to get in to the very first screening. Every magazine had Lucas on its cover.

I asked my son, the nine-year-old, whether he was prepared on opening day to get up early and brave the lines with me. I should have known, there and then, that something was wrong.

"The Phantom Menace?" he said.

"You've got it, my lucky lad."

He sighed. "Seen the trailer?"

"You betcha!" I volleyed back.

"Feeling all right, Dad? Getting some sleep?"

It turned out that the nine-year-olds at his school had been disappointed by the trailer. It didn't have any edge or laughs, much less sex or violence. The creatures were weird, but the "humans" were flatter. My son did his best for me. "The seven-year-olds," he said. "They're talking about it. I think it's a young thing."

Then the sour stories started to accumulate. The lines outside the theatres didn't grow longer. Perhaps they shrank, as May stayed cold in California. And there were stories about how ruthlessly Lucas had sold his film to theatres. You see, he footed the $115m production bill himself, and then allowed Twentieth Century-Fox to be its distributor - but only on his terms.

These included a bare 10 per cent of the box-office going back to Fox, and they required that any theatre running the picture was obliged to retain it for at least 12 weeks. What that meant was that Lucas, whether he intended this or not, was ensuring that the best theatres were unlikely to play Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut (set to open in America on 16 July). People who had scant interest in the business or the cut-throat nature of distribution suddenly became indignant on behalf of Kubrick. George Lucas began to seem like a hustler - instead of just the best of the independents. One commentator noted all the tie-ins with fast-food franchises - so many that the film was guaranteed to be in profit even if not one ticket was sold. On the radio, he said that the new Star Wars was more intent on filling kids with junk food than introducing them to Joseph Campbell's mythology.

"That was you, Dad," said my son. "I heard you say it."

"I don't see why my column shouldn't quote me. Last offer," I said. "It's the 19th tomorrow."

"No," he said. "I don't think I want to miss a day's school."

By then, the first reviews were in - polite but lacklustre, putting on a brave face and turning a blind eye, but generally admitting to let-down. You could feel the mood at dinner parties: it was as if the film had already opened, and people were going to wait for the video. Somehow, in those last two weeks, the tide turned, and now the sea was half a mile away.

So I reckoned I'd be blase. I turned up a moment or two late for the first screening at 10.30am. The lobby of the multiplex where it was playing on all 10 screens was nearly deserted. I asked for a seat at the next available screening, and the girl in the kiosk said I could make the 10.30 if I wanted. The ticket was only $5.

The theatre was half-full. When the screening ended, there were about five seconds of applause from a few loyalists. It stopped abruptly, and when we came out, there were maybe 50 people waiting for the next screening. That's just one theatre, in San Francisco (a town where Lucas is regarded as a local), but if the pattern is borne out across the nation, then The Phantom Menace is in trouble.

I am no fan of Lucas or his pictures, but this is the dullest of the Star Wars series. There is no urgency in the story; the characters are drab and unexplored; and my son - or yours - could have improved the dialogue in an afternoon. Liam Neeson looks like someone trapped, while Ewan McGregor is passing the time by trying to sound like a young Alec Guinness (he plays Obi-Wan Kenobi). Natalie Portman should go back to school. And Terence Stamp looks torn between grief and wrath at being wasted again.

There are pretty effects - it is now reported that out of 2,200 shots, 235 were actually photographed, as opposed to being rendered through a computer. But if you want to know what's wrong in a nutshell: we all know there's a little boy in this film, Anakin Skywalker, who will become Darth Vader. OK, giving the game away is a handicap. Surely, though, you then turn Anakin into a bright, appealing child who gradually discloses darker, more alarming traits? You make the flux of good and evil dramatic. No way. Anakin remains just a kid in the screenplay, written by Lucas himself. It remains to be seen whether we have enough kids dumb enough to settle for that timidity.

Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Jess Glynne is UK number 1

music

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat