Appreciating Phantom Menace from a Kid’s Perspective

So much for my promising to not see Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) in 3D.

February 20, 2012 will be in the words of Darth Vader from Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope (1977), “a day long remembered” as it marked the first time I opted to sit through a blockbuster film that I knew would not look good in 3D simply because it was never meant for that process to begin with.

My reason for seeing Phantom Menace was not the result of creator/director George Lucas waving his imaginary hand through the use of that famous Jedi Mind trick in which he says, “You WILL gladly shell out your hard earned money to see my re-released movie in 3D.” Nor did I awake Monday morning to find myself face to face with Darth Maul standing over my bed threatening to slice me in half with his double-sided lightsaber.

The one and only justification for my seeing Episode I again on the big screen was because I took my five-year-old nephew, Jake, to see it who, up until then had never seen the film but is vaguely familiar with the Star Wars universe thanks to all the toy merchandising.

For much of those two-and-a-half hours I was worried Jake would get bored sitting there and tell me midway through that he wanted to go to the theater lobby to play video games. To my surprise, Jake sat there glued to the screen. He was as happy as a clam chomping down on his kid’s pack of popcorn, hot dog, sprite, some fruit snacks and a bag of cookies he brought from home and only once in a while taking off those bothersome black 3D sunglasses for a few seconds before putting them back on.

I didn’t have to ask Jake why he liked The Phantom Menace after it was over. I already knew the answer and it had nothing to do with the film’s intergalactic politics, Jar Jar Binks’ annoying comedic antics or the microscopic life forms called “midi-chlorians.”

Jake’s positive reaction to the movie had to do more with his watching those pod races on Tatooine, Jedi Knights slicing apart mindless battle droids and seeing a black and red tattooed horn-rimmed devil show off his double-sided lightsaber in battle.

It’s the same reaction I got when I first saw Star Wars back in August 1977. As a kid going into second grade I did not care if the science fiction story made any sense to me. I just wanted to see the good guys and bad guys engage in a lot of laser battles whether it was in the corridors of the Death Star or in outer space.

Jake’s fascination with the film’s visual effects got me thinking once again how the Star Wars movies were never made so much for adults as they were for young kids. This isn’t the first time I got that impression. When a friend of mine and I saw Phantom Menace back in 1999, he called the film “the best Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie” ever made for youngsters.

As I walked in for the second Saturday morning of the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) at theaters opening weekend, I took note how excited the young moviegoers got as they walked out following the first showing.

I heard one kid yell, “That was awesome!” as I walked in. The minute the end credits rolled, I could hear the audience cheering and needless to say, the applause was not so much coming from the parents and adults as it was from the kids.

It only clarifies what Lucas said in a May 1999 interview at www.gaurdian.co.uk saying how the Star Wars movies “were intended for 12 – and 13-year-olds.” Here we are thirteen years later after its original release and the die-hard fans still can’t forgive the father of The Force for creating Jar Jar Binks and giving them a prequel trilogy that in their minds despite being big on computer generated effects was emotionally empty.

As Jar Jar Binks would say, “How wude.”

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