The Star Wars phenomenon has been one of the few Hollywood bright spots of the past 20 years-well-made, uncynical films in which the good guys winby John Podhoretz / July 20, 1999 / Leave a comment
Movie critics don’t like the new Star Wars movie-Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace-or perhaps it’s better to say that they were so sick of hearing about it, that they wished the picture ill from the moment it began. The film has dominated conversation for months. Editors and reporters have endlessly sought new angles on the phenomenon while labouring entirely in the dark about it. My own newspaper, the New York Post, began publishing a story a day on the film six weeks before its US premiere in mid-May (it comes to Britain in mid-July).
But hype is a dangerous business, particularly when it comes to movies no one has seen. Last year, entertainment journalists went nuts over Godzilla until two weeks before its release. The cognoscenti assumed that this post-Jurassic Park dinosaurfest would topple all box-office records and then discovered that it was a colossal misfire. Critics felt that they had all been had, and so they took it out on Godzilla with a gleeful vengeance.
But Star Wars isn’t Godzilla. There has never, in the annals of entertainment, been a money-making machine with the staying power of this one, which began with the release of the original Star Wars in 1977 and was followed by The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and Return of the Jedi in 1983. By some reckonings, series creator George Lucas has made $2 billion, for himself, on the three movies, their video releases, and his assorted licensing deals. When the films were re-released in 1997 (with a few extra minutes of new footage) after being absent from theatres for 14 years, they made more than $400m worldwide. It was a commercial triumph that made it clear just how enduring the Star Wars myth was, and fuelled the enormous hype for The Phantom Menace two years later.
Nothing could have lived up to these expectations-and The Phantom Menace doesn’t. But it is still a very good movie, lovely to look at, with an interesting and complicated story line. The film begins 40 years before the first Star Wars. A peaceful planet ruled by a teenage queen is under pointless and savage military assault by evil members of the Trade Federation. The Galactic Senate should be putting a stop to this war, but the Senate has become a do-nothing body full of endless and pointless debate. So the president of the Galactic Republic…