By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
It's a shame Lucas relegates his most interesting characters to the sidelines. Darth Maul gets his best minutes at the film's end, and Samuel L. Jackson's Mace Windu shows up near the finale to deliver the most insipid Jedi gibberish this side of Yoda. By the time he appears, he's almost a distraction. If only he delivered one of the lines suggested on the Internet, say, "Hand me my lightsaber--it's the one that says Bad Mother Fucker." No such luck.
To get an idea of how limited Lucas' imagination has become, he turns the aliens into illegal aliens; here's where archetypes become stereotypes--ones that teeter perilously close to racist. Lucas' galaxy is populated by Japanese-accented Trade Federation officials, the flying hook-nosed shopkeeper Watto (who speaks with a New York electronics-store owner's accent, insisting, "Mind tricks don't work on me--only money"), and, worst of all, the patois-damaged Jar Jar. Half the time you expect him to offer Qui-Gon a Red Stripe; the other half, you wonder if he's got a watermelon in his pocket, or if he's just happy to see Obi-Wan. There is nothing remotely funny or charming about the character. He's an interstellar Amos and Andy.
In the end, The Phantom Menace feels hollow, cynical, even fatuous--more like a prequel to Spaceballs, actually, especially when Jar Jar starts running around yelling, "Ex-queeze me!" or "You in deep doo-doo now!" as though he's a Wayne's World extra. And the characters and planets' names all sound like something you'd order at a Chinese restaurant ("I'll have the Gungun and Qui-Gon on a bed of Amidala, hold the Coruscant, with an ice-cold Watto to wash it all down"). Worse, Lucas' idea of funny is a two-headed pod-race announcer with a Marv Albert voice, who blurts out such lines as, "No matter what universe he's from, that's gotta hurt." Such ridiculous pop-culture references take the audience out of the movie. This suddenly becomes our own silly universe, where Star Wars characters become Muppets...or, worse, self-parodies. So much for anticipation.
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