Thursday, February 19, 2015

That smells stinkovich

Well it's official, I'm off on my 12-month journey to revisit the first six Star Wars movies. (I'd call them the only Star Wars movies, except that execrable piece of junk Star Wars: The Clone Wars actually got a theatrical release.)

Thanks to the Melbourne Public Library, which had a BluRay copy reserved for me last Wednesday when I showed up to pick it up, I watched Episode I - The Phantom Menace last Thursday night with more than two weeks to spare before my self-imposed end-of-February deadline.

The following disjointed collection of thoughts is how I feel about the movie now, nearly 16 years after I first saw it and probably 14 years since I last saw it. In upcoming installations of this series, I'll reflect on how the movies seem in comparison to each other while watching them during a relatively compacted time period ... though that obviously won't be possible after just the first one.

First, I must talk about Jar Jar Binks.

Over the years I have taken a contrarian's position on Mr. Binks. I have been so bored by the incredibly cliched perspective of hating George Lucas' most loathed creation, that I have become a Jar Jar Defender. That does not mean I like him, per se, but that I find him to be a piece of absurdist comedy rather than something actually obnoxious and loathsome. This perspective is divorced from the legitimate concerns about possible racial insensitivity in his depiction, which I think are not definitive enough to get stuck on. (Though I acknowledge their possible validity.)

One thing I'd forgotten about the movie is how many of Jar Jar's lines a friend of mine, who takes up a similar perspective on the character, and I used to quote. The fact that we could regularly crack each other up over idiotic lines of his brings a smile to my face. Anything that makes me feel that happy is something I view in a positive light, even if we're laughing at Jar Jar more than with him.

One of these is the line "That smells stinkovich," or probably "Dat smells stinkovich" if you want to cross that dangerous Ebonics line that Jar Jar is already flirting with. Of course, the word is not actually "stinkovich." If you look it up online, the imaginary word is apparently "stinkowiff," which makes more sense inasmuch as any of Jar Jar's jargon makes sense. I find it funnier, though, if the word has a random Russian suffix on it. So, "stinkovich" it is, and always shall be.

What else about this movie?

1) The Phantom Menace will always carry a certain cache as the only movie in which Darth Maul appears. It could be easily argued that Darth Maul is the most distinctive character of the prequel trilogy -- his main competition would be, I suppose, the aforementioned Mr. Binks. Qui-Gon Jinn (also only in this movie) might give him a run for this money if he didn't suffer from what one might call a "generic human Jedi" look. Anyway, he's definitely the coolest, and not just because he was the first one to bust out that two-sided lightsaber. (Interestingly, future Sith must have decided it was an inefficient weapon -- why else don't we see Darth Vader using one? Other than the fact that, you know, Lucas hadn't thought of it yet.) Oh Darth Maul, we hardly knew ye.

2) Jake Lloyd was not quite as bad as I remembered. There, I said it. He has been almost as much of a whipping boy as Jar Jar for, you know, general suckitude, so I thought it was worth saying that I found his performance non-terrible. Were you expecting a kid under the age of 10 to already project badassery? He's a little boy. Even evil masterminds were all once innocent little boys -- yes, probably even someone like Hitler. It's a point worth underscoring, especially in the context of the movies' six-episode arc, and Lloyd's performance effectively does that.

3) I was reminded of the moment I knew this didn't seem like one of our good old-fashioned Star Wars movies. It's when Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are on Naboo, and they swim down to the Gungan city. I remember thinking "Water? There's no water in the Star Wars universe." Which of course there is, but having never seen anyone interact with water in these movies (other than the swamp on Dagobah), it stuck out like a sore thumb. The scene where they go through the planet core (also the source of some good Jar Jar quotes) just underscored the weirdness of water in the Star Wars universe. It made me wonder: Is a lightsaber waterproof?

4) Overall I guess I just kind of felt bored watching it. Maybe four times (twice previously in the theater, and once more on video) is just too many times to watch The Phantom Menace.

I'm sure I could write more, but a) do you really want it? and b) I started writing this nearly a week ago, and it's time to get the damn thing posted.

I'll be back here to discuss Episode II - Attack of the Clones sometime before the end of April.

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