Of course, if the wound cuts deep enough, severs a femoral artery and proves fatal, time can’t do much about it. Nor can it heal a severe bludgeoning that melds skull fragment with brain matter and results in a closed casket for its victim.
These are the macabre thoughts that run through my mind this week as the release of The Phantom Menace in 3D approaches. I find myself wondering how catastrophic the damage done to the image of the beloved Star Wars franchise by the terrible first prequel really was. Has twelve years been enough for Star Wars purists to accept Episode I into the ranks of watchable films or has the corpse of their fandom been left to decompose in a roadside ditch so many years ago, hastily covered by some lawn clippings just to buy them some time to make it into the next state?
The opening weekend numbers will only tell part of the tale. We will know if a lot of people saw it, but what were those people thinking when they made that decision? In search of an answer to this question, I took a look at how my own life during the years since George Lucas’s least remarkable Star Wars film was unleashed upon us.
In May of 1999, I was preparing to graduate from college. I was not married and had no children. The Internet had truly established itself over the previous four years of my college life and the luxury of watching the teaser trailer of Episode I on the computer in my dorm room caused me to glance over my shoulder as if I had pirated the footage and feared federal agents would burst in to take me into custody at any moment. I watched slack-jawed as the melancholy music that originally framed Luke as he stared off into the binary sunset during my childhood began slowly. Within seconds, the Star Wars Theme blared through my speakers as images of CGI aliens, droids, star ship battles, a perfectly cast young Obi-Wan and a lightsaber duel with what looked to be a formidable foe flashed before my eyes.
Oh, this was going to be awesome.
I could not wait. Well, I could wait a few days because with finals rapidly approaching, I didn’t have the time to camp out at the theater. But one night, when I had the time and a little extra cash, I went to see it.
After Nute Gunray made Walrusman resemble something out of Avatar and right around the time that Boss Nass’s was performing his Roger Rabbit impersonation I threw my hands in the air and said, “What the f--- is this?!”
Completely changing my plans, I did not go to see Episode I in the theater again. The money I had saved to do so was promptly spent on beer and pizza, which I used to drown my sorrows over what had happened to my favorite movie series to date. I even considered rushing to my parents’ home, snatching all the old Star Wars toys and melting them down as I stood over them with tears in my eyes to make something infinitely more useful, like a mouse pad, and only scrapped this plan when I realized that most of them were technically my older brothers’ toys (because if it’s one thing I have come to respect over the years, it is collectable toy ownership).
Publicly, I did not admit my heartache. I defended the franchise. It was a tough movie to make, I insisted. The end was already written. It had to keep all the pieces in the future together while attracting a new audience. But on the inside, my guts twisted with all the questionable plot techniques. Darth Vader built C3PO? Why didn’t they show more of Darth Maul? Was Jar-Jar’s voice the same guy who does Elmo? The Force is bacteria???
Twelve years later, I am a parent. Increased patience and forgiveness are a part of my daily life. This extends to George Lucas.
My sons have seen all the Star Wars movies (beginning with Episode IV, of course). They are fans and I am proud of this. When it came to Episode I, however, I was always able to put it on and walk out of the room as I pleased. When I inevitably take my sons to see it on the big screen, I will be forced to sit in my seat like I did for my first viewing, this time with 3D glasses on my face. This shall serve as the true test of whether or not the wound has healed. I will find out just how well developed my ability to forgive has become.
My thoughts leading into the weekend are full of hope. I am looking forward to watching the massive droid battles, the lightsaber duel with Darth Maul (short lived as it was) and the concluding starship dogfight in 3D. I have begun to remember the redeeming qualities of the film. Plus, I am genuinely looking forward to my sons’ first chance to watch any Star Wars movie in a theater.