Watching “The Phantom Menace” in a theater for the first time, back in the summer of 1999, was one of the most painful cinematic experiences I’ve ever had to endure. Just painful. No, I was not a “Star Wars” aficionado but I got caught up in the hype, who didn’t? We all desperately wanted to love it, but the end result was, quite frankly, boring. George Lucas tried to expand and build up a new world of characters, but we ended up getting Jar Jar Binks. and Jake Lloyd as the young Anakin Skywalker, the latter a badly miscast and badly written character.
There had been suspicions for many years that George Lucas may not have been the filmmaking genius that he was. Yes, he started off his career with “THX-1138,” “American Graffiti,” and 1977’s “Star Wars” but the creative juice he may have shown in those films was all but over with the three prequels he wrote and directed in 1999, 2002 and 2005.
Lucas’ conception of story is second-to-none, but, as we’ve seen it with his work in Star Wars and Indiana Jones, his directing and writing has always been better handled by the likes of Lawrence Kasdan, Steven Spielberg and especially Irvin Kershner in “The Empire Strikes Back,” still the best SW film ever made. I thought 1983’s Richard Marquand-directed “The Return of the Jedi” was entertaining and probably used as the blueprint by Lucas to develop “Revenge of the Sith.” The problem with Lucas is simple; whenever he inserts himself into writing and hands-on work on the production of a film, although highly commendable, his mad ambitions tend to get the best of him and completely crumble out of control.
Corrected: Thanks to Richard Lanier. The correct years for the prequels were 1999, 2002 and 2005. Jake Kasdan didn’t write any scripts for Lucas but it was his father Lawrence Kasdan (of “Big Chill” fame) that did. And finally, Lucas did not direct “Return of the Jedi”; Richard Marquand did. Yikes, I knew all of these things. Blame it on this morning’s jetlag or blame it on sheer incompetence, whatever the case, big thanks again, Richard.