The official Star Wars site has a nice little “looking-back “ anecdote on the 20th anniversary of “Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace.”
Among the vast amount of interviewees is George Lucas.
In it, Lucas admits to still having fond admiration for the film:
“I love the [Star Wars] movies. And I love Episode I very much because it fills in a lot of the holes. I really wanted to do that.”
“I still enjoy watching it. I haven’t shown it to my daughter yet; she’s five, but I’ll probably show it to her in the next year or so. And I have a grandson who also has got all the stuff. He’s the Star Wars guy. He wants to know how old Luke was when he was fighting Vader, how old was Anakin in the first film. He relates to who they are and what they are.”
“I think he obviously relates a lot more to Phantom Menace than the other films because the hero is his age. He’s four, going on five, so he’s decided that Anakin is five. You can make that leap. He wanted a hero who is the same age as himself.”
Lucas makes the effort of saying that the much-maligned Star Wars prequel was always meant for 12-year-old kids and that it was greeted negatively because many adults just didn’t understand who the the demographic was:
“When it came out, we got blasted out of the water and then the movie had this patina around it of failure and stupidity and whatever. The films were designed for 12-year-olds. I said that right from the very, very beginning and the very first interviews I did for A New Hope. It’s just that they were so popular with everybody, that everybody forgot that.”
“Then when I came back to do Phantom Menace, it was 20 years later. So if you were 10 years old when you saw A New Hope, you would be 30 years old when you saw Phantom Menace. So you weren’t a kid anymore. I think you were kind of embarrassed, and what you thought was a really fantastic movie for a 12-year-old wasn’t that great for a grownup. I think that was the main cause of the fall of Episodes I, II, and III. Believe me, it took a beating.”
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.