Tag Archives: The Phantom Menace

‘For the Love of The Force’: A Fanboy’s Plea to J.J. Abrams

By WILLIAM SCHILLER

My first experience with a “New Hope” began well before it had that name. I couldn’t have told you this, as I wasn’t very verbal at the time. Instead it was told to me by my mother.

I was only three, and my mother dragged her family out to a 10-o-clock late show on a week night, to quench her love of good science fiction. The movie played and the titles rolled, and as the lights of the theater brightened, she found her husband and 8-year-old child sound asleep, but her 3-year-old son wired for sound.

That mother could have been concerned that perhaps she had given her child a lifelong trauma, but instead she had started the genesis of what could be called a fanboy. This was only confirmed when my older sister left shortly after for summer camp, and my mother gave me a choice of something fun to do while she was away –- anything that little boy asked for, she would make happen, and happen it did. For two weeks straight, my mother watched Star Wars in a matinée showing at the local movie theater, every day.

Soon there were action figures — I learned to overcome many childhood fears with bribes of Star Wars toys, and soon had duplicates of some. Years passed, and I have grown with the teachings of the Jedi. I always enjoyed certain bragging rights to geeks of my age: I have seen every movie within the series, all of them within the theater, and always had copies, legal or not, of the films at home.

Funny thing about being a truly rabid fan though, you can’t always relate to others the way you want to. None of my friends had somehow ever seen the only once-shown “Star Wars Holiday Special,” but I had; and since old George bought up and destroyed all existence of it soon after, I always felt like explaining it to others was like talking to someone who was sleepwalking -– they weren’t going to remember it tomorrow, and they sure weren’t getting it now.

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As I grew to become as old and jaded as a good Gen X-er can be, I found my inner boy child when the “Menace” was announced, and soon I had all of the posters and lame fast food merchandising that flooded the market before all of the other high-end toys would be produced. I sat with a Gameboy waiting for a midnight release showing to start, and loved every minute of it. Profoundly buoyed by the fanboy base around me, soon my brother-in-law started to compete with me on how many times we could see the film. My exuberance only began to wane nearing the 20th viewing within three weeks.

My wife and I, my brother-in-law and his friends made trips to larger and better theater experiences for the remainder of the prequels, and found ourselves at various crossroads. Love and hate for the films, and ticket lines with very young Jedis that made us all wonder if it was in fact whining that drew someone to the Dark Side, as Hayden Christensen seemed to prove.

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William Schiller, right, and brother-in-law Paul Humann.

In time, we all came to agree with the Star Wars outsider of our group and her insight that could only come from not drinking the Kool-Aid. Not that we didn’t love the taste of it, but we realized the subtle undertones we experienced as fans became like those of a sommelier trying to sell wine at an Oktoberfest beer tent. A hard sell indeed.

In admitting this, even now I have taken a huge step -– after all, my mother had to see “Empire” twice in one day, when that same little boy cried his eyes out, running from the theater after Luke lost his hand, but having to return with his mother’s encouragement to find resolution. Since that day, I have grown and come full circle as a fan.

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One of the amazing things about getting old is that it lessens the blows that life has to give. I have lived a life that flowed with and without The Force. At first, I saw myself in Luke, and now I understand an old Kenobi. I have children of my own, I have lost loved ones to fates that they could never have deserved, and once again I hear the calling of a new war. I will heed this call with somewhat less exuberance, dressed in the gear of my brethren nerds.

I know we all have the same thought: We will love seeing another chapter in a series that has been such a part of our lives. But for the love of The Force, please don’t mess this up, J.J. The fans have some scars that haven’t healed enough for salt to be lightly thrown around in this part of our world.

And please not one Gungan. Not one.

It’s been too long of a fan life to have one more Gungan.

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William Schiller is a father, husband, brother, and nit-picky nerd over nonessential knowledge that only gets someone somewhere when they are in a college writing class. He still has fond memories of Bea Arthur as a bartender with a heart of gold in the Mos Eisley Cantina. 

Photos and graphics courtesy of William Schiller.
X-Wing and TIE fighters photo: http://www.starwars.com.

 

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Star Wars More Than a Movie for Lifelong Collector

EDITOR’S NOTE: Few things have had more influence on the life of collector Shaun Griffith than Star Wars. Below, he discusses his enthrallment with the franchise and shares prized items from his collection. Some of these may take you back. FYI, he’s selling off some of his collection gradually on eBay. 

By SHAUN GRIFFITH

I don’t remember the first time I saw Star Wars. I’ve only heard the story from my mom. I was 2 1/2 and sat enthralled with “The Empire Strikes Back.”

I don’t remember my first Star Wars action figure. I only remember them always being there. At the age of 5, my room changed from Mickey/Disney themed to Star Wars. My mom had made over my room without me knowing. It was an awesome surprise. Posters on the wall (still have them), shelves of Star Wars paraphernalia, a comforter and pillow set (long gone now). The decor hung around for nearly a decade before items began to go into the archive.

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Shaun Griffith with Darth Vader at his sixth birthday party.

An only child, I took great care of all of my collections, Star Wars chief among them. Every action figure handled with great care … except for Boba, who found himself buried in the sandlot at some point.

A family friend was kind enough to put all three films on an EP VHS (it’s around here somewhere). Full framed, VHS played to the nth degree. Every time I was sick, home from school, which happened a lot, being a sickly kid, was filled with Star Wars. I was a devoted canon only kid. The novel spinoffs never appealed. Extended universe … blah.  If Lucas didn’t write it, I didn’t care.

Before “Phantom Menace” was released, I had a Santa Barbara News Press interview and was even quoted. Star Wars was more than a movie for me. I grew up fatherless, always wondering. At a church men’s conference, I discussed “confronting” my father one day.

Someone asked why I saw it as a negative, as a confrontation. Star Wars fans will understand the context. I laughed and acknowledged that I used that specific word because of Star Wars.
Ashamedly, I was Luke, minus a couple of droids and Ben Kenobi to launch me on my quest.

“Phantom Menace” fell flat with most fans but I was never a hater. “Phantom Menace” was the first time that I was able to join in with a large group of friends, camp out all night at the Riviera in anticipation of greatness.

After it was over, a college friend and I got in the car. He was let down. I wasn’t. I’d never known sci-fi community before that. It was greatness. People dressed up. We cheered. Time stopped for me.

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When Lucas sold to Disney I was glad. Episodes 7-9 would finally be made. He had said he’d never make them and I trusted Disney to do it right. I have no qualms about the forthcoming. It will be everything that everyone wanted “Phantom Menace” to be.

“The Force Awakens” parallels the reawakening of many a fan. It will inspire both new and old nearly 40 years after the original … . A New Hope unto itself.

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Bo Marr Monk. One of my favorite characters. Only featured in the background at Jabba’s palace. I was always fascinated. Had to mail away for this figure in the mid ’90s.

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Love these CDs, particularly Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes.

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Part of my sticker collection. RotJ stickers up top. Not so much a fan of the cartoonish
Ewok ones … reminds me of the Ewok cartoon. Love the mugshot-like figure stickers at the bottom; the fact that they pronounce the names, priceless.

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This was played many, many times. The New Hope soundtrack. Yes, I had
a VHS bootleg with all three films on one tape, however, I still played the soundtrack and
pictured it all in my head. Plus this album looks badass.

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Never played, still in the package card games. 

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When you’re traveling intergalactically, you must bring along your passport.

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Long before those recent lipsticks were produced, here you have Yoda Bubble Bath and Darth Vader soap. I had a C3PO soap too, but it disintegrated. Tossed it a few years ago.

IMG_0732Buttons! I have a button collection, however, these were never mingled with them.

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IMG_0735ESB & RotJ … note the improvements in coloring skills.

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RotJ comics, 1-4.

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This defined Star Wars action figures. Everyone had one of two cases, this one and/or the C3PO one. This case got a ton of use.

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Not vintage. Had to mail away. But I still get a kick out of it. George Lucas as a Stormtrooper, who could resist?

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Cork board. Lightly used. Still looks good.

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I subscribed to Star Wars Insider in the ’90s. I had several copies, however, this cover is particularly funny.

Shaun Griffith is a California native and a Hayward farmer (non-moisture) who went south to become a Santa Barbara Gaucho with a degree in film. He is married to an LBC princess with a sci-fi allergy. He works as an eCommerce Ops manager for a company with conference rooms named Ewok and Chewbacca and presently resides in the Bay of the Half Moon.

Photos courtesy of Shaun Griffith.
“The Phantom Menace” photo: YouTube.com.

True Confessions: I Defended ‘Phantom Menace’ in Print

This is kind of embarrassing.

But I’m going to let you read it anyway.

One of the first things I wrote after I started my job as a copy editor at the Antelope Valley Press was a passionate defense of “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace,” which was receiving almost universally scathing reviews.

Ironically, this opinion piece helped land me a position as an entertainment reporter for the Showcase section, so I look back at it with a certain fondness, no matter how misguided it may be.

Keep in mind that it was penned almost immediately after the release of “Phantom Menace” and many of us were still basking in the glow of a Star Wars revival and the fact that we had just seen Jedi spinning and leaping in the air, twirling their lightsabers, like we’d always dreamed it could be.

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Lavender Vroman with her Princess Leia buns and tickets to “The Phantom Menace.”

And we had yet to see the other two chapters of the new trilogy. I think many of us were willing to give “Episode I” the benefit of the doubt until the abysmal “Attack of the Clones” came out.

While I do not agree with almost everything I wrote back in 1999, I’d argue that some of the points about the original trilogy and its greatness, despite its lack of conventional “greatness,” still ring true.

I think my youthful journalistic folly can also serve as an object lesson as we anticipate the arrival of the first part of yet another Star Wars trilogy.

Only time will tell if the intense hype and euphoria surrounding “The Force Awakens” is warranted, and if there’s any greatness to be found in it.

Let’s not leap to judgement or praise. Let’s give J.J. Abrams’ incredibly risky new venture a chance to become what it’s destined to be. Hopefully, it won’t be something we later wince at and try to forget.

Below, the full text of my defense of “The Phantom Menace,” originally published in the Opinion section of the Antelope Valley Press. (Please don’t hate me.)

Critical Defense of Much-Hyped Star Wars Film

To cranky film critics everywhere — lighten up! As Darth Vader would say, “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

You promptly pronounced the long-awaited, much-hyped “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” a disappointment. You cut the film down with strokes as swift as a lightsaber’s. You blasted the plot and dialogue with the heartlessness of a battle droid. Your annoyance with the comic character Jar Jar Binks had you bellowing like Wookies. You scoffed at the actors’ performances with scorn to rival the evil Emperor’s. Sinister villain Darth Maul’s lack of screen minutes made you rave like Tuscan Raiders awakened prematurely from an afternoon nap. You argued that computer animation and special effects smothered any attempt at spiritual, artistic or moral substance.

One of you went so far as to compare George Lucas to Darth Vader, in an amusingly ridiculous extended metaphor. You said the writer-director-producer of the great Star War series had finally gone too far, taking himself, and his new film, too seriously. And you didn’t even realize that you were guilty of the very thing of which you accused Lucas.

In “Episode IV,” Yoda says that “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” And everyone knows that these things inevitably lead to the Dark Side of the Force. And so, I suggest, do self-seriousness and the loss of a basic sense of wonder. Somewhere in that 15 year dry spell between “Return of the Jedi” and “Episode I,” you must have forgotten what made the original series so delightful  and successful.

Were “Star Wars,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” and “Return of the Jedi” so remarkable because of fabulously constructed , original and flawless plots? Because of eloquent and layered dialogue to rival Shakespeare’s? Because of superb acting and deep philosophical content? Of course not.

Plot and dialogue have never been George Lucas’ strengths. He’s a storyteller on the most basic level. The original Star Wars trilogy was built on the most simplistic of plot lines, borrowing heavily from well-worn myth and fairy tales. It’s the story of an everyday hero who goes on an impossible quest and finds himself and something greater along the way. The stuff all good tales are made of. It’s cliche, it’s hokey, and people everywhere still love it.

As for dialogue … audiences in 1977 seemed to have no objection to such cheesy gems as Han Solo’s line, “Either I’m going to kill her, or I’m beginning to like her.” If nobody minded then, why should they now?

They shouldn’t, and that’s because the power of Lucas’ science-fiction epic has little to do with the spoken word. What makes him a good director is that he communicates effectively at the level that all films inherently operate on — the visual level. It is precisely Lucas’ vision of space, the things we saw when we first saw “Star Wars,” that have so captivated millions of people. It is what we saw of the characters, not only what we heard them say, but the visual impression they made on us, that endeared them to us. Who would actually say that Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher astounded audiences with their great thespian skills?

“The Phantom Menace” isn’t, and never was, intended to stand on its own. It’s a part of a whole, and to do it justice, it must be considered along with its other parts. The important elements, the things that branded the original three films into popular consciousness, are there in “Episode I,” and they make it a joy to watch.

Yes, Jar Jar Binks is annoying. Yes, it probably wouldn’t have hurt to give creepy Darth Maul more screen time. And no, Han Solo wasn’t there to grin his rascally grin and crack up the audience with his, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” Get over it.

The first of the prequels isn’t perfect, but it succeeds in the same way the other three did. For, once again, Lucas takes us places we’ve never been, fills our eyes with sights never before seen — the Venice-like, regal planet Naboo, the metropolitan, silvery city of Coruscant and the underwater bubble village of the Gungans. He introduces us to a sad and beautiful queen arrayed in costumes Madonna could only dream of and Jedi in the midst of duels so full of motion and power they make our heads spin. We meet an innocent boy named Anakin with an arrogant streak, foreboding a downfall to come. Even Darth Maul’s short but memorable appearance hints of a greater evil awaiting us in the next episode.

“Episode I” is only the foundation for the remainder of three prequels and as a start it will do just fine.

So, all you film critics — I sense that there is still good in you. See the film again, this time on the lighter side of the Force.

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Jar Jar Binks photo: zap2it.com.