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Star Wars: The Legend Continues

By George Ferencz

menace1.jpg - 12.87 K The last couple of months have sort of been a second coming out for me. I've found my self saying, once again, "Gosh, there are people like me out there" and "I'm not alone in this." The love I now dare speak of is that for Star Wars.

George Lucas' legend struck a chord in me as it did millions of others in my generation and millions outside of it. I was just 6 when Star Wars hit the screens in 1977, but I can still remember how good that movie made me feel. In between 1977 and today, I've held on to my love of Star Wars, often questioning why. But after seeing the interest generated by the release of the latest Star Wars movie, The Phantom Menace, I know others must have felt the same way I did and that's why we hold this film series so closely to our hearts.

But our re-discovery of our youthful exuberance has come under attack. Some critics have trashed the film; one even compared it to excrement. Talking heads across the country have told the fans to "Get a life." Even the revered Lucas said the same.

meance3.jpg - 9.31 K Ewan McGregor as apprentice Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Phantom Menace If I may be so bold to speak for the fans on this … "Fuck off!" The attacks on those of us who have found joy in this film series are endemic of what is happening to our society. We've become a society of critics out to spin the world into our own direction, even at the expense of others' freedom of choice. As a gay man, I don't like some Jabba-the-Hutt-sized preacher telling me where I can stick my lightsaber, and I sure as hell don't need a pompous pundit telling me how to spend my free time. The thing is we all don't think that getting up at 5:30 a.m. driving three hours to work, sitting in a cubicle, taking a half-hour lunch, returning to work, driving another three hours home, kissing our opposite-sex spouse, spending 10 minutes with the kids and sitting on our dead asses watching pundits talk for two hours is a "life" either.

Oddly enough, it our society's cynicism that is driving so many people to escape into the theater to see The Phantom Menace. Like the original series, The Phantom Menace is pure movie escapism. It is a film where you can check your disbelief at the door, sit back and enjoy the ride.

Lucas has made a spectacular in the mold of Gone with the Wind, Cleopatra and Ben Hur. In fact one of the film's great scenes, a pod race through the desert of Tatoonie, was inspired by Ben Hur. From a bird's eye view, you'd think the pod's were horse-drawn chariots racing through the Sahara.

In order to weave his galactic legend, Lucas once again taps into Earth's most recognizable myths and beliefs. Eastern philosophies of Zen and Taoism return in the form of Jedi Knights and the Force. Right from the start, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) tells apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) to focus on the present and not dwell on the future.
menace2.jpg - 8.24 K Liam Neeson plays Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, a character heavily influenced by Eastern beliefs and myth

Japanese myth and culture played a big part in bringing Star Wars to life. Samurai warriors inspired Lucas to create the Jedi in the 1970s, and now he borrows from their tradition for The Phantom Menace. From amazing lightsaber duels to a queen painted as a Geisha, Star Wars' Japanese roots show through.

menace5.jpg - 7.13 K While no Darth Vader, Sith Lord Darth Maul is the face of evil in The Phantom Meance There's even a touch of Judeo-Christian myth surrounding the birth of the boy who will one day become Darth Vader. And though there is no Vader in The Phantom Menace, evil still abounds. Darth Maul is the obligatory bad boy. With face painted red like an ancient warrior, Maul succeeds in bringing absolute evil back to the series.

Lucas also borrowed from the movie serials of the 1940s and 1950s for Menace. Most obvious are the Oriental-accented leaders of the Trade Federation. Peter Sellers got away with it in The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu, but Lucas is taking heat for the characterizations today. Others have criticized Lucas for the accents of other characters, like Caribbean-sounding Jar Jar Binks or the Middle Eastern accent of trader Watto.

Previous Entertainment Articles from the GayToday Archive:
Review: There's Something About Mary

Review: The X-Files

Related Sites:
Star Wars: Official Site
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While many of the themes and messages of the film – including the overriding one of good versus evil – are not new, The Phantom Menace is certainly a ground-breaking motion picture. Visually it is a marvel. Its imagined worlds are so realistically created that, I think, many critics failed to realize what they were seeing. The space scenes, always amazing in Star Wars films, are eclipsed by what Lucas has created below. The world of Naboo is stunning. The above-ground city of Theed is a Frank Llyod Wright paradise, and the underwater Gungan city's illuminated transparent domes are magical. The Republic capital of Coruscant, a city-wide planet, is both dark and menacing, and bright and hopeful.

menace4.jpg - 8.73 K Natalie Portman as Queen Amidala Critics have bashed The Phantom Menace for a number of reasons. Some complain that there is little character development. But this is just one of six films. Lucas successfully uses The Phantom Menace to introduce us to the characters that will fill out this trilogy and the one already created. When leaving the theater, you'll want to know what happens to these characters … but you'll have to wait until 2002 to find out.

The biggest "complaint" however is that the film is geared to children. Lucas doesn't deny this and why should he. Yes, The Phantom Menace is a kid's movie, but so were the first three movies released in the series. To have expected Lucas to make a movie for grown ups would have been wrong. Legends like Star Wars have to be created to be enjoyed by all generations.

By the looks of lines in front of movie theaters across the country, the legend is alive and well. And I realize I'm not alone anymore.

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