Two things I thought I’d bring up about the Star Wars Episode I review I wrote for this week’s Radio Times, a publication I won’t assume you buy, even though a million people do, God bless them every one. (Why was I reviewing Star Wars Episode I? Because ITV1 are showing the whole hexalogy from this Saturday, in episodic order – or “the wrong order” as it’s known to purists.)
1. Spot my schoolboy error in the review:
The answer to “life, universe and everything”, according to The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, is 42. But what about the really important question? In which order should you watch the six Star Wars films? This week, ITV1 posits an answer: you start with Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and conclude, in six Saturdays’ time, with Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi. Sounds perfectly reasonable to the non-obsessive, but is it? I would argue that the hexalogy (as nobody calls it) should be viewed in release-date order, beginning with the original Star Wars – since reconfigured as Episode IV: A New Hope – at which point we had no idea about the extent of the “issues” between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.
Released in 1977 into an entertainment industry that considered sci-fi a moribund genre, George Lucas’s long-held space opera dream changed everything. Star Wars busted unexpected blocks and provided a young generation – mine – with what we would always regard as “our film”. Having grown up with Star Trek re-runs, it fed the same stargazing wonder and love of rubber-suited monsters.
Star Wars has almost amounted to George Lucas’s life’s work – production of all six installments occupied him from 1973 to 2005, when the final film was released. During the gap in the middle, CGI technology developed enough to lure him back into the galactic game. The release in 1999 of the first of the second trilogy, The Phantom Menace, had grown-up Star Wars fans salivating. What a shame it failed to live up to the hype.
Despite seamless digital effects, intriguing narrative “seeds” (such as our first sighting of nine-year-old Anakin Skywalker, whom we’d already seen grow up), the return of such key creatives as composer John Williams and Frank Oz as the voice of Yoda, and the casting of red hot Ewan McGregor as the young Alex Guinness – sorry, Obi Wan Kenobi – Menace felt scrappily scripted and, ironically, episodic. It was also hobbled by the idiotic, Goofy-like sidekick Jar Jar Binks.
Things would pick up for Episode III: Attack Of The Clones, showing for the first time on terrestrial TV in five Saturdays’ time, at which the trilogies merged, but “our film” had been sullied forever.
I apologise for my lacklustre performance, but in mitigation it was rewritten in haste. Some eagle-eyed folk have already picked me up on my schoolboy error on Twitter, confounding my theory that, hey, sci-fans aren’t the sort to notice this sort of thing and bang on about it. (By the way, I have also been picked up on my use of the phrase “sci-fi fan”, as Star Wars isn’t sci-fi, apparently. Oh, shut up. What is it? Period drama? Oh.)
2. Enjoy the discursive and self-indulgent intro I wrote for the piece that was quite rightly cut for reasons of “space” (that’s “space” as in room on the page, not “space” as in the final frontier):
It is the greatest sci-fi saga ever told. An ambitious, mythic, densely-plotted odyssey set in a parallel galaxy wrought by civil war. The definitive space opera, it unfolds across multiple episodes aboard enormous space cruisers and upon alien worlds, using familial strife and old-fashioned romance to give it a human heart. It is Battlestar Galactica, the “reimagined” TV series that drew to a conclusion after four seasons etc. etc.
You try your best. You really do.