Attack of the clown

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.


17 thoughts on “Attack of the clown

  1. My long-standing opinion has been that the correct order is:* A New Hope* The Empire Strikes Back* The Phantom Menace* Attack of the Clones* Revenge of the Sith* Return of the Jedi

  2. A moribund genre? But 1977 brought the adaptation of Damnation Alley to cinema screens!… actually, maybe you're right.Not being a twit, I give up. What was it? The "Alex" Guinness or saying the third movie is being shown in five weeks time? (Which show the haste of the rewrite).Or was it calling the movies science fiction when obviously they fall into the "fantasy nonsense" category?

  3. I don't blame you for getting episodes II & III mixed up really. I've got a fair amount of respect for The Phantom Menace, but it's largely for the structural stuff. It has to replicate the patterns of Return of the Jedi (because the prequel trilogy is essentially playing the original trilogy backwards) – and, as a result, he was having to do the "happy ending" first, which was a lose-lose scenario whatever way you looked at it. And I will confess that I think Jar Jar Binks is infinitely less irritating than bloody C-3PO.As for the order, well I think that it's not so straight-forward. I suspect that something like IV, half of V, I, II, the other half of V, half of VI, III and the end of VI (but with some serious editing of A New Hope to remove that completely out-of-place ending) might make some of the virtues of Lucas' story somewhat clearer.For those who haven't seen it, there's a wonderful webcomic: which is posited on the idea that the Star Wars movies are actually a long-running Dungeons & Dragons-style role-playing game in which the plot is largely being made up by the players as they go along. It certainly makes at least as much sense as the Lucas version (if not more so in some places…!)– David

  4. What was the error? I've never seen any Star Wars, so… you know. It's partly the fans that put me off. And that is how Star Wars is like the Manic Street Preachers.

  5. The error was singling episode III out as somehow less of a pile of muck than the other two. I'd say watch the original trilogy and move on, not letting your memories get trodden on by a load of cgi nonsense.The effects in the original just feel so much better and more realistic. It's such a clear case of less is more.

  6. I shouldn't worry. In announcing Tom Baker's successor, Doctor Who Monthly (as it was then) suggested Peter Davidson was the Doctor in big friendly letters on the cover. It hasn't quite lived it down since.

  7. I agree with the opinion that the "right" way is original trilogy first, then the prequels. This is the way I've always watched my DVDs in the past. It's interesting that ITV are doing this though, as I have intended for quite some time to give it a try the "other" way. After all, we can't really know til we've tried it, eh? The advantage of the ITV order is also that you get the better films to look forward to towards the end. Either way, it'd be silly to get annoyed at someone who disagreed, but then maybe that's half the fun of being a sci-fi fan (it's definitely sci-fi).I definitely won't be watching it on ITV, anyway. Bloody adverts.

  8. No. I'm stuck. Which one was *the* schoolboy error?- "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?"I don't get it. How is 42 the answer to the question "which order should you watch the six Star Wars films?"- "you start with Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and conclude, in six Saturdays' time" That should be *five* Saturdays, no?- "our first sighting of nine-year-old Anakin Skywalker, whom we'd already seen grow up" Had we? When we saw The Phantom Menace we'd seen him "grown up", as Darth Vader, but seeing him *grow* up happens eps II and III…- "Episode III: Attack Of The Clones, showing for the first time on terrestrial TV in five Saturdays' time"If they're showing them in order, wouldn't episode III be showing in two Saturdays' time?Oh, and "Attack Of The Clones" is the name of episode II, so I guess you mean Revenge of the Sith?I know, I know, I need to get out more. Sorry…Matt

  9. life, the universe and everythingObi-Wan not Obi WanAlex Guinness – Alec, surely?I don't know, have I picked the right ones, were there more?My favourite Star Wars film is the second one of the first three, whatever number that is now. V I suppose.

  10. You're all brilliant. The error I was referring to was Episode III: Attack Of The Clones. (I know, it's Episode II: Attack Of The Clones, and Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith.) As for the number of Saturdays and Alex Guiness, I'm hoping they were both picked up the Radio Times subs for the magazine. This was the copy I submitted.

  11. is it possible to say that 'films are a lazy man's books', without sounding like a pretentious twat? no, well sod it, i've been called favourite 'space opera' is The Gap Cycle by Stephen Donaldson, which i doubt will ever make it into a movie. which is just as well….they'd only fuck it up.

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