What Did You Think of The Phantom Menace?

 

I saw the greatest minds of my generation destroyed by trivia, frothing, hysterical, fannish, dragging themselves through Forbidden Planet at lunchtime, looking for an angry trading card, bleary eyed fanboys searching for the ancient connection to their fourteenth birthday. They sat on blue chip desks at 4AM, with South Park figurines alongside double-ended lightsabres and Wolverine mouse-mats; they went to late night manga showings and argued about the rules of Dungeons & Dragons; they mistook Tolkien for literature and Anne Mcaffery for writing.

And it's not only George Lucas's fault, either, it's mighty Tharg and Stan bloody Lee; what has happened to me when I spend a week going into Virgin every lunchtime in the hope that The Complete Clangers vol 2 has finally come out. I despise myself, really, I do: I despise the way in which I wasted my teen and adolescent years and got so little in return. Star Wars and 2000AD and Spiderman; is that all there is? Is that all there is? I pick up books about Lewis and Tolkien, and find them taking it as read that the average thirteen year old is going to be neglecting his Latin prep in order to read Swinburne and Shelley under the covers. "I'm not at all sure", says Lewis, "that if you want to make a boy love the English poets, you shouldn't forbid him from reading them and then make sure he has lots of opportunity to disobey you." A nice notion, that. Robin Williams could probably base a film on it. Naturally, neither Lewis nor I nor nobody knows what to do if you want to make girls love the English poets, bless their little hearts. Do you know what records I was listening to in my nice little adolescent middle class home; the Wombles, that's what, while punk was happening outside my door. I would have hated punk, but it probably wasn't too late to be a hippy. Mind you, I suppose I narrowly avoided the Bay City Rollers. I'm trying to think of a literary experience which I had between Winnie the Pooh and Lord of the Rings which would be worth going back to, and the best I can manage is that episode of the Fantastic Four where Galactus exiles the Surfer to New York. That was 'poetry', that was 'literature', that was 'imagination'. How much of my thirteenth summer was spent watching repeats of Wacky Races? I suppose it is the school teachers we blame, and above that the minister for education. They had the fascistic idea of making 'poetry' a school subject, of banning first hand experiences and making aesthetic enjoyment an impossible thing, almost a bad thing. We were specifically told not to go and see works of Shakespeare in production because the teacher was afraid that 'production ideas' might confuse us and get in the way of the text so that we wouldn't pass our exams. It was A level results week this week, and being has how there wasn't any other news to report, apart from a lot of dead foreigners, the BBC showed lots of footage of dopey eyed teenagers, the sorts of people who probably went to see The Mummy or would have done if their revision had left them any spare time, opening their sick little envelopes with their sick little A level results on them and screaming tears of joy when they found out that oh god they got the two Cs and a D necessary for them to go and study floor colouring studies at Milton Keynes University. Who are these people? Why do the BBC only show the ones jumping for joy about their good results, why not show the ones who got bad results? Why not the ones who go home and stick their heads in gas ovens; there was a boy in my school who jumped in front of the 11AM London to York service because he was so worried about his mocks, it happens every year, but we don't care; killing a few children is a pretty small price to pay for good exam results, for a highly trained workforce which can compete in the new global market whatever the hell that means. So instead of seeing Othello in production, we took an exam about it, we read it line by line and did 'character studies' of Roderigo, a character who exists for no other reason than for the villain to have someone to explain his masterplan to. And the churches have replaced mythology and the numinous and the sense of wonder with coffee mornings and pious lectures about the need for fresh water in the third world. Spirituality has been exorcised; literature is castrated and taboo, and if we are imaginative, then we wander into a cinema; and rather than reading real mythology or literature, or finding out real religions we see Luke Skywalker and Battlestar Gallatica (twelve spaceships in search of their lost home planet, subtle allegory), and it’s the first authentic aesthetic experience we ever had, and we spend our lives trying to re-capture it. Give me back my childhood! I want to have spent my fourteenth summer reading the Faerie Queene and Les Miserables—not memorising quotes from Star Wars!

I saw Phantom Menace on the midnight performance, opening night. Leaving the cinema, I heard two fans, tee-shirts, badges, Darth Maul satchels, reviewing the film, which they evidently hadn't liked.

'I piss on the evil of that film,' said one 'They've stolen my childhood'.

'They' being, in this case, George Lucas, the man who made Star Wars.

You don't know how right you are.

Loser.

Yes, but what did you think of  The Phantom Menace, actually?

 

 

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