Get this straight: I love the original Star Wars. I can watch the whole Episode IV–VI trilogy through from start to finish in one sitting… as long as I pretend Episode VI ends with Darth Vader on the pyre and hit STOP before the goddamned ultra-trite Ewok party song. Even so, I avoided all the months of pre-prequel hype and myriad fan sites, breaking the moratorium only in the last week before Episode I premiered to read the reviews of a few sources I trusted. The word common to all these reviews was “disappointment,” so I had very low expectations going in, and waited for over a month before bothering to see it.
And even with the bar thus lowered, Episode I still sucks. It’s pretty to look at, sure. And as a technological achievement, while not as groundbreaking as Episode IV, it’s a spectacular display of what the gnomes at Skywalker Ranch are able to do in 1999. But in terms of content, it is utterly devoid. I had no problem understanding what the putative comic relief Jar Jar Binks was saying—the hard part was bringing myself to care. The plot device of the robot army shutting down because their command ship was destroyed was the most simplistic contrivance I have seen outside of the Teletubbies—obviously a long time ago, they didn’t read Sun Tzu. And the mythic symbolism of the original was wiped clean from Episode I, except perhaps for the allusion to immaculate conception. Too bad Joseph Campbell is dead. Maybe Lucas should have given Bill Moyers a call before writing his tissue-paper script.
The biggest problem Lucas faces, though, is the fact that in a galaxy far, far away, they don’t have Pepsi, or Taco Bell, or any of the other commercial brand-names that in most any other genre could be generously sprinkled throughout the movie for that oldest of Hollywood cash cows, product placement. Which is why we have been inundated with tie-in commercials ever since the first trailer came out, and will be subjected to same until long after the video is released. I ignore most of these. I refuse to buy any action figures because it’s not possible to get an Artoo Detoo without buying a larger set. But there is one Star Wars tie-in about which I am very enthusiastic:
LEGO. In addition to the obligatory Episode I sets, there is now a collection of “classic” sets that were non-existent when this Legomaniac and SW fan was the intended ages of 7-12. There’s an X-wing fighter with our hero, R2-D2. There’s a box set of a Y-wing fighter (with the ill-fated Gold Leader and the astromech droid R5-D4) along with Darth Vader’s TIE fighter, and the little Darth minifigure has a little cloth cape. There’s a landspeeder complete with helmet-haired Obi-Wan. There’s even a snowspeeder from Episode V, and a pair of speeder bikes from Episode VI with Imperial scout troopers. All of them, especially the X-wing, are tremendously cool. The only problem I see is if you buy all these sets you wind up with 4 Luke Skywalkers, and no Princess Leia, Han Solo, or Chewbacca. I’m hoping this will soon be resolved with (I suspect) the release of a really big set—the Millennium Falcon. (Also notably lacking are A-wings, B-wings, standard TIE fighters and Imperial stormtroopers.) My recommendation: check ’em out!
Epilogue . So LEGO must have been listening, because in the two years since I wrote the above, they came out with the Millennium Falcon, an A-wing, a B-wing, and the standard TIE fighter, plus Boba Fett’s ship, the Imperial Shuttle with Emperor and nifty red-suited guards, and an escape pod with Artoo and Threepio. They also came out with two amazing, 1/28 scale, highly detailed models, one of an X-wing, the other of a TIE Interceptor. These are just incredible. The X-wing contains over 1,300 pieces; the nose assembly alone takes 14 steps to build. The best part about it is that the standard Artoo Detoo minifigure is accurately sized at this scale. The worst part is that the wing attachments are kind of flimsy and the wings sag when in the closed position. The TIE Interceptor is much more solid (though fewer pieces), although its wings are also slightly wobbly. Both kits are not really suited for play, they’re more for sitting on their display stands and looking cool.
The Millennium Falcon does, as I suspected it would, include Princess Leia as well as Han and Chewie and Artoo and Threepio—and another damn Skywalker. It’s one of the most concise LEGO kits I have ever seen. There’s not a single superfluous piece, everything fits together like a perfectly nested puzzle. That said, the ship is far too small. All the other Star Wars sets follow the same approximate scale and play well together; the Falcon, if scaled to match, would be nearly twice the size it is. For one thing, only two figures fit in the cockpit, and only if they’re shoehorned in; also there’s no room for a passageway from the cockpit to the rest of the ship. I understand a larger Falcon might be ungainly to play with and prohibitively expensive, but it still should be big enough that it doesn’t seem dwarfed by a Y-wing fighter.
Best of all is the standard TIE fighter. Not only does it come with a black-helmeted pilot, but the kit has an Imperial stormtrooper as well. I bought two, so that I can display them flanking Darth Vader’s ship as if they’re racing down the trench, blowing holes in Gold Leader. This gave me two stormtroopers, so now I can reenact my favourite exchange of the entire series:
Stormtrooper #1: Do you know what’s going on?
Stormtrooper #2: Maybe it’s another drill.