‘Phantom Menace:’ A Look Back

Took the Golden Boy to see ‘The Phantom Menace’ this morning.  The Boy’s only been excited about it since, well, November.  He even figured out how to read a calender so he’d know when ‘The Phantom Menace’ came out.   Gotta say, I was fairly excited, too.  ‘The Phantom Menace’ isn’t very good but it’s fuckin’ Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Ran’ compared to a lot of the stuff I’ve seen with the Golden Boy.  Ol’ Jar Jar Binks stacks up pooty nice next to Alvin & the Chipmunks, the Smurfs, Sir Elton John’s Garden Gnomes, Oedipal Mess (Disney), Oedipal Mess (Dreamworks), Oedipal Mess (Fox Animation).*

Practically every summer between 1977 and 1982, ‘Star Wars’ would come out in the theaters.  The neighborhood moms would pick us kids up, drop us off in the theater, go get drunk somewhere, and we’d all fishtail home from the Golden Ring Mall.  My dad took me to see it in 1977, but I fell asleep and forgot about it until next summer, when I really got into it, and by the summer after that I’d learned to read, went apeshit when I saw ‘Star Wars’ coming back in the newspapers.

The Golden Boy’s just known ‘Star Wars’ as DVDs, as an epic whose scale waxes and wanes with whichever media viewing device it’s playing on.  Sure, I’d prefer they just showed me ‘Star Wars’ again, but what can ya do?

So we hit a matinee, got (by the relative standard) cheap tix, and some complimentary tchotchkes to boot.  (‘Star Wars Battlers’, another spinning top toy like Beyblades or Ninjago, but with little Star Wars doodz.  Lucasfilm, LTD. — with this gesture — certainly IMPRESSED THE SHIT out of my seven year-old son.)  I was impressed with the Golden Boy’s patience, waiting the three hours from when we got our tchotchkes to the end of ‘The Phantom Menace’, before opening the blind-packed battlers’ baggies.**

It certainly was more enjoyable than the first time I saw ‘The Phantom Menace.’  First time I saw ‘The Phantom Menace’, I’d just put my then-wife on the train to Party With Middle-Aged Rock’n’Roll Druggie Losers Town*** and immediately high-tailed it to a movie theater to catch ‘Phantom Menace.’  I gotta say, I was underwhelmed.  Something was missing — namely, the Han Solo-style adventures of guys who don’t think things through at all, and don’t care.

Say what you will about George Lucas’ megalomania and his awkward prequels, at least he didn’t ruin Han Solo.

So a few weeks pass, and I’m down a wife, living in pretty much the worst town imaginable****, and I’m not handling this well at all.  One of the last ‘normal’ things I did before making that headfirst leap into dissipation was go to the movies and see ‘The Phantom Menace’ again.  It still wasn’t all that good.  I left the theater confused and angry, what the fuck was I doing watching kid’s movies alone in a fucking stink heap town.

I took a job as a delivery boy/general flunkie at a print shop.  I drove a delivery van with four bald tires and no brakes.  I was delighted by the prospects of my imminent death at the wheel of some piece of shit Plymouth.^ I wanted to get the hell out of Tuscaloosa;  I figured worse came to worse, I could always just grab my guitar, throw it in the print shop van, pack a hobo bindle, leave the van in Birmingham my next trip there.

One of my print shop tasks was to drop letters off at the Greyhound station, which they’d take to Birmingham.  Did you know Greyhound doubled as a letter carrier? Neither did I.  All that hellish summer, I’d take letters out to the Greyhound station, by the KFC, which had a bunch of ‘Phantom Menace’ crap stuck on its windows, most of it in the shape of Jar Jar Binks.  You couldn’t give that away.  The KFC and the bus depot were right by the highway that got you the fuck out of Tuscaloosa.  The highway and the failed KFC ‘Phantom Menace’ tie-ins gave me a message; I pieced it together as, “…If you want to get out of town, this stupid, hateful, asswipe town…” yeah, yeah, go on “…you’ll have forget this kid stuff and go.”

‘The Phantom Menace.’  I hadn’t even had my mild music successes in Birmingham at that point. I’d basically burned up the open mikes Monday thru Wednesday for six months in Baltimore, and got shit on at every turn in Tuscaloosa for three years.  I hadn’t even had very many positive experiences doing the stuff I actually love to do. Even though I sacked out during that incomprehensible land battle between the duck/frog-people and the jittery robots^^, I still had a blast just being a passive audience member with my Golden Boy.^^^  The first time I showed it to him, when he was three, I was trying to deliberately bore the shit out of him and put him to sleep, but I couldn’t have been more wrong about that.  It’s like that weird inversion of effects that happens with kids — booze cranks ’em  up, caffeine makes ’em drowsy, movies with plot problems engross and envelop them.

*Not on the list — because there for the grace of glob go eye and I somehow managed to miss/palm off on my mother-in-law — but equally worthy: Hop, Yogi Bear.

**’Cause you know he’d just drop the pieces parts in the dark, lose his tchotchkes, and go off his feed for the duration of the movie.

***Or, you know, Baltimore.

****Baltimore and Tuscaloosa go neck-and-neck for dipshit.  Though these days, I think Baltimore’s worse.  My opinion was reversed then.

^Is there any other kind of Plymouth?  Of course not!

^^That’s a weird detail I hadn’t noticed earlier:  the battle droids get the yips when addressing superiors and Jedi. That, or they’re like Bender and just have the DTs.

^^^That’s not entirely true.  I groaned, ‘Ooooh, right in the ol’ bread basket’ when Darth Truck Stop gets cloven in twain.  Still comedy gold with the Golden Boy!

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About rockiebee

Husband. Dad. Carpenter. Troubadour. Creative Director for an action figure theater troupe. Video director. Critic. Comics fan.
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