NOT ENOUGH BAD STUFF CAN BE SAID ABOUT JAR Jar Binks, the hep Jamaican alien from The Phantom Menace. Universally despised by everyone over the age of 12, the inclusion of this computer-generated comic relief is no surprise. George Lucas has wanted to make his Star Wars franchise child-safe and child-friendly long before the re-releases and the prequels. Remember the Ewoks and their hit song, "Yub Yub"? As annoying as they may have been, the cute 'n' cuddly Ewoks helped to recruit a new pre-teen audience for the series, and Jar Jar is the natural extension of Lucas' aspiration to pander to a new generation. But in the process, Lucas is officially alienating the older crowd. If he still wants to appeal to both adults and kids, he should hire the people of Pixar (Toy Story, A Bug's Life) to give him tips on how not to condescend to children with stupid, comic-relief characters.

Obviously, Lucas is proud to have been able to get a cartoon character to interact with his actors, he's proud of his zillions of digital effects layered throughout the movie, he's proud of his technical achievements. You know what? They all look fake. They may be pretty, but they don't look "real." One of my biggest disappointments about the new movie (outside of the fact that it refers so damn much to the other films that it cannot stand on its own) is the fact that Lucas no longer uses models for the space ships. They, too, are now computer-generated effects. I loved his use of models, the way the light would fall in all the nooks and crannies. These ships had seemed tangible, but now they all seem fake.

Lucas says he loves the fact that computers can translate anything in his imagination onto the screen, and that there are infinite possibilities with the technology. Of course, what he's losing is the human element. Because he needs to make room for the fake creatures and special effects, he must constrain and control the actors, dropping any sense of spontaneity from their performances. He tries to make up for it in the wackiness of the fake-looking aliens, but that dog don't hunt.

To make it that much easier to incorporate all his digital effects, Lucas is planning on shooting the next two Star Wars films with a digital camera. As far as I know, he still plans on using actual actors and actresses for key roles, but I wouldn't be surprised if, by the third film, even they had been replaced, voices crying out in the digital darkness.

The simplistic story and complex special effects of Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace is now playing at a theater near you.

Support The Stranger