Went to see the new, 3-D-mafied version of "Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace" this weekend, and the weirdest thing happened: I didn't hate it. I should've hated it. Why didn't I hate it? I don't feel good about this.

Went to see the new, 3-D-mafied version of "Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace" this weekend, and the weirdest thing happened: I didn't hate it. I should've hated it. Why didn't I hate it? I don't feel good about this.


Like most "Star Wars" nerds and nerdesses, I have a love/hate relationship with "The Phantom Menace," and by "love/hate" I mean "Just the hate, with a side of grilled This Sucks and a mug of What Is This, Horse Poop?" I saw "Menace" in 1999 with a cadre of fellow nerdlingers (and, inexplicably, our fiancees) and we spent the next two weeks struggling to think of nice things to say, fighting to justify the emotional investment we'd made, an investment that had been returned to us in the form of jokes involving flatulent space horses and the nuanced drama of intergalactic trade route taxation disputes. 


"Menace," as I thought of it, the film equivalent of having someone remove most of your feet with power tools, except not nearly as pleasurable. There were some Japanese lizard stereotypes whose lips moved wrong, and robots that broke when anything touched them, and Natalie Portman falling in love with what immediately became the LUCKIEST SECOND-GRADER ALIVE. There was General Zod, who appeared for a moment, looked thoughtfully at a man in a gorilla suit and then got fired, and consequently no one kneeled before Zod. Later on, Natalie Portman was revealed to be Natalie Portman, which caused much CGI gasping. Later on, Jar Jar Binks stuck his tongue in some electricity and an 8-year-old boy won a NASCAR race that made him not a slave anymore, because kids' movies love slavery! Finally, at the end Barack Obama told the Japanese lizard stereotype that he could "kiss his trade franchise goodbye," which in space is apparently a massively bitchy thing to say, and there was a Ladysmith Black Mambazo song and a frog passed a glowing bowling ball to either Portman or Keira Knightley and the credits rolled and we were like "WHYYYYYYYYY?"


And exactly like those inconsolable nerds, over the years I became hardened and insufferable. Yet out of some damp, musty combination of obligation and optimism I approached each sequel with some dying shadow of hope. 


It didn't pay off. I wriggled my way into a top-secret advance critic's screening of "Attack of the Clones" in a swanky Chicago digital theater, where I sat five or six rows ahead of the great Roger Ebert. And my sole memory of that movie is a scene early on, in which Obi-Wan is chasing an intergalactic assassin/action figure who is seen holding a poison dart, loading a poison dart and shooting a poison dart at a victim. Obi-Wan then runs over to the victim, bends down to pick out the poison dart from her neck, considers it for a minute and says, and I'm quoting here, "Poison dart." Ebert, six rows back, lets out a "HAH!" like Nelson Muntz. I have no memories of the rest of the movie.


By the time "Revenge of the Sith" rolled around I'd had a kid and passed enough dispiriting birthday numbers to feel uneasy with science-fiction based disappointment anyway. I caught another critic's screening (one with much less security) at, of all places, Disney World. And on the way home I called a friend with whom I'd been web-stalking all things Prequel since 1996 and we came to the expert agreement that the movie was about as good as it was going to be, shared our insight with The Internet and felt very good about ourselves for the next seven years.


But then last weekend, my family and I visited friends in Washington, D.C., friends who have a daughter of about 8, exactly the age of our son. My son doesn't really like "Star Wars" but he does like Ellie, so we all hit up the big-shot fancypants 3-D "Phantom Menace," and this is where things get weird, because I kind of enjoyed it? I mean, 3-D Senate hearings are still Senate hearings, and I still can't figure out how anyone instructed the assemblage of Ewan McGregor, Sam Jackson, Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman and Keira Knightley to "Remain motionless and see if you can emote less," but, I mean, ehhhh the pod race was sort of fun in 3-D? 


Mostly though my boy's in the kitchen drawing his own pod racer right now, which is sort of like Anakin's but faster. I was planning to go in there and talk about how the old movies were so much better and how the new ones apparently destroyed the hopes and dreams of an entire generation, but it's almost like he didn't care for some reason.


Jeff Vrabel is not the droids you're looking for. He can be reached at http://jeffvrabel.com and followed at http://twitter.com/jeffvrabel.