12/21/15 by Rennie Detore
In 1999, Star Wars returned to the silver screen after a hiatus of 16 years with "The Phantom Menace" and proceeded to break box office records at that time. The same thing just happened over the weekend with "The Force Awakens," but with one huge difference.
"The Phantom Menace" made fans of Star Wars excited at first just because there was a no movie coming out and the first since 1983's "Return of the Jedi." What transpired was a cinematic train wreck that easily was one of the worst movies of all time and easily the worst of all the "Star Wars" fare at that time.
"The Phantom Menace" was two hours and change of a movie that looked as thought George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, had 16 hours to write a script rather than 16 years. The characters were bland, the story thin and everything about the movie screamed formulaic and boring from start to finish. Even the scene between villain Darth Maul and our Jedi heroes was intense in a rather campy way.
Fast forward to the latest Star Wars fare, "The Force Awakens," which set all sorts of box office records this past weekend, taking in hundreds of millions of dollars in the first weekend (238 million to be exact).
The major difference between Menace and Force Awakens is the quality of the storytelling, the director and the overall reception of the film. Plenty of critics have a lot of positives to say about "The Force Awakens," the first Star Wars movie put out by Disney and new director J.J. Abrahams. Lucas is out of the picture, and that's a good things since his prequels for the Star Wars franchise were poor at best and hideous reincarnations of what was a classic trilogy.
The Force Awakens picks up where Lucas' last film left off and takes off with a heaping helping of nostalgia and new characters and a story that, while not exactly thick and hefty, works on the level that it is trying to do: simple story telling and characters that matter.
You can argue that Lucas didn't have Han Solo at his disposal or Princess (now General) Leia with the Phantom Menace, but that doesn't excuse him for writing a poor origin story about the would be Darth Vader and how he turned evil. The story was flimsy in Menace, and the acting even worse. You could say that about all three Lucas prequels; they just were flat and bland.
The Force Awakens made Star Wars fans wait 11 years, and Menace 16. Those long spans of dry spells for Star Wars fans are comparable.
But the comparison stop there, and Force Awakens far exceeded expectations as a thrill ride of epic proportions versus its counterpart Menace, a mess from start to finish.
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