"Thus open the gates of paradise."

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The Phantom Menace

06 Apr 2002

I'm just old enough to have seen "Star Wars" on the big screen when it first came out in 1977. We were living in New Jersey at the time, deep in the heart of America. It was the Memorial Day weekend, and someone drove my friend Tim and I over to Mercer Valley Mall (or something like that) to see it. I have no recollection of knowing what it was going to be. None. Afterwards, I went a little crazy as I imagine most 11 year old boys do. I couldn't get enough of it. The special effects, the appeal of the Tunisian (Tatooine) desert. Flying through space, attempting the impossible and succeeding anyway. The mysticism surrounding of the Force, and the physical impossibility of light sabers.

"How do you think they work?"
"It must use some kind of force field."
"But how can you make a cylindrical force field with a generator at only one end?"
"It just does."
"What's in it?"
"Plasma. Like what's in the sun."

Twenty-two years lost between that summer and now, and hundreds of films between. Friday last, me watching a matinee show in an almost deserted theatre. With plenty of time to think. I don't remember thinking during the first movie. There just wasn't time. I don't know what I was doing thinking in this one; it's "Star Wars" after all. Computer-generated eye candy. And yet -- why did they attempt to explain the Force in physiological terms? Why are there no women on the Jedi council? Why didn't Lucas let a single scene finish before cutting away from it? It had all the rhythm of a television soap opera. What use was Darth Maul? He comes, he goes. The end.

Ewan McGregor does a very good impersonation of Alec Guinness. If I closed my eyes, I could almost believe. But you don't close your eyes during a movie. Not this movie. It's "Star Wars" after all. Blink and you'll miss it.

On the way out, I mentioned to the friends that I went with that I was absolutely, completely smitten with -- (wait for it) -- Pernilla August.

"Who was she?"
"Shmi Skywalker."
"The
mother?"
"Yes. She's lovely."
"The
mother???"
"Those eyes... She's Swedish."

As if that explained anything to anybody. (You may have seen her before in "Private Confessions", "Jerusalem", or "Best Intentions".) My friends looked at me as if someone had handed them concrete proof of my madness which previously had been only hinted at. So she's eight years older than me. And lives in another part of the world. In a beautiful house.

What draws me to her, especially in this film so close to the mainstream, so far from Norse angst? Could it be that hers was the one performance that could not have been equally delivered by telephone? Or that she's the only character who doesn't try to punch or kill someone? Or is just the eyes?

Pernilla August

Pernilla August
Photo: MAGNUS TORLE

I saw "Star Wars" on video tape a couple of years ago. It was the original version, before the new special effects were added. You could almost smell the cheese across the room. And everyone looks so young. You can't help thinking what each of the actors has done since then. Harrison Ford has gone on to become one of the most popular American leading men. Carrie Fisher pursued a career in both acting and writing. Alec Guiness appeared in "Mute Witness". (Because he can. His standing in the pantheon of players was assured long ago.) And Mark Hamill... Did the other "Star Wars" movies. I guess the lesson here is, don't look back. That was long time ago, far, far away.