I came across an interesting quote while reading my Insider the other day. They had an interview with Roger Christian, who worked as a second unit director on ROTJ and TPM. While talking about Lucas and his vision, he says,
George’s target was always the younger age group. I am not sure he expected the dad and granddads to be so enthralled by it. That’s how Jar Jar Binks came about as well. People might forget this, but the kids loved Jar Jar when The Phantom Menace was released. It was just the adults that couldn’t stand him [laughs]. But George always said he was making The Phantom Menace for a young audience.
This caught my attention. No – I’m not writing this post about Jar Jar, but I wanted to focus on the last line: “But George always said he was making The Phantom Menace for a young audience.”
Ever since I looked at when Mon Mothma actually entered the OT a few Scene it on Friday’s ago, I’ve begun obsessing about percentages in Star Wars.
For example, according to the scenes (not running time – important distinction here), at what point in the movie do we first see the Emperor? Is it 50% of the way through the OT? (It’s 20% of the way through the OT, but 48% of the way through ESB) At what point do we meet Yoda in the OT? At what point of the saga do we meet young Anakin Skywalker? Etc, etc.
We all know that I seem to be one of the few people in this world that actually genuinely likes TPM. Jar Jar aside, I wrote a blog post almost two years ago on why the movie holds a special place in my heart.
But after reading Christian’s sentiment that George was making TPM for a younger audience, I have to question Lucas. I’ve mentioned this on my blog before but the first time I ever realized that TPM might not actually be a kids movie was when I introduced it to a 6 year old. This child loved TCW and had seen ANH, also liking it, though according to him it wasn’t even near as good as TCW (truly wonderful, the mind of a child is). So I thought it would be no problem introducing him to TPM. I mean, the CGI was better, so maybe more on par with what he was used to in movies, and there’s a lot of flashy fun spaceships, podracing, plus the big battle at the end.
I think he semi-liked the movie. The thing was, he got bored through a lot of it. There’s just so. much. talking. And I had never realized this before. If you compare the dialogue in ANH and TPM they are lightyears apart. ANH involves a lot of folklore (Jedi, the Force, the Senate, etc) but we don’t actually see what that is. A lot of ANH is action and even the talking scenes are interesting enough that you can kind of follow it.
Whenever there is talking in TPM, on the other hand, it often is drenched in politics. Words like “The Trade Federation”, “negotiations”, “committee”, “senate”, “prophecy”, “supreme chancellor”, are thrown around so much that I doubt a young audience would understand what is going on.
While writing Scene it on Friday’s, I have observed that the Prequels contain many, many more scenes than the OT. The OT has a total of 235 scenes, whereas the Prequels contain a whopping 533 scenes. I often feel that this is a mistake on Lucas’ part. As we’ve seen from my Scene it on Friday’s, a scene from the Prequels could be 3 sentences long. Lucas fell in love with fast cutting and editing of scenes to make rapid action sequences. Scene, cut, scene, cut, scene, cut. The OT has less scenes and longer ones, but each scene contains depth and holds your interest the entire time.
Now here’s when my obsession came in. I decided to take a look at TPM, which has a total of 115 scenes (including deleted scenes), and see how many involve action vs. how many involve just talking. I know this is vague and subjective, but I tried to quantify a talking scene as one where a 5-8 year old child would get distracted.
I have counted that 31% of the scenes in TPM contain only dialogue. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but one of the main problems with this number is that the majority of the scenes are all clumped together within the movie. Most of it happens when everyone arrives on Coruscant. Since there are no switching scenes to see what other characters are doing somewhere else, a child’s attention wanes pretty fast. I then compared it to ANH. ANH came in at 18% of talking scenes and even that was stretching it.
Within ANH, I noticed a lot of the scenes that could potentially be boring were often filled movement and excited dialogue. It was usually propelling the story forward, and I feel like you could sense that as a child, even if you didn’t know what they were talking about. A good example would be when Obi-Wan and Luke meet Han in the Cantina. I counted that as a “talking” scene, but I feel that there was enough excitement in that scene that the audience was still engaged. In TPM, a lot of the talking scenes were just that. Talking. They had wooden faces and the scene felt stale i.e. boring.
Lucas could have had good intentions while making TPM and tried to direct it towards a younger audience, but I believe he often fell short. If you are making a movie for a young audience, you still need the scenes with dialogue to create excitement. In the words of a stormtrooper, the movie needs to “move along, move along.”