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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
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Ratings are based on a four star system.
One star means that the commercials are more entertaining than the program.
Two stars watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars is good solid entertainment.
Four stars means you never dreamed television could be this good.

I've just gotten back from a sneak preview of the new Star Wars movie, The Phantom Menace, and, while I don't want to give away the surprise ending, there are a few things that I can tell you without spoiling your enjoyment of the film.

First, and most important, is the fact that none of the scenes shown in the two previews actually appear in the finished film. They are a complete hoax, designed to mislead viewers and make the actually film experience a total surprise.

Second, none of the announced stars actually appear. I have heard that they were each paid one million dollars by Lucasfilm to pretend they were acting in The Phantom Menace. The one million is, by the way, contingent on news of this fact not getting out before the actual release date. So, don't tell anyone, or you will make a lot of Hollywood stars very, very angry.

Gene Autry The truth is that no human beings appear in the film at all. The entire production is computer animated, and stars a computer generated hologram of the late singing cowboy, Gene Autry.

The next big shocker is that the film is entirely in black and white. No doubt impressed by pal Steven Spielberg's Oscar for the black and white Schindler's List, Lucas has chosen to film the new Star Wars in this nostalgic medium, and I must say it is a total artistic success. Even if it wins no other awards (and the Academy is famous for slighting science fiction, as the win of Oliver over 2001 -- A Space Odyssey shows), The Phantom Menace is certain to win Best Art Direction for its remarkable recreation of the grainy black and white look of the 1930's.

The only other thing I should mention is the length of the film. It runs under a half hour. This will allow theaters to deal quickly with the long lines. With up to 24 showings a day on a single screen, The Phantom Menace is expected to quickly take in double or triple the boxoffice of Titanic. The short running time will no doubt cause some moviegoers to grumble, but is a triumph of quality over quantity. The ending is, of course, a cliffhanger, and in just a short year and a half we will get to see how it all comes out.

[What? What's that you say? We saw The Phantom Empire, not The Phantom Menace? Oh. In that case, never mind.]

Copyright © 1999 by Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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