What If TPM Had Come Out In 1977?

That’s the question Adam asks in his latest post for Jedi News.

So what do we get when we replace A New Hope with The Phantom Menace? Well, we still get a rollicking space adventure. We still get some light-hearted fun, pulse-pounding action, and effects more realistic than has been seen in the history of film up to that point. We even still get a heroic victory against some less-than-savory types. But there’s one crucial difference.

People would have taken one look at Palpatine and screamed “Nixon!”


26 Responses to “What If TPM Had Come Out In 1977?”

  1. Bob Clark Says:

    This is a great seed observation that blooms throughout the rest of the article. TPM is a far more subversive film than ANH, and the PT in general is more subversive, cleverer and has more substance behind it than the much more traditional, even reactionary OT. The political undercurrent of distrust in traditional authority that bubbles through the Prequels is something that would’ve made it a very rewarding movie in the 70’s and 80’s. The weird thing is, I think it would’ve been much more warmly recieved by that one contingency that never liked the original films, and by the 90’s was almost trained like Pavlov’s dog to react with hostility to anything Star Wars– the critics.

    In some parallel universe, Pauline Kael saw TPM in 1977, and she fucking loved it.

    • Tony Ferris Says:

      You could be very right there, Bob.

      The ending of Menace, with the corrupt politician manipulating events so that he can be installed into the highest office in the land, while the heroes dance and cheer like the dupes they are was subversive in 1999. In 1977 critics would have been positively beside themselves regarding the political commentary.

    • Hunk a Junk Says:

      Bob, keep in mind, however, that the critics scorecard for all three PT films were positive (going by RT’s “fresh” parameters) until TPM 3D allowed some retroactive grades to knock it below 60%. The thing us saga fans need to keep reminding people is that the complaints people have against the PT are the exact same complains people were making about the OT back in the day. I remember defending “Star Wars” in 1977 for it’s flaws when I was 11. So Adam’s article is pretty spot on.

      • Bob Clark Says:

        I know, I’m just talking about the uber-critics of the art-house circuit. The type that, say, worshipped Brian De Palma for his own shlock at the same time while turning up their noses to Lucas/Spielberg.

  2. Marshall Says:

    This, once again, reminds me of a quote I once read: “long, long ago, in a society far less jaded, Star Wars inspired surprise and wonder”. Yes the 70s were cynical but compared to today, that decade was a walk in the park.

    Anyway, I always believed that with the addition of the PT, the saga is basically a mirror of what the baby boom generation was feeling about they’re parents at the time. There was a slogan in the sixties: “like father, like son, like hell” which could perfectly sum up Luke and Vader’s relationship.

  3. Nick Skywalker Says:

    I don’t know if any of you all have heard this before, but I find it interesting how many people have pointed out that people who were adults back when the originals came out and when the prequels came out can’t find a reason to dislike the prequels over the originals. If that doesn’t prove that pretty much anything bad you could say about I-III could EASILY apply to the oh so sacred IV-VI, I don’t know what does.

    But yeah I’d love to see how things would work out if the roles were reversed.

  4. Keith Palmer Says:

    I’m often interested in “counterfactuals” and full-blown “alternative histories,” although I do have to remind myself that even the most elaborate of them can only be “one plausible outcome,” and somebody might well be able to put their own opinions to play and come up with a complete inversion. I think it did take me a little while to really delve down to the core of Adam’s arguments, though; I was distracted by wondering whether “AotC-’80” and “RotS-’83” (which in a way were addressed) would have been seen as definitely diverging from what I understand to have been a growing mood of enforced patriotic “we’re the good guys” optimism in the following decade, and then reminding myself there are always works of art that’ll argue against the general consensus. So far as other distractions go, there’s also trying to insist Obi-Wan’s introduction to the Force in Star Wars isn’t absolutely necessary to pick up on just how and where the eye-catching abilities of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan in TPM are coming from, and trying to hold off the distraction of imagining the visual effects degraded down to rubber suits, puppets, stop-motion, paintings on glass, and optical compositing…

    • lazypadawan Says:

      ANH certainly benefited from a desire within the U.S. for hopeful, optimistic narratives and for clarity in an era when so much of the art was dark and ambivalent. “Rocky” was a huge hit the year before and “Saturday Night Fever” was a huge hit months later for some of the same reasons. That was of course on a populist level, not so much among those interested in “serious” cinema.

      Adam’s right…back then people would’ve identified Palpatine as Nixon (as Lucas originally conceived him) right away. Bob’s right…the serious movie crowd would’ve loved it. I don’t think it would’ve necessarily hurt with movie audiences in general because of TPM’s overall tone and visual effects.

      Now, would those times have changed AOTC’s or ROTS’s tone? I don’t know. If not, I think Lucas might’ve been pressured to put ANH out faster to get in step with 1980s audiences’ love for action heroes.

  5. Slicer87 Says:

    Two big factors would be no internet yet, and no angry bitter older fans who felt their childhoods were raped. Though by ROTJ in 83, fans were talking about it on early intranets. I have seen old 83 posts by fans complaining about Ewokes and Vader no longer being the big bad boss. They also complained about Plaps, where this old guy that shoots lightning come from?

    I think either Starlog or Empire gave TESB a bad review back in 1980. Sadly the net is good for spreading BS, giving hateboys megaphones, and groupthink.

    • Hunk a Junk Says:

      Starlog’s article was titled “The Empire Strikes Out” and is solid evidence that films of the OT were met with the exact same criticisms as the PT. Here’s a link to a post about that article. http://acertainpointofview.net/?p=1479

    • lazypadawan Says:

      Mike Klimo had been posting excerpts from negative reviews of Eps IV-VI on Twitter. I’m sure that was an eye-opener to a lot of younger fans.

      I’ve seen an old fanzine where the editors hated TESB (and unsurprisingly they quit a couple of issues later) and I’ve seen an old “letterzine,” kind of a message board you write into and then they publish it two months later, where there were some blistering letters about ROTJ. Stuff like this was very contained because there wasn’t an internet. I remember being surprised and upset anyone had anything bad to say about ROTJ or SW in general. I just assumed the critics were stupid, jealous, and quite possibly un-American ;).

      • Slicer87 Says:

        I never knew of the PT hate until I went looking onlike, boy was that a mistake. You are right, back in the old days before widespread internet useage, kept negative feelings more contained. These days such feelings can spread llike a virus with the internet.

        Star Wars isn’t the only victim. Doctor Who has alot of old school fans that complain about the new series. There was even a book about the writers of Doctor Who and one chapter covers about the crap they have to put with from online.

  6. Jacobesico Says:

    This is all very interesting.

    I can think of a few cast members.

    Obi-Wan Kenobi: Harrison Ford
    Qui-Gon Jinn: Sir Alec Guinness
    Queen Amidala/ Padmé: Carrie Fisher
    Senator Palpatine/Darth Sidious: Peter Cushing
    Anakin Skywalker (Episodes 2 and 3 only) : Mark Hamill

    • Bob Clark Says:

      Hell, let’s go blue sky here. Maybe Toshiro Mifune could’ve been Qui-Gon, after all.

    • Bob Clark Says:

      Oh, and am I crazy for thinking Madonna or one of the Runaways girls could’ve been a neat choice for Padme?

    • Adam D. Bram (The Nilbog) Says:

      So who’s Jar Jar?

      • Jacobesico Says:

        They were the only ones I could think of.

        If anyone knows any prominent actors in the late 70s that could fit into the cast of TPM then don’t hesitate to cast them. Was Jackie Chan famous in the 70s? I think he would have been a good Darth Maul.

      • Bob Clark Says:

        Robin Williams is Jar Jar. Whether that’s good or bad is anyone’s guess.

    • Heidi Says:

      I’m a fan of the idea of Jodi Foster playing Leia. I wished it had happened. As much as I love what we have today in SW, it’s that “might have been” that still intrigues me.

      On this subject, I think Jodi would have done a decent job playing Padme. When Padme complains, “Well I don’t approve” I can see Jodi in that role after watching “Freaky Friday.”

      • Bob Clark Says:

        Plus she did Taxi Driver for Scorsese, so it’s not a stretch that she might’ve been considered for Padme by Lucas then. All in the family.

  7. Wizardman Says:

    I think The Phantom Menace would have been as big a hit as A New Hope. The sheer inventiveness of the universe, the aliens, the lasers and lightsabers would have captured people’s imaginations the same way the original film did.

    • Adam D. Bram (The Nilbog) Says:

      Another reader on my blog pointed something out that I agree with, that Phantom has a very ’50s sci-fi aesthetic, and ’50s nostalgia was HUGE in the mid-late ’70s (see Grease, Happy Days, and Lucas’ own American Graffiti).

  8. Stefan Kraft Says:

    I remember a discussion on TheForce.net where it was discussed how TPM would have looked like if GL did it back in 1977 instead of ANH. Apart from the obvious points (Matte paintings for Corucscant etc), they also discussed differences in the script.

    Since Nixon etc is mentioned here, I am reminded of an interesting article on a German fan site that showed that ANH is more “unconventional” than you expect of a fantasy movie. For instance, there is not really a “Dark Lord” in ANH that is the supreme leader. Instead, you have a group of generals that seems to control an important part of the (or even the entire) Empire. Hence, it is the militaric-industrial complex that is in power. The Emperor is only mentioned, but you can get the impression that he is only a puppet controlled by the military…
    I am well aware that TESB made this interpretation impossible. Still, it may have been what GL envisioned back in 1977. And he obviously still kept several elements of it in SW as shown in the PT.

    • Adam D. Bram (The Nilbog) Says:

      If you read the original prologue to the novelization of New Hope, it rings true to I-III except that Palpatine is said to be controlled by his governors – obviously not true in hindsight, but you could argue that’s what Palpatine wants everyone to think in order to maintain his “kindly chancellor” persona.

  9. Slicer87 Says:

    I think TPM would be a bit different if it had been made in 77 instead of 99. Lucas hadn’t fully flushed out his sega yet plus no CGI for some of the effects. The film may even be downsized a bit do to less funding.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: