What can you do when, dragged along by the kids to the latest Star Wars film, you face something utterly dire?

Somebody once paid tribute to Shakespeare's Mark Antony by saying that he had drunk the "stale of horses", which sounds a bit dodgy, and also that he had eaten strange flesh that other men had died simply by looking at. But to anybody who has been involved in the bringing up of children, that's a run-of-the-mill diet. You eat scraps left on plates and things that have dribbled out of someone's mouth on to the floor. You read about that fish that spends its entire life feeding around the anuses of whales and you think, well, there are worse ways to spend your life.

And it's not just food. It relates to behaviour as well. There is the well-known phenomenon of folie a deux, which applies to the behaviour of pairs of criminals, especially a man and a woman such as Bonnie and Clyde or Fred and Rosemary West. The point is that two people will get together and spur each other on to far worse crimes than either would have been capable of on their own.

In a similar way, being in charge of children will spur you on to do things that you've taken solemn vows never to do. Looking at an entire miniature city made out of Lego bricks, for example. Incidentally, has anybody seen Lego sets recently? The point of Lego bricks used to be that you employed them in creative play, making anything from a boat to a house (though all I ever did was to pile them on top of each other into a tall, thin tower and watch it fall over). Now you buy a set in the form of some object from a film, and all you can do is take it apart and put it together as the same object. But it doesn't matter, since it has been scientifically proven that the world's Lego bricks are used by children only once before assuming their true function of making lumps under rugs and dispersing themselves to the back of drawers, the corners of rooms and any place where people walk in bare feet.

I had previously made a vow - possibly in this column - not to see the new Star Wars movie. I'm one of those people who never even liked the original. Watching Star Wars, I've never been able to resist the thought that any sensible child would have a better time watching the films that it steals from (I mean, "alludes to"): the Flash Gordon serials, The Searchers, The Wizard of Oz, Triumph of the Will.

But the children insisted, so we went to a very large cinema with a very small audience on a hot summer morning. It turned out that the critics had been misleading about The Phantom Menace. They said it was bad. In fact it was really, really bad, quite amazingly awful, on every level apart from special effects. What do you do when faced with such direness? John Mortimer wrote about having to attend screenings of pornographic films seized by the police. After a few minutes he just removed his glasses so that the writhings and thrustings became a restful blurry abstraction.

I just began to play various games. The first was to spot the films George Lucas had drawn on. (Do these people ever do anything except watch movies? Does he never see paintings or plays or, heaven forfend, things out there in the real world? Actually there is one non-filmic influence: The Lord of the Rings, but somehow that doesn't really count.) The master-apprentice relationship between Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor is clearly lifted from the one between Sean Connery and Christian Slater in The Name of the Rose, even down to wearing the same cowls. But Connery has amusing and interesting things to teach his apprentice. Lucas hasn't bothered to think up what a Jedi knight might have to teach his apprentice. The knights remind me of a comment Kingsley Amis made about the Catholic aristocrats in Brideshead Revisited: "It's not that Waugh lets them get away with behaving very badly, it's that he lets them get away with behaving very boringly."

Everybody has spotted that the pod race is lifted from Ben-Hur - sorry, is a homage to Ben-Hur. But the most peculiar influence seemed to be The Lion King, especially in the amazingly unfunny comic turn, Jar Jar Binks. I think that in his years of being a producer, Lucas has tired of human actors and, judging from their mournful performances, the actors knew it.

A final note of advice. If you're chased by a dalek, I've always recommended running up a flight of stairs. Similarly, the Jedi knight's light sabre seems rather limited to me. A bullet in the back would do for them, but fortunately the Dark Empire are too stupid to think of that.

This article first appeared in the 06 September 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - Whatever happened to liberty?