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March 5, 2012

Movie Mondays: Star Wars: Episode I:The Phantom Menace

Title: Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Director: George Lucas
Writer: George Lucas
Distributed By: 20th Century Fox
Starring: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Jake Lloyd
Release Date: May 19th, 1999 (February 10th, 2012)

Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace is hands down one of the biggest films to come out of the 90s. It made $1,013,406,295 at the box office, and unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’m sure we can all reference something pop culture out of it. Episode I‘s success is along the lines of other 90s films such as Terminator 2: Judgement Day, perhaps even more successful. However, as far as fond memories goes, Star Wars: Episode I is nowhere as endearing as the other blockbuster 90s films.

To describe the disappointment after watching Episode I is impossible to describe unless you were born before 1993. Imagine growing up with only Star Wars Episode IV-VI and nothing else. But of course, you have to figure that if Star Wars started with episode IV, then there would have to be an episode I set a long time ago. Then all of a sudden, there’s rumors and speculation about an episode I being made. Could it be!? Before Luke and Darth Vader. Or…perhaps Darth Vader back when he was Anakin Skywalker. And then when you least expect it, there’s talk about what the film is going to be like. A kid Anakin Skywalker, C3PO without the gold armor, and before the Galatic Empire was formed!? This has got to be the greatest movie ever.

And then…you watch the film.

Typical facial reactions while watching the film. (taken from http://massassi.hobby-site.com/massassi/pictures/episode_1/img/naboo_underwater01.jpg)

Yes, everyone hated it back then and for a damn good reason. Not only was I extremely disappointed with Episode I, I also refused to see it again (after two more times). However, now that ten years have passed, perhaps Episode I isn’t as bad as it was in 1999. Maybe Joey Esposito was right and I’m simply just a hater. Perhaps it was better than I remembered it. In fact, it is better than what people say. Sure, the opening credits don’t make any sense, but the fighting and CGI hold up pretty damn well.

For the first ten or so minutes, at least. Once Jar Jar Binks pops up, the movie falls apart at the seams.

However, it’s not just Jar Jar. There’s a lot of other elements in play here that drag it down. I could go on and on with the list, but there’s five in particular that really dragged this film down.

#5 Less Kid Jokes

And less children whining while we're at it. (taken from http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-mEWjKJrrATU/TwNsJW_TAPI/AAAAAAAAShM/JNGVzvpaYYQ/s1600/enhanced-buzz-3494-1325186980-111.jpg)

Yes, Star Wars is for all ages and Episode VI had its fair share of Ewoks. But even with the occasional Ewok (which never bothered me), there were still plenty of serious moments in the films. And most importantly, those films never dumbed themselves down. With Episode I, however, you get pathetic slapstick after slapstick in just about every scene. I understand kids need something from Star Wars (although Episode I‘s humor never appealed to me as a kid), but everyone else needs something appealing as well.

#4 Better Acting

 

True Jedi are immune to emotion (taken from http://jediknight960.tripod.com/jinn6.jpg)

For a film containing many renowned and even Academy Award winning actors and actresses, the acting here is wooden and stiff. Which begs the question of whether it was the actors’ faults or George Lucas’s. So perhaps the actors should’ve been allowed more flexibility with their roles. And most importantly, they should’ve had better dialog to work with. Which brings me to my next point.

#3 Better Characters

 

Nope, no stereotype here… (taken from http://ia.media-imdb.com/images/M/MV5BMTQ4MzY1NzU5Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODI0MTY2Mw@@._V1._SX640_SY427_.jpg)

What makes Star Wars Episode IV-VI so endearing is not the lightsaber fights, x-wings, or even the force. If that was the case, fans would love Episode I. At the heart of the original three Star Wars films is the characters. Luke, Chewie, Leia, Han, and everyone else is a cast of colorful and vibrant characters. Han=renegade and witty. Leia=strong and stubborn. Chewie=Grrrrrrr! Try summing up Episode I characters with even as much as a paragraph (and no, you cannot say “Jar Jar=black” or “Watto=Jew”). See what I mean?

#2 NO Jar Jar Binks

 

Deleted scene in which Jar Jar sings "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" (taken from http://images.wikia.com/starwars/images/a/af/Jar_Jar_Binks-ST.jpg)

The problem isn’t that Jar Jar Binks is an annoying character. Although he certainly is. The main problem is that Lucas puts him into every f@#^&g scene. Each time there seems to be a redeemable scene, Jar Jar steps in and adds his Jar Jar antics. Have you ever been to a party and had a very flirty conversation with a hot girl? And then your awkward friend steps out of nowhere and turns it into a lame three-way conversation. That’s the equivalent of when Jar Jar steps into the limelight.

#1 Simplicity

*Insert complicated plot mumbling* (taken from http://images.wikia.com/headhuntersholosuite/images/9/9f/Trade_Federation_001.jpg)

Easily the biggest flaw of not only Episode I but also Episode II and Episode III. With Episode IV-VI you had a simple story of the Rebels vs. the Empire. And the films were able to build more character development and story because the premise presented itself as a wide, empty canvas. With Episode I, however, there’s a lot of complicated politics going on between the Galactic Republic and the Trade Federation.This doesn’t make the film any more intelligent, but rather makes it all the more confusing. Even the opening title went over my head. This is a two hour film. Not a book or even a comic book series where everything can be expanded upon and explained.

But it doesn’t just end there. They also cut through the scenes fairly fast. Each scene is about five to ten minutes long. It doesn’t give us much time to catch or breath or for the story to be strengthened. And that’s the biggest shame of it all.

So yes, it’s still a pretty bad film. However, it isn’t the worst film of all time. There are three saving graces to the film.

#3  Lightsaber Fights

 

Now we're talking (taken from http://images.wikia.com/starwars/images/7/7d/Dotf.jpg)

Tense, well choreographed, and before they went over the top in Episode II-III. And while I still say Darth Maul is a poorly written character, the final fight between him, Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon is definitely one of the film’s highlights.

#2 Podracing

 

The whole film should've just been podracing and Darth Maul fights (taken from http://cdn2.screenjunkies.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/podrace.jpg)

This actually makes it possibly worth shelling out your money and watching it in 3D. And I must say, Star Wars Episode I: Racer was kickass back in the day.

#1 World Building

An entire city full of Gungans. Hell for Star Wars fans (taken from http://www.thefilmyap.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Yap-StarWars3.jpg)

This is the one thing that perhaps Episode I did better than the original three. The worlds, from the underwater cities of Naboo to the deserts of Tattoine, are just gorgeous. This is one of those instances where sets actually strengthen the film. And speaking of locations and settings, that CGI has really held up well. Although, what else do you expect from a film that was made with a lot of money but not much storytelling?

Andrew Hudson
ahudson@comicattack.net
@Hudsonian

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4 Comments



  1. I know how hard this was to write so I’m going the iconic slow clap for you sir!



  2. Great article! Horrible movie!



  3. Stiff acting, yep. Obnoxious plot, yep. No character development, yep.

    And I could ignore all of that if it weren’t for one thing.
    And NO, it’s not Jar Jar.

    It’s Anakin.

    Stilted, boring, wooden acting, and lines like “Now THIS is pod-racing!”… ruined it for me. Jake Lloyd’s portrayal of a moronic child-Anakin, makes Hayden Christiansen’s portrayal of an angst-ridden-teen-Anakin look amazing.



  4. BTW, great write-up Andrew.
    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    Reminds me that I’m doing “John Carter” next Monday.
    Big special-effects movie about a sprawling space adventure.

    Good selection for back-to-back reviews!



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