Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
It was no surprise to me when I heard that this movie was coming back into theatres in 3D. With the way the entire franchise has been redone, rereleased, reformatted, rereleased, redigitized, rereleased, redone again with extra scenes, rereleased…blah. How many times can George Lucas cash in on the same set of movies? Turns out…a lot. Anyway, with Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace fresh in our minds, there may be no better time to take a look at why some people considered this movie to be a huge disappointment.
Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
The year was 1999 and I had just graduated high school. A seventeen year old me couldn’t believe his ears when he heard that a new Star Wars movie had been released. Technology had advanced significantly since the release of Return of the Jedi in 1983 and I was pumped to see space battles and lightsaber fights take on a new life. We’d also finally get to see how Darth Vader became Darth Vader, up to a point…after all they needed to fill two more movies to make it to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. George Lucas had a chance to make an epic science fiction movie and instead opted to turn it into Star Wars Episode I: The Gungan Menace, Star Wars Episode I: The Great Podrace, and Star Wars Episode I: Merchandising, all at the same time.
Unlike my recent Star Trek articles, I’m not going to lay out the plot for you. Chances are, you’ve seen this movie already. What I will do however is take you through all of the things I liked and disliked about the movie.
Movie Summary: Epic Action Scenes: 2% Jar Jar Binks: 98%
First, let’s address Darth Maul. Let’s face it, he’s probably the most badass Sith we’ve ever seen. He’s quick, he’s intimidating, and he’s got a double-bladed lightsaber. I was extremely disappointed to discover that he was in maybe one percent of the movie, possibly no more than five scenes. George Lucas set the premise for this guy and had the potential to turn him into an evil SOB, killing off everyone who he came in contact with. He could have massacred entire villages & towns, bringing terror to the Republic and even strengthening Senator Palpatine’s position that there needed to be a stronger military response to the Trade Federation’s attacks. That never happened. I suspect it had something to do with the overall theme of the movie and keeping it a PG rating.
I wanted to see MORE of this.
Second, let’s address Jar Jar Binks. I didn’t mind him as comic relief, but having him appear in more scenes than Darth Maul pissed me off. He blundered his way from scene to scene and through dumb luck managed to survive the final battle on Naboo. There was humor in all three of the original movies, but nothing to this degree. Jar Jar Binks, in my opinion, was created to appeal to kids. This, of course, would open up the floor to merchandising galore with a Jar Jar Binks doll in every kid’s bedroom. I get that George Lucas was trying to make a little money, but it’s not like he wasn’t rich already and you don’t need to dumb down an entire movie just to appeal to a wider audience.
Somehow Star Wars went from, “Luke…I am your father…” to “Exsqueeeeeze me.”
Third, let’s address Anakin Skywalker. Okay, he’s a kid, I get it. George had the potential to make Anakin a troubled boy, filled with dark thoughts and questions and even possibly introducing powers he didn’t know how to control but had to conceal for fear of being shipped away from his mother. Instead, one of the first things he did involved him hitting on an undercover Queen Amidala who happens to be five years older than him. Then the plot thickens as he offers to risk his life in a podrace all for a ship part. Two Jedis couldn’t get a ship part any other way than putting a nine-year old boy in danger? Where is Child and Youth Services during all of this?
To be fair, the special effects for the race were done well.
One part of the movie that I did partially enjoy was the final battle, particularly the lightsaber duel with Darth Maul. The music was top-notch and the action was much quicker than in the original trilogy. Duel of the Fates, the piece of music that played during that scene, remains to be one of my favorite scores from the Star Wars series. If you needed any more proof that this movie was designed for kids however, watch the scenes with Anakin piloting the starfighter. First, he accidentally launches in a starfighter and then he makes his way into space. Then, while fully trained pilots are getting their behinds handed to them, he manages to get his ship inside the Trade Federation’s capital ship. He then launches torpedos, again by accident, with an accompanying “oops” and then flies out a hero as the capital ship blows up. The good guys were saved by a nine-year old who blundered into harms way and accidentally blew up the most powerful ship in the enemy fleet. On the surface of Naboo, we’re treated to watching Jar Jar Binks bounce around the battlefield destroying one droid at a time through a series of accidents worthy of a really bad episode of The Three Stooges.
“What does this button do?”
“What about this one?”
“Okay, let’s try this one.”
I did enjoy seeing how some of the other characters were introduced, particularly R2D2 and C3PO. I honestly had no idea that Anakin was the one who built C3PO. I also enjoyed the introduction of Obi-Wan and really dug Qui-Gon as a character. He had a rebellious nature about him but was also wise and a decent fighter. I would have liked to have seen him move on to the second movie, personally. I also enjoyed watching Palpatine begin seeding the whole operation. In this movie, he manages to gain significant power in the Senate. This would play an important part later on in the other two movies.
While a minor character, Anakin’s mom would play a big part in his journey to the Dark Side.
Overall, I was disappointed with the movie. It had a lot of potential to become something great but was instead warped to fit a PG audience. It could have been a dark, epic space opera but chose to be a milder version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I won’t be seeing it in 3D, mainly because of my issue with vertigo…but even if that weren’t an issue I’d still probably pass this up. What were your thoughts on the movie?