Sunday, November 8, 2015

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace Review

Earlier this year I made the decision to review all the Star Wars movies leading up to the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December. I can't call this an original idea. Others have done it or are doing it. I just thought this was a great idea, so I decided that I wanted to the same thing. The unique part of my set of reviews is that mine will come once a week leading up to The Force Awakens. That'll be seven Star Wars reviews in seven weeks. I'm stoked that it's time to begin this project because that means it's only six weeks until we finally get a new Star Wars movie in theaters. You have no idea how happy this makes me. Actually I take that back. You probably do because you probably are just as excited. But you get the point. New Star Wars is coming!! If you haven't seen Star Wars before, I do suggest you watch the movies in the order they were released in theaters. However, I'm doing this in chronological order because I want my reviews of the original trilogy to come right before The Force Awakens. So I'm starting out with the prequels. That means The Phantom Menace is up first. And yes, there will be spoilers. You've been warned.

A lot of people hate the prequels. I totally understand why. However, I've always been one to defend the prequels because I've never really thought they were horrible, unwatchable movies. Although I really shouldn't declare that too loudly because I will admit that there are a lot of problems with these movies. There nowhere near as good as the original trilogy. First off, you should know that I have been a Star Wars fan my entire life. My whole family have been Star Wars fans for as long as I can remember. Now I wouldn't call myself a Star Wars nerd. I haven't read all the books. I don't know every detail about every side character that shows up for two seconds in each movie. I know very little about the extended universe. I haven't actually watched any of the TV shows. I can't name every planet ever mentioned in Star Wars along with the significance and history. Getting my vibe? I'm just what you call a good old fashioned Star Wars fan. I've watched these movies countless times since I was little and I enjoy them a lot.

As far as The Phantom Menace goes, I was 10 years old when this movie came out in 1999. I specifically remember going with my Dad to see this movie shortly after it was released. And do you know what, 10-year-old Adam loved it. 10-year-old Adam was also admittedly a lot less critical towards movies. It didn't take a whole lot to please him. This was Star Wars and it was a whole lot of fun. Now 26-year-old Adam has a little bit of a different opinion of the movie than 10-year-old Adam because 26-year-old Adam is a lot more critical when it comes to movies. It's still not that hard to please me right now and I wasn't oblivious to the issues with The Phantom Menace when I first saw it or discussed it with friends and family over the years. But if I'm watching it now like I just did and am looking completely objectively at the movie, there are a whole lot of issues with this movie. There's also plenty of good when it comes to this and I will definitely get to those points as well. But I'm putting on my critic glasses right now and thus we're going to dive deep into this.

First and foremost, what's the story of this movie? Okay don't answer that. That's more of a rhetorical question. But seriously. What's the story here? Let's look at the opening crawl: "Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute. Hoping to resolve the matter with a blockade of deadly battleships, the greedy Trade Federation has stopped all the shipping to the small planet of Naboo. While the congress of the Republic endlessly debates this alarming chain of events, the Supreme Chancellor has secretly dispatched two Jedi Knights, the guardians of the peace and justice in the galaxy to settle the conflict." Ok, really? We got trade routes and taxations and political disputes and a whole bunch of jargon like that? This all definitely went over my head when I first saw it and it still kinda does. Someone is mad and there's some sort of dispute and Jedi are going to go solve the problem. Got it. Jedi. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are out to completely own some droids and try to attack some weird dudes that look like they just put on a Halloween costume they found at Wal-Mart meant for six-year-olds. Viceroy Nute Gunray is one of the character's names. I don't know what they other one is. But they are such dumb characters that look horrible and talk like idiots. Even 10-year-old Adam never really liked those guys.

I'm not going to go scene by scene like that, but I'm just pointing out that story of this movie is kinda dumb and hard to follow. So much of the movie is politics, politics, politics. Star Wars politics that is. Someone thought it was a good idea to have a ton of scenes that were just councils. Endless amounts of councils in this movie. People standing around or sitting in chairs talking about things. Politics. Councils. Politics. Councils. Sitting. Standing. Talking. Talking. Talking. Talking. Trade Federation. Taxation. Treaties. Oh. My. Wow. It gets old. And when there isn't councils and politics, it's Jedi Councils talking or the Viceroy talking with Emperor Palpatine, the Sith Lord, and his apprentice Darth Maul. Was the idea of Palpatine being evil supposed to be a surprise, by the way? I hope not. But anywho, moral of the story is that when there wasn't councils with people talking... there were different types of councils with people talking. I mean, Yoda and Mace Windu are two totally boss characters in this movie, but all they do is sit and talk in councils. What a waste. Speaking of Yoda, where's his sense of humor? Why is he such a dark, serious character? Had I not seen The Empire Strikes Back, I would've thought that he was a dumb, unlikable character who is a grinch when it comes to training this little boy.

Luckily we took a few breaks from the endless number of councils in this movie and focused on our awesome Jedi. For some reason they failed in attacking our Wal-Mart characters and escape, running into none other than the beloved and favorite character of Jar Jar Binks. Right? Am I right? Can I get an amen? No? Nothing? Yeah, what a useless character. I have to be honest, 10-year-old Adam didn't hate Jar Jar Binks. In fact, I thought he was kinda funny back in the day, which was George Lucas' original point with the character. Provide comic relief for the 10-year-old kids watching the movie. It worked for me initially. But the more and more I watched the movie, the less and less funny he gets. I still don't find him annoying and awful, but I do agree with everyone that he is a rather useless character. Yet our duo of awesome Jedi become a trio with Jar Jar and oh my word. There are so many facepalms with this Jar Jar character but it keeps going and going and going. Meanwhile a series of events happens that find our heroes stuck on Tatooine with a broken ship. Obi-Wan stays on the ship and Qui-Gon goes out to the town with Jar Jar and Queen Amidala, aka Padme. Why? Couldn't we just leave Jar Jar and Padme on the ship and let the Jedi deal with the ship problems? That would've solved so many problems. But no. Now we get introduced to another awkward character in Anakin Skywalker.

I don't really know what George Lucas saw in this kid. I don't know what Qui-Gon saw in this kid either. I have no idea was he was a super genius. I don't know how this 9-year-old kid managed to build C-3PO or why he's a super expert pilot. I don't know why like 90 percent of the lines in this Tatooine sequence went to Anakin. Who thought it was a good idea to have this kid here that literally won't shut up? And why in the heck did we write in the script that he has no father? Like seriously. Apparently his mom just became pregnant with him. There was never a man in her life that made that happen. That's just weird. But Qui-Gon likes the kid and so he makes a bet with an over-sized fly to get his parts and free this kid from slavery. And in the meantime Anakin starts talking with Padme which begins possibly the most awkward and confusing romance in movie history. I'm not 100 percent sure how old the characters are supposed to be. Weird Al says he's 9 and she's 14. Whatever the case is, Jake Lloyd was 9 and Natalie Portman was 17 when this movie was shot. Tons of foreshadowing of a romance in this and every time they talk, I just want to pull my hair out. The one fun thing about Tatooine is the pod racing. This was great mostly because it created the pod racing video game that was a ton of fun.

When we finally leave Tatooine, the movie is over an hour in. Meanwhile I'm sitting on the couch watching this realizing that the movie is halfway over and honestly nothing good or entertaining has happened. And I spent years defending this? Yikes. And while we're on the negative, can I talk about the wooden acting by EVERYONE? Jake Lloyd isn't the only bad actor in this movie. Natalie Portman is terrible in this. I swear she speaks in monotone the entire time. Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson also don't get a pass. These two aren't bad, but honestly they look bored the whole movie. Neither shows very much emotion in the movie. Samuel L. Jackson is another huge name that just isn't into his role. The weird thing with all of these actors is that they are tried and tested actors. Oscar winning actors in many cases. But something went wrong. Maybe it's the fact that most of this movie was shot in front of greens screens. Maybe it's the fact that the script throughout the whole prequels are bad. Maybe it's the fact that there's a director that seems to have lost his magic. Maybe it's a combination of a lot of things, but it's really baffling. I really can't think of a single actor that does a great job in this. Looking at the cast, Pernilla August as Shmi Skywalker might have the best performance in the movie.

You hear me saying that I defend the prequels. You hear me saying that they aren't bad movies. Yet here am I writing this review of The Phantom Menace and I've spent most of this review trash-talking the heck out of it. What's the deal? Here's the deal. The Phantom Menace has a whole ton of flaws. But there is plenty of good in this movie. It just takes a while to get to it. It's a boring slog-fest through much of the movie with wooden acting, awkward dialogue, and tons of councils, but then there's a huge group of people running through some sort of building tracking down the stupid Viceroy character or something like that and suddenly they open a door. Standing in their way is one of the most epic characters in the whole series. Darth. Freaking. Maul. Here he is with this red and black makeup, spikes on his head, shady robes, an evil scowl on his face, and a double-sided light saber. The fact that he is so mysterious makes him interesting. The fact that he doesn't speak much makes him even more interesting. The fact that they kill him off without telling us anything about him is kinda dumb, but hey. I'm talking positives now, right?

The moment they open the door and see Darth Maul standing there is where this movie turns around and gives us a pretty epic finale. The moment when we see him is the moment Dual of the Fates begins. And of course I'm meaning the song. It's one of the best songs of the whole franchise and it's playing during one of the best light saber duals of the whole franchise. Playing alongside this light saber dual between Darth Maul, Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon is three other sequences that we jump through. The Darth Maul fight is definitely the best of the four, but the others are good too. For the most part. The Anakin accidentally flying into space sequence was kinda dumb and uninteresting, but the droid vs. Gungan duel was pretty fun and so was the sequence with the other group sneaking through the building shooting searching for the Viceroy. Once again, the story behind all this really isn't that interesting, but the individual scenes at the end were a lot of fun. As far as important plot points to take away, there's really only two. Anakin gets discovered and is officially being trained by Obi-Wan and there's this mysterious (but not so mysterious) Sith Lord around that is about to screw over everyone's world. The rest of the stuff is just fluff in my opinion. But yes, there's some pretty good fluff that happens in this grand finale.

I definitely can't end this review without mentioning the amazing score done by the legendary John Williams. Throughout the entire movie, it's excellent. But specifically from the Duel of the Fates on it is legendary. As I said, Duel of the Fates is one of my favorite Star Wars songs. That song alone takes an average at best movie and kicks it into full gear, creating an epic and emotional finale. I also noticed this time around that the lack of a soundtrack during Qui-Gon's final moments battling Darth Maul was super effective. It was just the buzz of the light sabers as they fought for those moments which of course ended with Darth Maul stabbing and killing Qui-Gon. That scene was powerful. Then we get into two final songs that just end the movie on an amazing high. The first is the song during the burning ceremony of Qui-Gon and the second is the anthem right before the end credits. Even though much of the movie isn't that good at all, the fact that we end on an extremely high note is really important as it makes you excited to continue and all this is made possible by John Williams. What a man. What a legend. And of course we have our amazing Star Wars theme to listen to during the credits. Thus I always finish this movie with a positive feeling.

Overall, when I think about my many experiences with The Phantom Menace over the last 16 years, I don't have the bitter taste in my mouth that many people do. If I'm being honest, most of this movie isn't that good. The story is boring and uninteresting. There's way too much standing around talking in councils. The opening act is pretty good, but it goes downhill pretty fast and is mostly uninteresting until the finale when we see Darth Maul standing there in the way. The acting isn't that good by anyone. The dialogue is awkward and cheesy in many moments. Our main kid that we are supposed to care about is mostly just a waste of time and space. But do you know what, this still isn't a terrible movie. John Williams' score is excellent. Darth Maul and Palpatine are pretty good. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are still likable even though they look bored. The light saber dual with Darth Maul is totally epic. In general, the finale of this movie is fantastic. 10-year-old Adam loved this movie and 26-year-old Adam still doesn't hate it, even though he realizes there are a ton of flaws. With everything considered, I think a grade of 6.5/10 is a fair one for The Phantom Menace. Stay tuned next week when I will give you my review of The Attack of the Clones, which is actually my least favorite Star Wars movie.


  1. Good review Adam. And for anyone who hasn't seen it yet, this is the Episode I that I choose to believe in (rather than the one we got):

    I'd love to hear your thoughts on that too.

    1. Thanks for sharing this! I do like a lot of these ideas that this guy brings up and I kinda like the direction he's attempting to go with, but this feels a bit like a rough draft of a screenplay that could use a few more revisions. There are plenty of things that he did fix, but there's also some things that he fixed that he probably didn't need to fix and there's also a few things that he could've fixed but didn't

  2. Also, I found this alternate Episode I today as well:

    So good!

    1. With this one I actually kinda like the idea behind what he's doing a bit better. Instead of taking the current prequels as a base and revising them, he does a complete revision. However, I will admit that this is way too long and thus I only watched the first little bit. I video like this should be like 10-15 minutes long, not 45 minutes. And his second one is an hour and a half, so I didn't even touch that one. But again, thanks for sharing!

  3. Also, I found this alternate Episode I today as well:

    So good!