Ian's Movie Reviews
Short Reviews of Movies, Board Games, and Other Stuff

Revisiting Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

I still remember the hype around this movie and how excited teenage Ian was to see it.  I avoided knowing too much, but of course images of Amadala and Darth Maul would make their way to my retinas, which only amplified my anticipation.    And it worked.  I was very into this movie.  It was only over the next few years I began to see the flaws and the severe gap in quality between this movie and the originals I loved so much.  Still, its not all bad…

Highlights

  • I really like most of the ship/vehicle designs, which fit in the universe but are still their own thing.  I especially like the trade federation donut ships, the tanks, and Sebulba’s pod racer.
  • Liam Neeson is the saving grace in terms of acting.  Its not as though he’s going full out, but he does provide the film with a level of gravitas and calm that really grounds it.  He also provides us with a very clear picture of what a Jedi in the olden days would be like.  I have a lot of issues with what the Jedi would be revealed as in the prequels, but Qui-Gon stands a great example of the promise we were given of what Jedi were.
  • Not quite to the same level as Neeson, but I also think Pernilla August, playing Anakin’s mom, anchors her end as well.
  • The pod race, despite many of its sillier aspects, is a lot of fun.  Its kind of cool that they centered their middle act around this big, Ben-Hur style set piece.
  • Watto
  • I like Darth Maul as a villain.  Yes, he doesn’t have any character depth, unlike Kylo Ren (or Vader eventually).  But he works as a great antagonist in the same way that the Terminator does.
  •  The galactic senate looked pretty cool.  Oh, so did the lake monsters.  I really liked the lake monsters.
  • The last act of this movie really brings it together.  Having the four aspects of the battle interlocking is certainly nothing new, and does feel telegraphed when all four parts take a downturn at the same time and then all have their fortunes turn again at the same time, but it still provides us with a clear, exciting climax.  Especially…
  • The lightsaber duel.  People came out of this movie claiming that this was the best lightsaber duel.  I don’t buy into that, as it doesn’t have the same emotional context as Empire and Jedi, but as far as choreography goes it is really a wonder to watch.  One part I appreciated much more is how great the fight gets when Obi-Wan engages Maul alone after Qui-Gon is down.  McGregor really cranks up the intensity and the fight gets even better at the end.

Downfalls

  • This movie’s biggest problem is the level of silliness throughout, mostly by a particular beloved character named Jar Jar.  I know, its incredibly cliche to pick on poor Mr. Binks at this point, but after having just watched it again… its justified.  Its not just him though; there is a lot of goofy, juvenile stuff in this movie.  I know that Lucas’ defense of Phantom Menace has always been that Star Wars is for children.  But I’ve never really bought that.  Its true, Star Wars is a kid’s movie, and thats how I came to know it and love it.  But “movies for kids” isn’t a blanket statement that covers the age gamut, and TPM is at a whole different level of childishness than any other Star Wars film.  Yes, Return of the Jedi had Ewoks.  But the Ewoks didn’t get their tongue stuck in lasers or say pewwwsa after an animal farts on them.  It didn’t have the ewoks win battles by bumbling around and killing things by getting their foot stuck; they didn’t have droids that acted like the three stooges, and Wicket didn’t have friends yelling “woopee!” and acting in a way no kid ever acted. 
  • Sorry, I know that last point was long, but its a pretty big complaint and brings the movie down a lot.  I would say that the majority of problems people have with Phantom Menace derives from this.  There is an argument to be said that this is the one SW movie that is for much younger kids, and I can see that.  But to claim its on the same level as the other movies, especially when two movies from now Anakin is going to kill younglings (puts fist in mouth), just doesn’t gel.
  • I’ve complained about the Jedi before, and Attack of the Clones sees a lot more of this, but the council never really sat right with me.
  • The fake Amidala storyline is really pointless.  There is no reason for her to sometimes be the queen and sometimes not.  In fact, its detrimental as it is a barrier to more character development of Padme and adds a lot of story beats and confusion that doesn’t need to be there.
  • So much of the acting and dialogue is cringe-worthy.  Its so stiff and wooden, especially with Queen Amidala.  Again, this might stem from the stupid decision to hide her identity.  But its hard to draw in audiences when lines are delivered with no emotion whatsoever.
  • The decision to have Anakin build C-3PO is really dumb.  Its this weird choice of convenient, serendipitous nepotism that makes no sense. 

Special Editions Alert!

  • Though technically the SE’s came out for TPM, for future releases they changed the Yoda puppet to the CGI Yoda we see in Episodes 2 and 3.  It does feel more consistent and does look better than the puppet, as I never felt the TPM Yoda came even close to the original.  That being said, they still shouldn’t have changed it.  Its too big of a visual change.  It was a puppet when it was released, and so it should remain.

Current Re-ranking List

So now with my re-ranking list.  This was a tough one.  The battle rages on: which is worse, episode 1 or episode 2?  TPM has many of the same problems as Clones, but they are amplified in Clones.  Phantom Menace does have the childishness problem though, which is pretty huge.  But I think the last act pulls Ep1 into the lead slightly.

1. Empire Strikes Back
2. The Last Jedi
3. The Force Awakens
4. The Phantom Menace
5. Attack of the Clones

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