Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
So I think it’s about time I did a Star Wars marathon review-fest. To start off: I. Am. A. Star. Wars. Nut. I grew up watching the original trilogy and they still remain some of my all-time favorite movies. Another thing you should know: I am not a prequel-hater. I prefer the original trilogy, yes. But I think George Lucas gets a lot of crap thrown at him for prequels that really aren’t that terrible. There are many things to like. Sure there are bad aspects which I will discuss in my reviews, but so do a lot of good movies. The original movies are classic, with the perfect blend of character, action, a wicked plot, and heart. The prequels are just good movies.
So on to The Phantom Menace…
This takes place about 30 years before A New Hope (or if you want me to get really nerdy.. that’d be 30 years BBY – Before Battle of Yavin). Two jedis, Qui Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) are sent to settle a dispute between the Trade Federation and the planet of Naboo. When things go sour, they narrowly escape and set off to warn Queen Amidala but the Federation are already starting to take over. While helping to protect the Queen they land on the planet Tatooine where Qui Gon and the Queen’s handmaiden, Padme (Natalie Portman) meet young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) who helps them get parts to repair their ship. He ultimately joins them on their way to Coruscant, where they hope to settle their issues once and for all.
I have such a clear recollection of going to see this in the theater. I was just 9-years-old but I still knew the Star Wars universe backwards and forwards. In the opening scenes, I still remember the excitement I felt at hearing the older jedi with the long ‘do speak the name of “Obi Wan” to the younger jedi with the funny pony tail. Yes! Obi Wan! I had no idea what the plot was going to be about at the time, so I felt a certain security early on to find a favorite character on board.
Many, many viewings later I still get a kick out of it. Though with that I now notice things like corny dialogue. Yeah, okay. I’ll try not to repeat this several times so let’s just consider it understood that the script is not, how shall I put it, its strongest point. Luckily we get some early lightsaber action to move it along to better things.
Oh sorry, did I say better things? Excuse my hastiness. The better things will have to wait until we get this big walking mistake out of the way. Jar-Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) is the WORST thing to ever happen to the Star Wars franchise. Worse than corny dialogue. Worse than Hayden Christensen and Jake Lloyd put together. As Qui Gon put it, “The ability to speak does not make you intelligent.” Jar-Jar should have just bolted at that insult then and there to spare us from his obscene presence. Though his real opportunity to be written off came just a scene later – by allowing him to receive the “pune-ishment” he deserves. But no. He’s got himself a “life debt” with Qui Gon. Really Qui Gon? Do you NEED to hold this Gungan just because you saved his life? Do you really expect him to help you out in return, I’m pretty sure you can save your own skin a lot better. *Sigh* I’m pretty sure that Jar-Jar is the one thing that everyone can reach an agreement on. Terrible. I mean doesn’t George Lucas know that “ex-quueeze me” is from Full House of all things? Shutting up now.
Side note: Would you get a hold of the Queen’s wardrobe? Holy I’ve never seen anything so big and extravagant. It’s also fun to see some small Keira Knightley action in there too, even if she is covered in white makeup and feathers.
Now to the better things. Better thing number 1: The Nubian cruiser. It’s pretty slick, ain’t it? I mean, nothing rivals the Falcon but this beast is pretty! Better thing number 2: R2-D2 is still kicking trash, just look at how he outlasted every single other droid to save the ship. Man he rocks.
Tatooine is still as ugly as ever. I also remember going “Hey! That’s Luke’s dad! Darth Vader!” And again, things are so much better when you’re nine. Jake Lloyd may be a cute kid but he’s not terribly talented. Frankly though, I don’t mind him. At least he had some spirit – which is more than you could say for Hayden Christensen. I think he was a good symbol of innocence. It was like, how could he turn evil, ya know?
Better thing number 3: C-3PO (albeit a naked C-3PO). The dynamic droid duo is (almost) reunited once more!
Better thing number 4: The podrace. This is the first highlight of the movie. From the announcing of the contestants to the explosions, Tuskan raider chants, and familiar Jawa jabber – this is nothing but intense and entertaining film watching. I can’t say it’s better than Ben Hur‘s chariot race (though it is uncannily similar) but this is still awesome. A little long, perhaps. But awesome.
From then on out we get some more lightsaber action with Darth Maul (Ray Park), an introduction to then Senator Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) with an oddly familiar voice, some political intrigue, and best of all the introduction to the jedi council. Yoda (Frank Oz), and Mace Windu (what’s this – Samuel L. Jackson in a Star Wars movie??) are two other excellent factors to the prequel trilogy. I had an Episode I Encyclopedia and I loved learning about all of the different jedis on the council. Haha, yeah I’m a nerd.
Better (and final) thing number 5: The jedi-battle with Darth Maul. Being a martial artist myself I delight in watching Ray Parker. This is the best part of the movie, and one of the best moments in the entire series. It’s excellently choreographed and perfectly set to John Williams’ “Duel of the Fates.” What a sick battle, and where can I get me a double sided lightsaber? It’s too bad Obi Wan had to finish Maul off because we could have used his awesomeness in a few more movies.
Other notes… Acting: This is Natalie Portman’s worst of the trilogy. I actually really like her as an actress, but she was really wooden this time around. I do think that Ewan McGregor was an excellent choice for a young Ben Kenobi, or rather a young Alec Guiness. He too improves in the subsequent movies but he’s pretty good in this one. Liam Neeson isn’t bad either. As I mentioned earlier Jake Lloyd may not have been the ideal choice but he isn’t terrible, IMO.
The special effects, scenery, and plot are all great. We already knew that Anakin Skywalker was once good but here we learn that he had a destiny to fulfill. He was “the chosen one.” He was supposed to bring balance to the force. The story is great, it’s a shame the script didn’t match up.
All in all I think it’s a good introduction to the saga setting up better things to come. I actually enjoyed it a lot better than the last time I watched it, though it still remains my least favorite of the six. It doesn’t have the same heart of the original trilogy but it’s still a good, enjoyable movie. 6/10