Movie Review – Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

1999 Twentieth Century Fox

One and Half Star
Years after the last Star Wars movie premiered, with only a couple of Ewok live action TV movies and the animated Droids and Ewok cartoons to hold the attention of the fans there didn’t seem to be much hope that George Lucas would carry through with his original plan for six movies or nine depending on the source. Then the fans received some good news in 1997, first Lucas was re-releasing the original movies in the theaters in a Special Edition format to be followed by a new trilogy starting in 1999. I thought this was great until I actually saw the Special Editions and was utterly disappointed in most of the additions. Still anticipation for the new movie began to build and after the first trailer was released most fans were all ready for some new Star Wars. I thought it looked promising from the trailer so with expectations high on opening night some family and friends met at the theater raring to go. About an hour into the movie I was wondering why Lucas even bothered. After a 16 year wait we got a kids movie dominated by the unholy mix of the Trix rabbit and Roger Rabbit and full of more cardboard characters then you can shake a stick at.
This movie is bad not only by Star Wars standards but by movie standards in general. Menace contains characters with no depth, a story with no sense of “menace” or suspense that is not very compelling, and special effects that are mostly inferior to those of the originals.
There are three aspects of this movie that I would consider acceptable: the music, the pod race, and the end duel but even these are marred by bad decision-making. The cartoon characters detract from the pod racing while Darth Maul’s complete lack of depth and the gimmicky and unbelievable ending of the duel lower the quality of what could have been two very strong segments. The rest of the movie is abysmal; Jar Jar Binks is still the most out of place character I have ever seen. Anakin is a terrible character played by a not very charismatic young actor. He could be replaced by a rock with no discernible drop in acting quality. The direction by Lucas is lackluster and the overall designs of the ships, droids, and costumes, while not awful, are nowhere near the quality of the original trilogy. Both the land and space battles are the low points of battle scenes in the saga. The cast is totally wrong except for Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan; he manages to add a little life to his role. No other actor stands out except maybe for Ray Park who snarls very well.
Now that the prequels are finished the one thing that is painfully obvious about The Phantom Menace is that it has no purpose in the greater scheme of the 6 movies. It adds nothing to the story, it could cease to exist and there would be no loss.

The good:

Darth Maul is cool even if he has no depth.

The Pod Racing scene is fun although I don’t think Star Wars needs racing.

Good music score by John Williams as usual.

The not so good:

In the beginning of the movie the stupid Jamaican frog dudes let the ship carrying the two Jedi land in the hanger and then destroy it.  If you are going to destroy a spaceship you would think you would do it before it enters your ship instead of blowing it up in your own hanger deck. What if it seriously damaged your ship?

What was the point of the worthless Battle Droids? You could breath on these things and they would fall apart.

Why do the Battle Droids say “roger” like us Earthlings do at times? Nothing like taking the audience out of the movie with Earthly references like that.

Why do the Battle Droid heads fall off when communications are cut with the command ship? What conceivable reason could there be for this beyond a cheap laugh aimed at five year olds.

Why only two Sith’s at a time? What a stupid way to limit your options.

What is it with crackhead Yoda? Why would anyone think that puppet was acceptable.

How come Sandpeople can’t accurately hit a huge lumbering Sandcrawler but they can hit pod racers going a gazillion miles an hour from miles away?

Who gives a crap if a raspberry blowing character is given an award at the end of the movie? The award ceremony at the end of Star Wars had a point. The award ceremony in this movie has none beyond Lucas and his annoying need for symmetry .

Nice place to put the reactor on the ship, smack dab in the middle of the hanger with no shielding.

Please note this is the third time in six movies that a large round spaceship is destroyed by someone shooting the reactor. Very original.

How come Darth Maul didn’t win? He had the high ground!

The music cue that plays when Qui-Gon gets wasted is titled “Qui-Gon’s Noble End”. There is nothing noble about the way he dies. He loses plain and simple.

Midichlorians? Really? There is no reason for this to be in the movie at all. In the original trilogy Obi-Wan and Vader could sense the force in others. Vader didn’t say “The force is strong in this one. I must check his Midichlorian count”.

General Panaka should really learn to fire a blaster. He looks like a complete idiot when using it.

Anakin’s “Jesus” birth is ridiculous.

Luke and Leia are brother and sister. Anakin is their father. Anakin built C3PO. Yoda knows Chewie. Give me a freaking break. Are Han and Lando step-brothers?

The two headed announcer at the pod racers is quite probably an even worse idea than Jar Jar.

The scene with the bongo getting chased by the gooberfish is a perfect example of how not to make a scene interesting. The bongo is being chased by gooberfish as Jar Jar has a hissy fit. Qui-Gon spouts lame fortune cookie wisdom as Obi tries to fix the bongo. The characters are completely passive the entire time and pretty much do nothing. Also look at the names involved: bongo, Jar Jar, and gooberfish. If that doesn’t point to this being aimed at five year olds I don’t know what will?

Queen Amidala’s constant wardrobe changes send the message that she is a spoiled brat concerned with only her appearance. Not a good way to create a sympathetic character.

Random thoughts and observations:

The following is an actual quote from a New York Times interview with George Lucas in 1977 on the intended target audience for his new movie Star Wars –“It’s for young people. [American]Graffiti was for 16-year olds; this is for 14-year olds.” Despite what many supporters of this movie say it’s clear The Phantom Menace is targeted at an audience at least eight years younger than the audience for the original Star Wars (in my opinion).

I find it interesting that the original trailer for this movie showed almost no scenes of Jar Jar’s slapstick antics. It’s like the people who did the trailer knew more about a possible negative reaction than the creators of the movie did.

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