Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace

***½

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (1 People gave this 1.00 out of 5)
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“Something elusive”

Click here to jump to the Swift’s Notes (AKA Cliff’s Notes) Review!

Swift shot:  In 1977, I was three years old, so there is no way I could have possibly seen Star Wars in theaters . . . but, I did.  I was probably four when my dad took me in his yellow MG convertible, the kind you had to snap shut, and (perish the thought) I sat in the front seat . . . with only a seat-belt to protect me, well, that and my dad.  Funny how we overlook the most important part of child safety, the parent!  Still, we went, and the roads were wet, and the air was kind of musty outside, like after a dog shakes and there is a light fog in the air.  I was really small, and the world was still new and exciting to me, I believed that anything was possible.  After I saw Star Wars, there is no denying this, I wanted to know what made Darth Vader so evil. Even before I saw Empire Strikes Back, I can remember being secretly happy that Vader didn’t die in the final battle in A New Hope.  He was . . . interesting, and I was compelled to know more about him.  Twenty-two years later, I would finally have a third of his legacy revealed.

Stavanger, Norway – the year was 1999; I had just gotten back from Albania, where I was doing Counter-Intel work for NATO where I saw more than I care to admit.  I saw humanity’s inhumanity.  With that backdrop, I was well ready for something to take my mind off of reality and to just be child-like again.

The film was released already in the states, it released in May, and it hit the can in August in Norway.  I had given strict instructions to every single American that I knew to reveal nothing to me . . . on pain of death!  Maybe the tone I took was sufficient, because no one revealed anything.  But, now we have all seen the film, and we are now thirteen years later, where all the questions have been answered . . . and then some.  So, I won’t pretend you haven’t all seen the film, and I will violate my rule of making spoilers verboten.

Let me start my defense of the film thusly.  When I was in high school, it wasn’t cool to like Bon Jovi, or Bon BlowMe as my friends and I all called them, because we were so damned cool.  But, years later I found out that we were all closeted fans, would go home and jam out to them, all while faking the funk back in school.  And, I think, that is what has happened with Phantom Menace.  I think it has become derivative to say you don’t like it, because of one stupid freakin’ Gungan! Ask yourself, honestly, when you saw it in 1999, was it so incredibly bad then?  Or were you sucking at the Lucas teat and waiting for whatever he would squeeze out, teasing you in anticipation of Episode III?  If nothing else, did not the film get your butt into the theater for Attack of the Clones?  I thought as much.

This first film holds a special place in my heart for being the first piece of a greater puzzle to make up arguably the most hated villain in Hollywood . . . Darth Vader.  When we first meet him, Anakin Skywalker is a slave boy who has dreams of grandeur and adventure . . . but he also is incredibly protective of his mother.  Is this fear of loss the thing that will finally make him the sinister lord of the Sith?  Well, you already know the answer, but I didn’t in 1999 – and neither did you!

Starring the incredible [Academy Award Winning] Natalie Portman as Padme/Queen Amidala and casting Ewan McGregor as the legendary Obi-Wan Kenobi was a master-stroke for Lucas.  Liam Neeson, no stranger to audiences now, and back in 1999 had a fair film resume and lots of hungry fans, plays Master Qui-Gon Jinn with Ahmed Best providing some exceptional voice-over work as the oft-derided Gungan Jar Jar Binks.  The pivotal character though, had to be a boy, had to be believable, and had to be someone you cared for in the end.  Jake Lloyd, all of ten years old had to step into some of the biggest, darkest boots Hollywood has ever created.

Could you have done better . . . at ten?  Hell, could you now for that matter?  There was one scene he had to get right . . . and he did!  When Yoda says there is much fear in Anakin, and Lloyd is looking at him with pure malice, that is one of the finer scenes of any young actor.  If he blew that moment, however subtle, it would have ruined the film for me.  That is the essence of Vader, he is an egoist, but he protects those he loves . . . anyone else is just in the way.  In that moment, Lloyd nailed it . . . at ten.  So, put that in your pretentious pipes and suck deep, cynics.

There has a been a lot of talk about Portman not doing a good job, bull, I think the scenes where she was being a queen, she was directed to be regal-sounding or something, and given that a lot of the work was done with a blue-screen, I think she did enough with what she had to work with.  Also, she had to alter her voice etc. to not make it obvious that she was Padme.  I must admit, in 1999, I didn’t know it for sure until she was washing R2-D2, after being (comically) ordered to clean the heroic droid by the “queen.”

Which brings us to the synchronicity quips of so many “critics” – it was “childish” to have C-3PO created by Anakin and to have R2-D2 already introduced in the series.  It was lame to have the force described in an organic, scientific fashion, and why did Lucas feel the need to force racial stereotypes in this film?  Because it is a film . . . it is a series driven by fan admiration, he was going to the candy store, maybe he did it one time too many with making C-3PO’s maker Darth Vader, but I actually thought that was a nice touch.  When he was a ” child” he created a toy, a “childish thing”, but when he becomes a man, that childish thing leads to his destruction.  Impressive.  Good mythology there, don’t ya think?  Or, did you not catch that, because you were too busy hating a certain Gungan?

Also, on to the Gungans . . . did you hate them all, Boss Nass, Captain Tarpals, every last floppy-eared “primitive life form?”  Or was Jar Jar the only Gungan you wanted to kill?  Newsflash, he was supposed to be annoying, he was the comedy-relief, buffoon, hell, even Obi Wan wants to leave him and can’t wait for him to shut up half the time.

All this is why I didn’t hate the film, because this is how I was already dissecting it in 1999, I was intrigued with the story-line, the epic battles, the droids, and then there was this new guy . . . Darth Maul.  When he makes his first appearance, it is one of those great movie moments, and when he engages the second blade on his light-saber, tell me you weren’t four years old again and thinking, “That’s cool!”

What I really liked about his character though, and the fight scenes in particular with him, he doesn’t say anything.  There is no, I am your father, I hate you, I am Sith, your mother is so fat . . . none of that trash-talking.  He just goes right for the kill.  I LOVED THAT, even though the dialogue is what fascinated me about Vader in 1977, in 1999 the lack of dialog had me thinking, woah, that Darth Maul is one bad mutha!

Episode I – The Phantom Menace had rich characters, a compelling plot that sets up the motions to create the Galactic Empire, and a few strikes which can mostly be over-looked to make for an enjoyable time at the theater.  The cinematography, albeit mostly CGI, was state-of-the-art for its time.  The ILM team may have used a softer stroke on the special-effects to create a more raw feel to the film, like they had to do in 1977.  In effect, they got too good, and they show-cased their work to the nth degree.  Still, the overall immersive feeling to transport myself outside of my theater seat was still there.  A few stilted lines delivered by a less than spectacular Samuel Jackson, and one overtly annoying Gungan, weren’t enough to ruin the film.  Telling the first part of the Anakin Skywalker trilogy, where he is but a small boy, the film does a fine job laying out all the pieces that will ultimately lead to his betrayal and his transformation to vile Sith Lord, Darth Vader.


4 Responses to “Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace”

  1. Amadarwin Says:

    For starters, I had no problem expressing my like for Bon Jovi in high school.

    I think you got caught liking this one for nostalgia's sake. I wanted to like it, and I did enjoy the scenery and some aspects of the film, but it left me unfulfilled.

    Believe it or not, my beef wasn't with the crazy talking Gungan. There was no definitive 'hero,' for starters, just 'good guys' and 'bad guys.' There was no real plot, just strewn together scenes in hopes of telling a passable story. It had so many plot holes, that they'd fill the Grand Canyon until it was level. Darth Maul was about the only redeeming quality, even with his face paint being a contrived demon with a split tongue.

    Some say Lucas robbed Kurosawa for the original trilogy. Considering how well structured those films were compared to the prequels – which Lucas apparently had a heavy hand in writing – I think I'm more inclined to believe it. All this talk Lucas had going over the many years since Return of the Jedi of him 'knowing' how the series would go was plain bullshit, evidenced by the money-milking dump he took with Episode I.

    With a franchise this popular, you don't even need to bait the hook to get all the fish biting. And Lucas knows it.

  2. Fanboys - South Florida Movie Reviews by I Rate Films Says:

    […] “Episode VII – Return of the Saga” setting the stage for 1998, six months before Episode I: The Phantom Menace is to be released, five friends reunite at a party – but one of them is holding something […]

  3. Fanboys | Says:

    […] “Episode VII – Return of the Saga” setting the stage for 1998, six months before Episode I: The Phantom Menace is to be released, five friends reunite at a party – but one of them is holding something […]

  4. The German Doctor | Says:

    […] declares – “Episode VII – Return of the Saga” setting the stage for 1998, six months before Episode I: The Phantom Menace is to be released, five friends reunite at a party – but one of them is holding something […]

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