Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace: The film Star Wars fans love and hate, or love to hate. The film that brought new hope to the galaxy for continued Star Wars brilliance, but instead lived up to the latter part of its subtitle, menacing a once grand film franchise.
From the moment the title crawl finishes, the film establishes the prequel trilogy’s cartoonish feel, as a cheesy looking CG ship lands on a trade blockade filled with buzzing moronic battle droids designed with the most fragile conceivable toothpick limbs. Apparently it’s not impossible to conceive evil minions more pathetically useless than storm troopers (see ).
On the upside, one has to love the name of the first villain introduced in the series, Nute Gunray, an obvious heavy handed reference to former U.S. Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. What a great, albeit cheap way to evoke disgust and anger in American audiences.
Phantom wastes no time pulling referential material from the original films. The famous (Infamous?) “bad feeling about this” line is delivered by Obi Wan Kenobi in the first exchange of dialogue (For those who don’t know, the line is written into every Star Wars film with ironic self-awareness. Rogue is somewhat of an exception, but more on that in the article about Rogue.)
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the protocol droid resembling C3PO is the first Star Wars droid with a woman’s voice to appear in a Star Wars film.
Many fans got some of what they wanted up front when multiple Jedi-wielded lightsabers appear onscreen simultaneously for the first time when Obi Wan and Qui Gon draw (activate?) lightsabers as a duo.
The entire prequel trilogy is filled with under-utilized acting talent, ranging from Liam Neeson, to Natalie Portman, to Ewan McGregor. How were awards not chucked at this trilogy left and right? Oh yes, atrociously written dialogue and stock directing. Silly me. Natalie Portman is the most shocking career survivor post Star Wars. Padme Amidala was so cardboard I thought Portman was toast, but the actress has bounced back strong, with a stunning career (rapping on SNL couldn’t have hurt).
The droidekas, or as I call them, the rolling roach bots, were a respectable creation. Perhaps the battle droids should have been scrapped altogether in favor of the droidekas.
The Gungans’ underwater bubble city was inventive. Though the bubble membranes must inexplicably dry people off. No one is wet at all when they reach the city after diving under water to find it. Then again the entire concept of the city is ruined when one hears the dialect of the Gungans, which sounds too much like juvenile American English.
The submarine trip through the Naboo planet core is an inventive alien terrain. What’s not to love about all the giant sea monsters, reminiscent of space-monsters from the original trilogy?
The pacing of the film in general is quick and entertaining, but painfully linear, as if someone were telling the audience the story saying “and then…and then…and then…” never changing it up.
I personally remember having goosebumps when Tatooine returned to the bigscreen.
I believe R2-D2 and C-3PO are the only characters who appear in all eight Star Wars films. If you can prove me wrong, please do. It’s also revealed that Anakin not only spent a ton of time with C-3PO, he made the droid. Why then can Vader never sense C-3PO’s presence in later films (chronologically)? Does the force only penetrate, surround, bind, and generally woo-woo around the living?
Episode I did do it’s job in providing some memorable lines. I remember kids reciting Wattoo’s bartering lines: “what you think you’re some kind of Jedi waving your hand around like that? I’m a Toydarian. Mind tricks don’t work on me, only money.”
Easily the best part of The Phantom Menace is the pod races. The creators have unapologetic determination to halt the plot for an extended amount of time for a giant dangerous hover-craft race, because they just knew it was cool. I think even most prequel haters can agree, the pods were entertaining. Video game and toy companies made a killing off selling them to people anyway. Someone had to like them.
Last I checked, it’s not the Jedi way at all to leave things to chance, nor is outlaw violence. This makes me want to know what Qui Gon’s contingency plan was if Anakin lost the pod race. One could argue Qui Gon essentially bet the future of the galaxy on it.
One of the few entertaining plot moves in Phantom is the way Qui Gon persistently teases Padme, who is disguised as her own handmaiden, in order to follow him around Tatooine. It’s clear Qui Gon knows who Padme is and every time she tries to evoke the “queen’s” expectations, Qui Gon essentially says the queen doesn’t need to know, with a sly smile.
Is there any line more painfully expository and horribly delivered in cinematic history than wee little Anakin’s spirited attempt to identify Sebulba as a “dud”? His “are you an angel” speech to Padme, perhaps? The kid tries so hard, bless him. It’s hard not to believe the immortalized embarrassment is not a significant part of the reason actor Jake Lloyd went flippin’ crazy. Obi Wan felt the need to call Anakin a “pathetic lifeform” before the two even meet, and I’m convinced it’s because the force was warning him of said lifeform’s inability to deliver dialogue.
The image of Anakin leaving Tatooine with his backpack slung over his shoulder will forever remind me of this great image I once saw on a shirt. It’s a depiction of the scene, but Anakin’s silhouettes is Vader and the shirt reads “Don’t look back,” which is symbolically perfect, given the fact that looking back to that past life is ultimately what drives Anakin to become Vader. It’s a tragedy that few, if any, will ever wear the shirt for embarrassment of promoting the prequel trilogy.
Remember Yoda’s wisdom “Fear is the path to the dark side”? “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering”? That’s and Empire Strikes Back quote, right? Not so. Sadly, one of Yoda’s best lines is stuck in the purgatory of Episode I.
There is a TON of ado in the Jedi council about what to do with this newly discovered boy with a midichlorian count so high that he might be the chosen one sent to bring balance to the force. Can someone please explain why? WHY?! Is he immediately sent back to Naboo with Queen Amidala on an extremely dangerous mission? With decision making like that, it’s no wonder the Jedi order fell into ruin and allowed the kid to become one of the worst evil overlords in history. In Jar Jar’s horrible words, “Whatsa Theysa thinking?” Did I get the spellings correct? Who knows what Jar Jar’s ever saying anyway?
The Naboo cruisers are lame banana ships that wish they could be as amazing as X-wings.
The “Duel of the Fates” theme is hands down the best thing to come out of the entire prequel trilogy. So much so, I think fans subconsciously pretend John Williams wrote it for the originals. It’s playing when Luke duels Vader, right? It has to be.
As the film closes with a signature cheesy Star Wars celebration scene, there is still enough time for the creators to squeeze in one more confusing moment. There is non-diagetic music that sounds like a chorus of children playing in a scene filled with instruments. For those who don’t know film-making terms, diagetic music is that which takes place in the scene and is heard by the characters, while non-diagetic music is only heard by the audience. Like most of the creative choices in The Phantom Menace, I don’t understand it.