Star Wars Episode 1; The Phantom Menace... Ten Years Later

This weekend, ten years ago exactly, Star Wars Episode 1; The Phantom Menace was released in cinemas. Ten years ago; time flies, eh? And given such an anniversary, I’m just going to talk a while about my take on the movie then, and now.

Now, truth be known, I was never a huge Star Wars fan when I was young. I don’t believe I sat down and watched the old movies in full, catching them instead out of sequence when they showed up on TV. The first one I saw was Return of the Jedi one Sunday afternoon. Although I hadn’t seen the others, I knew vaguely what was going on, and who everyone was, and that Vader was Luke’s father etc… probably through general pop culture osmosis. However, unlike some peoples accounts of Star Wars for the first time, I was never awe-struck or blown away… mainly, I was terrified. The opening of Jedi takes place in Jabba the Hutt’s palace, with all manner of frightening looking alien beasts wandering round. The gammorean guards frightened me. Bib Fortuna frightened me. And the rancor beast frightened the FUCK out of me, especially when Luke (dressed in black… something that my youthful mind always associated with villainy, coupled with the fact that he treats the droids like shit initially left me wondering whether this guy was good or bad) gets dropped into the pit, and the rancor picks up a nearby guard and bites him in half (Harryhausen-esque monsters picking people up and biting them in half always scared the crap out of me, and is mainly what I discuss with my shrink these days, except instead of monsters, its fannies, and instead of people, its my cock). So I probably went outside and played for a while, and then came back inside to see the forest chase on the speeder bikes. Any fast paced excitement such as that would always make me want go outside and run around screaming (rather than y’know…watch the movie), so I went out and ran around again. As a child, I was pretty much full-retard. I arrived back in time to see the petrifying duel between Vader and Luke, coupled with The Emperor electrocuting them both until you can see their FUCKING SKELETONS. So yeah, it scared the fuck outa me. As such, I didn’t really watch Empire Strikes Back, or Star Wars. I did, however, watch the Droids cartoon series. Again, I stress; full-retard.

So when Episode 1 rolled around in my late teens, I wasn’t really a fan. But I was, however, well up to speed with the series. I had re-watched the movies, and appreciated them as they were; all-round good entertainment, set in a fantastically deep universe populated with excellent creatures and characters, all wrapped up in a fascinating mythology. Knowing little else about the events preceding the original movie except that Ob-Wan and Vader were once master and pupil, and that Obi-Wan had thrown Vader into a volcano, (don’t ask me how I knew these things… I amass trivia unbeknown to myself; I also knew that Leah’s adoptive father was called Bail Organa, and that the Wookie home planet was called Kasshyk, shit that is never mentioned in any of the movies) I grew to eagerly anticipate the upcoming prequel (then such a fresh term) helped in no small amount by the most amazing movie trailer that ever existed (dual lightsabers? What is this new devilry??).

When released, the first new Star Wars in 16 years was met with a resounding… meh. The general consensus was that it was “ok”. And while some of the more hardcore fans screamed to heaven for vengeance, most were just crushed by the bitter, bitter disappointment of it all. Not being an uber-fan, it didn’t have that effect on me, and overall I could say that the movie was just alright. No-one, however, (and I mean NOT ONCE have I heard someone say this) ever said hand on heart that the LOVED the movie. People could force themselves to say they liked it, but that was about it. People have discussed at length where exactly they feel the fault lies, and fuck it, here’s my two cents worth;

  1. The storyline is initially too complex. The opening crawl, which in the older movies was generally a fairly simple synopsis bringing you into the movie, was for The Phantom Menace a baffling load of crap about trade blockages and congress disputing the taxation of trade routes. What? Straight away, the audience is in the dark, only aware that two Jedi have been sent to do something… somewhere, for some purpose. No child in that audience knew a fuck what was going on… most adults were lost, too. Ask the man on the street what the first (fourth? Fuck, that’s annoying) Star Wars was about, and he’ll say Death Star! Make blow up Death Star good. Simple. Ask Joe Public what The Phantom Menace was about, and he won’t have a clue. Further into the movie, massive plot and logic gaps confound an already mangled narrative (the sith want revenge for… some reason, and the Gungans hate the Naboo for… some reason). For a movie that’s got such a straightforward tale to tell (a pair of knights escorting a Queen enlist the help of a gifted child to evade the clutches of an unknown enemy), TPM goes out of it’s way to shoehorn as many varieties of bullshit as possible, ranging from runny bullshit (the knights leave Anakin’s Ma behind on the planet because they didn’t win her in the podrace, as opposed to just, I dunno, TAKING HER WITH THEM) to thick, crusty day-old bullshit with arrange flies on it (midichlorians? WTF? Lucas just pulled that out of his HOLE).
  2. Anakin is too young. Knowing what any fan would know going in to see Episode 1, it was an entirely creepy experience to watch a ten year old boy chatting up a much older girl, knowing that they’d end up fucking each other sooner or later. Why Lucas cast the part of Anakin so young, fuck only knows. Everything, from his romantic interest in Padme to his skills as a mechanic all went out the window. Ok, George was probably thinking that it would be interesting in later movies when Anakin went apeshit to remember back to when he was just an innocent little boy, but that was all lost when he gave that child as much dialogue as one of the kids on Barney. “Yippee!”, shouts Darth Vader, all too fucking often. How much more interesting would it have been, to have met Anakin in his twenties? The love interest would have been far more believable. He would have already begun to use his force powers, unaware of what he was doing (picture a shot of Anakin assembling his Pod using only his mind, as opposed to assembling it as a child that can barely lift a spanner). And it would have been far more believable to have him fly in the final space battle. “When I first knew him, your father was already a great pilot”, Obi-Wan told Luke in A New Hope. “even more amazing for a toddler that couldn’t see over the fuckin steering wheel”, he might have added later.
  3. Too many effects. The thing looks like a cartoon at times. In the whole film, there’s only one shot (steam coming out of a vent at the start) that doesn’t have some sort of visual effect added later. As such, the film has dated horribly; many of the creatures look like pre-renders for today’s effects. Compare that against effect in earlier Star Wars movies (such as the Speeder swooping under the legs of the AT-AT in Empire, which still makes me dizzy today, or the chase through the asteroids field in that same movie; both far more accomplished effects in a film some twenty years older). Now, most people will take a swing at Jar-Jar Binks here, but at least some effort went into Jar-Jar, knowing he would draw the most focus. Compare Jar-Jar with Boss Nass, a hideous gelatinous CGI mess that makes you long for eight midgets in a rubber Jabba suit. The most hideous creature in the whole movie, however, is a disastrous Two-Headed racing announcer, voiced in part by Greg Proops. It’s… awful. Some sequences have held up (like the podrace), but it’s nothing like the old effects. I used to love this show on Saturday mornings called movie magic, that took a look behind how effects worked (50% Stan Winston, 50 % Remy Julennne). Were that show to exist today, it would consist of a Millhouse turning to camera and saying “We do it on computers” And this bit? “We do it on computers”. And the bit where…? “We do it on computers”. Particle animation? Particle my ass, bitch.
  4. The overall production design is ghastly. Other than the most glaring miss-steps (technology that’s twenty years older than what we’re used to in Star Wars is far, far more advanced), pretty much everything in the movie is hideous. From Queen Amidala’s monstrous hairpieces and gowns to ships that look incapable of fruit storage let alone space travel, everything is over-designed and messy. The older Star Wars movies had clothes and technology that you could believe in; creatures that looked like they could exist using machines that looked like they functioned. Worst offender of this is Watto, a bulbous slave trader that flies around on wings that are about the size of an Aishling notebook. The whole thing is such a technicolour mess that it literally hurts my brain.
  5. Darth Maul is wasted. It’s a special type of incompetence that creates the most striking-looking bad guy in years, then gives him two lines of dialogue and kills him like an extra. Everyone agrees that hyper-athletic villain Darth Maul is the best thing about the movie, so why does he not appear more often? With baffling motivations (he wants revenge! For… some stuff!) and no backstory, ray park still walks off with the film. What should have been the main bad guy in the prequel trilogy, is killed off to make way for Christopher Lee and general Grievous, another desperate looking creature (initial reports on half organic, half machine Grievous suggested that his droid body contained the re-animated corpse of Maul, something far too cool to be true). An utter, utter waste.
  6. There’s interesting stuff happening, but it’s sacrificed for garbage. The killing thing about TPM is how much great stuff there is, and how it’s not focused on due to other crap elsewhere. The lightsaber three-way dance at the end is fascinating, riveting cinema, but it’s intercut with a Gungan/droid face-off that no-one gives a shit about. Obi-Wan, who you’d be forgiven for thinking was going to feature heavily in the movie, takes a back seat to Qui-Gon, and spends the majority of the movie fixing the engine on the ship. Darth Maul gets less screen time than Sebulba. Background characters like Captain Panaka, the one character in the movie who acts like he’s in a Star Wars movie, gets about four lines (and to Hugh Quarshie’s credit, he acts it to the roof, giving a glimpse of a Han Solo-esque character waiting to be brought to the front to kick some ass, which never happens). In place of interesting developments, we get tripe (Anakin built C-3PO? How? Why?) that only shits on everything that has gone before. Baffling.
    All these failing and more would have been forgiven in other movies, but dammit, this was Star Wars; people expected and deserved more. Calls were made for the head of George Lucas (although I place a lot of blame on the shoulders of Yes-man producer Rick McCallum, who could have stepped in to stop Lucas from losing the run of himself at any stage, but instead kept his gob shut and became a glorified accountant for the project). Lucas insisted that time would tell for The Phantom Menace; he countered criticisms of Jar-Jar with some nonsense about how the Droids were initially hated in the seventies, but grew to become beloved (Jar-Jar grew to be so “beloved” that he featured in the later movies for about thirty seconds). He based the popularity of characters on the sales of their toys… in actual fact, people were stockpiling toys in a hope that they would balloon in value like the original figures; yeah, Episode 1 toys are in HIGH DEMAND right now, dipshits. What had happened was simple; a movie was made, not with the die-hard fans in mind, but with an eye on the next generation coming along. Assuming arrogantly that the original fans would buy into any old bullshit with a Star Wars logo on it, Lucas made a two hour toy commercial, hoping to double his audiences for future movies, cartoons and spin offs. In actual fact, kids didn’t give a shit. Subsequent movies underperformed, with last years Clone Wars cartoon bombing like Porkins into the Death Star.
    Many fans never got over The Phantom Menace. Personally, I never had that great an investment in the universe to begin with, so I could just watch the movies as they were; sub-par adventure with outrageously bad acting and dialogue. Ten years on, no-one gives a shit. If TPM comes on TV, no-one bothers with it. No-one discusses it in the same revered tones as the original movies. The experience, I’m sure. Humbled Lucas, to such an extent that when the time came to re-visit his other creation, Indiana Jones, he treated the material with the respect it deserved rather than an exercise in separating audiences from their cash, delivering a movie that delighted fans of the originals, entertained everyone, and set up the series for a long, prosperous future. Hey… wait a second…

You forgot what’s probably the dumbest thing in the whole movie.

So you have this “handmaiden” named “Padme” who joins our trusty troupe on Tatooine. From an audience perspective we know that Natalie Portman is the Queen, so when we meet “Padme” as a handmaiden, we already know her true identity, but for the sake of the story we go along with this less-than-convincing charade and assume that the characters don’t know, so even though the big dramatic “reveal” (the true Queen steps forth in front of the Gungans) is a complete anti-climactic bust, we liberalize our suspension of disbelief for a moment for the sake of its narrative necessity.

But then, we learn that Padme is actually Amidala’s real name! What head of state in their right mind would ever travel incognito and use their real first name? Is Padme the most common girl name on Naboo? Maybe, maybe not, but this completely unnecessary subterfuge subplot could have been handled any number of ways far less clumsily from any half-decent screenwriter. It’s a small point, but so glaringly conspicuous and completely representative of so many elements in the prequels–they’re perfectly conceived in Lucas’s brain, but are conveyed so ineptly and without forethought or adequate follow-through in execution, that they come across as distracting, contradictory, half-baked, or simply moronic.

This was the line that won me over.

I agree with your entire rant, but this point, in particular, is so fucking true. The effects look ridiculously out of place, not only in hindsight, but also compared to the previous Star Wars films.

Hell, even Jar Jar, while *technically * impressive at the time, looks especially out of place. Especially in light of modern CGI characters, such as Davey Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean who I would have swore actually existed had I not known better.

Despite how crappy the movie is, I still think it’s the best of the trilogy, despite popular opinion that they somehow improved as it went on (“She’s dying of a broken heart”–THE FUCK?!)

I agree about Maul. Too cool and very much wasted. Between Ep I & II, they should have done an “origins” movie about him, a la the new Wolverine movie.

I saw the first SW movie over 100 times in theaters as a kid, and thought of myself as about as big a SW fan as there could be. Unlike what seems to be most people, I liked ep I and couldn’t really understand what exactly people expected or were hoping for. It’s a SW movie, not the second coming of God. I think the new Star Trek movie is suffering some of that same reaction.

Well, any movie based on a prior work will engender at least some of that same reaction. But whereas Episode 1 seemed to disappointed practically everyone (present company excluded :), the new Star Trek flick seems to be liked best by those who didn’t care about Star Trek before.

Episode 1 sort of murdered the Star Wars franchise, unlike Star Trek, which revived it.

It lacked the humor that the first Star Wars movies had and the characters were just plain boring. They needed Harrison Ford or someone like him that we could actually give a shit about.

Mind you it was tall order: creating a vehicle in which the main character was one that the audience knew was going turn to the Dark Side (and therefore be unlikely to emotionally invest in or to identify with) and coming up with surprises and tension while constrained by canon and a preordained endpoint.

But still.

Something that wasn’t crawlingly tedious would have been a start.

Maul was badly done. Lucas forgot that you show, don’t tell. We knew Vader was bad because the minute after we saw him he was snapping some dude’s neck. The first time we see Maul, he’s standing behind someone on TV, looking like an Iron Maiden album cover and glowering like a Mexican wrestler. Ooh, he must be The Bad Guy. He must be really bad because - George Lucas has just told us he’s bad. He’s not going to get anything else to do for an hour, bad or otherwise, but he’s bad, OK. Looks really bad. Trust us on this. Bad man.

I thought then and now that there was about 10-15 minutes of a decent movie in there somewhere, but you only got it in 15-30 second bits, so no point in even trying to cut it together. I confess I own a copy, but the last time I watched it was years ago with some drunk geek friends. We put on the Spanish soundtrack (none of us speak much Spanish), and actually rather enjoyed it. The voiceover actors were nearly all much better than the original actors at delivering their lines (there was some actual emotion! Lucas clearly had nothing to do with the foreign-language casting).

Had the best lightsaber fight, although with all the cutting to inferior goings-on, it’s not what it could be. Nice to see someone who knows what he is doing with minimal effect.

Great lightsaber duels and it was great to get back to Star Wars but it just wasn’t a very good movie. Awful plot, poor casting and, as I and others have said in other SW threads, it needed a Han Solo. Forget the force and all that, Han Solo was what made Star Wars great for me.

TPM has many, many layers of bad. The OP is good at elucidating many of them.

To which, I add one word: midichlorians. :rolleyes:

For my money, the “best” of Episodes I-III was actually II. For me III was the worst: was the most hackneyed, had the worst misuse of good actors (the few who were in the movie in the first place), the worst ostentatious reliance on “special effects,” and so on.

Og knows II was not a good movie. But it was only one of the three that showed that there was anything worthwhile about the Jedi as a (badass) force for good in society. In episode III the Jedi are the biggest fucking chumps the universe has ever seen. Apparently, Lucas was not capable of coming up with a plausible reason for the Jedi to fall apart.

I would say, Han Solo and Darth Vader. Great characters, in other words.

Check out this review of TPM.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xInGZOsC5dk&feature=PlayList&p=6ACD497626B01244&index=0&playnext=1

Jedi suck. Axiomatically as far as I’m concerned, so showing them to be morons bothers me not even a little bit - more like validates my low opinion.

Really, now - passion bad? Fuck that noise. The Jedi and Sith are both fanatical religious cults and their binary view of the world is equally constipating. The Sith “survival of the fittest, animal passion rules” chaos is truly not much worse than the Jedi’s “submerge your emotions and become a hyper-conservative all-order-all-the-time automaton” bullshit. They both deserve to go extinct. One thing I really like about the Knights of the Old Republic computer games, especially KOTOR II ( for all its other flaws ) is despite their evil-as-petty-13-year-old-punk straight-jacket, is that they hint strongly ( or even just flat point out ) at just how clueless both extremes are.

No, I like episode III the best, if only because the character development ( such as it is ) is the least compromised. It also has relatively fewer and less awful/embarrassing humor/romance scenes. That’s very, very slight praise indeed, considering the other two, but there you go.

Episode I has Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jin ( a decent character ) and the final Darth Maul duel ( the best in any Star Wars film, IMHO ) and as such beats episode II, which hence becomes the goat.

It might not be the great movie everyone was expecting, and I can’t really argue with most of the points made about it here, but did think I should bring up an area where I think it didn’t falter, namely the music. There was some really great music in Ep1, especially Duel of the Fates. Lucas might’ve lost his touch in the decades between the OT and the PT, but John Williams didn’t.

All the bad romance scenes in II were easy for me to ignore.

But yeah, saying one of Episodes I-III is slightly better than the other two is damning with faint praise at best.

They’re all pretty much watchable only once, if that.

Best of the lot.

Gotcha.

Can’t even ride a buggalo* competently; I’d say that’s a pretty plausible reason for them to fall apart.

It does kind of skate over the implausibility of how they hung together as long as they did…**

*Or maybe it wasn’t a buggalo; what the heck was it? It’s shaped like a huge tick.

**I recognize that I’m being unfair here. And, as is often the case, I don’t care. :smiley:

Well, I guess I would say Episode II would was only one of Episodes I-III that gave at least some (barely) credible lip service (in the “show not tell” sense) to the Jedi being an essentially force for good in the universe.

I think David Brin (and others above) nailed it. The movie lacked any central character: there wasn’t a Luke OR a Han Solo who really started a journey and saw it through. Anakin came in too late into the plot and was a bratty kid besides. The two main Jedi were too impassive to really identify with.

All the elements of a classic hero story were there, but there was no real hero at the core of it. It was just an ensemble of plot points.

It would’ve been ridiculously simple to make it into a great movie. It’s only really bad in light of the first 3, which - let’s face it - are partially held at such lofty heights because we were all kids when we saw them. Hardly any major Star Wars fans were over the age of 20 when they saw their first Star Wars film.

So, to make Episode I great, the short-short version: Make Anakin Luke’s age. Use traditional special effects. Ditch the midichlorians. Done.

I have an uncle who- I shit you not- said he loved the film and Jar Jar Binks was his favorite character.