Thursday, February 20, 2020

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)

I am pretty fired up to be moving out of the Original Trilogy movies, and get to work on the Prequel Trilogy (PT).

In general, I am probably a bigger fan of the PT than most big time Star Wars fans, but the order I rank them may surprise you.

As for the topic at hand, I've got to take a look at Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace.

A lot of the criticisms of this movie are completely valid, but I think there's enough good stuff here to salvage it. I have also long-maintained that with some fairly minor tweaking you've got an excellent Star Wars movie here.

So what doesn't work? Jar-Jar Binks, the dialogue, PODRACING, midichlorians, and Anakin.

While I enjoy this movie a lot I will fully accept that those things above are problematic. Jar-Jar was just way too over-the-top, Anakin was primarily hurt by the dialogue, podracing went on and on and on, and midichlorians were lazy and unnecessary.

What I liked though was Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn was masterful. Ewan McGregor was an inspired choice as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Darth Maul was a very cool-looking villain if nothing else, and those three gave us what I might consider the best lightsaber battle in the whole Skywalker Saga.

Speaking of that battle, Duel of the Fates was a great song that absolutely measures up to the iconic stuff from the OT.

Back to the cast I am a huge fan of Samuel L. Jackson, in general, and as Mace Windu. Ian McDiarmid as Senator/Chancellor Palpatine is tremendous as well even though you know where that's going. Natalie Portman's Amidala is a touch dry, but again I think they were not given a lot to work with as it relates to some really stilted dialogue.

So back to Jar-Jar and the Gungans, I don't entirely hate him in this movie, but I absolutely despise his slapstick nonsense in the final battle. Contrast that with what I said about the Ewoks in ROTJ, and you'll see my issue.

The Ewoks may have looked like teddy bears, but that battle has real stakes and they look clever. The Gungans are setup to be used similarly, but instead we get Jar-Jar bumbling his way through it while taking out Battle Droid tanks and whatnot. It's stupid.

On the other hand, the death of Qui-Gon Jinn is a tremendous moment as is the shot of his funeral at the end of the movie. It's a bummer in the sense that I would have loved to seen more of Neeson's Jedi in the PT, but it adds some gravity to the proceedings, and sets the board for the eventual fall of Anakin Skwyalker.

Not to harp on it, but that aspect makes the goofy Jar-Jar stuff look even worse in comparison.

With all this said, I really enjoy The Phantom Menace. I think with some minor tweaks (less podracing, less goofiness in the climactic battle, and ditching the midichlorians) you've got a really strong Star Wars movie.

I'll never forget the feeling of being in that theater (we waited in line for 3 hours and there only ended up being 12 people in our showing as it was the last one on day 1), hearing that iconic theme, and being in disbelief that I was getting a FOURTH Star Wars film. It wasn't perfect, but I will forever maintain it was pretty good and was close to being really good.

Here's the rest of the series...Looking At Star Wars.