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

June 25, 2010

VERDICT:
2/10 “Oh-kee Days!”

George Lucas, this is why people hate you.

The Phantom Menace is about two Jedi knights who are sent in to break up an intergalactic trade embargo and manage to uncover a plot by some ugly, lowlife alien bastards to take over the planet Naboo by force. Along the way, they also discover the presence of two Sith warriors – which is a tad surprising considering that the Sith were thought to have been wiped out ages ago – and a slave boy destined to be “The Chosen One” – the one said to bring balance to the galaxy – thanks to the mutant-like amount of midi-chlorians running through his system.

Yup, movie synopses don’t get much nerdier than that, and so begins the start of my Star Wars marathon.

So, if you don’t already know, this sucker’s pretty shitty. It wasn’t so bad at 13, but now it’s one of those movie-going experiences where you almost have to start writing everything down to keep track of all the stuff worth hating on. But as much as this review may very well turn into The Haters Ball, something tells me you already know what’s coming, but let’s start with the obvious anyway.

In all seriousness, Jar-Jar Binks is the worst thing to happen to the Star Wars universe since George Lucas had kids. A sheer abomination of a character who, amazingly enough, only gets worse as the movie goes on and stands as the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with this script and the entire second trilogy in general. I’ll just leave it at that, we all know what an easy target that faux-Jamaican dumbass is, but, boy, does he deserve it.

And the script really does suck. It is just so fucking bad. Such a juvenile and pathetic sense of humor through and through, all the dialogue blows, it does everything in its power to make the story so much more complicated than it has any right to be and it gives its cast next to nothing to work with. It isn’t so bad when it comes to setting up all the intergalactic politics in light of how things play out five movies later, but Anakin’s story SUCKS and a lot more focus should have been paid to him from the get-go.

Granted, the casting director should have been canned the second they started pushing for Jake Lloyd, but that is no excuse for this mess of a script which retains none of what made Star Wars such a phenomenon to begin with. This is why people burn books.

My friend Rybar also pointed out that during the scene where Ben, Qui-Gon and Jar-Jar take the personal submarine through the depths of Naboo, the exact same scene happens twice. A big fish comes, it almost eats them, then a bigger fish comes along and they barely escape. Two minutes later: their submarine loses power, they start it up again, a big fish comes, it almost eats them, then a bigger fish comes along and they barely escape.

How is that okay? Ugh, that shit drives me crazy.

And a couple things about Jake Lloyd. Why does it always look like he’s taking a hot, painful dump whenever he’s in the pod racer? How in the hell did he beat out every other kid in the world for this role, what was the appeal? Why did you make him say “Are you an angel?” and “I’ll try spinning. That’s a good trick!”? Why is he so young in comparison to Padme? All of these are questions that deserve answers, but that last point was an especially stupid call.

Then again, I tip my hat to Jakey for turning tail and immediately ditching the spotlight as soon as the hate mail started pouring in. Good call on that one, bucko.

But despite how horribly this movie sucks, there is a reason for that 2 out of 10 up there. Well, two reasons actually.

1) The pod racing scene, even with Ani’s explosive diarrhea, is pretty kickass. Pretty wild stuff, it’s a lot of fun to watch, it’s about the only CG scene that doesn’t look kinda dated and it’s such a welcome respite from all the garbage that came before it. The N64 game that was based off it was also the freakin’ bomb (anyone else with me on that?).

2) The final lightsaber battle with Young Ben, Qui-Gon and Darth Maul is arguably the best fight scene of the whole series. It’s nice and long, it’s got a double-sided lightsaber, there’s a lot of kicks to the face and it only gets better when it’s just down to Ben and Maul.

On top of that, Liam Neeson is pretty boss as Qui-Gon (even though he’s not the all-time best Jedi by a long shot), Darth Maul is one cool mother effer and the whole time they’re in Coruscant is the one stretch where this actually feels like a Star Wars movie. Also get a huge kick out of Sam Jackson as Mace Windu, just kept waiting for him to yell, “No, we ain’t gonna train you, bitch! Now get these motherfuckin’ snakes off this motherfuckin’ plane!” And while these factors all help to soften the blow, the only problem is that it’s so much easier to focus on the negatives in this movie because they totally overshadow everything else that works.

The last time I saw this was when Episode III came out, but it didn’t really hit me until watching again this past week how abysmal so much of this movie truly is. I do feel kinda bad giving it a 2 because it started out at a generous 4, but honestly, if this were the one released in ’77, I don’t even think we’d have the next five movies. Background cameos from Warwick Davis only go so far.

Brilliant poster though. One of the all-time greats in my humble opinion.

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30 Comments leave one →
  1. June 25, 2010 12:28 am

    This is one I fell in love with as a 11 year old kid, but now I see that the film just sucks for many of the reasons you point out. I think what kills me the most is how complex Lucas makes what is clearly a kid’s film. The humor, dialogue and story clearly cater to the under 13 crowd and yet he puts in this whole political plot that is long-winded, convoluted and unnecessary.

    • June 25, 2010 11:16 am

      you’re right, and that was a big appeal to the original trilogy, that it caters to all ages whereas this just caters to the Happy Mealers in the audience. what a bizarro effort.

  2. June 25, 2010 1:02 am

    Don’t feel bad, a two is about what this deserves. Like you say, if this was the first one, no one would have asked him to make any sequels. Got to agree that the end fight is pretty fun to watch though. They should have released that as a five minute Episode One. We’d all be better off for it.

  3. June 25, 2010 5:47 am

    Great review Aiden! You pretty much sum up all the things I hate about this terrible film. Although I’m sure there’s plenty more. I wonder if Jake Lloyd’s mother slept with Lucas to get her son the part – I’m just thinking of those “I’ll do anything to get my kids in film” attitude so amusingly displayed in “Bruno”.

    • June 25, 2010 11:14 am

      hahaha, i think you’re onto something. god, did that kid suck.

  4. Ryan permalink
    June 25, 2010 9:01 am

    I just never understood why Yoda was like, we can’t train him, he’s too old. I mean Luke was like 25 when they started training him, why is Anakin at age 6 too old? WTF was that all about… Still the best light saber fight though, Ray Park took the stunt work to a whole new level.

    • June 25, 2010 9:58 am

      Well Yoda did say the same thing about Luke being too old, Old Ben had to convince him otherwise. I just think Yoda was a curmudgeony old bastard. Then again, he was right all along about that kid. That little Ani can go to hell.

  5. nothatwasacompliment permalink
    June 25, 2010 9:23 am

    i trust you’ve watched this review on youtube…

    • Marc permalink
      June 25, 2010 12:10 pm

      Glad someone posted this, because I was about to.

      Aiden I like how your reviews of crappy movies are longer than the ones you really liked:P

      My biggest problem with the movie (and new trilogy) was that they severely mis-cast Anakin. Jake Lloyd was a bit better than Hayden but still they were given horrendous dialog. I mean, if the primary focus on Ep I – III is on how he becomes Vader, then Lucas royally fucked that up. The all CG environments can be blamed for the wooden acting of even talented performers but trusting the series to two unknowns killed it as well. Jar Jar is another can of worms but I think you got it covered Aiden:P

      • June 28, 2010 8:04 am

        Yeah, there really isn’t enough focus on Anakin becoming Vader is there? But your right, just horrible casting choices and the script isn’t helping matters whatsoever either. Kind of dreading sitting through Episode II again, but then again, it’s pretty smooth sailing from that point forward.

  6. June 25, 2010 9:48 am

    As you may or may not, I’m one of the very few people, who actually liked the “new trilogy”. I’m upset to know that you have hated this movie, however, I will say one thing: Long Live Jar-Jar Banks!!

  7. June 25, 2010 2:11 pm

    The actors portraying Anakin were easily the worst thing by a country mile. If someone had stepped in and told Lucas, “Hey Lloyd and Christensen aren’t cutting it we should try recasting” this series might have been great.

    • June 28, 2010 8:05 am

      Baffles me how no one ever brought that statement to the forefront. I mean, Star Wars is a pretty big deal, you’d think that would be a big concern. I guess blowing George Lucas for a lead role goes a long way.l

  8. Ryan permalink
    June 25, 2010 7:07 pm

    Eat a dick Jake Lloyd.

    Someone pointed out above that Hayden is worse than Jake, and I agree. I forgive him a bit for being only 10 years old. For this reason, I am afraid of what Episode II is going to get when this one only got a 2.

    One factor that might bump it up to 3 points would be the title. “The Phantom Menace” is arguably the best named episode, with “A New Hope” being a quick second. It obviously references the Sith Lord who is orchestrating all the trouble on Naboo and then the pain and tragedy of the next 5 films (Sidious/Palpatine). While more could have been done with allusions to the title, I think it is pretty awesome nonetheless.

    Way better than “Attack of the Clones.” And while they are classics now, “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” aren’t too creative either.

    • June 28, 2010 8:09 am

      You know it was originally titled “Revenge of the Jedi” but fans apparently caused a backlash since Jedis aren’t out to get revenge in the way the Sith are…at least that’s what I heard. And I never really liked “The Phantom Menace” up until this latest viewing when I figured out that it was referring to Palpatine, and while it is definitely better than the other lame subtitles, I still feel like it should have had something to do with Anakin instead of Palpatine, just like how “A New Hope” was in reference to Luke. Nonetheless, one of the better titles of the series.

      And while Jake Lloyd can totally eat a dick, Christensen might be the worst part of the whole series after Jar Jar. What a whiny bitch.

  9. June 25, 2010 8:27 pm

    I agree with you on everything here, although I am calling bullshit on the “best fight scene of the series”. I honestly think the best lightsaber duel was in EPISODE III, but, I imagine you’ll talk about that when you review that one. Like pretty much everyone and there dog, I loved it when it first came out, but, I was 7, so, of course I would. I really despise it now. That guy at Red Letter Media is totally correct and, so are you! Good review!

    That poster is hella boss though! I want to see the good movie that that poster eludes to.

    • June 27, 2010 2:49 pm

      The reason why I think Ep. 1 beats out 3 in the lightsaber duel area is A) Christensen sucks and I don’t buy him as a great fighter at all and B) Ray Park, and Liam Neeson.

      • June 28, 2010 8:22 am

        Valid points, but I still think I like Ep. III better. Shit gets a lot more serious and Hayden’s a little bit less of a bitch than he is in Ep. II. Still, need to watch them both again. But god DAMN is Ep. I bad, dude.

    • June 28, 2010 8:12 am

      Hahahaha, great last comment.

      The Episode III duel is totally awesome, but like you said, I need to see it again and then I’ll get into it. Man, remember how awesome movies were when we were 7? Wasn’t often I didn’t like a movie…ever. Ugh, those were the days.

  10. June 26, 2010 12:34 pm

    We’re just going to have to agree to disagree here sir. I disagree with a grandiose amount of what you said, and you’d disagree with me for disagreeing with you. I respect you enough to leave this one alone.

    • June 28, 2010 8:16 am

      Hahaha, sounds good to me. I’ll be looking out for your review.

  11. June 27, 2010 3:53 am

    I know this is blaspheme in the film world. But I’ve only seen episodes one and two. Thought they were total shit. Glad you agree at least on this film.

    I’ll see four, five and six at some point, but one and two did absolutely nothing to whet my appetite.

    • June 28, 2010 8:20 am

      Damn, couldn’t have started at a worse place, dude. Seriously, those two are such a horrible representation of everything about Star Wars. Do yourself a huge-ass favor and watch the original trilogy. Episode III ain’t that bad either, but the trilogy really does pale in comparison.

  12. June 28, 2010 2:54 am

    I’m with you, Aiden, though I think even I’d give it higher than a three. When it comes to the prequels, the more I think about them, the more I give in (yes, to the dark side) and hate them, but if I do my best to just sit down and watch them on their merit and not as the pale comparisons that they are, I think they’re actually somewhat enjoyable. I might even go so high as a 4 or 5 with this one. It’s with the next two that they really go in the toilet, even though a few bones were thrown our way with the finale in terms of tying up loose ends.

    • June 28, 2010 8:29 am

      I can dig the 4 or 5, but it’s just so hard for me to watch the new trilogy and not compare them to the greatness the preceded it. Idk, watching Episode I felt like a slap in the face of sorts, like, “We waited 16 years for THIS?” Just think Lucas should have had more to give us if he supposedly had the whole series thought out beforehand. Ugh, serenity now.

  13. Darren permalink
    June 28, 2010 4:41 am

    I remember how Darth Maul had his own cult following before the movie came out, with his bad ass look and double-sided lightsabre. And then… he has an aborted fight, and then a longer fight – gets chopped in half and dies with little to no dialogue.

    Huh. Little bit underwhelmed.

    And the movie sucks. In my opinion, there’s a switch half way through the second movie when the trilogy becomes “good” or at least “okay”. It’s the asteroid chase sequence. I’m actually quite fond of the last half of this trilogy.

    • June 28, 2010 8:32 am

      Yeah, Maul looked like the part alright, but he really got shafted on that first fight along with having more or less no dialogue whatsoever. But that was one kickass fight scene at the end.

      You’re kinda making me look forward to watching Ep. II again instead of dreading it entirely. Will report back.

  14. Max permalink
    June 29, 2010 4:47 pm

    Wow. Haters. Seriously, reading all of this gave me pains. Not necessarily because you are all wrong (Ep. I is certainly not the best of movies out there), but because I can tell you all took Ep. I’s failures personally. Like Aiden said, “We waited 16 years for THIS?” That thought process lends itself to a biased review: one of a fan of Star Wars and not one of movies.

    Yes, the script was not up to par with the previous 3 films. Yes, the casting could have been better. Yes, the story could have been condensed and cut. Honestly though, if this was not a Star Wars movie, it would have gotten at least a 3 (I’d give it a 6). As a fan of movies I would give Ep. I props for it’s graphic design (pretty good at the time), set design/makeup/prop design, scope of film, the acting of certain characters, and the aforementioned fight scenes. As a Star Wars fan, 1-appreciate the widening of the Star Wars universe for us fans and 2-appreciate the overall direction it gives the first trilogy.

    Personally, I don’t remember hearing anyone walking out of a theater when it ran and so, though it could have been better, I still believe Star Wars Ep. I deserves more than a 2.

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