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