Countdown to Star Wars: Review of Episode I The Phantom Menace

BY JACOB LAURITZEN

A lot of jokes have been made about Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. That Jar Jar Binks is the Phantom Menace. That the so-called “prequel” trilogy should have never been made. A lot of fans were excited and then let down at what they hoped to be a continuation of the Star Wars franchise.

When The Phantom Menace came out in 1999, I was finishing up my freshman year of high school. I was young and impressionable. I loved Star Wars. Maybe it was because I grew up watching the movies. I’m not really sure, but I loved them and I was excited.

Back then, the only movie theater in town was the old Sapphire Cineplex. There was only one screen and they often only carried one movie at a time. I remember going to that theater excited and I wasn’t really disappointed by the movie. There were a lot of fun moments, a lot of action, and of course there was Natalie Portman.

But as time has passed and with the new movie coming out, I thought it would be a good idea to go back and take an honest look at the movie again.

So, last night I watched The Phantom Menace for the first time in years. I watched it with my wife and some friends. My wife thought that the movie was boring. In fact, she couldn’t wait for it to be over. And I can’t argue with her.

The movie looks and feels like a Star Wars movie, but without the quality and without the polish of the originals. I felt like the script was poorly written and the direction was bad as well. It felt like George Lucas’ pet project that he didn’t care for others to appreciate. In fact, I started plotting how I could remake the movie to fix it.

Let’s start at the beginning. The “text crawl” that opens the movie is too complicated. In fact, the whole movie is just too complicated. If the purpose of Episodes I through III is to set up for Episodes IV through VI, then all Episode I really had to do was introduce characters, explain what made Anakin Skywalker so special, and then show how he could one day become Darth Vader. Spoiler?

That being said, the movie ends up being more about how the Emperor became the Emperor. That’s cool, but they did so by talking about politics in a galaxy far, far away. Maybe there is a better way to establish how a big bad cloak wearing Sith Lord took over the galaxy than by, you know, creating a blockade around his home planet, then invading it, then forcing the Queen of said planet to do something about it, while all the while campaigning to become Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic so that you can legally become a dictator. Hmmm. Not that inspiring. Or interesting.

And maybe that’s why so many fans were disappointed by the movie. Oh yeah and then there’s Jar Jar Binks.

Rumor has it that George Lucas really likes Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. You know, the guys from old silent films who made slapstick comedy famous. It was George’s great idea to add this to his fan favorite Star Wars films in the guise of a clumsy new character. That would have been okay, but there is essentially nothing redeemable about the character beyond that. He is a flat character that does nothing to serve the films except for provide tidbits of information and to clumsily and accidentally destroy battle droids. That’s it.

It’s not that you can’t have comedy in space. You can. It’s been done over and over again. There is a lot of humor in the original Star Wars films, but I don’t remember ever feeling too old for it, while also trying to keep up with an overly complicated political drama.

I guess that’s what it boils down to. The movie is poorly written and poorly directed. It is trying to be bold old and mature and young enough to giggle at itself. It’s like it got lost as to what it was really trying to do, introduce how a good Jedi, Anakin Skywalker, could become the evil Sith Lord Darth Vader. It does that, sort of, but that’s certainly not the focus and that’s the problem. The Phantom Menace never became what it was supposed to be.

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