Jan 6, 2012

[Movies] Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

When it was announced that Lucasfilm would be re-releasing all of the Star Wars movies in 3D starting February 10, 2012, I figured that it would be fun to do something to mark this little event in geek history - not that I feel overly compelled to pay extra to watch the movies again just for the sake of 3D. And given how things go, the Geeky Guide just happens to not have reviews for any of the Star Wars movies. Weird.

So starting today and continuing on every Friday thereafter, I'll be reviewing each of the Star Wars movies in "chronological" order with respect to the saga's internal continuity and not their original release dates as movies. I'm sure it's going to be a rather interesting experience for all of us.

And yes, I have noticed that I don't have reviews for all the Star Trek movies either, and I promise to rectify that before the new movie comes out in 2013. Honest. There is the new movie coming out next year after all, so that requires some appropriate preparations. But I digress.

The Phantom Menace was released in 1999 as a prequel to the "original" Star Wars movies released between 1977-1983. It was written and directed by George Lucas, who also started the whole franchise with the original Star Wars movie.

Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (right) and Padawan O...
Image via Wikipedia
The movie starts with...a trade dispute. Seriously. The nefarious Trade Federation has established a blockade around the world of Naboo due to some disagreement on taxation or something other. Galactic Republic Supreme Chancellor Valorum (Terrence Stamp) decides to dispatch Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his Jedi apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) to attempt to negotiate a settlement between the two parties.

But behind the scenes a mysterious figure, who is later known as Darth Sidious, orders the Trade Federation to kill the Jedi and take control of the planet with their robot army. The two Jedi manage to escape with their lives and eventually make their way onto the planet, where they need to figure out how find help and locate Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman), ruler of Naboo.

And yes, eventually their paths will cross with a very young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd). Cue ominous music!

Given the 16 year gap between this and the last theater release of a Star Wars movie, naturally hype around the movie was pretty high, to say the least. And despite the many advances in special effects technology, I don't think anyway was truly prepared for the scale and grandeur of this movie. From the massive droid armies of the Trade Federation to the stunning underwater cities of the Gungan people, the movie is one heck of a special effects extravaganza. And in this regard, I'll admit that then movie is a quite a visual spectacle. It was certainly a grade visual feast for a movie that had remained in the video market for quite a number of years.

And if the special effects weren't enough, you also have the Earth-shaking melodies of John Williams to give the movie that distinct sense of scale that comes with this space opera epic. Williams had also written the original scores for the initial trilogy so it seemed only right to have the man back at the helm for this installment. But that's all the good stuff, really.

The story was weird and a tad confusing considering the original trilogy started with us in the middle of a rebellion and this one had us dealing with glorified bankers. As much as its cool for the Trade Federation to have massive droid armies, to limit their use to simply securing tax rights? Yeah, not quite the great rallying call for a life-or-death struggle.

Then you get some pretty warped characters like the universally hated Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) or the strong, silent yet quickly irrelevant Darth Maul (Ray Park). Why did the studios allow George Lucas to get all quirky in this manner? The guy's sense of humor hasn't really evolved over the years - in fact it probably got worse some how. How else can we explain Jar Jar and the horrible pidgin-style English of the Gungans as a whole. Throw in a bizarre plot with unusual twists (like the whole concept behind midi-chlorians!) and this movie mainly survives based on fan loyalty alone.

Liam Neeson was largely dead in this movie and Ewan McGregor, while cute, was still struggling with how to depict his character well. At times it seemed like he was too worried about paying sufficient homage to Sir Alec Guinness that it probably got in the way of his acting. And don't get me started on Natalie Portman's creepy deadpan acting style. Did all that make-up kill her ability to act even just halfway decently?

But all that aside, this is still a Star Wars movie, one that still probably needed to be made to cement its place in pop culture history. We wanted more Star Wars movies using the latest in special effects and to push the story further and we got...this.

The Phantom Menace may not be the best Star Wars movie of all time, but it did have to tackle a rather massive job in restarting a franchise that had lain largely dormant for nearly two decades. That's no small feat, but one that we probably could have avoided had the studios made sure to insert someone to rein Lucas in or better yet, actually handle the directing instead of him. Still, the movie crawls past with 2 annoying droids conversations out of a possible 5, because I'm nice that way.

Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. I'll review the movie more bluntly than you in one setence.  "The Phantom Menace" is a big pile of steaming crap!

  2. Haha, well that's certainly a succinct review. =D