A Saga In Review: Star Wars Episode I - The Phantom Menace

The Movie Sleuth is reviewing all the Star Wars entries before The Force Awakens hits in December. 

"But George, I'm a total bad ass!!!"
Here we go again. Another rambling review of a terrible Star Wars movie by a die hard fan boy. Are you ready?

The Phantom Menace: Because everything needs an explanation. 

After years of waiting, fans were finally given the first prequel they had been waiting for, The Phantom Menace. Boy, were we let down. Instead of a return to the glory of the '70s and '80s, Star Wars Episode I is a two hour exercise in a grown man showing off his brand new, over used techie toys while forgetting what his very own franchise was initially about: story. 

Centered on Lucas' love for all things CGI and weighed down dialogue, the movie sold out every show but ultimately let the starving fan base down. Seeing the movie multiple times in theaters when it was first released, it quickly became apparent why a loyal Star Wars following quickly developed so many problems with this painful story of a youthful Anakin Skywalker and his off the charts midichlorian count. To put it bluntly, The Phantom Menace is the opposite of everything we always loved about the original movies. It's a boring, long winded journey about a boy and his struggle to talk like a normal human being. 

"Qui Gon is like a galactic
Abe Lincoln."
Focusing too heavily on trade embargoes, a flawed script, a wasted Darth Maul, and way too much Jar-Jar, The Phantom Menace lacks the charm and wit of the classic trilogy. With Lucas spending way too much time trying to explain the hows and whys, the first entry in the prequel saga is an uncomfortable watch that pairs the awkward talents of a nine year old boy with a beautiful teenage girl that grow up to make babies together. Almost as uncomfortable as Luke kissing his sister, this portion of the script is a negligible failure that could have been easily fixed by either making Padme younger or Anakin older. Either way, an ego driven Lucas made amateurish choices that to this day make The Phantom Menace the worst of the entire franchise. With the overbearing use of computer generated characters and environments, this prequel looks like a cartoon that shares nothing in common with the movies I grew up with.

"What's up, bro? I'm such a pimp.
I'm only nine years old and I already scored Natalie Portman.
Tell me again how my acting sucks. Yeah, thought so, sucker."

The film is laden with issues from front to back. From stilted line delivery to the idiocy of Anakin accidentally destroying a starship, The Phantom Menace deserves the passive hatred it gets. With Lucas back at the helm after not directing for years, his struggle to draw realistic emotion drags Episode I through the deep bowels of the Sarlaac, turning Star Wars into a painful affair, that hinges strictly on the final duel between Qui Gon, Obi Wan and Darth Maul. Clumsily, Lucas chose to wipe the slate clean of Maul before fans (new or old) ever had a chance to get to know the character. In all of Star Wars history, the death of Maul will go down as one of the biggest mistakes Lucas ever made besides the dim witted death of Boba Fett. 

"Anakin, do you know
how babies are made?"

Other than a few great action sequences and the obviously awesome music of John Williams, The Phantom Menace remains the low point of the Star Wars universe closely followed by its sequel, Attack of the Clones. Its hard to imagine why George chose to do the things he did with this first prequel but its easy to see the glaring flaws and horrible performances. Not everything needs an explanation. Not all mysteries need to be solved. Fans were fine accepting The Force as it was before The Phantom Menace came along. Between midichlorians, wooden speech patterns, needless slavery sub-plots, goofed up political mumbo jumbo, a bumbling Gungan, and the introduction of modern trade themes, The Phantom Menace is just not an enjoyable movie. 

Luckily for fans, Ewan McGregor's uncanny ability to capture the vocal inflections of Sir Alec Guinness and his overall standout performance as Obi Wan ties this thing neatly together with the original films. With the Duel of the Fates serving as one of Williams' best pieces of Star Wars work, the last act is at least semi-watchable. If Lucas would have shown some self control by not playing too heavily to the kids, this could have been so much better. As it stands, I may never watch it again.



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