RELEASED 1999 RUNTIME 133 MIN LANGUAGE ENGLISH DIRECTION GEORGE LUCAS SCREENPLAY GEORGE LUCAS STARRING LIAM NEESON, EWAN McGREGOR, NATALIE PORTMAN, JAKE LLOYD, IAN McDIARMID, AHMED BEST, PERNILLA AUGUST, ANTHONY DANIELS, KENNY BAKER, FRANK OZ MUSIC JOHN WILLIAMS
A long time ago in a galaxy far far away… How excited were we when we read this line for the first time after 16 years of waiting. For many people it was the first time they were able to experience a Star Wars movie in cinema. The hype was so big that I would still argue it was the most anticipated movie of all time ever because the Star Wars brand still had a clean record. It was the perfect franchise and George Lucas was god to many of us.
Then came the movie and at first most of us probably felt the same way. We got out of the theatre and we thought, man that was good (at least I did). So we went back and watched it again and again. Then we bought the DVD’s and watched it again and again. Slowly we began to realise that this movie isn’t what we were hoping for. In fact, many of us realised that it actually is kind of bad. No, it’s awful! What have we been thinking all that time telling ourselves it’s a great piece of cinema?! Why have we spent so much money on it? This doesn’t make sense. We were blinded by the dark side literally.
We were so hyped up that no matter what we saw on screen would have been able to break our excitement about Star Wars. It’s freaking Star Wars, baby! And it sucks!
Let me say it straight away, this movie is probably the one biggest disappointment in cinema history. Never before has a movie hurt a brand as much as this one did. It was like a stab into the hearts of most die hard Star Wars fans. This movie destroyed many people’s childhood whatever that means. But it hurts and still does! Not so much because it is a bad movie, but because we can’t escape it. We can’t erase it from our memories. It will always be there and it’s part of canon. From now on anytime you bring up Star Wars into a conversation you have to expect somebody to bring up this movie and the ones to follow. You don’t want to apologise for something that’s obviously bad, so the only thing left to do is ignoring the topic entirely.
For me, this movie doesn’t exist in my little dream world. I have not watched this movie from start to finish for years now. Yes, I am the biggest Star Wars fan I know (personally) and I refuse to watch it even today with The Force Awakens a week away. I don’t want to be reminded of something I obviously have pushed out of my life. It’s like your ex girlfriend you have been in love with for so long and then she suddenly breaks up with you. It takes you years to deal with it until finally you are able to push her out of your memory. You don’t call her, you don’t follow her on Facebook, you just stop thinking of her. She doesn’t exists.
So, with THAT out of the way let’s talk about the movie, shall we.
The Phantom Menace, also known to the general public as Star Wars Episode I, takes place approx. 30-40 years before we meet Luke Skywalker for the first time. The Empire is not yet formed and the galaxy is a democratic republic with it’s political core on the planet Coruscant. The jedi order is in full capacity, which means there are thousands of them, and they serve as the peacekeepers for the republic. The Sith have not been spottet for hundreds of years and so everything seems awesome until now. A group called the Trade Federation threatens Naboo with a trade blockade and a plan to invade the planet’s surface. So, now it’s up to the jedi Obi Wan Kennobi and Qui Gon Jin to go to the planet’s surface and take part in peace negotiations. So far so good.
Ok, let me say this. In my opinion, this is not the worst movie in the prequel saga. In fact, it prefer it over the other two. Why? Because it at least looks real. Many people forget that this movie, in contrast to it’s successors, was not entirely shot in front of a green screen. We still have real locations. The Naboo outdoor sequences and indoor sequences were for the most part shot on location in Italy. the Naboo palace is a real building. The Tatooine sequences were shot in Tunesia, just as the first Star Wars film. We even have people in alien costumes running around, especially in the Tatooine setting. So keep that in mind whenever you talk about The Force Awakens going to be better because it uses real locations and extras in alien costumes. No, you can still screw it up.
The main reason why this movie fails is the script. While I’m ok with the overall premise the script and lack of focus hurt this movie so much that at points it makes it unwatchable. The dialogue is terrible throughout the entire film and because of that the characters fail on every level to excite us and make us care about them. I mean you can just look at the cast list of actors to see my point.
We have Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan, Liam Neeson as Qui Gon Jin, Natalie Portman as Queen Amidala of Naboo, we even have goddamn Samuel L. Jackson as the jedi master Mace Windu. Even Ian McDiarmid is back. Yes, he was the Emperor in Return of the Jedi. So how on earth can this movie fail with such a strong cast you may ask yourself. I will tell you exactly. It’s the script and Georg Lucas’ direction. Btw. for every person who bashes on Jake Lloyd being cast as Anakin Skywalker. Guys, he is just a kid. You cannot blame a child for making a movie bad. Yes, his performance wasn’t that great, but who was in this movie? A child actor needs direction. He or she needs somebody who can say more than “faster, more intense” (Harrison Ford once claimed that that’s the only thing George Lucas says to his actors when he doesn’t like a take). You can’t blame him for something he is not to blame for. So, for all the Jake Lloyd haters and bashers out there I will say shut it, take a look at yourself in the mirror and say “I am a poor little bastard”. Anyway, let’s continue.
One of the reasons why the script fails, as I said before, is the lack of focus. Please tell me who is our main character/protagonist. … … …
Wait, we don’t have a main character. Why? Because the story obviously is not revolving around Anakin. I mean, we meet him half way through the movie in the 2nd act.
Is it Obi Wan? Well, he should be, but he is not. Why? Because during the entire 2nd act he doesn’t get anything to do. He doesn’t even set foot on Tatooine to meet Anakin.
Is it Qui Gon? I don’t think so. Why? Because he doesn’t go through any arc in this film + he serves as the mentor who guides us through the movie and tells us what’s right or wrong. His role is very similar to Obi Wan in the first Star Wars movie played by Alec Guiness. He is a support.
So, who are we rooting for then? We cannot answer this question because there is no answer.
JAR JAR BINKS
Ok let’s get to the meat: Jar Jar Binks! I have to say one thing about Jar Jar. He is NOT the problem why this movie is bad. As I said above, the script and direction are the problems. Jar Jar is just an ingredient. Take Jar Jar out of the movie and it won’t get any better. In fact, I actually don’t mind Jar Jar. I laughed at some of his lines and I still laugh about them today.
Is it silly humour? Sure, but people who know me know that I sometimes am a silly person and I like me some silly humour.
Is it out of place in a Star Wars movie? Maybe, but why shouldn’t we have a comedic character?
Would I get rid of him if it was up to me? Sure, but I can understand why George put him into the movie. He is the comic relief and appeals to kids. George said numerous times that he would like to make this movie appeal to kids more than before. So, why not putting a character like Jar Jar into the film? I have no problem with it.
What I have a problem with though and what contradicts his statement is that if he really wanted to make the movie kid friendly, why on earth would he put in so much political mumbo jumbo?! Just read the opening crawl of the movie and ask your child if he/she has any idea about what’s going on. Good luck! Either you have a genius kid who someday will win the nobel prize for stopping all the war on earth, or he/she is just lying to you.
Let’s talk about the CGI. At the time it was great! I mean, what they achieved with (oh god, don’t kill me) Jar Jar alone was incredible. For the first time we have a character who is entirely created in the computer to interact with real actors. It was the beginning of mo-cap technology finding its way into the big cinema. Jar Jar opened the way for characters like Gollum, King Kong 2009, and Cesar from the Planet of the Apes prequels. Also, all the other CGI effects are still pretty great. The pod race looks incredible, even today. The droid warriors look seamless. The mix between the heavy CGI and real locations works great for the most part.
Let’s talk about the sound. It’s great! Brad Burtt the sound engineer who worked on every single Star Wars movie nailed it. If you turn off the screen and just listen to the movie, it’s fantastic (minus the dialogue)!
How about the music? Well, how about we don’t ask because it looks like blasphemy to ask if John Williams did a great job. Of course it is incredible! Just listen to the score when you drive to work the next time. The only reason why I don’t like to listen to it is because it brings up all the bad memories I have with that movie, just as a side note.
Overall, it is an incredibly disappointing movie that I don’t like to be reminded of. It has redeeming qualities for sure, more for me than the other prequel movies. I love Darth Maul, one of the most well designed characters in Star Wars. But he is totally wasted. He should have been our main villain throughout all the prequel movies. The duel between him and Qui Gon + Obi Wan looks spectacular, even though it lacks the emotional core we know from the Luke vs Vader duels.
The pod race looks great, even though there is no tension because we know who is gonna win.
But it seems like to me that giving George all the control over this project was a bad move on his part. Yes, it is his fault because at the end he owned the brand, he owned the production studio Lucasfilm and he gave himself all the control. The problem that is that nobody said “no” to him ever during the production process. When you give somebody too much control it most of the time doesn’t work out well. Every person, and I say that as a professional designer, needs somebody to get honest feedback from. Otherwise, you will will fall in love with your creation so much that you won’t notice it spinning out of control. And that’s what happened here.
I can talk way more about this movie and all the problems with it, but I am tired of typing. Plus, I got my main points out here in basically the longest review I have ever written. I am very passionate about Star Wars. But I have to be honest. This movie is just not good. Unless you are a six year old, please stop apologising for it!
Sneak Peak: Also, stop apologising for Episode III !