Runtime: 2 Hours
and 15 Minutes
Just as some movies improve on repeat viewings, some also get worse.
Such is the case with "The Phantom Menace". It is amazing
that something that was such a fun ride in the theater can prove such
a disappointment in one's own home.
Without the benefit of THX and a humungous screen, the film's shortcomings
become astoundingly obvious. I watched the film in total disbelief.
This is it? This is the thing that was so fun I went to it four times?
No, this can't be it. Unfortunately, this IS it and, boy, after sixteen
years... what a letdown.
The first thing that becomes painfully noticeable is the dreadful
dialogue. Good dialogue crackles, adequate dialogue flows naturally,
the lines in "The Phantom Menace" clunk. You can actually
hear them hitting the floor. The sentences often do not even seem
to connect with the one that came before it. "Are you completely
brainless?" "I spec!" "The ability to speak does
not make one intelligent." Ouch! This sample should be included
in a how-not-to-write-dialogue book. It's the sort of thing that would
be in a first draft but would be improved on later revisions. However,
it's in this finished movie.
Another problem: character motivation. There is none. Would Anakin's
mother go from being dead set against her son being in a pod race
to telling everyone that he was their only hope within a minute? I
don't think so. And what about Darth Maul? Why is he evil? No reason
is given. He simply is. If George had taken the time to back Maul's
malice up with a motivation, he may have been a better adversary.
At first, I thought the fact that you had no idea how
Darth Maul became Darth Maul or why he was doing what he was doing
added an impenetrable sense of menace to things. Now, I just think
that it demonstrates the laziness of the plot.
Characters from the old trilogy show up, and I was happy to see them
there, but aside from R2D2 saving the Queen's ship, they are given
nothing to do. They are just there to remind us of the old movies,
which were much, much better. They are like the cameo appearances
in a "Cannonball Run" film, and they serve the plot even
Another problem was that George did not seem worried about acting
quality when casting the movie. Yes, the old movies were not on a
par with Citizen Kane where performance was concerned, but there were
no actors as howlingly awful as Jake Lloyd (being a kid is no excuse,
I can't act either, but at least I don't try to) or the man who plays
the Queen's chief of Security. You can actually see him watching for
The special effects are good, but the mouths of the creatures do not
match to what they are saying as well as the old puppets did. And,
speaking of the characters, everyone was so eager to hate Jar Jar
that they forgot all about the Trade Federation. Their mock-Oriental
patois is actually offensive. Not only that, but it is lame. It has
no real purpose and it does nothing for the plot.
The pod race is still an impressive spectacle, the Galactic Senate
is still amazing, and the scenes with the Jedi Council are the best
of the movie. Watto is a wonderful little slimeball, I still like
him, and he has the best lines. Liam Neeson does a fine job, considering
the limits of his lines, and Ewan McGregor actually makes you believe
that he IS a young incarnation of Alec Guinness. And the light saber
fights are still a lot of fun. Although you can't help but think that
it would have been nice to see them kill something other than battle
droids. That gets kinda old.
Once the novelty of seeing a new Star Wars movie wears off, what are
we left with?
Ultimately, we are left with a cold, heartless mess. There are moments
of that old magic still fluttering around in here somewhere, but they
are few and far between. I liked it at first but, ultimately, I was
left feeling as though I were swindled by a very good con man.
"Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" is a solid entry
to the Star Wars saga, perhaps not on par with the superior "The
Empire Strikes Back", but pretty close to "Return Of The Jedi."
This movie rightfully deserves a place next to the original three.
I'll address some things I liked and disliked, and I'll address some
of the criticisms the movie has received.
WHAT I LIKED:
The pod race scene, which can be viewed repeatedly and enjoyed each
and every time; The lightsaber battles, especially the final battle
between sith and jedi; The special effects, to no surprise; The imperial
Senate, especially the floating pods; The undersea gungan world; The
jedi council on Coruscant. There are more, but I'll address them later.
WHAT I DISLIKED:
Jar-Jar Binks; The "announcers" at the pod race (I didn't
mind this so much upon viewing a 2nd time).
CRITICISMS I'VE HEARD:
"The storyline is weak" -- This plot is more complex than
any other Star Wars plot to date, involving a trade embargo and how
the queen seeks help via an imperial senate. How people can call this
a "Disney" movie is beyond me.
"The performances are weak" -- Stop expecting Oscar-caliber
performances in these movies. Mark Hamill's performances, especially
in "A New Hope", are laughably bad, but these movies still
rank high on my list. All the performances are acceptable for this kind
"There's no character development" -- Once again, go back
to "A New Hope" and see how much development there is. Chewbacca
is the most underdeveloped character of all-time, yet you hear no complaints
"The final Anakin scene is hokey" -- Don't forget...this is
the kid who turns into the almighty Darth Vader. He's SUPPOSED to be
"Midi-chlorions ruined the concept of a jedi" -- Pay close
attention and you'll see that Midi-chlorions indicate the level of jedi
skills within a person. It doesn't necessarily MAKE you a jedi.
"The characters are racially stereotyped" -- In the course
of the Star Wars movies, we've seen monsters in all sorts of hues, and
heard monsters with all sorts of voices. That's the wonderful thing
about the Star Wars universe...there's room for everyone.
"Not enough Darth Maul" -- Admittedly, I agree with this one.
However, his character serves his purpose, which was to open the door
for a brand new apprentice.
"Jar-Jar ruined the movie" -- I hated Jar-Jar. Absolutely
loathed Jar-Jar. Would like to see him face a firing squad of sandtroopers.
But, he's there for the kids, for comic relief. Get over it. I wasn't
happy with it, either. But it would take a lot to ruin this movie for
me. And Jar-Jar wasn't enough.
Finally, I'd like to add that this movie MUST be viewed as setting the
stage for the next two.
If you want "Citizen Kane", go rent it. This movie serves
its purpose, which is to get things going and get enough mystery and
intrigue set up to carry us through the next two.
This movie is more than deserving of the Star Wars name. Can't wait
for Episode II.