Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

2 stars

Theatrical release: 5/19/1999
PG; 131 minutes
Produced by Rick McCallum
Written and directed by George Lucas

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

January 19, 2016

So 16 years after Return of the Jedi ended the original story and after years of hinting from George Lucas, Star Wars finally returned for the first in a much-hyped, much-anticipated prequel trilogy promising to chronicle how Anakin Skywalker would become Darth Vader. Boy, were Star Wars fans hungry for this movie. Everyone had high hopes. Aside from the haters who were rooting for a failure (before "haters" was a widely used term), I don't think anyone expected quite what they saw on the screen.

The Phantom Menace, easily the worst entry in the Star Wars theatrical franchise (note that I'm not counting the animated Clone Wars movie, which I have not seen), plays like an unending series of miscalculations. Some would argue that the entire prequel trilogy is a miscalculation. I won't go that far; I'm something of a prequel apologist, to a degree. That degree does not extend to The Phantom Menace, which is riddled with misfires, from conception to execution.

Let's start with Jar Jar Binks. Sure, Jar Jar is an easy target, but that's because he's terrible. Lucas still defends Jar Jar and claims to love him, and I can't for the life of me understand why. His voice is annoyingly awful. His dialogue borders on unintelligible. His jokes and would-be catchphrases are lame and stupid. He's comic relief in a movie that is jarringly out of step with that tone and otherwise humorless. He's a moron who bumbles his way through the movie (including some "heroics" during the closing droid battle that he accomplishes by complete accident). Every time he talks I cringe and want to shut off the damn movie. How wude. Ugh.

Next up: Jake Lloyd as nine-year-old Anakin Skywalker. Sure, Jake Lloyd is an easy target, but that's because he's terrible. The performance is a complete and total dud, with line readings that never come across as anything but, well, overly cocky line readings. The idea that this obnoxious kid grows up to become Darth Vader is really, really tough to swallow, let alone stomach. Only mildly less annoying than Jar Jar, he gets wonderful lines like, "Yippee!" Toward the end of the movie he flies into the droid army control ship and blows it up by goddamn accident. Ugh.

Next up: The Trade Federation guys. Sure, these guys are an easy target, but that's because they're terrible. They have awful, fake accents that sound like ethnic stereotypes, and line readings that don't match the movements of the CG characters' mouths. (Was it intentional? Surely not.) Not to mention they inhabit an impenetrable political plot (the blockade of Naboo) that no one cares about. Not even me, who elsewhere defends aspects of the prequel trilogy's political backdrop.

Next up: Endless scenes of sternly serious monotone-performed exposition, mostly involving the queen of Naboo (and all the over-baked silliness surrounding her and Padme and which is actually the "decoy"), but also the Jedi Council and the Senate of the Republic. Yes, these arid scenes of exposition are an easy target, but that's because they're terrible. It's in watching these scenes where I just don't understand how Lucas saw dailies of his footage and thought that it possibly worked. I want to go into the movie and tell everyone to crank it up about 12 notches. This is Star Wars, for chrissakes, not your grandmother's wake.

Next up: Midi-chlorians. Sure, the midi-chlorians are an easy target, but this is where I plot-twist you and tell you that I don't find them particularly terrible. Unnecessary? Sure, I suppose, in that I didn't need the Force explained in vaguely sci-fi terms. But in terms of its specific application here as a piece of plotting business — so that Qui-Gon could realize Anakin's importance and essentially set all the pieces in motion that will ultimately lead him to becoming Darth Vader — I don't really have a problem with it. Nor do the midi-chlorians lessen for me the mystique of the Force. Honestly, I don't really care, and never saw why people got so up in arms over it. (On the other hand, the notion of the virgin birth of Anakin might be a bridge too far in terms of over-mythologizing.)

So, no, The Phantom Menace is not a good movie. It's over-plotted and under-performed, with political material that feels impenetrable even if it isn't really that complicated. And when viewed in the context of the entire prequel trilogy, it's also largely unnecessary, proving to be a disposable prologue.

But it does have some things to recommend. For all its faults, Lucas and his visual effects crew still conjure up some amazing images, and 16 years of technological cinema evolution (mostly in the CGI arena) allowed Phantom Menace to really land with some major visual impact. This movie looks amazing. The action sequences and digital sets are impressive. Indeed, one knock against the prequels (one that I can understand) is that the visuals are so excessive as to be overwhelming and unnatural in their fantastical nature. We see Coruscant, the capital of the Republic, a planet covered by one massive city. (This is true to the Star Wars penchant for excessive scale that I love, which allows things like super star destroyers and Death Stars to be built.) Lines of flying cars fill the sky to the point of absurd implausibility. Every inch of the frame is filled because now Lucas can fill it with virtual imagery.

But the big sequences work as memorable self-contained set-pieces. Anakin's pod racing sequence, while mostly existing for the sake of itself, is a wild ride of breakneck-speed fun. And with the new technology and stunt coordination (virtual or otherwise) the creators really up the octane on what a lightsaber battle can be. The prequel trilogy, starting here, is filled with badass, innovative lightsaber sequences that previously had been impossible. (There are also lots of CG droids that get sliced and diced without it coming across as "real" violence.) The fight between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul (who is a cipher as a character but very effective as a single-sequence menace), is sensational. And let's not forget the contributions of John Williams here. "The Duel of the Fates" is every bit the iconic theme for this trilogy that "The Imperial March" was for the original.

So there are some gems here among the chaff. But lots of chaff. The Phantom Menace is a failure, but not an unmitigated one. The best news here is that the prequels had nowhere to go but up, and fortunately they did.

Previous: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
Next: Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

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39 comments on this review

Spindles
Tue, Jan 19, 2016, 3:42am (UTC -5)
Two stars for this turd? Maybe stick to Trek.
Dimitris Kiminas
Tue, Jan 19, 2016, 7:59am (UTC -5)
Well, the battle of Qui-Gon & Obi-Wan against Darth Maul complete with the excellent music cue that accompanies it is worth 2 stars on its own, so you could say these are the stars it gets!
Del_Duio
Tue, Jan 19, 2016, 10:01am (UTC -5)
Hahahaha at the way you've phrased this review!

Sure X is an easy target, but that's because he's terrible.

Hahahaha! Thanks man, every time this sentence came up it was a big LOL that almost got water spit on my computer screen :D
Chrome
Tue, Jan 19, 2016, 11:48am (UTC -5)
A "disposable prologue" is really an accurate description of this movie. I loved the lightsaber fights and some of backdrops for planets like Naboo and Coruscant. There is even some decent acting by Liam Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson, but unfortunately that's all too brief.

The story itself is beyond boring. It's like watching C-SPAN with the comic relief of two terrible comedians. Moreover, since 80% of the audience knows the outcome (Anakin will become and a Jedi and serve under Palapatane/Sidious), there really is no interesting story payoff for sitting through the dull early moments.

1.5 stars for me.
Robert
Tue, Jan 19, 2016, 11:50am (UTC -5)
@Spindles - It earns 2 stars from me too. Almost entirely from McGregor, Neeson and Darth Maul and very little else, but that was enough to give it 2 stars.

The one I think is too high is Episode 2. I'd not give that more than 2 stars either.
NCC-1701-Z
Tue, Jan 19, 2016, 10:43pm (UTC -5)
Worst Star Wars movie ever. The only redeeming point is the final duel with Darth Maul. And don't get me started on Jar Jar. (Supposedly, Abrams said he was considering putting Jar Jar's skull in the desert in Force Awakens just for fun. Has anyone found that yet?) 1.5 stars for me.

The How It Should Have Ended short is worth checking out:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4hvUvBmoaA
Latex Zebra
Thu, Jan 21, 2016, 6:07am (UTC -5)
My kids (7 and 11) genuinely loved this movie. They thought Jar Jar was a riot and were absorbed from start to finish.
The first time I saw it I loved it, rose tinted goggles and all that. Repeat viewings have tarnished it but it is not the worst of the trio even if it has some of the worst acting.
Jammer
Thu, Jan 21, 2016, 11:39am (UTC -5)
@Latex, I suspect (fear) my kids will have a similar response to Jar Jar when they eventually see these movies. It seems to be a common response by kids who didn't grow up on the originals, and this is not the first time I've heard that.
Latex Zebra
Thu, Jan 21, 2016, 12:46pm (UTC -5)
@Jammer, I do wonder what would happen if you could find an adult that has heard nothing of the hype of Star Wars and show them the originals, what their thoughts would be. George Lucas has always maintained they were children's films and until III and VII I believed him.

No denying the prequels, rose tinted goggles or not, are poor in comparison to the originals. The links to the originals was just too weak. VII has got most people re-engaged because the characters we grew up with are back.
Great to see some new reviews... Not doing the Holiday Special then? :op
Dan
Thu, Jan 21, 2016, 7:00pm (UTC -5)
Jar Jar is indeed an annoying character, but I honestly think the same thing about Threepio in Empire and Return as well. I didn't upon first seeing the films as a kid, of course, and that's just it: those characters are specifically for kids.

I think we all expected the prequels to fully grow up with us, and were disappointed that they didn't. Well...not in all ways. The political storyline was more adult-oriented. But comic relief characters, farting/belching creatures, etc -- they were there before Jar Jar.

I have to imagine it wasn't easy for Lucas to find that middle ground between coming up with stuff kids who'd grown up with the OT would like, and stuff that then present day kids would like. Hence the disconnect between something like Jar Jar and the political storyline, and the more dark aspects of ROTS. And of course, there was no way he or anyone else could have met expectations after 16 years.

Anyways -- I think yours is a very fair review, Jammer. TPM is not a great film, but it has its moments.
Jammer
Fri, Jan 22, 2016, 11:01am (UTC -5)
Dan, I can totally see that argument, and yes 3PO could be annoying. But I think it's a matter of degree. Jar Jar just took it too far and was horribly executed.
Nic
Sat, Jan 23, 2016, 7:09am (UTC -5)
I have not seen the film (nor do I intend to), but it now seems incomprehensible to me that Roger Ebert gave Phantom Menace 3.5 stars and Wrath of Khan 3 stars. My only explanation for this is that he's not rating them on the same scale - rating Star Wars films as pop-corn low-brow entertainment, and the Star Trek films as cerebral science-fiction.
William B
Sat, Jan 23, 2016, 9:28am (UTC -5)
Ebert reviewed TPM and TWOK 17 years apart. His ratings for genre films tended to be much lower earlier on in his career than later -- where he started more fully rating according to a genre sliding scale. But in any case, he gave the explanation for his high rating for TPM in the review proper:

"If it were the first "Star Wars" movie, "The Phantom Menace" would be hailed as a visionary breakthrough. But this is the fourth movie of the famous series, and we think we know the territory; many of the early reviews have been blase, paying lip service to the visuals and wondering why the characters aren't better developed. How quickly do we grow accustomed to wonders. I am reminded of the Isaac Asimov story "Nightfall," about the planet where the stars were visible only once in a thousand years. So awesome was the sight that it drove men mad. We who can see the stars every night glance up casually at the cosmos and then quickly down again, searching for a Dairy Queen.

...

As for the bad rap about the characters--hey, I've seen space operas that put their emphasis on human personalities and relationships. They're called "Star Trek" movies. Give me transparent underwater cities and vast hollow senatorial spheres any day."

Basically his whole review emphasizes how spectacular the visuals are, and how jaded he finds other reviewers who fail to recognize this. So on that level, he is basically acknowledging that the film is empty except visually/aurally, but he argues that this is what the movie is most intent on accomplishing.

Of course, he slammed "Attack of the Clones" a few years later, despite its strong visuals. I hope no one ever claimed Ebert was entirely consistent. To me, that's okay -- he emphasized his own subjectivity all the time, despite his periodic veering into arrogance.
Jmiller
Mon, Jan 25, 2016, 11:05pm (UTC -5)
Honestly, I can't see how you have this two stars. When I saw this in the theater at 14, I didn't like it. I thought it was a drastic contrast of boring and annoying. Now, it's an almost embarrassed feeling when I watch it. This movie deserves one star for the good light saber action and another half star for the music.
Joseph
Tue, Feb 9, 2016, 6:30pm (UTC -5)
I'm curious if you've read star wars ring theory, starwarsringtheory.com as that's changed my overall perceptions on the entire series (exception of the new movie)

Other Chris
Sun, Feb 14, 2016, 5:23pm (UTC -5)
Every time I hear an anecdote about someone's children really enjoying Jar Jar, it convinces me more and more that Lucas actually got it right with the character, if his intention was indeed to entertain children. Once us older viewers get over the idea that everything in the movie isn't designed specifically to appeal to us, then we might be able to relax and start to enjoy it.
Keiren
Tue, Mar 15, 2016, 8:28am (UTC -5)
Hey guys,

Just thought I'd way in as someone who didnt see or hear almost anything about Star Wars until I was about 16 not quite 10yrs ago.

When I first saw this movie, I really wondered what all the fuss with Star Wars was about. I liked some things, the kid was good, the pod race & Jar Jar wasn't. But it seemed slow & ponderous.

However I then did enjoy AOTC but on repeat viewings that's just got worse.

So going back to the OT as someone who didnt see them originally when they come out, nor had them spoiled, they are far better movies, but to be honest I found them glorified fairytales & that were alright, I could never understand the hype.

Maybe thats because I'd been watching Star Trek since a young age, perhaps I was used to space, the weirdness, wonder & aliens Idk...

But yh... those are just my thoughts in response to @latex_zebra & Jammer about how newcomers view the moveis.... Enjoy! :)
Skywalker
Mon, May 9, 2016, 3:23pm (UTC -5)
Jammer, I certainly agree with the negative comments. You admit you are an apologist for what you call "gems" -- exclusively the visual effects. No doubt this is Lucas's forte. But the real irony is that the extensive visual effects actually *take away* from the movie. Take the Duel of the Fates light saber scene. It's certainly a ballet, with great music. But it doesn't have any real emotion since the characters aren't being portrayed as having any real investment in what they are doing. Whereas the A New Hope duel between Obi-Wan and Vader is infinitely more interesting because we feel the danger, the cost, and ultimately the loss of a heroic character we have spent the whole movie learning about. When Qui-Gon dies, it doesn't really matter, since he has almost no discernible personality.

I tend to agree entirely with the Mr. Plinkett Star Wars reviews, which show that recursive analysis of these three movies demonstrates their inability to withstand any scrutiny.
grumpy_otter
Mon, Jun 20, 2016, 6:35pm (UTC -5)
This is utter, pointless dreck from beginning to end. It adds nothing to the original trilogy, and simply piles up lots of garbage. Visually appealing? Who gives a crap if the story is shit? I am amazed anyone has anything good to say about this.

To clarify that I gave this a fair chance; I was hung-over when I first went to see it. But I had promised my son and his friend that I'd take them on opening weekend, so off we went. I semi-dozed through most of it, but basically thought it was complete garbage even as I was cringing from the noise and the light.

However, since I knew I wasn't in the best frame of mind to watch any film, I went back to see it again the following week, and it was still crap. I am amazed that anyone can find anything good in this. The acting is appalling, the story line is stupid, and the visuals are just so much clutter. Blech and double-blech.

A virgin birth? ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME? Sailing through the middle of a planet? A dull and witless Padme? An obnoxious, well-fed slave family? THE DESIGNER OF C-3PO? And that flying Arab salesman whose name I can't remember? This was bad. Appallingly bad. It should be forgotten and erased from our collective memories. Yippee!

I can't even remember why the brat yelled that--there was some sort of battle at the end, I think. But I could be wrong--who knows? Not memorable.

One small thing that also bothered me is that once it became obvious that Padme was going to be Luke and Leia's mom, I was disappointed that she was royalty. I had imagined they came from humble beginnings. Making them royalty seemed to buy into the bullshit idea that certain bloodlines are more valuable than others. And an elected queen? Can you define queen?

Sheesh. Big old pile of worthless garbage. Jar Jar was probably the least offensive thing in the movie since he was just supposed to be comic relief. Anybody who was supposed to have a purpose was embarrassing.

People have mentioned the "impressive" lightsaber battles. Really? I don't care what people do with lightsabers if they are dull and wooden and pointless people.

Okay, well, that was fun to vent. I'll end with a little story.

Shortly after ROTS came out, I was exiting the grocery store and saw a man who looked like George Lucas--so much so that I did a double-take. He saw me do this, smiled and said, "You're about to ask me why I ruined Star Wars, aren't you?"
Ca$hback
Fri, Jul 1, 2016, 10:54pm (UTC -5)
The best thing about this movie is it has the least amount of dialogue between Padme and Anakin, enough for me to consider it only slightly worse than ROTS and leagues above AOTC.

Before the prequels, the star wars casual racism was much more limited. Here it's obvious and ridiculous.

I hate overly flashy combat scenes. Kendo was a far better base for lightsaber battles because it has a tension where they're sensing (force anyone?) each other's energy before they attack. The attacks are serious and decisive, not twirly and visually impressive for the slow-eyed. Swordfighting is as much a battle of the sensitivities, perhaps moreso, than it is about speed and strength. Acrobatics are non-sequitur. I would have preferred an evolution toward iado (look it up).

Battle of the fates was a little too obvious for me, so I prefer to think of Qui Gon knowing he's going to die and coming to grips with it rather than meditating like master splinter *cheese shudder*), while Maul plods back and forth impatiently. I still think it was a good scene and a good way to contrast the characters but the main reason everyone else seems to like it is the main problem I have with it, flips and twirls. Never cared for the double lightsaber either.

I do like the ho-hum looks on their faces when they kill droids reflexively.

The droid banter gets to me.

The obvious casual racism offends me and I'm not really the type to be sensitive about these things but I find it embarrassing.

They could have picked a better child actor for Anakin, maybe a few years older but they needed to impress us with a mere child beating everybody (I think his age was the target demographic).

The stuff I enjoyed the most seems to also be what everyone else enjoyed the least, the political intrigue. It's a shame it had to be done through so much exposition.

All in all, I think this movie suffers from not being able to figure out if it's a kid's movie or an adults movie and leans heavily toward the kid's side of things, namely the under-ten kids, while the political machinations are over many adults' heads, let alone those of the younglings.

I think it could have been a lot worse though. I've had to accept the tone they decided on.
Voyager Fan
Mon, Aug 15, 2016, 9:36pm (UTC -5)
I thought this movie was okay, not spectacular but not awful either. I liked Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan and also the villian Darth Maul. I found the Jar Jar character irritating because many times I could hardly understand what he was saying.

Also, while I do enjoy this website and the reviews of various shows and movies, why the use of the name of God and Jesus Christ as swear words in this review? It is offensive to some and doesn't add anything to the review.
Zakalwe
Wed, Dec 28, 2016, 12:00pm (UTC -5)
The flaws in this film are legion and have been neatly summarised above me. But for me what makes it utterly irredeemable is the racism, described above as casual, but no, it's actual flat out racism.

There's the devious, cowardly, sneaky, underhand, money-grabbing trade federation, who happen to have pseudo-Chinese accents.

Then there's devious, cowardly, sneaky, underhand, money-grabbing, slave-keeping Watto, complete with his Jewish-esque noggin and his Middle-Eastern accent.

And finally, Most notably of all, the biggest turd in the punchbowl of course is the black Caribbean stereotype of Jar-Jar Binks, which might have only been somewhat offensive if he wasn't also portrayed as being a completely malcoordinated numbskull.
K9T
Tue, Apr 4, 2017, 1:19am (UTC -5)
Another thing that always gets me with these crappy prequels is the goddamned prophecy. Who the hell writes these things? Why the hell do writers consistently resort to these things as plot devices (*coughLAZINESScough*)? Prophecies are the laziest form of foreshadowing and exposition possible, and are downright insulting. Why must every hero be "prophecised" to beat the bad guy? Why are prophecies never wrong? Why are they always perfect? And who the hell writes these prophecies, because it seems like THEY are the true heroes of the story. Harry Potter also resorts to this crap, but at least JKR had the excuse of being an amateur, first-time writer.

The Jesus allegory was also nose-burningly awful. WTF Lucas? The original trilogy had none of this crap, so why muddy the waters with useless, lazy religious symbolism garbage (which only serves to create plot-holes and contradictions). Although I say "lazy", it actually took effort to screw things up this badly, so maybe I should at least give some credit for Lucas's hard work.
K9T
Tue, Apr 4, 2017, 1:37am (UTC -5)
And I have to 100% agree with Cashback's statement about kendo as a basis for star wars. The "ancient" art of the Samurai (as in about 300 years old) really is about making focused, determined attacks, not flinging your weapon around willy-nilly (which would get you killed in two seconds against a real swordsman).

High-skill swordsmanship, especially dueling, is NEVER about acrobatics and physical feats of strength or agility. In fact, in Japan, the best kendo masters (7, 8, and 9-dan) are usually pushing 70 years old. And young, upcoming hotshots, no matter how acrobatic, dexterous, or physical gifted, routinely get their asses handed to them on a platter by someone three times their age. Why? Because it's not about physical stamina, acrobatics, flexibility, etc. It's ALL MENTAL. And about wisdom born of experience and countless hours of practice. The only physical part of kendo (and by extension samurai combat, and the basis for all lightsaber duels in the original trilogy) is about body control, and keeping yourself still and steady while you search for your opponent's weakness. And then having the control to put one focused burst for a determined, purposeful strike (and follow-through) without your opponent being able to sense the attack's vector. This is why in kendo you must a) call out your target, b) make a determined "kiai" (shout), and c) display complete control on the follow through, such that you can show you are able to receive a follow up attack, or strike again. And even in Western fencing, you can only score a point when you have the advantage and are pushing through with a determined attack, not just blindly whipping the foil about in defense.

Completely the opposite of the blinding, stupid, mindless, eye-candy the idiotic fanboys drool over with spinning lights and shiny distractions (seriously, they are like goddamn infants). And giving Yoda a lightsaber was the cherry on this cake of fail. Why the F*** would Yoda, a master of the Force, need a lightsaber? Yoda is not a warrior, for crying out loud. His strength is in his wisdom, foresight, and cleverness, not whipping around like a turd flung from a hippo's ass at targets three times his size.

The prequels are all garbage because they completely show a fundamental misunderstanding of storytelling, character building, and finding a deeper meaning behind flashy visuals and fake-as-sh*t special effects. And it's obvious from the start that Lucas has absolutely no idea what his own story is truly about, or why the original trilogy was so beloved.
K9T
Tue, Apr 4, 2017, 1:44am (UTC -5)
>So going back to the OT as someone who didnt see them originally when they come out, nor had them spoiled, they are far better movies, but to be honest I found them glorified fairytales & that were alright, I could never understand the hype.

Actually, you just stated why people loved them yourself. They were fairy tales. They were classic adventures with focused stories which knew what they were and what they wanted to be. It was the classic "Hero's Journey" and hit all the key points for a good story. They weren't political dialogue, or flashy special effects monstrosities, or some deep summation of the state of humanity. Their simplicity WAS their strength.

You saw them after you had your expectations set by a) decades of hype and b) watching the godawful prequels. If you watched the originals with no expectations other than as three entertaining movies, you would have found a great fantasy adventure with colorful characters, and a moving storyline. Nothing more, nothing less. But that's exactly what made them such great movies to the rest of us.
Del_Duio
Tue, Apr 4, 2017, 10:36am (UTC -5)
@K9T:

What a great post!
Thank you for the insight to sword fighting, it sounds legit to me :D
Peter G.
Tue, Apr 4, 2017, 11:22am (UTC -5)
@ K9T,

"High-skill swordsmanship, especially dueling, is NEVER about acrobatics and physical feats of strength or agility. In fact, in Japan, the best kendo masters (7, 8, and 9-dan) are usually pushing 70 years old."

Sounds like you're leaping from the fact of lightsaber combat being aesthetically based on kendo to concluding that it IS kendo. And your description of what makes a good swordsman is not even remotely true for most sword combat forms on Earth. I'm not versed in kendo, but in European fencing dexterity is *absolutely* relevant in victory. Look at the list of Olympic champion fencers and tell me how many are "pushing 70". Your comments would also be false in the context of Filipino machete fighting (which has a lot in common with the choreography in the prequels). I've listed these as types of systems very different from kendo, but obviously there are others, many of which were drawn upon in choreographing the prequels.

There is also the fact that lightsaber combat is meant to be understood as a dual-battle involving both weapons and the force, and that we're only mostly seeing the weapon side of it. You may conclude that because we aren't explicitly told something is happening that it isn't, but that's your assumption and not a fact, whilst here you are attempting to assert some statements about Jedi combat as facts, which are unsubstantiated. The fact is that even in the original trilogy Luke and Vader aren't using the same form.

But really even my comments here are a bit superfluous, because comparing Jedi combat to any current form is ridiculous, as the entire system of Jedi combat is built around the fact that they can see the future as they fight. This is made explicitly clear in Ep 1, and so if you wonder why acrobatics are used you may consider that in any fighting ecosystem (or 'meta') the parameters of combat are going to dictate which maneuvers and techniques are most effective. By dismissing the techniques they use in Ep 1 you are implicitly making a statement that you possess full knowledge of the variables in play while they fight, which is quite a feat since those haven't been completely disclosed to the audience.
Benjamin S
Sun, May 7, 2017, 7:13pm (UTC -5)
I must be in the minority. I loved Phantom Menace when I saw it at the theater and still love it to this day (I actually feel "Attack of the Clones" was the worst of the prequels due to it's horrid pacing and terribly forced love story). And in case you think I was a child when I saw it, I wasn't...I was 31 years old when it came out...I was a child when "A New Hope" hit theaters in 1977.

There was something in that movie that took me straight back to my childhood. I didn't even hate Jar Jar...but I think I understood from the beginning that he was there to appeal to children and he didn't bother me. So, unlike most of the world, I loved The Phantom Menace...and I feel blessed to feel that way. I went and saw it at the theater 7 times upon release. I just couldn't get enough of it.

I'm sorry others don't enjoy it on that level, but I guess it all evens out since I can't stand to sit through Attack of the Clones.
grumpy_otter
Fri, May 12, 2017, 6:35am (UTC -5)
@K9T

"Why the F*** would Yoda, a master of the Force, need a lightsaber? Yoda is not a warrior, for crying out loud. His strength is in his wisdom, foresight, and cleverness, not whipping around like a turd flung from a hippo's ass at targets three times his size."

That analogy made me laugh. Perfect! I was wondering if you saw the "behind the scenes" thing when George Lucas is going on about how everyone is all excited to see Yoda with a lightsaber? He thinks it's so neato! That little bit proved to me beyond a doubt that Lucas has no clue about the world he created.
TB
Fri, May 12, 2017, 7:37am (UTC -5)
I agree with Jammer almost entirely but I'll provide my own thoughts anyway, it's fun seeing what others think so here's my own take.

I was 13 when this movie came out. I was a huge fan of the originals since as young as I can remember. I had all the toys growing up and the announcement of a new movie was amazing at the time. At school we talked about double ended light sabers, young obi-wan and various other things that were shown in books/magazines before the movie came out (this was the days of 56k modems, no online video trailers for us!)

When I first watched it as a child I enjoyed parts of it, but even then things just felt *off*, it didn't feel like a star wars movie. The pacing was totally different, they quickly dart from one location to another without really exploring it or giving it enough screen time, and most of the locations felt rather boring (naboo city was beautiful, however). The only place they stayed for any length of time was tattooine, which we've seen twice before anyway.

One of the things that worked so well for the original trilogy is the 3 distinct acts of each movie: ANH had Tattooine/Death star/Death star battle, ESB had Hoth/Degobah/Cloud City, RotJ had Jabba's Palace/Endor/Final battle. By losing this format, the overall feel of the movie stepped away from star wars, and that's before we even get onto the plot details. Not an issue on it's own, but it may have worked better if they'd stuck to this format for at least the first of the prequels.

There's just so much that just doesn't work:

- Jar Jar and droid humour. We had humour in the original trilogy, but it wasn't so cheesy or forced: "On second thoughts, let the wookie win". "Who's scruffy looking?". In the prequels we get C3PO saying "this is such a drag" when he's being pulled along. There's absolutely no need for it, it stands out like a sore thumb and feels like he's breaking the fourth wall, it certainly takes you out of the movie.

- The droid army in general. They looked kinda goofy, but had they just been an emotionless, relentless marching army it could have worked. The scenes where the army was deployed worked well, but the lame antics and "roger roger" that follows removes any sense of dread from them. Stormtroopers can't shoot straight but at least they're somewhat scary and not intentionally comical.

- C3PO is created by Anakin Skywalker? It's like middle school fan fiction. Who the hell let that get past the first draft? R2D2 just happens to be working on a ship we see in the film? It's rather convenient but I'll let it slide... but to have C3PO created by Anakin? It's stupid on every level, Anakin had time to build a pod racer and a droid? He's a slave, where did he get the money for all these ambitious projects? Could even the brightest 8 year old be able to do that? How long would something like that even take? There were ample opportunities for introducing C3PO as an interpreter on Coursant with all those alien species who need to talk between languages. Lucas took a stupid, cheesy and unnecessary route.

- Wesley Crus--wait, Anakin Skywalker is some kind of boy genius, some of which can be explained away by "the force". He's a pilot, despite never having flown before (although he has raced his podracer, I'm not sure that would really qualify him to pilot a ship...) he can build podracers and droids with ease and he's some super force user. Again, it just feels like sloppy fan fiction, something Episode 7 follows suit with.

- The gungans were pointless entirely. The underwater city was beautifully designed, but the gungans looked goofy. The story would have worked just as well with a group of Naboo humans or a less stupid looking and sounding race of aliens. It was a shallow excuse to overuse CGI and the movie suffers for it.

- Jedi gadgetry. Yes Luke conveniently had a grappling hook, but they had underwater breathing kits and blood testers?

- The ships are totally uninspiring. The original trilogy, X-Wings, TIE Fighters, Star Destroyers, Slave 1, the Millennium Falcon, shuttle tiderian, they all had a certain persona of their own, even down to the distinctive TIE engine noise. All of the ships in the prequels are bland and forgettable. That silver bullet thing they fly around in is like something from Flash Gordon.

- Most of the dialogue is just there to slowly progress the plot.

- The battle of tellytubbyland at the end. Two stupid armies nobody watching the film cares about that are a diversion in both the story and to the movie itself. It's a pointless battle with lame antics and even more ridiculous looking weapons.

I could forgive one or two of the above, but adding it all up just makes for a movie that is hard to engage with.

There were parts of the movie that are ok:

- Courscant, it looks like it should and it works as a nice backdrop. The senate is great and showcasing all the different species works within the star wars universe, but the plot to support it just isn't really there.

- The podrace. On it's own it's one of the better uses of CGI in the movie. It looks amazing and it's entertaining. The pod racers look and feel more star wars tech than any of the ships we see. However, it doesn't need to be there. Because there's never any doubt that Anakin will win, it doesn't provide the suspense it really needs.

- The Jedi Council. Yes Yoda looks like he's been smoking weed between takes, but overall the council scenes are well played. However, even with the talk of the force and the benefit of Samuel L. Jackson it falls a bit flat. Why are they doing on Coursant? What is their actual job? The movie portrays them like some kind of secret police service, it would have been better to provide a little more justification and background for what the hell they actually do in the universe.

And a few redeeming factors:

- Darth Maul is actually scary. He's probably the best villain apart from Vader in any of the movies. (Kylo Ren can learn a lot from this guy)

- The lightsaber duel at the end. The setting is great, it that actually *feels* star wars. It's slightly reminiscent of bespin but not too much that it feels like a copy, it has that large scale that star wars manages better than a lot of other franchises. The pacing feels a little fast, but it mostly works. Darth Maul makes the scenes work.

- Duel of the fates. One of the top pieces of star wars music. The actors, the script, george lucas were underwhelming. John Williams doesn't disappoint.



On the other hand, I don't mind a lot of common complaints about the politics in the movie. I think it works well even if it's not implemented in the best way. We had to see the fall of the republic and the birth of the rebellion in the prequels, some politics was required. The idea that the empire effectively gets created from a trade dispute between some minor players at the edge of the universe is quite an interesting one and the plot holds it together. Even if it's not executed particularly well and spawns some shoddy and often boring dialogue, it's at least internally consistent and does help propel the overall plot of the birth of the empire.



Overall, the bad heavily outweighs the good and we end up with a movie that relies on special effects and the fact that it'll make a fortune because it's a Star Wars movie.


The most disappointing thing about the movie is that there was such a wealth of potential that is barely tapped into. There are so many different ways they could have told the story of Anakin starting his Jedi training, so many different ways they could have extended the star wars universe and yet the result feels like they were content with signing off a first draft and going for toy sales rather than a good movie.

...Which then led to the need to continue in the same vein for the next two movies.

Chrome
Fri, May 12, 2017, 10:14am (UTC -5)
@TB

Excellent analysis, I definitely think those elements were what held the prequels back. Incidentally, I did watch this one again recently and I'd probably put it ahead of Attack of the Clones now, because Qui-Gon's at least a relatable character. Unfortunately for Clones, it suffers both from having terrible leads, but also way too much cluttered scenery. Like you say, having memorable and relatable scenes and characters can go a lot further than trying to have fancier special effects.
Derrikmeister
Thu, May 25, 2017, 3:34am (UTC -5)
I found the midichlorian idea to be offensive on my first pass and even more so today after multiple viewings. While I know my opinion is colored by watching redlettermedia and such, after a lot of thought I am genuinely convinced that the most probable reason midichlorians were introduced was because Lucas et al. were incapable of PORTRAYING someone who is strong with the force. That is in contrast with telling us Anakin was unusually strong with the force, which is in keeping with the popcorn, one dimensional nature of the film and its characters. In contrast, the originals made the force something about internal struggle balancing power with morality and the spiritual. That's why it was so irritating to see that advancement in the force in the prequels basically boiled down to how much better you were at mastering video game powers. Hell it would've worked too to keep it that way to illustrate how corrupt the jedi had become, which could've necessitated the prophecy of the reset button (how awesome would it have been that the Jedi saw the prophecy as the destruction of the Sith, when it was truly about the weeding of corrupt Jedi who would basically be the Sith but in a different way.)
RandomThoughts
Fri, May 26, 2017, 10:41pm (UTC -5)
Hello Everyone

It has been years since I watched this, but that is mostly because I cannot see it on Netflix or Hulu. :)

My thought was this: They said something about bringing 'balance' to the force, as if it would tilt the odds in their favor. But they seemed to be tilted that way already. There were dozens of Jedi, but seemingly only one Sith (maybe, since they didn't believe he existed originally), with an apprentice. So wouldn't bringing balance to the two sides 'balance' the force? Perhaps they somewhat mis-interpreted the prophecy, because when *spoiler alert* Anakin helps to wipe out the good guys, what was left was more balanced. One Sith (with apprentice) and a couple of Jedi.

That was just my take on it anyway. Your mileage may vary...

Have a Great Day... RT
Chrome
Fri, May 26, 2017, 10:50pm (UTC -5)
@RandomThoughts

Anakin (as Vader) also destroys the emperor, so the prophecy was read correctly. It was just an incredibly rough journey. I agree it's funny, though, that this movie never explains what the Jedi expected to gain through Anakin that they didn't already have.
Peter G.
Fri, May 26, 2017, 11:20pm (UTC -5)
@ Chrome,

I kind of think that part of the point of the prophecy isn't exactly what it translates to in terms of the future, but in terms of who is doing the interpreting. The fact that the Jedi, who already had an effective fiefdom in the Republic, read the prophecy as meaning they would have even more power over the Sith (and therefore in the galaxy) only confirms (SPOILER) what Palpatine tells Anakin in Ep III. They didn't think about the balance of the force, only about how much they'd get out of it as an organization, and that type of thinking was their downfall. The prophecy set them up for demise precisely because of how they read it, being who they were. So in terms of RT's point of it balancing the scales down the 2 Jedi and 2 Sith, yeah, it did that, precisely as a pendulum swing away from what the Jedi actually wanted, which was no Sith and all Jedi. Of course the reading of it as pointing towards RotJ is also valid, which means the prophecy didn't have to just mean one thing. This is especially so in light of Qui-Gon's repeated caution to Obi-Wan to listen to the *living force*. Any prophecy, if somehow true, is surely a message from the force itself, which in turn has to be understood as being either alive itself, or at least being *of* life and partaking of the minds of living beings. It isn't some rule written in a tablet somewhere, it's written across all living beings. And so, being a living prophecy, it can certainly take shape to fit the living beings that hear it; it's the rubber band effect, where however hard they pull on it is how much force it will have. The more they pushed Anakin to be some special Chosen One (they they definitely wanted under their control) the more he became the wildcard who would turn against them. Their own gripping onto the prophecy gave it its power to destroy them.

But RT is definitely right that "no Sith, all Jedi" doesn't sound like balance to me. That universe seems to be described as a ying-yang effect, so neither side can be (or should be) truly vanquished. Balance is harmony, not triumph. Yoda said "wars not make one great", and this is the deepest message in the entire saga, one that I've been pondering carefully for years. Even when Vader and the Emperor die, when we might be tempted to say that "the Jedi have won after all" I'm not so sure, because it's not clear to me, exactly, that Luke is the kind of Jedi they were. He may be something else, more like what in the off-canon is sometimes called a Grey Jedi. RotJ ends with the theme of "celebrate the love", which is not the Jedi way as we know it, but maybe the start of a new Jedi way. So again I would suggest that the force truly did balance again, with both sides effectively wiped out and a new strain beginning.
deepspace10
Wed, Nov 8, 2017, 1:45pm (UTC -5)
This might have been mentioned before, but I think there's some pretty good visual storytelling in that Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan vs Darth Maul fight.

When those lasers close in that hallway, and all three of them get trapped temporarily. Character reactions really show the difference between three of them: Qui-Gon Jinn sits down, calms himself and meditates, like a Jedi he is. Darth Maul keeps pacing like an angry lion in a cage, thirsty for blood, like a Sith. And then young Obi-Wan tiptoes anxiously and impatiently, waiting for the lasers to come down.

HollowKnightxxxx
Sun, Jan 28, 2018, 7:38am (UTC -5)
Unlike many of the die hard fans of star trek I found the Prequel Trilogy to be more exciting than 4 5 and 6. I watched 4 5 and 6 first but was put off by how Grim Dark it was and how very little does it get into Politics. I only really liked the lightsaber battles and space battles. The prequels however had it all for me. Supreme lightsaber battles. Space battles galore. AND Politics galore. To the point that I Knew Why Vader was willing to be sidious's lapdog for so long. And Jar Jar is so funny as the movies version of the Dumb Blonde Stereotype...Alien Version.
Davidw
Sun, Dec 16, 2018, 5:18pm (UTC -5)
Excellent review. I always thought RLM to be the gold standard review, but this is quite good.
David
Sun, Feb 3, 2019, 1:16am (UTC -5)
I saw this in cinemas back in 1999 (when I was in 12th grade), with 3 friends. After the movie was over, we all agreed it was a good film. Even to this day, I still see it as a solid 3 stars. The special effects were amazing for the time period and hold up well today. The action sequences were never dull. The only negative for me was Natalie Portman's acting, which was a bit wooden. Anakin's acting was acceptable (mediocre acting in children can be forgiven, to a certain extent). Jar Jar never bothered me either.

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