Gabez likes Star Wars so much he decided to write a review of each film in the saga, as recomended by his life coach. Mind you she is Lynn Scully.
After sixteen years of waiting, Star Wars fans finally got to see the start of George Lucas’s epic space saga in the form of the Phantom Menace. The plot is a little confusing and largely irrelevant to the action, but it basically boils down to Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi trying to train Anakin Skywalker into a proper little Jedi, amidst a backdrop of trade embargos and droid skirmishes. So far so dull, and Phantom Menace certainly doesn’t pick up any prizes in the plot department, especially as there was huge potential storyline-wise to tap into from the extended universe.
FEAR LEADS TO ANGER
And that’s where Phantom Menace fails most disastrously - you can’t watch it without thinking “Ooh, if only they’d done this instead of that”. In particular having the future Vader as an annoying seven year old who’s more hyperactive than a Blue Peter presenter at a Spice Girls concert seems a ridiculous decision for Lucas to have made. In his defence, a younger Anakin does contrast nicely to his “bad-ass rapper” image in Episode III, and thus makes his downfall into the dark side more dramatic, but I can’t help but feel that a similar effect could have been achieved minus the annoyances if they had just knocked on a few more years on Anakin. Age eleven would do me; it’s after the bubbly happy stage but just before the equally irritating teenage depression. It would also have made the Anakin/Padme relationship a bit more believable; whilst Natalie Portman does a fairly decent job portraying her character, the fact that she looks 18 throughout the trilogy pops the realism bubble somewhat.
Much more could also have been made of the presence of the Sith - “phantom” is certainly an apt word to describe Darth Maul’s character, as he only has what feels like a few seconds of screen-time, despite being the most interesting character in the film. Tempting as it is, though, I’m not going to go down the route of every other Phantom Menace review on the Internet by spending 10,000 words on what I would have done differently. George made his decisions, and now we have to live with it. Fine. Even though I wanted Phantom Menace to be darker, it makes sense for it to be light-hearted to be in contrast with the darkness of Episode III, but here lies the rub; increasingly Episode I feels like it is just the introduction for greater things. Sure it would be better if the plot revolved around the Sith and Palpatine more, but that ain’t going to happen because that’s saved for Episode III. If you see Phantom Menace as what it’s designed to be, an introduction for the saga, then you’ll doubtless enjoy it more than if you’re expecting a good film in its own right.
ANGER LEADS TO HATE
And yeah, there are some good moments too. The pod-race is, quite honestly, fantastic. It has no real meaning in the movie, but that’s more a fault of the weak plot than anything else. Arguably having some off the side frolicking is a good thing, anyway; not everything in films has to be super-epic, and the relatively small scale narrative of Phantom Menace is not necessarily a bad thing. Anyway, I’m digressing - the pod-race is a great scene, and a lot of fun to watch, so that’s definitely a plus-point for the film. Another good bit is the end, when Darth Maul battles Obi and Qui-Gon, with a double-sided lightsaber armed Sith fighting two Jedi being enough to send orgasmic shivers up anyone’s spine.
The music, as expected with John Williams, is incredible, especially with Duel of the Fates in the above-mentioned scene. If you’re ultra-critical then you might say the score is a little flat and too cut and pastey compared to the original trilogy, but overall Williams does a good job and any weakness music-wise can probably be put down to having to follow the dull plot. The acting never stands out as good, though to be fair it rarely stands out as being bad either. Lucas isn’t really an actors director but excels more at realising fantasy worlds and pushing the way forward visually - and here Phantom Menace does stand out, in both the great special effects (though admittedly over-used) and the fantastic set design.
HATE LEADS TO SUFFERING
The real hate-point for any viewer of Phantom Menace is the leprosy-inducing Jar-Jar Binks who’ll make you want to urinate over your TV screen whenever he comes on. His comic-relief hijinx are completely unnecessary seeing as the film is already lighter than a cloud, and indeed his very presence seems blasphemous as he takes screen-time away from the real clowns of Star Wars, Artoo and Threepio. The only consolation we get from having him in the film is that he’s ironically the one who helps bring about the Empire in Episode II, plus his face is an absolute scream at the end of Episode III. In Phantom Menace, however, he’s just plain annoying and brings down the standard of the film. Sure the movies are meant for kids, and that’s fine, but there’s a difference between well-timed slapstick and fart-jokes - children will enjoy both, but one is clearly superior to the other, and unfortunately Phantom Menace’s humour is mainly in the latter category.
In short, Episode I is like wanking. There are some great moments, but these are ultimately too short and shallow for any lasting appeal. When you’re watching the film it feels great and you think “this is such a great idea. There is no way that doing this can be bad. I’m going to watch this film all the time” and then it climaxes with the end light-saber battle and suddenly you wake up and you’re left with Jar-Jar and an annoying seven year old who says “Yipee!” every five seconds. And you’re sitting there thinking “oh dear”, desperately searching for the remote and a tissue at the same time. You’re left with a few fond memories but a general sense that you’ve done something wrong, and that you should be ashamed. You can’t believe that you paid for the DVD of this, what were you thinking? It seemed like such a good idea at the time, but what you really want is a proper relationship with a film, not a half-hearted wank at your parents house. You vow to never watch the film again and to go out and buy Casablanca, but a week later you’re fondling the DVD case again and considering giving it another watch just to see if it really is that bad. You sick bastard.
2/5 - a big pile of wank.