Full destruction of the Star Wars saga
By Jack Anderson on January 1, 2016
Admirers of Star Wars had been waiting for this movie for sixteen years, since the release of "Return of the Jedi". "The Phantom Menace" was one of the most expected movie of the twentieth century, if not the most one. Expectations were more than high. And surely, the pressure was definitely too big for only one man.
Still, George Lucas decided to produce three prequels.
Six months before its release, the trailer of the movie was already a phenomenon in an era where social medias and smartphones did not exist.
In May 1999, the film was finally released and fans from all over the world went into a theatre nearby with full excitement. I was one of those people and I will always remember the excitement and the people wearing disguise.
Suddenly, the Star Wars music was playing in the cinema and the first words of the prologue text was being displayed. History is starting... And here are the words:
Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlaying star systems is in dispute. Hoping to resolve the matter with a blockade of deadly battleships, the greedy Trade Federation has stopped all shipping to the small planet of Naboo.
While the congress of the Republic endlessly debates this alarming chain of events, the Supreme Chancellor has secretly dispatched two Jedi Knights, the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, to settle the conflict.....
As soon as the text appears, the first thing that comes to mind is: huh?! Trade federation? Taxation of trade routes? Endless debates? Jedi sent to resolve a political conflict?
Can it be that this movie will ruin the saga? Let's continue to find out...
The first sequence - the very first sequence of the Star Wars saga - is showing Obi-Wan Kenobi and his master Jedi going to discuss with the trade federation. This sequence makes no sense at all from the beginning to the end. Let's analyze it.
The apprentice senses threat while his master says everything is great. Shouldn't it be the opposite? Anyway, moving along. Once they all sense threat, at the same time that Qui-Gon Jin says "I sense an unusual amount of fear", a droid serves them a beverage. They of course drink it without thinking that they could get poisoned.
Once they get blocked in a room full of poisonous gas, the head of the federation says to some droids "Destroy what's left of them" just seconds after sending the gas. Just let them die! So, the doors opened and of course the Jedi Knights feel perfectly fine.
Soon after, they hide in the federation ships invading the planet of Naboo. We learn that to go to the city, they need to go through the planet core, which of course means that the invasion will take place at the exact opposite side of the planet. This would mean that the federation decided to land its ships at the very opposite of the Naboo planet.
So, it's been already 10 minutes into the movie, and the worse is yet to come. His name? Jar-Jar Binks. We all know this CGI character that is the best description of the Star Wars destruction. Even though they had some humour in them, the episodes 4, 5 and 6 are very serious and dark. Here, we could say that this film is intended for children. But still it's not the case, since the plot is so overly complex and hard to follow, even for an adult. It deals with politics, trade routes, treaties, and so on. And in the middle of that, Jar-Jar Binks. Misa misa...
Our two Jedi Knights spend some time in the sea, with big fish eating even bigger fishes ("There's always a bigger fish.").
They of course have no clue where to go, but "The force will guide us."
Once on Naboo, the two creeps from the trade federation want the queen to sign a treaty stating that the invasion is legal. What is the all point of the trade federation? Blocking trades (so that they don't get money) and then invading a planet, for what?!
By that time (25 minutes already), the lightsabers have been used so many times that there is no sense of danger at all. Not one bit. Droids are being killed by the dozens. There is no building of any emotion. As an audience, we don't care one bit of anything.
Later, the queen is formally thanking R2D2 (a robot). Remember when Luke Skywalker says hi to R2 in the first movie? This is a small thing but this shows that every good thing from "A New Hope" is bad in this one.
After half an hour, we finally get to meet Darth Vader! Of course, the young version of him. Unfortunately, the young boy playing Anakin Skywalker is giving a more than bad acting performance. Jake Lloyd is definitely an error of casting, and a big one - error that will be done once more in the next two films with Hayden Christensen.
Jake Lloyd is simply reciting lines, and it's pretty obvious. It's even more obvious when watching the making of the film, where you see how much the boy is struggling.
After the mother of Anakin is explaining that she gave birth and that "there's no father" (immaculately conceived), Qui-Gon Jin is taking a blood simple from the young Darth Vader and we discover as an audience that the force is actually in the blood of the boy. This once more destroys the saga entirely. All the great discussions from the first three movies about the amazing concept of the force are destroyed. The force is in the blood, nothing more to show, people. Moving along.
After almost an hour, we get 15 minutes of a podrace, where we all know in advance that Anakin will win. It clearly feels like watching a videogame, as almost all images are computer-generated. There is no emotion, no suspense, no point at all. This is totally useless.
Ultimately, the movie ends with a war taking place at four different places: in the city with the queen, in the landscape with Jar-Jar, in the sky with Anakin and with Darth Maul, the only character that we will remember from this movie. Indeed, while we don't care about the three first separate sequences (stupid: both Jar-Jar and Anakin randomly wins by coincidences), there is just one scene that is built and is a bit interesting. I am talking about the fight between Darth Maul, Kenobi and Jin.
Unfortunately, this sequence is cut many times with other sequences, hence the emotions that are finally being built come down each time.
But for this sequence, the only great thing that we will remember is the excellent music created for this scene by John Williams. This insane theme is named Duel of the Fates and is the perfect theme.
Even though the fight is heavily choreographed, still it is fun and entertaining.
But it's still late and the film ends soon after.
The end credits are rolling and now we can do a proper reflection on this film. Cinema is an art form based on collaboration. George Lucas had sixteen years to write it or find good people to do it for him. But he chose very poorly. And, from what we can see in the making of, most people around him praised him for those choices.
"The Phantom Menace" is one of the worse movies that I have seen. The story is totally boring and serves no purpose. Indeed, Senator Palpatine is trying to get elected Chancellor. Whether the Jedi Knights are there or not, he would have succeed anyway. So what's the point of all that?
As for the characters, Qui-Gon Jin and Obi-Wan Kenobi should clearly have been the same character, as there is not much difference between them and we don't care for any of them. Can we really compare Han Solo, Princess Leia, Darth Vader to dull characters such as Qui-Gon Jin, Padme or Jar-Jar Binks?
Finally, the direction is horrible. There is so much crap on each and every frame.
Once more, looking at the making of is extremely interesting, as you can see that the movie was really created in post-production. And that when the team saw the rough cut for the first time, they clearly hated it. Of course, I'm sure they would all have preferred to produce an entertaining movie. They also should be praised for all the tremendous efforts that they have made into it. The special effects are very well done and the level of perfection and details is high.
But instead of simply complaining about the film. Let's go to the high level and rethink what is the basis of all good film. A damn good script. Looking at the script, there is no way that people thought it would be a great movie. But it was Star Wars and everyone thought that because of it, it would be a great movie.
In a way, this is reassuring, because this proves that whether you have millions and millions of dollars, this does not matter one bit if you work with a poor script. And words have no price.
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.
"Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace," to cite its full title, is an astonishing achievement in imaginative filmmaking. If some of the characters are less than compelling, perhaps that's inevitable: This is the first story in the chronology and has to set up characters who (we already know) will become more interesting with the passage of time. Here we first see Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, Yoda and R2-D2 and C-3PO. Anakin is only a fresh-faced kid in Episode I; in IV, V and VI, he has become Darth Vader.
At the risk of offending devotees of the Force, I will say that the stories of the "Star Wars" movies have always been space operas, and that the importance of the movies comes from their energy, their sense of fun, their colorful inventions and their state-of-the-art special effects. I do not attend with the hope of gaining insights into human behavior. Unlike many movies, these are made to be looked at more than listened to, and George Lucas and his collaborators have filled "The Phantom Menace" with wonderful visuals.
There are new places here--new kinds of places. Consider the underwater cities, floating in their transparent membranes. The Senate chamber, a vast sphere with senators arrayed along the inside walls, and speakers floating on pods in the center. And other places: the cityscape with the waterfall that has a dizzying descent through space. And the other cities: one city Venetian, with canals, another looking like a hothouse version of imperial Rome, and a third that seems to have grown out of desert sands.
Set against awesome backdrops, the characters in "The Phantom Menace" inhabit a plot that is little more complex than the stories I grew up on in science-fiction magazines. The whole series sometimes feel like a cover from Thrilling Wonder Stories, come to life. The dialogue is pretty flat and straightforward, although seasoned with a little quasi-classical formality, as if the characters had read but not retained "Julius Caesar." I wish the "Star Wars" characters spoke with more elegance and wit (as Gore Vidal's Greeks and Romans do), but dialogue isn't the point, anyway: These movies are about new things to look at.
The plot details (of embargoes and blockades) tend to diminish the size of the movie's universe--to shrink it to the scale of a 19th century trade dispute. The stars themselves are little more than pinpoints on a black curtain, and "Star Wars" has not drawn inspiration from the color photographs being captured by the Hubble Telescope. The series is essentially human mythology, set in space, but not occupying it. If Stanley Kubrick gave us man humbled by the universe, Lucas gives us the universe domesticated by man. His aliens are really just humans in odd skins. For "The Phantom Menace," he introduces Jar Jar Binks, a fully realized computer-animated alien character whose physical movements seem based on afterthoughts. And Jabba the Hutt (who presides over the Podrace) has always seemed positively Dickensian to me.
Yet within the rules he has established, Lucas tells a good story. The key development in "Phantom" is the first meeting between the Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and the young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd)--who is, the Jedi immediately senses, fated for great things. Qui-Gon meets Anakin in a store where he's seeking replacement parts for his crippled ship. Qui-Gon soon finds himself backing the young slave in a high-speed Podrace--betting his ship itself against the cost of the replacement parts. The race is one of the film's high points, as the entrants zoom between high cliff walls in a refinement of a similar race through metal canyons on a spaceship in "Star Wars." Why is Qui-Gon so confident that Anakin can win? Because he senses an unusual concentration of the Force--and perhaps because, like John the Baptist, he instinctively recognizes the one whose way he is destined to prepare. The film's shakiness on the psychological level is evident, however, in the scene where young Anakin is told he must leave his mother (Pernilla August) and follow this tall Jedi stranger. Their mutual resignation to the parting seems awfully restrained. I expected a tearful scene of parting between mother and child, but the best we get is when Anakin asks if his mother can come along, and she replies, "Son, my place is here." As a slave? The discovery and testing of Anakin supplies the film's most important action, but in a sense all the action is equally important, because it provides platforms for special-effects sequences. Sometimes our common sense undermines a sequence (for instance, when Jar Jar's people and the good guys fight a 'droid army, it becomes obvious that the droids are such bad fighters, they should be returned for a refund). But mostly I was happy to drink in the sights on the screen, in the same spirit that I might enjoy "Metropolis," "Forbidden Planet," "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Dark City" or "The Matrix." The difference is that Lucas' visuals are more fanciful and his film's energy level is more cheerful; he doesn't share the prevailing view that the future is a dark and lonely place.
What he does have, in abundance, is exhilaration. There is a sense of discovery in scene after scene of "The Phantom Menace," as he tries out new effects and ideas, and seamlessly integrates real characters and digital ones, real landscapes and imaginary places. We are standing at the threshold of a new age of epic cinema, I think, in which digital techniques mean that budgets will no longer limit the scope of scenes; filmmakers will be able to show us just about anything they can imagine.
As surely as Anakin Skywalker points the way into the future of "Star Wars," so does "The Phantom Menace" raise the curtain on this new freedom for filmmakers. And it's a lot of fun. The film has correctly been given the PG rating; it's suitable for younger viewers and doesn't depend on violence for its effects. 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.
Frankly, this film is terrible, and the producers were obviously banking on the original Star Wars coming back all excited, and didn't bother come up with a good story.
What's wrong? Well --
(1) The virtuous Obiwan Kenobi talks an admiring young boy to participate in a dangerous race so that he can bet on the boy and win the money he needs for his mission. Sounds like the later movie HUNGER GAMES, except that in HUNGER GAMES we're expected to despise people who bet on children's lives.
(2) The young boy befriends a teenage girl who is presumably 6 or 7 years older. Come the next movie, they're suddenly the same age so that they can have a love affair. Are they of different species that age at different rates, or did the writers simply not plan ahead?
(3) The boy's mother tells Obiwan that she gave birth to the boy without having sex. Having introduced this bizarre Christological symbolism, the writers promptly forget it.
(4) And there's a character named JarJar, who apparently has no function in the movie except to irritate a lot of the critics.
***Solid return of the franchise after 16 years, highlighted by Liam Neeson***
A Jedi Knight & his apprentice (Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor) escape a blockade with their new Gungan friend, Jar Jar Binks, and the handmaiden of Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman). Upon damaging their vessel, they find sanctuary on a planet where they meet a slave boy, a gifted pilot and engineer, who may be the prophesied “Chosen One.” Meanwhile, the supposedly extinct Sith resurface, including Darth Maul (Ray Park).
"Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace" (1999) is the fourth Star Wars film and the first of the prequel trilogy, followed by “Attack of the Clones” (2002) and “Return of the Sith” (2005). It marked writer/director George Lucas’ return to the popular franchise after 16 years, the previous film being “Return of the Jedi” (1983).
Star Wars is fantasy packaged as science-fiction or “space fantasy” whereas Star Trek is dramatic science-fiction in a space-travel context. I’ve always preferred the latter because it’s more adult-oriented, but I don’t mind a Star Wars flick now and then and “The Phantom Menace” is entertaining enough.
There’s a new cast of characters along with a young version of Obi-Wan Kenobi and R2D2, C-3PO, Yoda and Jabba. Liam Neeson stands tall as the no-nonsense Qui-Gon Jinn, McGregor is solid and Portman is attractive at the young age of 17. Also notable is Hugh Quarshie as Captain Panaka.
I didn’t mind the loathed Jar Jar Binks and I enjoyed the wondrous underwater sequence and the thrilling podrace in the first half (even though the mother allowing her son to enter the life-and-death contest is unlikely, not to mention the Jedi knights condoning it). Unfortunately the climax comes down to the clichéd “big battle sequence” and it’s predictable who’s gonna die in the corresponding duel. Yawn. Still, “The Phantom Menace” is all-around entertaining if you have a taste for Star Wars.
The film runs 2 hours, 16 minutes.
This is a terrible, terrible movie. I'm amazed that A) Lucas made a film like this, knowing how beloved the franchise was, and B) that the franchise remained so beloved after this had come out... It introduced Maul though, who is my favourite _Star Wars_ character. So points on that one.
_Final rating:★★ - Had some things that appeal to me, but a poor finished product._