Reviewed By

Christopher Armstead
The plan was to watch all six Star Wars movies again, for the first time in a really long time.  The dilemma was where to start.  4,5 and 6 or Episodes 1, 2 and 3?  I consulted with my colleague L. Sue, an avowed Star Wars fan, and she initially advised me to skip over episodes 1, 2 and 3, but realizing that was not going to happen, begrudgingly recommending starting with 'The Phantom Menace', since it is allegedly the beginning of everything.  So I watched the much maligned, much reviled 'Phantom Menace' for the first time in a bit, and I think I have a new appreciation for 'The Phantom Menace'.  An understanding, so to speak, of what I think went wrong, because Lord knows the Planet Earth needs yet another break down of 'Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace'.

The story is well known so we will gloss over the bullet points.  Cue classic John Williams score, cue Classic title and font, and cue classic Star Wars crawl saying something about a trade embargo or some nonsense.  Next we meet Jedi Knights Qui Gon (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) who are sent to negotiate on behalf of The Republic, but alas the evil people setting up the blockade are not interested in negotiating.  In fact they try to kill the Jedi.  By gassing them.  These are Jedi Knights, chances are they can hold their breath for a real long time.  The Jedi kill the first of what will roughly be one million droid bots. 

These evil people are being controlled by a shrouded figure we will know as the Sith Lord and this cat is bad news like few others.  Our Jedi need to jet down to the planet to help Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman), and this is where they make the acquaintance of the one Jar Jar Binks, arguably the most reviled character in the history of cinema.  But Jar Jar will be critical in helping our heroes achieve their means.
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A lot more stuff happens, the Jedi and the Queen are on the run and end up on the planet of Tatooine where they meet young eight year old Annakin Skywalker.  The force is strong with this one.  Qui Gon takes the kid along thinking him to be the Chosen One or something.  All of the Jedi on the council sense this kid is nothing but trouble, but not Qui Gon who really, truly believes in this kid. 

A showdown looms between the Sith Lord and his apprentice Darth Maul (Ray Park) versus our Jedi, with the fate of the entire Republic in the balance.  More or less.  More tin can robots will be destroyed.

No matter what anyone wants to say, 'The Phantom Menace' is not the worst movie ever made.  Not even close.  Look, I've seen bad movies and I probably couldn't even put 'The Phantom Menace' in the top 1000 of bad movie of I've seen… but it is probably would be in the top ten of the most disappointing movies I've seen, and we are going to discuss where we think George Lucas lost his way with his epic.  Recognizing, of course, that there was probably little that Mr. Lucas could do, regarding the hype and time that had passed to please anyone with this film.

Let's start off with the 1200 pound gorilla in the room, Jar Jar Binks.  I actually like the concept of Jar Jar, just not the execution of Jar Jar.  A character loyal to the Jedi for saving his life, also with ties to people who will be needed to defend the planet… I can get with that.  I also dig we need Burger King tie-ins and whatnot for marketing purposes, but the level of buffoonery that was Jar Jar was just too annoying for words.  I realize there was very little humor in the film, but this simply wasn't funny.  Imagine, instead of Jar Jar sounding like a three year old with a debilitating speech impediment, but instead he sounded like Avery Brooks or Sam Elliot.  Imagine this character was banished from his underground world for the crime of being too badass as opposed to the crime of being 'too clumsy'.  Jar Jar was doomed from inception.   He needed to be more Wookie and less Bozo.

Also, imagine a movie with a real villain instead of thousands of CGI robots.  If I see one more CGI robot get shot by a CGI laser, I'm gonna choke somebody.  This is made all the worse due to the fact the real villain was ALREADY THERE.  At this point everybody realizes that Darth Maul should have stayed for all three movies.  Would you rather see a 98 year Christopher Lee fighting Jedi or Darth Maul?  Simply tragic that this golden opportunity for continued badassery was squandered.  Plus Obi-Wan has a built-in reason to hate this guy for three movies, which would've made for a nice pre-showdown before Obi-Wan's main showdown in Revenge of the Sith.

We don't want to beat up on children but Jake Lloyd as Annakin might not have been the best child actor choice around.  And I think he was too young… or Princess Amidala was too old.  It was kind of creepy, this eight year old boy and this eighteen year old woman hanging out, with the eight year boy thinking, cause he has the force and stuff, that one day… I'm gonna tear that up.  Or maybe that was just me it creeped out.   And if Mr. Lucas wanted to pare down that eternal race sequence from the eleven minutes that it actually ran… I clocked it… I wouldn't have been mad at him.

Another thing that seems to weigh down 'The Phantom Menace' was that it was covered in this glaze of blasé.  For a movie to be as excitedly hyped as this one was, there didn't seem to be any excitement to much of anything that was going on, despite all the droid bot battles, and that is something that I can't think of a fix for.

Again, 'The Phantom Menace' wasn't the worst movie I've seen, but now thinking on it, it is undoubtedly the most disappointing one I've ever seen.

Oh look… more robots are getting blasted.  And I am officially choking somebody.
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