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The Star Wars Saga: Episode 1, The Phantom Menace *All Spoilers*

One of my local TV stations is showing every Star Wars movie in order, every Saturday, for the next six weeks leading up to the release of Star Wars, Episode VII, The Force Awakens in theaters this Christmas.

I plan to watch each film, at least two of which I've never managed to watch all the way through. Then I thought I'd blog about each movie here. Not so much a review but more my thoughts about the film, ranging from what I like, to what I see as a problem and maybe my thoughts on original trilogy re-releases and updates.

This post I'll start with Episode I, The Phantom Menace but first, a little history of my fandom.



I've been a Star Wars fan since the original first movie was released, back when it was just called Star Wars and not Star Wars, Episode IV, A New Hope. At age seven, I was too young to see the first movie in a theater and don't recall my parent's taking me to see it. It's quite possible my first live action experience of Star Wars was the Star Wars Holiday Special which I saw when it originally aired on television.

Either Christmas of 1977 or 1978 my parents (I mean Santa) bought me the Star Wars board game. I didn't start collecting Star Wars figures until much later when I could buy them myself. I got pretty close to collecting them all - well all those released up to and including Return of the Jedi.

Snow Speeder Model I made from
paper, card, wood and other bits at
about age 15.
I did see the original release of The Empire Strikes Back in the theater as part of a school excursion (best school excursion ever!). Then, with the invention of VCRs, we got hold of the original trilogy on VHS and nearly wore them out. I watched A New Hope so often, for a while there I could recite it line for line.

When the first of the prequels was announced I was excited for them, even though by that point I'd sold almost all of my Star Wars Collection.

It had been more than a decade (very close to two) with no Star Wars film and, any real fan, knew that George Lucas himself had at least 9 (possibly 12) films roughly sketched out. Plus that image of Darth Maul on the posters was intriguing, more so than the premise of seeing how Darth Vader came to be.

Episode I, The Phantom Menace

I originally went to see this movie in the theater and remember enjoying it well enough. Even though Jar Jar Binks was a silly character he wasn't the worst part of the film for me. Rewatching the film last Saturday I actually found a lot of it to be very re-watchable, particularly all the Tatooine scenes. Those scenes felt the most like the original trilogy.

I wasn't a big fan of the pod race, only because it was an obvious computer game tie in. Even many of the camera views during the pod race were shown from first person perspective, exactly like a computer game.

I do think Jake Lloyd gets too much flak for his Anakin Skywalker. He's one of the better parts of the film to a point. The problem is he's given some silly, and at times, creepy lines which are supposed to develop his interest in Queen Amidala.

The whole scene where he first talks to Padme just doesn't work. I think he opens with the line 'Are you an angel?' Perhaps he's meant to be mesmerized by her beauty but instead of sounding like the beginning of an infatuation with the queen it sounds glib and even a bit creepy. As an actor I think Jake was too young to really understand what was supposed to be conveyed. Anything not related to his future relationship with the queen and he's fine.

There in lies another problem with Jake. His Anakin is just too young for us to see him hooking up with the queen in this film. He needed to be following her around like a lost puppy to at least lay some convincing ground work for Episode 2. Instead, he doesn't seem that fussed or interested to be around her.

My biggest problem with Anakin (and this whole film) is how he manages to destroy the droid control ship in a space craft that he's never flown before and is barely operating at times. The auto pilot magically takes him into the battle and almost all the way into the control ship - where he randomly shoots at nothing in particular, causing the ship to implode, just after he manages to fly to safety.

After seeing that I couldn't take the prequels seriously as Star Wars movies. There are earlier scenes in the film that try to set up Anakin as a great pilot and even a fast learner of space flight but his whole end battle scene is nearly a one big 'oops, not that button. Let's see what this button does.'

There are other issues with this film that ultimately led me to not care about watching the next two films in the series including:


  • The Gungan's were just too cartoonish as a race. Jar Jar may have been a key offender with his clumsiness but the Gungan leader was a whole new level of stupid character design. The over the top voice and mannerisms, it was hard to take him seriously at all.
     
  • Darth Maul dies. Apparently he doesn't in the expanded universe (which, with the Disney purchase of the franchise is no longer cannon) but for me, if it didn't happen in a movies then it didn't happen. Darth Maul had such potential to fill Vader's role in the original trilogy but he barely speaks, gets a couple of fights, then dies. Total waste of the most interesting looking featured character in the prequels.
     
  • Senator Palpatine is just not an interesting character. His political maneuvering isn't interesting at all. Who cares how he became the Emperor. In the original trilogy all the politics was kept to a bare minimum. It was all about the characters, tracking down the rebels and Luke maturing as a Jedi enough to confront his Dad.
     
  • The Jedi Council - also quite boring and quite redundant. Yoda could've been the main council spokes person or representative. He could have referred information to the council if necessary but if everyone just came to him, you could've had a whole lot more opportunities for character development and more personal and informal discussions.
     
  • The Droid army was actually pretty cool but destroying the control ship seems like the root of the one consistent problem the Empire has in the original trilogy. Designing stuff that is easy to destroy due to a design flaw.
     
Upon rewatching the film I did feel it dragged and got bogged down towards the end, just prior to the final battle. Then it all picked up again once the droid army attacked Naboo. Too much of the final battle was either Anakin 'oopsing' his way to the control ship or Jar Jar comedy fighting. It never really felt like anything was at stake.

Even Qui-Gon's death seemed unimportant or particularly moving. Especially since it was a pale mirror of Anakin's death from Return of the Jedi - which actually felt like Luke had lost a father he never really got to know. Not that anyone really wanted to see a redeemed Darth Vader in a sequel but Darth was one of those evil characters who was also kind of cool and awesome too. It meant something when he died.

Of the three prequels this is the one I would most likely watch if I was asked to choose one to watch again. As I said, I liked all the Tatooine stuff and Darth Maul will always be a highlight of the prequels.

After this I have to sit through two movies filled with pouty, teen angst Anakin who is dislikeable for all the wrong reasons... bad dialogue, terrible, out of place romantic scenes and nothing that really makes him stand out as being any more remarkable than any other Jedi.

We'll get into all that in my next blog post.

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