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‘Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace’ Review and Restrospective

With the trailer for ‘The Force Awakens’ released, a final countdown has begun for Star Wars Episode VII. I could not be more excited!

Starting with this post, I will go through and review each Star Wars film (chronologically) until the release of the new movie.

‘Star Wars’ was one of the first movies I remember seeing. It was as if my Dad was trying to “force” it down my throat…and I’m glad that he did! I’ll save my experience with the original film at a later time, but I just wanted to make it clear that I did get to experience the original trilogy for at least 2-3 years as a very young kid before the release of ‘The Phantom Menace’.

Now before I get too in depth with this, let me point out a few things. My feelings for this movie are almost entirely dependent on nostalgia, and the fact that I was only 6 years old when I saw it in theaters. When you are 6 years old, it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between a great film and a bad one. At that point in your life, all movies look and seem like magic.

Now this isn’t to say that after years of watching this movie, growing up, and maturing my knowledge and taste in film hasn’t affected my over-all thoughts on this. It has. I’ve seen the infamous Red Letter Media reviews. These reviews on the prequels are very well done and in-depth, and opened my mind up to what makes the original Star Wars films so superior to the prequel trilogy.

However, with all that said, I unlike many, have not let the opinions of Red Letter Media and the Internet as a whole, affect my personal opinions on any one of the prequels… at least not to a point where I have an overall hatred for them.

So let’s dig in deep here! Do I think ‘The Phantom Menace’ is a great movie? No. But I do think it’s still pretty good. This is one of those movies, that even though I thoroughly enjoy it, I can at least understand where the disappointment comes in with other fans of the series.

Fans waited 16 years between the original trilogy and this movie! That’s A LOT of anticipation. For me, I was 6. To me, this was just “the next Star Wars”.

The anticipation alone is what I believe kind of ruined many things about the prequels. Fans thought they were going back to a place that George Lucas created, where everything would feel the same as it did back then, but that we’d get to see how we got to the story of the originals.

What ended up being the case though, was George Lucas was making movies that would further develop the technology for film making. This is where not enough credit goes to Lucas.

If it weren’t for Industrial Light and Magic, and Lucas pushing technology further… we wouldn’t have movies like ‘The Avengers’, or the ‘Harry Potter’ series. We wouldn’t have the amazing motion-capture work that we see with ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ and basically any character Andy Serkis has ever played. Lucas’s main intention for these films was to push technology to where any film maker could do literally anything they could imagine. Nothing is impossible in the film world today, and you can thank George Lucas, and ILM for that.

With that said though, was it really the right decision to have the iconic ‘Star Wars’ films be the template for moving Lucas’s technology forward? It would seem that this is the main reason the prequels suffer from nearly all the criticisms they somewhat deserve.

It’s no secret that when watching ‘The Phantom Menace’, the worst aspect of the movie is the acting. George might not have ever been all that great at directing his actors. It even shows in the original movie to a various degree. My firm belief, is that Lucas probably did have the ability to direct his actors better, but his primary focus was always getting the special effects to be the best they could be.

What should be said without any shame, is that Lucas did in fact accomplish what he wanted. The movie, even to this day, is visually stunning. Even when thinking back to what they had back then to make this, one must realize that all of these special effects were done using Windows 95-era technology. Not bad, if you ask me.

But Lucas’s primary goal is what makes ‘Phantom Menace’ suffer in the areas of story and characters.

What is the story of Episode I? Ummm…

Yeah. I’ve been watching this movie for over 15 years and I still can’t explain. Some stupid thing with the Trade Federation wanting the Queen of Naboo to sign some treaty but she doesn’t want to do it, so the Federation decides to invade the planet with their droid army. So the Jedi Council assigns two of their own to protect her…and unravel the mystery of a Sith power that is rising from an apparent 1000+ year slumber. Why they don’t send more Jedi to a threat of this proportion is beyond me. But because I saw this movie at age 6, none of this mattered. And so because I grew up with this movie, these are things I still just somewhat ignore and not try to read too much into it. All in all, the plot is just not interesting WHATSOEVER.

Perhaps the main point of this movie is the discovery of Anakin Skywalker. This is honestly the part of the movie I have far less issues with. Yes, it’s not the most perfectly executed thing in the world, but it’s entertaining and is the only part of the film that seems to have a somewhat focused story.

The characters are for sure a weak aspect of ‘The Phantom Menace’. The biggest issue is that there really isn’t even a main character, which is something Red Letter Media makes a great point of. It’s not Obi-Wan, it’s not Anakin… it could be Qui-Gon?
Thankfully, this is the only film in the saga so far that suffers from this. With all of that said though, Qui-Gon really is the only protagonist worth caring about.

Over the years, I have found that Qui-Gon, despite not being in the series for that long, is one of the MOST interesting characters in the whole saga. You see him at odds with the Jedi Council, and this makes him feel very different from them. You wonder whether or not you as a viewer, or any other character in the movie should trust his judgement. His judgment is what affects the story of the entire saga after all. He discovers “The Chosen One” and you’re left with 5 more movies still unraveling the mystery of what Anakin really is for the Force.

After Qui-Gon’s death, he is the first Jedi to become apart of the Force spiritually, and continue to live on through it. This is a secret that played a heavy role for Obi-Wan and Yoda in the original films, and could likely still play a key role in future films.

He sees something that the other Jedi couldn’t. This even brings about a point that many seem to ignore because of their hatred. Jar Jar Binks is without a doubt one of the most irritating characters in film history. But when looking in depth of Qui-Gon’s actions, it’s pretty clear that he sees the importance of what Jar Jar can bring to them. Many wonder “Why is this annoying duck-rabbit joining our main heroes on every single event”?

Well… it’s because Qui-Gon saw that he would end up being of great use. Jar Jar ended up being the main reason for why the droid army didn’t take over Naboo. It was Jar Jar’s thoughts to the Queen that made her realize that he was their link to getting the Gungans to join forces with the rest of Naboo and prevent more suffering and death.

Now I’m not going off on this tangent saying that I support Jar Jar. I do actually really hate the character. He almost ruins the whole first 35-40 minutes of the movie. He could have been executed in a much better way, to be a slight annoyance to the characters on screen, but less-so to the viewers. This is possible, and was done with C-3PO in ‘Empire Strikes Back’.

I am trying to say however, that Jar Jar does in fact serve a very large purpose. His primary purpose seemed more complete by the end of this film, however, let’s jump back to Qui-Gon.

Any other Jedi that were in Jar Jar’s presence would have dismissed him and found another way. Qui-Gon saw that Jar Jar was a link to a victory. He ended up being completely right. He was also the only character that showed any type of real patience towards the character. This is a teaching that would continue further with many other characters and creatures in the Star Wars saga.

Take the Ewoks for example, and the entire reason Luke was with Han, Leia and the others on Endor in ‘Return of the Jedi’. Once they’re captured by the Ewoks, and after they befriend them, Luke leaves. His purpose was done. Yes, he had to go and deal with his father and all that good stuff. But what led him to Endor in the first place was his feelings for his friends’ safety. The Ewoks could have been over-looked by the other characters, but it was Luke that saw that if these odd creatures learned to trust the rebel heroes, they would end up being of great help to winning the battle. And, as we all know, they did.

This is where I see the genius parallel between the Gungans and the Ewoks, and a teaching of both patience and trust of all creatures and forces around you. This teaching began with Qui-Gon, was passed down to Obi-Wan and Yoda, and then passed down to Luke. And if you remember a little moment in ‘Empire Strikes Back’ you’ll notice how Yoda came off as a very annoying creature when he was first meeting Luke. A test of patience from the teachings of Qui-Gon, inspired by his experience with Jar Jar? Perhaps.

It just seems to me, that Qui-Gon’s will of the Force matches far more in line with how Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Luke used the Force, as opposed to how the other Jedi used it in the prequels. The Jedi Council seem to focus a lot on the past and future, and rarely on the present.

It’s even said in Qui-Gon’s dialogue to Anakin before his pod race, when he tells him to “Concentrate on the moment. Feel. Don’t think. Use your instincts”. This is NOT something Obi-Wan or Yoda would say in the prequels, but would for sure say when training Luke later on.

Qui-Gon’s teachings, at least to me, are far over-looked and are the most fascinating part of the entire Force mythology. And on a larger scale, he did end up being right about Anakin one day bringing the Force back into balance. Whatever that ended up being, is open to more interpretation now though, seeing how we’re getting a continuation of the story after ‘Return of the Jedi’.

But hey, maybe I’m reading into it way too much. I see a lot of problems with this movie, as do many. Regardless, I will defend it until the day that I die because to me, it’s still Star Wars! Sure, it has its problems, but who are we to ever say that any one of the prequels aren’t “Real Star Wars”.

THE CREATOR OF THE SERIES MADE THEM!!! Up until now, with the franchise being in the hands of Disney, the story of Star Wars was in the hands of ONE person. They were HIS stories, for US to enjoy them. If you don’t like a certain one, then whatever, that’s fine.

But this is my message to all of you reading:
Form your own opinion! The Internet can be a crappy thing when it comes to any form of criticism. It’s so easy to jump on a bandwagon and hate or love something because it seems like a vast majority do, or if one very in-depth review (Red Letter Media) directly influences your opinion.

For me, I love Star Wars in general. And what makes it such a great story is that it does have flaws. These flaws are actually what make Star Wars so fun for me. It’s the fact that we all seem to have almost a love-hate relationship with it. For me though, I’ve come to just embrace and love these flaws no matter what. This is a fact that is often over-looked with the originals too. Those movies have problems as well, it’s just that the Internet didn’t exist back then and as I said in my ‘Goonies’ review, 80’s films were a genre of their own.

A series is only as great as it’s characters, and while this film doesn’t feature the greatest use of plot and character development, it at least introduced us to many that we would come to care about for the other installments. And it also opens the mythology up more too. I might get some hate for this, but I see no issue with the midichlorians either. I think it makes perfect sense to have a scientific side of the Force, as well as a spiritual one. And again, we can’t get mad at George Lucas for making a decision to give a slight explanation to his own mythology. It was his own mythology and story.

Some say this installment in particular doesn’t come close to the emotion levels of the others, and while I would say that’s true, there definitely are a few great moments. Especially when Anakin leaves his mother to go train as a Jedi. Mixed with John Williams score…mmmm!

The music is amazing as most would expect. If there is truly anything that any fan can say is terrific with this movie, it’s the John Williams score.

The visuals as I said before, are outstanding, and supports the action that comes along with it. The duel with Darth Maul is absolutely epic and the pod race is pretty damn entertaining too.

There are good things about ‘The Phantom Menace’. We’ve all grown and have seen its problems, but the truth is, whether you like it or not, it’s still Star Wars. And if you’re like me, you can come to terms with its great deal of flaws, and just embrace it.

Maybe it wasn’t what people hoped for with all of their waiting and anticipation back in 1999. Maybe Jar Jar sucks, and the acting is poor. Maybe looking back, it could have just been flat-out, a better executed movie.

But as a lover of the Star Wars mythology as a whole, ‘The Phantom Menace’ is something I cannot deny my appeal for.

Rating: B-

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