George Lucas had finished Star Wars, and it nearly killed him. He wanted to move on, devote his time to other projects. His company, Lucasfilm, and its various branches devoted their time to creating new moviemaking tools. Lucas worked mainly as a producer, while helping his buddy Steven Spielberg with the Indiana Jones films.
But, soon enough, that galaxy far, far away kept on calling. Lucas had come up with even more stories during the filming of a New Hope, and his creative brain was beginning to work on these again.
Testing the waters, he allowed the Star Wars universe to be licensed into a series of novels. Though the quality of these stories were as varied as the authors working on them, the Expanded Universe as it was to be known was quickly proving that many people were still starving for Star Wars, and a theatrical return seemed a good idea, if a good story could be had.
As it happened, Lucas had one in mind. While Return of the Jedi had a pretty definitive ending, Lucas was interested now more than ever to go back to the beginning. Tell the backstory of how we got to where we came in. After all, A New Hope was Episode IV. What happens in I, II, and III? Hell, it might even fill in some of those minor plot holes created by the various twists in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
There was a problem, however. The world of the Old Republic, before the Empire, was on such a grand scale that it was virtually impossible to do right in the late 1980s. Lucas already had to compromise his vision due to the technical limitations of 1977, 1980, and 1983, and he wanted to give these new stories everything he felt they deserved. So, it was put on ice again, but Lucas already knew it was only a matter of time.
Sure enough, one day Lucas decided to check up and see what his company Industrial Light and Magic was working on, and it was a little film by his buddy Steven called Jurassic Park. The photorealistic computer-generated dinosaurs wowed Lucas as much as they would later wow their 1993 audiences. Lucas knew the time had come, and began work turning his treatments and notes into a full-on screenplay.
Years went by. There were whispers, rumors that old George was going back to the world of lightsabers and starships. Effects were created, refined, and eventually tested out on the older films! The Special Edition releases, while polarizing, proved even more that the world was ready for another dose of Star Wars.
Then came the trailer.
The two-minute and seven-second teaser trailer for The Phantom Menace was a cultural moment in its own right, and everyone lost their minds over it. Pretty soon, everyone was looking everywhere they could for information on this new era of Star Wars. Fortunately, we didn’t have far to look. Soon enough, Episode I was everywhere! Gracing magazine racks, six packs of sodas, billboards upon billboards, and toy aisles as far as the eye could see. The hype threatened to collapse the film itself and very nearly did. Then, on May 19th 1999, The Phantom Menace premiered in theatres. After sixteen long years, a never-before-seen Star Wars was on the big screen. Did it live up to the almost ungodly expectations?
Well, at least for one 12-going-on-13-year-old Star Wars fanatic who was able to catch a then unthinkable 6:00 a.m. showing on opening day, you bet your sweet bippy it did. I fell truly, madly, and deeply in love with every inch of this film from frame 1. To this day, it is not only my favorite Star Wars film, but my absolute favorite motion picture of all time.
However, nothing is perfect, certainly not a movie, and my job here is to be objective. This film does have a few objective flaws and they are…umm…
This is going to be harder than I thought…
Seriously, while it is my favorite, on a scale of how well the films are made I put it a semi- close third, right after Empire. Like all of the movies, there are a couple of mistakes. However, again like most of the movies, they’re easily forgivable ones in the grand scheme of things. For example, there are a number of child actors in this movie and each and every one of them could have benefitted from a few more retakes. But on the bright side, most of them aren’t in it for that long and Jake Lloyd, starring as a young Anakin Skywalker, absolutely nails like five readings for each one he misses, so it’s all good.
Something else that’s pretty noticeable is the new Yoda puppet. Lucas and his team were so gung-ho about the fact that this film takes place 30 years before A New Hope, and they were having so much fun making everything look younger. Unfortunately, nobody bothered to consider the fact that 30 years isn’t going to make much of a difference to a centuries-old being, and he ended up looking kind of wonky. On the other hand, it’s still Yoda. It’ still Frank Oz and he still gets some great lines. So, while it is a flaw, I can usually ignore it (plus, with the Blu-Ray and 3-D rerelease replacing it with the better-looking digital Yoda, I no longer really have to).
Almost everything else is really good. Our new cast of characters are more than worthy additions. The film is incredibly quotable, just like its predecessors. The pacing is, in my eyes at least, the absolute best pacing in the Saga. It moves along at an insane clip, but somehow never feels too fast or two slow. John Williams tops himself with one of the best scores in the saga (and that’s saying something).
The special effects are some of the most groundbreaking in the series since A New Hope, and while certain shots show their age more than most it largely holds up well today; I fully believe Watto is the best actor in the Saga. There was even some primitive motion capture work before that was really even a thing. Of course, there’s still plenty of great model-work, set-work, and animatronic work to bring the full world to life. Add in the production design and the costume design, and this movie is just absolutely beautiful to look at.
So why don’t I think it’s objectively the best? Well, it’s because I think its greatest strength can also be its greatest weakness: the story.
This film should be called “Duality: The Movie.” How people and events can be multiple things at once is a major theme of the picture, so much so that the piece itself becomes a paradox. It’s simultaneously light-hearted and sinister, simplistic and incredibly complex. More unabashedly kiddie than any other in the saga, yet more subtly and painfully adult than most. While the other films have these elements to an extent and balances them relatively well, this film manages to be all these things at the exact same time.
It’s this multi-faceted nature and depth that make it a great movie, but it can be too easy for an audience member to go in looking for one side of the story and only be able to see the other side. It does face-value so well that the undercurrent and themes are easy to miss, but its undercurrent and themes are also done so well that the face-value can lose its impact. Granted, this is more in the hands of whoever is watching it, but the film doesn’t make it as easy as it could have. Which, really, once again, can be both a flaw and a strength, depending on how you look at. As Qui-Gon said, “Your focus determines your reality.”
The Phantom Menace continued the Star Wars tradition in one more way. It made a metric poop-ton of money at the box office while critical views remained straight down the middle. However, all was not right in the galaxy far, far away. While the negative review side of the other films, even Jedi, tapered off after a while, it was starting to stick more with this one. While a time span of even a year was kinder to its predecessors, The Phantom Menace’s criticisms became more and more exaggerated, and these exaggerations became more and more commonplace until, sadly, its mainstream memory is little more than a punchline. How could this have happened? If what I’m saying is true, and the quality of this film at least matches its fellows, why is there so much hate that follows even the mere mention of this film even today?
Honestly, it’s the internet’s fault.
If you were to go door to door and ask everyone who had seen the film what they thought of it, chances are you’d get a 50-50 split. However, the internet, at that time just showing the signs of being the juggernaut it is today, was finally allowing everyone with a strong opinion to voice it in a public forum without being considered crazy. Sadly, the loudest and most passionate of those opinions were negative. Add that to a nostalgia factor – many fans of Star Wars were children when the first three were released and never really noticed the intentional cheesiness, causing Phantom’s cheese explosion to induce some serious lactose intolerance – and the fact that there was an increase of peer pressure to look cool and intelligent to fellow geeks, and you’ve got one of the most ridiculous over-reactions and underrating in cinema history since Hearst buried Citizen Kane.
For an example of how this works, let’s take Jar Jar Binks. Yeah, you didn’t think I’d go through an entire review of this movie without giving him more than a vague reference, did you? As a purely comedic character, Jar Jar was always going to be a polarizing figure in the fandom, but really no more than C-3PO or Wicket the Ewok before him. As much as I love him, I recognize not everyone is going to. I know fans who don’t like C-3PO, but they tolerate him enough to enjoy the rest of the movie. That should have been the worst case scenario for Jar Jar, but we have the internet. Dozens and dozens of comments, articles, chatrooms, newsgroups, and forums pointing out every little thing that’s wrong with him, real or imagined. And since he’s considered so bad, everything associated with him becomes bad. His lines (the writing), his performance (the acting), his design (the special effects and production design), his role (the story), and his environment (the movie). This is just a small microcosm of any number of different elements that people took issue with.
Or, put another way, there was a fear. A fear that many long-time Star Wars fans might not be the target audience anymore, and therefore it didn’t speak to them as well as it once did. A fear that Star Wars may not be as flawless as they remember. This fear lead to anger at George Lucas and everyone involved with the film, and that anger lead to hate of everything Star Wars had “become,” which was ironically everything it always was. Finally, as the net helped facilitate its spread, that hate lead to the suffering on the part of everyone who worked tirelessly to give us the best movie they could, as well as those of us who see everything good in that outcome.
And trust me, there is so much good to see.
If George Lucas wanted to prove the haters wrong, he’d need to do something spectacular with the next film. Did he succeed? Well, meet me next week…
Favorite Lines: “Yes, of course. As you know, our blockade is perfectly legal, and we’d be happy to receive ambassadors.” “I have a bad feeling about this.” “I don’t sense anything.” “It’s not about the mission, master, it’s something elsewhere…elusive…” “Don’t center on your anxieties, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration here and now where it belongs.” “But Master Yoda said I should be mindful of the future.” “But not at the expense of the moment. Be mindful of the Living Force, young padawan.” “Yes, master. How do you think this Trade Viceroy will deal with the Chancellor’s demands?” “These Federation types are cowards. The negotiations will be short.” “Are you brain-dead?! I’m not going in there with two Jedi! Send the droid!” “This scheme of yours has failed, Lord Sidious! The blockade is finished! We dare not go against the Jedi!” “Viceroy, I don’t want this stunted slime in my sight again.” “My Lord, is that legal?” “I will make it legal.” “And the Jedi?” “The Chancellor should never have brought them into this. Kill them immediately.” “Check it out, Corporal, we’ll cover you.” “Roger Roger.” “Have you ever encountered a Jedi Knight before, sir?” “Well…no…but I don’t…seal off the bridge!” “They’re still coming through!” “This is impossible!” “Where are those Droidekas?!” “Sir! They’ve gone up the ventilation shaft!” “You were right about one thing, Master: the negotiations were short.” “I was not aware of such failure.” “We would never do anything without the approval of the Senate. You assume too much.” “I will not condone a course of action that will lead us to war.” “Oh muy muy, I LOVE you!” “You almost got us killed, are you brainless?!” “I spek…” “The ability to speak does not make you intelligent, now get out of here.” “What’s this?” “A local. Let’s get out of here before more droids show up.” “Uhh…on second thought…ah, no, no, not really, no…no.” “You hear that?” “Yeah?” “That is the sound of a thousand terrible things heading this way.” “If they find us, they will crush us, grind us into tiny pieces and blast us into oblivion.” “Ah…yousa point is well-seen. This way, hurry!” “Wesa goin’ underwater, okeeday? And my warnin’ you; Gungans no liken outsiders, so don’t ‘spect a warm welcome.” “Oh, don’t worry. This hasn’t been our day for warm welcomes.” “Heydeyole…ah…Captain Tarples. Mesa back!” “No again, Jar Jar. Yousa goin’ to da bosses. Yousa in BIG doodoo dis time.” “How wude!” “Wesa no like da Naboo. Da Naboo tink dey so smartey. Dey tink dey brains so big.” “Then speed us on our way.” “Wesa gonna speed yousa way…” “We…could use a transport?” “Wesa give you una Bongo. Da speediest way to da Naboo is going through…the planet core. Now… go.” “Binkssss…..yousa have the lifeplay with thissen hissen?” “Uh…uh-huh…” “*GARGLEGROWLGARGLE*! Be gone wit him!” “Count me outta dis one! Better dead here, den dead at the core…Ye GODS! What am mesa saying?!” “Dissen nutsen…ohh, gooberfish!” “Why were you banished, Jar Jar?” “Itsa longo tello but..ah…small part of it would be mesa…clumsy…” “You were banished because you were clumsy?” “Ah…yousa mighten be sayin’ dat. Mesa cause mebbe one or twoey little-bitty accidents, hmm? You’d say…boom de gasser…den crashin’ the boss’ heyblibber…den banished.” “There’s always a bigger fish.” “You didn’t tell him about the missing Jedi…” “No need to report that to him until we have something to report…” “Wesa DYIN’ here! Ohho….” “Relax, we’re not in trouble yet.” “What ‘yet’?! Monsters out dere, leakin’ in here, all sinkin’ and no power? When are yousa TINKIN’ wesa in trouble?!?!” “Process them…” “Woah! Yousa guys bombad!” “Your negotiations seem to have failed, ambassador.” “The negotiations never took place.” “Halt!” “I am ambassador to the Supreme Chancellor, and I’m taking these people to Coruscant.”
“Where are you taking them?” “To Coruscant.” “Coruscant…erm…that doesn’t compute…uhh wait uhh…you’re under arrest!” “Hello, boyos!” “There’s not enough power to get us to Coruscant. The hyperdrive is leaking.” “We’ll have to land somewhere to refuel and repair the ship…” “Here, master, Tatooine. It’s small, out-of-the-way, poor. The Trade Federation have no presence there.” “How can you be sure?” “It’s controlled by the Hutts.” “You can’t take her Royal Highness there, the Hutts are gangsters! If they discover her…” “It’ll be no different than if we landed on a system controlled by the Federation. Except that the Hutts aren’t looking for her, which gives us the advantage.” “This is getting out of hand! Now there are two of them!” “We should not have made this bargain…” “How’d you end up here with us?” “My no know. Mesa day starten pretty okeeday with da brisky mornin’ munchin’, den BOOM! Getting’ berry scared, and grabbin’ dat Jedi, and POW! Mesa here. Huh…mesa getting’ berry, berry scared.” “The hyperdrive is gone, Master. We’ll need a new one.” “That’ll complicate things…” “Dis sun doin’ murder to mesa skin…” “So…leta me take thee out back, eh? We’ll find whatta ya need, hehehehe…” “Are you an angel?” “What?” “An angel. I heard the deep space pilots talk about them. They’re the most beautiful creatures in the universe. They live on the moons of Iego, I think…” “I’m a person, and my name is Anakin!” “Hey! Hit the nose!” “A T-14 hyperdrive generator? Ye in luck! I’m the only one hereabouts who has one. But, uh, you may as well buy a new ship. It would be cheaper I think, hehe…saying which, ah, howsn’ you gonna pay for all this, huh?” “I have 20,000 Republic Dactaries.” “Republic credits? Republic credits are no good out here. I need something more real.” “I don’t have anything else, but credits will do fine.” “No, they won’t.” “Credits will do fine.” “No, they won’t! What, you think you’re some kinda Jedi wavin’ your hand around like that? I’m a Toydarian! Minds tricks donna work on me, only money. No money, no parts, no deal! And no one ELSE has a T-14 hyperdrive, I promise ya THAT!” “We’re leaving. Jar Jar…” “Wo-WAHH! *CLANG!*” (Outlanders. They think we know nothing.)” “(They seemed nice to me.)” “(Clean the racks. then you can go home.)” “YIPPIE!” “No again! No again! The beings hereabouts? Cawazy! Wesa be robbed and crunched!” “Not likely. We have nothing of value. That’s our problem.” “(Careful, Sebulba. He’s a big-time outlander. I’d hate to see you diced before we race again).
” “(Next time we race, boy, it’ll be the end of you. If you weren’t a slave, I’d squash you now.)” “(Yeah, it’d be a pity if you had to pay for me.)” “Your buddy here was about to be turned into orange goo. He picked a fight with a Dug. An especially dangerous Dug called Sebulba.” “Mesa haten’ crunching! Dat’s the LAST ting mesa want!” “I’m not sure this floor is entirely stable. Oh! I don’t believe we’ve been introduced.”
“*beedleboop*” “R2-D2? A pleasure to meet you! I am C-3PO, Human-Cyborg relations.” “*beedleboop*” “I beg your pardon, but what do you mean ‘naked’?” “*beedleboop*” “MY PARTS ARE SHOWING?! My goodness!” “At last, we will reveal ourselves to the Jedi. At last we will have revenge.” “Has anybody ever seen a podrace?” “They have podracing on Malastare. Very fast. Very dangerous.” “…I’m the only human who can do it.” “You must have Jedi reflexes if you race pods…don’t do that again.” “You’re a Jedi Knight, aren’t you?” “What makes you think that?” “I saw your laser sword. Only Jedis carry that kind of weapon.” “Perhaps I killed a Jedi and took it from him?” “I don’t think so. No one can kill a Jedi.” “I wish that were so.” “No, there is no other way. I may not like it, but…he can help you. He was meant to help you.” “Are you sure about this? Trusting our fate to a boy we hardly know? The Queen will not approve.” “The Queen doesn’t need to know.” “…well, I don’t approve…” “What will the boy ride? He smashed up my pod in the last race? Too, takes him long time to fix, eh?” “It wasn’t my fault, really! Sebulba flashed me with his vents. I actually saved the pod…mostly…” “Mmm, That you did. The boy’s good, no doubts there!” “Well, I have acquired a pod in a game of chance. The fastest ever built.” “I hope you didn’t kill anyone I know for it, huh? Hehehe…” “(Your friend is a foolish one, methinks.)” “Hey, Jar Jar, keep away from those energy binders. If your hand gets caught in the beam, it’s gonna go numb for hours.” “My tonglue…is fll…my tonglue…wrelnch…whelre’s the wrelcnh…” “You know, I find that Jar Jar creature to be a little…odd…” “It’s working! It’s working!” “I need a midichlorian count.” “The reading’s off the chart! Over 20,000. Even master Yoda doesn’t have a midichlorians count that high…” “No Jedi has…” “Don’t getta me wrongo. I have great faith in the boy. He’s a credit to your race. But…ah…Sebulba there is going to win, I think.” “Why do you think that?” “He always wins! I’m betting heavily on Sebulba!” “You may have one this small toss, outlander, but you won’t winna the race, so it makes little difference!” “(Better stop your friend’s betting, or I’ll end up owning him too.)” “You’ve never won a race?” “Well…not exactly…” “Not even finished?!” “Kitster’s right, I will this time.” “That’s absolutely right, and a BIG turnout here from all corners of the Outer-Rim Territories…” “And back again it’s the mighty Dud Bolt with that incredible racing machine, the Vulptereen 327!” “And a late entry, young Anakin Skywalker – a local boy!” “(You won’t walk away from this one…you slave scum.)” “(Don’t count on it, slime ball.)” “(You’re bantha fodder!) Hehehehe…” “Feel, don’t think. Use your instincts.” “You Jedi are far too reckless. The Queen is not – “ “The Queen trusts my judgment, young handmaiden. You should too.” “…you assume too much…” “Looks like a few Tusken Raiders are camped out on the canyon dune turn!” “Ooh, there goes Quadrinaros’ power coupling!” “He has to complete two more circles?! Oh dear…” “Oh, I don’t care what universe you’re from, that’s gotta hurt!” “It’s SKYWALKER! Amazing! A quick control thrust, and he’s back on course!” “…did he crashed?” “Chuba d’annoya!” “That little human being is out of his mind!” “AAAahhhhhhh!….POODOO!” “You…you swindled me…you know the boy was going to do it, somehow you knew it! I lost everything…” “Whenever you gamble, my friend, eventually you lose.” “Why do I sense we’ve picked up another pathetic life form?” “Anakin Skywalker, meet Obi-Wan Kenobi.” “My troops are in position to begin searching for these rumored underwater villages. They will not stay hidden for long.” “I made this for you…so you’d remember me. I carved it out of a Japor snippet. It’ll bring you good fortune.” “There is no civility, only politics. The Republic is not what it once was. The Senate is full of greedy, squabbling delegates. There is no interest in the common good.” “His cells have the highest concentration of midichlorians I have seen in a life form. It is possible he was conceived by the midichlorians.” “You refer to the prophecy of the one who will bring balance to the Force. You believe it’s this…boy?” “Enter the bureaucrat. The true rulers of the Republic. And on the payroll of the Trade Federation, I might add. This is where Chancellor Valorum’s strength will disappear.” “ I will not defer. I’ve come before you to resolve this attack on our sovereignty now! I was not elected to watch my people suffer and die while you discuss this invasion in a committee! If this body is not capable of action, I suggest new leadership is needed…I move for a Vote of No Confidence in Chancellor Valorum’s leadership.” “Do not defy the council, Master. Not again.” “I shall do what I must, Obi-Wan.” “How feel you?” “Cold, sir.” “Afraid are you?” “No.” “See through you, we can.” “Be mindful of your feelings.” “Your thoughts dwell on your mother.” “I miss her.” “Afraid to lose her, I think, hmm?” “What’s that got to do with anything?” “Everything! Fear is a path to the dark side! Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate…leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you…” “Yousa thinkin’, yousa people gonna die?” “I don’t know.” “Gungans get pasted too, eh?” “I hope not.” “Gungans not dyin’ without a fight. Wesa warriors. Wesa got a grand army. That’s why you no liken us, mesa tinks…” “He is headstrong, and has much to learn of the Living Force, but he is capable. There is little more he can learn from me.” “Always remember: your focus determines your reality.” “Master, sir, I heard Yoda talking about ‘midichlorians’. I’ve been wondering…what are midichlorians?” “Midichlorians are microscopic life forms that reside in all living cells.” “They live inside me?” “Inside your cells, yes, and we are symbionts with them.” “Symbionts?” “Life forms living together for mutual advantage. Without the midichlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continually speak to us, telling us the will of the Force. When you learn to quiet your mind, you’ll hear them speaking to you.” “I…don’t understand…” “With time and training, Ani, you will.” “HA! HAHAHAHAHAhahahaha! Yousa no tinkin’ yousa great than the Gungans?! Meeeeesa like dis! Maybe wesa…being friends. *GARGLEGROWLGARGLE*!” “This is an unexpected move for her…it’s too aggressive…Lord Maul, be mindful. Let them make the first move.” “Wipe them out…all of them.” “I thought the battle was going to take place far from here. This is too close…” “Ouch time…” “Stay in that Cockpit!” “Go back?! Qui-Gon told me to stay in this cockpit, so that’s what I’m gonna do…I’ll try spinning, that’s a good trick…” “Jar Jar! Usen the boomer!” “What? Mesa no has a boomer!” “Here! Takum this one!” “No giving up, General Jar Jar. Wesa tink of something!” “Hands up!” “My give up, my give up!” “*facepalm*” “After her! This one’s a decoy!” “Now, Viceroy, we will discuss a new treaty!” “Now THIS is podracing!” “It’s…it’s too late…” “No…” “Obi-Wan…promise…promise me you will train the boy…” “Yes master…” “He…is the chosen one…he…will bring balance…train him…” “We are indebted to you for your bravery, Obi-Wan Kenobi. And you, young Skywalker…we will watch your career with great interest…” “Confer on you the level of Jedi Knight, the Council does. But…agree with your taking this boy as your padawan learner, I do not!” “Qui-Gon believed in him.” “The Chosen One the boy may be. Nevertheless, grave danger I fear in his training.” “Master Yoda, I gave Qui-Gon my word. I will train Anakin…” “Feh!” “…without the approval of the Council if I must…” “Qui-Gon’s defiance I sense in you. Need that, you do not…agree with you the Council does. Your apprentice, Skywalker will be.” “There’s no doubt the mysterious warrior was a Sith.” “Always two there are. No more, no less. A master, and an apprentice.” “But which was destroyed? The master, or the apprentice?”
Biggest “What Do You Mean It’s For Kids?!” Moment:
- The brutal impaling of Qui-Gon Jinn and the subsequent bisection of Darth Maul.
Ratings: (On a scale of 1-6 where 1 is the best)
- Personal: 1/6
- As a Film: 3/6
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