In celebration of the release of all six Star Wars movies on Blu-Ray let’s trash the so-called “Episode 1,” The Phantom Menace.
Let’s be honest and admit that the second trilogy was not made for Star Wars fans; it was made for young children. When you look at it through jaded eyes it’s obvious that it was never meant for the people who stood in a line a block long in 1977 to see Star Wars.
There are cringe inducing scenes for adults. Most of them are centered around Jar-Jar Binks. To make all this easier on me, let’s just go down the list.
The original trilogy had action and humor, but that humor was organic. It was part of the story. R2D2 and C3PO made a good team and did a good job of keeping things somewhat light. Han Solo and Chewbacca, likewise. Their humor stemmed from their personalities and, probably, the actors.
And this is what makes Jar-Jar so difficult to digest. He’s a slapstick stereotype, dropped in for nothing more than to look and act stupid. If you take Phantom Menace and erase all of his scenes, the movie doesn’t suffer. It gets better (and shorter). Try it. You’ll see that I’m right. But it makes the kids laugh, because kids love seeing people act stupid and get hurt.
Apparently, Jake Lloyd was in a couple of TV shows before appearing in The Phantom Menace. I’ve never seen him act before so maybe it’s not all his fault but he was horrible in the movie. There’s no getting around it. If he had not had acting jobs previous to this I would remain convinced that he was related to George Lucas in some way and that’s how he got the part.
The real problem, though, lies with Anakin. The Anakin character falls into the same horrible trap that other children story heroes fall into: he’s beyond exceptional.
It’s not good enough that Anakin is “strong with the force.” He has to be Jesus Christ, born of a mother but without a father. His “father” is the force. Anakin is not just special, he’s super-human. His “midi-chlorians” count is off the charts; at nine years old (or whatever) he can race a pod racer better than older beings; he’s the only one that can fly into a space station and blow it up despite being on auto-pilot most of the time. Anakin is God in child form. While this is entertaining for children, who like the idea of children being better than anybody else, it makes for bad story telling. Anakin has no flaws. That may seem paradoxical, considering he eventually falls and becomes Darth Vader (*Spoiler Alert!*), but that’s not a weakness, it is a path that’s being followed.
R2 and C3PO have no function in this movie other than to pander to the original trilogy fans. They are not handled well. I suppose Lucas thought he should throw the older crowd a bone, but he should have left them out. The dialogue between the two is insipid and having Anakin being the owner – I’m sorry, child robotic engineer and owner, of C3PO messes up the continuity for the original trilogy.
In the original trilogy, droids are machines. Utilities. That’s why it was so jarring to see the Queen hold a miniature love fest for a R2D2 when he did was he was built and designed to do. Again, it was for the little kids who like to see droid heroes get their medals.
If you make a movie and get paid from royalties then what you really need is a video game tie in. That’s the pod race. It’s a long and out of place addition to the movie that doesn’t further the story or the plot but it gives plenty of opportunity to let Anakin display his super-human abilities and to show a lot of silly aliens doing a lot of silly things while the cornball announcers make silly jokes.
Take the pod race out of the movie, let Qui-Gon have enough money to pay the Jewish stereotype, and you’ll see that nothing is lost. The movie gets streamlined and everything marches on. In a much quicker fashion.
The Trade Federation battle droids are a sorry, sorry lot. They could have been menacing and fearsome, but instead they run around saying things like, “Roger! Roger!” and acting like Keystone Cops. There isn’t much more to say other than they should have been done differently and left the wisecracking on the cutting room floor.
There are a number of people who think the childification of Star Wars started with Return of the Jedi, specifically the Ewoks. I tend to agree. The film should have ended with Mace Windu’s superfluous repeating of Yoda’s words. Instead, I guess, they opted to have some sort of symmetry with the end of Star Wars. It doesn’t work, though, with the parade and everything.
The defining thread of the original trilogy was “the Force.” An energy that permeates the universe. An almost spiritual power that surrounds and binds all living things. And Lucas went and ruined it all by making the Force into a disease. I refer, of course, to midi-chlorians. Really? You can have a blood test and let it show you how proficient you can be with the Force? This was, in my humble opinion, the dumbest thing Lucas has ever done.
So, those are the things that ruined it for me. Like I said yesterday, I really wanted to like this movie. I waited years for it only to be disappointed. I even tried lying to myself and trying to convince myself that it wasn’t as bad as I really knew it was. I really wish Lucas hadn’t tried so hard to tailor it for a young audience, but the series is his baby and his bread and butter.
On a positive note, casting Ewan McGregor as young Obi-Wan was perfect and you can hardly ever go wrong with Liam Neeson.
That’s one movie down and two more to go.
I have an appointment in the morning so I’m going to put this up now. If anything exciting happens between now and midnight I’ll just post an update.