This July will be the tenth anniversary of the release of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace so it seemed to be a good time to look back at how, what at the time was the most anticipated film of all time has aged. I actually went to a midnight screening the day the film came out, sad I know! My impressions at the time were somewhat mixed. Looking back I still think the same.
The casting of Liam Neeson, Ewan Mcgregor, Natalie Portman and Terence Stamp is great and Jake Lloyd was okay as the young Anakin. There were two fantastic set pieces, the pod race and the final battle. The lightsabre fights are excellent giving a new dimension not seen in the original trilogy. The rest of the plot was a little strung out and a bit over padded. The mysticism goes too far mainly the whole immaculate conception of Anakin concept. The designs of the ships and buildings are excellent showing a shiny and new pre war look in contrast to the old dirty and damaged look of the original trilogy. Queen Amidala’s ship was inspired by the Lockheed “Blackbird” jet and looks stunning. The Naboo star fighters are also perfect, reminiscent of X-wings but in keeping with the rest of the design more streamline. They did however miss an opportunity to show a shiny straight from the factory Millennium Falcon.
George Lucas has claimed that the script contains aspects of his first draft for A New Hope (the original Star Wars from 1977). He has also claimed that he had the story ark from episode I to VI worked out from the start. Both these claims seem a little stretched although I’m sure he had some ideas and concepts that he wanted to use. When comparing episodes I and IV some of the connections in the storyline feel a little forced suggesting the story arc was not as evolved as he would have us believe.
Then we come on to the big problem Jar Jar fucking Binks. Was this character created as comic releif or to entertain kids? It is as if the film makers didn’t know who their target audience was! Did they want to appeal to the kids who had loved the original films and grown up with it. Or did they want to bring a new group of kids in. the result was the kids film and the fans film linked by the floppy eared clown. The problem isn’t limited to JarJar, the entire Gungan race is a problem. Their dialogue is annoying at best, the society they live in doesn’t seem to make sense and is not believable within the context of the film. Queen Amidala’s constant change of outfits and the over the top design of the outfits is a joke. They are clearly designed to make the decoy queen plotline work. Unfortunately it fails; anyone who had looked at a review of the film knew that Queen Amidala was played by Natalie Portman. that’s when the concept failed as it was clear the handmade sent by the queen to observe Qui Gon was Natalie Portman. The characters can be a bit wooden, I refer to the dialogue not the delivery. This I suspect is the reason for Darth Mauls lack of dialogue, it was cut because it wasn’t very good.
But the problem starts before that. The introduction so called credit crawl scrolling up the screen. In the original film we had:
“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire…….”
This is followed by the rebels running for their lives chased by the evil empire and one of the most sinister villains in movie history. Darth Vader. In The Phantom Menace we get:
“Turmoil has engulfed the galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute….”
We are not kids like we were in ‘77, we now have to earn money and pay taxes, we don’t want our fantasy escapism to be about a tax dispute.
In conclusion taken on its own merits it is a good solid film enjoyable film. The first in a trilogy that gradually gets better culminating in Revenge of the Sith . Taken from the point of view of a fan of the first three films it is a bit disappointing and the best of the trilogy, Revenge of the Sith is at best on a par with the weakest of the original films Return of the Jedi. Like the trilogy as a whole it isn’t bad but it could have been so much more. George Lucas has one last shot at redemption. He has stated that the story finishes with the redemption of Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi so the story can not go beyond that point so he has to go back generations to the start of the Jedi and find out how and why the Sith were wiped out. But he won’t do it so we will have to settle for the six films we have. The possibilities for this film could be endless but I know it will never get made.