Let’s put our hands together and get ready to discuss the Star Wars film series, shall we? Buckle up your podracer, young Padawan, as I go back and look at the series as a whole, giving my thoughts on each of them and finding out where they each fall as far as my rankings are concerned.
Let’s start off by talking about my connection with the Star Wars franchise by emphasizing the fact I don’t have one. When I was a kid, I found something to enjoy from them, for sure, but as the years progressed, I lost interest. This viewing of the Prequel Trilogy even marked the first time I’d even seen Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith. With the latest film Rise of the Skywalker deemed as the Saga’s end, I decided I wanted to go ahead and give them a revisit, if nothing else, then, because I wanted to be able to honestly say I went and watched them with an open-mind.
In Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, the setting is 32 years prior to the events of Star Wars: A New Hope and follows Jedi Knight’s Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi in their efforts to protect Queen Amidala. This is all because they want to assure a peaceful end to this large-scale interplanetary trade dispute, but, along in their journey, just like that fantastic Weird Al song suggests, maybe, Vader someday later, they come across a young Anakin Skywalker. Anakin is a young slave that has unusual capabilities with the Force. All of this comes together to set the groundworks for the return of the Sith.
As one might expect, this film did remarkably well at the box-office, generating over a billion-dollars in-profit for those involved, which is even more impressive when you consider that’s without adjusting for inflation and that it had a budget of about half what, let’s say, The Force Awakens had. It’s clear that anticipation was high for The Phantom Menace, but it is also clear that those expectations weren’t met beyond its financial prospects. The film received mixed-to-negative reviews and, in my opinion, is the biggest reason the Prequel Trilogy receives the bad wrap it does.
But, is the film really that bad, or is it just Star Wars fans with jaded cynicism? Honestly, no, it isn’t that bad, it’s much, … much worse. Let me preface by echoing what I had said earlier about how I hadn’t seen Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith, this is because every time I made an effort to marathon the series, I’d sit through this film and I’d have to resist the urge to sew together a Jar Jar Binks voodoo doll and resist the urge to spend my nights punching it over and over again. … why aren’t you better? …
As I prefaced at the beginning, I don’t have any deep-rooted affection for the franchise, but I do the best I can at approaching every film with an open mind. I don’t believe in bashing for the sake of it and, even with a film I hold disdain toward, I try to be empathetic of its creation and thoughtful. Unfortunately, I can’t say there is a lot I liked about this film. I enjoyed Liam Neeson’s performance as Qui-Gon Jinn and I would, as a stretch, say I enjoyed the pod-races with young Anakin.
That’s it, that’s all. And, if we’re being honest, I didn’t enjoy Qui-Gon that much, and the pod-races themselves came off as messier than they did fun. They were built like the science-fantasy equivalent of, “Oh, we need $250 fast. What a coincidence! A dance competition! What luck!”. Obviously, I know it wasn’t on the nose as that, but the events feel awfully shoehorned.
Jar Jar Binks is awful. Although, perhaps, in some respects, he’s also revolutionary, acting as a prelude in the motion capturing animation that brought us Gollum from The Lord of the Rings and, eventually, Caesar from Planet of the Apes. This doesn’t change how the animation is hideous and far more off-putting than what it could have been had they chose a more practical approach. The voice-acting and dialogue for the character is dreadful, and it isn’t simply that his voice sounds like nails on a chalkboard, but, rather, the comedic timing and delivery lacks, and he muscles up a cringeworthy cheese that stains the whole through its entire progression.
The young Anakin Skywalker is bad, as well. At first, I felt wrong about saying this, because I felt bad about saying a little kid did bad in a film role, but … it’s the truth, and the director should have brought more out of him and should have written him better material. At some sequences in this film, it comes off like a children’s film, with juvenile solutions to situations and go-lucky theatrics, making this film feel more like a hokey, cartoonish, and stupid film you’d roll your eyes at while watching the SyFy channel than it does an installment in a multi-billion-dollar franchise.
The storyline itself, on-paper, isn’t necessarily bad. Obviously, The Phantom Menace doesn’t have the high stakes of the originals. The film is about peace agreements and a young slave who we’re well aware will end up becoming Darth Vader, and, although those aspects don’t necessarily come off as exciting, with solid characters and well written dialogue, as well as inspired action sequences, the concept of The Phantom Menace could have been achieved.
Unfortunately, Darth Maul’s memorable and distinctive look doesn’t pave the way for a memorable or distinctive antagonist. The action-scenes featured in this film are slow and don’t come off as though a lot of time had gone into their choreography or execution. The situation unfolds and folds back up in a whimper, and it’s with that ho-hum tedium my enthuse for a Star Wars marathon dissipates, and I have to use the proverbial force to continue fourth.
I think Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is a very bad film and that, in itself, is a shame for such a beloved science-fiction series.