Monday, October 5, 2015

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace Review

It was 1999, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. My freshman year of high school. I was planning on ditching school, a rebellious moment in a mostly un-rebellious life, but I couldn't even do that cool. My mom became aware of my plan to do so and called me in sick instead. An excused absence.

A necessary absence. A day that was far more important than anything I would have learned in a textbook. It was the day tickets went on sale for Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace.

I grew up in a galaxy far, far away, a child who found no salvation in the Bible but rather cherished the holy trilogy instead. To say I loved Star Wars is a massive understatement: I memorized every moment of the three films from the opening crawl to the closing credits. The idea of being able to see a brand new installment on the big screen was almost too much to handle, and it was mandatory that I did so at least once on opening day. It ended up being twice.

Looking back on it, it was impossible for me to find flaws in the film even though they were not only there, they were fucking everywhere. I was 15 years old and I refused to believe a new Star Wars film wasn't the greatest piece of cinema ever created. I was so thrilled by the final saber battle between Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul that I was blinded from the truth. I pushed all the terrible from my mind.

Terrible. So, so much terrible.

So the journey through the six films is beginning to prepare for Star Wars: The Force Awakens which is due to be released in the United States on December 18th, a day which I took off of work ten months in advance for that very reason. Not kidding, ten months in advance. I had to be sure. My daughter has already seen all of the films, but only once each and over a year ago, which when you consider that she is only now about to turn eight means that a lot has changed since then for her mentally. Stuff she may not have picked up on at six may click now. 

I have noticed recently that she tends to be swayed by my opinion on things rather than form her own. She may love the movie and I may mention in her general vicinity a gripe of mine, and suddenly her own hype level has cooled a tad. I don't want this to be the case. I don't want to spoil her beautiful little mind with my own adult pessimism and deeper analysis of cinema. I want her to be the type of kid who just watches and loves whatever the hell she wants to develop the passion for the medium the way I did. 

This leads me into Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, a film she loves and she should. She is seven and things like Jar Jar Binks and a poor performance from Jake Lloyd are going to be embraced by an audience such as herself where as I will cringe every time either opens their respective mouths. I love that she loves it. So roughly three minutes into the film during the ridiculous opening involving the weird Asian stereotype Trade Federation officials and their cringe worthy broken accents, the dialogue is so freakin' atrocious that I literally dropped my head in disgust and muttered "God it's so awful..." to myself.

My daughter turns to me, her huge Star Wars induced smile ever so slightly fading away, and she says "What's awful?". I knew I had to put on the performance of a lifetime and not complain anymore about all of the bad on display. I couldn't ruin this for her. 

"Nothing, something about work." I said, which is a brilliant move by me because she knows I associate work and the word awful quite often. She accepted this and went back into The Phantom Menace zone. I think she still loves it. I know she still loves Jar Jar. She sees nothing wrong with Jake Lloyd. 

Bless her, I wish I could flip a switch and ignore it all and blindly love it, but I can't. Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace is a bad film.

Now, that being said, it is a bad film with some truly terrific and entertaining sequences. While not perfect on every level, the Podrace sequence is exciting and an absolutely sublime example of how sound mixing and editing can elevate the stakes and ramp up the energy of a movie, and of course the final battle with Darth Maul is electric, pure and simple. It is beautifully choreographed and a wonderful way to make a new villain legendary, even inside an otherwise regrettable cinematic experience. 

For the most part though, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace is misguided and strange and frustrating for fans of the original saga, and yet despite this I find myself willing to revisit this and the other prequels often and without hesitation because, well...Star Wars. It just has a hold on me, a feeling of nostalgia even in regards to the newer entries that I don't think I will ever be able to let go of. When I hear the words Star Wars I think of the way my imagination would soar and I would waste away afternoons and weekends as a kid playing those VHS tapes over and over and over again. 

I never once thought about flaws or dialogue missteps or racial stereotypes or less than stellar performances back then because why would I? I was a kid and I would buy in early and never skip a bit until the credits rolled. I want the same for my daughter. I don't want to plague her young, enthusiastic mind with all this nonsense that rolls through my own.

I want her to love The Phantom Menace, and I think I did a pretty good job of making sure she still does. I still remember walking out of that theater 16 years ago and believing I did too. It hurt too much to admit to myself that something I had hoped would be great could turn out to be such a turd.



  1. Your comments about the sound editing and mixing is spot on. I enjoyed the DVD commentaries with Brett Burt, the sound engineer, and all of the crazy methods they used to come up with the unique Star Wars sounds.

    1. ooo yeah that would be cool to hear about actually. I should see what kind of commentaries are on the Blu-ray set, I have never looked into it.

  2. However, for all of the cool sound mixing and editing, I remember that Ep I got beat out at the Oscars in all of the sound/visual effects categories by The Matrix. That surprised me at the time (being a Star Wars fanboy), but in retrospect it was completely right.

    1. Yeah, some films lose steam over team...I honestly believe The Matrix has gained a lot. I revisited that not too long ago and man, it is still remarkable.