Star Wars in Review: Episode I

So here’s what I feel like doing. Watch the Star Wars films one a week and writing reviews of them on a Sunday. Here’s the first one.

The Phantom Menace

Director: George Lucas

Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman

Plot: A pair of Jedi Knights are dispatched to clear up a trade dispute that is really an invasion into the planet Naboo for the purposes of a political conspiracy.

Review: The Godfather Part 3 will always be viewed in a skewed light. When put next to the first two parts of the series, it pales. Viewed on it’s own, however, is a very good gangster film, solidly put together. Likewise, The Phantom Menace will always be burdened with by the weight of expectation.

Taking the movie on its own merits, disregarding that which has come before it and the mythology surrounding it, gives us a different experience altogether. It is, in fact, far worse than previously thought. Much of the film is based around in-jokes and thin references to the more successful films of a generation earlier, brief appearances from minor characters such as Jabba the Hutt and Sandpeople (who fulfill the important role of standing in the corner during a scene and allow fanboys to whisper excitedly to each other in the cinema). Taking this movie on its own merits what we get is a parade of pointless characters who wander in and out of the spotlight, taking up entire scenes but adding nothing to the progression of the story or the characters.

But in a twisted sense, this makes them fit the movie more than anything, because nothing that happens progresses the story or the character arcs.

Not Pictured: Anything Interesting.

The plot is total nonsense. It revolves around a complicated political conspiracy that is driven by characters telling each other what’s going on, even to the point that during one scene Ian McDairmond sits and explains things to Natalie Portman as they are happening in front of her. The plot is so badly communicated that even with characters constantly talking about it, the tangled mess of a story doesn’t male any sense to the viewer. The Trade Federation is trying to stop trade (why?) to Naboo but needs to queen to make the invasion legal after it’s happened (why?) and she has to escape with the Jedi’s Palpatine ordered to be killed so she can put into motion a series of votes that will lead to Palpatine becoming ruler of the senate (how?).

The gaps in logic here are to numerous to list, such as why Palpatine needing to queen to cause a vote in the senate but doing everything he can to stop her from getting there, including ordering her rescuers killed before they get there, followed by trying to get her to legalise the blockade. Everything feels as though they were filming from the first draft of the script Lucas had written. Half of these problems should’ve been identified in the first rewrite, yet somehow they made it to the screen. This is further evidenced with the queen and her decoy, who switch places from moment to moment, and in some instances the decoy even sends the queen to do menial tasks like clean machinery.

"How long do we have to stand here, George?"

Characters are equally poorly written. There’s no clear protagonist and none of the characters progress or change in any way throughout the story. Most of them are deeply boring, with all the wise, badass Jedi warriors communicating in a flat, dull monotone and all the other characters either standing around discussing the bizarre conspiracy theory or being flat out annoying. It’s impossible to support any of the characters or want to see them succeed, because they give us nothing to care about. In fact, they all operate on some weird logic whereby saying something out loud makes it true. How does splitting up and hiding in different ships to meet up on the planet later reduce your chances of getting caught?

The real selling point of this movie was the special effects, but this gets ruined. The movie is over saturated in CGI and it’s applied without any thought or logic. When every second of the movie is stuffed with layer upon layer of computer effects that do nothing to enhance the experience, but instead are used just for the sake of having computer effects, they cease being in the slightest bit special. The Phantom Menace did nothing to advance the technology of special effects, nor did it find a new creative way of applying them – all it did was spend more money on them than anyone before them, and that doesn’t make them special either. As for being applied without logic, the backgrounds are filled with so many random aliens and robots, all making annoying chirping and squeaking sounds, that it all becomes the visual equivalent of white noise. Random settings appear out of nowhere – what the hell is that room where they fight Darth Maul, and why is it in the middle of the queen’s palace?

There are many petty issues with the film that could be dragged out in this review. The killer robots that someone saw fit to program to say ‘ow’ when they get hit, or to hesitate before killing someone. The wacky slapstick humour that gets littered through every moment of suspense or action. The massive gaps in continuity, mostly concerning the Jedi’s possessing the ability to become super-powered action stars who can run at light speed, leap massive distances and hold their breath for unlimited amounts of time, but only during some scenes (sorry, do they forget that they can do these things from time to time?). Or even the many aliens based on offensive racial stereotypes. But when a movie has so many problems, when it’s struggling so much with the basic elements of film-making and story-telling like plot, characters and pacing, such petty annoyances seem a moot point. Perhaps in thirty years an ancient and drooling George Lucas will rerelease Special Editions of the prequels addressing these problems. But even is you edit out the Jar-Jars, the wacky killer robot sound effects, re-edit the scenes into a logical order, deep down on a fundemental level this will still be a fucking terrible movie.

ONE outta TEN