Saturday, February 11, 2012

STAR WARS: Episode I: The Phantom Menace

By Guest Reviewer Alan Trehern

2012 Ed. Note:  Went and saw The Phantom Menace 3D last night, and figured I'd reacquaint the blogosphere with the Star Wars reviews I did five years ago.  A lot of my points haven't changed, and neither has the movie.  The 3D was...fairly 3D...and Yoda wasn't a puppet anymore.  He was the CGI version of his Empire Strikes Back self, which I'm sure he appreciates.  If only they had replaced Jake Lloyd...**sad face**  And yes, I "Lucas-ed" my own review, but mostly just grammatical changes.

(Originally published May 26, 2007) For the 30th anniversary of the Star Wars Saga, Alan Trehern, self-proclaimed Star Wars guru, have taken it upon myself to satisfy your hunger for a Star Wars review...for all six movies! For this month, we will dissect and argue the pros and cons of Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
Directed by George Lucas
Starring Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman

Some may have thought this movie a menace. Sure, it had a weak story and was hyped to be the greatest film of 1999, so I wouldn't blame you for not liking it. However, being the Star Wars guru that I am, I can tell you honestly that I like this movie no matter what the people say. On the other hand I HATE George Lucas, possibly more than I hate injustice and mistruths, which is what this movie got from its director. (Of course, this opinion of Lucas has been downgraded from "hate" to "face palm alot"...I mean he came up with the idea for Clone Wars, which has undoubtedly saved the franchise from the damage the second trilogy did...)

Now you're going to tell me in a somewhat feminine male voice, "Oh but Trehern, if it hadn't been for George Lucas, you wouldn't have your favorite movies." The day Boy-George created the Star Wars universe, it took on a life of its own. Authors, artists, and fanboys alike started creating worlds and characters within its boundaries, while Lucas merely wrote a pretty standard story to jump-start it. (Uhm, I still kinda stand by this statement...

Anyway, Episode I is my favorite of the modern trilogy (containing Episodes I - III) because it was the first Star Wars movie of my generation. Watching it over again (for about the 1685th time) I wondered how I personally would write and direct the movie.

(Note: My theory on Writing Backwards will be discussed in the review of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.) 

The overall storyline is really (Ehhh..."pretty") good, with a few exceptions. I enjoyed the aspect of the Old Galactic Republic, struggling amongst itself for power like a boiling pot about to explode. You can see some comparisons to the Roman Empire as they struggled to stay together in the 1st Century B.C. and the fall to dictatorship under Sulla (Nice!). As the movie opens, Naboo is blockaded by the Trade Federation (political stuff I really enjoy); Jedi ambassadors are sent to help negotiate, as they are the peacekeepers in the galaxy, and operate outside the jurisdiction of the Republic (kind of...). It seems like it's going to be a great movie. You have the hologram of Darth Sidious (The Emperor to be), the always hot Natalie Portman as Queen Amidala, and Jedi. But then it loses steam with the introduction of (sigh) Jar Jar Binks and really goes downhill from there with the appearance of young Anakin Skywalker: the ridiculously annoying and whiny character Lucas just had to portray. So if you are considering watching this movie, here are some PROS and CONS that you should consider. (Back in 1999, Lucas claimed that Darth Sidious and Senator Palpatine were not the same person...I rejected this claim the day I heard it...seriously, dude, we're not as f*ckin' stupid as you think.)
What the whaaat??
-Jar Jar Binks: He brought the franchise to a new low. Of all the aliens to choose from, hell, I would have accepted another go at a Wookie. Anything but this guy. Fortunately, Jar Jar is only prominent in this film. (Other than the Ewoks and the droids, Star Wars hasn't really needed any comic relief...but Episode I went overboard with the comic relief.  From Kid Greedo to the Gungan Boss to Kid Skywalker blowing up the droid control was all just...**face palm**)

-Young Anakin Skywalker: Why did he have to be 10? Luke didn't start his training until he was 17, and he became the greatest Jedi of the New Republic. What they should have done was start Anakin out at 14-17 years old. Then the podracing scene (pretty cool) would be more believable because we all know kids and old people can't drive (ZING!). With his Jedi training beginning at 14-17, we can see a developed comparison between Anakin and his son Luke. Isn't the saying "Correct the mistakes of the father"? (No, it's not dumbass..."Do the sons bear the sins of the fathers?") Anakin fell to the dark side when tempted, Luke did not. It would have made a more in-depth and dramatic story.

-Yoda Puppet: Once again, George took it upon himself to improve on a perfect character, and guess what, surprise surprise, he managed to mess it up. Yoda looked nothing like his old trilogy self. Again the feminine voice, "But Trehern, he's younger in this trilogy!" NO!! He is 900 years old in the old trilogy, and in the new trilogy he has got to be approximately 867 years old. He should look exactly the same. (Hey! Lucas did something right by plugging in the CGI!

Did anyone notice Yoda's brethren in the last scene, though? I had never even heard of another of Yoda's species. But if memory serves me correctly, I once saw a trading card of Yoda training a Jedi in the swamps of Dagobah three hundred years before these events. Discontinuity? Or had Yoda been there before? Possibly one of the last of his Dagobohemian kind? We shall never know...

-The Death of Qui-Gon Jinn: This character was critical for the film, yet they refuse to use him in the remainder of the trilogy. Played by Liam Neeson, Qui-Gon proved wise, talented, and a rebel; everything George Lucas isn't. Why kill him off? Were you trying to pull at the audience's heartstrings? You need to be connected to a character before you feel bad about them dying. He only appeared in one film, therefore how can I make an emotional connection? Killing him early did open up the relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi, so I can see the thought process behind this. Even so, Qui-Gon was a character they could have unfolded further, but chose not to. (However, if you enjoy the character, Qui-Gon lives on in literature. Consult your local library.)
Whoever shot first, Solo is still the motha f***in man!
-Absence of Han Solo's history: I waited and waited through the whole trilogy for some reference to the Solo family. The Solo's come from the planet Corellia, and although Han was an orphan, they could have made some reference to his history. His parents could have been senators, like every other characters' (i.e. Leia Organa; Wedge Antilles). Alas, Han Solo's bad-ass-ness can only be concentrated in the latter trilogy.

-The Politics of the Old Republic: As mentioned before, the intricate politics of the Old Republic prove to be very interesting. Bureaucrats run the system, while corrupt senators stay in office, eventually giving full power to the Emperor. You have to sit down and actually think it through, which I always find intriguing in a film. (Oh, and actually know how some governments work...)

The red dots indicate the sinus cavities...
-Padmé Amidala: Played by the very beautiful Natalie Portman, Padmé is one of the main characters in the new trilogy. She is the mother of Luke and Leia, and the leader of the formation of the Rebel Alliance. However, her role seems miniscule compared to Anakin's. But man, she really looks good with that make-up on. I'd still date her...and refuse to stop calling her Padmé.  (Portman delivers lines flatly in this episode, but I'm not blaming her...I blame the script...and the fact she had to work with Jar Jar Binks.)

-The Pod Races: Although a real stretch, especially with the idea that a 10-year-old can mentally and physically operate such a complicated device, the pod race on Tatooine is true cinematic genius. Using the most advanced technology in computer generation, you should enjoy this scene, even though Anakin wins instead of perishing in a fiery explosion. Too bad these were not featured more in Episodes II and III (thanks again, George).

-The Senate: The many Star Wars novels refer to the Senate of the Old Republic, and when I saw the expanse of it, I was really impressed. It showed that all worlds were somehow connected, much like a United Nations of Space or a nexus of the Star Wars universe. However, the corruption of recent years had got the best of them, and the great Senate was facing its own destruction. I believe it was pivotal for the movie to begin at this stage of the game, because this would lead to the formation of the Galactic Empire and the formation of the Rebel Alliance in later years. (Note: if you look closely in the Senate scene, you will see a pod of Wookies and the aliens from E.T. Is this a possible crossover of universes, saying that the Earth in E.T. exists in the Star Wars universe? Well, hell, George, why not put a hieroglyphic of Emperor Palpatine in the next Indiana Jones film. Real classy.)

-The Jedi Council: It was cool at first to see all these Jedi at once, but it lost luster as I soon saw none of their storylines would even be touched. The only memorable Jedi Council members were Ki-Adi Mundi and Mace Windu (played by Samuel L. Jackson). For future reference, yours truly produced a comic with Episode I characters in 1999, and Mace Windu was one of the main characters. Guess what color his lightsaber was. Purple, that's right. I had that idea 3 years before it became reality. Copyright violation, Lucas? Cut me the check and you're welcome.  (I'm thinking of updating and re-releasing this classic tale...more on that later.)

-Keira Knightly: Yeah, that's right, she was in this movie. She played one of Amidala's handmaidens. Rumor has it that Portman pleaded with Knightley to take the role of Amidala off her hands, but it was not to be. Sorry, Portman, George's tyrannical grasp is hard to shake, take if from producer Rick McCallum (This reference will be discussed in the review of Episode III.).

-Darth Maul: I don't know if any of you grew up with the old trilogy, but I did. My childhood was filled with instances from Star Wars. I recall Star Wars wallpaper in the hospital, watching all three at once but thinking they were one movie, and then actually comprehending them as a young teen. But nothing prepared me for the most epic lightsaber fight that took place on Naboo at the end of Episode I. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn versus the menacing Darth Maul. With his double-staffed lightsaber, I was actually rooting for this humanoid in the end. He was so evil and tough. Not only that, but he really wanted to kill some Jedi, and at this point in the movie, he wasn't alone. 

Actually, the actor who played Darth Maul (Ray Park, fella) was a master in martial arts and every move in this scene was his own; that's what made it so enjoyable. Why did he die? Why didn't Lucas use him as a developing character throughout the new trilogy? I mean they only scratched the surface of the history of this madman, and he rivaled the eminence of Darth Vader himself. But no, when something good happens in the new trilogy, Lucas eliminates it. (**sad face**)

Who do we get to replace the most evil of Sith apprentices in STAR WARS: Episode II? I guess you will just have to wait to find out...
Why I watch this movie more than once...


Anonymous said...

Almost 10 years since the film came out! Can't believe it.
I have another Pro about the film!
Speaking special effects, the lightsaber effects in this film is THE best (2nd place is of course Empire Strikes Back). In Episode II and III.. simply put the lightsabers look like they were made in ms Paint, by a three year old.

Oh and another con: I saw in the behind the scenes stuff on either the Episode II or III DVD that they had replaced the Yoda puppet in The Phantom Menace with a CG-Yoda, that looked the same as in Episode II and III. Why not re-release the film WITH that CG-Yoda?? I have friends who aren't into Star Wars but I made them watch the whole saga, anyhoo they didn't realize that the puppet in The Phantom Menace was the same character as the Yoda in the rest of the films!

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