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Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

4 June 2002 by Gnoll 10 Comments

STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE


1999, Dir. George Lucas
133 min. Rated PG.
Starring: Liam Neeson, Ewan MacGregor, Natalie Portman, Jale Lloyd.

Review by Noel Wood

THE TOP TEN THINGS THAT SUCKED ABOUT EPISODE I OTHER THAN JAR JAR

Well, just to show you what kind of a hip, groovy, and with-it kind of guy that I am, I’ve decided today to dwell over a subject that tends to be a sore subject for most STAR WARS fans: that which is THE PHANTOM MENACE. Yes, the movie came out three years ago, and there’s been another STAR WARS movie since. I don’t give a shit. I was too busy to lend my thoughts on this subject when this topic was poignant, so you’ll read with my musings now. And you’ll like it.

As we all know, the first of the STAR WARS prequels sucked donkey ass. It was quite a disappointment to millions of people worldwide. I’m talking the levels of finding out Santa Claus isn’t real or that your daddy wears women’s underwear disappointment. People waited SIXTEEN years for George Lucas to release the backstory of the man who would become Darth Vader. Fanboys camped out in front of theaters for weeks to be the first to see Ep 1, no matter how shitty they thought the title of the movie was. People gobbled up hundreds of dollars worth of Ep 1 merchandise months before the film was released. People were expecting to see the greatest movie of all time.

What they got was Jar Jar Binks.


Yes, Jar Jar will probably go down in history as the worst character in all of Star Wars lore. After the first screening of the film, hundreds of people stood outside the theater talking about how annoying that little Gungan shithead was. And they were right. Jar Jar was annoying as fuck. I knew well in advance that he was going to be annoying as fuck, so the moment that his digitized ass walks in to frame I started to cringe. For the next two hours I squirmed in my seat every time he came on screen.

People hated Jar Jar. Anti-Jar Jar web sites popped up all over the net almost immediately. His action figures quickly became what toy collectors refer to as pegwarmers, cluttering toy shelves to the point that retailers were reluctant to order any additional toys from the line. He became the butt of jokes on Television and Movies. The backlash was amazing. I can’t possibly imagine how many times I heard people say, “Star Wars Ep 1 would have been great if not for Jar Jar!” A group of industrious armchair critics even went so far as to create the now-infamous “Phantom Edit”, where they removed the majority of Jar Jar’s scenes to make the movie better.

Which leads me to my point today. I have a theory, and the more I think of it, the more it makes sense: Jar Jar Binks was a mere distraction. He was a patsy. Nothing but a diversion from the real problems at hand. That’s all Jar Jar was intended to ever be. George Lucas knew that he had a stinker of a movie in his hands; so to avoid people relentlessly picking it apart, he threw Jar Jar in front of the firing squad as a bulletstopper. And considering the general consensus of “Jar Jar ruined Star Wars”, it looks like his mission was accomplished.

But I ain’t buying it. I ‘m no dummy. I see Jar Jar for what he is, and have focused my attention on the underlying evils that exist in Episode I. Others might have overlooked some of these things, but I haven’t. Let’s see what was REALLY wrong with Episode I:

1. MIDICHLORIANS.

This was my BIGGEST gripe about Episode I. I don’t care how many people tell me otherwise, the only thing that Midichlorians serve a purpose for is to take this grand, magnificent, magical religion known as The Force and turn it in to an easily-explained-away biological oddity known as the force. Yes, it’s no longer a proper noun in this context. This fantastic idea I had of a mythical phenomenon that requires skill, concentration, and years of focused training to master has been reduced to nothing more than a disease. Little bacteria that swim around in your blood and help harness this power for you. No longer is it possible for just any character in the Star Wars universe to train to be a Jedi given that they have the desire, patience, and ambition to do so. In other words, when Han Solo tells Lando Calrissian “May the Force be with you”, he might as well just be spitting in his face. After all, Lando doesn’t have that that high Midichlorian count that Luke and Anakin do, so you might as well just tell him he’s gonna die. You know, the parallel to this in our world is saying “God bless you” to someone. Now that’s something you can’t really go wrong with Nobody has more or less of any biological trait that makes them more or less acceptable to God. But if someone has faith in God, then they may or may not be better off for it. The same should be true of the Force.

The other thing regarding this issue that bothers me is the way that it’s measured. In the original STAR WARS, Darth Vader is following behind Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing when he says a simple phrase: “The Force is strong with this one.” How does he know? Well, it’s because he is strong in the ways of the Force and can just sense it. That’s all the explanation you need. Meanwhile, in Episode 1, Qui-Gon Jinn has to determine that Anakin is a Jedi by taking a blood sample and inserting it into a medical device. When did this shit become Star Trek all of a sudden? I want my Jedis back who just KNOW these things.

Notice how they never get mentioned in Episode 2? No coincidence, I’m sure.

2. JAKE LLOYD

Yes, I’m still going for the obvious here. But we all know that Jake Lloyd sucked in this movie. Child actors are generally not a good idea and it’s best to write scripts around using them in excess, but when you have a story that requires one, it’s best not to get one that sucks this friggin’ bad. ‘Nuff said. I’ll get in to more about him later.

3. THE POD RACE

This saddens me the most, because when I heard about it, I was looking most forward to this scene. I was expecting something as cool as the Speeder Bike scene in ROTJ. Instead, I got a reject from a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. The action was cool in places, but every single character in the thing was annoying, ESPECIALLY Greg Proops’ role as the two-headed Steve Albert wannabe announcer. Let’s not forget the bumbling pit droids or the “Yippee”s coming from Anakin. The only saving grace for this scene was the Tusken Raiders blasting folks from afar and the first ever Warwick Davis non-masked appearance in a Star Wars movie.

4. OTHER ANNOYING CGI CHARACTERS.

Jar Jar wasn’t the only CGI character that annoyed the piss out of me. Boss Nass and Watto, among others, served the same purpose. One of my biggest annoyances with Jar Jar wasn’t that he was stupid and talked funny, it’s that the CGI animators felt they had to show off by making him be CONSTANTLY in motion. There’s the one scene where Amidala goes to Boss Nass and asks for his assistance and while all the LIVE actors are standing perfectly still, Jar Jar is fidgeting and wagging his ears and just doing everything possible to be distracting. Boss Nass had the same quality about him. Watto was perhaps the worst. Sad, really, because Watto COULD have been a great character. But there was no need to have him be a flying CGI ball that had to constantly be in motion. Those wings were just annoying. Did he REALLY need to hover everywhere? Yes, we KNOW that LucasArts has the best CGI equipment in the world. You don’t have to remind us every chance you get.

5. DARTH MAUL

No, Darth Maul didn’t annoy me, but they way they portrayed him did. Darth Maul was a Sith Master. He is the apprentice to the Dark Lord of the Sith. In other words, he’s supposed to be the second baddest mofo in the entire galaxy. And while he looked cool and hung around with Sidious, he sure as hell didn’t come off as being as badass as he should have. Having his ass handed to him TWICE, the second time allowing a friggin’ Padawan just chop him in half like he’s a common soldier? And I’d like one reason why Darth Maul was only in the movie for a total of like 15 minutes when Jar Jar spent like an hour on the screen. Darth Maul merchandise was the hottest thing on the market…before people saw the movie. After people saw that this character that was seemingly destined to be the baddest man in the galaxy go down quicker than a Vietnamese hooker, the value of those mint-in-package Darth Maul figures that were going for 20 bucks on the secondary market just weeks before suddenly weren’t worth so much.

6. THE SCRIPT.

I mentioned little Jake Lloyd as Anakin racing around saying “Yippee”. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Yes, I know that Star Wars movies in general have never been famous for great dialogue, but this one takes the cake because Lucas was trying to write for a small child…and made him sound retarded in the process. The whole time watching Anakin on screen, I kept thinking to myself that there’s NO way this kid is going to grow up to be the coolest motherfucker ever to wield a lightsaber. Some less cartoony and generic little-kiddish dialogue would have helped. It’s also kind of a letdown when the resolution of the movie occurs when an 8-year-old blows up the Trade Federation’s Mothership by accident. I don’t care what anyone says about this being his “destiny as a Jedi.” It’s bullshit. It was a copout because they hadn’t written any real pilots into the story that were important enough to accomplish the task. And while this also is covered in the Jar Jar thing, I don’t need fart jokes and lines like “Exsqueese me” and “How Wude” in a Star Wars movie. In WAYNE’S WORLD and “Full House” that shit might be acceptable, but I came to see STAR WARS.

7. BATTLE DROIDS.

Okay, first things first: Stormtroopers are pretty inefficient soldiers. They rarely hit their targets, die quicker than 25-cent guppies from the pet store, and tend to bump their heads on metal doors. But they’re still far better than the battle droids from Episode I. These things are even WORSE shots than Stormtroopers, and tend to fly apart if a stiff wind hits them. It’s no wonder they eventually scrap them in favor of Jango Fett clones. And while I realize that Lucas likes to give his droids personalities, I didn’t need to hear the battle droids saying things like “Roger Roger”. AIRPLANE! Jokes belong in AIRPLANE!, not in Star Wars movies.

8. THE TRADE FEDERATION.

What the hell? The big, evil, menacing villain is a big corporation run by a couple of Japanese-sounding aliens? Is this suddenly John Grisham’s version of Star Wars?

9. YODA.

What the fuck is up with Yoda? How did they fuck up Yoda? Seeing Yoda there looking the way he does is like seeing George Lazenby in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. You know who he’s supposed to be, you just don’t want to bring yourself to believe it. At least they fixed this in Ep 2 and had Yoda looking like he’s supposed to.

10. LIAM NEESON.

Liam Neeson is a great actor. Usually. He’s known for some turkeys as well as some classics (THE HAUNTING, anyone?). Unfortunately, his performance in Episode I is pretty forgettable. Part of that is due to the fact that he’s written to be pretty dull. Jedis are supposed to be patient and reserved and disciplined, but they need to be interesting at the same time. Qui-Gon really doesn’t get interesting at all in the course of the movie. Neeson, who showed such intensity in performances in ROB ROY, SCHINDLER’S LIST, MICHAEL COLLINS, and NEXT OF KIN (okay, I’m fucking around with that last one), frankly looks bored here. He doesn’t seem to put much effort into his performance at all. Of all the major characters in this movie, for better or worse, he was probably the most unmemorable.

————

And on top of those reasons, there’s Jar Jar.

Yes, Episode I, whether I like it or not, is official STAR WARS lore now, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. There’s many things I didn’t cover here as well, including the lack of suspense, the focus on unnecessary characters and scenes, and unexplained plot holes. And no, it’s not without its good points as well, but there are plenty of apologists out there that have that part covered. I like the analogy that Chad brought to my attention after Ep 2 restored our faith in Lucas’s ability to craft enjoyable Star Wars movies. He suggested that Episode One is kind of like The Hobbit is to the Lord of the Rings series. It’s there, it’s officially part of the story, but it’s a safer, more accessible introduction to what you get in the end. As Norville Barnes would say while swinging around a hula-hoop, “You know, for kids.”

10 Comments »

  • paul donaldson said:

    han solo never said ‘may the force be with you’ to lando. he said it to luke in a new hope and said ‘good luck’ to lando in rotj. liam neeson’s performance carried the movie. but i dont think sam l jackson was a good choice as a jedi master. i agree with some of your views, but alot are unfair. star wars belongs to george lucas so noone knows it better than him.

  • Chris Davison said:

    Fuck Paul Donaldson, you got this spot on. The other prequels are also utter crap. I particularly hate Stormtroopers as clones.

  • jake phillip said:

    if a bit of hard work was all you needed to be a jedi their would be fucking loads of them dumbass and could it possibly be that darth vader, with all of his midichlorians, was a better sith then qui-gon and could sense lukes powers without the use of a machine

  • Ross Benar said:

    OMFG Jake Phillip. I’m not THAT much of a Star Wars nerd, but still. FUCK YOU.

  • Maximum_G said:

    You missed one. Annoyance number 11 was the idea of Anakin’s virgin birth put forth by his mother. Totally unnecessary to the story.

  • LEE said:

    Brilliant film, excellent visuals and the highest grossing film and DVD of 1999 so it couldn’t have been that bad. If you must moan and whine at lease get your criticisms right. The battle droids worked for the federation, the clones worked for the Republic, they were not replacements DUH!!!

    Like it or not this was everything that Star Wars is and was cracking from start to finish. This laid down how things became the way they did, it made you think and have to work things out which isn’t a crime. Frankly you really need to get some taste!!!

  • Dustin said:

    Heh, I agree on most of this. I do disagree on your views with Yoda. You’ve got to keep in mind that this happens YEARS before the origional trilogy. Also, in the origional trilogy, he had spent many years exiled alone to a swamp planet. He’s gonna look different.
    Look at it this way. You’d look different after spending one month stranded on a desert island than you would if you were in an all-expense paid vacation in New York… Hopefully.

    Now for the commenters.

    Paul: I’d bet there’s someone out there who can beat a Halo programmer at Halo. George Lucas made it, but he still fucked some things up.

    Chris: Agreed. Jango and Bobba are BAD ASS. Where do the clones get off not being able to shoot a giant furball down a straight, narrow corridor? No wonder Vader chokes them. I’d pop one of their freaking heads, then make the rest use his body as target practice.

    Jake: Jedi would just be like pro atheletes. Everyone played the game in high school, but only the best made it past that.
    Do you really think that if Darth Vader HAD so many midicloriens that Qui-gon wouldn’t have been able to tell? Senseing that someone is kinda sweaty is one thing, sensing that they haven’t showered in three weeks is fucking easy.

    Maximum_G: I owe you a hug. *hugs*

    Lee: Yeah! Could millions who loved it be wrong? Of course not! Oh, and while we’re talking about the popular opinion being infallible, explain how the world went from ACTUALLY being flat before Gallelio’s time, to ACTUALLY being huge and round after. I love that story.
    One person can be wrong. Two people can be wrong. Like it or not, ten million can be just as wrong.

  • Simon said:

    Whoever you are, you’ve nailed it. You’ve got all the flaws of episode one hands down. You really know George Lucas mistakes. Do the other 2 films.

  • Caroline said:

    Are you crazy? You’re such a f**king d**che! You just had to take an awesome series and complain about things that aren’t even true! Whats youre problem? There are literally fualts behind every single reason:

    1. Midichlorians are the untrained force. They are the potential to have the force in you. You don’t automatically have every single midichlorian in your body do exactly what you say, you have to train them first. And qui gon sensed that anakin had lots of them, but wanted to know how many exactly. And has anyone sensed that before? No.

    2. Jake Lloyd is adorable, and child actors usually suck because they are CHILD actors, and you seem to have them up to some amazingly high standard. But hey, he did a better job than you would have.

    3. The pod race is on tatooine. You’re not going to get a bunch of people who look perfect or act like it on a desert planet. You need really fast reflexes, and the whole point is to show off anakins, and to get a way to free him. What were you expecting, a bunch of people in leather jackets and sunglasses to ride around on motorcycles? Not surprising, with the brain capacity you seem to have.

    4. Watto has wings and tiny little feet. Do you think feet that size will support him if he walks on them, and just have two pathetic little wings hanging there? Also, he needs to give the projected image of being bigger than some people. I don’t think he would be very impressive if he had to look up every time he wanted to talk. As for Boss Nass, I have no idea. George Lucas screwed him up.

    5. I loved Darth Maul, but they needed the villain in the clone wars to be count dooku, because if Darth maul were there it would screw everything up. I mean, they kept dooku alive for one movie to long, and had to kill him in the very beginning, before we even wanted a battle.

    6. Uh, yeah, I get it. You hate jar jar binks and everything about him. And, yeah, did you think people are going to look back on your baby pictures and say “oh, ya know, back then, I don’t think he was going to grow up to be the worlds most motherfu*king douche, but I guess you never know.” anakin acted like most little kids. But I guess, you want every little kid to be as perfect as you were. Cough cough.

    7. The battle droids, as Lee said, worked for the federation, and the clones worked for the republic. And although jar jar sucks, the rest of the gunguns are actually pretty kick ass, but the battle droids beat them. The battle droids can only be destroyed easily by light sabers. And also, if you’re going to have a huge army that’s more about numbers than strength, you’re not gonna make them too great

    8. The trade federation s actually pretty big. It is the only force with an army that lord sidious managed to obtain. If he got something too powerful, it would be too easy

    9. Like Dustin said, Yoda changes because you change to in fifteen or so years. Did you expect him to be exactly the same?

    10. Liam Neeson was demonstrating patience. He had to be calm because thats how jedi act. Did you expect him to show more emotion? In case you forgot, the siths power comes from their passion, but the Jedi are supposed to be more controlled with their feelings. So I am sorry if this was too boring for you.

    And yeah, I get it, you hate jar jar. As for “constant movement”, they do this thing where they dress a person in a black suit covered in little green dots. The green dots appear on a screen. Then they make a whole new person around the green dots, but the real human controls his movement, because the new human needs to look realistic.

  • Gnoll (author) said:

    Damn, “Caroline” may be the biggest apologist I’ve ever run across.

    I’m not going to say my original review (which was written TEN FUCKING YEARS AGO) is flawless. But c’mon.

    1. Nobody gives a fuck about Midichlorians.

    2. Anakin should never be “adorable”.

    3. Clearly, you’ve never seen Return of the Jedi, because the “Speeder Bike” I refer to isn’t a motorcycle, and it isn’t ridden by a guy in a leather jacket and sunglasses.

    4. “Watto has wings and tiny little feet. Do you think feet that size will support him if he walks on them, and just have two pathetic little wings hanging there? Also, he needs to give the projected image of being bigger than some people. I don’t think he would be very impressive if he had to look up every time he wanted to talk.”
    Then make him bigger. Why is that so hard?

    5. “I loved Darth Maul, but they needed the villain in the clone wars to be count dooku, because if Darth maul were there it would screw everything up.” This statement makes no sense. And having Darth Maul around in the second film gives Obi-Wan a purpose.

    6. Flattery will get you nowhere. Personal insults, by the way, are the mark of someone who doesn’t have a real argument.

    7. Yes, I know. My review isn’t perfect. I wrote that part before Episode 2 was released. I just never edited it out. Glad that you and LEE were able to obsess over it for so long.

    8. I don’t care how big they are. They’re lame and the entire concept is the antithesis of intrigue.

    9. “Yoda changes because you change to in fifteen or so years”. Motherfucker was almost NINE HUNDRED FUCKING YEARS OLD. 15 years is like a year in our lives. And besides, why are you apologizing for something that George Lucas has already admitted to fucking up? Have you *seen* what Yoda looks like in the Blu-ray and 3D theatrical versions?

    10. You really have reading comprehension issues here. I said, “Jedis are supposed to be patient and reserved and disciplined, but they need to be interesting at the same time”. Obi-Wan is interesting. Anakin is interesting. Yoda is interesting. Mace Windu is interesting. Hell, even Plo Koon and Ki-Adi Mundi and Kit Fisto were interesting. Qui-Gon was boring because Liam Neeson didn’t give a fuck. Obi-Wan should have been the one to go into town, because THE STORY WAS ABOUT HIM AND HE WAS ACTUALLY INTERESTING. There’s a reason why Qui-Gon’s scenes were cut from the sequels: in all practical reality, his character was essentially pointless. If there weren’t a need for Obi-Wan to have a master, Qui-Gon need not exist. Also, he was an asshole. He cheated to win a bet and lied to people.

    I implore you to watch these videos on Youtube. There are so many flaws with this film that my review doesn’t even scratch the surface.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgICnbC2-_Y

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxKtZmQgxrI

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