Tag Archives: The Phantom Menace

Star Wars 40th Anniversary Review: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey

zwDXIAp

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is no where near as bad as people claim it is, but it also isn’t the misunderstood masterpiece that its apologists say it is either. There is a fine line between defending a film that is maligned by the majority and refusing to acknowledge the very real flaws that it has.

What the film has in its favour is usage of practical effects such as puppetry and miniatures while not overusing CGI and blue screen photography. Episodes II and III suffer visually from this and Episode I is the last of the original six Star Wars films to contain an aesthetic somewhat similar to that of the originals.
It also contains many tropes familiar to Star Wars fans such as memorable dialogue, 1930’s styled b-movie acting, and new and unique worlds and wildlife. A New Hope had Tatooine, The Empire Strikes Back had Hoth and Dagobah, Return of the Jedi had Endor, and this film has Naboo and Coruscant. Afterward the Star Wars saga seemed to stop feeling special in the new worlds department. The planets in Attack of the Clones are bland and visually unappealing, the planets of Revenge of the Sith are so varied and all over the place that we barely get to see any of them, and The Force Awakens has a desert planet that is not Tatooine, a lush moderate planet that is not Naboo, and a snowy forested world that is neither Hoth nor Endor. The Phantom Menace is the last film to get any sizeable merit points for originality. I am hoping The Last Jedi will save us from the current trend of mundanity.

The Phantom Menace’s weakness lies mostly in its characters. The story is not the chief issue here even though that does have its flaws. Jar Jar Binks is excruciating and he has failed to grow on me in the 18 years since the film’s release. Jake Lloyd’s performance as Anakin Skywalker is nightmarishly bad and it bothers me that George Lucas and Rick McCallum had looked at thousands of young actors before selecting him for the part. Were they all that bad?
Liam Neeson is decent as Qui-Gon Jinn, but the character needed way more development and chemistry, and the lack thereof made his death less impactful than Lucas clearly wanted it to come across. Obi-Wan Kenobi is fairly bland in this movie too and, to be honest, it seems like the majority of the Jedi Council characters share this blandness. Yoda has that one great line about fear leading to anger and that is pretty much all that makes him stand out. Mace Windu’s only memorable characteristic is being arrogant; otherwise he is completely boring. I give kudos to George Lucas for making Samuel L. Jackson boring. That takes a significant level of writing talent to achieve that.
Padme and Senator Palpatine are really the only characters who are wholly interesting. The Phantom Menace is really more Padme’s story than it is Anakin’s or Obi-Wan’s. I am not saying they are not important, but Episode I feels like it is Padme and her quest to save her people that is the main focus of the story while Anakin’s future with the Jedi and Obi-Wan’s growth are only resultant effects of the plot. Palpatine is portrayed as an expert manipulator and Ian McDiarmid’s performance is amazing. He showcases how prior to his rise to Emperor, Palpatine was more than just a cackling over the top Dark Lord. He was once a seductive, smooth, manipulator and strategiser who used people around him to casually and almost unobservedly obtain greater and greater power within the Galactic government.

What The Phantom Menace does right is set things in motion. We see the seeds of Anakin’s eventual fall to the Dark Side planted, we see Obi-Wan mature into a man who will eventually become the old wizened mentor to Luke in the originals, and we get a taste of the subtle machinations that will inevitably birth a tyrannical empire. It’s all laid out here and for the most part it is done well. The real problem lies in their execution in the following films which I cannot fault The Phantom Menace for. Episode I’s chief issues lie in its annoying characters, wooden and banal performances, forgettable main cast, bad pacing, and some rather juvenile scenes. Jar Jar stepping in poop is not funny and Watto and Nute Gunray’s speech patterns come across as more racist than amusing.

All in all The Phantom Menace is more imbalanced rather than bad outright. It has many enjoyable scenes and visuals and it has one of the best soundtracks of the entire saga. Duel of the Fates is amazing and proves that John Williams can make any movie, even mediocre ones, great with his touch. The lightsaber fight with Darth Maul and Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon is well choreographed and exciting. Its only fatal flaw is the lack of emotional connection between the audience and the characters on screen which renders the drama in this scene and scenes throughout the movie somewhat inert. In fact, there are a ton of scenes like this in which I find action sequencess less interesting in connection to the story because they feature characters and plot points which are not properly invested in emotionally for the viewer. The podrace scene to me is more long and tedious than interesting and the battles in space and on Naboo make for a great visual feast for the first viewing, but lose any interest for me afterward. If the characters didn’t lack the colour of characters like Han, Luke, Leia, Lando, Chewie, etc. than these scenes would lose none of their charm with repeated viewings.

What makes The Phantom Menace less than great is not Jar Jar Binks; it’s not bad dialogue, and it is not midichlorians. Its problem is dullness. Pure, sterile, phoned in dullness. If George Lucas tried less hard at pioneering special effects development and spent more time writing a good script The Phantom Menace would have been just as good as any one of the Original Trilogy. Alas, what we got instead was a weak, but still underrated movie that could have been much more. It had a few enjoyable moments within a not so enjoyable film.

Check tomorrow for a review of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and may the Force be with you.

Star Wars EU Reviews Supplemental: 10 Things I Love About the Prequels: Star Wars Prequels Appreciation Day 2016

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey

Prequel Trilogy

Today (21 May 2016) is The Star Wars Prequels Appreciation Day. With the Prequels getting so little love as it is I thought I should make a post for the occasion. I am what you could call a Prequels apologist and while I do not think the films are perfect I do like them and am ready to defend them as needed.
And so for The Star Wars Prequels Appreciation day, I offer 10 things that I loved from the Prequels.

1. The Score

Whether you like the Prequels or not the grandeur of John Williams’ music is undeniable with The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith especially turning out some of the finest soundtracks Williams has ever done. Duel of the Fates is easily on my top 10 favourites tracks (another post for another day perhaps) demonstrating that John Williams is an artist who can add dignity and beauty to anything.
I hope recent rumours about him retiring from composing future Star Wars soundtracks are untrue. No one can replace John Williams and the Saga won’t be the same without him.

2. The Expansion of the Star Wars Galaxy

It is a point in the Prequels’ favour that they didn’t try to go too retro with the designs and worlds. George Lucas gave us a plethora of new planets and cultures with the Prequel trilogy; from the Venetian look of Naboo to the unique waterworld of Kamino to the exotic fungal beauty of Felucia. The Star Wars Prequels opened up the universe of Star Wars in new ways for hungry fans wanting more. The EU had already been doing this for about 15 years prior and the Prequels expanded it further. While I may not be a big fan of Jar Jar Binks, Otoh Gunga is still a cool looking city which is another testament to the undeniable quality of the visual design despite flaws within the trilogy’s story.

3. The Jedi Order

In the Original Trilogy the Jedi were an all but extinct society survived only by old men past their prime and asthmatic Dark Lords too decrepit or too physically encumbered to demonstrate the full power of the Force. In the Prequels, however,  we see the Jedi Order at the height of their strength. In The Phantom Menace Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn fight one of the best lightsaber duels seen in the Saga revealing the extent of what young Jedi and Sith can do. And at the Battle of Geonosis we finally get a look at what the Jedi Order was renowned for when fighting in numbers.

4. The Special Effects

I know, I know; special effects don’t necessarily make a film any good. But, bear in mind that I am not suggesting that the special effects excuse the Prequels’ flaws. They don’t. But they do bear mentioning as a positive element to the trilogy. The visual look of the fight scenes, ships, creatures, and planets are groundbreaking achievements in filmmaking that are influencing current Hollywood blockbusters today. Now while special effects cannot solely carry a movie (see Transformers 2 and The Hobbit Trilogy for further reference) praise should be given where praise is due. These films look cool whatever the critics can say. To say otherwise is unreasonable.

5. Obi-Wan Kenobi

Ewan McGregor’s performance is one of the highlights of the Prequel Trilogy. Many of his mannerisms and voice tones reflect Sir Alec Guinness convincingly and I can easily see him growing older to be the Obi-Wan Kenobi we see in the Originals. There are many scenes in Revenge of the Sith especially where he sounds virtually identical to Guinness. Impressive, most impressive. Sir Alec taught him well.

6. The CG Yoda

When ILM changed Yoda from puppet to CG character in Attack of the Clones a whole new door for the future of alien characters was opened for the Star Was franchise. With ILM’s creative work the new Yoda was now able to move and make facial expressions that his puppet counterpart could not. While I do have nostalgic feelings about the muppet Yoda from the Originals the way the Prequels allowed him to do more and express more left me satisfied. Although to be fair the duel scene between Yoda and Count Dooku was still pretty stupid.

7. Artoo and Threepio

Close examination of the plot of the Original Trilogy reveals that the story is predominently seen from the perspective of these two droids. They are passive observers to the historical events happening around them which is why Star Wars first opens with them on the Tantive IV reacting to the events that set in motion the entire franchise.
I love Artoo and Threepio. C3PO is probably my second favourite character next to Han Solo and the inclusion of them in the Prequels and allowing them to witness Galactic history once again is a good thing in my book.

8. Christopher Lee

Do I need to say more? It’s Christopher Lee! His presence in anything gives it oodles of cool points. Attack of the Clones is by far my least favourite Star Wars movie and yet Christopher Lee still allows the film some dignity and badassery. That’s because he is Christopher Lee. He is Dracula. He is Saruman. He was a Bond villain. And he is Darth Tyrannus. It is only fair that a former Hammer Horror veteran gets a place in the Prequels since Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars was played by none other than Peter Cushing who is none other than Van Helsing and Dr. Frankenstein.

9. New EU Resources

The Star Wars Expanded Universe was alive and well prior to the Prequels being released and now even more stuff was open to being explored. Dark Horse now had the Clone Wars, Qui-Gon Jinn, Darth Maul, Jango Fett, Naboo, Utapau, and a thousand other things now to incorporate in their comics. And the books and video games likewise that had the Prequels to thank for new expansive content. The EU was left with much to thrive on now that the Prequels made the Star Wars galaxy so much bigger.

10. The Story

OK, I can see this one being a bit controversial which is why I left it for last. When I say the story I do not mean a lot of the obvious flaws like Jar Jar Binks, Anakin turning to the Dark Side too quickly, midichlorians, or Padme being about as useful as a damsel in distress in Episodes II and III (died of a broken heart my ass!). Those things bug me as much as any disappointd fan. What I mean by story is the more fundamental themes found in the Prequels. Most of the problems within the Prequels were a matter of their execution rather than just being stupid in and of themselves. A lot of the content was fine in theory. It was just carried out poorly. I criticise the execution of many of Lucas’s ideas like most fans, but I think I understand what he was attempting to accomplish and there are elements in the story telling that is quite brilliant.
Much of the plot echoes and parallels and foreshadows events that happen within itself and in the original trilogy. Lucas employs foreshadowing very well. And many emotional scenes were done well too. The friendship between Obi-Wan and Anakin that we see developed over the trilogy makes Kenobi’s “You were the Chosen One!” speech all the more heartbreaking. And I love much of the dialogue that Yoda and Qui-Gon had to offer in the films.
George Lucas had a story to tell and it was a good one. The fact that he didn’t tell it as well as I should like has not made me hate the finished product. I think the past 15+ years of bandwagon hating on the Prequels has kept fans from honestly seeing the better points of the films. A closer examination is merited. It’s time calm down and let go of the hate.

Thank you for reading and may the Force be with you.

How to Watch Star Wars

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey

Star Wars is arguably the most influential pop culture phenomenon in the world. Everyone knows what it is and recognises the characters as household names that only living under a rock would allow you to be ignorant of. Love it or hate it, everyone must agree that Star Wars is a major influence on our culture with six films spawning TV shows, spin-off films, books, comics, toys, and various merchandise.
However, what many people do not agree on is how Star Wars should be viewed. People have various opinions on what order the films should be watched and there has been no consensus.
In this post, I am going to present five different ways the series can be approached and I will explain the merits for each, but shall provide no argument as to which ones are better. To each their own, I say. Let the reader decide which suits them best.

I. The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of Anakin Skywalker

1

This is the viewing order that George Lucas regards as the closest to his vision. Here we approach Star Wars as the story of Anakin Skywalker’s destiny to bring balance to the Force over a period of two generations of the Skywalker family. We see Anakin’s humble beginnings as a poor slave on Tatooine and his rise to a trainee of the Jedi. The seductive nature of the Dark Side grows too strong as he grows and he succumbs to the temptations of Darth Sidious leading to the rise of the evil Galactic Empire and his transformation into Darth Vader. A rebel alliance led by heroes such as Anakin’s own son, Luke Skywalker successfully defeats this Empire, returning democracy to the people and accomplishing Vader’s redemption where he completes his destiny by destroying the Emperor Sidious and bringing balance to the Force.
The upcoming sequel trilogy will undoubtably act as a continuation or epilogue to this saga.

The order:
1. Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace
2. Star Wars: Episode II: The Attack of the Clones
3. Star Wars: Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith
4. Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope
5. Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
6. Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
7. Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens
8. Star Wars: Episode VIII
9. Star Wars: Episode IX

II. The Legacy of the Skywalker Family

2

This is the preferred viewing order of most people (including myself) you meet on internet forums and other residences of geek culture.
This method shows Star Wars as an epic adventure about a Rebel Alliance battling an evil despotic Empire. The youth, Luke Skywalker, discovers his destiny to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi Knight as his father was. In a heroic journey he learns that Lord Vader is none other than his father, Anakin Skywalker corrupted to the Dark Side. As he and his friends strive to defeat the Empire he leads his father to redemption and bringing back balance to the Force.
After this is over, we take a glance nearly 35 years in the past where we see the events prior to Anakin’s downfall and the birth of the twins Luke and Leia Skywalker.

The order:
1. Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope
2. Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
3. Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
4. Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace
5. Star Wars: Episode II: The Attack of the Clones
6. Star Wars: Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith
7. Star Wars; Episode VII: The Force Awakens
8. Star Wars: Episode VIII
9. Star Wars: Episode IX

III.  The Star Wars Trilogy

3

This method of approaching Star Wars is the pinnacle of hardcore purism. People who watch Star Wars this way angrily dismiss the Prequels as a slap in the face to the “only good trilogy”, sticking to the original edits without the special edition alterations that Lucas had insisted on incorporating in 1997 and continued to do so in 2006 and again in 2011.

The order:
1. Star Wars (1977 edit)
2. The Empire Strikes Back (1980 edit)
3. Return of the Jedi (1983 edit)

IV. A Hero’s Journey

4

For those of you have seen The Godfather Trilogy, you know that in the second film we witness a series of flashbacks to the rise of Vito Corleone as the Don mixed in throughout the story. This order of viewing Star Wars I am gonna discuss is similar to how that narrative structure.
We begin with A New Hope and move on through The Empire Strikes Back as the second and third methods above did.
At the end of Empire we get the startling revelation that Darth Vader is none other than Luke’s father. However, in this method, before we unveil the climactic finale, we shall take a look back at Anakin Skywalker as a young man being trained by Obi-Wan Kenobi before his eventual turn to the Dark Side. In a shocking flashback sequence we see the truth that Darth Vader is indeed Luke’s father as well as Leia’s. We see the origins of the Empire, the Death Star, and the apparent annihilation of the Jedi Order.
After this dark revelation we witness the triumphant conclusion of this epic saga about love, betrayal, and loyalty.

The order:
1. A New Hope
2. The Empire Strikes Back
3. The Attack of the Clones
4. The Revenge of the Sith
5. Return of the Jedi
6. The Force Awakens
7. VIII
8. IX

Note: The Phantom Menace is completely excised from this viewing order which means if you are a fan this is not for you.

V. The Star Wars Saga

5

This method incorporates every element of the Star Wars canon as well as the expanded universe. The viewer lets it play out in chronological order seeing the amazing wealth of history in the Star Wars Galaxy.
Obviously I cannot produce an exhaustive list, but I shall make a list showing what I personally view as the essential stuff for hardcore Star Wars fans interested in the expanded universe.

The order:
1. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
2. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords
3. Star Wars: The Old Republic
4. Star Wars: Cloak of Deception
5. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
6. Star Wars: The Approaching Storm
7. Star Wars: The Attack of the Clones
8. Star Wars; The Clone Wars (this includes the movie, and two TV series)
9. Star Wars: Labyrinth of Evil
10. Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith
11. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
12. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II
13. Star Wars: A New Dawn
14. Star Wars: Rebels
15. Star Wars: A New Hope
16. Star Wars: Splinter of the Mind’s Eye
17. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
18. Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire
19. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
20. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
21. Star Wars: VIII
22. Star Wars: IX
23. Star Wars: Legends: Heir to the Empire
24. Star Wars: Legends: Dark Force Rising
25. Star Wars: Legends: The Last Command
26+: Star Wars: Legends: The Rest of the E.U.

This is of course an imperfect list, but it’s the stuff I would make use of personally. The list is more flexible than the others, and can be altered at the ease of the reader.

And there you have it. Choose which of these five methods work best for you, and enjoy. May the Force (with or without Midi-Chlorians) be with you!