I tried to enjoy The Phantom Menace. I really did. I thought, after all the time that’s passed between 1999 and now, I would have discovered some sense of duty in me to find the good bits of this movie, which would no doubt be lodged next to copious amounts of boring dialogue and Jar Jar Binks not knowing which way his feet are walking. Despite my eagerness to report back that I’ve had a change of heart when it comes to the black hole of entertainment that is Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, I sadly cannot. I barely escaped, yet again, with my sanity intact.
My biggest complaint is pretty damning, in that I don’t see why anything in this movie needs to happen. As the helpful opening crawl tells us at the beginning,
“Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute.”
Hoping to resolve the matter with a blockade of deadly battleships, the greedy Trade Federation has stopped all shipping to the small planet of Naboo.
While the Congress of the Republic endlessly debates this alarming chain of events, the Supreme Chancellor has secretly dispatched two Jedi Knights, the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, to settle the conflict . . .”
If you’re still awake, this is a story about a trade company taking over a planet while everyone who can do something about it stands around with their hands on their hips, wondering what color the sky is. If you ask me, two hours and change is a bit steep for that sort of thing, especially when the catalyst for everything plot-related is never shown on-screen, ever. Not a single frame is spent showing any of Naboo’s occupation, save for handfuls of people briskly (and leisurely!) walking through gigantic, empty hallways and rooms. What do they do in these rooms? They mostly talk and. . . talk. Some blasters are used at some point toward the end, but it’s too little, too late. Seriously, there is a hell of a lot of talk about the Naboo people being starved and killed, yet all I get to see is what can only be described as an “Oriental” alien caricature as it barks orders at silly-looking, cartoonish droids, while Queen Amidala drones on about something or other with all the emotion of the monstrosity that speaks to me through my phone’s GPS.
Before I continue, I’m going to assume you’ve watched this movie by now. If you haven’t, you’re the best of us, but you might get a little lost in my descriptions. I’ve seen this movie quite a few times, and in any case, most people should be familiar with The Phantom Menace’s glaring flaws. If not, Youtube is your friend.
It’s easier to forgive bad writing when there’s no huge consequence to it, but in The Phantom Menace, it seems every major scene is predicated on contrived and nonsensical situations. A good example is when Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and crew try to fly through the Trade Federation’s blockade with Anakin on board. They presumably have their shields up and in working order, when somehow the shield generator is hit. Said shield generator is located right on the wing of the craft, which is stupid enough, but how could it get hit in the first place if the shields were up? Of course, something else goes wrong with the ship, which forces them to land on Tatooine, because Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) is there, blah blah. I’m fine with them having to get to that planet, but let’s use our heads a little to get them there, yeah?
How about the plot point of Senator Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) needing Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) to physically go to Naboo to sign the treaty? What, he forgot to bring his USB stick with the file on it? Why even bother to have her sign anything, when he could just forge the signature? Why does he even go through any of this Senate business? He must have a soap opera itch that needs scratching, but since nobody gets as much as a slap in the face or a surprise pregnancy with accompanying organ music during these epically dry scenes, I can’t help but feel slighted.
What does The Phantom Menace offer in the way of balancing out all of those tedious displays of wooden dialogue? Why, more bad dialogue! In one scene, the queen commands Qui-Gon to take her handmaiden with him to town, and he informs her it’s simply too dangerous. Fair enough, but then the command is repeated, only this time, “The queen wishes it. She’s curious about the town.” So, downgrading a command to a wish and then saying “please” is apparently enough to convince a wise Jedi even though he says out loud how much of a bad idea it is. Someone just got reverse Jedi Mind Tricked. Although, to be fair, this is the same guy who told Anakin “I can see there’s no fooling you” when he guessed 100% incorrectly about Qui-Gon’s mission on Tatooine. I’m not saying Mr. Jinn is an idiot, but I’d like to see his midi-chlorian count.
Speaking of midi-chlorians, did you know Anakin literally never had a father and was a miraculous conception? Qui-Gon is mildly puzzled by this, but I managed to find out exactly what is going on. According to Wookieepedia, “The highest known midi-chlorian count – over 20,000 per cell – belonged to the Jedi Anakin Skywalker, who was believed to have been conceived by the midi-chlorians.” Oh, okay. I’m glad we settled that.
The problem I have with Jedi and their high midi-chlorian counts is that being one with the Force never seems to give anyone any predictive power whatsoever. Clouded, the future may be, and it would be so nice to have an entire academy housing an undisclosed number of Jedi ranging from Padawans to masters, where everything could be figured out. Oh, wait.
With so much talent and raw ability under one roof, you’d think some of them could use their brains once and a while. For all the complaining Yoda does about the fear he senses inside of Anakin, he fails to take into account the fear he and the other council members exhibit when it comes to dealing with Anakin at all. They don’t want to touch him with a ten-foot pole, and it comes off as irrational and harsh. The council seems like the most fearful group of people in the movie, as they all but refuse to act on important issues just in case something bad might happen. That’s a solid definition of fear right there, and it’s funny, because if they had put half as much enthusiasm behind Anakin’s training as Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) did, then Darth Vader probably never would have existed. I say if the future is cloudy, you should at least try to clear it up.
But the Jedi fear Anakin’s uncertain future, and despite stewing in the stench of their own wisdom, they nonetheless accept him into their ranks under some of the falsest pretenses I’ve ever seen. Qui-Gon gets around the Jedi Council’s rule about not having two Padawans by accepting Anakin as his new trainee while simultaneously having Obi-Wan take the test to become a fully-fledged Jedi Knight. What good is having an “only one Padawan at a time” rule if you can just “graduate” one of them at will and hasten the other one into position? The council basically shakes a finger at everyone involved and agrees to do what they want.
If I were a Jedi hanging around during these times, I would like to think I could do better. I’m reasonably sure I could at least tell when the Sith Lord himself is standing right in front of my face. As for the rest of the Jedi, he can apparently be three feet in front of them, and they can’t tell him from Meatloaf. I mean, he’s evil incarnate, and they can’t even catch a whiff of something foul in the air except to say hilariously vague things later on, like, “Hard to see, the dark side is.” Thanks, Yoda.
I wish The Phantom Menace wasn’t as boring as it is. I wish it had more and better action, despite the fight between Darth Maul and Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan holding up decently (except the high ground nonsense). I wish it wasn’t so bloated with scenes and dialogue that nobody wants to listen to. I wish Ray Parks got more of a showcase. I wish; I wish; I wish. The final product before me today is the same as it was back in 1999, only I’ve had the opportunity to watch even more sci-fi and fantasy in the interim. The Phantom Menace doesn’t hold up in any way, shape, or form. Full disclosure, I skipped right past the pod racing on this latest viewing. Sorry about that (no I’m not).