Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) – An Unfocused Mess Ruined by Child Actors and Comedic Relief

The Phantom Menace

    Before I say anything specific about “The Phantom Menace,” I have to admit now that I’m not looking forward to “Attack of the Clones” and can fully understand why George Lucas lost the rights to “Star Wars.” I wanted to like this film, it’s “Star Wars” after all and a part of my childhood, but nothing can save this mess of a film and script. No amount of nostalgia can change the bad ideas that lead to the creation of certain characters and how they were portrayed and this film is easily a net negative versus net positive neutral in overall quality.

     The film was directed and written by George Lucas and produced by Rick McCallum.

     The story involves the Trade Federation blockading Naboo to force a treaty that favors their monopoly leading to Chancellor Valorum sending the Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) to resolve the dispute. Manipulations of the Sith soon complicate things leading to the Jedi on the run as they seek to protect the Queen (Natalie Portman) and save Naboo.

The Pros: The Universe – The Old Republic is fascinating and there is so much we could have been shown instead of told. The Republic is corrupt and the Sith are clearing manipulating a lot behind the scenes but we don’t get any of that…we don’t even know how the Trade Federation really works and they are the main antagonists besides the Sith. Still, a lot of good ideas here just poorly executed.

The Soundtrack – It’s John Williams, you can’t go wrong with the soundtrack and even with very crappy dialogue and characters we still have a soaring score that works really well, especially in the fight with Darth Maul.

Qui-Gon Jinn – I actually liked this character. He is very much the maverick and a bit of a sociopath in how he manipulates others but it makes him compelling. I wish we had gotten more on why he clashed with the Council and the reason behind his focus on the prophecy. He is very much the chaotic monk and it makes him a lot of fun. Liam Neeson does a great job too. I actually cared that Darth Maul killed him and I wish he’d done something about the slave trade on Tatooine as the Council was clearly doing nothing.

Darth Maul – Darth Maul is wonderful and really should have survived this film. He has the same threatening feel as Vader did being the Emperor’s dragon and keeping him around would have given the chance to grow his threat and establish him as the corrupting influence on Anakin and even Obi-Wan. He is the enforcer and a truly terrifying character with an awesome character design. I know he was brought back in the “The Clone Wars” but he deserved that same chance in the films as the mystery of his character gives so much to explore.

Palpatine/Darth Sidious – The guy is surrounded by idiots and manipulates them so well. From setting up Padme to call the vote of no confidence leading to him becoming Chancellor to never revealing his intentions and remaining cypher so he can use all the factions of the senate. Ian McDiarmid is fantastic and is one of the interesting characters in the films as it really is about his rise to Emperor.

Obi-Wan Kenobi – Ewan McGregor was a great casting choice for young Obi-Wan and we see echoes of who he will become as he is cautious and tends to go with the Council versus Qui-Gon who could care less. In this we already see the Lawful Good Jedi Master he will become. He is also cold in his own way too as he talks about how Anakin should not receive training to Qui-Gon in front of Anakin…so he isn’t prefect and we see how his duty to the Council and Qui-Gon is why he decides to become Anakin’s master in the end. He also avenges his Master and is the one to defeat Darth Maul.

Okay: Tatooine – The Pod Race is cool but useless in the end as they could have found another way since all they had to do was get in contact with the Capitol, though we do get some good exploration of Padme, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon at least.

Padme – She’s a cipher and she doesn’t approve of a lot. In the end she makes peace with the Gungans and is shown to have humility (learned from the Jedi?) but that is about it. She’s okay as a character but not great.

The Cons: The Jedi Council – These bland folks are not fleshed out at all and are oblivious to the corruption around them. It’s a sad state but we are never able to fully see just how corrupt and inept they are because they are heroes simply for being Jedi. I hated Windu and Yoda in this as they are just tools who fail to see past the Temple and never send any help out even when they know a Sith is probably going to be on Naboo. They are useless.

The Senate – The Senate like the Jedi is useless as we see that everyone is either a tool (Valorum) or a manipulator to their own ends (Palpatine). Like the Jedi they are a useless organization and how they got that way is never explored at all.

Naboo – Naboo is a blank slate as the Gungans are just aquatic rabbits and the people are people we never interact with or see. We hear about their suffering and dying but never witness any of it. We have to take everyone’s word on things when we have no reason too given the corruption established in the opening credits.

Midi-Chlorians – The force is not physical, Yoda establishes this in “The Empire Strikes Back,” I remember that and I haven’t watched the film for years. The very existence of these things cheapens the force and turns Anakin into “The One” which misses the point of the force being something that binds “All” of us together and is always with us. If only special people have it, than it ceases to be what binds us together it becomes something no more than genetics.

Anakin Skywalker – I’m sorry Jake Lloyd, but you can’t act. His lines all fit the “perfect child” syndrome that is a problem in a lot of movies and making him “The One” gives him plot armor enough to destroy a Droid Base in space when he’s never flown a ship before…and it all happens by accident! If he’d been a young adult at least there would be the excuse of him having experience from delivering stuff for Watto or the huts like Luke got experience playing with his friends.

Jar Jar Binks – Comedic relief and bad comedic relief at that. There is no point to Jar Jar as he is there for fart jokes, poop jokes, his stupid voice and mannerisms and trying to appeal to kids. Yet he is made core to the plot! He hooks up with Qui-Gon and is there through the entire film distracting from whatever is going on and making scenes worse. There can’t be a serious tone when Jar Jar is around so it makes all the other threats moot. This idiot was made core to the film which was one of the worst decisions George Lucas made. He gives nothing to scenes and only makes them worse as his jokes break the tone, his mannerisms and voice are incomprehensible…and yet he is made to be one of the heroes alongside the Jedi…

The Ending – Anakin destroys the reactor and there is peace on Naboo. The only interesting thing that kind of works is Obi-Wan adopting Anakin as his apprentice and the final fight with Maul. The Celebration at the end doesn’t mean anything because the people of Naboo are invisible to us. We never saw their struggles only heard about it. The planet was nothing more than statistics.

The Writing – The writing was the biggest problem. From having Anakin be a child, to Jar Jar being core to the plot and from the motivations of the Trade Federation, Senate and Jedi being big giant question marks. No one’s motivations are clear except Obi-Wan and Palpatine which is sad given how large the cast is. There is so much that could have worked if this script had not been written George Lucas as his world is compelling, “The Clone Wars” and “Clone Wars” are living evidence of this…but not so for “The Phantom Menace.” When George Lucas wrote and directed this story he killed whatever promise there was with a lot of poor writing and directing decisions.

    Anakin should have been a teenager already or Luke’s age, Midi-Chlorians should have never been a thing and Jar Jar should not have been in this film and Obi-Wan should have been the character we were following with Qui-Gon along as a rogue Master. If these things were done this film would have actually been good, even with the stilted dialogue as the circumstances of these changes would have forced a greater exploration of the world like the corruption of the Senate and the ineptness of the Jedi Council. Instead we got very bad comedy and mostly uninteresting characters in a world that didn’t feel lived in. The CGI isn’t the problem I remember, the problem is the script and the character choices that were made. You take away those things and we would have had a good film where what happens in the film would have felt real, had stakes and in the end, meant something. I get why Disney owns “Star Wars” and George Lucas no longer does. The choices made in making this film are ample evidence that George Lucas clearly had no idea what he was doing.

Final Score: 5 / 10. 50%, the reason it isn’t lower is because of Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Ian McDiarmond and the fact that Darth Maul was used very well as a Dragon.

“Helix” Season 2 Assessment – Lost Potential and the Death of a Cool Idea

Helix Season 2

     I really wanted to like this show. I enjoyed Season 1 as it was “John Carpenter’s The Thing” done in such a way that incorporated some of the ideas from “Battlestar Galactica,” since Ronald Moore is one of the Producers this made sense, and it made the show strong. The first season was crazy, scary and characters had arcs that advanced until the cliffhanger end….Which was where the show fell apart in trying to set things up to be much bigger, which this season completely failed to deliver on. This season failed to deliver on a lot of things and this was largely because it was an unfocused mess. More on all of this later.

     Helix was created by Cameron Porsandeh with the executive producers being Ronald Moore, Lynda Obst, Steven Maeda and Brad Turner. It was produced by Sony Pictures an aired on the Syfy Channel.

     The story picks up where Season 1 left off except we are in the future. Julia (one of the scientists who was turned into an Immortal) is now working for Ilaria and trying to stop them from using the upgraded virus from last season by finding a compromise and seeking a way to keep the human population from breeding. In the past we see Doctor Jordan, Peter and Kyle who have come to St. Germain to investigate an outbreak that happened near the Island. This leads to the discovery of the Cult lead by Michael who has a dark agenda as well as Alan who has been targeting immortals and seeks an end to them.

The Pros: Time Jumps – The use of time is one of few things this season did well. We dead the Island was after the outbreak and with it we see that Julia was on the Island prior and also why she doesn’t know what happened to Alan. This is done really well, especially in regards to the reveal at the end.

The Premise – An Island run by a Cult leader with members who seek dominion over each other and outsiders is fascinating. It is it’s own horror trope, just like “The Thing” idea in the North Pole that existed in Season 1. The CDC is unwanted and the early manipulations by the leaders of the Island to try and remove them or set them up is done very well. It’s creepy especially with the reveal of Michael’s birthing chamber where he takes all the women who rebelled against him. The Cult is never presented in a good light, which I appreciated.

The Soundtrack – The music is still ironically happy, like Season 1 which was a strength in that just as it is in this. Reinhold Heil did a good job of making the music very happy but also creepy and foreboding when it needed to be.

Helix - Season 2

The Cons: The Characters – I never understood why the characters did what they did. Peter and Alan fighting each other made no sense. They just decided to turn Peter into a bastard and villain so that they would have another antagonist. His reasons for joining the Cult and becoming a leader made no sense…the same went for Alan’s refusal to open up to anyone, including Sarah Jordan even though they’d had a baby together. The three wives of Michael were also unfleshed out with the youngest wanting power for the sake of power, the second one being a follower who wanted power and the eldest trying to help? It made no sense and the relationship drama was so contrived. In the end I didn’t care about any of the characters…though the biggest disappointment was how the made Dr. Hitaki try and kill Julia his daughter and them making him insane and talking to the corpse of his dead wife and son. That was the part I began to realize the writers were writing character drama for the sake of drama and had forgotten the core of what drove their characters in the first season.

The Writing – The writing was bad, so much of it was telling and in the end very obvious telling that still left questions. Why did Ilaria want to kill the human race? They had a board meeting that they didn’t invite Julia too, so what was the deal? Why hadn’t more people rebelled against the Cult and why didn’t the Cult try and deal with the CDC immediately if they saw them as such a threat? What happened to Dr. Jordan’s baby? Why did Soren return to the Island? What was the birthing chamber at the end? What happened when everyone came back and what was the fallout? There were so many dropped arcs, unexplored characters, characters made crazy for no reason (Hitaki and Peter) and so much contrived drama. It was just bad, and not fun bad.

The Ending – The ending was a giant cliffhanger again with Dr. Jordan doing a birthing chamber for the new world run by Ilaria with her working for Ilaria. We don’t know about anything that happens to the other characters just that Alan is an immortal now, Peter went to jail (But did Ilaria get him out?) or what happened to the surviving members of the cult minus Soren. It was an even worse cliffhanger ending than season 1…and pretty much killed any future interest I had in the show.

   This show was some of the biggest missed potential, it was fun and campy but dealt with the ideas of immortality and flaws in human relationships. This time it was drama for the sake of drama, lack of focus on any point or theme and in the end this drove it down. I could not tell you what the point of this season was and didn’t seem to have a message. If you didn’t watch this season and you watched season 1, don’t watch this season. Season 1 is at least good (minus the ending) this one is just bad. I watched it because I hoped it would get better and there were the inklings of good ideas…but all that was wasted because characters were written to cause drama for the sake of drama and had no purpose beyond that and great characters like Dr. Hitaki (best character from this series) was wasted. I cannot recommend this season at all.

Final Score: 4 / 10.

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