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.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 6, Episodes 8-9 – “The Disappeared Parts 1 and 2” – Force Users Outside of the Jedi and Sith

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    This was an episode that would have been better if it would have had done more than just given us a pacifistic species of force users and a sacrificial tribe of force users and had not included Jar Jar and Mace but instead someone like Obi-Wan who actually had a relationship with the overarching antagonist of this arc. Suffice to say this is the weakest arc of this season so far.

    The episodes were directed by Steward Lee and Bosco Ng and written by Jonathan Rinzler.

    The story involves the Peaceful world of Bardotta where the Masters there are disappearing. The Queen requests Jar Jar Binks due to their relationship and the Jedi Council sends Windu to investigate. From here the story unfolds as the Queen is captured and they must race to rescue her.

The Pros: Mace Windu – Mace Windu is shown to be walking the line between Light and Dark in how aggressive he is as a Jedi, but he is also one of the best as we see him take on multiple enemies. He also develops a respect for Jar Jar and has a lot of patience with him, which showed strong character, which given how blank most Jedi Masters are on this show it was nice to see personality and characterization.

Mother Talzin – She makes an appearance at the end is seeking to steal the force from life which strengthens her own and the Nightsister’s power. It is a cool concept and I liked seeing her again as she was well matched against Mace Windu and nearly succeeded in her plan. I still think her final exit could have been better though and done more to tie her to the Nightsisters again, though it’s cool to see her influence expand beyond her world.

The Cons: Bardotta – The peaceful denzines of this planet are again the pacifists ruled by prophecy. They didn’t feel very fleshed out so once again we got a species that exists as an idea and never get to see how exactly they are even connected to the force.

The Demon Cult – The Demon Cult also doesn’t have any personality. They are tools of Mother Talzin but we never get their motivation or why they want to bring about the Shadow. They were there just to be an antagonist.

Jar Jar Binks – His relationship to the Queen wasn’t believable and he was again the guy always getting into trouble. He wasn’t as bad but he wasn’t needed in this story and them trying to make it a fun adventure given the Dark powers that the story deals with just took away from the story and gave it a strange tone, this I attribute a lot to Jar Jar. Jar Jar doesn’t work in stories a whole, but especially serious ones.

   This was the weakest arc in Season 6 and struck me as a story that would have been in Season 1-3 when they were still figuring out how to tell more serious war stories. This was a big reason why in the end though I found the episode entertaining but it wasn’t one I’d watch again. Mother Talzin could have been used for so much more and a much better story. Where was Obi-Wan? Where was Talzin? Where was Dooku? These are characters related directly to her who would have given this story power and meaning.

Final Score: 4 / 10

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 4, Episode 4 – “Shadow Warrior” – Grievous Continues to Suck as an Antagonist

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   Gungans as the primary protagonists, and Grievous as the antagonist…I’m surprised this episode wasn’t worse than it was. It was still terrible as Grievous further embarrasses himself as an antagonist on this show, but the Gungans weren’t as bad they could have been.

     The episode was directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell and written by Daniel Arkin.

   The story involves the prevention of a Separatist invasion as the Gungan Boss is being controlled by his Minister Rish Loo who is working with the Separatists. Things go awry when the Boss is injured and Jar Jar must pretend to be him when he meets with Grievous. Things come to ahead when Dooku lures Anakin into a trap and the Gungans capture Grievous.

The Pros: General Tarparls – Grievous kills him and he sacrifices himself to capture him, which is a pretty cool way to go as this General was decent in Episode I and wasn’t annoying.

Minister Rish Loo – This guy could have been a great antagonist if his plan had been successful, which I hoped it would have. Civil War on Naboo would have been a great arc. I’m putting him as a pro because he does make his escape and he was winning for a while it is only due to Dooku that he dies.

Anakin – Anakin goes after Rish Loo and is captured by Dooku where his ends justify the means guilt grows as he is traded for Grievous, which keeps the Clone War going.

Padme – Padme is really driven on ending the war and even after Anakin is captured she is fighting against her feelings to rescue him as she knows with Grievous captured they could end the war. She is the one facing the dilemma and goes forward only after pressure from Jar Jar showing just how driven she is to end the war.

The Cons: General Grievous – Loses to a bunch of Gungans. Guy is an embarrassment and is a big reason this episode was only okay. You expect more from the General of the Separatists.

Jar Jar – Still annoying and him acting “Comedic” to get out of situations grows old really fast, especially when something as big as war is going on.

  I didn’t like this episode. The only good parts where Anakin and Padme’s dilemma and seeing Count Dooku beat Anakin. Making Grievous lose to Gungans didn’t help this series when people keep describing Grievous as the big bad of the Separatists.

Final Score: 4 / 10

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 1, Episode 11-12 – “Dooku Captured,” “The Gungan General” – Adventures with Pirates

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“Dooku Captured” and “The Gungan General” are two connected episode related to Obi-Wan, Anakin and Dooku and them getting captured by pirates and what ensues from there as the pirates seek to make the most out of their hostages. It is not a great episode but it does have some moments of fun.

The directors were Jesse Yeh and Justin Ridge and the writer of both episodes was Julie Siege.

The episode involves Anakin and Obi-Wan’s attempt to catch Dooku. Things go wrong when Dooku traps them in a cage but things soon go wrong for him when Pirates take him hostage. After Ahsoka frees Obi-Wan and Anakin and from here they are sent to negotiate with the pirates for Dooku but things go crazy from there when they are captured unknown to the Republic as they sent Senate Negotiators with the spice the pirates asked for for Dooku.

The Pros: Anakin and Obi-Wan – These two have great chemistry in these episodes and we see them act honorably with the pirates as in they don’t kill them or give them the spice since the spice was supposed to be traded for Dooku. It’s a good moment showing the Jedi trying to keep the middle ground.

Count Dooku – Dooku is shown to be an elitist in this but smart in that he realizes how much of a threaet the pirates are due to their great numbers. He does manage to escape when the power is shut down by Jar Jar and the Clones and makes his escape while killing two pirates in the process and the implication he’ll be coming back for revenge. He is a good threat in this episode and kicks it off almost killing Anakin and Obi-Wan in a cave.

Ahsoka – Makes a brief appearance and saves Obi-Wan and Anakin. It’s a small moment and great too as she forces them to admit they needed saving.

Okay: The Pirates – The pirates are all about kidnapping and hostages and are good at it. The thing is though there is no awareness or explanation why they are divided between two camps with one working against one other.

Jar Jar and the Clones – They have some good action but I didn’t believe that Jar Jar could accidentally do all of that. The only part I believed was his noticing the relationship between the flora and fauna. The Clones are okay too but we don’t really get to know them as the episode sadly overly focuses on Jar Jar again.

Jar Jar and the pirates are the weakest part of this episode, but it is still a lot of fun and it isn’t afraid to go dark since we see Dooku strangle a pirate to death and use one pirate to shoot another pirate with the force. These moments show just how much of a threat he is, while Jar Jar taking out the pirates just made the pirates look weak.

Final Score: 7 / 10

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 1, Episode 8 – “Bombad Jedi” – Cool World, Why Does Jar Jar Have to be the Hero?

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    “Bombad Jedi” is a good episode at showing the Separatist influence and could have been a great serious episode, but due to Jar Jar being the primary protagonist that is lost. When the pratfall hero is who is being followed it just isn’t compelling. No one cares about Jar Jar, Padme’s story is by far the more intriguing one and I wish it had just been that as Jar Jar is just a distraction.

   The episode was directed by Jesse Yeh and written by Kevin Rubio, Henry Gilroy and Steven Melching.

    The story involves Padme traveling to Rodia to meet with an old friend Senator Onaconda Farr who she quickly learns has made a deal with Gunray to help his starving people who have been forgotten by the Republic. From here Padme plots her escape as Jar Jar tries to rescue her going undercover with the Jedi robes in her ship.

The Pros: Rodia – Rodia is an amazing looking planet! It’s a giant swamp and has a shield that protects it’s cities. Those in government are also nobility from the look of things at least in how they are treated as they wield the most influence and where the most colorful clothing.

Padme – Padme shows how resourceful she is this episode. We see her break out of her jail cell and resist Gunray as well as forgive Farr for his betrayal showing just how much she valued their friendship and still does as well as taking responsibility for the failures of the Republic in regards to Rodia.

Nute Gunray – Gunray is smart as he got Farr to betray Padme to him but in the end his desire for revenge and paranoia were his downfall as his men were distracted trying to get Jar Jar when they should have been focused on delivering supplies and apprehending Padme. This costs him in the end as he is captured by the Republic, ending the episode.

Onaconda Farr – Farr is a practical leader who just wants help for his world. When the Republic is slow in giving it he goes to the Separatists, but leaves them when he sees they aren’t motivated to help his people at all and only care about what he can give them. He stands up to them though and I really liked his character. I hope we see him again.

The Choice – Farr makes a choice in the end, he stood by the Separatists until he saw that Gunray was motivated by revenge an didn’t care about his people which lead to him backing Padme and the Republic realizing that they did care even if the Senate’s hands had been tied before.

The Cons: Jar Jar and 3PO – These two are just played for comedy and the Rodians seeing Jar Jar as the hero in the end when everything he did was by accident was annoying. Plus 3PO was a useless character only there to get hurt. I hate when characters exist only for that purpose.

   If there hadn’t been any Jar Jar and 3PO this episode would have been a favorite. Sadly time with them distracts from Farr and Padme who are the compelling characters along with the threat of Gunray. For this reason it is good but not great. There was the potential for greatness here but choosing joke characters to drive an episode that is this important was the wrong thing to do.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10.