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 10-13 – “The Immortality Arc” – Yoda Against the Darkness

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  There is a lot I want to like about this arc. We get to know the force more, we visit Moraband the Homeworld of the Sith…we learn at least some of what happened in regards to Sifo-Dyas and we get to spend time with Yoda, this really is his arc at the core. The problem is we don’t get to know him all that well. Yoda never had the vulnerabilities that Anakin and Obi-Wan did and that made the temptations he faced not feel as strong as they could have been, Yoda also asks with wisdom the entire time so the arc once we leave Sifo-Dyas doesn’t feel like it really has stakes. I’ll get into that more though.

    “The Lost One” was directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell and written by Christian Taylor who also wrote the other episodes in the arc. “Voices” was directed by Danny Keller, “Destiny” was directed by Kyle Dunlevy and the final episode “Sacrifice” was directed by Steward Lee.

  The story begins with the search for Sifo-Dyas as Anakin and Obi-Wan visit the Pykes to find the missing diplomat who was traveling with him while dealing with the threat of Dooku who has to silence the last missing link. This sparks Yoda’s vision quest as Qui-Gon is communicating with him to help him achieve immortality so that his life force can live on to train the one who will bring balance to the Universe.

The Pros: “The Lost One” this is a really great episode. We get to see the former Chancellor Valorum and see Dooku being strangled by Sidious for not killing all the missing links to the Clone Creation. We see Anakin and Obi-Wan and the Pykes attempt to stop him and Dooku show why he is Darth Tyranus as he kills the Pyke leader and escapes from Obi-Wan and Anakin after suppressing the only person who knew what had happened. It is a great arc and shows some wonderful dynamics between Palpatine and Yoda and Dooku and Obi-Wan.

Score: 10 / 10

Anakin and Obi-Wan – When they are investigating Sifo-Dyas’s disapearance and death they have some great conversations and we see how powerful they are Jedi too as even the gangster Pykes respect them. They don’t succeed in their plan but they do a good job to try and succeed.

Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus – Proves once again why he is a Sith Lord. Kills the leader of the Pykes who was trying to kill him. kills the Chancellor Aide who had been traveling with Sifo-Dyas and manages to escape from the Pykes, Obi-Wan and Anakin as well as helping Sidious attack Yoda later.

Darth Sidious – This guy is evil and knows it and we see him moving forward on his long term plans while still having the patience to wait. After Yoda gets out of their trap he recognizes the power of Yoda and the Jedi and knows that their plans cannot be rushed. He’s a smart powerhouse.

The Philosophy of the Force – Minus how often they bring up Midi-chlorians, which has always been a stupid idea…the relationship between the living force and cosmic force is really cool. The living force feeds the cosmic force which gives back and keeps balance in the Universe. Yoda learning all of this and making peace with his death and all he will lose is powerful.

The Cons: The Force Priestesses – These five are all different personalities and being that still have their being even though their bodies are one with the force. They are archetypes so not really characters, which was a shame.

Moraband Was Underwhelming – For the homeworld of the Sith this place was pretty boring. Darth Bane is revealed but they don’t do anything with him and for all the talk of the Dark Side they do not do enough with fear and temptation…the fact this is Yoda makes it so there are not stakes either.

   The show got canceled at this time, which was a shame as Grievous was just beginning to become an actual threat, Mother Talzin’s overall agenda is still unknown, Darth Maul is missing and we have no idea what became of the Separatist Parliament. For an ending this could have been a lot better, but I appreciate that they attempted to answer the question of Yoda becoming a Force Ghost. I’ll have a write up on the series as a whole later as well as my Top 5 Episodes/Arcs. Suffice to say though, this has been a fun journey.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 3, Episodes 15-17 – “The Mortis Arc” – Dark Destiny and Philosophy of the Force

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     “The Mortis Arc” is an arc that has a lot of great character development and some interesting exploration of philosophy and the force, but also has some cons to in that the Family functions as archetypes and not actual characters. For this reason I wish it had truly been all in the heads of our characters and not an actual plain of existence as it made things to great when it was powerful just when it was personal without all the “Chosen One” bs that pervaded the Prequels.

     “Overlords” was directed by Steward Lee and written by Christian Taylor, “Altar of Mortis” was directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell and written by Christian Taylor and “Ghosts of Mortis” was directed by Steward Lee and written by Christian Taylor.

    The story involves Anakin, Obi-Wan and Ahsoka being sent to explore an ancient Jedi Distress call that pulls them into Mortis where the Father and his Daughter (Incarnation of the Lightside of the Force) and Son (Incarnation of the Darkside of the Force) do battle as he strives to keep them in balance. We learn he brought them there so that Anakin could take his place as he can control both, fulfilling his role as the Chosen One. Things go wrong though after the Son kills the Daughter and it is up to our heroes to stop him before he destroys the Universe.

The Pros: Mortis – Mortis is a really cool world. There is destruction and creation in flux as the Father keeps the balance between the two. It has reminds me a lot of some of the Ancient Sith Worlds and Dothomir as we see that the three beings cannot be defined as Jedi and Sith, for all of them are beyond that in different ways. That was a cool idea, that should have been explored more.

Qui-Gon Jin – Qui-Gon’s ghost makes an appearance and counsels both Obi-Wan and Anakin! Sadly since he can’t see the future he doesn’t know what the Chosen One prophecy means and the destruction that Anakin will wrought, only the Father knows and it dies with him. This makes Qui-Gon’s appearance sad, even though his moments with Obi-Wan especially are touching. Liam Neeson came back to play this role too!

Ahsoka – Ahsoka gets infected by the son and we see what Darkside Ahsoka would be like. Her pride and anger are great and she is a good fighter. One she is healed by  the Daughter’s sacrifice it is her thinking that stops a turned Anakin and the Son from getting off the planet and we also learn she is a tech. as she was the one fixing their ship. Her fears come from her future self who warn her to leave Anakin so she won’t fall. Her future self is right too as Anakin will become greater than Dooku in the Dark Side when he becomes Darth Vader.

Obi-Wan Kenobi – Obi-Wan experiences echoes of things to come as he tries to have them leave the planet no matter what as the longer they stay the more they risk the Universe with the Son’s escape. He isn’t wrong either as Anakin going to face the son alone leads to his turn as he sees the future and is willing to risk everything so he doesn’t become Darth Vader, even the Universe. It shows Anakin’s naivety and how his ends justify the means  and attachment will lead to his downfall.

Anakin Skywalker – In this we see how Anakin’s guilt and fear drive him to do horrendous acts. From slaughtering the Sand People and to what he will do later as in his vision he sees the slaughter of the younglings and the strangling of Padme and loss of Obi-Wan. It is this that leads him to work with the Son as he will go to any means, even becoming the Dark Side now to prevent that future. It is that drives Anakin at his core and where Darth Vader’s need for control comes from as he has lost so much already.

The Philosophy of the Force – The Force is about balance, the Son and Daughter need each other and the Son mourns the Daughter’s murder by his hands. It takes the Father doing away with it all together for the world to end and for the Force Gods to finally die out. The Dark Side and Light Side need one another just as all people need passion and calm, anger and kindness…all are a part of the whole.

The Cons: The Limitations of Archetypes – It didn’t feel like the Father, Son and Daughter had personalities beyond what they represented. This was the hardest part of the story for me as they were meant to be a new species but that is mostly unknown, they function more as a plot device for Anakin’s reveal of his power and destiny which for meant this could have worked as a force vision or our heroes trapped in their heads as them facing their fears was the best part.

Dark Side Like a Virus – The Son infects Ahsoka by biting her, this simplified the Dark Side a lot and made me wonder why he just didn’t bite Obi-Wan and Anakin and take over from there. It cheapened choice by having Ahsoka have her choice to go dark taken away from her. She was the Padme stand-in for Episode III and it sucked as she is just as possible at going Dark as Anakin.

   I really enjoyed this arc, even with all it’s limitations. It gives us a chance to understand the Force better than we ever have before and to get the motivations and fears of Ahsoka, Anakin and Obi-Wan who are some of the best characters in this series. This is reason enough to watch the arc in the entirety and even though the Beings of Mortis don’t work as well, what they do and what it reveals about our heroes is reason enough to see it.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10