Star Wars episode 1 The Phantom Menace Review (1999)

Is it as bad as I remember? Yes, yes it is but, also no.

I wont lie to you when I first saw this in the cinema I loved this film and so did a lot of people. We must have been under some grand delusion or maybe because it hasn’t aged well, mostly because this is not a good movie. I honestly feel this could be in the terribly good section of our website. That said even with all its awfulness I do have a soft spot for this film.

But first some background. There had not been a Star Wars movie since 1983s Return of the Jedi and as you can imagine anticipation was at fever point. The idea of going backwards to the story of Anakin Skywalker and how he becomes Darth Vader, plus modern movie making techniques and George Lucas coming back do direct was causing shockwaves around the world.

We join the story as the Jedi travel to the planet of Naboo to try and put an end to a blockade of Naboo by the trade federation. The Galactic senate has been unable to come to a peaceful ending so they have sent in the big boys. Little do they know that the Sith have returned and are moving pieces in the galactic background. Lord Sidious orders the Jedis death but they escape to the planet below. You know the rest by now so there’s no reason to go into a full story recap. And to be honest the story isn’t the issue. There’s nothing wrong with the basic premise of the story. Finding out how a virgin birth, slave child became the most evil man in the universe is intriguing. Unfortunately its filled with one of the worst scripts ever made, great actors being made to look like bad ones and maybe, just maybe, in Jar Jar binks the most annoying character ever put on celluloid. Any script that can make Liam Neeson look like a bad actor deserves an award. The table reads must have been hysterical. Did they all not just hear the line “mom, you said that the biggest problem in the universe is no one helps each other” and burst out laughing? I actually feel sorry for Jake Lloyd. He is defiantly not ready for this type or role but Lucas selected him anyway. Sigh.

Lucas is obviously not a fan of kinetic camera movements. Its directed with such as staleness its like he’s half asleep and only waking up between takes. Looking back at the DVD there is an excellent documentary on the making of this movie. If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it. Its long and detailed and its clear there is true passion going in to this movie. Yes even from monotone Lucas. What’s also clear however is that Lucas has absolute power and that no one will dare to challenge his creative process. He walks around the production rooms with a stamp to and uses it mark pictures of creatures, robots and ships that have been designed by the art department. He is clearly interested in the details, the look and the feel of the universe but he is not an actors director and never will be.

Lucas has always said that Star Wars is for kids. He decided to cater for them by producing on of the most hated film characters ever, Jar Jar binks. Plot wise he provides an escape route for Obi Wan and his Qui Gon Jin and lets the viewer know that there is a fighting force on Naboo if needed. That would have been fine but no, we don’t leave him on Naboo instead we have to deal with him prat falling, getting farted on and generally getting in the way the entire movie. Think about, it we get Jar Jar almost the entire movie but, Darth Maul one of the coolest characters ever gets about 2 lines and something like 13 minutes screen time. Its baffling.

Now reading this you’re thinking I hate this movie right? Surprisingly you would be wrong. I went to see it 3 times at the cinema. Bought it on DVD and blu ray twice and have watched it countless time. Why? Because no matter how bad the script is, no matter how much I want to kill Jar Jar and no matter how many times I fall asleep during the senate parts its still Star Wars. It still has great new worlds and aliens. It still has a young Obi Wan in it and it still has the beginnings of Anakin’s fall. It also has one of the best lightsaber battles ever where Maul pulls out a double freaking lightsaber, a moment that still gives me chills to this day.

Its a strange one. Creatively it a mess but its also really creative. An oxymoron I know, but its true. The foundations of a good movie are there, its just that George Lucas was not director the franchised deserved. Ah well I’m sure he will make up for it with Attack of the clones right? Right? Right?

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7 thoughts on “Star Wars episode 1 The Phantom Menace Review (1999)

  1. Honestly I was a kid when I watched this the first time and didn’t like it (I hadn’t watched all the other Star Wars movies yet, so I didn’t have all the nostalgia for the series yet) and when I rewatched it, I realised I was right, it sucks 😉 (in fact, it was worse for me with all the Star Wars nostalgia imo 😉 ) And yes, I strongly agree that there are a lot of things about this movie that are stale. And of course Jar Jar binks sucks. But I do get why you still like it and I think that you’re right that there was the bare bones of a good movie in there- I guess that’s why I get so infuriated with it. Brilliant review!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The only things I would have done differently are have Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi facing Darth Maul together on Tatooine, then again on Naboo. So, even if Darth Maul escaped from the Jedi in one duel, he probably would not have survived the next duel.

    Liked by 1 person

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