Rewind Reviews: Star Wars Episode I, The Phantom Menace
Rewind Reviews: Star Wars
Since I won’t be seeing any new movies this week, I decided to go back and rewatch some of my favorite movies and write about them. I decided to begin with what is possibly the most famous movie series of all time, the lovably bizarre Star Wars. If you aren’t a fan of this series…. “THEN YOU ARE LOST.”
I will post a brief summary/review on one of the six movies per day. I’ll follow the Episode numbers in sequential order, not by time of release.
They don’t count as spoilers if they’ve been around for more than a decade, but if you haven’t yet seen any of the films and wish to not be spoiled, the exit is over there.
Today we start with Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
This is where it all began… kind of. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, thousands of planets were inhabited by humans and droids, mixed with strange species only a creative visionary genius like George Lucas could imagine. Of all these living creatures, human and not-human alike, few individuals are gifted with a strong connection to ‘the Force’, which is basically unseen power that allows these individuals, known as Jedi, to move objects with their minds, sense trouble elsewhere or in the near future, and brainwash weaker minded beings, among other handy tricks. Armed with highly futuristic swords known as Lightsabers, the Jedi live to protect the galaxy from evil.
Our vast story begins on planet Naboo, governed by Queen Amidala (supposedly Keira Knightley). Naboo is suffering from a trade embargo due to disagreements with the Trade Federation. Jedi knight Qui-Gon (Liam Neeson) and the soon to be wise, but currently young and inexperienced apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) attempt to negotiate with the federation’s Viceroy, Nute Gunray (Silas Carson), but the responding onslaught of battle droids (Lucas’ replacement for clone troopers) makes it clear it’s not up for discussion. Caught in the fray is Gungan outcast Jar Jar Binks (a prehistoric duck/human with the rare ability to annoy audiences out of their minds) who is fortunately (read: unfortunately) saved by Qui-Gon and brought along on their journey.
Along with Queen Amidala, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan rescue several of her handmaids, the most adventurous and vocal one of which is named Padme (Natalie Portman). They are forced to land on desert planet Tattooine after their ship suffers damage. Quin-Gon, Jar Jar, Padme, and infamous droid R2D2 meet a child slave named Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), who quickly takes a shining to Padme. Qui-Gon is shocked by the amount of Force present in Anakin, and suspects he may be the “Chosen One” destined to bring balance to the Force. Anakin wins his freedom in an extremely deadly pod race (basically the closest Star Wars ever got to Nascar) and leaves behind his home, his self-invented droid C3PO, and his beloved mother Shmi (Pernilla August) to become Jedi apprentice to Qui-Gon. However, the group is now being pursued by Dark Lord Sidious’ horrifying, horn-headed apprentice Darth Maul (Ray Park, voiced by Peter Serafinowicz) and his double-sided Lightsaber.
Getting no help from Senator Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), Padme, who now reveals herself as the real Queen Amidala (Knightley had been a decoy) leads an army of Gungan against the Trade Federation. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan find themselves pitted in a death match against Maul, who is able to bring down Qui-Gon before being chopped in half by Obi-Wan. In his dying breath, Qui-Gon requests that Obi train Anakin in the ways of the Jedi, despite Obi’s wariness of the boy. With Senator Palpatine rising to Supreme Chancellor status and Obi-Wan being deemed Jedi knight, the Jedi are set on red alert about the return of the Sith, and the movie ends headed into what could be a grim future.
Frankly, this is the weakest installment of the series. The movie wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t been for the insufferable Jar Jar Binks. Meesa has no idea what da George Lucas be thinkin, givin him so much of da scweentime. Meesa be thinkin dat if Jar Jar been havin da much smaller role, da movie be bein much better dan it be. What, yousa be annoyed even weadin dis pawagwaph in heesa voice? How wuuude!
The acting felt out of place in this one, as though Neeson, Portman, and McGregor were uncomfortable running around wacky costumes, wielding Lightsabers. No one had more right to complain than Knightley, however, after she suffered through several of Amidala’s Lady Gaga-esque wardrobe choices. No one.
What makes this movie a worthy addition of Star Wars:
Definitely the pod race. Pitted against the despicable, chicken-head eating alien Sebulba, Anakin dodged stalagmites, maneuvered through terrifyingly tight trenches, and withstood bullets from idiotic Tuskan Raiders. Even though the outcome of the race was obvious, and even though I had seen it multiple times before, the scene was still nail-bitingly suspenseful from beginning to end.
I’m probably in the minority here, but I love the battle droids. I see them more as comic relief than actual enemies due to their pathetically fragile designs and occasional sassy remarks. These droids were just placeholders for the clone troopers, anyway, and Lucas did manage to make them threatening in later installment by giving them updated designs.
How would you rank Episode I in your own Star Wars rankings? Is yousa be agreein with meesa about da Jar Jar? Duh. Please comment your own thoughts!