Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (Star Wars #1)

Oh, that opening score. The title crawl. That’s a blast of nostalgia right there. I’m too young to have seen the original trilogy in theaters, but I watched the VHS tapes what felt like a million times. When The Phantom Menace came out, that was right in my wheelhouse. I don’t remember how many times I saw that movie in theaters.

And you know what? It’s not as bad as it’s often rated. Granted, if it wasn’t leaning so heavily on the rest of the Star Wars franchise, well… it would probably be about that bad. But I disagree that it doesn’t disserve a place in the core ‘Skywalker Saga’.

Overall, it’s a fun action movie wrapped around the rise of dark powers and corruption in the guise of–a trade war and senatorial discourse of all things. It’s weird, but I’ve grown to accept it at least?

Obi-Wan: You were right about one thing master. The negotiations were short.

It’s my favorite Star Wars movie so far1 and only a hint of things to come!

A few other particular thoughts:

Music

John Williams is amazing. In particularly, the The Star Wars theme over the title crawl is one of the most iconic movie themes I know and Duel of the Fates is absolutely spectacular–better even than the theme. I can’t think of an individual song in any of the movies better than it, but I’ll keep my eyes out. That scoring an epic two-on-double-ended lightsaber battle? All the better.

Star Wars (Main Theme)

Duel of the Fates

Actors

Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn, the wise mentor figure that doesn’t quite fit with the grain (see below) works so very well. It explains a lot about Obi-Wan and later Luke’s particular style and the beginning of just about everything. It’s kind of amazing to see how long before and after this film he’s been in the industry. That’s quite a history.

Ewan McGregor as the much younger Obi-Wan Kenobi is great as well. The timeline of these movies never quite made sense (unless two suns age you super fast), but I really do love his role in these. It will be interesting if/when we get a Kenobi show/movie as I think a lot of people are expecting.

Natalie Portman as Queen Amidala is … fine? She acts the role well enough, and the scenes where she passionately argues with Boss Nass are pretty powerful.

Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker gets an awful lot of slack. He actually plays a super gifted young kid in an absolutely terrible situation really well. There’s just a sense of innocence and potential about him–especially knowing just how sideways that’s all going to eventually go. He really got a lot of crap for his role from what I’ve heard and he really didn’t deserve that.

Ahmed Best as Jar Jar Binks… Oh that role. See below. He did an great job with the mannerisms and speech patterns and again, doesn’t deserve nearly the hate he gets from it.

Qui-Gon Jin

Qui-Gon may be my favorite addition of the prequel trilogy. We really do get a sense of subtle rebellion from him, the idea that he is going to do the right thing, perhaps even to the point of ‘the ends justifying the means’. I mean… Jedi mind tricks (that work on Boss Nass and don’t on Watto, but not for lack of trying), gambling, cheating at gambling, he does it all.

If you would just follow the code you would be on the council.

And that’s… exactly the point. He’s a perfect focal point for a super powerful group of revealing the problems with what should be the ‘good guys’–the Jedi. It’s a more complicated relationship than I caught 20 years ago and I really do appreciate it.

Jar Jar Binks

Jar-Jar Binks: Ooh, mooey mooey, I love you!

Qui-Gon Jinn: You almost got us killed! Are you brainless?

Jar-Jar Binks: I spake!

Qui-Gon Jinn: The ability to speak does not make you intelligent. Now get out of here.

You know, Jar Jar gets a lot of hate. He’s clumsy and he’s not particularly good at anything, which in a movie chock full of Jedi and other powerful forces is kind of a big deal, but he really does try. And that should matter a lot more than it does. Perhaps it’s an older point of view, but I actually enjoy Jar Jar more now.

I just wish that they would have actually gone with the 'Dark Snoke is Jar Jar' theory in the sequel trilogy... .

Amidala

Does the idea of electing a teen (she’s supposed to be 14…) to lead an entire planet of people2 is kind of ridiculous. Especially when the job is apparently dangerous enough that they have her travel around with decoys all the time…

On top of that, we have her burgeoning relationship with Anakin:

Anakin: Are you an angel?

Queen Amidala: What?

Anakin: An angel. I’ve heard the deep space pilots talk about them. They live on the moons of Iego, I think. They’re the most beautiful creatures in the universe.

Queen Amidala: You’re a funny little boy. How do you know so much?

Anakin: I listen to all the traders and star pilots who come through here. I’m a pilot, you know, and someday I’m going to fly away from this place.

That way around is kind of cute. And she’s not that much older. But there’s a huge power difference (first one way and then the other) in that relationship. I have no idea how else it could have gone, but I really would have preferred not to see the future Anakin's wife / mother of Luke/Leia in Amidala.

Pod racing

It’s a weird sports action scene that goes on a bit longer than it should of, but this is another point where nostalgia really hits home. I loved that game as a kid and it really feels like the game captures the feel of the movie and/or vice versa. I enjoyed the two headed announcer and the crowds and it seems like a pretty neat frontier sort of race, so it fits Tatooine–although with how many racers probably die, how does anyone ever get good at that…

The Sith

As you keep digging into the extended universe, there is so much more lore about the Sith, but with just the original trilogy to go on, we don’t really know much. Here, we get quite a bit more. The idea that the sith have been hidden for long enough for most Jedi to not know they even exist? Pretty cool. Shadowy master and exotic nearly silent (he has 2 lines, really) apprentice with an awesome new concept for a lightsaber? Very cool.

Yoda: Always two, there are. No more. No less. A Master and an apprentice.

That… doesn’t make any sense as written. How? Never have they killed each other or died of old age? It’s a neat idea though! And it does make more sense if you consider it less of an absolute3 and more of an idea where the Jedi teach in collectives and work together, while the Sith favor individualism and personal power. If you really get down to it, there’s a lot to be said for the underlying Sith traditions over what the Jedi ones. In practice, the Sith tend to be fairly clearly evil, but in theory…

All of which isn’t really a Phantom Menace sort of thing, but more of a general thought process. I’m sure I’ll come back to that.

Rankings

Anyways.


  1. There are so many orders you can watch the Star Wars films in… Original release date, chronological in universe, orders that spoil the Vader secret (hint: it’s in the name), orders that leave certain movies out entirely… In any case, I was spending more time looking for the ‘right order’ than watching movies, so let’s just watch them in-universe chronologically this time around! I through IX with Solo and Rogue One between III and IV. ↩︎

  2. The relationship between the humans and the gunguns on Naboo could have been so much more interesting. There are hints of something there at least, but not nearly enough. ↩︎

  3. Obi-Wan Kenobi (in Episode III): Only a Sith deals in absolutes.

    ↩︎