Star Wars countdown… The Phantom Menace

Every Saturday night, my wife and I have a “film night” with our 5 year old son. This can be a mixed bag… for every viewing of an Avengers film, or the Back to the Future trilogy, we have had to suffer through Spy Kids, or Book of Life. As long as there are snacks, my son is generally happy, and it means we get to spend some quality family time together, without the 2 year old feeling left out, causing his usual brand of mayhem, or demanding Big Hero 6 or Toy Story 2 or 2 again.

In just over six weeks time, the three of us have tickets to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yes, we have our tickets already.

Putting these two facts together (film night, plus Star Wars incoming), we asked our son if he wanted to re-watch the Star Wars films before the new film comes out. “Yes. All of them.” he replied immediately, before I had a chance to narrow the options down to the original trilogy…

So, we’ve just re-watched Phantom Menace together. Have my thoughts on this changed over time? Not really. Here are the ten things that suck most about Phantom Menace:

1- Nobody cares about taxation disputes. Sure, it’s possible that there are tax lawyers out there, rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of a major film finally giving this issue the long-overdue attention it merits… go and watch The Firm again, and be merry.

2- Anakin Skywalker is just too young. Imagine if Obi Wan had met him at about the same age as we meet Luke… Then contrast father against son over time as Anakin slowly turns evil. We’ll never know now how this would have worked out. Thanks, George.

3- Midichlorians. Just don’t.

4- Every scene is too “busy“. It’s like a cartoon for kids with ADHD… Whether on Tattooine, or Naboo, or Coruscant, there’s just too much background getting in the way of the foreground detail. Less is more. The financial and technical constraints of the original trilogy made for a far more believable set of locations, all at the outer reaches of the galaxy. We need to feel the dirt.

5- The stupidly stupid racist accents, especially on Naboo.

6- Are you an angel? No, you little pervert. What are you, like ten years old?

7- Yippee! No.

8- One of the most important men in the galaxy can apparently hide his identity by wearing a hoodie, and NO ONE recognises him… I look forward to the day that Barack Obama tries that to slip out for a pizza.

9- Anakin building 3-PO. Really?

10- Comedy droids. Roger roger; I’m out.

All that, and no room for Jar Jar. (He needs his own top ten countdown, but I’m not doing that.)

So, what did work?

That lightsaber finale. Awesome. From the double ended sabre lighting up, to the final sequence between Maul and Obi Wan… Oh, what glory there could have been. Ewan McGregor is patchy in this film (hampered by the wooden dialogue and the silly hair), but he really sells the finale. When he’s itching to get through the final implausible delaying mechanism to get to the man who has just killed his mentor, I’m right there with him, and the following sequence is so well-choreographed and FAST it still gives me goosebumps every time. I’ll even overlook the (entirely unbelievable) way he somersaults over Maul at the end, without Maul just slicing Obi Wan up the middle.

The sound effects in the podrace are amazing, taking you right into the pilot’s seat. Which is a good job, as the visuals are overdone and cartoony.

That Duel of the Fates song is incredible. Up there with the Imperial March for me.

When we got to the penultimate scene, with Qui-Gon’s funeral pyre, my son asked “Daddy, why are they not toasting marshmallows?”… maybe the next step should be to record a 5-year old’s “director’s commentary” DVD extra?

So, onto Attack of the Clones next week… A New Hope seems very far away, let alone The Force Awakens!

Star_Wars_Phantom_Menace_poster

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Author: Al Lane

Writer, Poet, Daydreamer

17 thoughts on “Star Wars countdown… The Phantom Menace”

  1. I am laughing as though people cannot hear me. Tears of happiness as I wrap your 5 year in my heart. Get your marshmallows on your sticks!!! Enjoy those movie nights, for I believe that one day, in a galaxy far, far away, your adult son, as he will then be, will share moments of such similarity, our marshmallow smiles will be all our hearts need to be warm! <3

  2. Yeah, so I did tell you I kinda like it. And then you list all the shocking things wrong with it and, as I haven’t watched it for a few years, I guess I have overlooked a lot of the annoyances. I tend to agree with all of your points except… the first one.
    I LIKE the fact that a crisis (and eventually a war) is engineered by Palpatine by using trade/taxation as an excuse. This is, without doubt, one of the most common reasons wars start (after religion and politics): the Trojan War (the real one, not the Paris kidnaps Helen story – the ancient city of Troy controlled access to the Dardanelles); Anglo-Dutch wars of the 17th century; the American War of Independence; the Seven Years War (as Britain & France fought for access for and protection of their overseas trade routes and colonies, considered to be the first global war); the Opiate Wars with China. India was effectively conquered by a company, not a country. Funny how Britain, as the first mercantile maritime nation of the modern age, seems to have been involved in so many of these.
    Anyway, the point is that in the original films the Empire fights for power, the Rebels fight for freedom. All very nice and simplistic. The cause of the crisis is one of the few bits of Episodes 1-3 that isn’t cartoony and simple. And it shows a proper conspiracy in action, played out slowly over three films. And in the end it is the trade dispute that is the Phantom Menace, not Palpatine.
    But all the rest of your points, absolutely. Especially 2 & 9. They really did my nut in. And I would also like to replace your number 1 with: “Not another sodding Princess”. What’s the likelihood an advanced star-faring civilisation would come up with such a weird monarchistic system of government & diplomacy?
    And while I’m suggesting things, amongst the things that were good that you haven’t mentioned: the fantastic chromed Naboo Royal Starship ( http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/J-type_327_Nubian_royal_starship ) which may well have been influenced by real 1950s prototype jets such as the Bristol 188 ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bristol_188 – there’s a gorgeous one at the RAF Museum at Cosford).

    1. That’s a good point re trade disputes, and in the hands of a competent screenwriter it could probably have formed a strong “realistic” backdrop to the political machinations… But it was as clunky as the dialogue, for me.

      One thing they did get extremely lucky with was in the casting of a young Iain McDiarmid as Palpatine back in Return of the Jedi. For an actor of his quality (leaving aside a little bit of hissy hamminess when he goes full bad) to be able to play Palpatine in the ascendant in the prequels gave it a gravitas mostly lacking elsewhere.

      Re the princess thing – the title seems to be used differently in this universe to our experience. It does not seem to equal born into hereditary monarchy, if that’s any consolation. It’s more a tilt at older films and the constant “princess in peril” scenarios.

      As for the Naboo ships… They don’t do it for me. Beautiful design, granted, but they “feel” as fake and CG as 90% of the film. Abrams return to practical effects is very welcome!

      Ee I can’t wait…

      1. Heh, “scripts as clunky as the dialogue”…
        Having just watched ‘A New Hope’ with youngest daughter (16) I was very aware of how clunky and cheesey a lot of the dialogue was. And this is where we, as 40-somethings, have to hold our hands up and accept that episodes 1-3 faced an almost impossible task. When I watched Star Wars in 1977, aged 9, it was AWESOME! The best thing, EVER! Those films became precious and perfect (even if there were bits we didn’t like so much, but no-one mentioned them). We evaluated those films with the eyes and minds of kids.
        And when episodes 1-3 came out, we evaluated them as adults. And we mention EVERYTHING we don’t like about them – the childhood wonder has gone.
        Interestingly, a mate at work showed the films to his 10 year old lad who loved 1-3 but couldn’t even get halfway through episode 4 before wandering off! Which makes me think that, as with music, each generation will think that “Star Wars was better in my day”.
        But please let JJ prove me wrong! The trailers look phenomenal. 35 days to go…

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