I’m going to open up this review by leveling with you my dear readers about how much of a nerd I really am. I saw The Phantom Menace(TPM) at midnight on opening day. I waited in line all day long(I was second in line). I beat the real life version of The Simpsons comic book guy(serious looked just like him) in Star Wars Trivial Pursuit, twice, and I only missed one answer between the two games(Worst nerd beating ever). I was in costume. As Darth Maul. I did all of my own make up, made the horns and did my own sewing. I made the local news. So TPM has a special place in my heart. That being said I am not one the new breed that defends TPM ignoring its faults but I also recognize it is much better than people have given it credit for over the last ten years or so.
Dis is bombad
I’m going to start off with what I didn’t like in TPM and most of that is in the first third of the movie. Jar-Jar’s dialog and reactions in the first part of the movie were over the top. As you watch the rest of movie the character and his speech settles down and he becomes tolerable if not a favorite. I also didn’t like Qui-Gon’s attitude toward Jar-Jar when he first meets him. He’s arrogant in way that he is not for the rest of the film. The fight scenes of Obi-wan and Qui-Gon as they rescue the Queen and when they escape Naboo are kind of terrible. Droids are randomly close so the Jedi can cut them down and it just isn’t visually appealing.
Speaking of visually appealing the CGI in the vista type scenes does not hold up well. I am speaking of the droid army approach to Thead and in the final battle when the droid army approaches the Gungan and after the Gungan shield falls. But those are the only CGI fails I have.
There is one other mistake made in the first third of the movie. For example the way R2 is introduced. Too much telling not enough showing. We never knew what R2 was doing to fix things just that he fixed it. Instead of just throwing us in to the universe as ANH did TPM tends to explain everything its setting up. This is the real basis of the people’s problems with the movie as a whole. Fortunately this is limited to the first third.
Finally lets discuss Anakin Skywalker, the character not the actor that portrayed him. Anakin has some goofy lines but nothing terrible, in fact there are only two terrible things that revolve around Anakin. First is the hanging speech. By that I mean the two scenes where Anakin is speaking and Padme and Qui-Gon “interrupt” him. Its obvious he has nothing more to say and his fellow actors are supposed to interrupt him. This a failure in editing, scripting, and direction. If the actor had been given full lines and was actually interrupted or if the interruptions we cut in quicker it would work better. The second is Anakin’s line and actions during the space battle. This is a boy we just saw fly in and win a podrace. During that podrace he made on the fly adjustments and repairs while keeping his cool and righting his pod while it was spinning and under the control of one engine. He would not accidentally fly into a control ship or say “spinning is a good trick” The character could have and should have been more purposeful in his actions. It appears luck helps him out as it stands and we all know “There’s no such thing as luck”.
This is SO Wizard
Alright lets get to the good stuff which pretty much includes everything after we meet Anakin. Which brings me to my first great thing, this movie is not about introducing us to Anakin, its about introducing Padme. Padme’s world is the one used by the Trade Federation, its her decision to leave with the Jedi, then to come with Qui-Gon to Mos Espa, she is entire reason Anakin tries to catch up with them after he leaves Wattos, she decides to call for no confidence in the chancellor, then she heads back to Naboo, forms an alliance with the Gungans and formulates the plan to take back her planet. Just about every decision that moves the plot forward is made by Padme. Her interactions with Anakin when they first meet are great and show that Jake Lloyd was a good child actor. Overall Padme’s character is my favorite in TPM.
Shmi, Watto and Sebulba are all great characters. The CGI on Watto and Sebulba was the kind of work that has held up. I actually felt that Shmi wanted only for him to be free. Everything she had suffered through would be worth it if he was allowed to leave with the Jedi. The podrace was absolutely fantastic work both visually and storytelling. It showed us how resourceful Anakin was and he was something special. There was tension both in the race and for those watching it. Our first introduction of Darth Maul vs Qui-Gon was a fantastic little battle. Once they arrive at Coruscant we finally get to meet the Jedi council and see the Senate. The Jedi are arrogant and dismissive of a fellow master Qui-Gon because he doesn’t follow the party line. Its awesome! The Jedi are ripe for a fall from prestige due to their attitude. And then we see the Sneate and Palpatine, good lord he’s fantastic. Why isn’t Ian McDiarmid in more movies? The Senate itself is another institution that has festered and is ripe for manipulation and destruction. I don’t think people expected that when they walked and they missed the undercurrent of how this sets up the rise of the Empire.
The final battle really works for me. The gungans are no Ewoks and came to fight and brought their own tech and army. They are for the most part formidable fighters and do quite will against superior tech and numbers. Then we have the Duel of Fates. Second best lightsaber duel behind Empire. This was what we wanted to see. Jedi at their absolute height of power and skill. The only thing I would have done to improve it was give Maul taunting dialog to both Qui-Gon and Obi-wan. The space scenes were great and I wish they had given us more including more Anakin fighting in space. At the end of the movie we once again see the Jedi’s failure. In their arrogance the masters refuse to choose Anakin as a padawan forcing Obi-wan’s hand.
I have gone though all range of emotions regarding TPM over the past 16 years, I loved it when I first saw just because it was new Star Wars, I hated because I could only focus on its faults, and finally I’ve come to love it again while still recognizing it is not perfect. There things I wish had been done better however it does compete for best of the prequels for me and it is a great addition to the Star Wars mythos.