This is where things get complicated. I thought as well as exploring the themes and characters of the Star Wars films and especially recognising why they are great. But this involves looking at every aspect of this series, not pretending that something doesn’t exist. So without further ado, here is a review of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.
In reality, it’s hard to imagine any film living up to the hype of the Phantom Menace. There’s so much excitement surrounding the idea of another Star wars film today but back at that point it was twice as high as it is this time. The reason for it being half as much today, mainly because of the Phantom Menace. Fans are wiser and are more fearful of a bad Star Wars film and what it can do to a person, I’ve seen people be sceptical about every film they are ever going to see because the tension and apprehension for this film followed by what had to be a soul destroying let down, especially if you camped out for as much as a month to see it.
The Phantom Menace just isn’t the same as the first three movies. The last article of this series focussed on Lucas’ expertise use of special effects but in this one he just green screened everything, sometimes building sets specifically to match the eye-height of the actor, where the unfinished scenery wasn’t visible. A move like that naturally limits your flexibility with your own story, and many of the best moments of the original trilogy came from improvising on the day due to difficulties on reality. Worse still the big budget CGI simply doesn’t hold up as well, already the Phantom Menace looks quite dated as opposed to the timeless appeal of the original.
As well as this these green screen shots don’t really inspire good acting. There was a reason to get excited for the Phantom Menace as from a distance it appeared to have the perfect cast, accomplished actors who were clearly not chosen merely as a big name, or so we thought. There was Lim Neeson, Oscar nominee (Schindler’s List), Ewan McGregor, rising young star on the British indie scene (Trainspotting), Natalie Portman, another rising star who had proven to handle herself among high profile stars (Heat). This is a good cast, but when you’re experimenting so drastically with technology that has yet to be proven or shown to be successful, and does not result in great acting performances then you have a serious problem on your hands. Today we emphasise the importance of practical effects over CGI because of Phantom Menace, because it acts as proof of what happens when you green-screen everything.
There’s also a definitive lack of a main protagonist. Is it Obi-Wan, it should be as he’s the character we already have a loose connection with and will act as the main link between this trilogy and the next. Actually it would make more sense for Obi-Wan to be the main character as you have one trilogy focussing on Anakin’s mentor, another on his son and then with Anakin himself acting as an overarching theme for the whole series. But instead the main protagonist is Qui-Gon, which makes no sense as he has no major development, he wants Anakin to be trained, then he dies. That’s it, he never changes his opinion nor does he go on any development of any kind.
Prequels always have a difficult time building suspense and making you fear as you already know roughly what characters are going to make it to the end. Even when you’re caught up in the action you actually aren’t because the Jedi are raised to superhero abilities against lifeless battle droids. Though the Stormtroopers missed a lot they were still menacing. Also, even if you knew a character was going to die if there’s a genuine emotional attachment you can still feel pain when they bite the dust.
Don’t even get me started on how underdeveloped a young Anakin Skywalker is, not helped by the bad acting. There’s a humourless and witless Yoda surrounded by a group of what appear to be elitist Jedi and even more boring senate meetings. Worse still are the needless details that no one asked for like Medi… medi… I can’t even say it.
Look not everything about this film is bad, in fact it’s probably about 60/40 on the scale of bad and good. There’s the cool duel with Darth Maul and to be honest cool is the only way you can describe it, not emotional or action packed or thrilling, just cool. There’s that amazing John Williams score, the pod race is decent (though recently it was pointed out to me that half the shots are from exactly the same viewpoint, on the right hand side going from left to right. But I guess it still looks decent but now that I know it it’s hard to ignore it). It is not bad in the same way that Batman and Robin is bad or Battlefield Earth is bad. But it is undoubtedly disappointing.