Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace ★★

I watched this movie in two sections with a very close friend of mine, in case any of you were curious about how I watched this movie. I had to pause at one point to join a Zoom call with family and then watch a show with my parents that I will actually be reviewing tomorrow. I'm really excited to talk to you guys about that one.

Happy New Year, everyone! I would have acknowledged the end of 2020 in my previous review had I known that Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions was going to be the last movie I watched in 2020. Realizing that this is the first film I'm watching in 2021 is kind of crazy to me. I have technically seen the prequels before, but I haven't seen them since I was a kid, so I barely remember a thing from them. Watching this film now, I'm very surprised how little I remember about this absolutely insane watch. I honestly don't get how people think the latest Star Wars trilogy is worse than this film because at least the new trilogy is overall competent in its execution despite its poor narrative beats and uninteresting characters. At least those newer films, even if they sometimes feel all over the place in their storytelling, never feel all over the place to the point of utter insanity. I genuinely couldn't tell you what this movie is about after watching it. There's a trade negotiation, I guess, and there's some development given to the young Anakin Skywalker, and that's pretty much it. I can't really tell you why the intricacies in this movie's plot made any sense at all because none of the characters or situations were set up well enough for there to be ANY stakes in ANYTHING that's unfolding on the screen.

However, I will say that this movie isn't a complete trainwreck. The scenery and direction are at least somewhat impressive, there are some legitimately compelling sequences including the podracing sequence and the Darth Maul lightsaber sequence, John Williams' score is always fantastic, and in all honesty, I don't hate most of the acting here. Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson add enough for me to at least believe their characters and I don't even hate Jake Lloyd or even Ahmed Best for their performances in this movie, it's just that their characters aren't written well. Throughout this film, George Lucas can't decide whether to make the young Anakin a kid with above-average intelligence or a normal young boy thrown into these dangerous situations, so by the second half of the film, his serious performance combined with Lucas's childish dialogue doesn't mesh together. It's not Lloyd's fault, in my opinion, it's the fact that they couldn't figure out how to make that character work. I also don't blame Best for simply portraying a character like Jar Jar Binks, because for the way they wrote the character, he did a fantastic job. It's just that Binks' comedic presence throughout this entire film feels completely unnecessary and relies primarily on slapstick, which completely goes against the charming character banter and realistic situations that served as the comic relief in the original trilogy.

What bothers me the most about this film, though, is something that I don't think a lot of people really talk about. There is so much new technology and lore and vehicles and creatures established in this film that wasn't established in the original trilogy. Now, I don't have a problem with the general idea of adding new lore to prequel films, because that's the point of prequel films -- to establish plot points of the original films more in-depth. In fact, while I don't like the way Anakin Skywalker was written, I like the way his general character development was written, and I like the exploration of the Jedi in this film discovering that he's the chosen one. That kind of lore is fine. What I'm not okay with is the addition of clearly higher-tech droids and technology that the original trilogy wouldn't have had the budget to even create at the time. Look, I'm sorry, if you're going to add new technology to a prequel film, you can't add technology that is clearly higher-tech than the technology in the sequel films because once you do that, the question of why that technology wasn't utilized in the adventures of Luke, Han and Leia will always remain in the viewer's minds. That's just not something you can throw at the screen like that, and it completely bothers me that the incredibly CGI-heavy battle sequences involve droids, technology, and new inventions that just disappear during the original trilogy and are also NEVER BROUGHT UP AGAIN DURING THE SEQUEL TRILOGY!! Where the heck did all of this technology go?!?

Alright, I think the majority of this review has been a rant and I really haven't been able to properly explain why I don't like this movie, so here's a basic summary of all of my thoughts: The Phantom Menace has compelling ideas to develop its basic setup. The idea of developing Anakin's story as the chosen one is definitely an interesting prospect, and the addition of other well-known Star Wars characters is definitely welcome -- seriously, you have no idea how happy I was hearing Anthony Daniels' voice in this movie again, especially when C3PO banters with R2D2 about how weird Jar Jar Binks is as a character. In general, I don't hate the acting, I just really don't like the way certain characters were written because they either don't feel completely realized or they feel out of place in tone from the original trilogy. I like some of the bigger action sequences of this movie, although it bothers me to no end that the entire crux of every single event of the original trilogy and beyond lies on whether or not a young Anakin wins a GODDAMN PODRACE (which, by the way, while it is a fun spectacle to watch, feels overlong anyway)!! I even like some of the parallels that this movie sets up with A New Hope by the time it reaches the climax, showing that Anakin and Luke's storylines really aren't that different from each other. However, this movie is so bloated with ideas for lore development, CGI environments, and new ways to try and revitalize the Star Wars series that it forgets to find a completely compelling story amongst all of those ideas. I genuinely couldn't even follow what the basic plot of this movie was except that it had to do with settling trade negotiations, and while that could be interesting in theory, a lot of the actors, while their performances as a whole aren't terrible, deliver their dialogue in such a monotone voice or in such a weirdly emphasized cadence that it's hard to take anything anyone says seriously here.

There are literally no stakes to be found in this movie. None at all. And that's what bothered me the most. There's no excitement in discovering these new alien worlds or meeting these new characters because there's nothing interesting in the basic foundation of the script, despite the fact that there are occasional good moments here and there storywise. I just personally felt that this movie was a completely bloated mess that didn't find an even thread line to make any of its characters or story elements compelling, and at this point, it's easily my least favorite film of the entire franchise. Sorry, guys, you can hate on The Last Jedi all you want now, but to be honest, that film feels a lot more competent to me even if the character decisions in that film don't make a lot of sense. To me, The Phantom Menace pretty much only has spectacle working for it, and while that spectacle and certain character moments can give this movie quite a few interesting moments, it's not enough for me to say that this film is really that great. I will tell you this, though, I was completely thrown for a loop when I realized which character in this film was played by the one and only Keira Knightly. I knew she was in this film going in, but I had absolutely no idea her role was so integral and actually thought she was just an extra or something that was cast because she happened to look like Natalie Portman. When I realized about half an hour to the end of the film that I had been watching her act in front of me the whole time and actually thought she was Portman, I was genuinely blown away. That was probably the best part of this crazy watch.

Letter Grade: C- (This is a very light C- that may be changed to a D+ later, but for now, it's staying a C-)

Alright, guys, hopefully, I'll be reviewing more movies soon, and hopefully, I'll be reviewing the other two Star Wars prequels soon as well! For now, though, I'm excited for you guys to see what show I'm going to review tomorrow. It's gonna be a good one. Once again, Happy New Year and let's have a great 2021!

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