Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace ★★★½

But Master Yoda said I should be mindful of the future.”

Not at the expense of the moment.” 

Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn

Ahhhh yes, The Phantom Menace, we meet again. Real talk. This isn’t a bad movie, it’s not even the worst of the franchise. In a way, The Phantom Menace is like Nickelback, it’s trendy to hate, but we all secretly have some things we love about it. The Phantom Menace is a well paced, visually striking, and effectively flashy launching board for Star Wars as we know it. Buuuuut. The divisiveness is warranted as it is chalked full of blocky CGI, cringe scripts, an over reliance of attempted humor (ala Jar Jar), and an overall sense of being overstuffed and underexplained. 

One thing is clear, Lucas and team were planning for the future with The Phantom Menace, mindful of characters and their arcs, careful to avoid the plot holes from the original trilogy. Yet, due to the incessant lambasting of sub-par CGI, a few poor performances, and hurried introductions we are left with a lesser film in the moment. George Lucas shot for the future but at the expense of the moment, making The Phantom Menace an uneven, but enjoyable film.

The cinematography in The Phantom Menace is hard to judge to harshly. Highs and lows define this film. 

At its best, The Phantom Menace is flamboyant and palpable, boasting beautiful and captivating set pieces, locations, and characters. The Phantom Menace also gives us our first high intensity and blockbuster-esque light-saber duels. Hot damn. Those are still amazing. Duel of the Fates is still standing the test of time as one of the greatest moments in Star Wars history. Plus, I know that the Gungan’s inclusion, specifically Jar Jar, are problematic for many. But when Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan dive down to the Gungan city for the first time it gave me an overwhelming sense of wonder and curiosity. It was beautiful. Oh, and lastly….ahem….POD RACING!!!!! It really is shocking that the movie that gave us Duel of the Fates, Darth Maul, and the exhilarating pod racing sequence ends up being one of the lower rung Star Wars films of the franchise. Because to me, those are some of the most memorable moments in all of the Star Wars lore. 

At its worst, The Phantom Menace is a CGI experiment gone awry. The majority of this film is captured in CGI, specifically the big battle sequences. These are visually unappealing, almost jarring at how badly they do not hold up today. Truly, they look as if they were captured on a Microsoft Widows 98 save screen. It’s bad. The Phantom Menace also forces thoughtless jokes and frequent slapstick bits into the film, all of which don’t land and feel out of place within itself. Honestly, these seem like small complaints considering how well The Phantom Menace does some of the other things, but, this movie does not look good the majority of the time and for that it takes a rating dive. 

Liam Neeson is always better than I expect him to be in this role. Neeson seems to almost relish it, basking in the absurdity but owning it’s maturity. Neeson makes his characters brief appearance in Star Wars lore one of the most memorable and beloved in all of its cinematic history. You couldn’t have asked for more from Neeson here. Ewan McGregor birthed a cultural icon with his outing as Obi-Wan. McGregors disciplined but charming performance spurred a charisma filled legacy lasting 23 years and counting, McGregor still at the helm. A love story on both ends, both becoming synonymous with one another. Natalie Portman is overly dull, monotone, and somewhat annoying in The Phantom Menace, something that is thankfully corrected in the subsequent films. Finally, Jake Lloyd. Listen, people are way too harsh on this kid. Sure, his acting is not the best I’ve seen from a child, but it’s not the worst either. Definitely not warranting the hate that he’s received over his lifetime since this film. Overall, it’s an excellent cast and a wonderful introduction to a plethora of new characters. Just a few petty complaints. 

John Williams. The score. Flawless. Duel of the Fates. Divinely inspired, has to be. Amazing. 

The Phantom Menace is a bold, exciting, and visionary kickstart to the prequel trilogy. While The Phantom Menace is not without some glaring, obtrusive, and baffling faults, it still possesses the same campy sci-fi spirit that its predecessors had before it, making this a welcomed addition into the Star Wars universe. 

I was told today that Jar Jar Binks adult films exist. Someone else can check the validity of that, my eyes can’t handle the shock of it if it does. Somehow, that makes The Phantom Menace the most horrifying movie ever made. I bet George Lucas directs those films too. 

What came first? The plasma grenades from Halo, or the plasma grenades from The Phantom Menace? Curious.

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