I'll make any excuse to talk Star Wars, which has soured into a vehicle used to make bad movies and sell toys. Over at Empire Magazine's Blog, they are celebrating the 10 year anniversary of Episode I, the Phantom Menace (opened May 19, 1999). To my delighted surprise, the writer doesn't want people to bash the movie, but rather believes, like I do, that it is an underrated gem in the Star Wars saga. Like Indy 4, Phantom Menace did a lot of things right, but the glaring mistakes (Jar Jar = Nuke the Fridge) continue to leave a bad taste in people's mouths.
So, 10 years later, let's be objective and look at the best and worst of the Phantom Menace.
Jar Jar Binks - Yeah, let's get that out of the way. For some reason, Lucas thought that this bumbling buffoon could be the next Chewbacca. Too bad for him that Jar Jar was a moronic, annoying, over-the-top, coward whereas Chewbacca was a cool, reserved, loyal, badass wookie. It's pretty pathetic when you think of George Lucas, the great storyteller, sitting in his den writing "Mesa day startin pretty okee-day with a brisky morning munchy, then BOOM! Gettin very scared and grabbin that Jedi and POW! Mesa here! Mesa gettin' very very scared!"
Ambitious Plot - I get the feeling Georgey was trying to please everyone when he wrote Phantom Menace. The fanboys from the 70s are now old men, so they would appreciate a plot about trade embargos and political squabbling. But the new generation of kids might appreciate the pod race, Jar Jar, and little Ani on his grand adventure. I saw Episode I in high school, and the taxation plot was over my head while the cheesy aspects were roll-your-eyes stinkable. 10 years later, I appreciate the sophisticated subplot a lot more and I think it's one of the things they did right.
Midichlorians - What? Being a Jedi has to do with the microscopic bacteria in your blood? Thanks for ruining the mystique...
Pod Racing - I'll concede that the special effects and especially the sound effects used during the race were incredible, but every time I re-watch Ep. I, I skip this chapter. It's too damn long and I hate Ani to begin with. Plus they made a sucky N64 game out of this scene.
Liam Neeson - In the original trilogies, our knowledge of Jedis was a whiny little brat and a deranged muppet. For the prequel, we needed someone who could handle the patience, wisdom, and awesomeness of the Jedi Order. You have to agree Neeson nailed it. It's a shame his death kinda sucked and he didn't return as a ghost like Old Obi Wan.
Lightsaber Duel - Again, we expected a lot of Jedis in their prime, and they delivered. Remember that moment after Neeson was gutted, and the red laser barrier peals back and Obi Wan is unleashed on Darth Maul!?!?!?!?! Brilliant. That fighting sequence either had the nerds holding their breath or creaming in their pants.
Darth Maul - 2nd greatest baddie of all the Star Wars movies!!! Double Light Saber!!!! War Paint and Horns!!! Again, it's a shame they killed him off so soon. Christopher Lee was a CGI joke compared to the acrobatics of Darth Maul.
The Score - Johnny Williams brought his A-game to Episode I. Listen to "Duel of the Fates" and then try to disagree with me.
Closing Thoughts - This movie was wayyyyy better than "Attack of the Clones," and mostly because of Jar Jar Binks, it still gets bashed. Like Indy 4, the expectations were huge for Phantom Menace (btw, the title is really cool). And even though it's easy to nitpick all of the film's shortcomings (you had 20 years to work on puppet technology, why does the Yoda puppet look so much worse than in Return of the Jedi?), if you just sit back and enjoy the show, it is definitely a fun ride.
Empire Strikes Back - A+
A New Hope - A
Revenge of the Sith - B+
Return of the Jedi - B
Phantom Menace - B-
Attack of the Clones - D+