A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the galactic Trade Federation, with support from the mysterious Sith Darth Sidious, is promoting a boycott of the planet of Naboo against it’s leader, Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman). Two Jedis are sent to investigate, but the Trade Federation ain’t having none of that, and the Jedis are sent running toward the planet. Luckily they get to rescue the Queen and take her out of the planet. With their damaged ship, they are forced to land in a planet called Tattoine, which is complete desert but away from the Federation.
There they meet a young boy, Anakin, who just so happens to have a ‘mediclorian’ count that is higher than any other Jedi. After they win their ship’s parts thanks to a pod race, they return to the planet of Naboo to rescue it’s people and stop the Federation, but meanwhile they have to face off an army of droid soldiers, and a particularly nasty Sith named Darth Maul.
Oh boy, I’m threading dangerous waters with this one. Like most people my age, I grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy and loved it immensely, and still do. They’re truly satisfying films, four out of four stars, perfect productions. Then came the re-releases which caused quite a ruckus with all the changes they made, and then came the prequels, starting with this one. To be fair, George Lucas is a very good director when it comes to action sequences. Because of this, the two main action pieces, the pod race and the lightsaber battle between the Jedis are very well done, exhilarating, and full of action. Sadly these two great sequences are not enough to save it.
The main problem is that the script is full of errors and lack of continuity with the original trilogy. There’s also too much plot. A lot of uninteresting elements are made in to make the film seem more ‘realistic’ which only take from the experience. Does anyone care how the force works? I always thought it was just what it was, a force that surrounds everything, magic. Giving it the whole ‘mediclorian’ angle took away from all that. And for the love of God, George Lucas cannot direct actors. The dialogue is atrocious (“This is intense!”), and every political speech seemed like nails in the chalkboard. It was too much of what you didn’t care for. And these are good actors! Natalie Portman, Sam Jackson, Liam Neeson, etc. Liam Neeson in particular is duller than my stools, and the best character in the film, Darth Maul, is just useless and pointless. One cool action sequence doesn’t mean anything if the character means nothing to the story.
Also, one thing that always bothered me, and it’s been said previously in other places, but I have to get it out my chest. What is up with the racist stereotypes in the aliens? The ridiculous Jar Jar Binks acts like a minstrel show performer (all that’s left is the blackface), the Trade Federation aliens who act like typical 1940’s American propaganda Japanese, the Jewish stereotype (big nose, money-hungry, beard, weird accent) in Watto. Is Lucas so out of touch with the rest of the world that he couldn’t see how damaging these characterizations were? They really bring the movie down even worse than it already was.
So to end this, I take you back to when this movie came out, when I was an excited sixteen year old, sat through this, then came out of the theatre, confused, sad, betrayed. Yes, the two action sequences were cool, but I missed the cool stories, the iconic characters, and the realistic special effects that were replaced by the phoniest CGI money can buy. Phantom Menace is just that, a menace.