The Phantom Menace.
Highly anticipated before it was released, universally loathed after it was, The Phantom Menace is now essentially shorthand for “overhyped, terrible films”.
And yet, people defend it. People whose opinions I respect. Alex Reed’s, as well. So what are they seeing? Are they these brave souls who have watched it again and realised something we all lost in the initial flurry of criticism. Is this actually a good film?
I had to investigate.
Problem is, I have no interest in forming a reasoned piece, with a narrative throughout and intelligent things to say. So instead, I watched the film with a notepad to hand, and took down everything I thought about the film at that time. What you are about to get are the live, uncensored views of someone who chooses to spend his evening watching The Phantom Menace, in 2016.
You have been warned.
0:00:21. It occurs to me I haven’t watched this in absolutely years. Is it possible that I have just accepted the common parlance that this is an awful film, without having watched it recently enough to actually have a fair reflection of this? Might I actually like this?
0:00:50. Nope, I’m going to hate it. I can tell already.
00:01:05. Okay, this is the opening crawl, in its entirety:
“Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute. Hoping to resolve the matter with a blockade of deadly battleships, the greedy Trade Federation has stopped all shipping to the small planet of Naboo. While the congress of the Republic endlessly debates this alarming chain of events, the Supreme Chancellor has secretly dispatched two Jedi Knights, the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, to settle the conflict….”
That might be the most boring start to a film I have ever seen. In fact, I’d go as far as saying you could insert random verbs and nouns and come up with a more interesting scenario than that.
0:02:16. The aliens in the donut-shaped ship are so hilariously Asian. Like, they’re not even trying to disguise it.
0:03:05. It’s amazing to think the two main characters in this film are played by Liam Neeson (Qui Gon Ginn) and Ewan McGregor (Obi Wan Kenobi). How the hell are you going to take that level of star power and ability and turn out something awful?
0:06:21. The Jedis are now on their way out of this weird donut-y thing, and this reminds me that at the time of the film I also owned the Phantom Menace game on PC. I was stuck for ages for how to get past a certain point. There was this huge ship that shot at you, and I couldn’t work out how to not die in that section. I bought the official walkthrough (or my mum did, given I was about 11), and it turned out I had to just run past it. Even the GAME had zero thought go in to it.
0:06:33. This reminds me that I also owned the Podracing game. Man, I must have really liked The Phantom Menace when I was a kid, huh?
0:11:09. Ah, Jar Jar Binks. The slow-witted Rastafarian dog. Kind of puts the Asian ship controllers in to perspective, huh?
0:12:31. I already regret my decision to watch this film.
0:14:40. Actual dialogue from a Gungan (Jar Jar Binks species):
“Yousa in big doo-doos now”.
I really hope that wasn’t written by an adult.
0.16.49. Liam Neeson’s character Qui Gon Ginn just took what is clearly supposed to be a slow-witted Rastafarian dog as a slave. That’s not at all troubling.
0:23:32. Actual dialogue:
Security: “There’s too many of them!”
Qui Gon Ginn: “Won’t be a problem”.
Qui-Gon: “I’m ambassador to the Supreme Chancellor. I’m taking these people to Coruscant.”
Droid: “Where are you taking them?”
Qui-Gon: “To Coruscant.”
0:27:05. Good God the acting is terrible. I know the writing is at least 90% to blame, but still.
0:27:44. The first appearance of Darth Maul. I so clearly remember the fuss about him from the time. He was on everything. Kids at school had Darth Maul lunchboxes before the film even came out. Then the film came out and he had about 10 minutes of screen time before being killed. If that doesn’t sum up the Prequels, I don’t know what does.
0:29:37. I can’t accurately describe how boring this film has been so far.
0:30:30. They’ve landed on Taatoine, and Qui-Gon is going to get parts. The security guy wants Padme to go too, but Qui Gon refuses. Apparently Jar Jar Binks and R2D2 are fine, but she will be a problem. Yep.
0:31:20. Jar Jar just stood in sh*t. Delightful.
0:32:44. They’ve found their way to a junk yard. We’ve got a slow-witted Rastafarian dog, a very obviously Arabic junk dealer who happens to be some sort of a fly, and the kid playing Anakin Skywalker is the most offensive thing in the scene.
0:38:02. I feel like this has come up a lot, but it’s hard to do justice in writing at just how bad at acting the kid who played Anakin is. He’s HORRIBLE.
0:40:32. Oh yeah, Peter Serafinowicz does the voice for Darth Maul. Cool.
0:43:20. Having just met Anakin’s mother, I can now see where he got his bad acting from.
0:44:17. In case you were wondering, I am not enjoying this film.
0:45:11. Oh God. The podracing.
0:45:30. Okay, here’s how I know what we are watching was the first draft, and that they didn’t bother writing a second: the deal between Qui Gon and the culturally-insensitive Arabic junk dealer. It involves Qui Gon putting the ship in as a deposit, and he puts the pod in, even though it’s actually Anakin’s, and Anakin will pilot it, and they will split the winnings, and if they win Qui Gon gets the parts he wants, and wins one (but not both) the slaves, but if they lose the Arabic junk dealer wins their broken ship and… uggghhh. It’s so confusing I can’t even work out what the stakes are and I JUST WATCHED IT.
Qui Gon: “Who was his father?”
Anakin’s mother: “He didn’t have one. I can’t explain it”.
0:48:09. Oh good, more child actors. Just what this film needs.
0:48:56. Jar Jar is f*cking terrible. This is well known, sure, but F*CK.
0:49:46. WAIT. Jesus, everything in this f*cking film is mind-boggling stupid. It doesn’t even follow basic film conventions.
So, Anakin gets in his pod and turns it on, and the music swells as wind blows through his air while he screams “IT’S WORKING!” at the top of his voice. However, it was never mentioned there was a risk that it wouldn’t work.
It’s like if Vin Diesel got in a brand new, souped-up sports car in Fast and Furious and turned it on, and everyone gets excited that the ignition works. THIS FILM MAKES NO SENSE.
0:51:02. Hang on a minute, in what way are Anakin and his mother slaves? He builds droids in his free time, gets to build his own pod racer, enter races, they have their own house, he plays with his friends, and he seems pretty educated (not in acting, unfortunately). Is this really what slavery amounts to in the Star Wars universe?
Because, frankly, Qui Gon is talking about taking an eight year old child away from his mother to join a cult. I’m not 100% “slavery” is the worst option here.
1:02:17. Fifteen minutes after it is first mentioned, the pod race starts. Within the first two minutes, at least three racers have died. Qui Gon Ginn should be imprisoned for child endangerment
1:05:05. Here’s the worst thing about the podracing stuff. There is zero consistency in his speeds. Like, he stays at the back for about half a minute and they all leave. Then he starts, and immediately starts overtaking everyone. At that speed, he should be lapping them. But then once he reaches the front, everyone levels out again.
1:05:59. Anakin just did that film thing where they go in to a higher gear when it looks like they might lose. Here’s an idea – why not do that earlier so you might not be on the verge of losing?
1:06:15. Do you see what this awful film has done to me? I’m addressing the consistencies of speed in f*cking podracing.
1:10:10. Anakin wins the race. I know, I’m shocked too.
1:11:04. I already touched on this, but we really need to look at Qui Gon Ginn in more detail. He’s an old dude with long hair, a beard and dressed in robes, who turned up to a city and immediately starting staying over with a young child he bumped in to. He then enters the child in to a race so dangerous three people die on the first lap, and bets on him with property that doesn’t belong to him so he can own the child. He wins the bet, and takes the child away from his mother and flies him off the planet to join a cult.
Are we sure the “Phantom Menace” from the title wasn’t supposed to be Qui Gon Child Snatcher?
1:12:52. Qui Gon finally tells Anakin he is going to kidnap him train him to become a Jedi, and Anakin asks his mother for permission.
“This path has been placed before you. The choice is yours alone”
No, he’s eight and you’re his mother, it is 100% your choice. And the choice, by the way, is “no, stranger, you can’t steal my son and make him join your mysterious cult”.
No wonder Anakin had mother issues when he got older.
1:16:48. As Qui Gon and Anakin head for the ship, Darth Maul arrives out of nowhere and attacks them. How in the hell did Lucas not see what he had here? He is legitimately the only interesting thing in the film so far, and even that’s because he was cool looking.
1:17:08. Okay, here’s what should have happened with Darth Maul.
He should have been this unbeatable badass who killed Qui Gon Child Snatcher, and hell, pretty much every other Jedi over the course of the three prequels. He should have been absolutely unstoppable, leaving only Obi Wan and Anakin to team up to take him out. Anakin succeeds, but only by embracing the Dark Side.
A rational explanation for Anakin to become a Sith himself, and a way to use the one cool character in the whole series to good use.
1:20:21. Is Natalie Portman hitting on an eight year old? This film is f********cked.
1:22:33. Qui Gon Child Snatcher update: just seven minutes after promising Anakin’s mother he would look after him, he leaves him on a planet that is made up of one big city to travel off with Padme and a bunch of strangers. Qui Gon is the worst.
1:23:35. Oh good, more political talk. That’ll speed things up.
1:26.06. Is that Dominic West as a security guard? Best thing to happen in the film so far.
By a mile.
1:27:00. Enough with the God-damn political talk already.
“Queen Amidala, the recently elected leader…”
Wait, she’s an elected queen? What sort of monarchy is that?!
1:29:26. I can hardly keep up with how much this film sucks.
Queen Amidala is in this giant intergalactic senate, and declares a vote of no confidence against the Supreme Chancellor, so he’s finished. That’s it. One elected monarch (?) says she doesn’t like him, so he’s finished.
Shouldn’t they put it to a vote or something? No-one else offers thoughts on it, it’s just one person saying she doesn’t have confidence and his career is over. Is that how this senate works? How does anyone keep their role for more than two minutes?
Senator 1: “Congratulations, you have been elected leader”.
Supreme Chancellor: “Thank you, I-”
Senator 2: “Vote of no confidence!”
Supreme Chancellor: “Oh well, it was fun while it lasted”.
1:35:42. This child actor sucks SO MUCH.
1:46:31. Why are they still getting this kid to follow them around? It’s literally a war zone. How is this any better than being a slave?
1:50:28. Here’s Darth Maul again, and this time the Jedis are ready for a fight. After nearly two hours of boring political chat and terrible child acting, we have finally reached the fireworks factory.
1:52:26. Hang on, where the f*ck is this location they are fighting in? It’s this quaint, Italian-looking town surrounding by forests, and yet they go through one door and end up in this space station type place. What the f*ck is going on?
1:52:41. I have to be fair though – the soundtrack is magnificent.
1:55:29. WHERE ARE THEY FIGHTING? It’s got all these different platforms and lasers and lights and sh*t, but underneath a palace? I legitimately think I have put more thought in to writing this review than George Lucas did when writing it.
Seriously, this is the Reggia di Caserta in Southern Italy. This is where it was filmed:
This is where they are fighting, which is through one door:
1:59:39. So Obi-Wan is stuck behind a laser shield thing as Darth Maul and Gui Gon Ginn go man-on-man. You go, Darth Maul! Kill that child-stealing creep!
1:59:58. Good work, Mauly. He kills The Child Snatcher with a lightsaber blade through the stomach. The children of the galaxy can sleep in safety tonight.
Well, the film sucked, but at least it ended on the happy note of the Phantom Menace being taken out and… wait, there’s more?
2:00:36. By the way, I’m not doing any kind of justice to how much of a mess this ending is. You’ve got a “hero” getting killed (which is supposed to be sad), Obi Wan wanting revenge (which is supposed to be exciting), the Gungans getting trapped (which is supposed to be scary? Funny?), Amidala and her group making their way towards to the throne room (which is supposed to be action? But with political talk in between?) and Anakin has crashed inside the donut-shaped spaceship thing and can’t get out (which is supposed to be funny? Cute? Intense? Exciting? Embarrassing?)
2:03:47. Okay, now Anakin has accidentally blown up the big ship, which frees up the Gungans from the droids. Neither Anakin or the Gungans actually did anything intentionally to set themselves free. It was all a happy accident. This is something like the eighth accident in the final act alone that goes in their favour. How rewarding.
Oh, also, while we are celebrating all of that, Obi Wan is on the verge of dying at the hands of Darth Maul. Can they please decide what I’m supposed to be feeling here?
2:04:32. Obi Wan McGregor is hanging from something (they don’t bother to point out what it is), so he summons Qui Gon’s old lightsaber and uses it to kill Darth Maul (by cutting him in half, rather hilariously).
However, Qui Gon’s lightsaber is green, and Obi Wan’s is blue (in every single film). Wouldn’t it have made sense for Obi Wan to start using Qui Gon’s lightsaber from now on, to show how he is stepping in to the footsteps of his dead mentor? Might that have been a nice, stylistic choice, given it was absolutely there on a plate? Or should he just get another one and everyone will move on as if nothing has happened?
This might be the only film that took less time to write the script than actually watch the film.
2:06:44. Obi Wan is now a Jedi, by order of Yoda. The little green fella then tells Obi Wan that Anakin can not become a Jedi. They then proceed to have this conversation:
Yoda: Grave danger I fear in his training.
Obi Wan: Master Yoda, I gave Qui Gon my word. I will train Anakin, without the approval of the council if I have to.
Yoda: Qui Gon’s defiance I sense in you, need that you do not (sigh). Agree with you, the council does, your apprentice Skywalker will be.
You JUST SAID you sensed GRAVE DANGER in his training. GRAVE. DANGER. If that’s not a reason to not train someone I don’t know what is. But no, Obi Wan just says “go onnnnnnn” and Yoda gives in. This film is absolutely f*cking terrible.
2:08:57. ANAKIN NOW HAS OBI-WAN’S HAIRCUT. This is without a doubt the creepiest cult I’ve ever seen.
2:09:21. We’ve finally reached the celebrations at the end, I guess to mirror A New Hope. Everything is computer generated and looks terrible, with everyone celebrating a bunch of happy coincidences that led to a giant republic with a Supreme Chancellor destroying a trade federation that wanted to block trade for reasons they didn’t actually explain. Then we hit the credits. Thrilling.
2:11:33. Huh, this also starred Warwick Davis, Sofia Coppola and Keira Knightley. The credits are more interesting than the film.
2:16:11. And it’s finished. Thank f*cking God.
You know, coming in to this film I figured it would go one of two ways. Either it would be better than we all remember it, or it would be so bad it’s funny. Turns out it was neither. It’s so bad it’s bad, and if anything the one thing that would have been a highlight (the CGI) now looks hokey and fake.
The worst thing? It was SO BORING. How the hell are you going to take STAR WARS and make it boring? That takes some real skill, I have to say.
Star Wars The Phantom Menace Rating: uuuugggghhhh make it stop
Links to the other Star Wars reviews:
- A New Hope
- Return of the Jedi
- Revenge of the Sith
- A Force Awakens (spoiler-free)
- A Force Wakens (spoiler-heavy)
Check back in every Monday for the latest reviews.