Friday, September 15, 2006

Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Tomorrow night, Sky airs the first of the second "Star Wars" trilogies, "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace." Originally released in 1999, sixteen years after the previous "Star Wars" film, I first went to see it the Friday of the week it opened. I went to see it while I was married, so I was accompanied by my evil ex-wife, the Black Queen, and my two evil ex-step-children. This was before they turned to the dark side, so they weren't acting evil, back then. I was looking forward to this film and carried on a tradition I started with "The Empire Strikes Back," of playing the soundtrack in the car, on the way to the cinema. The Black Queen didn't appreciate this very much, but the kids were happy with it. With so much expectation, I suppose it should be no surprise that I was disappointed.
Overall, I thought the film seemed more kiddish than the previous "Star Wars" films. The number one flaw seems to be the almost universally disliked character, Jar-Jar Binks. He's a bumbling idiot and is supposed to provide comic relief, but seems to manage more annoyance than relief. For some strange reason, Lucas decided to equip Jar-Jar with, what sounds like, a Caribbean accent. Of course, the Black Queen found Jar-Jar amusing and I was subjected to her and the children uttering his infamous catch-phrase, "how rude," for weeks afterward.
Additional shortcomings of the film include the killing off of Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul, the two most interesting characters. Darth Maul, in particular, has too small a role and had the makings of a bad guy almost as enthralling as Darth Vader. The casting of Jake Lloyd, as the young Anakin Skywalker. I don't know how this decision was made, but his acting seems awful. In all fairness, this might be due to George Lucas, himself. For this film, Lucas was back in the director's chair and he has a reputation for giving very little direction to his human actors. Perhaps, a director who is stronger working with actors would have coaxed a better performance out of young Jake. Child actors are tough to work with. It's the rare one who gives a great, believable performance. Another thing I didn't like was the battle droids. They seemed flimsy and un-threatening. My final disappointment was with the plotline that climaxes with a big grey thing in the sky that must be blown up. This is the same formula as we had in the original "Star Wars" film, "Episode IV," and in "Episode VI." In other words, it seemed too similar to the Death Star. Been there, done that.
Okay, enough of what I didn't like, let's look at what I did like. The special effects are great. As I hinted at, above, Darth Maul was a great bad guy, the best of the second trilogy. Liam Neeson is great as Jedi Master, Qui-Gon Jinn...a Jedi who doesn't obey the Jedi Council. Ewan McGregor is a credible young Obi-Wan Kenobi. Natalie Portman does a good Queen Amidala. The John Williams soundtrack is great, and lives up to his previous "Star Wars" efforts. The pod race scene is high quality. The light saber battle, between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan versus Darth Maul, is fantastic
I ended up going to see "Phantom Menace" a second time, with a friend from work, and I liked it better on the second viewing. Despite my criticisms, it's still a pretty good film. In my opinion, it's not the worst of the six "Star Wars" films, to date. I shall watch it again, tomorrow night, as it's been a while since I have seen it.


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