STAR WARS: EPISODE I — THE PHANTOM MENACE

THREE GUYS AND… MOVIE

series created by Marvin Mercer and Nick Stephenson

“STAR WARS: EPISODE I — THE PHANTOM MENACE”

written by Dominick Cappello

POSITIVE:

Well, it’s hard for even me to be overly positive when we’re dealing with “The Phantom Menace”. This was perhaps the most anticipated movie of all time. There was no way that it couldn’t disappoint and – sadly –  it definitely did disappoint. It had been sixteen years since “Return of the Jedi” (1983), so it would have been next to impossible to live up to the hype.

Audiences just did not respond to “The Phantom Menace” the way they did to the original trilogy. But, one major success of the film was Darth Maul and his lightsaber duel with Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi Wan Kenobi. Darth Maul was to “Episode I” what Boba Fett had been to the original trilogy. A mysterious villain with little dialogue and no backstory. Almost a sci-fi version of a Clint Eastwood “man with no name” type character. Benicio Del Toro turned down the part because of the lack of dialogue. Stuntman Ray Park was cast instead and he was dubbed by actor Peter Serafinowicz.

According to Mr. Plinkett and “Red Letter Media”, there was nothing to the climatic lightsaber duel other than some overly flashy choreography with no character development. That is true for the most part, but the way in which Darth Maul vanquishes Qui-Gon Jinn shows a subtle difference between the mentality of the Jedi and the Sith. In the midst of a standoff, Darth Maul bops Qui-Gon in the nose with the handle of his awesome double-edged lightsaber. This gives Darth Maul the momentary advantage and he proceeds to impale Qui-Gon. Darth Maul is more badass than Liam Neeson. How about that? It would never even cross the mind of a Jedi to use cheap tactics and strike someone in nose or gauge their eyes, but that is how the diabolical mind of Sith operates and that’s why Darth Maul was able dispose of Qui-Gon. Okay, sure, that’s a minor character trait, but it’s better than nothing.

The CGI animated TV series, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” (2008) resurrected Darth Maul with cybernetic legs. Perhaps Darth Maul could also appear in the new trilogy or in one of the many spin-offs Disney intends to release? He was the focus of the ad campaign for the 2012 3D re-release of “The Phantom Menace,” validating him as the movie’s only real breakout character. If he returns in a future film, then “Episode I” will resonate more in the canon.

Also, honorable mention goes to Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan Kenobi. He was the unsung hero of the prequel trilogy even if he had virtually nothing to do in this episode. He poured his heart into these films and did his best to elevate the material. He broke free of the constraints that was stilted dialogue, uninspired camera work, and dull editing. Whereas the prequels stripped away the mystique of characters like Darth Vader and neutered the Force itself with the inclusion of the damn midi-chlorians, Ewan McGregor’s performance added to the legend of Obi Wan Kenobi.

– Dr. Jelly

NEGATIVE:

Okay, you boys are making it way too easy for me this time. The prequels!? This is like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s been over sixteen years and still don’t know what the hell “The Phantom Menace” means. Well, I guess it’s better than the working title. “Star Wars: Episode I — The Beginning”. The Beginning? So, that’s like saying “Part I, Part I”. That’s like “Airplane II: The Sequel” (1982) except this isn’t supposed to be a joke.

It’s almost all been said already. Every dork with internet access has the same exact complaints. The opening scroll sucked. The taxation of trade routes? Yep, that’s a real lousy way to introduce an adventure movie. The Neimodians and their bizarrely stereotypical Asian accents. What the hell was that all about? The dialogue was atrocious. Elusive? Be mindful of the living Force? What does that mean? Somebody needs to tell George Lucas to put down the thesaurus and write lines of dialogue that sound like how people really converse with each other. Oh, and what’s up with Natalie Portman’s voice in this movie when she’s the queen and not the handmaiden? She sounds like Buffalo Bill from “Silence of the Lambs” (1991). It’s creepy.

Jar Jar Binks. He stepped in a pile of shit and a camel farted in his face. Fuck off. Enough said.

During the underwater sequence, they do the “there’s always a bigger fish” gag twice. As a boy, Darth Vader built C-3PO? WHAT!? Midi-chlorians? The Force is now something tangible that can be measured by a blood test? Are we supposed to know that Senator Palpatine is Darth Sidious or not? We’re basically three steps ahead of the characters in the story, so everything is just… boring. They marketed the shit out of Darth Maul, but what’s he got? About six minutes of screen-time? How many lines of dialogue? Three or four? I’ve never blamed Lucas Film or Kenner Toys for Boba Fett. He was a minor character whose action figure became a popular collectable, but they intentionally pulled the wool over our eyes with Darth Maul. The one decent character gets killed off in the first episode. Lame.

Samuel L. Jackson was a waste of space. Don’t get me started on the Yoda puppet or should I say what was suppose to be Yoda. The puppet barely resembled the character. It was replaced by CGI in the Blu-ray release. A rare George Lucas alteration that actually makes sense. There have been so many fan edits of this film. You can cut as much as you’d like from this movie, especially Jar Jar Binks, but you can’t really add in what George Lucas neglected to include in the first place and that’s compelling characters and a story with any heart to it. You know, like the original trilogy. Is Anakin Skywalker our protagonist? What’s his motivation? He’s says that he dreams of becoming a Jedi, so that he can return and free all the slaves. Spoiler alert. He doesn’t. He forgets about his mom until she is kidnapped and raped by Tusken Raiders. What a hero.

– Dr. Frisbee

INDIFFERENT:

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I was not a massive “Star Wars” fan growing up. I was more into “Star Trek”, so I didn’t understand why there was so much griping about “The Phantom Menace”. I thought that it was acceptable, but now I am a big “Star Wars” fan and totally understand why everyone was not only so disappointed, but in some cases borderline devastated by the painfully mediocre quality of the film.

George Lucas returned to the director’s chair for the first time since the original “Star Wars” (1977), which was later re-dubbed “Episode IV — A New Hope”. A 22-year gap. George Lucas executive produced “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) and “Return of the Jedi” (1983) as well as the “Indiana Jones” films. Had he lost touch with his audience after all those years? He seemed to be relying on the “comic relief” of Jar Jar Binks and the pod race to compensate for tedious scenes like the senate debate. Jar Jar Binks was universally despised while the pod race was a bit more polarizing. Yes, it was entertaining and all, but seemed like a huge divergent from the overall plot.

The most important plot point was Senator Palpatine manipulating Queen Amidala into declaring a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum, so that Palpatine could then be nominated to take his place. The rest of the film merely foreshadows that some of these characters will one day play prominent roles in a galactic struggle. The taxation of trade routes itself makes for a less than stellar adventure.

You can watch popular YouTube channels such as “Belated Media” and “Banditincorporated” for their own fan fiction rewrites of “The Phantom Menace”. Belated Media reworks George Lucas’ lackluster screenplay whereas Banditincorporated used almost entirely new material. I’ve heard that George Lucas was quite keen on having the pod race as the centerpiece of the movie. Well, then why not have an entire movie about pod racing? He could have produced a standalone sci-fi movie about pod racing, which was not part of the “Star Wars” franchise, and still done loads of merchandise. Action figures. Video games. All that good money making stuff.

But, if George Lucas was absolutely insistent on a “Star Wars” prequel, then do a better job of incorporating the pod racing into the narrative. Obi Wan Kenobi could be on a mission to uncover a mystical talisman (or some other type of McGuffin) which was stolen by a bounty hunter (who’s not Boba Fett’s father) and delivered it to Jabba the Hutt, so Obi Wan must go undercover as a pod racer. Anakin Skywalker is the Tom Cruise “Days of Thunder” (1990) type maverick racer, who starts off as a rival of Obi Wan’s, but the two then bond over a common enemy. Darth Maul was cool, so he could be the bounty hunter or take the place of Sebulba as Anakin longtime adversary on the racing circuit.

Obi Wan can sense that Darth Maul is skilled in the Dark Side of the Force. Also, that Anakin is strong with the Force and could be a potential recruit for the Jedi if only he could put his sizeable ego in check. Anakin could be as much of a cocksure scoundrel as Han Solo. I imagine the film opening with a “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) scenario. Obi Wan recovers the talisman, only to have it stolen from him by the bounty hunter, whether it’s Darth Maul or not. There could be three pod races in the film. Two preliminary races in act two and one climatic race in act three. After the final race, Anakin is involved in a confrontation with Darth Maul. Anakin wields a lightsaber for the first time and (supposedly) kills Maul. Obi Wan is not pleased because he wanted to apprehend Maul and discover the identity of his Sith Master. This mysterious Sith Lord is who was going to purchase the talisman from Jabba the Hutt and use its mystical powers against the Jedi.

Obi Wan gives Anakin the benefit of the doubt and takes him before Yoda so that Anakin can be indoctrinated into the Jedi order. So, this will be a galactic space race movie, which would tickle George Lucas, and also be a classic buddy cop movie where Obi Wan and Anakin bond. That’s was the first of many key elements missing from the prequels. Obi Wan and Anakin actually becoming friends. All of the political upheaval and the clone wars could be saved for the next two episodes. Also, just like the CGI animated series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” (2008), Darth Maul will return.

– Dr. Rochester

Just say no

Just say no… to Jar Jar

Author: Dominick

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