“STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE” (1999) Review

 

“STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE” (1999) Review

Sixteen years after the 1983 movie, “STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI” hit the movie screens, producer-director George Lucas returned to the world of STAR WARS for a new trilogy that depicted the years before the 1977-1983 movies, starting with the 1999 film, “STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE”.

“THE PHANTOM MENACE” was received very poorly by critics and veteran STAR WARS fans when it was first released in 1999. Many believed that it failed to capture the spirit of Lucas’ saga first established in the first three films. Despite the negative opinions, the movie proved to be a blockbuster champion at the box office. But public opinion of the movie in the following thirteen years remained negative. In fact, public opinion has not been that kind to the two movies that followed. When Lucas announced his intentions to re-release “THE PHANTOM MENACE” in 3D, many either wondered why he would bother or accused the producer of trying to milk the STAR WARS cash cow even further. As for me, I received the news with mixed feelings. When the movie was first released in 1999, I must admit that I enjoyed it very much, even though I would never view it as one of my top favorite STAR WARS movies. On the other hand, I despise the 3D process. I despised the use of it in movies like 2009’s“AVATAR” and my feelings for it had not changed when I last saw it used for “THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER”. But my love for STAR WARS overcame my distaste for 3D and I went to see the movie.

Like other STAR WARS, this one began in a galaxy, far, far away . . . thirty-two years before the events of the 1977 movie. Instead of an empire, this story is set during the Old Republic in which knights and masters of the religious Jedi Order serve as “the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy” on behalf of the Republic Senate. A Jedi Master named Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice (or padawan) have been dispatched by the Senate’s Chancellor Finis Valorum to negotiate a peace between the planet Naboo and the Trade Federation, an organization who has decided to establish a blockade of battleships in response to a taxation on trade routes. The Federation has made this move on the “advice” of their partner, a Sith Lord (and enemy of the Jedi) named Darth Sidious. Unfortunately for Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, the Trade Federation attempt to kill them on the order of Darth Sidious. Both Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan escape from the Trade Federation battleship and make their way to Naboo’s surface, during the former’s invasion of the planet. The pair enlists the help of Jar-Jar Binks and his fellow Gungans (Naboo’s underwater inhabitants) to reach Queen Padme Amidala, the planet’s 14 year-old ruler. They save her and her entourage, before making their escape from Naboo. Due to a failing power converter, the entire party make an emergency landing on the remote Tatooine in order to find the parts to fix the ship. In one of Tatooine’s major cities, Mos Espa; Qui-Gon, Padme (who is disguised as a royal handmaiden), and Jar-Jar meet a young slave boy named Anakin Skywalker. It is not long before Qui-Gon Their meeting will prove to not only have major consequences on the outcome between Naboo and the Trade Federation, but also upon the galaxy.

My recent viewing of “THE PHANTOM MENACE” made me realize that after 13 years, I still love the movie. Nothing has changed my view of the movie, including the addition of the 3D effects. However, I cannot deny that “THE PHANTOM MENACE” is perfect. I have my complaints. My major complaint was Lucas’ addition of the 3D effects. They were not impressive. I had expected them to be, considering the outstanding 3D effects of the updated STAR WARS attractions at the Disney amusement parks. But the movie’s effects proved to be a poor comparison and a not-so-surprising disappointment. My second complaint centered around the use of Tatooine as a setting. In fact, the saga’s use of Tatooine has proven to be a major disappointment since the first movie, 1977’s “A NEW HOPE”. Aside from a few sequences, Tatooine proved to be a major bore. After Qui-Gon and Padme’s first meeting with Anakin, I had to struggle to stay awake before the podrace sequence. Lucas’ slow pacing and John Williams’ less-than-stellar score nearly put me to sleep. The only movie in which Tatooine proved to be interesting from start to finish was 2002’s“ATTACK OF THE CLONES”. I realize that many STAR WARS fans dislike the Gungans and specifically, one Jar-Jar Binks. There are times that I feel I could write a detailed essay on the fans’ dislike of Jar-Jar, but this is not the time or place for such an article. Although I harbor no dislike of Jar-Jar, there were a few times when I had some difficulty understanding his and the other Gungans’ dialogue.

It may not be perfect, but I cannot deny that I found “THE PHANTOM MENACE” enjoyable as ever. George Lucas wrote a complex, yet comprehensive tale that set in motion the downfall of the Galactic Republic, the Jedi Order and most of the major characters.“THE PHANTOM MENACE” offered a great deal for all ages and tastes. It provided a complex political tale that culminated in an exciting military battle that freed Naboo from the clutches of the Trade Federation. It provided an exciting duel between the two Jedi – Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan – and Sith Lord Darth Sidious’ apprentice, Darth Maul. The movie provided characters such as a nine year-old Anakin Skywalker, his Tatooine friends and Jar-Jar Binks for children. But the one thing that really impressed me was the exciting Boonta Eve Podrace that Anakin participated in order to win parts for Qui-Gon, Padme and their ship. In fact, if I had to choose my favorite sequence in the entire STAR WARS movie saga, it had to be the one featuring the podrace. This sequence began with the Skywalkers, Qui-Gon, Padme and Jar-Jar arriving at the Mos Espa arena and ended aboard the Nabooan starship when Qui-Gon introduced Anakin to Obi-Wan, following his brief duel with Darth Maul.

“THE PHANTOM MENACE” provided some solid acting, despite George Lucas’ cheesy dialogue. This is no surprise, considering that a combination of solid acting and cheesy dialogue has been the hallmark of STAR WARS movies since the first one in 1977. Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Samuel L. Jackson, Ahmed Best, Hugh Quarshie, Terence Stamp, Andrew Secombe and Ray Parks all did solid work. It was nice to hear vocals from STAR WARS veterans Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker. The movie also featured brief moments for British stars such as Keira Knightley, Oliver Ford-Davies, Celia Imrie, Brian Blessed, and Richard Armitage. But there were a few performances that stood out. One came from Ian McDiarmid, who returned to portray Senator Palpatine of Naboo aka Darth Sidious for the second time in his career. Unlike his portrayal of Palpatine in 1983’s“RETURN OF THE JEDI”, his performance was a great deal more subtle and layered with much charm. Jake Lloyd may not have been the best child actor in existence, but I cannot deny that his Anakin Skywalker was like a ball of solar energy that charmed the pants off of me. The good-bye scene between Anakin and his mother, Shmi was one of the most poignant in the saga. Both Lloyd and Pernilla August did such a superb job that their performances brought tears to my eyes. And aside from a few wooden moments, I thought he handled the role rather well. But if I had to choose the best performance in the movie, I would select Liam Neeson as Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn. First of all, he did a great job in conveying Qui-Gon’s warmth and appeal. He made it easy for many to see why both Anakin and Obi-Wan viewed him as a father figure.

Since this is a STAR WARS movie, one might as well discuss the technical aspects of “THE PHANTOM MENACE”. Without a doubt, it is a beautiful looking movie. It was so beautiful that I did not know who to single out. But I can think of a few. First of all cinematographer David Tattersall did a beautiful job in photographing the movie’s locations of England, Tunisia and especially Italy. Thanks to Ben Burtt and Paul Martin Smith’s editing, the podrace and the Battle of Naboo proved to be two of the best sequences in the movie. And what can I say about Trisha Biggar’s dazzling costume designs? Just how beautiful are they? Take a look:

 

It seems a crime that Biggar’s work was never acknowledged by the Academy Arts of Motion Pictures and Sciences or the Golden Globes. At least she won a Saturn Award for the costumes in this movie.

However, it was George Lucas who put it altogether in the end. Twenty-two years had passed between the time he directed “A NEW HOPE” and “THE PHANTOM MENACE”. Personally, I thought he did a pretty damn good job. The 1999 movie was not perfect. And if I must be perfectly frank, I was not impressed by the movie’s 3D effects. But I am glad that I went to see “THE PHANTOM MENACE” in the movie theaters again. It reminded me that the STAR WARS saga had not lost its magic on the big screen.

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Notes on “STAR WARS: Episode II – Attack of the Clones”

The following is a list of minor notes and observations that came to me, during my recent viewing of “Episode II: Attack of the Clones”. I hope that you enjoy them: 

Notes on “STAR WARS: Episode II – Attack of the Clones”

*It is interesting that the story starts out with Coruscant – the seat of the Republic’s power – covered in a shroud of fog. Was this an allegory of the Republic’s impending doom? Or a sign of hidden secrets within the seats of power?

*Why did the Jedi believe they would have to protect the Republic in a military action, if the Separatists broke away? It seems as if the Republic and the Jedi were prepared to consider using military force to draw the Separatists back into the Republic, against their will.

*I noticed that both Mace and Ki-Adi had the same condescending attitude that the entire Council had in TPM, when explaining to Padme that Dooku could never be behind her assassination attempt.

*Why was it so important to Obi-Wan that he and Anakin follow the Council’s instructions regarding Padme, to the letter?

*I wonder if Jango would have killed Zam if she had succeeded in killing Padme.

*Are dreams usually dismissed by the Jedi in such a cavalier fashion?

*No wonder the Jedi and senators like Bail Organa had never formed a strong bond by ROTS, if Obi-Wan’s general attitude toward all politicians (which the Order shares, I suspect) is anything to go by.

*The more I look at Anakin and Obi-Wan’s interactions in AOTC, the more I realize how unsuited they were for a master/padawan relationship. Anakin would have been better off being trained by someone more suited to deal with his emotional and non-conformist personality. However, I see nothing wrong with Anakin and Obi-Wan forming a strong friendship, once Anakin becomes a Jedi Knight.

*I wonder if Anakin’s feelings about Palpatine would have remained the same if Obi-Wan had been less strident in his teaching.

*How interesting. Obi-Wan ended up following Anakin’s suggested mandate regarding Padme’s would-be assassin, after all.

*The Coruscant chase sequence is another major favorite with me. Note the slightly chubby woman with Ahmed Best and a silver-blond woman with too much eye make-up, both giving Anakin lust-filled glances in the nightclub scene. Come to think of it, I believe I had spotted two other women doing the same.

*”Until caught this killer is, our judgement she must respect.” – Why did Yoda believe that Padme MUST accept the Jedi’s decision that she return to Naboo? I realize that he is concerned for her safety. But why would he assume that she had no choice but to accept the Council’s decision on where she should be? At least Mace seemed to realize that Padme would obey if Palpatine, as the Supreme Chancellor, had given the order.

*When discussing his abilities with Palpatine, Anakin is polite and practically modest. Yet, whenever he is around Obi-Wan or discussing the latter, he becomes arrogant about his abilities and bitter at what he perceives as Obi-Wan’s inability to recognize them.

*”Anakin . . . don’t try to grow up too fast.” – It is ironic that Padme would say this to Anakin, considering that she has been trying to do this very thing for most of her life.

*Although Captain Typho’s assumption on the safety of Padme’s arrival on Coruscant proved to be false, his fear that she might do something foolish or rash proved to be very accurate.

*”If an item does not appear in our records, it does not exist.” – ah, another prime example of the Jedi’s arrogant belief in themselves. Who would have thought it would come from the Archives’ librarian?

*Anakin might be pretty close to the truth in the definition of love he had given to Padme.

*Despite the sweet and charming overtones of the younglings scene, it still has a sinister sense of the foreboding.

*It is interesting how ALL of the Separatists are tainted with the same brush as the Trade Federation and the Banking Union, because they had sought the latter for help. Guilt by association.

*When Sio Biddle had asked Anakin a question about Padme’s safety, Padme rudely interrupts and brushes off Anakin. Now, why did she do that? And in such a rude manner?

*It’s interesting how the imagery and symbolism on Kamino seemed to be of the fertile kind.

*I just realized that if Palpatine had eventually accused the Jedi of creating the Clone Army, he would have been correct. Especially since Master Sifo-Dyas really did order the creation of the clones for the Republic.

*For someone with hardly any experience in romance, Anakin managed to do a good job in winning over Padme without resorting to smooth lines and a cocky manner.

*Of course . . . Padme seemed to be a bit of a flirt, herself. She certainly knows how to use her voice effectively.

*In an article on Anakin and Padme’s relationship, I read a segment from a poem or story written hundreds of years ago that was compared to Anakin’s fireside speech. What amazed me was how similar Anakin’s speech was to what is considered courtly love.

*I noticed that once Padme had rejected Anakin’s offer of love, he turned away from her. And she, in turn, began to pursue him in a very subtle manner.

*It is ironic that Anakin believes that he did not have a choice in leaving Naboo to help his mother. In reality, he did have a choice . . . and he exercised it. Like the other characters around him, Anakin has become adept at deluding himself.

*I see that Obi-Wan had made the first move in his fight with Jango Fett on Kamino. Not only did it result in him nearly falling over a ledge, it was the movie’s first sign of the “good guys” acting as the aggressors.

*”Those Tusken Raiders. They may walk like men, but they’re nothing more than vicious, mindless monsters.” – Judging from Cliegg Lars’ words, I cannot help but wonder if Anakin’s murder of the Tusken Raiders was something rare on Tatooine. Would Anakin’s actions have been condoned by Tatooine’s moisture farmers? Cliegg’s words seemed to have a xenophobic ring to them.

*When Padme told Anakin that it was okay to be angry, she was right. It was okay. It would have been a lot unhealthier for Anakin to pretend otherwise. But where Anakin went wrong was that he had allowed his anger to overwhelm him . . . which led to his murder of the Tuskens.

*Anakin’s claim that he would even learn to stop people from dying seemed to foreshadow his opera conversation with Palpatine in ROTS.

*If Jar-Jar had not proposed that Palpatine should be given emergency powers, I wonder who would have made the proposition? Bail Organa had been certain that the Senate would never grant such powers to the Chancellor or authorize a clone army. Boy, was he wrong!

*Did Obi-Wan’s own prejudices and beliefs in the Jedi’s infallibility led him to easily dismiss Dooku’s claim that a Sith Lord had control over the Senate?

*I think that Padme’s arrogant belief in her diplomatic skills were in overdrive, when she and Anakin learned about Obi-Wan’s predicament. I can see why Typho had been worried that she would do something rash.

*It seems interesting that Anakin was the only one who had managed to control the attacking him in the Geonosis area, without resorting to brute force. Was this a metaphor of his potential to control (but not suppress) the animus within himself? A potential that he had failed to attain until the end of his life?

*Obi-Wan, on the other hand, succeeded in dealing with his animal attacker with brute force . . . just as he had succeeded with Maul and Anakin. Was this a foreshadow of his advocacy of Luke using violence to deal with Vader/Anakin in the Original Trilogy?

*I suspect that Jango’s success in killing Jedi Master Coleman Trebor had gone to his head, when he had decided to attack Mace. Just as many of the Jedi have discovered in this movie and will discover in ROTS, Jango will learn that it does not pay to be the aggressor.

*I did not realize that the Republic and the Jedi had acquired both troops and weapons from the Kaminoans.

*It is interesting that Obi-Wan’s threat of expulsion from the Jedi Order did not faze Anakin one bit, in his concern for the fallen Padme. Either the Jedi Order was never that important enough to Anakin . . . or it was too important to Obi-Wan. Or perhaps it was both.

*Both Anakin and Obi-Wan made the mistake of aggressively moving against Dooku, first. And both had failed. Again, this seemed to be another example of the Jedi’s acceptance of using aggression in this movie.

*Anakin vs. Dooku – it’s ironic that this was the first duel between Palpatine’s present and future apprentices.

*Dooku, who had wisely allowed both Obi-Wan and Anakin to be the aggressors, became the aggressor, himself, in his duel against Yoda. He had barely managed to escape with his life.

*The failure of aggression committed by our heroes and by villains like Dooku and Jango seemed to be the theme for this movie . . . and perhaps the Prequel Trilogy overall. This theme seems especially true for the Jedi, who had agreed to use the clone troopers against the Separatists. The same clone troopers that will become the tools of their destruction. Irony at its most tragic.

*Looking back on AOTC, it strikes me as being a very nourish story, despite the some of the usual STAR WARS elements. Perhaps that is why so many people have difficulty in accepting it. Film noir can be highly regarded – or not. But people rarely understand it, or bother to watch it in the movie theaters.

Notes and Observations on “STAR WARS: Episode I – THE PHANTOM MENACE”

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The following is a list of minor notes and observations that came to me, during my recent viewing of “Episode I: The Phantom Menace”. I hope that you enjoy them: 

“STAR WARS: Episode I – THE PHANTOM MENACE”

*Both the Trade Federation and Darth Sidious seemed surprised that Supreme Chancellor Valorum had dispatched Jedi Knights to act as mediators between the Trade Federation and Naboo. Apparently, this discovery had led Sidious to order a premature invasion of Naboo.

*Why were the Trade Federation fearful of the Jedi, acting as ambassadors?

*Why would Boss Nass and the Gungans want Jar-Jar Binks banished for simply being clumsy? Why did his clumsiness bother him so much? Was this an indication of the Gungans’ lack of tolerance toward imperfection? Could one say the same about those STAR WARS fans who dislike Jar-Jar with a vengeance?

*”You overdid it.” – Was that Obi-Wan Kenobi admonishing his master, Qui-Gon Jinn, for making Jar-Jar too relaxed?

*Isn’t it ironic that it was Obi-Wan who led Qui-Gon, Padme and himself to Anakin, by suggesting that the Queen’s ship seek repairs on Tatooine?

*After two attempts, Qui-Gon discovered that the Jedi Mind Trick did not work on Watto and other Toydarians. Perhaps this is why he had failed to free both Skywalkers from slavery.

*Many have complained that Lucas should have shown the Nabooans suffering under the Trade Federation’s invasion. Perhaps. Perhaps not. But after Sio Biddle had sent that message to the Queen about the suffering on the planet, both Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan expressed suspicion that the message might be a trick to lure the Queen back into the Trade Federation’s clutches. Of course, they were wrong.

*Darth Maul managed to track down the Queen’s whereabouts, via Sio Biddle’s transmission to Tatooine.

*Anakin told Qui-Gon and Padme that he had been working on a scanner to locate the transmitter in his head. As many know, the transmitter will blow up any slave attempting an escape. I wonder what would have happened if Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had made an attempt to get Shmi away from Tatooine.

*Apparently, the idea to enter Anakin into the Boonta Eve Podrace was his own idea . . . supported very reluctantly by Shmi.

*”What if this plan fails, Master? We could be stuck here for a very long time.” – Obi-Wan’s remark seemed to foreshadow his own fate on Tatooine.

*Qui-Gon’s plan to free Anakin seemed to have been instigated by Shmi’s request that he find a way help Anakin leave Tatooine and slavery.

*If Watto believed that Sebula would win the race, why did he agree to support Qui-Gon’s backing of Anakin? I believe that Watto felt he would get his hands on Queen Amidala’s ship if Anakin had lost. And if the latter had won then he and Qui-Gon would split the victor’s fee. But Watto’s greed and lack of faith in Anakin allowed him to be manipulated by Qui-Gon into betting against his young slave.

*I LOVE the podrace sequence. I love every detail about it. Along with the Battle of Naboo, it is the highlight of the movie.

*Interesting. Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Panaka and Anakin had all bowed before Valorum and Palpatine. Yet, both the present and future chancellors did not bow before Queen Amidala, upon the latter’s arrival on Coruscant.

*Amidala seemed certain of Valorum’s support in the Naboo/Trade Federation matter. Yet, Palpatine immediately set out to undermine Valorum in Amidala’s eyes . . . and suggest that a new chancellor be elected.

*Yoda seemed particularly aggressive when questioning Qui-Gon’s belief that Anakin might be the Chosen One to fulfill the prophecy.

*Why does Palpatine want Padme to accept the Trade Federation’s control of Naboo? What plans did he have for this situation, once he became chancellor?

*Many have accused The Phantom Menace of lacking in emotion. Yet, there seemed to be a heavy undercurrent of emotion in the movie. In the scene which featured the Jedi Council’s initial rejection of Anakin, Yoda, Mace Windu, Ki-Adi Mundi and other Council members seemed smug and arrogant over their decision. Anakin looked angry at the Council, and Qui-Gon . . . disappointed. But most surprisingly, Obi-Wan looked both surprised and angry at Qui-Gon’s support of Anakin. I suspect that he felt a little rejected.

*Why did Palpatine warn Darth Maul to allow Padme, the Naboo and Gungan forces, and the Jedi to make the first move?

*I never realized that Anakin had saved Padme, Panaka and the Nabooans in the hangar, by shooting at the droidekas.

*So . . . R2-D2 wanted Anakin to return to Naboo, once they had joined Ric Olie and the other Nabooan pilots in their battle against the Federation ships.

*Anakin had ended up inside the Federation ship, because his fighter had been hit. And he had accidentally destroyed the shield generator.

*Before striking down Qui-Gon, Darth Maul seemed frustrated by his inability to kill the Jedi Master.

*If the Jedi Council had finally approved of Anakin’s entry into the Order, why didn’t Yoda use a less strident manner to convince Obi-Wan to allow someone else – someone more mature – to train Anakin? Who knows? Perhaps he may have been more convincing.

*The moment the camera focused upon Palpatine’s face during Qui-Gon’s funeral, you can hear the cheers of triumph that would lead to the victory celebration.

*Both Anakin and Obi-Wan seemed uneasy in each other’s company during the celebration. In fact, Anakin seemed unusually sober . . . until he exchanged a smile with Padme. I suspect that Obi-Wan had noticed that exchange, judging by his expression.