Star Wars Binge Week 2020: The Phantom Menace

Afternoon, all. Ol’ Ryan is on vacation this week, and a curious thought struck me just last Wendesday: I have nine days off before work resumes, and there are nine movies in the core Star Wars saga. So why not spend this week binging my way through them all? And of course, it would make sense to record my thoughts throughout this retrospective because… well, I have a blog, and what else am I going to do with it?

So with that said, let’s go ahead and dive into all the random thoughts that I had while watching Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace this morning. (Random thoughts are mostly in chronological order.)

  • It feels good to see a legit Star Wars text crawl along with the main theme for the first time in… since I went to see The Last Jedi, I suppose. Real shame that this one is all bout taxation woes and trade routes. It’s just not all that interesting and doesn’t work as a hook to get you hyped for the film you’re about to watch.
  • The Trade Federation has a silver protocol droid with a lady’s voice, many years before gender-swapping became cool.
  • I totally forgot (never knew?) that Force Speed is a power. It might only ever be used in this one instance, and it’s so brief that you might not even realize that it happened.
  • Say what you will about the CG animation ruining Star Wars, but I really like so many of the droids and creatures that were brought to life digitally in The Phantom Menace. Battle droids and pit droids are a lot of fun, and the underwater monsters are so criminally underused.
  • I have no defense for Jar Jar Binks.
  • Other than “we need a unique character design”, why is does Boss Nass appear to be of a different species from the rest of the people in the Gungan city? Did he conduct a hostile takeover of their society? Maybe it’s fine in science fiction where species mingle everywhere, but it would be like if a bear ran a human settlement.
  • Fight scenes are filmed with a steady camera so you can see what’s happening. Yes, please.
  • All things considered, the CG hasn’t aged terribly. It’s rarely convincing, but it certainly doesn’t look bad. No worse than Vaseline on the lens to blur out landspeeder wheels, anyway.
  • Hee hee! Natalie Portman is so itty bitty!
  • Seriously why does Qui-Gon keep putting up with Jar Jar?
  • I don’t know why, but I always thought that Darth Maul was mute. But he has a few lines. I suppose that’s the giveaway that I’ve only watched this movie all the way through once before today.
  • Why does Anakin’s mom have an accent but Anakin doesn’t? I mean besides ‘child actor’.
  • Podracing is super cool. The whole sequence is a lot of fun, and I really like the diverse machine designs. Makes me want to revisit Star Wars Episode 1 Racer on N64.
  • The podracing scene is also super long, so if you don’t like it, you’re fast-forwarding through like a sixth of the film. Seriously it goes on forever. And I enjoyed every second of it.
  • Anakin was immaculately conceived? Okay, I’m willing to forgive a lot, but you’re losing my good faith here, Phantom Menace. There’s a line between sci-fi silliness and suggesting that your protagonist is akin to Jesus. And I’m not coming at that from the perspective of an offended religious person. I just think it’s stupid. But I guess Star Wars has a history of goofy parentage issues.
  • I think my favourite thing about this film (aside from podracing) is the nostalgia that it evokes in me for the massive hype machine that surrounded the original release. Has any other movie been so heavily marketed?
  • Also the Episode 1 LEGO was sweet. I had Anakin’s podracer and if I could have one LEGO set back, it would be that one. Or maybe the X-Wing. Maybe.
  • Padme’s expression when Anakin reveals that he’s never even finished a podrace is priceless.
  • I recall people not being thrilled with Jake Lloyd’s performance, but I think he did a fine job. Especially compared to Hayden Christensen completely whiffing his take on Anakin in Episodes 2 and 3.
  • The Skywalkers have a pretty nice home, and seem to be pretty well off for slaves. I think that maybe the white people that made this movie didn’t really have a firm grasp on what slavery is.
  • Qui-Gon’s insistence on training Anakin may have led to major tragedies, but I can appreciate that he makes his own decisions instead of mindlessly doing whatever the Jedi Council commands.
  • The Naboo Starfighter, with its gaudy yellow and reflective silver paint job, is easily one of my favourite ship designs in the Star Wars saga. I had the LEGO set of this one too. It was boss.
  • In Maul’s first combat appearance, he only ignites one side of his lightsaber. So when he shows up again and light up both ends, it’s a pretty dope reveal. At least, it would have been if I hadn’t known about it beforehand.
  • I find it questionable that the Naboo have no army, but they do have a large fleet of starfighters. Plot hole at best, massive governmental oversight at worst.
  • I rescind my earlier praise of the CG effects. Some of the shots during the Gungan/Federation battle are obviously sub-par.
  • I have a sad that Qui-Gon dies. (Spoilers.) His ‘rogue that plays by his own rules’ role will be missed. Particularly because said role is effectively replaced by whiny teenage Anakin in the sequels.
  • Darth Maul’s character design is a villain masterclass. It’s just too bad that he’s just a plot device and never got to be a real character. Then again, knowing what happens to General Grievous, maybe that’s for the best.
  • Also there is a big puff of blood when Obi-Wan bisects Maul. I won’t claim to have a complete understanding of the science behind lightsabers or biology, but I don’t think that should have happened?
  • Boss Nass should have been a costume.
  • Jar Jar should have been a costume (with a sharply reduced role).

Overall, I have to say that I really don’t dislike The Phantom Menace. I can see why it has a bad reputation, for sure; It’s far too popcorny for critics and it does some questionable things to the Star Wars lore that angered the super nerds. But I’m just an everyman who just wants to watch a fun space movie with laser swords and explosions. Yeah, The Phantom Menace drags a bit in the beginning, but it picks up and mostly maintains that momentum. It works for me. It’s by no means the Star Wars film that I’m going to pick up time and time again, but to revisit once a decade? Yeah, it’s a fun time.

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