STAR WARS EPISODE VIII: THE LAST JEDI (2017) is just around the corner. But why wait to review Star Wars movies? Until its inevitable release, I’m going to review all the core films in celebration! There may not be a lot of them, but there’s a lot to say about them. Everybody’s got their own opinion of the order in which the movies should be viewed: by release (IV through VI, then I through III) or in chronological order (I through VI). But others, like myself, think there’s a better way to view them. I’m going to review the core films in the following order, subsequently how I also believe they should be viewed:
- ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)
- EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE (1977)
- EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)
- EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002)
- EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)
- EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005)
- EPISODE VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)
In addition, I’ll try and do a fresh review of my FORCE AWAKENS (2015) review. This is going to be so much fun, yo! This is my “LAST JEDI Celebration Until Release” special!
It probably wasn’t an accident that the Special Edition VHS set was released a mere two years earlier before EPISODE I came out. It was likely meant to revitalize interest in the films and start the fireworks of hype surrounding a return to the franchise, and with George Lucas returning to the helm. Believe it or not, he didn’t direct either EPISODE V or VI and his career as a director has been pretty vacant up to that point.
I was hyped too. I mean, ten year old me definitely wanted to see the tragic life story of one of cinemas greatest villains. Starting from when he was a kid, no less. It sounded pretty cool to me. The special effects looked cool, and lightsabers! Lightsabers galore! Man, I wanted to see this so bad.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Jake Lloyd (JINGLE ALL THE WAY ), Natalie Portman (SONG TO SONG , MR. MAGORIUM’S WONDER EMPORIUM , HEAT , and the upcoming ANNIHILATION ), Liam Neeson (MARK FELT , BATMAN BEGINS , MICHAEL COLLINS , and upcoming films THE COMMUTER  and WIDOWS ), and Ewan McGregor (T2 TRAINSPOTTING , MISS POTTER , THE SERPENT’S KISS , and upcoming films CHRISTOPHER ROBIN  and ZOE ). In support, we have Ian McDiarmid (THE LOST CITY OF Z , SLEEPY HOLLOW , and DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS ), Ray Park (G.I. JOE: RETALIATION , X-MEN , and MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION ), Pernilla August (a ton of Swedish films), Hugh Quarshie (WING COMMANDER , HIGHLANDER , and TV show HOLBY CITY [1999 – ongoing]), and Ahmed Best (KANGAROO JACK: G’DAY, U.S.A. ).
Now for the crew. Writing and directing is George Lucas, known for EPISODE VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI, and AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973). Composing the score is the living legend, John Williams, known for THE BFG (2016), MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA (2005), THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997), EMPIRE OF THE SUN (1987), CLOSE ENCOUNTERS (1977), and upcoming films THE POST (2018) and the untitled Indiana Jones movie . Finally, the cinematographer is David Tattersall, known for THE FOREIGNER (2017), NEXT (2007), and CON AIR (1997).
This is my honest opinion of: STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE
Set a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Thirty years before the rise of the Galactic Empire, a pair of Jedi Knights, Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), are sent to deal with a trade dispute, headed by the greedy Trade Federation, that is dangerously close to breaking laws and to settle on an agreement. However, the negotiations don’t take place and the Jedi escape to the planet to save the queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) from the Federation forcing to sign off on legalizing an invasion of their planet. She’s ultimately saved and taken off world, but she and the Jedi’s ship take damage and find refuge on the desert planet of Tatooine, where they happen across a young slave boy named Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), whom Qui-Gon believes has tremendous potential to become a Jedi.
Alright, so while I maintain that I don’t hate this movie… yeah, I can’t deny that it hasn’t aged well. I’ve certainly revisited this in recent years, I can now put myself on blast and state precisely what I still love about the movie, and what I don’t, of which there is plenty of both.
Let’s start with the negatives.
When I was ten years old, I didn’t have a problem with Jar Jar (Ahmed Best). I was at that age where funny voices made a funny character. Well, fast forward to 2017, I am twenty-eight years old and… no, Jar Jar isn’t funny anymore. I have learned that it’s not funny voices that make a funny character, it’s a funny character that makes funny voices and Jar Jar has no character. Hell, in a lot of ways, it’s arguable that he’s even supposed to function as comic relief. I mean, look at his lines. “Yousa follow me now, okie day?” “The sun is doing murder to mesa skin.” Where’s the joke? Honestly, it just sounds like he’s talking and saying sentences, not making jokes. But it’s obvious that he’s supposed to be comedy relief because he makes faces at Qui-Gon on Tatooine. He has lines like, “How rude!” He steps on animal crap (Seriously, poop humor in Star Wars?). It just doesn’t make any sense. Fine, any one of these things could be forgiven if Jar Jar was any interesting as a character, but he’s not. Tell me about Jar Jar, if you can. Talk my ear off. Tell me who he is. Make me think. Make me laugh. Make me cry. Make me feel anything for him. I bet you can’t. You wanna know why? Because the story gives him nothing. His back story is that he was banished because he broke something that belonged to Boss Nass (Brian Blessed). But being “clumsy” isn’t a character. It’s a character trait. Compare him to another character, like Qui-Gon. You can’t say Qui-Gon’s long hair is his character. He’s a stoic, no-nonsense, seasoned Jedi Master. He’s defiant; doesn’t always agree with the Jedi Code, even telling Obi-Wan things that go against the words of the greatest of Jedi masters, Yoda (Frank Oz). He’s believes that Anakin is an anomaly and wants to train him and become a great Jedi in the future due to a prophecy, seeing potential in the boy that can bring balance to the Force and destroy the Sith forever. See what I’m doing? Qui-Gon has a character. A distinguished character. Jar Jar is only a voice.
Now, let’s talk about the other disgraced character in this movie: Anakin, specifically the actor, Lloyd. Personally, I don’t have a problem with the actor. He’s a kid. Not every kid actor is a golden egg. But I don’t think he’s that bad. But do you want to know what I do think is bad? The script. Similar to the Twilight franchise, yeah, everyone on screen was a bad actor, even though the actors themselves are not bad at all. But when you’re handed a script that gives you the worst dialog to work with, no amount of talent can save it. And considering how young Lloyd was, he had to put a lot of faith in the direction, which wasn’t saying a whole lot considering that Lucas hadn’t directed anything in decades. So of course Lloyd wasn’t very good. But Portman wasn’t very good. Hayden Christensen wasn’t very good. But that’s because the script was horrible. Lucas can show flashes of good direction here and there, but I don’t think he’s ever been a good writer. He has great ideas, he has a fantastic vision, but his execution isn’t good, and unfortunately, Lloyd was a victim of Lucas’ lesser attributes. So was Anakin a good character? Eh… we’ll get into that later. I acknowledge that most of his lines are bad, but I don’t blame him for it. He didn’t write the script and he wasn’t directing himself. So when people bash the character, I hope they’re bashing the character, not the actor.
And there’s a ton of stuff, story-wise, that makes no sense. First off, the Trade Federation is concerned about their invasion being legal. But why isn’t the blockade illegal itself? The Jedi survived the Federation’s attempt to kill them, so why don’t they go to the Senate and testify against them? They’ve seen the tanks, the hordes of troops occupying the city of Theed, it shouldn’t be this hard to get some balls rolling in the right direction. And really? It’s that easy to throw an entire Senate into voting for new Supreme Chancellors by simply saying, “Yeah, nah, brah, I don’t like you. Someone new, please!” and then the entire system gets overhauled overnight? Did it even take that long? In just a few hours? Eh, different hair style on Amidala, so… overnight it is. At the very least, it seemingly happened pretty quickly and I’m taking a wild guess, it takes YEARS for that to happen. Backtracking a bit, why was Jar Jar around for so long? Okay, the Jedi needed help getting to Theed and Jar Jar took them to his home underwater, leading to getting that submarine. By the way, those underwater fish-chase scenes were completely useless… even though I do love that “there’s always a bigger fish” line. Once they got to where they needed to go, his usefulness was outlived. Bringing him to save Amidala, bringing him into Mos Eisley to look for ship parts, what function does he serve. How does he assist? Sure, he gets the group to the sacred Gungan place, leading to an army at Naboo’s disposal, but this could have easily been rectified. Leave Jar Jar on Naboo, give him the submarine to give back to his people, or take it to go back into exile, and then come back to find him and convince him to help Naboo. It would have been less Jar Jar and more practical storytelling.
Before we get into the things that I happened to like about the movie, it’s time to talk about the final controversy that’s impossible to avoid: the midichlorians. Personally… I don’t get the hate. At all. It’s widely said that midichlorians explain where the Force comes from, taking away the mystery or whatever the hell. I say… they don’t do anything. Okay, so in A NEW HOPE (1977), Obi-Wan says that the Force is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together. Direct quote. Okay, cool so far. I think calling it an “energy field” explains the Force a little bit, but fine, whatever, I’m down so far. Now shifting the focus back on midichlorians, Qui-Gon says that they’re microscopic lifeforms that reside within all living cells. Okay… so far, not seeing how that explains where the Force comes from, or how it takes away from the mystery of it. Well, how about I acknowledge the whole, “midichlorian count” that took place on Tatooine. Anakin has a count of over 20,000, a number even Yoda doesn’t have. Okay, so the proverbial math seems to be that the more midichlorians you have, the more powerful in the Force you can get. I see the connection, but I don’t see the explanation that drives people so bonkers. In video games, I’ve seen a dude rip a Star Destroyer from the sky (STAR WARS: THE FORCE UNLEASHED ) and another guy that ceased to be flesh and blood altogether, becoming a walking semi-talking mass of dark side that literally destroyed an entire Force-sensitive planet and its Force-sensitive inhabitants (STAR WARS KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC II: THE SITH LORDS ). The questions of just how the Force works remain intact. The possibilities of the Force’s power is still limitless. The only thing that midichlorians do is measure how much of the Force a Force-sensitive person can use.
Having said all that, there is one issue that I have with midichlorians, but I can’t tackle that here. We’ll just have to wait for my EPISODE III review.
But because I am a huge fan of Star Wars movies, it’s not enough to acknowledge what was done wrong. PHANTOM isn’t the worst movie of all time and that’s because it does a few things right.
For one thing, I think much of the CGI is really good. The space ships look sleek and sexy, from the royal starship that the characters use to escape from Naboo to the Naboo snub fighters. And by God, the landscapes look incredible. All of the wide shots of the cities look gorgeous. If nothing else, the production value is to be commended and always looks amazing. John Williams’ score is ridiculously breath-taking. Honestly, I think if there’s anything that PHANTOM should be commended for is the epic score. DUEL OF THE FATES is one of the best tracks to come out of not just the Star Wars films, but in films, period. There is still an incredible amount of imagination to the films. The destroyer droids are awesome, Darth Maul (Ray Park) and his double-bladed lightsaber, the alien designs, it’s all phenomenal to look at. Visually, this film is wonderful.
When I was a kid, I loved the original trilogy. Luke and Ben Kenobi were my favorite characters because they were Jedi. For me, the most amazing thing that I wanted to see was the Jedi before the Empire wiped them out. So you can probably imagine that because they got some solid screen time, I was more than happy with that. The Jedi, Qui-Gon and young Obi-Wan were awesome. They were doing flips, acrobats, twirling the lightsabers, it was closer to watching dance numbers than fight sequences. Watching green and blue blades slicing through countless stupid droids was truly awesome to watch. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I saw the Jedi for the first time, but I remember loving what I saw, and I love it even to this day. I know many will claim that the original trilogy had more distinguished and fun characters, but I stand by that this movie has interesting characters as well. They’re distinguished enough for this new set of films and don’t feel like stock characters from the previous films. I like the stoic, calm, cool, and collected warriors and saw enough emotions in them to care. So when the Jedi were in action, I gushed and I still gush today. If nothing else, the action was the best part of the movie, especially coupled with Williams’ score.
And I there’s one scene that still stands out as really well executed: Anakin saying goodbye to his mother, Shmi (Pernilla August). While I may not understand why Shmi has a Swedish accent and Anakin’s is American, I still bought that they were mother and son. I especially love August as an actress. I really felt the burden of a mother who’s a slave and has to watch her son do these horribly dangerous things, but being utterly powerless to stop it, both because of her social status and her son’s determination. And to see it all culminate into watching her son freed from servitude and off to become a Jedi, her son’s greatest dream… it’s a heart-breaker and I still fall in love with this scene. And for the record, this is where I believe that Lloyd is a good actor.
Look, I’m not immune to the flaws. They’re there, and they’re there in spades. I understand the hate, for the most part. But I just can’t say that I’m on that bandwagon. It’s not my favorite of the films, by any means, but I still enjoy it. Objectively speaking, is it a good film? Probably not. It’s got plot holes that would make swiss cheese feel inadequate, there’s far too many annoying characters, the script isn’t good, the direction is hit and miss, it’s an undeniable mess. But the visuals are great, the action’s fantastic, the score is epic, and these are the elements that keep me coming back to it. The beginning of the saga is a stumble. But for me, it’s not a face-plant.
My honest rating for STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE: 3/5