With the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, I wanted to familiarize myself with the Star Wars series again. Inspired by the Chris Stuckmann reviews on YouTube, I will be reviewing all 6 films, as well as throwing in a review of Star Wars: Clone Wars, the 2D show on Cartoon Network, which sadly has been relegated to the Legends status in the new canon laid out by Disney. I had thought of reviewing the 3D series but I don't really care for it the way most people do and I personally enjoy Clone Wars better than The Clone Wars. Going in chronological viewing order, I am starting with Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
The Phantom Menace was released in 1999, when I was only 5 years old. With that in mind, I did not endure the 16 year waiting period most fans had to between this film and the previous one. I also did not see this film in theaters. My father bought it for me on DVD in 2001 while I was waiting for Episode II to come out and that was my first time seeing it. It was not, however, my first time watching Star Wars. I was raised on Star Wars since I was 2 years old, watching A New Hope and Return of the Jedi on VHS in my father's house (He didn't have The Empire Strikes Back for some reason). My father raised me on Star Wars and I grew to love it even more than he did. The Phantom Menace was something I was really looking forward to and even when I was little, I found it to be a bit lackluster compared to the films I saw before it. Now that I am 21, I wanted to take an adult, non-biased perspective, as if I was seeing the entire series for the first time. This is what I found...
For me, all movies start at a 100 percent and the same goes with this. The 20th Century Fox fanfare, along with the Lucasfilm logo really got me excited to see this film. The logo and the music were almost like it was part of the film, this was truly the beginning of the movie for me. The famous words in blue appear. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away... then suddenly, STAR WARS. This is the start of a grand adventure I can feel it! That's what goes through my mind when I watch the opening crawl. Then I start to read the opening crawl, and though I don't dislike it as much as others, I realize that it isn't really setting us up for a grand adventure as much as setting us up for a mission. An ambassador mission. An Ambassador Mission about Trade Disputes! It's as if these two Jedi (Qui- Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi) are about to negotiate a contract or something and it plays out as such. This slow pacing in the beginning of the film really sets the tone for the entire movie.
Then there's the line, "I have a bad feeling about this.", spoken by Obi-Wan Kenobi. Those words hold such value to this series, but looking back, the line is funnier now , seeming like Obi-Wan is warning us as viewers about the rest of the movie. Anyway, it starts off as a negotiation between the Jedi ambassadors and the Trade Federation, who unbeknownst to them is in league with Darth Sidious, the evil Sith Lord. He orders the Jedi to be killed and the escape is somewhat exciting and it's cool to see the Jedi in action. I even get a chuckle when one of the Neimodians says "They are no match for Droidekaaas!"
After that we get the first appearance of Queen Amidala. I don't really care for her monotone voice, but I guess it's to make her more regal. Her and her people talk about invasions and war, but it doesn't seem like a really pressing issue for some reason. Captain Panaka, however, is a pretty underrated character and I think Hugh Quarshie gives a good performance.
Once we reach the planet Naboo, we meet Jar Jar Binks and this is where the movie starts to suffer. I personally do not hate Jar Jar the way most fans do, but here is my biggest problem with him. He is a distraction. Too much focus is given to him and they try to hard to make all of his bits funny and it never works and knowing that he becomes so minor of a character later in the series makes me wonder as a person watching this as a whole say, "What was the point of him?". That is all I am going to say about Jar Jar Binks.
Some stuff happens on Naboo and Qui Gon says they need to go to Coruscant so she can plead her case to the Senate. She agrees to go, but then the ship is attacked by the blockade and R2-D2 saves them. It's a pretty decent way to introduce him, making him a one of a kind droid.
The group eventually lands on the planet Tatooine and even though this is technically a detour in the main plot, it seems as if this is where the movie really begins. We meet Anakin Skywalker and we are introduced to his mother, wonderfully played by Pernilla August. This sequence also starts to give some motivation to Qui-Gon's character as he begins to see potential in Young Anakin. The podrace is fantastic and I enjoyed the tension in the final lap. My only complaint, again, is that the attempts at comedy come off as simply a distraction.
The next act of the film is in Coruscant, a lovely city planet, and this where the politics take command of the film. These scenes aren't terrible but they are very slow paced. The Jedi Council seem like a group of men who make these decisions but don't seem to be all that exciting.Yoda gets some nice lines, though.
Notice how I am 3/4 through the movie and I haven't had all that much to say. It's because there is not much going on. No excitement, a bunch of talking, and people aren't adding any personality into their lines, and the few ones that do are the characters that fans aren't really fond of (i.e, Jar Jar, Anakin, Watto).
The film returns to Naboo for its final act and I must say, it is my favorite part of the whole movie. I love that Padme' takes control of her planet's fate and she brings her people and the Gungans together. I love the battle in space, even though Anakin's banter with R2 is a really silly and, again, very distracting. I want to defend Jake Lloyd but he plays Anakin as a bit too childish, although I do like his line,, "Now this is podracing!" Surprisingly, there was a lot of diversity with the Naboo fighters. There was a woman pilot and even a black pilot. (Force Awakens, much lol)
The absolute highlight, however, is the duel between Darth Maul and the Jedi. It is so well choreographed and the score John WIlliams provides ranks among his best ever. The funny thing is, as great as Duel of the Fates is, my favorite part of the duel is when Obi-Wan is fighting Maul alone after the death of Qui-Gon. Without the music and just the chorus in the background, it adds tension to the scene and we root for Obi-Wan to be the victorious hero. Everything wraps up nicely and though the fate of Anakin's career as a jedi and the return of the sith are left to explore in future installments, it is a self contained movie and ends on a nice celebratory note.
In conclusion, I believe this is an ambitious movie that simply fails to deliver in certain aspects. There's not a lot of fun, the politics can be a bore, and the story isn't the best. However, Lucas has created a world that I am willing to further explore. I really liked Liam Neeson's lead performance as Qui-Gon Jinn. He carries this film and he made me believe he was a Jedi Master. The only downside is that he carries the film a bit too much. The other characters (Obi-Wan, Padme', and Anakin), who will obviously be our three protagonists from here on out, aren't really given a chance to shine the same way Qui-Gon is, and this is especially true with Obi-Wan. He doesn't really become important until the end and more should've been done to usher him in as the new lead for the sequel. Like I said earlier, Pernilla August also does a great job as Shmi Skywalker and her scenes with Neeson have some real naturalness to it and it's probably the best acting in the film. I'd have to say this movie is a visual achievement, but not the grand adventure I thought it would be. So, in the style of Chris Stuckmann, I'm going to grade Episode I a C-, which is also what he gave it. Next up, Attack of the Clones!