The "Star Wars" Franchise (1999 - 2005) Sept 6, 2016 12:45:51 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Sept 6, 2016 12:45:51 GMT -5
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)
Directed by: George Lucas
Directed by: George Lucas
From left: Ewan McGregor, R2-D2, Jake Lloyd, and Liam Neeson.
When George Lucas announced that he would be doing a trilogy of prequels to his much-beloved and critically renowned Star Wars franchise, it was an opportunity to further expand upon the mythology and the limitless worlds crafted not only by the franchise's series of books, but by fans themselves. Star Wars took on a whole new life after it was released in 1977, and an opportunity to have compelling "origin stories" of sorts for all of the famous characters was a unique vision. Lucas would write and direct all of three of the prequels, ostensibly giving them an exciting edge and narrative ark.
So then the credit crawl for The Phantom Menace, now known as Star Wars: Episode I, began, and we got compelling backstory about Jedi masters communicating with the Trade Federation concerning tax evasion and negotiations to move a blockade of battleships around the planet of Naboo. Out of all the mythological continuations Star Wars could've focused on, it seems almost entirely pointless that something as specific and even as political as taxes and trade would get brought up, especially in the first installment of the prequel trilogy. The film follows Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), as they try and end these disputes, in addition to realizing the potnetial of a young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), a promising, precocious boy with strong knowledge of the force and when to use it.
Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan also meet Queen Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), the young Queen of Naboo, who's planet is in grave danger, as well as Jar-Jar Binks (Ahmed Best), a wretched-looking beast, resembling something of an anthropomorphic amphibian of the Gungan species that was exiled from his home. He provides a great deal of the film's alleged comic relief by simply being clumsy and a headache-inducing butcher of the English language.
For a Star Wars film, The Phantom Menace is strangely plotless; a great deal of the film centers on characters walking and babbling, which seems like a fine approach, given that there is a bit of backstory that needs to be covered over the course of these films. The flaw at hand is just how boring and monotone much of the dialog is, if anything, complimenting a generally sterile cast of characters. Lucas does a commendable job of taking actors like Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Samuel L. Jackson in a home-stretch cameo appearance as Jedi Council member Mace Windu, and completely suck the life out of them. Neeson and McGregor can't even conjure up something resembling strong chemistry together because they are given so desperately little to work with. On top of that, once Anakin and Padmé are introduced, it's as if we are told they are special characters without exactly seeing what makes them special.
And then we get one of the most annoying and truly contemptible characters in Star Wars history - Jar-Jar Binks. Enough has been said about him, so I'll refrain from regurgitating well-explained complaints, but the biggest problem with Binks - aside from his bumbling nature and his cloying attempts to provide the film with comic relief - is that he doesn't belong in this film. Here's a film that's trying to evoke some kind of political commentary (regardless of how necessary it really is) by focusing on serious topics, then along comes this hideous cretin who trips on his own shoelaces and does nothing of interest whenever he shares the screen with his fellow characters.
Jar-Jar Binks, in some ways, is even representative of the overarching problem with The Phantom Menace, a film that stuffs itself with material that classifies it as political commentary, a science-fiction epic, and a children's movie. Being that the film never takes on a cogent path, audiences are stuck to meander through its sloppy narrative and its weak collection of human characters that are flat and two-dimensional and alien characters that are ugly and aren't always necessary.
It's hard to believe the one who got Star Wars into this great of a mess is the same man who created it. By taking a laissez-faire approach to the directing duties of Episode V and Episode VI, only coming back to co-write the screenplay of that particular film, George Lucas was able to allow the Star Wars films a new vision and look after he resigned his directing duties following A New Hope. However, he returns to the commanding chair of The Phantom Menace as if he has been handed a property he knows nothing about, desperately meandering through a screenplay that starts and stops at too many different places, making audiences hungry for a podrace scene every ten or fifteen minutes just to prevent us from spiraling back into narrative oblivion.
There's no shortcuts to saying that The Phantom Menace is a terribly weak start to this new trilogy. Not without merits in regards to some of the special effects, when they're not saturated in low-grade, late-nineties computer-generated imagery, and occasional battle sequences that show off the visually dazzling elements of the film, there's almost nothing compelling in the film in a narrative or character sense that allows for it to be viewed as anything but a disappointing kickoff to what should've been a grand and noble opening.
Starring: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Jake Lloyd, Natalie Portman, Ahmed Best, and Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by: George Lucas.