The Phantom Menace
I’ve noticed a lot of posts on various groups extolling the virtues of the prequels so I thought I would have another go and see how I feel about them. It seems like there’s a new appreciation out there.
I first saw Episode 1 in Austin, Texas on a very hot afternoon in 1999. It was the first time I had been to the cinema in a few months and, because I’d been in Belize for three months beforehand, I had missed out on a lot of the final frenzy of hype in the build up to its release. I remember emerging from the cinema, back into the intense heat and sunlight, feeling slightly underwhelmed but not cheated out of my money by any means.
So, here I am, sitting down to watch it once again, looking for anything that I haven’t noticed before.
The first thing that strikes me is a very nice visual effects sequence as we open, Qui Gon and Obi Wan’s ship approaching the Trade Federation blockade around Naboo. We have the oft discussed racial stereotypes of the Viceroy and his crew up front. You can’t really ignore this. I imagine finding an alien voice/accent is quite a creative challenge. For an English speaking production crew, I wonder if it just felt natural to select something that already felt alien if not completely unfamiliar. They could have just pulled a James Cameron and made all the evil people English and would anyone have complained.
OK, next up we have the Jedi knights and their distinctly unchivalrous behaviour. That poor protocol droid had been all the way from them to the Viceroy and back again, stopping to prepare refreshments, and doesn’t get a thank you from either of them. Droids need love too, guys. I’ll bet that’s what happened with the Cylons too. Not enough love. I can’t believe “Courtesy costs nothing” isn’t in the Jedi code.
After a nice fight with some droids, the pair of them end up on the planet below, encountering Jar Jar Binks. here we have a subject that’s been talked to death and I won’t add to it. He’s irritating. Let’s just leave it at that. I can endure him if the rest of it is good enough. We then meet his boss, Brian Blessed. “JAR JAR’S ALIIIIIIVE!”
I know this is a fantasy but going through the planet core? Really? I guess gravity doesn’t work the same way on Naboo as it does elsewhere in the galaxy. Plus, Ewan Macgregor looks really young. I’ve only just noticed how young he looks. He was 28 at the time and does not look it at all.
So, we do the whole “chased by big thing that then gets eaten by bigger thing” thing for a while and then we meet Queen Amidala. The visuals of the palace in Naboo are quite lovely, filmed near Naples. Not only that, but we get the dude from Holby City too. It kind of shocks you out of the fantasy when he turns up but well done to him.
The scene where they escape from Naboo does make me a bit irritated: there are so many droids!!! Not one of them manages to hit anybody, even with a lucky shot.
After a brief journey we take a detour to Tatooine and also get our first look at Darth Maul, a tragically wasted character in the prequels in my view. I read somewhere that the plan was to have him as a recurring enemy throughout the three films. He would have been there instead of General Grievous in Revenge of the Sith and Obi Wan would have got his chance to avenge Qui Gon’s detah then. That would have been much more satisfying.
There’s a nice bit here with Padme and the “Queen”. She tells Padme to go and clean the droid. Knowing what I do about Padme, I wonder if this is some joke by her bodyguard. Make me a cup of tea, Padme. Clean my Uggs, Padme. She can’t say no or the cover will be blown.
Off to the spare parts shop and Watto, another racial stereotype, along with little Ani, his slave boy. There’s a funny little droid in here as well with a tin hat. probably the funniest thing I’ve seen in the film so far. Qui Gon’s Jedi mind trick doesn’t work on Watto and I’m kind of glad. It’s a bit rude to try it if I’m honest. Republic credits are no good here. Why try to mess with his mind and accept stuff that would be no use to him and maybe even threaten his livelihood. here we have another example of the Jedi order sacrificing good manners to get what they want. Having said that, I can’t believe there are no money changers in the spaceport, which must deal with Republic types all the time, who could sort him out. Oh well, plot I suppose. Watto tells Ani to clean the racks and then he can go. I assume he just wipes them with a damp cloth or they’re very small because he’s out of there seconds later ready to save Jar Jar from Messala (sorry, Sebulba).
Darth Maul arrives on Tatooine. I wonder what he was going to do if they hadn’t sent that transmission. He wouldn’t have had any other way of tracking them there and its a big galaxy.
Ani tells us all about his dream of becoming a Jedi and coming back to free all the slaves. Doesn’t quite work out that way down the road though, does it? Liam Neeson’s doing a fine njob in this film, I have to say. It’s a pity he was only in one of them. Unfortunately he’s about to give way to loads of Ani’s little friends. These include a miniature Greedo and are utterly superfluous.
Next, we have a discussion about Midichlorians: another aspect that has come in for harsh criticism. I’m more bothered about how high Ani’s count is. I mean, does he ever do anything in the series to suggest that he is stronger with the Force than Yoda, which is implied here? Sure he beats Dooku, which Yoda can’t manage, but then Dooku defeated Obi-Wan which Anakin couldn’t. I know it’s not just lightsaber skills and I know he’s a a great pilot but giving him a rating higher than Yoda’s seems strange given how little he shows it.
So, we move on to the Chariot race, I mean the Pod race. Oh my God, what’s with the 2-headed commentator. That’s much worse than Jar Jar. It’s just ridiculous. Utterly unforgivable. Moving on.
Great music by John Williams as you’d expect brings the racers to the arena. We have some skulduggery by Sebulba and an Enter the Dragon callback by Qui Gon (Don’t think, feel!) There’s a Warwick Davis appearance too.
The pod race was the main part of the film for George Lucas, the central set piece. All of the pods are actual props which counters a lot of the criticism of the film for its over-reliance on CGI. The race itself is well constructed if clichéd in the fact that there are so many things that we’ve seen elsewhere. The main criticism I have is that I don’t really feel that much anxiety about what’s going on.
Anyway, Qui Gon sees about releasing Anakin. I must say that his mother, Shmi, played by Pernilla August, does a really good job. She brings some much needed pathos to the film and there are some touching moments as he takes his leave.
So, we’re all done on Tatooine and about to leave when Maul final gets himself together and shows up at their ship. We get some decent lightsabre action and then they depart.
I’m going to leave it here for now. I’m half way through and its getting late. So far, I’m not blown away but at the same time it’s not awful by any means. It just seems a bit overdone at times. Come back next week and I’ll go through the rest of it, and hopefully witness some good manners demonstrated by our Jedi friends. Meanwhile, if you have any views, please let me know in the comments section.
Thanks for reading