Movie Review: Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
Director: George Lucas
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: November 10, 2015
Runtime: 133 minutes
Availability: On Blu-Ray and DVD
No Matter What Fan Dumb Says, Watching This Movie Is Important to Star Wars Lore!
Whenever you Google watching order for the Star Wars movies, you get chronological, release order, and many others. But many of the biased fans in fan dumb will tell you “skip The Phantom Menace”, you shouldn’t, it has setup for the rest of the Prequel Trilogy, things that are important that are repeated and if you haven’t watched The Phantom Menace, they won’t have as much impact, like Anakin’s relationship with his mother Shmi, or his relationship with Padmé, which is one of the core plot points of the Star Wars Prequels Trilogy.
There are also people who would literally “ban their kids” from seeing this movie! Why? Not because there’s any objectionable content, but because they didn’t like this movie! Because they think it’s “bad”! Good grief, you won’t let your kids watch a controversial movie trilogy because you have your nostalgia goggles embedded in your head?! It’s just a movie, a silly children’s movie that you didn’t like, I’ll say it right now the Original Star Wars Trilogy are silly children’s movies too! And you can enjoy silly children’s movies!
This Movie Made Me A Star Wars Fan!
When I walked into the movie theater in 1999, I didn't know a thing about Star Wars, not one thing, not even the "I am your father" shocking reveal from The Empire Strikes Back. I walked into the theater not knowing a thing about Star Wars, and I walked out a Star Wars fan.
But wait, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace didn't ruin your childhood?! But it was so awful [massively exaggerated Star Wars fanboy whine]! No, it didn't ruin my childhood, it made my childhood, introduced me to science fiction and also got me into Lord of the Rings because when it aired on TV, I recorded the movie and one of the TV spots was for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
I will also credit the Star Wars prequels with making me appreciate prequels in general. It was because of this trilogy that I have an appreciation for backstories and origins when it comes to characters. It was because of the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy that I watched Fate/Zero (2011) first before Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works (2014) and Fate/Stay Night (2006), because I like to see where characters come from, and where they're going.
The Golden Age of a Simpler Galaxy:
Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace is a great set up to how the Empire was established, and the fall of the Old Republic. But I know what people are thinking, “But trade disputes are stupid!”, but the trade dispute that sets off the conflict is not the main point of the story, it is a ploy so that Darth Sidious can gain more power and influence in the Galactic Senate.
I’m always amused when fans pick apart the Prequel Trilogy, but don’t realize that what they think is so complicated is actually quite simple. The Star Wars universe is a very simple universe and it’s very easy to understand how things work in the world of Star Wars. I understood everything I watched in this movie when I was 12, so why is it so hard for the adults to grasp what’s going on in these movies? I don’t know, these people constantly complain about how complicated everything is in the Prequels, but these people would break their brains if they got into the Nssuverse of the Fate/Stay Night franchise, you want complicated world building? Just read how their magecraft works! That’s detailed world building!
The galaxy is a simple place, the democracy of the Galactic Republic is waning, but the Jedi solve disputes and keep the peace and the galaxy is stable, and what starts out a simple trade dispute quickly escalates as Queen Amidala escapes the trade blockade with the aid of two Jedi Knights, Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi to plead for the Senate to intervene and end the trade blockade of her planet.
Due to the hyperdrive malfunctioning during their escape, they’re stranded on the desert planet of Tatooine, and meet a gifted young slave named Anakin Skywalker.
The Characters and Story Drew Me Into A Galaxy Far, Far Away:
I love the Star Wars movies, and I love The Phantom Menace because it introduced me to both Star Wars and the genre of science fiction. I always thought the idea of Jedi, knights settling disputes in a science fiction universe was interesting, as later in my life the medieval time period would become my favorite historical period, it makes me love Star Wars because it takes something I really enjoyed and puts a unique spin on it.
I love the characters too. the wise Jedi Master, the mentor and father figure Qui-Gon Jinn, the astute Padawan learner, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Queen Amidala who is dedicated to her people and planet of Naboo, and kind hearted Anakin Skywalker, the slave who wants to become a Jedi Knight.ac
The writing and the story are solid, the flaws of the writing that mainly come from the exposition and info dumping, which is something I’m always annoyed with, but I’ve seen far more info dumping in Fate/Zero (2011) which had walls of text verbally thrown at me that was ridiculously complex, The Phantom Menace isn’t nearly that complex, but I do get annoyed at the Midchlorians scene, and no, not because it explains the concept Force, but because it uses Anakin Skywalker as the blatant As You Know exposition trope, and that annoyed me, the explanation of Midichlorians itself never bothered me.
Will You Watch Star Wars: Episode I; The Phantom Menace?
The Visual Effects Hold Up, for the Most Part:
The visual effects look pretty good. The costumes are beautiful; the locations they filmed at are beautiful for Naboo. Contrary to the “All the Prequels were CGI” belief, The Phantom Menace had the most set locations of the Star Wars Prequels. Episode II and Episode II had more green screen sets because they were compositing models that were created for the movie.
The visual effects for the podrace and the lightsaber duel all look really good and the Blu-Ray quality makes the colors stand out a lot. The fight scenes are very fast paced and exciting, seeing the Jedi Knights in their prime.
The only really ugly effect that I noticed was a shot of the Naboo fighter up in space where the camera is behind R2-D2, the Naboo starfigihter is really dated CGI. Even Jar Jar Binks still holds up pretty well, it’s not Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but he convinces me that he’s not just some CGI model imposed over Ahmed Best.
They made Yoda CGI because the puppet they made in 1999 was somehow uglier than the puppet used in The Empire Strikes Back, he looks identical to the other movies and that’s good for being consistent.
The Actors do their Best with the Old Fashioned Sounding Dialogue:
Dialogue has never been a particular strength of George Lucas, as he’s a visual director. Still, the dialogue works for the universe this movie’s set in, sure some of it really cheesy, such as how Anakin asks Padmé if she’s an angel, but if you remember that Star Wars is based off old fashioned movies from the 1930s, then the style of the style and wording of the dialogue fits the style George was going for, sure it doesn’t sound natural, but it’s stylized, and it’s very much the sort of dialogue you expect from a Star Wars movie.
The actors do their best with the dialogue as the stylization makes it sounds unnatural at times, and the actors gave the performances George Lucas wanted.
One of the best performances in the movie is Liam Neeson, because he made his Qui-Gon dialogue sound natural and gave the air of the wise mentor and Jedi Master, and I’ve loved him as an actor ever since.
Natalie Portman is all right as Padmé Naberrie/Queen Amidala, but I can understand why people thought she was a bad actress, people say that these movies nearly ruined her career, while it is true, she did need a recommendation letter during her audition for Cold Mountain, it is easy to see why she would say “People thought I was a bad actress”, when the dialogue is very stylized and wooden, but George called himself the “King of Wooden Dialogue” and she does seem like she struggles through the wording of the dialogue. She still did a good job, and I enjoy her work. It put her on my radar, and she’s never bashed George Lucas over Star Wars, and I’ve never heard of toxic Star Wars fans harassing her for “ruining their childhood” like they have Jake Lloyd or Ahmed Best.
Ewan McGregor did fine as Obi-Wan Kenobi, he doesn’t really stand out in The Phantom Menace as much as Episode II and Episode III because Liam Neeson overshadows him, but you can tell, he’s going to be a great Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Jake Lloyd has gotten a lot of flak for playing Anakin Skywalker, but he did okay, sure his acting wouldn’t win any Oscars, but what can you expect from a seven year old? He sounds like a little kid in a galaxy far, far away. His dialogue might not be the best, but his acting is just okay, not terrible, not outstanding just okay, he did his job, and that’s all.
Getting bullied by toxic Star Wars fans wasn’t something he was expecting from doing this movie, and the toxic fans turned him into a bipolar mess, thanks a lot fan dumb, taking out your anger on a little kid, all the way up through college, stuff like this is why this fandom annoys me!
Ahmed Best was wonderful as Jar Jar Binks, now I know what the haters will say, “But Jar Jar is AWFUL!” but he has more life in him and his actor made it work, compared to everyone else who was wooden and stiff and hadn’t quite settled in yet, he was this character, and even if you hate Jar Jar, all the reviews I’ve read don’t hate his actor, and even though people attacked him over Jar Jar Binks, he defended Jake Lloyd from the hate, and he’s a hero for that, he could handle it because he was an adult, it messed up Jake Lloyd, but at least Ahmed tried to help him out.
The toxic fanbase drove Ahmed Best away, not that J.J. Abrams’ “Jar Jar’s bones” joke helped any, he said he’d never come back to Star Wars, even if asked, and he’s a fellow Star Wars fan, nice going guys, way to treat a fellow fan.
Pernilla August also stands out as Shmi Skywalker. She brings warmth and caring to the character and makes us sympathize with Anakin’s mother, who just wants a better life for her son, even if it’s without her.
Ian MacDiarmid is excellent as Darth Sidious/Senator Palpatine. He plays both sides of his role, the evil Sith lord and the benevolent senator very well and he makes the main villain interesting and sinister.
John Williams’ Score is just Amazing!
John Williams’ music is wonderful, the music just makes the Star Wars universe come alive, even the most ardent, obsessed Prequel haters can say that John Williams’ score is wonderful. From the iconic opening theme to “Anakin’s Theme”, and the most memorable song of the Prequel Trilogy “Duel of the Fates” the soundtrack is just a joy to listen to, whether you love or hate the Star Wars Prequels, the music is a soundtrack you’ll love. It’s some of my favorite music from John Williams.
The Pacing Of The Movie Is Very Odd:
The pacing of this movie is strange because it moves at a fast pace up through Tatooine, but once we get to the midway point, the film slows down to show the politics of the Galactic Republic, and even though it’s not a whole lot of screen time, it feels like a long time, and that’s why I think people don’t like the politics in the Prequels, it’s just that it slowed down the pacing of the entire movie for the Senate hearing, and while it does play a significant role in the story of the movie, the fact that it didn’t help the movie’s pacing is part of the reason fans say they didn’t like the politics in the Prequels.
The film picks up its fast pacing once we leave Coruscant, but the middle of the movie does feel bogged down by exposition.
It’s An Enjoyable Movie and It Tells A Story, but Not Everyone Likes This Story:
Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace had a lot of hype behind it, and the fans initially enjoyed it when it came out and then all the criticism started to occur, it has gotten very bad, into the realm of personal and ad homonym attacks against George Lucas for making movies that they didn’t like.
I didn’t have any expectations when I walked into the movie, and I came out a Star Wars fan, sure, rewatching it, I don’t get the same exhilarating feeling I did when I was 12, but the movie’s not “the worst movie ever” (For me, it’s The Last Airbender, I want my time back!).
The Prequel Hate has become a genre unto itself; Red Letter Media became the lightening rod and banner carrier of Star Wars Prequel Hate, along with Mundane Matt and Chris Stuckman, but most of the time when you discuss Star Wars, the Prequel haters all say, “Go watch Red Letter Media, he explains why they suck”, that’s lazy, using someone’s work to explain why you don’t like it, and not really speaking for yourself. It also makes it hard for people to voice their criticisms of the Prequels (legitimate, non personal, criticisms) difficult because they get lumped in with all these other, overly nitpicky critics who have their nostalgia goggles embedded in their heads.
What Doesn't Work:
Showsing the Old Republic and the Jedi in thier prime
The exposition and info dumping are done in a way that is obvious and annoying.
Stunning costume and visual designs, lovely locations they used
Boggerd down by pacing midway through the movie
Brings together the main players in the story
Some of the CGI does not hold up
Stunning fast paced lightsaber battles
A few of the actors can't quite make the stylized, wooden dialogue sound natural
Actors who make the dialogue work make their characters feel alive in the universe
John Williams score is magnificent
On Blu-Ray, it looks very good, the colors really pop out
Touching relationship between Anakin and his mother
Grade: B: Not a Perfect Movie, Jar Jar Hate Is Excessive, I Don’t Care What Other People Say, I Still Love it, Flaws and All!
What I will always love about Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace, it took me to that galaxy far, far away. It introduced me to science fiction. It showed me George Lucas’ wonderful imagination that I’ve always admired that he created a galaxy beloved by many out of nothing. Sure, this movie has many flaws, some bother me more than others, other flaws that bother other people do not bother me, and I love the story of Star Wars most of all, not just the visual effects, I don’t care whether they’re practical or CGI, they just help tell the story, sure some of them don’t hold up as well, but the Original Star Wars Trilogy don’t hold up as well when compared to new movies either.
I’ve always found Jar Jar Binks hate excessive, because he’s the clumsy everyman in the midst of all the superpowered Jedi and prodigy politicians, and the Chosen One Jedi savior, he’s fumbling through the galaxy, trying to be helpful, and in the end, he becomes a hero, and he never annoyed me like he did a lot of people. He still makes me smile and my mom laughs at his antics, and she’s definitely not the target audience of his comedy. I never understood the racism angle people take with the character, because if Jar Jar was racist, I’d think his black actor, Ahmed Best would have been the first to tell George Lucas his character was a bad racial stereotype.
I also love Anakin’s relationship with his mother, and the departure scene where Anakin leaves her is sad and sweet, especially after you’ve seen the entire Prequel Trilogy, that scene carries more weight.
I love Qui-Gon and his wisdom, Obi-Wan for his snarky straight forward attitude, Padmé for her willingness to protect her planet, Anakin for his selflessness, Shmi for her willingness to let go, Darth Maul for how intimidating he is, and Darth Sidious for being a brilliant puppet master.
No raging fan dumb on YouTube or in forums is going to change my fond memories of this movie, you’re free to dislike the movie all you want, but don’t you dare go into, “You have bad taste in movies”, listen up, your fan dumb doesn’t matter to me, you don’t know me, we don’t hang out, you don’t know what else I like to watch. Why should it bother you what I like to watch?
It might not be Natalie Portman’s or Liam Neeson’s best work but it put them on my radar and I have enjoyed movies that they’ve been in and I will always thank George Lucas for that.
I love Star Wars and I always will, and it’s thanks to Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace, pardon me while I go crank up “Duel of the Fates”.
Up next, Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Episode II: Revenge of the Sith Reviews.