Thursday, 10 December 2015

The Highs and Lows of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

It's not all bad. The title is cool, Darth Maul looks great and at least Anakin isn't a stroppy teenager yet. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was released to ludicrously high expectations in 1999 which also just happened to be the year we got Fight Club, American Beauty and The Blair Witch Project. The times were sort-of-changing, but nothing could stop people from wanting to see the first in the Star Wars prequel trilogy.

I'm going to be fairly brief about this one. I think it's probably the second best of the prequel trilogy behind Revenge of the Sith. I can see how it would appeal to a new generation of kids who maybe had never experienced a Star Wars movie in cinemas before. One of the things that strikes me as odd is how boring and adult-y the opening crawl sounds. 'Taxation of trade routes'? Seriously? Fair play to old George for trying to challenge little kiddies but my God, it's enough to make a grown man's eyes glaze over.


I'm not going to say that George Lucas is running around with white cloths over his head or that he's thinking of voting for Donald Trump, but the accents in this movie are also pretty damn dodgy. Why do these dudes below sound Japanese? Is killing Jedi now a Japanese passtime? Did Star Wars merchandise not sell well enough in certain parts of Asia?


Then this fucker turns up. I have to admit. I don't hate him as much as most people do. The voice, the accent, the big floppy ears. I can cope with that. It's the way that Jar Jar is never really there that pisses me off. I mean, he's there. I can see him. You can see him. And Lucas is intent that he spoils every scene he's in by saying something dumb to entertain 5 year olds while the grown ups discuss trade embargoes or some shit. But what I mean is the characters in the movie never really seem to see him. Ewan McGregor can't get an eyeline match and it becomes painfully obvious that he was never meant to act opposite tennis balls. If only, the technology had been better and Liam Neeson and McGregor could see who they were talking to. Then again, if Jar Jar had been the first mo-capped character, maybe we would never have got Gollum. Trying to talk to Jar Jar in this, McGregor ends up looking more whacked out on drugs than he ever did in Trainspotting.


Oh yeah then these guys show up. The audience is supposed to whoop and cheer, but instead their heads are filled with worrying questions that just can't be answered. This is the moment when it really becomes clear that Lucas is just stuffing the three films with filler that makes little sense to anyone, but is supposed to make fans feel all warm and cuddly.


And the award for the most wasted character in the Star Wars universe goes to...


Poor old Darth Maul. I remember seeing him all over the posters and merchandise for The Phantom Menace. He looks, as the kids would say, pretty sick. He barely utters 10 words and he has a freaking sweet double-ended (oo-er) lightsaber. He pretty much rescues this movie from being an utter dud... or say, Attack of the Clones. It was a shame he didn't last long. But on the bright side, at least as far as I know, there are no plans to make a prequel trilogy about how Darth Maul started off as an annoying little brat, became a stroppy little git and then turned into the awesome looking baddie that we all now know and love. So thank you for that George.


Then after about an hour of filler, we get to see young Anakin show his skills in pod race. It still looks great and at least partially makes up for all the crap about midi-chlorians that we've had to sit through. But Lucas saves the best for last. The moment below makes the entire film worthwhile. It's a great lightsaber fight with a badass new weapon, a key death and two Jedi going up against the coolest character in the entire prequel trilogy. And Duel of the Fates is awesome on the soundtrack. Meanwhile that pipsqueak is in the middle of a space battle and Jar Jar is running around like a clown in his own land battle. But nothing can distract from Darth Maul, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon going at it for five minutes. Until of course, Darth Maul falls to his death and there is nothing left to do except brace yourselves for Attack of the Clones. Pray for me.

Still here? Now read:

Attacking Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

The Sith Hits the Fan: Revenge of the Sith

Star Wars: The Original and Still the Best?