Movie Review: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace in 3D

The Phantom Menace

There was a time, back in the later years of the twentieth century, when Star Wars fans such as myself were frothing at the mouth at the mere mention of the idea of a series of prequels to our beloved trilogy.  I cannot imagine a greater example of “be careful what you wish for”.  If the destruction of Alderaan caused Obi-Wan to sense “millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror”, The Phantom Menace caused an equal, if not greater, disturbance in the Force.  And now, George Lucas has decided to bring all six of the Star Wars films to theaters in 3D… so we may relive the experience of being disappointed in greater depth.

When I first heard of this plan, I figured… OK… I’ll see the original trilogy, maybe ever Episode III… but there is no way I’m going to see Episodes I or II.  Never say never.  I realized that my kids have never had the pleasure of sitting in a theater… seeing the green Lucasfilm logo, followed by those ten words… “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” and the massive orchestral blare of the Star Wars theme song… and there was a great danger that they would never enjoy the series beyond knowing that it’s something daddy loves.  My nine year old has enjoyed watching some of the movies at home with me… but my six year old had dug her heels in… Star Wars is for boys, and she is most decidedly NOT a boy.

I felt that I had to stage an intervention… and knowing that The Phantom Menace, according to the Lucas himself, is a movie directed at kids, for kids… I thought this may be my best chance to indoctrinate my children in the wonderful world of Jedi and droids.  Also, it would give me a chance to see the film that I have ranked sixth in the series and to reassess my previous poor impressions.

First… my impressions have not changed much at all.  I still find the universe that Lucas created to be a fantastically rendered and fleshed out place.  Visually, I have no complaints… but I do have complaints… and chief among them is the script.  Lucas has never been known for his dialogue.  In fact, we have loved the original films in spite of its crap dialogue… but even Episode IV allows room for interpretation, hints at a greater past and the joy of having mysteries abound.  Episode I becomes bogged down in exposition and some of the most poorly paced and horribly read lines I have ever had the displeasure of sitting through.

The other grievous sin committed by The Phantom Menace is that it is, at times, dreadfully boring.  There may be shiny baubles and a ton of digital excitement on the screen… but if the talk is all about bureaucrats and governmental structure and treaties, how can that be a children’s movie?  A 136 minute movie about trade negotiations?  Not to mention the large amount of trailers and an Ice Age cartoon preceding my beloved opening crawl… it was a bit of a dicey endeavor keeping my kids engaged.

I won’t even get into Jar Jar Binks and Jake Lloyd’s performance as the nine year old Anakin Skywalker.  Nor will I pile any more onto George Lucas.  He’s not the first person to make a mediocre movie, he won’t be the last, and in many ways… we got what we asked for.

But, as I mentioned earlier, this was more about getting my kids into the Star Wars fan club.  Did it work?  Yes… and no.  My nine year old, who is quickly becoming quite the cineaste and gamer, couldn’t stand it.  Remarkably, she commented on the horrible dialogue.  Can you read the pride in my words?  My six year old, the one who was most adamant about not wanting to see this movie, leaned over multiple times throughout the film to tell me how awesome Star Wars is.  She also leaned over to ask me if it would be over soon… many times.  Actually… they both asked that multiple times.  Hell, even I wondered how much more I had to sit through. 

That is my ultimate take away from this movie… it is simply too long for what it is.  I’ve heard it said that Lucas is a crap screenwriter, a crap director… but a great editor.  I would twist that around a wee bit… crap screen writer, crap editor, great director of action sequences, potentially great cinematographer.  Visually, his work is stunning… but all actors under him suffer (I do believe Ewan and Liam give great performances despite everything going against them), and a good editor knows what to cut.  I don’t think he knew what to cut… what to hint at… which answers to give, and which answers to leave a mystery (midi-chlorains?  Really?).

Is it worth going to see Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace in 3D?  If you are a completionist who must see all that is Star Wars… or, like me, you have kids you want to share the experience you had with… then yes, by all means… go out an enjoy this world again.  If you disliked the movie then… you will dislike this movie now.  The 3D is cool at certain points, big props to the pod racing and final battle scenes, but not enough to mask the horror that is Jar Jar Binks and that damned “Yippie” from Jake Lloyd.

When Episode II – Attack of the Clones in 3D is released next year, I’m sure I will be in attendance… but I’m not sure I’m going to like it any more than I do now… and I rank that movie as number five of six.

The Force will be with you… sometimes…
Cornelius J. Blahg

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