People LOVE to slam
the Star Wars prequels! It’s practically its own genre of web content! We’re
talking a plethora of long-form, well-constructed essays delving into every
facet of what makes these three specific movies so… not good. Go ahead and look
it up. There are articles, videos, podcasts. If you’re trying to put your
finger on what it is about these films from a galaxy, far, far away that you
just can’t stand, then there is more than enough material out there to tell you
what to think.
I, like so many,
am not a fan of these films either. I also, like these same so many, have
watched them several more times than films I actually enjoy! I don’t know why
exactly… but I definitely have.
But rather than add
to the already massive pile of negative reviews out there, I thought I’d
challenge myself by racking my brain to come up with
something positive to say about the Star Wars prequels. And because it's the 20th anniversary of the film's release... and mainly just because it's the first film in the saga... I'm focusing this first installment on the prequel that started it all. So here we go! Without
further ado, here are 5 things I actually like about Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace!
Yep. It’s a numbered list. That’s also a genre.
#1. The bit with the lightsabers
in the smoke
I don’t think
there’s anything more “Star Wars” than lightsabers! Seriously, the idea to put
a handle on a laser beam goes right up there with putting potato chips ON a
sandwich! It’s brilliant! Since The
Phantom Menace is supposed to be the first installment in the Star Wars
saga, this is canonically the first time we see this elegant weapon, so it
deserves an intro with some oomph!
When Qui-Gon and
Obi-Wan hear their ship exploding, they freak out and prematurely ignite their
weapons, only to be left standing there awkwardly in an empty conference room.
While this is technically the first time we see a lightsaber, I choose to
ignore it in exchange for a moment with some more of the aforementioned oomph.
after flooding the conference room with deadly gas, the battle droids open the
door to… fire lasers at the Jedi’s lifeless corpses? I’m not really sure what
their intentions were, but before they even get a chance to carry them out, we
see the glorious blue and green beams light up and the two Jedi blast through
the smoke, hacking every dumb droid in their path. The original trilogy planted
the seeds in our imagination of these daring space knights dispensing justice,
and after years of waiting, we actually get to see these thoughts come to
fruition! It was like Christmas!
#2. Liam Neeson and
I’m not really
sure who the central protagonist of The
Phantom Menace is supposed to be, but the two characters who really anchor
the whole thing, for me, are Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. My reason for
thinking this has everything to do with the performances of Liam Neeson and
Ewan McGregor respectively. No stranger to film epics, Mr. Neeson delivers the
expositional nonsense in a way that sounds 100% natural. As for Mr. McGregor,
filling the shoes of the great Sir Alec Guiness is definitely no small feat,
especially for a fairly newcomer, but he does a superb job!
The original Star
Wars trilogy filled our heads with this concept of an era of civilized knights
fighting to keep peace in the galaxy and, in my opinion, these two actors are
the perfect choices to bring this concept to life. I only wish we were able to
see more of Mr. Neeson in the other two prequel films.
Oh yeah. Spoiler alert. Qui-Gon dies.
sequence is a HUGE part of The Phantom
Menace that, as far as I can tell, advances the plot in no real way
whatsoever! Nevertheless, it’s bonkos fun to watch! What I like most about this
scene are the podracers themselves. The filmmakers could have easily made
racecar versions of a landspeeder or speeder bike, and it would have been just
fine, but instead they designed something new! What we got are these Star
Wars-ified chariots that, like the TIE fighter, are unique and instantly
With all of the
new Star Wars movies in the works, I hope that Lucasfilm gets over this seemly
fear of all things prequel and give us some more podracers in the future. I,
for one, would much prefer them over those giant llama goats from The Last Jedi!
#4. Throwdown with
With the original
trilogy, the lightsaber fights were always underlined with some form of
emotional subtext. With the prequels…. well, not so much. I suppose if you tried
hard and referenced some expanded universe novel, you could find some level of
depth in there but, for the most part, they’re just a REALLY good amusement
park stunt show. Nevertheless, I love the crap out of the lightsaber fight
between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul and NEVER get tired of watching it!
Sure. I could talk
about how cool-looking Darth Maul is. He has a double-bladed lightsaber, blah blah
blah. NO! What I love about this fight is the location! WHERE ARE THEY?!? The
scene starts at the royal palace in what’s a fairly practical looking hangar
bay, but then they turn the corner and BAM! They’ve stepped into some sort of
synth-pop album cover! There are thin walkways weaving around GIANT columns of
purple energy, all leading to several red force field doors, that are
constantly opening and closing, guarding a fairly small room that, at its
center, is a bottomless pit! Again, I ask… WHERE ARE THEY?!? What is the
purpose of this place?!?
I probably sound
like I’m slamming it a little bit, and maybe I am, but that doesn’t mean that I
don’t enjoy every minute of this fantastical laser show! This whole bit is a
reminder, for me at least, that there doesn’t have to be constant logic in a
movie for it to be good. Who care’s what the giant purple columns do? I don’t WANT
to know! Let’s just enjoy the ride!
#5. Jar.. Jar… Binks
If I haven’t already, this is probably
where I’ll lose most of you. I actually LIKE Jar Jar… or rather, I like the
idea of Jar Jar. As great as BB-8 is, (and he’s really great) he’s still just a
slightly more adorable version of R2-D2. As a result, Artoo’s role is significantly
reduced because the same character can’t really play well opposite… himself!
Jar Jar is like David Pumpkins… he’s his OWN THANG! Lucas and friends took a
risk and created a brand new character to fill the very important role of the
comedy relief. Where they went wrong, I think, is that they underestimated just
how difficult good comedy is! Trust me, I know! I just referenced David
Pumpkins in my Star Wars post! I'm trying REALLY HARD to get a laugh!
Jar Jar is
annoying. He sniffs farts and takes pratfalls that make Steve Urkell look like
Steve Martin, but he has potential! In the next two installments, his character
is scaled back to practically nonexistent. At first, this seems like an
improvement, but how much better would the prequel trilogy have been if rather
than shy away from Mr. Binks, the filmmakers owned up to their original vision
and put a stronger effort into evolving him into a character with some strong
comedic chops? Maybe I’m the only one with this opinion, but meesa thinka that’s
a pretty okee idea!
The Phantom Menace is not a good movie.
Not even a little. But out of all the Star Wars prequels, it’s actually my
favorite, which means providing this positive take on it was the easiest. I'm not sure when I'll get around to coming up with things I like about my LEAST favorite film of the
trilogy, Attack of the Clones, but when I do,it's gonna be both passive AND aggressive!