Friday, May 4, 2018

5 Things I Actually LIKE About Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

     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 and spend the next few posts racking my brain to come up with something positive to say about the Star Wars prequels. 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.

     Seconds later, 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 Ewan McGregor
     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.

#3. Podracers!
     The podrace 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 recognizable!

     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 Darth Maul
     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 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. In my next Film Club installment, I’ll be coming up with things I like about my LEAST favorite film of the trilogy, Attack of the Clones. It's gonna be both passive AND aggressive!

Get excited!

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