I know writing a review about The Phantom Menace at this point is somewhat pointless as so many have already been written. Just about everything that can be said about it, especially the negative criticism, has been said, but in my opinion, the movie hasn’t been given a fair chance. I personally enjoyed and liked the movie, and I like all three prequels. I know. I know. That puts me in the minority as there is so much prequel trilogy hatred out there. I don’t understand it and I think most of it is unjustified. Honestly, it’s a bandwagon that everyone wants to be a part of. So, why am I writing this review, you might ask. It’s simple. With The Force Awakens coming out this Friday, I think it’s time to revisit each Star Wars movie, starting with Episode I The Phantom Menace.
I love the title of this movie and it sets up the fact that, everyone is being manipulated to serve the purpose of some mysterious Sith Lord. The title alone gives you that sense of mystery and intrigue.
So what are the common complaints of TPM?
1. Jar Jar Binks.
For some reason there is a lot of Jar Jar hatred out there. I don’t know why and none of those who loathe his character can explain it. I heard some say that having Jar Jar as the source of humor was insulting. That it attempted too much to cater to 8-year-olds. What, exactly, is insulting about Jar Jar? Sorry, but no one is able to explain it in a logical manner. He is put in there for humor and nothing more.
Others have complained that Jar Jar was a racist character and that all of the aliens in TPM basically exemplified racism and were stereotypical. Here, I think people are reaching. In our politically correct culture, people love to see things that are not there and they love to throw out terms such as racism. There is nothing racist about Jar Jar Binks. He is just a character in a movie. His character is obviously not too bright and he tends to act without thinking and is a bit of a klutz. I think the real reason why people hate him is the sole fact that Lucas meant for him to be the source of humor, and what they wanted was the droids to be that source.
2. One of the top voted negative reviews complained about a lack of an emotional bond between Qui-Gon and Annakin.
First off, Qui-Gon is a Jedi master. The Jedi are not supposed to have emotional attachments or bonds because such things can lead to the dark side. Now, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have close friends or are cold and heartless, but they are supposed to be able to tear themselves away, emotionally, if necessary.
Insisting that there be an emotional bond between Qui-Gon and Annakin is pointless. Qui-Gon is interested in Annakin on an intellectual level. Annakin is a boy who seems to have a strong sense of the force. He is able to do tasks that most people are not physically able to do, but they come easily to him. Qui-Gon is intrigued by this and decides to pursue the theory that Annakin might be the one foretold about in the prophecy of balance being restored to the force. He talks to Shmi, Annakin’s mother, and learns that she does not remember there being a father, telling him, “There was no father. I carried him. I bore him. I cannot explain what happened.” This further intrigues his interest in Annakin and the prophecy and it is made clear that he is a believer in that prophecy even when the other Jedi are not. There is a bond there, but it is more of an intellectual one.
I get tired of people saying they need to be emotionally involved or have an emotional connection to a character in order to care. As a writer, I find it an impossible task because there is no way to gage what will emotionally connect a person to a character. What makes you care about a character in a story may not work for someone else. Also, what if the character is supposed be more intellectually invested and not emotional at all? Then the emotional bond BS becomes meaningless. Not to go on a tangent here, but this is one of my pet peeves when it comes to criticism. Most who complain about not feeling emotionally invested, are either missing an important detail that would have given them what they crave, or despite an author’s or director’s best efforts, they would never feel emotionally connected anyway. Most of the time, the “lack of emotion” is a cop out critique.
I also like Qui-Gon’s character. He provided the simple, intellectual response to something, but it was evident that he did care about Annakin and those around him. Liam Neeson did a superb job in bringing a difficult character to life. I was saddened by the character’s death, as I would have liked to have seen more of him, but his character was meant to be a catalyst for Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon’s death seals Annakin’s fate into being inducted into the Jedi Order, as the Jedi felt obligated to give a dead man his last wish, and it forces Obi-Wan to finish growing up. It also shows why Obi-Wan is Annakin’s mentor. Though he has the same reservations about the boy, he respected and trusted Qui-Gon and felt that he owed his old master. So he takes Annakin on as a padwan and he is probably the only one willing to do so.
3. Annakin himself.
I do agree that Annakin should have been older. Making him 8-years-old doesn’t work too well when you put in AOC and ROTS. Also, when they force the idea of Padme and Annakin ending up together, there is a huge age difference. She is at least 16 in TPM and Annakin is 8. Unfortunately, the chances of a person like Padme falling for a young boy like Annakin are slim. There are some relationships that work out with such an age difference, but for the sake of the movie, Annakin should have been older.
Another complaint about Annakin is that nothing is portrayed in his character that would lead you to believe he would become Vader. I think this was done on purpose. People are not born evil, but they can become that way. However, there was a small detail put in there, and if you weren’t paying attention, you’d miss it. When Annakin says god-bye to his mother, it is made clear that he doesn’t like change. Small potatoes, you may think, but actually people who are unable to change can turn into your worst nightmare. Annakin doesn’t like the fact that he has to leave his mother behind. His world as he knows it has changed. Because of his difficulty with moving on and letting go, and letting the past go, fear builds up within him. And as Yoda says, “Fear is the path to the dark side.”
We see more of Annakin’s inability to let things go in AOTC and ROTS, but it is in there for TPM. He doesn’t like change and he spends his part of the movie missing and thinking about his mother. Also, he made that promise to come back to her, something that he fails to do in AOTC. If you were paying attention, or cared at this point, you would see that there was a setup here.
However, here is where having Annakin older, at least teenage years, would have worked better. As a teenager, he could have done something that would show his tendency to go to the dark side. Obi-Wan speaks about how all the Jedi are fearful of Annakin. It seems pointless to many of the critics to have that in there. Having Annakin as older and displaying a negative quality could have helped explain that, but you can also explain it as the Jedi listening to the force and just having a bad feeling.
But if you already hate this movie, you’ll be nit-picking it until the day you die and nothing I say here will matter to you.
4. Plot holes
I laugh every time someone complains about the lack of plot or the plot hole in TPM. Many who do this revere the original trilogy, which had a huge plot hole itself. Every Star Wars movie has a plot that makes no sense when you pick it apart, but TPM is the one that gets trashed for it.
A big complaint is the Midi-Chlorin explanation. It is true, that it wasn’t necessary, but I guess Lucas felt the need to try and explain how the force works in people. However, I didn’t find it to be something worth complaining about. In biology we learn that there are bacteria that live within us and help us survive in a symbiotic sense. We have bacteria in out gut that helps us digest food. They keep us alive just like we keep them alive. That is how the midi-chlorins are supposed to work. Many thought that they were the force. No, they’re not. Instead, they are a simple life form that live within us and help us communicate with the force. Basically, the more midi-chlorins you have the more sensitive you are to the force. And if you think about it, it’s not too bizarre of an explanation. We know, from studies, that people who seem to be very spiritual have a different brain chemistry compared to those who are not. I think that is what Lucas was going for, even if it didn’t work out so well.
Another plot hole that people point out is the fact that Palpatine is able to manipulate people for 10 years as he constructs this grand scheme to take over the republic. As ostentatious as this sounds, it’s not too far-fetched. True, the likelihood of him being able to do all this and pull strings and get away with it is slim, but history has shown that it is possible and can happen.
One could argue that Rasputin controlled Russia. He had the czarina under his control and had manipulated her into thinking that only he could cure her hemoglobin son. Czar Nicolas did anything his wife wanted and basically, Rasputin controlled everything from the shadows. You may think that this is a poor example because Palpatine controlled thousands. Actually, in the movie, Palpatine only manipulated one person the most: Annakin. Essentially, like Rasputin and other despots in history, Palpatine kept everyone focused on a problem, while he worked in the background to gain more authority. He used the Trade Federation to start a war with Naboo, knowing that Queen Amidala would either sign the agreement, or come to the senate begging for help. She did the latter, which he used as an opportunity to have a vote of no confidence in the current chancellor. After that, it wasn’t hard for him, as a senator from Naboo, to garner sympathy from others within the senate in order to be voted as chancellor. Not too unbelievable when you consider that Hitler conned an entire country into making him the Chancellor of Germany. After that, he just declared himself the fuhrer and never gave up his power.
Another plot device that has been the subject of complaint if the fact the Annakin has created C-3PO. He’s a slave, people complain, how does he have the time to create a pod ship and a robot? Lucas you’re an idiot and failed Star Wars!
First off, yes, Annakin is a slave, but it is made clear that his slave master doesn’t seem to mistreat him. Also, just because you are a slave doesn’t mean you won’t find the time to work on something. In the Colonial South, many slave-owners gave their slaves a small plot of land that they could cultivate in their free time, and many slaves did do this. People have a way of finding time to work on things they think are important. Just because someone is a slave, doesn’t mean that they won’t find the means to create or do something they love to do. I didn’t see a problem with Annakin somehow finding the time to build C-3PO or a racing pod. It’s made clear that he has been working on those things for a few years. It’s not like he built them overnight. This is just nit-picking on the part of the critics.
Also, one reviewer said there was a lack of continuity, saying that since Annakin was originally from Tatooine, shouldn’t he have recognized the planet in EP 4 as Vader? Well, why would Annakin, as Vader, have cared about Tatooine in EP 4? In the original trilogy, Vader never sets foot on Tatooine. The closest he gets to it is when he is on the ship with Leia, but he was so focused on acquiring her and the plans she stole, that he wouldn’t have cared about the planet. Also, at this point in the Star Wars timeline, it would have been over 20 years since Vader was on Tatooine. He might have forgotten much of his time there. That does happen. When a person has been away from a place for so long, they don’t necessarily recognize it, or care to. It is another moot point and reason for the critics to criticize.
5. Darth Maul is too shallow and not given enough screen time.
Yes, this is a real complaint about TPM. I would have liked to have had more screen time with Darth Maul, but it was clear that his character had to go. Once Annakin shows up, Palpatine has no use for Darth Maul. He uses and disposes of people at will and Annakin is the most powerful person with the force. Of course Palpatine wants him on his side. Some complain that there is no backstory to Darth Maul. Why does he do what he does? Why does he want revenge on the Jedi? Come on Lucas, you didn’t make TPM the way I would have, so you suck and betrayed us rabid Star Wars fans!
Darth Maul is a Sith. If you know anything about the Star Wars universe, there has been a long-standing feud between the Sith and the Jedi that goes on for eons. Honestly, Darth Maul’s motivations are not important and serve no purpose to the story. He is short-lived and dies at the end of TPM. And again, you can guess why he becomes a Sith, the same reason many become a Sith: revenge for something. Darth Maul was probably wronged by a Jedi at some point or a person who suffered loss and was full of anger that Palpatine found and used for his purpose. But who cares? Criticizing Darth Maul’s lack of character development is nitpicking on the part of the critics. He’s just not in the story long enough to make any further development necessary.
6. Too much CGI.
Get over it. TPM does use actual built sets and a mixture of CGI. Now, AOTC and ROTS rely almost entirely on CGI, which is a shame, but this is just how movies are made nowadays. Get over it. If you don’t like it, then make your own movie without CGI. Lucas has never hidden the fact that he likes CGI and if it had been around in the 70s, he would have used it then. So purists, get over yourselves.
7. George Lucas did it all his way.
Well, considering Star Wars is his creation and he owned all of the rights at the time, of course he did it his way.
When the original trilogy was made, Lucas never liked the fact that he had to give up control to others and let them change a few things in the script that he wrote. Here is where I have to agree with the critics: Lucas should have given up some control. He wanted to make the prequel trilogy his way and show people how it should have been done. At the time, he had the power and the pull to do it all his way. However, it didn’t work out as well as he had hoped. By the time the prequel trilogy came about, Star Wars was this huge thing with fans that are just as crazy as the Trekkies. There are people who are actually learning to be Jedi Knights, for crying out loud. It would have benefitted Lucas to have allowed others to have input on how the prequel was made, to make suggestions on how to keep his fans happy while incorporating a new generation of kids into the mix. But Lucas didn’t do that. It was his way or the highway and that is where he really failed.
The reason why TESB and ROTJ are so much better than ANH is because Lucas was on the sidelines. He still owned the rights to Star Wars and it will always be his creation, but the actors in EP 5 and 6 had more input on their character’s dialogue and the nuances that their characters should do. Remember the scene between Leia and Han when they say they love each other? It was Harrison Ford who decided how Han Solo should respond to Leia’s declaration of lover; it wasn’t in the original script as written by George Lucas.
Also, those films had different directors. What you see in EP 5 and 6 are not the original script. They were changed, which Lucas was none too happy about, but the changes are what helped polish the original trilogy. Unfortunately, none of that happened in the prequel trilogy. Lucas had complete autonomy and it back fired.
He took the criticism personally, but what did he expect? He created something that people have strong feelings about. Now, much of the criticism was harsh and didn’t need to be, but Lucas never learned from his mistakes in TPM. He continued to make AOTC and ROTS his way, not listening to anyone, and that is where he failed in the prequel trilogy.
As a whole, TPM is not a bad movie. It is still entertaining despite its flaws. And many of the complaints about it can be made about the original trilogy, which I will get to in another post. I like the Phantom Menace for what it brings, a close to the gaping hole that existed after the original trilogy ended. How did Annakin become so evil? Well, we have our answer.
The Phantom Menace still gives us what we like about Star Wars. The space battles, the mythos, we get to see Obi-Wan as a padwan learner, which I loved and thought was nice. Heck, we get to see Obi-Wan before he becomes that hermit on Tatooine. We get to see where Annakin originated from and the similarities between him and his son Luke. It is still a fun and enjoyable movie.
I first saw it in theaters when I was 15 and was blown away by it. As I watch it now, 16 years later, I can see the problems that people talk about, and I know what I would have done differently, but that doesn’t make me enjoy the movie any less. If the critics could get over themselves and just sit back and enjoy it, without looking for problems and without comparing it to the original trilogy, they just might like it also.