Mutant Viewing: The Phantom Menace

So, I’ve been on a Star Wars bender recently.  A bad one.  Books, comics, cartoons, video games—I’ve been tearing through all of it over the past couple of weeks in full-on nerd mode.  Today, it’s my day off, my car’s in the shop, I’m home alone, and it’s pouring rain outside.  Why do I feel a Mutant Viewing coming on?

First, disclaimer time: I do not hate The Phantom Menace.  It has its share of problems—big ones—but it’s nevertheless a movie I enjoy in a casual sort of way.  So, if you’re looking for nothing but vitriol, you’re probably in the wrong place.

Nevertheless, I think it’s a movie worth picking apart.  Granted, smarter and funnier people than me have been doing it for over a decade now, but suck it up, monkeys, ‘cause it’s Star Wars time.

0:24     A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far, Far Away… oh, sweet nostalgia.

0:30     DAH! Duh nuh nuh; nuh nuh nuh! Da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da daaaaa…

0:47     I haven’t watched The Phantom Menace closely in a long while, and, wow, this opening crawl sucks.  “Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic.  The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute.”  Hard to believe this came from the same man who penned the immortal Captain EO.

2:02     And then there’s this poor extra.  She has some of the first words in the entire saga and her voice is so low pitched it sounds like a four year old pretending to be dad.  I hate to rag on her—she’s probably thrilled beyond words at getting lines in a Star Wars movie—but I can’t help it.  In the theater, I laughed.  After countless months of anticipation and a dozen hours in ticket lines, I laughed at this movie in under three minutes.  Not a good sign.

3:07     Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn dehood in the Neimoidian conference room.  I think Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson make a pretty believable student-teacher pairing.  Neeson in particular does a good job giving his character a lot of weight, which I think we need since this is our only chance to get to know him.

3:32     I like Qui-Gon’s fortune cookie about being mindful of the future, but never at the expense of the moment.  I’m only a little ashamed to admit I’ve used that in conversation.

3:42     Nute Gunray and the other Neimoidans snivel around for a bit before contacting Darth Sidious and informing him of the Jedis’ arrival, which brings up one of my big beefs with the prequel trilogy: all the aliens (or almost all of them) speak English—even when they’re the only people in the room.  The original trilogy gave us all kinds of characters of who spoke gibberish: Chewbacca, Greedo, Jabba the Hutt, R2-D2.  I don’t think we had any intelligible aliens until Admiral Ackbar in Return of the Jedi, and even in that movie we still got a whole nation of squawking teddy bears.  Maybe the reluctance to subtitle is George’s clever commentary on literacy in this country.  Maybe not.

4:54     “My Lord, is that leeeeegal?”  A funny line, but not intentionally.

5:13     Anyway, the Republic ship and our low-talking extra gets blowed up real good and the Jedi are gassed on Sidious’s orders.  I have to wonder about the thought process that leads to having deadly gas dispensers installed in your conference room.  It’s very Blofeld-esque.

5:46     Roger, roger!  Our first scene focusing on the Trade Federation’s battle droids, who lots of people hate and I can’t fault them for it.  They’re certainly no stormtroopers.  I suppose it makes sense, however, that you would want opponents that the Jedi can dismember en masse without making our heroes look like serial killers.

6:21     Qui-Gon melts the blast doors with his lightsaber.  This is my favorite thing ever done with a lightsaber.  Ever.

7:14     Jedi super speed, the first of several prequel-era Jedi powers that I don’t mind until the characters suddenly forget that they exist.

7:46     This always annoyed me.  To escape from the Trade Federation ship, Qui-Gon instructs Obi-Wan that they will “stow aboard separate ships and meet down on the planet.”  Meet down on the planet?  Are they just hoping to run into each other?  Exactly what size planet are they landing on?

7:54     “You were right about one thing, Master.  The negotiations were short.”  Hey, I think it’s a funny line.  Sue me.

8:02     Queen Amidala shows up to talk with Nute Gunray on the shimmery viewscreen.  I know they wanted to show off Natalie Portman’s costumes and all, but I always thought she should have been on a little hologram thing.  It’s just more Star Wars-ish.  And, also: her face paint always makes me think she’s biting her lip.

9:01     Planetside, Senator Palpatine (theater reaction: Did she say Palapatine?  Murmur, murmur, rhubarb, rhubarb) talks to Amidala by hologram but the transmission gets cut off.  I like how pointy-beard guy immediately concludes that it’s an invasion and not just, y’know, a bent antenna or something.  Then again, he could just be one of those weirdos who thinks that the phone company is out to get him and ends all his emails with “Wake up, sheeple!!!!!”

9:54     Natalie will not condone a course of action that will lead them to woah-ah.  I like how The Establishment maintains an aristocratic accent like Tarkin and Leia in the original.

10:20   Trade Federation assault forces land on Naboo.  I remember the first piece of Episode 1 technology I ever saw was a battle droid on his hovercraft/gun turret/segway thing that they feature here.  My brain ran in so many directions with it.  Imagine my disappointment when I realized that this is the only scene in the whole saga where they appear—and they don’t even do anything!

11:00   “Oh No!”  The screech that launched a thousand pieces of hate mail: Jar Jar Binks is saved from the stampeding Trade Federation forces by Qui Gon Jinn.  There have been suggestions by people on this site that Neeson should have gone all ‘Taken’ on Jar Jar right here and left him… how did they put it… ‘crumpled in a heap of misery.’  I understand the impulse.

11:41   Okay, it looks like I lied a little bit before.  A pair of those droid hovercraft/gun turret/segways chase Obi Wan Kenobi for about two seconds before Qui-Gon takes them down.  I still maintain they’re criminally underused.

11:54   Obi-Wan meets Jar Jar and Jar Jar’s smile here makes me snicker.  He wants so much to be liked.

12:00   Ec-squeeze me.  What an awful, awful phrase.

12:40   Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan convince Jar Jar to take them to Gunga City.  I love how subtly Ewan McGregor plays Obi-Wan’s dislike of Jar Jar.  He takes a little too much pleasure in messing with Jar Jar’s head.

13:17   Jedi scuba tanks.  It’s a little preposterous, but I like the idea that they have a little arsenal of goodies “just in case.”

13:33   Oota Gunga, the underwater city.  I really love this visual, I just wish they did more with it.  The Trade Federation talks about storming it a little later; I would like to have seen that.

14:55   Jar Jar and the Jedi are taken to “Boss Nass,” a fat grinch who seems to be an entirely different species than the Gungans but whatever.  Qui-Gon’s Jedi mind trick at 15:40 is excellent.  I didn’t actually notice it the first time I saw the film.

16:56  The confounded Boss Nass decides to let Jar Jar go with the Jedi.  BURRRRGLE!  BURGLE!  BURGLE!  BURGLE!  BURGLE!  BURGLE!  BURGLE!  BURGLE!

18:36   The journey through the Plaaaaaanet Cooooooore *spooky fingers* is pretty lame, but I did like learning that Godzilla chills on Naboo during the off-season.

19:48   Also, I think Jar Jar’s freakout in the bongo is pretty funny.

20:58   The droid army enters the city of Theed.  And yes, those hovercraft/gun turret/segway things show up again briefly.  But I think this is the last time.  Really.  Meanwhile, Amidala sulks at a giant window.  Her dress appears to have lightbulbs on it.

22:45   The Jedi smash some droids and rescue Amidala.  I think I’ like to have been the effects guy that got to decide what all the random saber swings meant.  I assume that the actors were just told to flail their swords around and then ILM painted in whatever they felt like later on.

23:57   There’s a nice subtle exchange between the disguised Queen and her double.

–          Decoy Queen: Either choice presents great danger… to us all.
–          Real Queen: We are brave, your highness.

I like that they have a code all worked out for this stuff.  It’s a nice touch of detail that the rest of this movie lacks.

24:30   The party commandeers the rather embarrassingly named Nubian star fighter and escapes.  Before the action begins, there’s a bit of dialogue between Qui-Gon and a droid commander that I particularly hate.  I don’t mind this stuff so much in the later movies where the battle droids get a little more personality, but here it’s clunky and forced.  Thumbs up, however, for finally getting a pronunciation on the name ‘Coruscant.’

25:08   Random pair of droid legs.  I like it.

26:30   “The power’s back!  That little droid did it!”  The Nubian fighter takes a hit while running the Trade Federation blockade and Artoo Deetoo comes to the rescue.  I’m personally impressed with his ability to wheel around on the outside of a starship that’s working its way toward lightspeed.

27:40   Darth Maul finally shows up, at least in hologram form.  Slumbering fans start to wake back up.

28:10   Artoo gets an excessively formal thank you from the Queen and her entourage.  I understand machines in Star Wars have more personality than most, but they’re still machines.  Isn’t this like you explaining how much you respect your dishwasher for cleaning the plates?  It’s doing the job it’s built for.  Also, I think it’s funny that the fake queen (who, incidentally, is played by a young Keira Knightley) orders the real queen to scrub Artoo down.  I imagine she takes pleasure in getting to order royalty around from time to time.

28:58   Padme meets Jar Jar.  She has a “just smile and nod” expression for the whole conversation.  Hee.

30:18   The ship is forced to land on Tatooine for repairs.  Qui-Gon, Jar Jar, Artoo, and Padme make their way towards town.  I know I’m not the first one to point this out, but wouldn’t Jar Jar—an underwater/wetlands creature—shrivel up and die on this planet?  Just curious.  For that matter, I’m not sure what Artoo is doing there, either.  Qui Gon knows exactly what parts they need, so why bring him along?  He’s an astromech droid and apparently the very last one their ship has left.  I’d be a lot more careful with him.

31:20   Poop joke.  I know Lucas has become infamous for his love of Yes Men, but nobody had the stones to tell him what an insulting idea this was?  Really?

32:00   We finally meet The Man Who Would Be Sith.  Or, rather, the little boy.  It’s just too bad that he immediately stinks.  Are you an Angel?  Gag me.  I stand corrected, by the way: Qui Gon mentions that Artoo has the information Watto needs to match up the part.

33:14   “I’m a person and my name is Anakin!”  Ugh.  I should explain, by the way, that I lay no blame on Jake Lloyd for the terribleness of this role.  I mean, he isn’t very good, but he’s also nine years old and delivering dialogue that got Harrison Ford tongue tied.  I think he took a lot of crap when The Phantom Menace came out, and it was mostly from the same people who would scold their own kids if they said it to him on the playground.  I sometimes wonder if the acting prodigies who pop up now and again like Dakota Fanning and Haley Joel Osment don’t ruin it for every other kid who wants to be in movies.  Cut Jake some slack.

33:34   Jar Jar messes around with a pod race droid.  These sorts of sequences are pretty uniformly awful, but this one gets a pass since it ends with Jar Jar getting kicked in the crotch.  I also just noticed that there are protocol droid coverings in the background of the shot.  Maybe they eventually belong to C-3PO?

34:04   Qui Gon’s Jedi Mind Trick fails spectacularly with Watto.  It’s one of the few jokes in the movie that I think really works well.

35:14   Yippee!  *cringe*

36:10   Jar Jar tries to steal a dead frog and instead ends up ticking off Sebulba, the local podracing star.   Although Lucas’s tendency to overproduce his CGI critters is pretty irritating, I like Sebulba a lot.  He manages to look unique without being obnoxious like some of the aliens later on.

36:20   See the guy with the yellow stripe on his face behind Sebulba and Jar Jar?  That’s Quinlan Vos, an undercover Jedi Knight on assignment in Mos Espa.  I swear I’m not making that up.

36:54   Anakin saves the day (or at least Jar Jar’s face) and meets Qui-Gon.  He also says the word “ex-specially,” which I cannot stand.  Just thought I’d mention it.

37:48   Grandma Death advises that a “storm’s coming, Ani!”

38:13   A dust storm blows in and Anakin offers to let our heroes bunk with him until it’s over.  We also learn that…sigh…Anakin built C-3PO.  This is the piece of Star Wars canon that I hate more than any other.  I have no objection to the character showing up the movie (I guess) but it makes the web of Star Wars relationships just a little too cozy for me.  I do like Pernilla August, however, as Shmi, Anakin’s mom.  She’s got this resigned lack of surprise at her son bringing three strangers and a robot home for dinner.  It cracks me up.

39:47   Back on the ship, Obi-Wan and the Naboobians get a message from Theed by the Pointy-Beard Guy.  Obi-Wan tells them it’s a trick and not to respond, so they don’t.  In other words, it’s a plot thread that goes absolutely nowhere.  What I find interesting, though, it that Pointy-Beard Guy tells them that “the death toll is catastrophic.”  Assuming he isn’t lying, that means that some bad business is going down on Naboo and the movie has just pushed it so far into the background that you don’t notice.  I think this film could have gotten a real shot in the arm if they cast the Nemoidians as Stalinesque mass murders instead of whiney bureaucrats.

40:25   Darth Maul is onscreen for about thirty seconds.  The audience stirs again.

40:50   But why waste time with him when we could watch our characters eat dinner?

40:54   An interesting little bit at the table where Anakin and Shmi talk about how slaves have little miniature bombs planted inside them that detonate if they try to escape.  It’s an odd answer to a question I don’t think anyone in the audience was asking.

41:33   Qui-Gon catches Jar Jar by the tongue.  A lot of people hate this, but I think it’s funny.

44:32   Shmi agreees that Anakin can podrace to help Qui-Gon win the money he needs and Padme pouts that the queen wouldn’t approve.  Qui Gon gives her a look here that says he is totally in on the Fake Queen thing.  I like the idea that the Jedi aren’t fooled by Amidala for a second; it’s done pretty cleverly.

47:20   Ah, The Chosen One.  Not my favorite plot point.  I don’t hate on it as much as some people, and I actually think the prophecy angle plays out rather well by the end of the saga, but I’d still rather George went another route.  I’ve actually always been partial to the idea that Shmi was forced into prostitution before she was sold to Watto and Anakin grew up without a father simply because there was no way to know who he was.  Maybe she was a concubine of Darth Plagueis.  Is that way too dark and messed up for Star Wars?  Yeah, I thought so.

48:15   The local brats make fun of Ani.  They’re not great actors (see the above comments on Jake Lloyd), but I like the idea that he doesn’t get along with other kids his age.  He’s the weird one who eats paste and was into Power Rangers for just a little too long.

48:37   Jar Jar hijinx with the podracer energy beam.  I swear I don’t like Jar Jar nearly as much as these comments are making it sound, but this dumb little moment has grown on me since the first time I saw it.

49:47   IT’S WORKING!  IT’S WORKING!  Giant, unnecessary swelling of the music.  Please consult your doctor if musical swelling lasts more than four hours.

50:30   Qui-Gon takes a blood sample and somehow sends it to Obi Wan through their communicator, bringing us to the first mention of the much-despised midichlorians.  You’ll get no arguments from me that they are mostly stupid and unnecessary.  Personally, I find that it helps to think of them as ‘conduits’ for beings to use the Force.  The Force is still the energy field that surrounds us, binds us, etc.; midichlorians are just what helps a person access it.  The more someone has, the easier it is for that person to commune with the Force.

Michael Kaminski actually has some really interesting thoughts on the whole midichlorian thing.  His book, The Secret History of Star Wars, is probably the most insightful, well-written, and heavily researched Star Wars book I’ve ever read.  It’s also unauthorized, meaning he is free to tear down all the myths that Lucas has built up over the past thirty years about the creation of the saga.  It used to be a free e-book on his website, http://secrethistoryofstarwars.com, but last year it finally went to print and now it’ll cost you $30 on amazon.com.  Free or not, however, it has my absolute highest recommendation to anyone who considers themselves a Star Wars fan.

Kaminski’s theory about midichlorians is that Lucas needed a tangible, calculable reason in his script for Anakin to be trained as a Jedi.  In order for his story to work, Anakin needed to have developed a sense of attachment towards others.  This means he could not have been raised in the Jedi temple, where such things would not have been taught.  But if he wasn’t raised in the temple, then the Jedi would normally refuse to train him like Yoda and Luke in The Empire Strikes Back.  The midichlorians allow for “an objective ‘rating’ of Anakin’s ability, to show that he is truly special and important beyond Obi Wan or Qui Gon’s opinion that he is gifted” (341).  They provide an indisputable, quantifiable factor that the council cannot simply dismiss.

51:14   Whew, that was a long tangent.  Sorry.  Anyway, back in the movie, Darth Maul arrives on Tatooine and sends out little camera droids while Anakin starts prepping for the Big Race.

52:42   I like Sebulba getting a pre-race massage and manicure from a pair of Twi-leks in the background of Qui-Gon and Watto’s conversation.

53:27   Watto pulls out a “chance cube” (doesn’t anything in Star Wars have a normal name?) and bets with Qui-Gon.  “Blue, it’s the boy.  Red… his motherrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.”

53:40   Once Watto is done elongating his Rs, Qui-Gon uses the Force to win Anakin’s freedom.  It’s cheating, but I think it actually falls in line pretty well with Obi-Wan’s line in A New Hope, “In my experience, there’s no such thing as luck.”

54:28   “This is so wizard, Ani!”  I kinda hoped this would become the 1999 version of “You are so money!”  Never quite caught on, I guess.

55:10   The Pod Race introductions here are definitely superfluous (and were severely cut down for the ’99 theatrical release) but I really like them.  Greg Proops’ commentator is kind of obnoxious but I think it gives the racers a good amount of character.

56:30   Ody Mandrell’s pit droids do a Three Stooges routine.  Horribly anachronistic?  You bet.  Funny?  I think so.

56:54   Fart joke.  Again, I ask:  Seriously, George?  I know you were set on making a kids movie, but show a little restraint.  At least try.

57:16   Sebulba sabotages Anakin’s pod.  Sure, it’s necessary for dramatic purposes, but Anakin’s is the one pod Sebulba decides to monkey with?  Not the guy with the legendary pit crew?  Not the guy they just mentioned was a two-time winner?  He decides to go for the ten-year-old boy who has never even finished a race?  What a jerk.

57:55   First mention of “May the Force be with you.”

58:20   A positively svelte-looking Jabba the Hutt officially starts the race.  My nerd senses inform me that the female behind him is Gardulla the Hutt, who owned Anakin and Shmi before Watto won them.

58:50   Qui Gon takes another dig at Padme’s handmaiden disguise.

59:51   Warwick Davis sighting!

59:57   And they’re off!  Wow, it’s nearly five minutes from the introduction of the racers to the start of the first lap.  That’s, like, an eternity in movie-time.

1:01:06            Supposedly, the canyon they’re racing through here is the same one where Artoo gets jumped by the Jawas during A New Hope.  I don’t remember where I heard that, but I like the thought.

1:01:41            A little blue guy bites it in the cave.  He has virtually no part in the film but I’ve always liked him for some reason.  Oh well.

1:01:53            Sand people take pot shots at the racers.  Heh.

1:02:27            Lap 2.  The pit droid getting sucked through the turbine makes me laugh every time.

1:03:07            Frog-on-a-stick vendor.  Yum.

1:04:21            Although a lot of people consider the pod race to be the best part of this movie, I think it probably goes on a little too long for it’s own good.  That said, I like the scene they added back in of Anakin getting hit with debris and repairing his pod as he spins out of control.

1:05:20            The Tuskens score a kill!  Good for them!

1:06:32            In a moment surely no one saw coming, Anakin launches off of the service ramp and takes the lead.

1:06:48            Oo-tee-nee!  Cheap fan service, but I applaud it anyway.

1:09:23            Anakin goes on to the win the race as Sebulba skids out.  He screams ‘Poodoo!’ here, which they’ve already established means ‘fodder.’  So Sebulba is either really emotional about animal feed or Lucas has been softening subtitles on us.

1:09:33            Anakin’s little Rodian buddy does a hip-shaking victory dance.  The boy has got some moves.

1:10:59            One of Darth Maul’s probe droids floats past Qui Gon in the background.  Again, a rare subtle moment that helps explain why they’re suddenly running for the lives just a few scenes from now.

1:11:24            “Why do I get the feeling we’ve picked up another pathetic life form?”  I love the sort of good natured humor Ewan McGregor gives to Obi-Wan.  I wish we saw more of it.

1:12:22            You mean I get to come with you on your starship?  *cringe*

1:12:46            Shmi gives some pretty pathetic homespun advice.  I love Pernilla August’s performance but sometimes you just can’t save this movie from itself.

1:13:00            Yippee! *double cringe*

1:13:37            More terrible mommy/Anakin dialogue.  Blerg.

1:14:30            Anakin says goodbye to C-3PO and I actually really like it.  It’s got an ‘I’m-ten-years-old-and-not-fully-grasping-the-implications’ feel to it.  Also, it’s partly done in a Threepio POV shot—something I don’t think any of the movies ever do again.

1:15:02            Some really heavy-handed light and shadow imagery as Anakin leaves his mom.  Hey, at least George is trying.

1:16:19            Darth Maul shows up again for the first time in, like, forty minutes.  He jets away on a little speeder and looks completely ridiculous.

1:16:47            Lightsabers?  I remember those!  The Qui-Gon/Darth Maul have a quick and dirty battle that I like a lot.  You don’t see much of it amidst the sand and swirling capes, but it has its own sort of intensity to it.

1:17:55            After escaping on the ship, Qui Gon introduces Anakin and Obi-Wan.  I like how their hugely important relationship starts with such an innocuous little scene.

1:18:31            Back at Theed Palace, we’re told that Naboo is now completely under Trade Federation control.  A battle droid with a New York accent informs the TF Viceroy that they’re ready to begin searching for these rumored unda-wohtah villages.

1:19:45            Anakin and Padme talk on the starship.  He gives her a ‘japor snippet’ that he carved into a necklace in the last five minutes.

1:20:30            Our first look at Coruscant.  For those of us who spent a decade reading the Expanded Universe novels, it’s nice to finally get a visual.

1:20:51            Our first good look at Senator Palpatine, aka the Phantom Menace.

1:21:27            We meet Supreme Chancellor Jor-El, er Valorum.  Unnecessary side note: Valorum (along with Mace Windu/Mace Windy) is one of the names that George Lucas originally came up with back when he was brainstorming in 1973-74.  He must have been thrilled to finally attach it to a character.

1:22:00            Amidala talks to Palpatine wearing a weird(-er than usual) headdress.  Remember when Carrie Fisher’s Cinnabon look was considered silly?  They were simpler times, I guess.

1:24:15            The Jedi Council, headed (naturally) by Yoda and Samuel L Jackson.  I like the temple exterior.  I wish we got a closer look.

1:25:07            A little bit of exposition on The One Who Will Bring Balance to the Force.  Actually, that’s really all the exposition we get.  I suppose if Lucas is insisting on going the ‘prophecy’ route, then the vague ‘bringing balance’ thing is okay.  It leaves room for lots of interpretation.

1:26:10            Anakin says goodbye to the Queen.  He apparently has not had a change of clothes since Tatooine.  You’d think they could do something about that.

1:26:56            Palpatine and Amidala address the Senate about the invasion of Naboo.  I can’t decide if this is a hairstylist’s wet dream or worst nightmare.

1:28:46            Amidala’s plea is shot down and she calls for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Jor-El.  Note that E.T. has a senate box.

1:29:30            Qui Gon and Obi Wan argue about Qui Gon’s behavior in front of the council.  I like the Master/Student relationship it shows: Qui Gon has an independent streak that Obi Wan dislikes as his padawan.  Obi Wan therefore becomes an extremely straight-laced Jedi, which chafes against *his* padawan, Anakin, and leads to Anakin’s own reckless behavior under Obi-Wan.  Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I like entertaining the idea.

1:29:51            Anakin is tested by the council.  He still hasn’t changed clothes.    It must be interesting to sit around and decide if a ten-year-old boy might be a threat to everything you hold sacred.

1:30:40            Yoda gives his Fear > Anger > Hate > Suffering > Dark Side speech, which might be the only truly memorable line to come out of this movie.  Well, the only memorable line that doesn’t involve the word “Yippee!”

1:31:10            “Yousa tinkin yousa people ganna die?”  Well that’s also pretty memorable, but I think that’s South Park’s fault.

1:33:15            The Jedi Council smacks down Anakin for being too old and Qui Gon for talking too much.  They also say Obi Wan isn’t ready for the Jedi Trials.  I’m curious, though, what they think he needs to go through.  Fighting your way out of a hostile ship, infiltrating a planet populated by the enemy, rescuing a queen, and escorting her to safety doesn’t cut it?  It was enough for Errol Flynn and Doug Fairbanks!

1:34:52            Qui Gon and Obi Wan argue again and Obi says everyone else senses that the boy is dangerous.  If Anakin is *that* strong in the Force and represents a potential danger to the Jedi Order, does it really make sense to turn him away?  Especially considering the deadly, evil, Force-using bad guy that Qui Gon just fought off?  Also, Anakin still has not changed his clothes.  Just saying.

1:36:39            Jar Jar screams to the sky for no damn reason.

1:37:14            Darth Sidious tells the Neimoidians on Naboo that Darth Maul is coming to dinner.  Wow.  After spending twenty minutes on Coruscant, his identity seems painfully obvious.

1:37:23            Anakin gets a crash course on how to fly a starship from the pilot, Ric Olie.  I’m ashamed to admit that I know his name off the top of my head.  He had his own action figure, too.

1:38:39            Qui Gon and Obi Wan make up.  It’s a nice scene, although Ewan McGregor looks about forty.

1:40:47            The Amidala Deception is revealed by Padme to the Gungan high council.  Boss Nass agrees to help in the war effort.  BURRRRGLE!  BURGLE!  BURGLE!  BURGLE!  BURGLE!  BURGLE!  BURGLE!  BURGLE!

1:41:29            Note the fat Gungan in the background.  I think he’s the only one we ever see that isn’t tall and skinny.

1:43:50            Amidala lays out the plan to capture the Viceroy, saying that the Trade Federation will be “lost and confused” without him.  I somehow don’t believe that but whatever.  Also, for what it’s worth, I think Natalie Portman looks incredibly cute here.

1:45:01            The Gungans mass for war.  Can I mention how irritated I am that this lost the effects Oscar to The Matrix? Don’t get me wrong, The Matrix is a far superior film to this one, but the leaps in CGI technology made in The Phantom Menace were really revolutionary.  This stuff looks great.

1:48:00            The Naboo pilots head toward the Droid Control ship.  I know people who have talked about the lack of women and black actors in original Star Wars (aside from Leia and Lando, of course), so it immediately caught my eye that the first two pilots we see in the space battle are an African American and a woman.  I don’t know if maybe that says more about me than about the movie, but I like to think the George is trying.

1:48:40            Racks of droids get deployed from the Trade Federation tanks.  It’s cool.

1:49:37            Also, I really like the idea of the Gungan shields that will repel fast moving objects but can by walked through without a problem.  Sort of like a non-Newtonian defense system.

1:49:44            I do find it weird, however, that they apparently have no weapons beyond slings and catapults.  Were yo-yos and boomerangs on backorder?

1:50:18            Qui Gon gives Anakin the sitcom setup: “Stay in that cockpit!”

1:50:27            Darth Maul arrives with his dramatic horn section.

1:50:39            Maul dehoods, leaving him in all his spikey glory.  It’s cool, don’t get me wrong, but, on reflection, it’s really sorta garish and over the top.

1:51:01            Double-bladed lightsaber.  Fanboys everywhere wet themselves.  Personally, I’ve always thought that the “Duel of the Fates” battle should have been left completely out of the advertisements for The Phantom Menace, at least initially.  Studios already knew this was going to make money hand over fist and they already had the Tatooine battle to put in the trailers.  With the internet still in its infancy, this reveal would have been a surprise to a lot of people and an amazing moment to witness in the theaters.  It may have even blunted some of the initial negative press the movie got when it opened.

1:51:32            Anakin mistakenly starts the autopilot while looking for the gun trigger on the ship.  He really didn’t start out trying the one that looks like a trigger?  Sigh…

1:53:25            Jar Jar gets tangled up in battle droid wires and accidently uses it to take out encroaching enemies.  I thought this was funny the first time I saw it and still maintain that the gag works pretty well.  I also want to point out the hand-to-hand fighting in the background, which is neat.

1:53:43            Space Battle.  Anakin mugs for the camera.  Ick.  He also pays off Qui-Gon’s “stay in that cockpit” line with a bad joke.

1:54:49            The Queen and her retinue use their incredibly convenient “ascension guns” to move up the palace walls.  I’m not sure why this bothers me so much when I don’t mind the Jedi scuba tanks.

1:56:20            Obi Wan gets separated from Qui Gon and the battle moves into the gauntlet of red force fields, which serve no apparent purpose other than to interrupt lightsaber duels.  Jedi super speed would be helpful here.

1:57:02            The Gungans are in retreat but Jar Jar’s antics seem to wipe out whole platoons of battle droids.  It’s far less funny than it’s supposed to be.

1:58:40            Anakin is hit and crash lands conveniently in the main hangar bay of the Control Ship within firing distance of the reactor core.  The Will of The Force?  Sure, why not?

1:59:18            Qui Gon and Darth Maul resume their battle.  Obi Wan is still trapped behind the force fields.  Again, super speed.  Just throwing it out there.

1:59:50            Qui Gon takes a hilt to the face and a saber blade to the gut.  Not a big surprise to anyone who bought the soundtrack with the helpfully labeled track, “Qui Gon’s Noble End.”  Also notice that Obi Wan starts reacting a split second before it actually happens—probably just a continuity error, but I prefer to think of it as Jedi precognition like Qui Gon mentioned back on Tatooine.

2:00:00            The Queen is captured but the Neimoidians are fooled by her double.  I rather like the callback.  Also, I like the hidden guns in the throne.  It feels authentic.

2:01:16            Obi Wan and Darth Maul prepare to fight.  After ten years of waiting, I finally have a chance to point this out in a public forum: there’s a shot in this sequence that was in the ’99 theatrical cut but has disappeared from every subsequent version of the film.  It’s a closeup of Obi Wan behind the force field, bouncing on his toes and cracking his neck in anticipation.  No one believes me and I have no idea why it was taken out but it absolutely used to be there.  Okay.  I feel better.

2:01:24            Obi v. Maul.  It’s easily the best lightsaber battle in all six movies.

2:01:52            I love Ray Park’s spin move here after he kicks Ewan in the face.  If you watch in slow motion you can see him change the lightsaber from hand to hand as he jukes, which is why he finishes with that open-palmed “How cool am I?” flourish.

2:02:04            Obi Wan gets Force-pushed down the pit.  That’s bush league, son.

2:02:25            Anakin saves the day by mistake.  How completely unnecessary.

2:03:08            “Now this is podracing!” Gah! *don’tblamejakelloyddon’tblamejakelloyddon’tblamejakelloyd *

2:03:19            The other pilots cheer in victory as the Control Ship goes down.  I’m amazed how completely nondescript they are.  These chumps had essentially the same screentime as Biggs, Wedge, Gold Leader, and Porkins do in Star Wars, yet they manage to make no impression whatsoever on the movie.  How Lucas can make something seem so totally effortless in one movie and so completely forced in this one is beyond me.

2:04:14            Darth Maul takes it in the chest—which I don’t particularly buy but whatever—and topples down the pit.  Obi Wan listens to Qui Gon’s dying words and promises to train Anakin.  I always thought that Obi Wan should have found him already dead and made the promise to himself.  It would put a different spin on things.

2:05:34            “I think you can kiss your trade franchise goodbye.”  Panaka should put on sunglasses after saying that.

2:05:55            “And you, young Skywalker.  We’ll watch your career with great interest.”  Har har.  We also find out Palpatine is now Senate Chancellor.  Note his We’re-Not-Royal-Guards-Yet guards in the background.

2:06:24            Obi Wan is promoted to Jedi Knight, apparently without having to take the written exam.  For the record, Anakin and Luke also do not have to pass any sort of prepared trials.  What sort of second-rate Jedi are they making take these things?

2:07:22            Qui Gon’s body is burned.  Yoda and Samuel Jackson talk about the Sith, which Lucas said he tried to make sound Shakespearean.  Is that horribly arrogant, or is it just me?

2:08:23            Naboobian Celebration, accompanied by a song I really like.  Anakin finally gets a change of clothes.  Amidala and Boss Nass share the Disco Ball of Peace.  And they all lived happily ever after.

2:15:58            Vader breath, but nobody is around to listen because this is 1999 and no one knew you are always supposed to stay through the end credits.

And so ends the ballad of Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace!  And since close proximity to this movie has helped the toxic waves of Star Wars fanboyism recede back to acceptable levels, I think I’ll venture outside and see about getting my car back.  So, until next time, may the—No.  You know what?  Never mind.  I’m just gonna leave it there.  ‘Kay?  Bye.

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16 Comments

  1. Pingback: Barefoot in the Park Richard Louv Stress Institute « The Buzz

  2. What really bugged me in the trilogy was the “he will bring balance to the force”-thing!
    I mean, they live in a time, where the dark side of the force is reduced to one old guy with a horny elmo as sidekick while the light side of the force has a temple in the size of a small city and hundreds of jedi-knights. how in the world could they get the idea that balance between dark and light might be a good thing for them???

    • Not to defend the Phantom Menace (looks around furtively for anyone who knows him in real life), but.. I figured that was kind of the point. The prophecy exists that somebody will bring balance to the force. They don’t say which way it needs to be balanced.

      Everyone assumes it’s unbalanced because there’s too much Dark, but balance is balance. The force was unbalanced because there was too much of the LIGHT side.

  3. All I ever really hate realizing about all the Star Wars movies is one little small fact… they always mention the Fear > Anger > Hate > Suffering = Dark Side thing, but no good Jedi as won out against a “main” villian without giving into hate and anger. They only suddenly gain the ability to fight and win when they see their friend, family member, little dog Fluffy, in danger and they get mad. Just a minor nitpick, but you’d think there’d be a lot more Sith because of that little factor.

  4. I totally remember Obi Wan doing the neck cracking thing! I remember seeing the movie for the second time and wondering what was missing. I thought it added a nice little humanizing pre-battle routine.

  5. OMG! I’ve been talking about that Obi Wai “warm up” scene for years! I loved that thing back in ’99, and for some reason its been taking out. Obi-Wan, the young, headstrong and now rage-filled Jedi warrior is just waiting to get a crack at this guy.

  6. Pingback: Al looks back at the films of 2012 « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

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