Star Wars Episode 1 : The Phantom Menace
It's been 24 hours since I saw Star Wars Episode 1 : The Phantom Menace. And it's been an emotional day. Joy, sadness, frustration, realisation, and finally acceptance. I have walloped and banged this film in my head every 15 minutes. I'm waiting for the right time the write this review. A time where I can find the balance between happiness and sadness, when my understanding of my own new feelings are clear and as unbiased as possible. Now is the time, I am claim, at last.
First of all. It would be stupid and ignorant of me say that I will treat this film like any other film. Simply because it's not. This is a Star Wars film. This the fourth Star Wars film. And, it's the first Star Wars film of this new generation. New characters. New special effects. Out with most of the old and in with the new guys. The word "nervous" does not describe my feelings before this film. I was shitting bricks. Why? Because I've lived my life with these brilliant films, they were like a rock throughout my entire life of loving cinema. If I saw ten crap films in a row, I could always count on these to make me realise what cinema is and what magic it can do. And by now, I know those films so well. So well that I could watch the film and mouth the words as they are being said, so well that I know that Mara Jade had plans to assassinate Luke on Jabbas sail barge at the start of Return Of The Jedi. So, for me, The Phantom Menace is like a new child I will have to accept into my flock of already wonderful Star Wars films. But what I was so worried about was, will I accept this new film, will it stand along side the others, will it be make me drool for the next two, simply, will my faith in the power of film be kept alight? And right here I stand on saying, The Phantom Menace is welcome addition to the brood. Not perfect by any means, in fact it will disappoint a lot of fans….And I admit I have felt disappointed over the last day. But The Phantom Menace is a strong, flawed film I will see again and again.
Now I'm not going to waste time on describing the story details. Either you all ready know it or you will at some time. I just want to tell you how I feel.
This film sets out to show Jedi's in their glory, and it certainly does just that. Never have we seen Jedi this cool. They kick ass. There is more lightsaber action in this film than in all the other films combined and its fantastic. Before it was like structured fencing, very disciplined. Here its "no holds barred". Darth Mauls' doubled edged lightsaber comes straight out of a Jedi wanna-be's wet dream and Ray Park (Darth Maul) is an amazing ballet of a killer moves. Obi-Wan fights with guts and veil, so much so that I would not be suprised if he using some of the dark side of the force while fighting Maul at the end. Also for the first time we see Jedi using the force in ways that only have been seen on playgrounds. They are classy, fulfilling all my childhood fantasies about the Jedi and their abilties.
Qui-Jon Gin (Neeson) is the new Obi-Wan. A fine character that I wished had been explored. He is a bit of a rebel, always going on his gut instinct, no matter what anyone tells him. When the Queen or the Jedi council ask him to do some thing, he respectfully says no and does it his own way. He is a definite highlight of the film. A great Jedi. I hope and pray we see more of him.
Jake Lloyd is good as Anakin Skywalker. He is innocent and care free like a kid should be. Of course he is definitly far form my favourite character (How can you love a character that seriously shouts "Yippie" when trying to express joy. Really now George!) And never would we suspect the childs' ultimate outcome if it was not for John Williams' fantastic score, which forebodingly suggest its with the "Darth Vader theme" seeping through the innocent airs of Anakins' music.
Ewan McGegor is the perfect possible choice for a young Obi-Wan Kenobi. He has seems naturally impatient, eager, and in my eyes dangerous. Something Alec Guniness also had in the role, but obviously age had claimed him by that time. I always imagined Obi-Wan to have been a fiery young person. He seems too impatient, boardering on the Dark Side of the force. He is too young to take on an apprentice, I know that now. Just look at him in that last battle. He fights with blind fury. It's something that has to be seen.
The Phantom Menace is a visually feast. George Lucas has definitely not lost his touch in creating awe inspiring locations with a vibrant community that walk and talk and carry on with there own daily business. He is a visual artist of the highest calibre. From the Gunguns' underwater city, to the amazingly vibrant cityscapes of Coursant, to the Rome-like vista of Venetian. Any other blockbuster film would kill to do what this film does.
What was wrong with it for me? Well, I have problems with the script. Lucas tries hard to deal with a lot of events here. So much in fact, it crams up the film and bogs it down. In the originals, Lucas would say, we must get to Alderaan….. And that drove the film. Here, we get trade disputes, political intrigue, invasions and a big pod race. So much happening to so many characters, we rarely get emotional involved. Remember in the original films how you so quickly fell in love with the characters. They were always on screen and you rode the whole adventure out with these people. No matter what it was, the characters made the films. You triumphed when Han came to Luke's aid during the trench run. Here you don't grow with the characters that well. Even tough Lucas does develop the characters at times. Like when Neeson and the gang are stranded on Tatooinee. Here, we get intimate screen time with people. Anakins' mother is human and warm, wanting to free her son from slavery, even if it means she will never see him again. We even get the suspected attraction between Qui-Jon and her. This could have been played on more, but so could have a lot of other things. Here, we don't have to listen to them babble on about trade disputes and other (to us) unimportant political matters. We have some potentially brilliant characters, but they really are left underdeveloped for most of the film.
Jar-Jar Binks is not the disaster that every body thought he would be. As I said before we get little chance to get intimate we characters. That too goes for Jar-Jar. But also as I said before while on Tatonoonee, Jar-Jar comes into his own, he fitted in perfectly during these scenes. He was funny, loveable and understandable. My major problem with Jar-Jar was that I could not make out what he was saying some of the time, especially at the beginning. Jar-Jar is there to provide the comic relief, and he would have, if you did not have to strain yourself to hear what he is saying. The same goes for all the Gungun race. I would have liked them a lot more if it wasn't for this small fault. The next time I see the film may be totally different, I may understand him perfectly and I think I really will like him more. So I say, let Jar-Jar stay, he has potential.
One of the major problems that I had initially with the film, was that there was no truly identifiable bad-ass leader that put us under serious threat. I know there is the Trade Federation, who take over Naboo, but they are not scary, they don't make you shiver in your boots. There of course is Darth Sidious, who is the puppeteer behind the invasion and his apprentice Darth Maul. But know body knows about these guys. Where they came from, or why they are picking on the planet Naboo. For those who have seen the film, if you figure out who Darth Sidious is, then you should figure out the purpose for the invasion But we are never told anything. I mean nothing.
But then I remembered something. The title. "THE PHANTON MENACE". A dictionary interpretation would be.
PHANTOM: an immaterial form, a spectre, a deceitful appearance, like a ghost
MENACE: threat or threatening; a show of an intention to do harm; a threatening danger.
After a time I realised that this is the way Lucas had planned it. Form the start Lucas is telling us " The evil in this film will be shadowy and unidentified". In fact we are not supposed to find out who these people are. We know more than any of the other characters. They don't even know that Darth Sidious exists. All will be reviled in the next chapter. In fact a lot of the problems I had with this film was because the film was not a complete story, we are relying on future parts to tell the rest of the story.
And now that I think about it, it is mostly because of this that I was most upset with the film. It was as if someone had pulled the plug in the middle of the film and said "That's all you get. Not for another three years."
Darth Maul is cool. Although he only has about five lines (the film was that jam-packed). He is not as nasty as Vader by any means. But Maul makes up for lack of words with actions, and I mean some amazing actions. Just wait until you see him go.
The Phantom Menace relies on its sequels to tie up all of its lose ends, and there are a lot of them. It is a shame that it cannot do it's own dirty work. But it cannot be helped, and it is because too much happens and there is too little time.
George Lucas is a man with a plan. I think he is sitting in a room somewhere writing the script for Episode 2 on his note pad, there is a grin on his face. He knows what is going to happen next, he knows he has left millions wanting to find out what happens, people are going to watch his film many times and all are going to speculate about the next Episode. Who is Darth Sidious? What will become of Anakin? What about the Queen? Where did C3P0 go to? Will Jar-Jar Binks get speech classes?
All I do know is that, what happens in this film will be nothing compared to the full scale Clone Wars that will begin in Episode 2. No more battle droids. No more puny trade disputes and political bull. The Phantom Menace has set the ball up for full on conflict. Its going to be set ten years on from this one. Now, lets see the Dark Side of the force in it's full glory. Lets do what Star Wars does best, create rich three-dimensional characters that we care and love. Lets' see what Anakin, the best Jedi ever, can do. Lets see a love story. George Lucas, its all yours baby, make it a good