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Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

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Links to the threads on Episode II, Episode III, Episode IV, Episode V, the 2004 and 2006 editions of Episodes IV, V and VI on DVD, and the 2011 edition of all six episodes on Blu-Ray, as well as The Clone Wars and the various rumoured TV series (plus one quasi-duplicate thread on the comedy series).

See also the threads on 'Star Wars Debate Redux' (which began as a place to bash Episode II; Jul 8 - Nov 11, 2003), 'Sci fi = spiritual? Star Wars, X2, etc.' (Apr 12-14, 2004), 'Best Star Wars Movie? (with poll; Apr 18-20, 2004), Top 100 Discussion: The Star Wars original trilogy?' (May 6-7, 2004), 'Is Star Wars Blasphemous?' (Jun 15 - Jul 25, 2005), 'Star Wars in 20 minutes' (Aug 8-9, 2006) and 'Star Wars: Uncut' (Apr 2010).

- - -

So ... with all those links out of the way ... I was recently reminded that yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of the release date for The Phantom Menace -- so we are now into the second decade since the massive retcon project known as the Star Wars prequels entered our lives.

This was the movie that gave us Qui-Gon Jinn (was his surname a hint of the spiritual presence he would become later on, as revealed at the end of Episode III?), the "chosen one" (thus shifting the entire franchise's attention away from Luke and onto his father, once and for all), midichlorians (thus introducing the possibility that Anakin may have been a creation of the Sith, something that is almost explicitly confirmed in Episode III), the half-built C-3PO (thus making us all wonder why Darth Vader never recognized his old droid when they were reunited on Cloud City in Episode V), and, of course, Jar Jar Binks (nuff said).

At the time of its release, The Phantom Menace was the #3 film of all time at the domestic box office, behind Titanic and the original Star Wars. (It is now #6, having been surpassed by The Dark Knight, Shrek 2 and the extra boost that E.T. got during its 20th anniversary in 2002.) Worldwide, it was #2 at the time, behind only Titanic. (It is now #9, having been surpassed by two Lord of the Rings films, two Pirates of the Caribbean films, The Dark Knight, and two Harry Potter films.)

So ... who wants to reminisce? Remember how cool Darth Maul seemed in all the prerelease hype, and how disappointing it was to see him bite the dust so quickly? Remember how long many of us were in denial about this film's merits (or lack thereof)? Etc., etc., etc.?

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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My wife stood in line to get opening day tickets. What fools we were.

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Remember how long many of us were in denial about this film's merits (or lack thereof)?

I think this cuts both ways, and I appreciate you phrasing it like this.

It's quite funny that last night I watched the episode of "Spaced" where Tim is still sore about Episode I 18 months after it's release. I'm wondering how he feels 10 years on?

Anyway, I'll throw this out: I feel The Phantom Menace is the most underrated of all the prequels.

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Anyway, I'll throw this out: I feel The Phantom Menace is the most underrated of all the prequels.

I completely agree. Even with the Jar-Jar Binks factor, Phantom was the only episode that I felt compelled to see more than once in the theatre. The less said about Attack of the Clones, the better. And while I enjoyed the opening of Revenge of the Sith, the rest of the film just felt like a patchwork of scenes that had to be thrown in, so that it flow right into episodes 4, 5 and 6.

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I am at least a little disappointed that Lucas has not released a special edition yet with updated effects.

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Nezpop wrote:

: I am at least a little disappointed that Lucas has not released a special edition yet with updated effects.

Well, he did re-edit the film and add a few effects shots for the DVD release -- but that was only two years after the film came out in theatres, so it was not an "anniversary" edition or anything like that. It was more like the minor tweaks that were made to the original Star Wars back when it was re-issued in theatres in the late '70s and early '80s.

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Remember how long many of us were in denial about this film's merits (or lack thereof)? Etc., etc., etc.?

He said smugly.

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SDG wrote:

: He said smugly.

Sauce for the goose, etc. Though I admit, being proved "right" about a film's goodness may be more satisfying than being proved "right" about a film's badness.

I actually can't remember quite how my own thoughts on Phantom Menace evolved, though I see that in my own review -- published within a couple weeks of seeing the film -- I was already saying that "there was a soul -- a spiritual momentum -- to the original trilogy that this new film lacks," and that "nowhere in the ensuing tale do we see any of the charisma, chemistry or depth of character that made the original trilogy so much fun to watch." I wonder what I'd find if I checked my e-mails from the day of the press screening itself.

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Nezpop wrote:

: I am at least a little disappointed that Lucas has not released a special edition yet with updated effects.

Well, he did re-edit the film and add a few effects shots for the DVD release -- but that was only two years after the film came out in theatres, so it was not an "anniversary" edition or anything like that. It was more like the minor tweaks that were made to the original Star Wars back when it was re-issued in theatres in the late '70s and early '80s.

There's a documentary somewhere... maybe it is alluded to on some of the ROTS bonus material... showing that Lucas has already gone back and re-done the Phantom Menace shots with the puppet Yoda and replaced them with a AOTC and ROTS-style digital Yoda. I'm guessing those will probably show up on the next release of the Phantom Menace, whenever that is. Maybe Blu-Ray.

Strangely, my thoughts are kinder toward the Phantom Menace several years down the line than they are toward Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith.

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I think the only redeeming qualities of the Phantom Menace were the lightsaber fights. Qui Gon Jinn's door melting trick allowed the most-famous of movie swords to reach a new level of cool, and the climatic duel with the two knights vs. Maul was, in my opinion, the best of the series--even surpassing Sith's Anakin and Obi Wan fight. Set to William's Duel of the Fates, the Maul battle was fast, acrobatic, aggressive, and awe-inspiring. But the rest of the film was insipid, boring, and filled with bunker-mentality idiocy.

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I for one would have been grateful if Lucas had just left 4,5,6 alone. The prequels tarnish for me the intelligence and brilliance of the originals. And no matter how much editing is done to 1,2,3 they will remain poorly written stories that fail on that allegorical/typological level that made 4,5,6 great.

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One last thought---part of what hits home for the OT is the reliance on myth, mystery, and Kurosawa. Even if the actual "inspiration" was more "borrowing" and marketing, the typological depth of the OT overwhelms the mythological bankruptcy of the Prequels. Does anyone note any similar "borrowing" from Lucas in the Prequels? Would have almost expected a kind of Shakespearian or Gibbon-lite feel as the Republic descended into Empire, but nothing really hit home for me. Except those lightsabers.

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Buckeye Jones wrote:

: I think the only redeeming qualities of the Phantom Menace were the lightsaber fights.

Perhaps. But the lightsabre duels in the prequels, and especially Phantom Menace, have always seemed more like choreography than duels, to me. (Yeah, yeah, I know, in a battle between highly-trained, Force-strong Jedi masters and Sith lords, you'll find a skill and an elegance that a mere trainee like Luke Skywalker or a half-mechanical midichlorian-drained cyborg like Darth Vader would never have ... but still.)

: Qui Gon Jinn's door melting trick allowed the most-famous of movie swords to reach a new level of cool . . .

I did like that, yeah.

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Buckeye Jones wrote:

: I think the only redeeming qualities of the Phantom Menace were the lightsaber fights.

Perhaps. But the lightsabre duels in the prequels, and especially Phantom Menace, have always seemed more like choreography than duels, to me. (Yeah, yeah, I know, in a battle between highly-trained, Force-strong Jedi masters and Sith lords, you'll find a skill and an elegance that a mere trainee like Luke Skywalker or a half-mechanical midichlorian-drained cyborg like Darth Vader would never have ... but still.)

Even as choreography, they hearken back to the derring-do fencing of the past films Lucas references--more artfully so, IMO, than anything in the OT--though as narrative, the Luke/Darth battle in Empire was stronger.

You know, I don't really buy all that jazz about the prequels being more refined due to the strength of the Republic, etc. I know Obi Wan has a line in Star Wars to the effect of the Jedi's being more elegant, as you allude to, but I always viewed the visual improvements as mere style points due to the larger budgets and more sophisticated SFX. But the Mual/Kenobi/Jinn fight, more SFX and all, still ranks highest for me. A lot more so than the Yoda fights, because that was just a computer game. The stunt people and/or actors had to do some really cool work in TPM.

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I've only watched the first two parts of this seven-part "review", and there are bits (especially in the second part) that get a little too edgy and NSFW for my tastes, but there are also some bits that are fairly illuminating -- like the last five minutes of this first clip:

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This guy is a genius. If I watch all seven, can I include it in my film journal?

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He does a pretty good job of illuminating all the vast problems with EPISODE I's narrative construction. Ugh.

But I will say this for PHANTOM MENACE: visually, it's my fave of the prequels. At least there was some sense of tactile, physical reality.

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Ryan H. wrote:

: But I will say this for PHANTOM MENACE: visually, it's my fave of the prequels. At least there was some sense of tactile, physical reality.

Forgive me for saying this, but the first thing I thought after reading your comment was that I actually prefer the digital Yoda of Episodes II and III to the awful, awful puppet Yoda of Episode I. Tactile and physical, sure, but surprisingly lame, given what one can only assume were the 19 years of technical advancements in puppetry since The Empire Strikes Back first introduced the character. (The make-up on Palpatine in Episode III is a similarly awful, rubbery reprise of the original trilogy's makeup. They should have gone digital on that, too.)

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Ryan H. wrote:

: But I will say this for PHANTOM MENACE: visually, it's my fave of the prequels. At least there was some sense of tactile, physical reality.

Forgive me for saying this, but the first thing I thought after reading your comment was that I actually prefer the digital Yoda of Episodes II and III to the awful, awful puppet Yoda of Episode I. Tactile and physical, sure, but surprisingly lame, given what one can only assume were the 19 years of technical advancements in puppetry since The Empire Strikes Back first introduced the character. (The make-up on Palpatine in Episode III is a similarly awful, rubbery reprise of the original trilogy's makeup. They should have gone digital on that, too.)

Well, yeah, EPISODE I's puppet Yoda was abominable (and there's footage out there of EPISODE I scenes revised with a CGI Yoda, apparently for a future DVD release of the entire franchise that Lucas has been working on, and it looks miles better). But aside from that one glaringly awful physical element, I stand by my statement. There's something to be said for actual sets and model work.

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mpepisodei200912flattenedsm.gif

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I agree that this YouTube critic went crazy edgy in the second installment, but, I've seen all seven, and that's pretty much the worst that he gives in this series, save for an f-bomb or two later on. The rest of the series he goes into wonderful detail pinpointing the logical fallacies throughout, stuff that rifftrax and most reviewers hadn't picked up on.

For myself, watching Episode 1 always leads me into a hypnotic stupor that accepts whatever visual razzle-dazzle that's thrown my way, accepting it carte blanche because, well, it's another world. I love it when a crazy YouTuber can thrust this back into reality.

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FWIW, I have since seen the guy's 3- and 4-part reviews of the Star Trek: The Next Generation movies, and they are every bit as brilliant. He picks out a whole bunch of plot holes in First Contact that had never occurred to me, possibly because I do rather like that movie. And man, oh man, just when I thought I knew how depressingly disappointing Generations is, this guy points out even MORE flaws that I hadn't quite considered yet.

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Oh, he tears into the ST:TNG movies like nobody's business (and rightfully so, since they're all pretty shoddy).

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Were this

Kaadu_02.jpg

and this

movie_bg.jpg

inspired by this?

wizards.jpg

Of course, there is a connection between the Star Wars universe and Bakshi's Wizards.

luke_skywalker.jpg

=

wizards_hamill.jpg

It's the smile that gives it away!

Edited by Baal_T'shuvah

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Jonathan Rosenbaum:

The big question about the Star War series, and The Phantom Menace in particular, isn’t how much you like it but whether you love it. The issue is above all generational, and only secondarily a matter of aesthetic or ideological choices.

If you’re male and were born around 1989, the chances of you loving The Phantom Menace seem fairly high. If you’re male or female and were born around 1967, the chances of you loving it are probably almost as high. For better and for worse, seeing The Phantom Menace is like revisiting your youth, the time when you first saw Star Wars or either of its sequels. And if you’re female and born at some other time, chances are you’ll be asked to sit back, admire Natalie Portman’s painted lower lip, and go with the flow. To refuse such an invitation is to run the risk of being considered historically challenged – especially given that the American media are making the movie out to be at least as important as NATO’s war against Yugoslavia. . . .

Gotta love an opening like that! He goes on to say, among other things:

Maybe I’m being perverse, but what I like about The Phantom Menace is its awkward sincerity and unabashed pomposity, the way Lucas has finally been engulfed by the charming awfulness of his Saturday-matinee models. Some of this is clearly deliberate: as a title, The Phantom Menace sounds exactly like a chapter heading some Republic serial, and all the old-fashioned wipes between sequences come straight out of that tradition. Some of it is merely unfortunate: it seems likely that Lucas got so hung up on his digital effects, which apparently fill about 95 percent of the screen, that he left his actors stranded –- effectively eliminating most forms of nondigital effort in the process, including his own. Reportedly he even used digital techniques to tweak the performances, matching a facial expression from one take with a gesture from another; the result of this high-tech ingenuity is that all of his human actors are turned into blocks of wood — the same sort of thing that cramped budgets and lousy dialogue did in low-budget programmers of a half century ago.

It reminds me of a gourmet cook friend of mine who one evening expended as much energy reproducing McDonald’s cheeseburgers, fries, and chocolate shakes as she previously devoted to producing veal calvados. Since the beginning of the Star Wars cycle, Lucas seems to have made it part of his postmodernist project to vaporize existential identity as well as the history and geography that helped form it. What he hasn’t done before is prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that all the digital magic in the cosmos is less helpful than a set of crayons -– at least if you’re naïve enough to expect technology to take the place of imagination.

What Lucas has instead of creative vision is a ravenous memory -– he’s as ready to pillage the globe and history as his hero Indiana Jones -– and a talent for mixing and matching his plunder in a way that his digital effects can neither improve nor dignify. What emerges is triple-distilled grade-Z formula. In other words, he’s a hack, and to some extent he seems to know it. He even has the honesty to acknowledge that his amassed treasures are as old as the hills; one of the endearing charms of his neomedieval weaponry is how literally soiled and shopworn most of it is, and the best thing about Anakin’s race in his homemade “Podracer” — the closest thing in the movie to a set piece -– is that it evokes Ron Howard’s speeding in Eat My Dust (1976).

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