Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

Alright, the inevitable has happened. I tried to hold this off as long as I could, cause honestly – how original is the idea of doing a Star Wars retrospective? Still. The Blu-rays are almost upon us, so I thought best to get them done and out the way now.  Our plan was originally to have 6 writers do a film each. But that didn’t pan out so it was then going to be 3 writers do 2 each – one from each trilogy. But that didn’t pan out either. So now it’s 2 writers with three a piece. I will be covering this first film, Attack of the Clones and finally Return of the Jedi. Ben Pegley will be covering episodes III, IV and V.

Now before I start let’s have a tiny bit of background here. I was born the year after the first film came out (and by that I mean Episode IV). So naturally I didn’t see it in the cinema. Well actually that is a lie; I did see it in the cinema – but on a double bill with Empire Strikes Back in 1980. Memory of this screening is vague, other than I think we were on a trip to Blackpool at the time. But from then on it was literally a Star Wars Frenzy. Toys were plentiful. We got the films on some sort of copy to be watched time and time again. No I have no idea how many times I watched it when I was young, but let’s just assume it was a lot, like most young lads my age. One Christmas I remember one of my brothers and me getting a shed-load of toys. 25 figures each, a creature of some sort, 3 mini bugs, one medium sized space craft and one large beast of a ship too (yup!  I got the Falcon). So yes, I was having a healthy Star Wars upbringing. In 1983 we were in Ipswich when Jedi came out, so we saw it there (Strange I saw all these films in English cinemas when I was living in Scotland at the time?). Life was pretty damn generous to me.

Cut to 14 years later. It’s 1997 and the special editions come out. The first one has a few neat additions, a couple of debatable alternatives, and a couple of downright disastrous choices, and one act of sacrilege. Yes he made Han shoot first. But I won’t dwell on this here (as I’m pretty sure Ben will have a few words to say about all this himself). Empire film was better as very little was added to it, and then Jedi has some truly atrocious things done to it, especially in the opening third.

Two years later and we finally were geared up for the new films arrival. I was excited, very excited. The teaser poster featuring a small blonde child, casting Darth Vader’s shadow I found captivating, and just a wonderful idea. It told us immediately what this trilogy was going to be about.

Then the teaser trailer arrived and introduced us to some stunning looking footage. I must say it looked and felt good. I had no idea what was going on, but the look of some of the planets were great, and the introduction of a certain Darth Maul looked promising, not to mention a Zen-like Liam Neeson, and everyone’s new favourite Brit Actor Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan.

The film arrived; I arrived with brothers and friends in tow for a screening. We ordered some very comfy seats for this, almost ritualistic approach to watching this first film since we were but young kids. I even spotted someone attending dressed as Darth Maul. Good for him!

The cinema went dark, Lucasfilm lit up the auditorium, and then BANG! The music and credits were off.  And from then on, it was all pretty much downhill from there.

So I don’t want to harp on about the things you may already be familiar with hearing complaints about but to sum up:

  • Droids saying “Roger Roger” and “Wait a minute, Erm, you’re under arrest
  • The Rubbish Puppet work on Viceroy and chums?
  • Palpatine… no mystery as to who he really is!
  • As rumoured, they should have got Brannah instead of McGregor.
  • Jar Jar and Boss Nass, most annoying species and characters ever created.
  • The underwater trip to and from the GunGun home world is a real waste of screen time and slows the film right down.
  • Anakin, yippee, Skywalker.
  • The world’s worst introduction for two future lovers.
  • Storms coming Ani, you better get home quick” who the hell is this old bag?
  • C3PO was built by Darth Vader?
  • Dinner with the Skywalkers – Jar Jar annoying eating food.
  • Midi-whatsit-chloreans?
  • Pod race is basically Days of Thunder with special effects.
  • Anakin/Obi-Wan introduction was a wasted opportunity.
  • Ralph Brown in pointless role of a pilot with terrible explanatory dialogue – like when R2 saves them from certain destruction “that little droid did it!” (No shit Ralph).

But there are some bonuses here too:

  • Some model work used instead of pure CGI all the time.
  • Amidala – great outfits.
  • Amidala’s home is beautifully designed.
  • 3 way saber duel was awesome.

The film is basically a road movie with a big stop off at Tatooine. Lucas clearly can do subtle when he wants to like when Qui-Gon does the Jedi mind trick on Boss Nass, or when the spotter droid passes by without too much flag posting. But by the end he has thrown it all out the window. I mean he was clearly trying to be too clever by having 4 battles happening at once at the end. Yeah that’s cute that he had one, then two then three in all the previous films. Four was a bit much, especially seeing that 3 of them were rubbish.

The dual between Jedi and Sith was a saving grace, but even then I do have one huge criticism – and this is something that bothers me in many sword movies. McGregor’s twirly Lightsaber move has not been cool since the climax of Highlander, and even then it was overused. You know the one? You stand there holding a sword up and just rotate your wrist round so that it spins round and back to the position you were holding it in. It’s a dumb, show up, pointless, means nothing move. Chris Lambert did it many times at the climax of the afore mentioned movie, and McGregor does it persistently in this and the next film.

Ok so let’s cut to the end. I walked out wondering what the hell just happened, and why the child inside of me was crying so loud and would probably need some serious therapy sessions.

In retrospect, the film just about gets a pass. But it still isn’t a good experience – and has indeed (with the help of Episode II) made me decide not to buy the Blu-ray set when it comes out. I think I will buy something else and perhaps wait for the hefty price to come right down.

So I’m going to leave it there for now, take a deep breath and try to make my views on the true bad seed of the franchise as brisk as possible, in tomorrow’s retro!

Steven Hurst

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