Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

Star_Wars_Phantom_Menace_posterAs part of the run up to Star Wars Day, I’ve got something special for this month. Starting from today, every day until May 7th will feature a Star Wars film review of all seven Star Wars films so far. Unfortunately, we begin with the prequel trilogy, due to the fact that The Phantom Menace is the first film in the Star Wars timeline (even though the original Star Wars film came first), and trust me, there’s a lot to unpack with this one.

Even the mighty Star Wars couldn’t escape the inevitable misstep. Indeed, whenever the name “Phantom Menace” is mentioned, it’ll most likely conjure up reactions of disappointment. Suffice it to say, this film is essentially the black sheep of the Star Wars franchise, and while I feel this film could have actually been a good one, it was ultimately weighed down by George Lucas’ directorial excesses. It’s pretty obvious that the whole point of the film is to set up a trilogy that recounts the events before the classic trilogy, but I can’t help but think, did anyone really ask for this? I’d be alright with there being a prequel if it didn’t involve intergalactic trade disputes. Seriously, who thought that was a good idea in the first place?

The film is loaded with political jargon that has almost no meaning whatever, and serves only to make the story needlessly hard to follow, all while it’s already easy to lose track of the story because the film keeps jumping back and forth from one meaningless plot device to the next. At one point, we’re treated to an unnecessary racing scene (which the characters insist on calling “pod racing”). It’s practically the most boring moment in the entire film, and it has almost no relevance to the plot whatsoever. If that’s not enough, you have to sit through all two hours of the film’s vacuous plot while listening to Jar-Jar Binks doing the equivalent of vomiting all over your eyes, ears and mouth. While we’re on that subject, the film added a slew of new characters, but many of them are pointless stock characters with no actual personality whatsoever. As bad as that sounds, that’s not even the real problem. That would be the number of alien characters with suspiciously racist accents, with one the film’s main villains shown with a horribly caricatured Asian accent. Even if it’s not intentionally racist, it’s terrible acting, which most of the newer characters seem to suffer from, along with poor characterization in general.

The visuals are quite grand, but I think that’s the only thing this film did right, or even paid any attention to, and that only makes it worse when you realize that a lot of the characters and settings were made entirely with special effects. I guess that explains why a lot of the film looked so much like plastic, but it’s more indicative of the problem of an over-ambitious project that’s more style than substance. This is such a common problem with Hollywood directors, and I’ll bet that’s why none of them get a kick in the ass for it. Even the fighting scenes suffered under this direction, although it was a relief to see any actual action in what would otherwise be a boring and unwelcome exercise in fantasy politics. All of that serves to make one deadly cocktail of a bad film.

I must wonder who looked at this and thought it was good, because there are so many things wrong here that it’s unspeakable. It’s a classic case of the director becoming overly absorbed in the sheer ambition of his project, to the point that he completely forgets about what makes a good film. There are so much more reasons why this film could have been so much better, but it’s probably best to look at it for what it is – a grave disappointment, and almost certainly the worst Star Wars film.

  • Score: 47%
  • Grade: D

One thought on “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

  1. I have seen this film. I have always wondered if the Phantom Menace is considered any better now the audience knows how the story fits into the overall Star Wars story. When the film was first released, loads of people camped out to see it, thinking it would be just like the other Star Wars films, only for the famous gold letters to describe material which would be more associated with a documentary about economic recession than a science-fiction fantasy and a small boy representing the previously sinister villain. I agree the visuals are good, with interesting designs and some good looking action sequences, and I liked the lightsabre battles with the athletic Darth Maul. Some of the new characters are annoying and I do not know why a goofy sidekick was introduced the series. I do find it difficult to work out what the villains actual plan is in the film.

    Liked by 1 person

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