‘The Phantom Menace’

How bad can you make a film?


Niko Pavletic, Film Critic

Since I’m very original I’m going to waste my time rewatching and reviewing all 9 main saga Star Wars movies in order of release.  Now the only real reason I’m doing this is that I’m familiar with most of them and it is good practice for future reviews on other and better movies.  Now I’m not really a big fan of Star Wars and I’m not a Star Wars hater my view on the franchise is neutral even though they’re some of the first films I’ve ever seen.  Now for these reviews, certain sections in some of the reviews will have spoilers as for a lot of these movies I need to list an example for some of my points even if it’s a spoiler, but I will put a spoiler warning before talking about the said spoiler.  Enjoy my nonsensical rambling and praising (mostly rambling). 


The Phantom Menace (1999)


Runtime:2 Hours 16 Minutes


Rating: Pg

Genre: Action Adventure


Director: George Lucas


Main Cast:


Liam Neeson-Qui-Gon-Jinn


Ewan McGregor-Obi-Wan Kenobi


Natalie Portman-Padme Amidala


Jake Lloyd-Anakin Skywalker



Really?  Have I really gotten to this point?  Do I really have to talk about these movies?  I mean I guess I don’t have to talk about them but I made a promise and I am sticking with it.  As I said before the prequels are awful films, but after rewatching this film I actually learned that maybe they aren’t that bad.  No that’s a joke.  This movie is awful, and I mean it has almost no redeemable qualities.  The movie from start to finish is horrendous.  It fails at everything that makes a movie good.  The plot is incomprehensible and boring, the characters are lifeless robots with no character traits, and the writing is so bad, and I mean it hurts my head to think about it.  But with that, I’ll (reluctantly) talk about this mess.


So the mess of a “plot” goes something like this.  So two Jedi rescue the queen of Naboo after the greedy trade federation invade the planet, and after they go to Coruscant to get help but don’t receive any they go back to the planet to take it themselves.  That might be a little off because the plot is such a mess.  I was paying really good attention, I was taking notes, but I still had to do extra research on the plot to understand it, and I feel like I just managed to describe the plot in a fairly simple way but in all not only is there too much going on once you actually watch the film, but the film also doesn’t follow a three-act structure.  The film has four acts.  Seriously how is that even possible, how do you mess up such a simple thing?  Ok so starting off at the first act.


The first act is really bad, but it’s not the worst act out of the FOUR.  The act opens up with our two Jedi landing in the trade federations space station to negotiate, but they’re almost assassinated and make an escape down to the planet by hiding in a space tank.  This overall sequence is pretty mediocre but the writing is atrocious.  First of all the form of assassination that they attempted on the Jedi was poor.  They tried to kill them with poisonous gas after they blew up the ship the Jedi arrived in.  Firstly if you were going to blow the ship up before you killed the Jedi alerting them to danger, you should have gone by killing them a little more cleverly.  Yeah, and I know they had to make a quick decision because Palpatine kind of just told them to kill the Jedi out of nowhere, but you guys could take a little time to think about how you were going to go about killing them.  They release the gas into the room and then open the door to make sure they’re dead.  Why not just leave the door closed for like 6 hours?  And if they start trying to cut through the door then just start firing at them.  There are some other ways the trade federation could have handled the Jedi but if I listed the other ways we would be here all day.


Now once the Jedi go down to the planet in two separate ships?  That’s strange, because what if they were separated by hundreds of miles of forest, but whatever, the Jedi run into JarJar Binks (yes I will talk about this thing later) so Jar Jar takes them to the underwater city he lives in and they give the Jedi a submarine to go to the city.  Now the main problem here all leans on one line.  The head Gungan in the underwater city says the only way to get to the city is to go through the planet core, you know?  The core of the planet?  And that implies the trade federation landed on the other side of the planet, and this doesn’t really end up mattering in the end, but why would you land on the other side of the planet?  We learn that the Naboo city doesn’t even really have a military, so why not just land right outside the city?  I don’t know the screenwriter must have been in 4th grade because this script is abysmal!  But whatever I’m nitpicking.


So the Jedi then end up going to the city and escaping the planet with the queen.  So I think it’s weird that when the queen is sent somewhere they only send her with 8 battle droids as protection.  They send her to “process her in camp 4” and only send her with 8 mesley battle droids.  So to no one’s surprise, the Jedi cut the battle droids down like butter and escape.  And now we get the sequence in which the characters get through the blockade.  The shield on the ship is broken so there’s a sequence that occurs in which droids are fixing the shield, and after the shield is fixed none of the trade federation ships even try to hit the ship again.  I’m pretty sure if all those giant cruisers fired on a dinky little ship at once it would have been obliterated instantly, but it doesn’t matter because the first act is over, and all ended up being was a mish-mash of bad writing.


So the second act is just as bad.  In the second act, we learn the engine in the ship broke and our protagonists land on Tatooine and go into a town to buy a new engine.  They end up going to the shop in which 9-year-old Anakin Skywalker (or little Darth Vader) works as a slave.  So Qui-Gon doesn’t have the right currency and Anakin offers to go into a pod race to win the money.  So then Qui-Gon sets up this stupid deal in order to free Anakin and get the engine if he wins the race.  I think it’s weird that Qui-Gon doesn’t think anything through once he learns he can’t use a Jedi mind trick on Watto in order to give him useless currency that means nothing to the guy which isn’t a very Jedi thing to do, but if you’re going to do it that way then you might as well trick another shop owner into giving you the currency you need and then buy the engine, or maybe you could just do it the way they do it in episode 4 and pay a guy to fly you to the planet you need to go to.  But then the plot couldn’t happen and Qui-Gon wouldn’t have met baby Darth Vader so it has to happen the way it did.


So then the deal Qui-Gon sets up in order to free Anakin and get the engine is so complicated I don’t actually remember what anyone was bargaining.  I think it was like if Anakin won the race he was freed, and if he lost then Qui-Gon lost his ship.  So Anakin wins the race because the plot needs to happen, and overall the race is decent, it’s pretty unique for Star Wars but the overall setup to that scene is so piss poor it doesn’t matter if the scene is good.  And overall it’s a pretty mediocre action scene and only stands out because it’s one of the only interesting sequences in the film.


So the third of the four acts is the worst act in any Star Wars movie, and I know I’m spending too much time on the plot, but in the prequels, one of the biggest problems is the structure and writing of the film so of course, I have to talk about it.  In the third act, our characters go to the city-planet of Coruscant to get help from the senate to take back the planet.  These scenes are so boring I actually can’t watch them.  And this act is only like twenty minutes and I had to take a break because of just how boring it was.  They don’t end up getting help anyways so why did it have to be so long?  These scenes are the movie equivalent to a coma.  I feel dead when I watch these scenes.  The other thing that happens in these scenes is Qui-Gon requests Anakin is to be trained as a Jedi, but the Jedi council denies him, and I’ve heard this argument before but think about what would happen if you deny him?  He is a force-sensitive being so he would eventually learn how to control and use it and then he would be able to do a bunch of harmful force powers on everyone.  So the Jedi council is actually really stupid just like everyone else in this movie.  There is not one good thing in this act, it’s just poorly paced boring senate scenes and council meetings.  And it’s not that I hate politics in films, for example, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” has a lot of politics and it’s still one of my favorite films, but the reason politics work in a film like that and not this is that it works with the context of that movie, and yeah technically it works with the context here but the film already made itself so childish with Jar Jar and all sorts of crap, but now is diving into politics, not to mention IT’S STAR WARS!  Who is the target demographic of this film?  This film can’t decide if it wants to be for babies or for adults.  Anyways I am so done with this film and I still have more to talk about.


Ok, the FOURTH act is just the stupid action-filled finale.  And to start things off there is way too much stuff going on.  Padme and her crew are trying to take back the palace, Anakin is trying to blow up the starship in space, stupid Jar Jar and the Gungans are trying to take down a bunch of battle droids, and the two Jedi are fighting Darth Maul.  So I did complain about too much stuff happening in episode 6 but here it’s ten times worse.  The tone is all over the place, you go from intense to funny to sad and it doesn’t work.  Most movies want you to feel a certain way but here there is no set tone.  You can’t have this much stuff going on at once because it’s going to mess up the tone.  Now I’m not going to talk about all the stuff happening because most of it is stupid.  Anakin flying in space is really dumb, it’s ridiculous he managed to survive the whole thing and blow up the starship, whereas trained pilots die, and it’s annoying because of the amount of cringey lines he says throughout the entire sequence, “now this is podracing” “I’ll try spinning that’s a good trick” and so on.  Jar Jar fighting battle droids is stupid because it’s for babies, he acts like a cartoon character, and again is unrealistic how he survives.  Padme taking the throne room back is fine I guess it’s mostly just boring generic action.  And then the lightsaber battle is visually cool and intense, except it’s not intense because you know Qui-Gon’s going to die.  The second he and Obi-Wan get separated you knew he was going to die, and then Obi-Wan can’t die because he doesn’t die until episode 4, and that’s the problem with prequels in general, you know what’s going to happen so overall there’s nothing to surprise you, hence nothing to be intense or suspenseful.  You know how the trilogies going to end so there really is no point in it existing.  And then Darth Maul comes out of now where and I would have been fine with him being the silent mysterious villain in the movie who is simply just menacing if he was expanded upon in the next film but he’s just kicked out of the trilogy when he’s cut in half, so he just becomes another Boba Fett.  But overall if we’re talking about the biggest problem with this film it’s that you can remove the film from the trilogy and almost nothing would change, there’s maybe about less than five minutes of important content here.  Just think about how sad that is.  This is chronologically the first film in the saga and it’s so irrelevant to everything else.  So the plot is nothing.  There is literally nothing to enjoy besides the stupid action scenes.  The plot is drier than a raisin and more boring than dishwater.  So what about the “enthralling” characters are they any better?


So let’s talk about who I think the main character in this film is, I really don’t know who’s intended to be our main character is supposed to be.  But Qui-Gon-Jinn is closest to being the main character so is there anything to talk about here?  Well, his character is boring and completely uninteresting.  For someone so wise he makes a lot of stupid decisions and actually does some really bad things.  He mind tricks the Gungan king into giving him a submarine just to trash it, he tries to scam Watoo, and he even uses the force to fix an actual bet to his advantage.  Those are some really scummy things to do, I mean he presents himself as a bad person quite a bit not to mention his character is really bland, but then we’re supposed to care when he’s killed?  And I might as well talk about Obi-Wan here as well because his character doesn’t deserve a paragraph in this film.  His role in this film is shockingly minor.  He does hardly anything at all besides cutting Darth Maul in half, and training Anakin in the end even though that completely contradicts the council’s previous decision.  So Obi-Wan is nothing in this movie, no personality, no importance, nothing, and that sucks considering just how important he was in the original Star Wars movie.


So the character of Padme is boring as well.  Throughout the entire film, she (and almost everyone else) just speak in this incredibly monotone way that makes it look as though the actors don’t care.  They seriously speak like robots they convey the same tone throughout the whole film and it’s especially present in her character, and it leads to her character being really really boring, like seriously her character is just another boring bag of cement and for someone so important to the story that’s unacceptable.  Padme is one of the most important characters to this stupid plot, I mean she’s the queen of the planet yet she doesn’t feel like a figure of importance.  I will say she gets even worse over the next few films, but here she doesn’t even do anything much she never makes a choice on her own despite being the queen besides her choice not to go to war, but she ends up going to war anyway, so at the end of the day the only choices she made was influenced and overall decided by others.  Also, her character is 14 years old.  They elected a 14-year-old to be queen.  I mean what a stupid character and just about every character is like this, and I know there were civilizations in real life where 14-year-olds led them, but name me one besides ancient Egypt that didn’t crumble to the ground in a few days and I’ll pay you in DVDs of this Holiday Special.


So Anakin Skywalker or baby Darth Vader.  This is Anakin when he’s still a kid.  He is 9 years old in this film, and this leads to him sort of being pushed to the side of the overall story.  He’s integral to this film’s story but as I said before this film’s story doesn’t actually affect anything in the long run so what he does do in this film is pretty pointless in the long run.  But he doesn’t do anything important that paves his path for the next movies besides being separated from his mom and taken to the Jedi temple which was already going to happen anyway.  His character doesn’t have any sort of influence on the next two films.  And another thing is every time I watch this movie and I see him I always imagine Darth Vader talking this way.  Making Anakin nine years old kind of destroys Darth Vader being menacing and all.  We don’t need to see Anakin be this young so just make him a few years older.  As I said before having him be too young removes him from being important.


Oh good, I get to talk about Jar Jar Binks.  Everyone hates this guy.  Seriously everyone over the age of nine hates him, but if I’m going to be honest there are way bigger problems in this film.  To me, everything else is worse than Jar Jar.  And yes Jar Jar is incredibly annoying, and I can’t understand a thing he’s saying.  But he’s the only character besides the literal child to show any sort of emotion and traits, and he’s the only character with an arc.  No one else in this film has an actual arc, but Jar Jar does.  He goes from being the odd one out of his species to saving the city.  But one thing I do despise about this character is how much he degrades the film’s tone.  He makes the movie seem like a joke.  He does things a cartoon character does (seriously he has specific movements and jokes in some scenes pulled straight out of Looney Toons), he’s only in the film for babies.  But overall while I still don’t like this character he’s the only character that acts like a person and not like a robot.


The only other character is Darth Maul, and he doesn’t do much in this film.  He’s basically Palpatine’s apprentice and is sent to kill the Jedi at the end of the film.  He doesn’t say much and I would have been fine with this had he not been kicked out f the film because now you can not expand upon his character.  He was brought back in future material, but you should never rely on outside content to make your movie better that’s just lazy filmmaking.


Finally, I’m done talking about these lazy boring characters.  So are the effects good?  They are good for 1999 effects.  They don’t hold up today.  The CGI now looks really bad, especially at the battle of Naboo.  It looks like a game on the PS2 and all the environments look unnaturally clean.  By this I mean it looks fake and not like an actual environment. I will say this I like the ship and creature designs in this film I mean they look cool, the podracers are designed really cool, and the sequence doesn’t look that bad.  Ok I’m really trying to extend these final few paragraphs out I’m honestly just done with this film so let me get it done with. 


The music in this film is pretty much the only good thing in the film.  As I’ve said many times John Williams is a musical genius.  He created the iconic theme Duel of the Fates for this film which is still one of the best Star Wars themes.  I even like the minor themes just for single scenes.  The music doesn’t deserve to be in a movie like this.  I honestly don’t have much to say anymore I just want to be done talking about this movie.


So overall the Phantom Menace is a TERRIBLE film.  It fails in just about every important factor.  The plot is a week irrelevant bore, the characters are poorly used or plain up pointless boring robots, the dialogue and acting are dry sterile, and cringe-inducing, and I still have to watch the other two prequels.  This movie is one I hope to never see again.  This movie is one of the most boring films I think I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen well over 600 films.  So with that being said the Phantom Menace gets a sad pathetic monumental 2/10.  If you have been sticking around to this point thanks I guess and the “Attack of the Clones” review will be out March 9th, but I need a break first, so bye!