I’m rewatching all six extant live action Star Wars films, in “chronological” order this time, because I wanted to get a sense of how they all fit together, in canon. So, let’s get right to it with The Phantom Menace.
Amazingly, I like this film a little less than I did back in 1999.
Everything that was tone deaf and lazy about the story sixteen years ago is still tone deaf and lazy. The biggest problem is midichlorians, but if I look at this as the first film, with no knowledge of the sequels, I can’t really fault that.
To be fair, I don’t hate Jar-Jar nearly as much as everyone else. He’s a silly, weak figure who has to simply try to survive the crazy goings on around him. He fulfills the role that C-3PO does in every other film (except for ROTS). But there’s certainly plenty of other things to hate. I mean, if you manage to make a movie where Samuel L. Jackson is boring, you’ve accomplished something.
I still like Liam Neeson’s performance, though. And Ewan MacGregor shines through the terrible dialogue and worse directing. Their two-on-one light saber duel with Darth Maul is amazing. (And if I did know about the future films, I’d know that this is the best of them all.)
But fricking Jake Lloyd is the real problem here. He has exactly one good line reading in the entire film. (“I’ll try to make sure my mom doesn’t deactivate you or anything.”) I don’t hate the idea of a little kid with Force-inspired reaction times that makes him a great pod racer. I just hate that he’s so bad the director had to resort to face replacement on some of his scenes. Insanity.
I will give Lucas credit for constructing this long game that Palpatine is playing. The entire war on Naboo was just to get himself into the Chancellorship. That’s kind of awesome.
But, all in all, I have to assume that if this really was the first film made, this whole “Star Wars” thing would have fizzled, and fast. As it is, it can’t even skate very well on nostalgia from the original trilogy, because Yoda is a bad puppet sitting in a chair and pontificating, C-3PO has no skin, and Obi-Wan is unrecognizable as the man we met in Episode IV. It’s kind of amazing it actually succeeded. I guess people really do love R2-D2, who is the real hero of this entire series.