Why ‘The Phantom Menace’ is a menace to ‘Star Wars’ fans
Last month marked the 20th anniversary of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. As one of the most anticipated films in movie history, the first installment in the Star Wars prequel trilogy follows Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi as they protect Queen Amidala in hopes of securing a peaceful end to a large-scale interplanetary dispute – but the long dormant Sith resurface to claim their old glory.
The movie hit theater screens back in 1999 almost sixteen years after the premiere of the previous Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi. It was inevitable that some disappointments would arise – but no one quite expected how severe the Star Wars fanboy (and -girl) backlash turned out. Ask any Jedi fans what the worst movie in the franchise is and they’ll unequivocally answer The Phantom Menace. (Jar Jar Binks has a lot to answer for.)
While the movie has its high points – notably the exhilarating duel between Qui Gon Jinn, Obi Wan Kenobi, and Darth Maul – these are undoubtedly bogged down by the film’s many pitfalls, which we’re here to highlight today. Here they are: all the reasons The Phantom Menace is a menace to Star Wars superfans.
Darth Maul mishap
Aside from Darth Vader, Darth Maul is one of the best villains in the franchise. However, as the most interesting character in the film, he was given nowhere near enough screen time in The Phantom Menace before being killed off. As The Post put it, “George Lucas’s greatest mistake with the prequel trilogy was killing Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace.”
Galactic politics = yawnfest
Unlike the previous movies where the politics showed the rise of the empire and were an interesting part of the plot, there are numerous clockwatch moments in The Phantom Menace because of the droll descriptions of the galactic politics. As Time writer Richard Corliss mused, “The gobs of dry exposition, devoted to blustering, filibustering debates on taxation and elections. It’s all very edifying. Like . . . school.”
It manages to make Samuel L. Jackson boring
If there’s one word you wouldn’t associate with Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction), it’s boring. Nevertheless, The Phantom Menace manages to render his character – the Jedi Master Mace Windu – as subdued and quite frankly, a bit of a yawnfest.
The acting is stale
For an all-star cast in one of the most anticipated films in cinematic history, it sure does seem like the actors smoked a fatty before making their way onto set that day. Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List), Natalie Portman (Annihilation), and at times Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting) give wooden performances, delivering “a hodgepodge of unsatisfying (and unconvincing) performances that vary wildly in intensity and emotional engagement.”
Too much bad CGI
Don’t get us wrong – CGI is all well and good. But in the case of The Phantom Menace, Lucas went way overboard with the effects, making many of the frames as busy as the plot. One of the dangers of this is it can render the scenes as flat and arid.
Per Time, “The worlds of the original trilogy were often dirty and scuffed up . . . with a few exceptions, the interior scenes of PM had none of that immersive ‘realism’. Even the exteriors seemed smaller than life: the courtyard scenes on Naboo look like they were shot during an afternoon at Busch Gardens.”
Save the fart jokes for kindergarten. When Yoda said, “Train yourself to let go of everything,” he didn’t mean literally.
Uncomfortable racial stereotypes
Upon its release, die-hard fans of Lucas’s space opera started to question the racial stereotype undertones that were evident in some of The Phantom Menace characters: the villainous Trade Federation Viceroys that speak in vague east Asian accents; the hook-nosed insect creature Watto who sounds Arabic: and Jar Jar, who many describe as a “Caribbean stereotype.” Really, Lucas?
Young Anakin is annoying
Let this be clear – we’re not hating on young Jake Lloyd (Jingle All the Way). He was but a child, after all. But the writing rendered him a grating presence on screen and he was clearly miscast for the role (even Lloyd said so himself). As Peter Rainer of New York Magazine bluntly put it, “Anakin is a precocious brat — the kind of kid who, in our own galaxy, might commandeer a playground and run everybody else off the jungle gym.” Speaking of annoying . . .
Everything Jar Jar Binks
Created as a way to draw in kids and therefore cash, it’s pretty self-explanatory why the CGI’ed Gungan General of the planet Naboo will always be the most despised figure in the Star Wars films. Lucas’s decision to include Jar Jar Binks for a bit of “light comical relief” was one that alienated Star Wars fans, with many finding him to be racially offensive. All in all, you suck, Jar Jar Binks!