Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace

swpmpicture.jpgIf you couldn’t tell from my photos with Kevin, my three and a half foot tall storm trooper, or the fact that I named my niece and nephew Luke and Leia in my new(ish) column, I’m a bit of a Star Wars fan. I’m no fanatic, or walking encyclopedia but I have a special bond with these movies.

The first live action movie I watched as a child is Star Wars Episode 4. I was about five years old, and my dad wanted to show me one of his favorite movies, Star Wars. It seemed so magical and grownup. We sat on the ground our backs to the couch so we would be eye level with our over-sized wood grained boob-tube. He read aloud the yellow words on the screen as they floated into space for the first time. The Storm Troopers, Jabba, Chewie, Luke, Leia, Han, even cloud city was magic to my young eyes.

My dad has always been a huge movie buff; he trained me from a young age in the art of finding both wonderful and wonderfully awful movies. It wasn’t long before his favorites became mine and Star Wars was no exception.

In 1999 I was fourteen years old and I’d been counting the days until Star Wars Episode 1 came out. Dad talked about his youth and how important the movies were to him, the impact they had, the number of times he’d watched them. I’ve heard how my mom wasn’t really a fan but when they re-released the movies in theatre the two went and saw all three together anyways. In a way, I hoped that the next three would be as special to me as the first three were to him. When they finally came out one after the next, my dad and I went to watch each of them in turn. Forever I will think about my father when I think about Star Wars. I don’t know that I could separate the two if I tired.

Lets fast forward and the year is 2015, Disney has purchased Lucas Films and they’re going to release another Star Wars, this time Episode 7. It should come as not great surprise that like the rest of the world, I’m dying to see it. Only I live on a small little island and I’ve not found the time to escape away to a bigger town to see it yet. Have no fear, it just means that I get extra time to re-watch the first 6 episodes. Tonight is Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.

For those who live under a rock, The Phantom Menace is a prequel to the original three Star Wars movies that were released between 1977 and 1983.

Where to start, where to start. Lets start with the most obvious, Jar Jar Binks. When I was 14, I thought Jar Jar was fine. He was fun and likable and I didn’t understand what the issue was. Now at 30 I find him a bit distracting, annoying, and I’m wondering what the hell Lucas was thinking. Now that that is done we can move on.

This first movie moves a bit awkwardly. Unfortently I don’t feel like there is enough Qui-Gon Jin (Liam Neeson) or Obi-Wan Kenobie (Ewan McGregor). For that matter, Darth Mal feels under developed as well as lacking in screen time too. It’s sort of like Lucas was too excited to use updated special effects that he forgot about character development and the emotional investment that movie goers want to put forth into their characters. Unfortunately when there is a moment between the characters, it often feels forced. As someone pointed out to me, this film is missing a Han Solo or Luke Skywalker to provide the audience connection we crave. I didn’t find myself rooting for anyone in the ways I did 4,5, and 6.

On the plus side, the pod-racing is top notch as was the ending. In general the special effects are outstanding for the time. This movie has far more in that category than the original 3 put together. The costume design must be noted as well, in particular Queen Amidala’s. I don’t remember if costume was ever nominated for an Oscar but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were.

At the end of the day, this was a lot of back story for characters we’ve grown to love in later films. I have a soft spot for C3PO and R2D2 and in this film we get to see their beginnings. This is the beginning of it all. I think that’s what makes this one so hard. In writing, there’s a saying about back story: Cut it all out. While backstory is fun for the author, and okay to draw on once in a while, most of the time backstory is just not nearly as interesting to the reader. In a lot of ways, these are my thoughts on this film. It’s nice to know, but just not as good to the audience as it was to the creator.

Fun fact: I’m pretty sure that at the one hour mark you can see Warwick Davis who plays Willow in the 1988 movie, Willow. Maybe I’m full of crap, but that’s what it looks like.

Until tomorrow…



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