Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

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Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Star Wars Phantom Menace poster
Directed by George Lucas
Produced by Rick McCallum
Written by George Lucas
Starring Liam Neeson
Ewan McGregor
That Girl from Black Swan With the Stupid Laugh
A Kid Whose Acting Career Never Existed Before or After the Release of This Film
Ahmed Worst
Satan
Antwan Dan Yells
A Midget
Music by John Williams
Production
company
Lucasfilm
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) May 19, 1999
Running time A bit too long
Country United States
Language English
Budget At least a dollar
Box office $1.027 billion
“I'm not afraid!”
~ Mark Hamill on seeing the trailer
“You will be. You will be...”
~ Frank Oz on seeing the film

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is a 1999 American epic space opera film directed by George Lucas. It is the fourth film to be released in the Star Wars saga, the second of the prequels, the second in terms of internal chronology, and the last in terms of everyone trying to convince themselves that the series hadn't lost it.

Set in 32 BBY,[1] thirty-two years before the seminal original film, it follows Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn and his Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi as they battle an army of skeletal warriors and huge metal statues, bringing back the golden protocol droid and reclaiming the kingdom after slaying a spiked beast. It also features a young Anakin Skywalker, back when he was a racecar-driving slave and flying ace-fighting orphan, still full of childish hope and wonder, blissfully unaware it would all be downhill (and into lava) from here.

Lucas began production of The Phantom Menace after realizing that special effects had advanced to the point where he could vomit CGI all over the place at the expense of the story. His new producer, Rick McCallum, was much more supportive compared to old producer Gary Kurtz, and gave George full creative control. Lucas claimed he wrote the prequels with the intention of completing the Star Wars story, though others claim he had deliberate intentions to disappoint fans of the original trilogy.

The Phantom Menace was panned by critics, being compared to the likes of Freddy Got Fingered and Showgirls. Despite its massive unpopularity with older fans, a common refrain from younger fans is that "The prequels are superior, they had way more pew pew pew kaboom!" These Millennials are eagerly awaiting their own Force Awakens to rehash the events of Episode I and present the magic of ornate dresses and podracing to their own children.

edit Opening crawl

edit Plot

Force

One of the opening scenes demonstrates the use of the Force.

After being taxed in response for their outrageous trade-ins, the Trade Federation retaliates against the Galactic Republic and sets up a blockade of battleships around the planet Naboo. The people of Naboo are starving off screen, maybe: without intergalactic trade to sustain them, they would be forced to farm and fish their mostly-coastal paradise planet, under the iron flipper of the amphibian Asian businessmen and their army of consumer electronic commandos. Supreme Chancellor Valorum, in response, has sent Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn and his Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi to negotiate with the Federation leadership in order to make them realize that they are—and always have been—low-quality knockoffs, much like this movie. Ultimately, this realization would have the Trade Federation lift the blockade and, even better, provide fair trade-ins. Darth Sidious, a Sith Lord and secret adviser to the Trade Federation, orders Nute Gunray to kill the two Jedi and invade Naboo with a massive army of cheaply-produced battle CGI battle droids which are like the AK-47 of robots, reverse engineered from a grass hopper having sex with a terminator and a toaster. The Jedi are ambushed with poisonous gas after being served tea by a protocol which could have easily been poisoned, but they escape to Naboo after making faster work of the walls and floor than a Xenomoprh with their light sabers and through the use of Force Speed, a super useful ability they will never use again for anything ever. Jedi aren't very good space cops as they don't bother contacting their superiors for an update on the situation, gather evidence of a crime being committed or request any back up, prefering to sneak onto a troop carrier headed to the surface.

For some reason the army lands in the middle of wilderness on the other side of Naboo, the hourly parking fee's for tanks are simply outrageous in the capital city of Theed. Qui-Gon saves Jar Jar Binks, the most annoying cartoon character in the history of film, over the next two-and-a-half hours, viewers are treated to various scenes of Jar Jar falling over, bumping into things, making funny faces, stepping in feces, getting farted on, and running around with zany kazoo music playing in the background; unfortunately, Qui-Gon doesn't kill him and Jar Jar tags along for the rest of the movie as their peasant pet, and ask that Jar Jar take him and Obi-Wan to their leader in typical first contact fashion, swimming down to Boss Nass in the underwater Gungan city in an attempt by Grand Admiral Lucas to blow James Cameron's The Abyss and Titanic out of the water. The gungan society is still in it's isolationist Sakoku period, and they are unable to convince Boss Nass to help them, but are given transportation to Theed. They dive through the planets hollow core to the capital of Naboo, as hollow as this films message, and their mini sub popping onto the surface as hover tanks glide down the occupied streets, popping out of the river in the middle of broad daylight, the Jedi are after all space samurai and not space ninjas.

In Theed, they rescue Queen Amidala, the pale, monotonous democratic dictator of Naboo, her palace adorned with beauty and wealth as outside her peopel starve, kind enough not to revolt and go French revolution on her. They the queen and her many body doubles and Sabé, Eirtaé, Rabé, Yané, and Fé her royal body guard Captain Panaka as they are being transferred to a prison facility after she refuses to sign a completely legally invalid treaty handing over her planet in exchange for the trade federations beads, however the queen refuses to leave until they grab her collection of expensive marble statues and some furniture. Escaping the palace aboard her precious metal plated space ship, they scrape past Naboo's planetary orbital, which is as easy as a yellow and chrome colored quarterback running into no mans land alone, the suspension of disbelief is already out the airlock at this point.

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Unfortunately the ship is damaged in the escape in the air by the sole repair droid to survive the blockades barrage, R2-D2, and they unable to sustain the starship's hyperdrive, so the group are forced to change coarse to the desert planet Tatooine. After they land, Jar-Jar steps in dookie in the middle of the street, and they visit Mos Espa to buy junk parts, where find a junk shop run by an obese flying mosquito named Watto, a member of the Shylock species. The mosquito also owns a nine-year old slave named Anakin Skywalker, a grease monkey, genius, and podracer who has never won a race let alone finished one, like James Dean but half the size. Evading a sandstorm, the boy leads the group to his home where he lives with his mother, also a slave, Shmidt. There, he shows the four his work-in-process: C-3PO, human-cyborb relations, pieced together from parts of campy robot butlers found in a nearby Sarlacc landfill. To poor Harry—err, I mean Ani, this is his golden ticket out of having to clean the dishes with sand for his mom.

Jarjarohno

This rabbit frog thing not just ruined the movie for fans all over the world, but in future movies would cause millions to die.

Qui-Gon senses that the Force is strong inside Anakin, and Obi-Wan confirms through a blood analysis that the brat has more midichlorians in his blood than urine in a public pool, and desires to abduct him into the Jedi Order. Fearing the slavemaster's retaliation, Qui-Gon strikes a deal with Watto: Anakin's freedom and a new hyperdrive—for the fortune Anakin probably won't win in the Mos Espa Podrace. Queen Amidala could have probably sold one of her dresses to pay for it or offered Watto some land but she's stingy. In the end, Anakin emerges victorious after Qui-Gon most likely uses the Force to cheat him into victory offscreen, with dozens of generic alien baddies sacrificed in high-speed flames before the boy's eyes in blood sport as Anakin's friend Greedo and the rest of his pack of pint sized Mos Eisley street rats cheer the carnage in the crowd. Unable to free Shmidt as well, Anakin somberly says goodbye to his mom and takes off to Coruscant, land of the free, promising to return and free her in the future when he has enough money to buy a ship, unfortunately Anakin really likes ships and spends all the money from the collection plate on his ride. As they reach Amidala's starship, a satanic-looking assailant named Darth Maul attacks Qui-Gon. However, he avoids the clutches of his foe, all without even having to throw sand in his face, and they escape Tatooine in style, as Maul presumably goes back to whatever rave he got his big glowstick from.

Amidala is taken to Coruscant, the capital city-planet of the Republic, where she pleas her case to the glacially slow Senate. Naboo's Senator Palpatine persuades Amidala to make a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum, suggesting that galactic politics are bogged down by bureaucratic red tape and special interest lobbyists, and the only way to get the law to respond to a simple home planet invasion is to help elect him Chancellor so he can drain the swamp. Meanwhile, Qui-Gon presents Anakin to the Jedi Council, who deem the boy vulnerable to the Dark side of the Force and wisely object to training him. Qui-Gon rejects the Council's decision and promises to teach Anakin to become a Jedi himself. He also informs the Council of the assailant who attacked him, believed to be a Sith Lord; unfortunately, all of the other Jedi were as busy not doing things as the Senate, and no one had time to investigate the first report of their mortal enemies, the Sith, returning for the first time in a millennium, like finding a dinosaur. Thus they order Qui-Gon to return to Naboo with Obi-Wan and go on Sith safari, seeing if they can bring back the specimen for the republics alien zoo; Maul doesn't talk so they assume he's just a force sensitive animal who has been given a lightsaber.

The Queen leaves empty-handed, because someone forgot to do their job and gather evidence of the invasion, it was a shot in the dark anyways, the republic hasn't had a military for over a thousand years, so there's not much they can do if someone wants to invade a member world anyways, they're as powerless as the UN; she should have just married a prince of a neighboring world for military support like most royals. Amidala decides to take the law into her own hands, she's still stingy though and refuses to buy a droid army of her own, better peasants and Gungans die as they are less expensive. She returns to Naboo with her party, which for some odd reason includes Skywalker (because who needs school or a legal guardian?) and for some odd reason the orbital blockade has mostly dispersed having better things to do presumably, like the Jedi, leaving a single command ship with all their eggs gathered into it. This gives credence to old space sailor's tale of mysterious ship disappearances in the space Bermuda triangle Naboo occupies.

On Naboo, they attempt to persuade the Gungans into an alliance against the Trade Federation. Padmé, one of the Queen's handmaidens, reveals herself as the true Queen Amidala but everyone finds it hard to believe; she shows them her birth certificate and various other forms of ID before they accept her revelation as truth, Naboo's chief export appears to be politicians who lie all the time. Boss Nass stops deciding to be an ass and the Gungans ensemble an army to square off against an invasion force of battle droids, throwing shiny marble like plasma bombs at them from catapaults, with spears and energy shields rather than blasters, as this is a family friendly movie about war after all. At this point the tapestry of narrative unravels into four separate threads of lasers and explosions, with the main attraction being the final fight between the two Jedi and Darth Maul.The queens group head to Theed Palace to hunt down Nute Gunray as he hides in the throne room, and Padme and her guard succeed in capturing him as they repel down. Anakin finds a child sized helmet inside a ship with the keys left in it, and accidentally blows the command ship which disables the battle droid army, allowing Jar Jar to fumble his way to victory on the field.

In the bowels of the palaces reactor core the Jedi fight, Obi-Wan proves himself incapable of keeping up with the action before Qui-Gon and Maul enter some laser-shield hallway, that's maybe a blast door or a radiation shield or something, preventing him from helping his master tag-team Maul; it's too bad he used up too many force points in the fight already to use Force Speed. Maul fatally injures Qui-Gon with his double-sided Sith baton before Obi-Wan can reach the two; Kenobi, pissed off to new degrees, clashes with Maul before he defeats him with the ol' bisection, unable bring back even the corpse so the unknown alien species Maul was (Zabrak, who are a matriarchal society ruled by the force sensitive night sisters, like the dark elves of Star Wars) to be dissected, though officially the Jedi church officially oppose dissection by anatomists. Before Qui-Gon croaks, Obi-Wan promises him he's gonna bust ass, ace his Jedi Knight entrance exams, and train Anakin.

For being the first Jedi to bisect a Sith in 1,000 years, Master Yoda promotes Obi-Wan to the rank of Jedi Knight and reluctantly accepts Anakin as his apprentice, but he warns Obi-Wan to be careful with the boy, as the Jedi Church doesn't need another abuse scandal. Qui-Gon's body is cremated at a funeral, in which all the Jedi get high from the fumes, where Obi-Wan tells Anakin he will train him and he doesn't have to go to an orphanage planet. Yoda and Master Mace Windu agree that the Sith are to blame for this tragedy; not their departments gross incompetence or the the senate's; being that there are only two Sith at any given time (a Master and an apprentice), they wonder which one still remains. The camera then pans over to the newly-minted Chancellor Palpatine, who looks creepily at Anakin like a Paige in the Galactic Senate. On Naboo, a peace treaty is signed between the Gungans and Theed opening up trade and allowing for cultural diffusion, while the Nemoidians have been sent to white collar jail for starting a war and everyone celebrates with a parade more vibrant than the Mardi Gras.

Then, the credits roll. Of course, most of the audience has either left the theater or fallen asleep at this point being haunted by nightmares and wishing things politics, adventure, magic and invisible armies added in post production could be as simple as it is for Sinbad the Sailor or Jason and the Argonauts.

edit Cast and characters

Darth Maul v 2 by Ek cg

If only Darth Maul had been a CGI character, who knows what kind of racist accent he would've had?

edit Themes and symbolism

British Mark V (male) tank

The battle between the Gungans and the trade federation tanks truly captures the horror of those crushed by global imperialism.

The Phantom Menace, despite appearing simplistic at first glance, is full of rich symbolism that makes it seem like a real auteur film. The scenes of occupied Naboo mirrors the occupation of France Spain and Italy by fascists during WWII, with filming done in Britain and with a blockade instead of an air blitz. Although, Queen Amidala dresses like she's a Geisha, and the trade federation is forcing them to open trade, so maybe the trade federation represents the black ships of commodore Perry and American venture capitalism opening them to trade? Or maybe the Mongolian invasion with their technology superior gun powder being represented as battle droids?

The characters of Nute Gunray, Qui-Gon, and Darth Maul are meant to represent the three prongs of our politics (right-wing capitalists, leftist stoner hippies, and disaffected juvenile delinquents). There is also Queen Amidala, who represents the emancipation of women of the 20th century and their desire to become Barbie dolls, replete with boring politics and pretty clothes. Via the character Jar Jar, the film could be seen as a message of peace and vis-à-vis foreign tolerance, and the hook-nosed, greedy, slave-owning character of Watto could be seen as, uh... more tolerance?

edit Production

edit Development

GeorgeLucas

Lucas, on profits from The Phantom Menace: "I built an Olympic-sized pool, which I keep filled with the rage-tears of original trilogy fans."

Believe it or not, The Phantom Menace was not the first time George Lucas pulled a trick on his fans. In retrospect, Return of the Jedi, made two decades prior, could be seen as the beginning of the decline. "I thought it would really enhance the climactic feel of the movie by introducing silly new creatures that kids love," Lucas said in an interview, chuckling. "So that's when I came up with the Ewoks." For the three or four readers here who haven't seen the movie, Ewoks are possibly the most preposterous creatures ever put on screen. Picture the Teletubbies, except instead of four, there's a whole army of them, and every one of them has fur that they never shave or brush.

Lucas thought it would be hilarious to introduce these oversized gerbils and watch the reactions to the fans, who he clearly thought would love the Ewoks. Unfortunately, many fans hated the Ewoks, especially after they sang the most irritating song ever written at the end of the movie and wanted nothing more than to watch the forests of Endor burn to the ground. However, this did not deter George; "Well," Lucas elaborated, "Enhancing the end of the Star Wars story wasn't enough for me. I want to make the beginning the best it can be."

Lucas conceived The Phantom Menace after seeing recent Blockbuster movies like Independence Day Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park, which caused him to realize that special effects had advanced so far that he could vomit CGI all over the screen at the expense of a story and millions of dollars. His newly-selected producer, Rick McCallum, was far more supportive compared to previous producer Gary Kurtz, who attempted to usurp Lucas's Ewok-carved throne during Return of the Jedi but failed. McCallum crowned George with full creative control, believing that "Only the creator know's what's best [sic] for their work." Lucas was a bit like an old droid left to rusty in scrap piles, he had not directed anything since Howard the Duck, a terrible omen that his affinity with the directing force had faded, a fact he hid using millions of dollars of state of the art technology, sort of like when a super hero loses their powers and get's a bunch of guns or a robot suit.

edit Writing

Believing he could do no wrong (he created Star Wars, after all), 20th Century Fox provided Lucas with a million-dollar contract the moment he walked into their office. Using this money, Lucas assembled a team of yes-men supremely talented writers. Lucas's Their first idea was Jar Jar Binks, a creature even more lovable than the Ewoks. The writers originally wanted to make Jar Jar the main character and only introduce Anakin in the last five minutes of the film, but Lucas's agent talked him—err, I mean THEM, out of this. They did, however, make sure that at least half of the movie's playtime would be devoted solely to scenes of Jar Jar falling down, blowing things up, and performing other wacky antics sure to please the kiddies.

Lucas claimed that long ago he had written the prequels in tandem with the originals as part of a well-rounded Star Wars story, allegedly an allegory of Vietnam and WWII only fought by celibate Buddhist Catholic monks with laser swords and spaceships. However, we all know he was just making it up the night before filming began and got swept up by the magic of reading the first Harry Potter novel, while the C-SPAN in the background slowly melted into a blur of geopolitical issues like trade embargoes, child slavery, illegal immigration and third world wars.

edit Acting

After the script was written, Lucas threw together a team of actors, many of whom were famous for starring in better movies. The actors found him to be very uncommunicative towards them, with his only directions generally being either "faster", "more intense", "more dense", or "more like poetry, it rhymes". At one point, when he temporarily lost his voice, the crew provided the actors with a board with just those four sayings written on it.

edit Reception

Ben Hur

One of the most critically acclaimed films ever made.

The Phantom Menace was poorly-received among critics. Joe Everyman of The New Yorker wrote: "The only redeeming factor in this film is the fact that Natalie Portman is kinda cute. But she's barely in it. Thankfully, that little boy who plays Anakin is on screen a LOT, and he's pretty cute too... oh, that glistening little boy's skin fills me with PASSION!"[2] In many countries, the film has been outright banned due to its tendency to cause vomiting amongst fans of the original trilogy. Months after The Phantom Menace was released, Lucas was questioned over whether or not he'd considered remaking it to "actually be a good movie." He responded: "You basement-dwellers need to grow up. If you want to relive your childhood, go watch the originals and quit whining. This is my story, not yours."

Some critics were more positive on the film, however. John Q. Public of The Wall Street Journal said that "Aside from the lack of plot, proper character development, coherence, setting, or dialogue of any kind, it was decent. I liked the credits!" Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times awarded it 5 out 5 stars, claiming it was "Easy to sleep through." Alan Smithee of AOL News even went so far as saying that Jar Jar Binks was "the best character in the movie"; this review was never published, as immediately after typing it, hundreds of fans broke into his house and tore him limb from limb, chanting "Jar Jar Binks is an abomination, Jar Jar Binks is an abomination."

edit 3D re-release

In 2012, The Phantom Menace was converted to 3D and re-released to theaters. Lucasfilm utilized $3.5 million dollars in changes, including more droids in the battle scenes, altered dialogue regarding midi-chlorians, remixed soundtracks with louder sound effects and Kanye West songs replacing John Williams's original score, puppet Yoda being converted to CGI, Jar Jar's eye color being changed, and the racist accents being digitally altered to sound like Englishmen. Producer Rick McCallum handed out "Dense-O-Vision" 3D glasses at theaters for viewing of Episode I, giving viewers the chance to realize how every single image in the movie had so many things going on. Despite earning $73.4 million at the box office, however, this re-release knocked the film's Rotten Tomatoes score from 63% down to 57%; it seems that critics who initially liked the movie had finally come to their senses after years of therapy.

After Disney bought the franchise, the 3D re-releases of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith were postponed indefinitely. Disney claimed they were doing it to "look to the future" and "focus more on Episode VII", putting Jar Jar and Watto next to Song of the South in the Disney Vault.

edit Footnotes

  1. Time in the Star Wars universe is reckoned using as a basis the exact moment in A New Hope when the Stormtrooper entering the control room on the Death Star bangs his head on the door and yells. Using this system, events occurring before this moment are designated BBY (before bang/yell), and events after ABY.
  2. The rest of the review is illegal in most countries, so it will not be duplicated here.
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