Star Wars Episode I:
The Phantom Menace
Star Wars fans poured into the theatres, their hands shaking with excitement. For many, this was the defining moment of the nineties - Star Wars was back and bigger than ever.
But was it better than ever?
Early reviews were mixed. Some thought that the movie was the best science fiction film ever made and a fine addition to the Star Wars legacy. Unfortunately, there were also detractors. The film's shallow script and overdone visual effects brought hoots of derision from many quarters.
Was the film all eye candy, with no real substance behind the impressive sp-fx?
At first, this seems so, but, to be honest, the film does grow on you. Yes, the effects are a little overwhelming and some of the acting leaves a lot to be desired, but stick with it and a rather nice story lies beneath that lustrous veneer.
But is it STAR WARS?
In my opinion, no. Unlike the other films in the series, The Phantom Menace does not have that special quality that set them apart from other sci-fi movies. It is just another space flick!
What really spoils the film for many, though, is George Lucas' treatment of the script.
Somehow, George seems to have forgotten all of the movies that went before. Did he just rattle off the script and nobody dare tell him how filled with errors it was?
Let's start with young Anakin Skywalker. Why did George make him so young? He just made the film look silly. Six or seven years added to his age would have improved the believability of the scenes in which he appeared. I have nothing against young Jake Lloyd, but he simply got on my nerves!
What on Earth was George thinking of when he made Anakin a virgin birth? Having the kid's father being a mystery figure who disappeared after he was born would have been much better - not to mention believable.
Darth Vader sure didn't act like The Chosen One, did he? If he was this super-duper Jedi, then how come he didn't have lightning sparking out of his fingers like Emperor Palpatine?
Having Anakin rebuilding See Threepio also stretched the limits of coincidence in my view.
I mean, what are the chances of Threepio and Artoo Detoo being reunited in the future? It's a big galaxy out there.
If George really wanted Threepio in the film, then he should have placed him in the service of Queen Amidala as one of her protocol advisors. After all, she would have needed guidance when meeting visiting dignitaries from other alien worlds. Then, Artoo and Threepio could have been flung together during the escape from Naboo.
Another point which many critics of the film have taken exception is the overwhelming number of visual effects shots.
Most of The Phantom Menace's scenes have effects shots in them. Indeed, one of the film's main characters is a computer generated alien!
The effects are so prevalent in the fabric of the movie, that you eventually begin to ignore them, which begs the question - why do so many in the first place?
The first three Star Wars films were great effects movies, to be sure, but the effects aided the telling of a great story. The visuals in The Phantom Menace appear only because of Lucas' indulgence.
Was it really necessary to have the entire Federation army be Battle Droids?
Not really. I believe that the dramatic impact of the Battle Droids would have been better utilised by saving them for the great ground battle at the film's climax.
Up to then, the Federation troops could have been living soldiers. Only when they needed to breach the Gungan force fields could they have deployed the neatly stowed Battle Droid divisions. The audience would have gasped in awe at those hundreds of robots being deposited onto the battlefield and the ease at which they slipped through the good guys' protective barriers.
Why was Jar Jar Binks a wholly CG character anyway. Surely an actor could have played him. It would have been simpler surely to just digitise his head!
Was it necessary for Watto, the Toydarian, to hover about like that? Not really. Again, a guy in a good suit would have sufficed. Chewie was not a CGI, was he?
Although the Coruscant skyline was impressive, with its constant stream of vehicles weaving between the towering spires of the Republic's capital, its very dynamism detracted from the story.
How can you concentrate on the dialogue with all that activity in the background?
Equally, the Senate Chamber was a perfect lesson in sp-fx overkill.
A simple chamber containing rows of senators with the Supreme Chancellor sitting at its centre would have worked better than the hovering Parliament we got. What if everybody wanted to speak at once? It would have been carnage!
Darth Maul could have been one of cinema's greatest baddies. So what does George do? He kills him!!
It would have been more prudent for him simply
to have been defeated by the Jedi at the end of the film. Then, if necessary,
he could return as Darth Sidious' apprentice until usurped by Anakin Skywalker.
Well, that's about it! If George Lucas had simply thought about what he was doing with the script, I believe he could have had an infinitely more exciting experience, with better references to the other films. Fans like that kind of stuff and hate it when the so-called experts make a mess of it.
If George wants to make a better film of the next one, then he must listen to the fans and also to the artisans in his employ.
IF YOU THINK HE IS WRONG, TELL HIM, WILL YOU? HE'S ONLY GEORGE LUCAS, NOT GOD!!!
Actors, do a Harrison Ford and tell George if dialogue is not working. Lucas is notoriously bad at writing dialogue. If he is a proper artist, then he will take constructive criticism on board.
If not, then he is in the wrong job!
By the way, don't think that I didn't like the film. I loved it, but feel that a few small improvements would have made for a much more enjoyable movie.
So, here's looking forward to Star Wars Episode 2: Didlee Dum Deeee...
(C) S Johnson 1999