Accentuating the Positive: Finding the good points of “The Phantom Menace”

February 16, 2012

Hey. What’s happening? You cool? Good. There weren’t any good movies released in Bangkok this weekend, so I ended up seeing Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 3D. Oh, who am I kidding? There was no “ended up” about it. I am a Star Wars child. My formative moment came in 1977 when a Star Destroyer crawled from the top of the screen to the bottom. George Lucas could release Star Wars: 120 minutes of Blank Film and I’d be there, front and center with my popcorn and Coke, thinking, “Hey, at least there aren’t Ewoks, right?” Of course we all know Phantom Menace sucks. It sucks in two dimensions, and a third won’t improve it. Hell, a fourth dimension in which Jar Jar Binks appears as Chris Yen dressed as a Green Orion Slave Girl striking poses with a katana sword (something I’m pretty sure the scientists at Fermilab will prove the fourth dimension to be any day now) would only make it passable. Still, it’s easy to rail on TPM, and after Red Letter Media’s expert takedown of it, there’s not much point in it. Instead, I decided to challenge myself and find the good points of the movie.

* Jedi Knights: Pretty all of the Star Wars trilogy (you know, the good movies) were steeped in the myth of the Jedi, and it was an ideal so powerful, we followed Luke’s journey to be worthy of the title. In this film, we actually see what this order was, and how they existed in society. Granted, we spent the first hour of TPM watching them run from overwhelming odds, destroy stupid, fragile droids, and get pwned by a flying Jewish stereotype, but then we meet the council. The council, we learn is…uh…well, kind of officious and dickish. I’m not off to a good start, am I?

“Hey kid, how about you fetch the guardians of peace and justice a couple lattes?”

* The Pre-Empire Republic: Also integral to the prequel trilogy is showing us the free society that fell to the Empire, so we understood what was lost in the Emperor’s rise to power. And do we ever get it. We see, well, a massive, glorious city planet. We see Naboo, a peaceful…um…sort of Venice wannabe that gets overrun pretty easily that’s also populated by buffoonish lizard people. We see…well, the galactic Senate, which is almost as dull as the US Senate.Crap, this isn’t going well.

* New Designs and Tech: The ships of the original trilogy all had an industrial, purposeful uniformity. But this film shows an age when aesthetics had a place in society. The Naboo fighters, for example, are elegant and beautiful. Even the Trade Federation battleships are a design completely different from what we’ve seen before. Hey, that’s cool, right? And even if the Naboo fighters are, apparently, easy enough to fly that a prepubescent kid can pilot one and destroy one of those battleships…

So simple even an obnoxious child-actor can fly it.

* Young Obi-Wan: We finally meet Luke’s mentor in his glory days, and hey, he’s played by Ewan McGregor. That’s kinda cool. Could be worse. Could have been Hayden Christensen. No, we got a solid, talented actor in the role. And we get to see him…ah…well, most of the time he just does what Liam Neeson tell him. Crud. But, he gets pretty badass at the end, right? Right?

* Natalie Portman:  Hey, this is an Oscar-winning actress we got. Okay, so she recites all her lines in a dull monotone, but uh, she’s still hot, right? Hotter than Carrie Fisher ever was. Granted, these prequels have absiluetly zero sex appeal and she never wears anything less revealing than a full cloak, but…um…she shows her midriff in the next movie. That’s something.

Hey George, here’s an idea: How about we NOT slather her in Kabuki makeup and make her wear ram’s horns?

* Old Timey Racial Stereotypes: Hey, if you can’t laugh at old-fashioned portrayals of Jews, Asians, and African Americans, what can you laugh at? Oh, yeah, damn near anything else! Okay, I’m losing the narrative.

*The Sith: We’ve heard about them, and concluded they were some unspeakably evil sect. In this movie we finally learn that the Sith are…um…guys with horns and wicked tats, I guess. They’re Juggalos, basically.

* R2-D2:  Hey, Artoo is introduced! Check him out, all heroic and saving the ship and stuff…Yeah, good ol’ Artoo.

* The Pod Race: Actually, I fell asleep during this part. Races bore me.

* Jar Jar Binks: No, I’m kidding, he’s still terrible. If anything, he’s worse than I remember. Like, I totally forgot that his eyes can bug out on those weird eye-stalk things he has. Did you remember that? Who thought of that? What diseased mind brought that to life? Okay, let’s get back on track.

“…as if a million voices cried out and were suddenly silenced…”

* Lightsabers: Who doesn’t love lightsabers? Remember how Obi Wan described them to Luke as being better than a blaster? An elegant weapon from a more civilized age? Yeah. So it’s great to finally see them, uh, being used against a fuck-ton of dudes with blasters. And this begs the questions, is their best use as a defensive weapon? I mean, it’s gotta take a lot of effort to deflect laser-bolts just so the Jedi can get close enough to use them against the guy carrying the blaster. What if those droids had a sniper? Or hid behind a rock? Well, they’re still pretty awesome when used against the one other dude who has one.

* The Lightsaber Duel: Okay, this is legitimately awesome, and easily the best part of the movie. I can’t get onboard with Red Letter’s critique of this scene. I don’t care about the logical inconsistencies. The great stunts, choreography, and John Williams’ Duel of Fates makes for one of the most thrilling sequences in the Star Wars canon.

This could have been the whole movie.

So, there we go. We ended on a positive note, right? Right? I’m kinda depressed now.


  1. No mention on how the 3D looked? Is it worth seeing it again for the 3D effect?

  2. The 3D looks fine–I mean, it doesn’t ruin the look of the movie the way most post-production conversions do. But it doesn’t really enhance the movie to any apreciable degree, either. Maybe the next few chapters, with their epic battles will make better use of it.

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