Okay, it’s 20 years since this notorious disappointment hit cinemas. Back in 1999, the Phantom Menace was the movie event of the century! Then it turned out to be a bit rubbish. Oops.
Right, so this bizarrely convoluted plot from George Lucas still confounds us to this day.
The idea for his trilogy was to set about detailing how Anakin Skywalker turns to the dark side and becomes Darth Vader. Great idea, huh? Yes.
The problem is the execution was far from flawless.
Anyway, it’s set 32 years before Luke Skywalker and co. do their thing. The film opens with a rambling wall of text about tax issues.
The Trade Federation is causing a hoohah by blockading the planet Naboo. A planned invasion is ahead.
The Republic sends Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jin (Liam Neeson… yes, that Liam Neeson) and apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (some bloke called Ewan McGregor) to negotiate a way around it.
This chap called Darth Sidious, a Sith Lord, orders the Jedi be killed. He also begins the invasion. Meanwhile, the Jedi battle out of the place and flee to Naboo—they save an individual along the way. This lizard-like think called Jar Jar Binks.
Binks is a Gungan and is very clumsy. And very annoying. And very much tacked on as cheap comedic value to lighten the tone.
Anyway, Binks helps them get into Naboo and they’re able to rescue Queen Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman).
Further shenanigans continue and this lot end up on the planet Tatooine. There they run into RD-DC and a nine year old Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd).
He’s a slave of sorts, but he wins an engaging podrace thing and is set free into Qui-Gon Jin’s services.
At the Jedi Council, he gets permission to train the young lad. Permission granted!
The antagonist for the film, a chap called Darth Maul, then turns up to interfere with all the other excessive political meandering.
Then there’s a really impressive and thrilling lightsabre battle. The highlight of the film for many. It’s genuinely brilliant… why you no do this for rest of film?
With Qui-Gon Jin dead and Darth Maul wiped out (stupidly, he was a good character) that leads Yoda to promote Obi-Wan to Jedi Knight status. And he must, reluctantly, train Anakin as well.
Meanwhile, this dodgy bloke called Palpatine is elected as supreme Chancellor. Film ends.
Right… we had little joy in scrawling all that out. The main issue with the Phantom Menace is it’s intensely boring.
We rewatched it for the sake of this review and very quickly tired of the excessive CGI, wooden acting, and tedious plot.
Lucas’ intentions were noble, we’re sure, but he really screwed this one up. It’s just a bad film, save for the podrace and lightsabre battle.
It’s as if he wrote the screenplay and then no one dared challenge him about its glaring issues—he was surrounded by yes men.
Lucas always comes across as a nice bloke. A shy man with anxiety issues—a typical nerd whose vision in the 1970s landed on the world one of the most legendary cultural icons.
But for all the hype with this film, it was a critical mess. Although it raked in the moolah—its $115 million budget led to $1.027 billion in revenue. A nice little money earner.
Many other folks have already shredded the film to bits. The Star Wars prequels are synonymous with big blockbuster disappointment. All three of them (although the trilogy closer is kind of okay).
But Phantom Menace was the big ‘un. Since 1983, there were no new Star Wars films. In 1994, George Lucas set about creating the concept and it launched in July 1999 here in England.
We went to a cinema in Wigan to watch it with out mates Adrian, Alistair, and a couple of others. Muchos hype! We were 14 and Star Wars mad after seeing the special editions of the previous trilogy for the first time in 1997.
With those, Lucas revisited his old films and dolloped in some new CGI to crease over the dodgy 1970s special effects. The problem there is the 1997 standards of CGI now also look terrible, so he keeps jumping back in to spruce them up.
Anyway, Phantom Menace launched and it took a mauling from most critics and many fans.
It’s important to remember a lot of talented people work on these films, pouring their heart and souls into projects. It’s too easy for film buffs to mock a poor finished product, but full respect to everyone for creating a living and breathing world.
But, unfortunately, the film is just weird in its delivery. Borderline inept—and a lot of that is due to the inadequacy of the script. We’ve covered a few of these issues before:
The CGI overload is also tiresome, but the plot’s focus on relentless politics, tax debates, and Jar Jar Binks make it a bloody annoyance.
The acting is also poor. Natalie Portman, for instance, is no good—wooden as anything.
Classically beautiful, she sure looks the part. But after the end of the trilogy in 2005 she thought her career was over due to her involvement in it. Obviously she is a talented actress and has had a chance to shine since then.
Qui-Gon Jin is an utter bore and provides Neeson with nothing to do at all. McGregor does a good impression of Alex Guinness’ Obi-Wan voice. But the script doesn’t give him much to do.
Jar Jar Binks is bloody annoying and pointless.
Young Anakin is also very annoying. Supposedly a precocious genius, he spends most of his time going, “Yippee!”
Jake Lloyd is now 30 and retired from acting in 2001 as due to bullying at school due to this role. He’s since had a diagnosis of schizophrenia and stays out of the limelight.
Darth Maul is great, but isn’t on screen much and is then cleaved in half and disappears from movie history.
What else is there to comment on? Well, the film’s status as something of a disaster. It had a 3D re-release to mark its 10th anniversary, subsequently reminding everyone of its glaring mediocrity.
If anything good came from the film, it’s the highly entertaining critical analyses of it. On YouTube, Red Letter Media savaged it. So have many others.
Mark Kermode, of the Church of Wittertainment, also provides one of our favourite reviews he ever did.
But we do wish Lucas had put a bit of extra effort into the script. Disney now owns the product and he has little say in his creation anymore.
The series was rebooted in 2014 with The Force Awakens, although many of the fans went into a bit of a meltdown about them.
That, and The Last Jedi—heck, we enjoyed them for what they are. Good fun entertainment, although at this point we don’t have much investment in the series anymore. Whereas many Star Wars fans, now deep into their 30s and older, have a manic level of commitment.
Whatever, most folks are in agreement on the Phantom Menace. The film hyped into oblivion, that generated enough excitement to power the Sun! And it ended up being a bit, you know… dull. Bummer.