Jordan Davidson

A Retrospective on Star Wars – Episode 1 The Phantom Menace

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In the lead up to the next Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, we take a look back at the past films within the franchise.

A long time ago in a living room a younger me was sat wide-eyed as he was introduced to a universe of epic adventures and unforgettable characters. Now a much older, but no less enthusiastic, me is sitting fervently on the edge of my seat. A new addition to the Star Wars cinematic universe has been announced and it is closing in on us very quickly. A movie which will make or break the franchise for a whole new generation of starry eyed nerds like me.

But in Disney we trust and as a wise Jedi once said: don’t centre on your anxieties, keep your concentration here and now, where it belongs. So for now I have taken on the task of revisiting the franchise that I so loved as a child with a more mature outlook, to see if they live up to the fond memories and nostalgia. Like many before me I began my journey into the franchise with the original trilogy (episodes 4, 5 and 6) however in the interest of simplicity I have decided to re-watch them in chronological order.

Our adventure begins with the first of the prequels, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.

In this romp, we follow the Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi, as they attempt to protect the Queen of a planet under assault by the Trade Federation’s droid army and help her retake her throne.

However, along the way our protagonists are distracted by many shenanigans, including aiding a young but significant slave boy and uncovering a sinister plot that will become central to the entire franchise.

The film opens up with familiar music and scrolling title screen, but I am quickly transported into a strange and unfamiliar situation. The world of The Phantom Menace is one of treaties, trade disputes and negotiations, a world unfamiliar and monotonous for most young viewers.

To make up for this, we are given the unfathomable character of Jar Jar Binks. Okay, let’s get this over with quickly so I can attempt to forget what I have witnessed, I think Jar Jar is a monstrosity. He contributes nothing to the actual plot of the film and merely follows the other characters, occasionally chipping in with an absurdly worded statement or doing something clumsy in the background. This leads me to think that he was added purely for “comedic” value.

However, he fails miserably in his task and his parts always seem out of place and immersion breaking as the audience begins to wonder what on earth (or rather Naboo) his purpose is!

The other characters, thankfully, are not quite so cringe worthy but there is still a lot to be desired. The young slave boy, Anakin, is unremarkable; despite his significance to the future of the series.

Padme Amidala, our only female lead, is lifeless and unmoving, contributing little to the film besides plot development.

Overshadowing these characters are the far more endearing performances of our real protagonists, Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Liam Neeson’s delivery of the wise but warm Qui-Gon is charming while Ewan McGregor brings a bit of light humour and youthfulness to the mix with his interpretation of Obi-Wan.

Our villain, the Sith apprentice Darth Maul, suffers from woeful underdevelopment, something that is a recurring feature in the Star Wars films as I’m sure I’ll mention in later reviews.

Furthermore, the Sith’s “grand plan” in general is barely touched upon in this film, creating a lack of real driving force and urgency. Despite his limited appearances and development, Maul does however manage to be an imposing figure when he does appear and his final confrontation with the Jedi is the highlight of the movie.

To conclude, this is a film that I definitely feel has aged badly, nostalgia alone is not able to cloud my judgement enough for me to see through the moon sized holes left where my hopes should have been filled. It suffers greatly from poor acting, unnecessary characters and a murky plot.

Up next: Episode 2 Attack of the Clones

Star Wars The Force Awakens is released on December 17. 

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