The Phantom Menace catches a lot of flack. Most of it is deserved, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t have a few things going for it. Ten, to be exact. Ten things going for it. So, in honor of the recent 3D re-release/headache I got from watching the 3D re-release, that I would take a few minutes to honor it or whatever. Yeah, it’s not that great. We get it. It’s easy to sit around and find faults with the Phantom Menace, or the other two prequels. You know what’s not easy? Finding 10 redeeming qualities in it. Loving Star Wars so hard that you sit around actively trying to think of ways to excuse it. The Phantom Menace is like that guy you’ve been friends with since grade school. Sure, he didn’t go to college, and he gets drunk and rowdy and his behavior usually results in you getting thrown out of parties or bars or whatever, and just having him around produces a cloud of shame over your head that rains down embarrassment on your furrowed brow. But he’s a sweet, well meaning guy whose heart is at least close to the right place, so you answer your phone about 45% of the time he calls you. And for that, we honor you, the Phantom Menace.
It Still Kind of Feels Like Star Wars
Yeah, most of the technology is nothing we’ve ever seen before in Star Wars. And most of the places the characters go we’ve never heard of before. And I don’t even know what a Trade Federation is, or why, since they started such a massive conflict, this is the first we’re finding out about them in the entire series (also, what did they even do? Seriously, can someone tell me?). And midi-chlorians (alright, we get it). And podracing. BUT ANYWAY. It still had that Star Wars feel. You got swept up in the action and adventure of it all, zooming through the stars, watching lasers fly across the screen, and there were enough nods to the original trilogy to make the viewer feel like it was mostly still for them. It felt special. It made me feel pretty.
Darth Maul is Cool
Darth Maul was pretty awesome. He didn’t speak much and he had horns like some kind of demon and a double-sided lightsaber which was mindblowing when I was 12 and his face was all red and black. He was mysterious and made things in the Phantom Menace seem a lot more serious and exciting and urgent than they actually were. I liked him. And then he died. At first, I was kind of upset. Not since, well, Darth Vader had a villain captivated me as much as Darth Maul did. And then Obi-Wan chopped him in half. It wasn’t until later that I realized it’s really a good thing he died before he could be ruined (in the main Star Wars universe, at least. There is plenty of Darth Maul ruining in the expanded universe). For instance, Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Anakin Skywalker live through all three of the prequels. Guess how many of them I still liked by the time the credits rolled on Revenge of the Sith. The answer is none. I liked none. The prequels, for me, ruined those characters. Darth Maul, however, stayed cool (again, so long as you stay out of the expanded universe– it’s weird and scary out there sometimes).
It Wasn’t Shot Entirely In Front of a Green Screen
I don’t think anyone can accuse the Phantom Menace of being stylistically daring when it came to cinematography, but at least the sets felt real. That’s because, most of the time, they were! In Clones and Sith, the ratio of real sets to CGI sets shifted somewhere towards absurd and it lost a lot of realism and grit (yes, Star Wars lost realism, which is REALLY SAYING SOMETHING). It’s also a really well lighted film (correct use of that word) and the real sets pop, in contrast to the bland CGI messes of Clones and Sith.
Yeah, Han shot first. But Greedo is still a cool character. I like to imagine he had a ton of mediocre mis-adventures before A New Hope, when he was gunned down. I think you could do a lot of funny things with the character of Greedo. Like, stuff doesn’t always work out for him. Unlucky in love, driving around a busted and rusty hunk of junk speeder, can’t hold down a job… then, he hears there’s a bounty on Han Solo’s head and convinces himself that this is his big chance. Then, bang, dead. Greedo is an interesting character, and more Greedo is always a good thing.
Jar Jar Binks Is Not Really That Obnoxious and Kind of Necessary
I was dreading writing this. I am dreading posting it. There’s going to be backlash. I know there will be. But I’m in a dangerous mood today, so I’ll just throw it out there: Jar Jar Binks really wasn’t that awful. There. I said it. Did the world end? No? Huh. CRAZIEST THING! Notice also that the world is still turning, despite the existence of Jar Jar Binks. My stance is that, though he is a little racist and his antics stick out like a sore-thumb, Jar Jar was really needed in the Phantom Menace. Not a lot goes on in this movie. There are a few action sequences worth note, sure, but other than that, it’s a lot of walking around and talking about space taxes and trade federations and blockades and slave blah blah blah. Think about taking your kids to see this movie (a point I’ll touch on later). It’s a new Star Wars movie. You love Star Wars. You remember the first time you saw Star Wars with your mom or dad or whatever. It blew your mind and opened your eyes. This is an experience you want to share with your kids. But you know what’s really boring? Most of the Phantom Menace, if you’re five years old. Case in point: my dad took my little brother and me to see Batman Forever when it came out in theaters fifty years ago. That movie was horrible and boring but I was old and disciplined enough to sit through it without running up and down the aisles of the theater and screaming my head off. My little brother was not. When we saw the Phantom Menace together, just us manly men, my brother was able to deal with the more boring parts because Jar Jar was usually tripping over his own feet or walking into a wall or spending the rent money on magic beans somewhere in the background most of the time. George Lucas understands that kids need things like Jar Jar on the screen to keep them entertained and well-behaved for the duration of a 2 hour movie. A lot of people seem to forget that these movies were supposed to be (though kind of failed at) being primarily kids’ movies that the whole family could enjoy.
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