Today, May 19, 2009, marks the ten year anniversary of the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Yup, it’s been ten years since George Lucas gave the gift of Jar Jar Binks to the world and did irreparable harm to the standing of the Star Wars franchise in popular culture.
Ten years later, it’s easy to lay such scathing criticism of the film. The pop culture idiot savants of teh interwebz quickly formed such a consensus, and further (marginally better) installments of the franchise failed to completely reverse the negative perception of this film.
But ten years ago, were we all on the same page? I suspect not. Not even all critics were universal in their opinion. Most famously, Roger Ebert gave the film 3 1/2 out of 4 stars and called it “an astonishing achievement in imaginative filmmaking.” And I’m sure plenty of moviegoers came out of the theater thinking they had seen a thoroughly enjoyable action ride that was a worthy edition to the Star Wars franchise.
I should know. I was one of them. This is my confession.
Forgive me, my brothers and sisters in Overthinking It, for I have sinned. It has been 10 years since I saw Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and thought that it was a good movie.
On May 19, 1999, I was a senior in high school and a rabid Star Wars fan. I skipped class to go to the earliest screening possible on opening day. As the words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” appeared on the screen, my heart was racing with anticipation. The moment I was waiting for was finally here.
Two hours and thirteen minutes later, I walked out of the theater in awe of the effects and the epic lightsaber battle. My brain was furiously processing everything from mitichlorians to the prototype C-3P0 and integrating it into my extensive knowledge of the Star Wars universe (I’m talking novels, too). In other words, I had eaten it up. I thought it was great, and I proceeded to tell anyone who would listen to me that it was a spectacular piece of filmmaking.
I was guilty of overlooking the horrible dialogue and the over-reliance on CGI effects at the expense of solid storytelling and pacing. But my brothers and sisters, I am most ashamed of one sin in particular: my acceptance of Jar Jar Binks. I saw no harm in this ungainly creature with a curious accent. I thought he adequately filled the role of comic relief. I failed to recognize the darkness of Jar Jar, and the darkness overtook me.
Now, upon looking at such evil, the error of my ways could not be clearer. It was a supreme moment of failure. I was seduced by the temptations and distractions of gratuitous special effects and the appearance of familiar characters. And lightsaber battles.
Every day since the realization of my sin, I have strove to make up for it by seeing subpar movies and characters for what they truly are. And though I have made much penance over this past year through acts of subjecting the popular culture to a level of scrutiny it probably doesn’t deserve, my reconciliation would not be complete without confessing the shame of these last ten years.
My Brothers and Sisters in Overthinking It, I ask for your forgiveness, but I also ask you to join me in this cleansing rite. Step into the confessional. Open your heart. Admit that you, too, saw Star Wars Episode I and saw no fault in the film itself or the abomination known as Jar Jar Binks. (At least for a few hours/days/weeks before you came to your senses.) This way salvation and forgiveness lie.
are you kidding? i still like it!
Some clarification: I am serious in that I have come to dislike this movie after liking it at first, but my “confession” of the sin of liking it at first is clearly meant to be tongue in cheek. The very idea that there’s a pop culture dogma that we must unwaveringly subscribe is of course absurd, and I welcome those who disagree from the conventional wisdom that this movie was a travesty.
In fact, this movie probably wasn’t at travesty; it just failed to meet the impossibly high expectations laid out for it.
We rarely talk about Star Wars on this site (partly because it’s just been plaid out and most of the overthought angles have already been covered), but since this is a special day, let’s have it out.
Episode I: really, what did you think?
And be sure to make the sign of the cross on your way out.
Forgive me my friends, for I too have sinned. Upon exiting the film on opening day, I promptly bought tickets for the next available showing. To what can I attribute such a lapse in judgment? I can say only that I was young and impressionable, and that my love of the franchise was so great that I could not permit myself to dislike this, the first new addition in decades. I have in times since come to see the folly of that day, and have sworn, Who-like, no Not get Fooled Again, but that singular day of shame remains.
I saw “The Phantom Menace” at an advance screening a day or two before it opened and wasn’t really impressed – in fact, I dozed off through some of it – but I’ve never really understand the animus directed at Jar-Jar Binks, who struck me as being one of the few non-soporific elements of the film. I recall reading an outraged fan’s reaction that Lucas had destroyed his childhood and ruined the film he’s been waiting to see since he was five years old –presumably by adding an element meant to appeal to five year old viewers..
I wasn’t originally planning to, but I ended up seeing The Phantom Menace on opening night with a bunch of my friends. And I loved it. It was fun, it was pretty, and it seemed to be laying the groundwork for a whole new pre-Star-Wars-movies-I-grew-up-with universe to blossom over the next few years. The story and the acting weren’t anything spectacular, but they were, frankly, no worse than the stories or acting found in the original trilogy. I will even confess to not only not minding, but enjoying Jar Jar Binks as a comic foil, especially during the slapstick climax of the movie.
Now, in the intervening ten years (to the day! Weird.) I’ve never watched it a second time. Hell, other than just now when I clicked on the Jar Jar Binks YouTube clip, I don’t think I had even re-watched a single scene. So I can’t really stand behind any of my opinions of the movie (I got through maybe two Jar Jar scenes before I had to shut off that YouTube clip, for instance), except to say this:
I still maintain that The Phantom Menace was the best of the three prequels. And I’ll tell you why: It’s the only one that feels like its own story. Here are these two Jedi knights investigating this kid who seems to be really powerful, and might be the chosen one (or whatever). Despite the fact that we know he will eventually grow up to become Darth Vader, Obi-Wan’s faith in the kid does not seem misplaced. As the movie comes to a close an epic feels ready to unfold. Then come the next two prequels, and suddenly it feels like a race to hit all the necessary plot points. Okay, Anakin and Padme are in love, check! Clones being built, check! Dark forces conspiring to build the Death Star, check! Padme pregnant, Palpatine teaching Anakin about dark side, check! Now kill those Jedi! Slice off Anakin’s limbs! Put that iconic helmet on him! Birth those twins! Boom! Good work, everyone. Let’s grab some lunch and call it a day.
The Phantom Menace remains my most fondly remembered because of its freedom from frenetic inevitability.
Forgive me for I have sinned, I was caught up in the excitement of seeing the 6am showing. There were individuals who had seen the midnight and 3am showings, the line was around the block, the radio station was there, I was inhaling the excitement.
An organist played the original soundtrack while we waited for the show to start. The theaters acoustics plus the Imperial March on organ played on my defenseless fandom.
The opening visuals of the white text scrolling up the screen got me giddy that I was seeing It, especially before my friends.
In the end, I had succumbed to the Menace. I was weak and vulnerable. It only took 24 hours for the spell to wear off. Jar Jar was soporific, but in the annoying way. He was supposed to be the comic relief, but I never seemed to laugh at him (even under the spell). Acting at empty space resulted in awkward timing from even the great Liam Neeson. JarJar made everyone else worse at the expense of him looking cutesy. Star Wars is not about cutesy, it’s about coming of age. JarJar made the Menace more of the wrong thing.
In retrospect, I’m glad I saw the movie with blinders and came to hate afterward. Tis’ better to have a fleeting crush and subsequently despised, then never to have been hypnotized at all.
Don’t execute me when I ask what it is you see in the original movies concerning story, acting and non reliance on special effects? I mean The story, while it’s fun, and jedi’s are cool is not particularly cerebral, the acting is not very good and all three original films rely very, very heavily on special effect, if they had had cgi at the time they would have used the shit out of it.
When phantom menace was released I was 10 and I loved it, more that I loved the originals. Now I do enjoy the originals more because they started the whole thing. But I really don’t see how they are vastly superior films to the second trilogy. Luke is as annoying as Anakin, c3po and the ewoks are rather similar to jar jar. The only really good two things abut the originals are Han Solo and Darth Vader. I’m also quite a fan of Qui Gon Jin however, I also think Padme is hotter than Leia.
“When I first met your father he was already a great pilot” does not mean “When I first met your father he was a small child who we made sure was shown flying a spaceship so it could be argued that my initial description of him was technically accurate.”
Six-year-old Anakin = EPIC FAIL. Now and forever.
On its own merits, though, the movie lost me at the 20 minute recreation of the Ben Hur chariot race. It was boring, superfluous and lasted waaaaaaaaaaay too long.
Episode I was the first Star Wars episode I ever saw, and thus I had nothing to compare it with.
AND, I have nothing against Jar Jar. He can be a bit annoying, but he’s also rather funny.
I still think Episode 1 is a very good movie, and have never understood the hatred for it. No, it’s not perfect by a longshot. I could sit here and point out flaws, in backstory, storytelling as well as moviemaking, but I care little about most of them except as intellectual curiosities. If we’re judging these things by “perfection,” then Episode one is superior to Episode Four in almost every way. The original Star Wars was–how to put this delicately–not good. That didn’t (and doesn’t) stop me from enjoying the hell out of it.
For me, “I enjoyed it” equals “good.” It’s the only measure that has meaning.
I agree with Kay Jay Why. Aside from its many missteps, Episode I is the best of the prequels. They all suck, but Phantom Menace sucks the least.
I was only 9 when Episode I came out, so I loved the shit out of it. I even loved Jar Jar, as did all of my friends at the time. I guess I was at the perfect age for seeing that movie then. So I never really saw it as a bad movie (inferior to the originals, yes. I’m pretty sure that even at that age I recognised that the originals were better) because I always just accepted it as being aimed towards that younger age bracket.
So even though I can get annoyed at Jar Jar now, I can always accept that this one really is a film for children (more so, I think, than the original trilogy – and definitely more than Episode III) and children really do like the silliness and the special effects.
I also remember finding out that the guy who played anakin was a similar age to me, so obviously this meant that I too could pilot podracers and spaceships. This only made it better for me.
Episode II however I never thought was good even from the first viewing (aside from the yoda lightsaber battle – I was still young).
I thought IT WAS AWESOME. No lies. But in 1999, I was 10. Goddamn. Additionally, my parents, for some bizarre reason, showed me Star Wars and Return of the Jedi but never Empire Strikes Back as a (even younger) kid, so I had very little to compare it to and a flawed sense of quality.
But God, just that Youtube clip… forgive me Father for I have sinned!
Don’t feel bad. I liked the first Star Trek movie when I saw it after waiting in line to be the first one in at the opening show.
I confess my sins, too. I saw it and liked it. I haven’t seen it in years, so I don’t know if I still would. I will agree with a sentiment already expressed, however: I liked the subsequent prequels (that just sounds weird) less and less.
What this raises in my mind, though, is where it’s okay to like something simply because it’s flashy and where it’s not. From what I gather, it’s NOT okay to like Ep. 1 just because it’s fun and exciting in the face of bad story and character development, so is it also not okay for me to like _Transformers_ and the fourth _Die Hard_ movie, too?
You know that feeling you get when a band you’ve liked for a really long time suddenly gets insanely popular, and you feel the need to be all defensive and say things like, “I liked them before any of you did!”
That’s what I feel like reading this blog post. I skipped school to see the earliest screening of Ep1 at my town’s 2-screen theater. And I hated it before anyone else thought it was cool to hate the new Star Wars movies.
I hated young Anakin. I hated pod racers. I hated Padme. I hated that racist caricature Jar-Jar with a passion. I hated the special effects, which were obviously trying to look retro but failed. I hated Anakin’s “WHEEEE!” moment. I hated the shopkeeper. I hated hated hated hated that movie. I saw it opening day and hated it. I saw it again a few days later for a birthday party and hated it. I saw it again with a different group of people and fell asleep twenty minutes into it, then had a dream about how much I hated it. It was worse than What Lies Beneath, the only movie I’ve ever walked out of.
The only redeeming feature of the entire movie was Ewan McGregor, who memorably struggled to evoke some kind of emotional response to the drivel he was paid huge money to spout.
Ryan: “You know that feeling you get when a band you’ve liked for a really long time suddenly gets insanely popular, and you feel the need to be all defensive and say things like, “I liked them before any of you did!”
That’s totally how I feel about the character in your icon. Is it irony or coincidence?
And you didn’t think Liam Neeson was kind of awesome, too? Not in the slightest?
I didn’t like Episode 1, but I still enjoy 2 and 3 (despite the “sand” speech and “Noooooo!”). Episode 3, in particular, I thought was gorgeous. The scene at the end, with Palpatine kneeling next to the river of lava, looks like a John Martin engraving.
Yes, the acting in all three is dreadful. The only people who seemed to avoid catching a georgelucoccus infection in their acting muscles were the ones like Anthony Daniels and Frank Oz who came back from the first trilogy.
It’s possible, however, to look at the acting in terms of the performances Robert Bresson used to have in his films. There the actors were just models, running through the ritual suffering required of them by their Catholic director. No one ever complains that the guy playing Jesus in a Passion play is a bad actor, because the performance isn’t the point. We’re not watching theatre, we’re watching historical re-enactment.
That’s important to Star Wars, I think. We’re told in the crawl that these events are NOT occurring here and now, but that they occurred in the distant past in a place that we’ll never visit. The movies are just illustrations for a retelling of a historic narrative. Ewan MacGregor isn’t Obi-Wan; Obi-Wan is Obi-Wan. The level of believability in MacGregor’s performance (which is probably one of the better ones among the new cast) only needs to reach the level of America’s Most Wanted crime scene recreations. Anything more would be disrespectful and unnecessary.
I’ve often thought about Star Wars in the terms Saint just laid out… thinking of it as “historical re-enactment” and also thinking of it in the terms of how made-for-TV biodramas truncate and screw witht he facts some how makes the prequels less painful…
I will confess that I didn’t hate Jar Jar. I have nothing against the CGI effects in Phantom, and I really thought that Darth Maul, Qui-Gon and Watto were cool.
When I heard in advance that the movie was going to be about Darth Vader as a 10 year old, I prayed that was disinformation. When I sat in the theatre on openning day with all my friends who i had worked up into some crazy Star Wars fan frenzy and the major villian’s first words were, “…I’m not brain dead…” I was so embarrassed I could die. I felt like I had just told the world something that was so horribly wrong and everyone knew it except me.
By the time Jar Jar was on screen I had already lowered my expectations enough to enjoy him. It was either that or walk out of the theatre and shoot myself.
Still, despite all this I have Phantom on DVD and VHS collector’s edition… I am as guilty as anyone for financially supporting something that is subpar… Father forgive me.
It is so strange to me that this movie is so generally hated. I saw it in much the same spirit and enjoyed it immensely. That feeling has not gone away. Lucas has a vivid and childish imagination, he is like the kid who has a chance to do exactly what he wants. He does the silliest race in movie history, but also a race that is fun and thrilling. Why such a long race? Well I guess, just for the heck of it! Many people hated Jar Jar and I understand that – to a point; and yet I have grown strangely fond of him. He somehow fits the film and the universe. As far as capturing those images that fueled my imagination as a child, Lucas is still light-years ahead of the competition. Look at Star Trek, in many ways an enjoyable film, with fantastic chemistry between the cast, but look at the worlds, so dull. Look at the visuals, so messy. Look at the story, so small and insignificant. J.J. Abrams is still more of a producer that a director, but Lucas is a true moviemaker.
Messy visuals in _Star Trek_? Small story? How is _Episode I_ any less messy or “larger”?
It always seemed to me that the prequel trilogy was pretty backloaded. That is, not many important things happen in the first movie, and way too many important things are rushed into the third movie. Okay, here’s my proposal:
Episode 1: Begins when Anakin is already a teenager. Lose all the backstory with his mom. All we know is that he was born on Tatooine, it was discovered he had the Force at a very young age, and he grew up on Couresant, same as the other Jedi-in-training. In this movie, the Princess is in danger (for some reason) and Obi-Wan and Anakin are assigned to protect her. Anakin and the Princess meet and quickly fall in love. Obi-Wan makes him choose between being a Jedi and being in love. He picks Jedi, but SECRETLY marries. Movie ends with the beginning of the Clone War, which in my version, comes directly out of the business with the Princess. None of this nonsense with Christopher Lee. Nothing in a Star Wars film should confuse a grown man. Ever.
Episode 2: Begins with Anakin taking the Trials to become a Jedi. I am bitter we never got to see this. Over the course of the movie, Palpatine gradually lures him over to the Dark Side. Movie ends with Anakin leaving the Jedi, becoming a Sith.
Episode 3: This whole movie is about ultra-powerful Anakin personally hunting down Jedi. The Jedi get to make some heroic last stands. I’d put the big lava fight somewhere in the MIDDLE, so the whole last act can be Vader in the suit, with James Earl Jones’ voice, giving us the Full Vader. So how, you ask, do you END the movie? Well, remember how Episode IV starts with the Rebel Alliance having JUST won its first big victory? Hmm, sounds like an exciting space battle, right? You could do a flash forward, show that battle, end with Leia’s little ship making the jump to warp, chased by the bigger ship. We come full circle, to exactly the point the original movie began.
The problem, of course, is that you really really need a 19-year-old Carrie Fischer to pull this off. If I were George Lucas, I’m sure I’d have no hesitation about using a CGI Carrie Fischer.
Anyway, I’m sure this outline is a bad idea for many reasons. I’m just throwing it out there, because that’s what comments are for. My point, if I have one, is that Episode 1 always felt unnecessary to me. The conflict is clearly irrelevant to the larger series. It’s just an excuse to introduce all the characters, without putting anything in motion. The real plot of the prequel trilogy begins in Episode 2.
J.J. Abrams knows nothing about creating visuals that fill you with wonder and awe. I like Star Trek, I really do, but Abrams makes it look like an episode of Alias. That’s fine for TV, but for a science fiction film? And someone should take a flash light and aim it at his eyes, because what with the flares, they are not cool the are annoying and stupid and they show a director that still has a lot to learn about actually putting images on the screen. I think a Star Trek movie should be about ideas, about dilemmas, maybe because all i ever watched was Next Generation. The movie has a revenge story at it’s core. I understand why, the story is there to force the crew together and it works, but I for one expects a little more than that. Star Wars: episode 1 is not perfect and it is definitely the weekest of the series (also “Return of the Jedi!). However, in terms of creating a wonderful adventure it’s is still light years ahead of the competition. The only competition really, is the other Star Wars films, and Indiana Jones, but that is Lucas too.
@Belinkie: Bravo! That sounds much more satisfying. When are you going to make a movie? ;)
@Mads: Well, I suppose we’ll have to disagree about the visuals. I personally like Abrams’ style and felt _Star Trek_ was lovely. As for the story, I’ll concede there is a revenge story in there, but I actually think the core of _Star Trek_ is the foundation/establishment of the friendship between Kirk and Spock. The revenge aspect was the backdrop, but the focus was those two men (and yes, to an extent, the crew). Tell me, then, what’s at the core of _Episode I_? I think the point made above by others (a point I agree with), that not much happens in it, sort of works against the argument that Lucas is a better storyteller. And in case you didn’t see my first comment, I am not saying I didn’t like _Episode I_ when I first saw it- I liked it, and I liked it a quite a bit. I don’t know if I would now, but I liked it then. Yet even then, I realized I was liking it more because it was fun and fluffy; and from what I recall, I came out feeling much more satisfied/excited/whatever after _Star Trek_ because I felt, overall, it was better. This could be a result of age difference among myriad other causes, but I suppose I’m defending _Star Trek_ for the same reasons you’re defending _Ep.I_: an emotional attachment to it because of the enjoyment I took in watching it. And in terms of competition, if we’re talking summer movies, yes, but in terms of genre, no: _Indiana Jones_ isn’t sci-fi. Or at least it wasn’t until the fourth movie.
Yes, I liked Episode I when I saw it in theatre – not on opening night, about a week later. By the time I saw it, I’d already heard people complaining about Jar-Jar; fortunately nobody dropped any spoilers on me.
The visuals (and John Williams’ music, I admit that too) was what made it great for me. There are many things to hate about Ep I – Jar-Jar is merely the most egregious Lucas mistake. But for me, all it takes is ONE epic light saber battle and ONE epic space battle to make it all seem worthwhile.
I watched the entire 6-movie series over the course of 2 weekends about a year ago. Taken as a whole, these movies are not great movies. But they are pretty good, and in the 12 hours or so of screen time, there are some moments that do rise well above and stand out. Lots of stinker moments, too, but I find the great stuff more than outweighs the bad.
Additional confession: I actually enjoyed the animated Clone Wars. Yeah, on further reflection, it sucks, but I guess I’m a sucker for big dumb visuals of shiny things exploding.
I was nine years old when Episode I came out. I didn’t love it and I didn’t like Jar Jar, but I kind of liked it…
Here is my confession. When I saw A New Hope for the first time, I was incredibly, woefully disappointed. When it was over, I remember thinking “That’s it? Really?”
TPM was the first Star Wars movie I saw, and I loved it. In fact, I still love it, although there are bits I wish I could fast-forward. I saw it more than a dozen times in the theatres and I’ve seen it several times since, one way or another.
I mostly love it because of Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor. I was a nerdy sheltered 19-year-old girl at the time, and completely unprepared for Ewan’s hip schwing or ‘A Cheek Touch Before Dying’ on Liam’s part.
No, sir, I didn’t like it then. For a reason. It made me go through episodes IV, V and VI, only to discover THIS WASN’T MY CUP OF TEA ANYMORE. Same for Indy (And a biiiiig bunch of films, movies, whatever they are called).
So my sin is different, I became a heretic: Save for a few lines of dialogue, some music, and certain specific moments, there’s not much for me in the entire Star Wars universe.
And I blame Lucas.
So, screw my childhood view of SW Ep. I made me see things from another perspective and I didn’t like SW anymore.
And I blame myself.