As we move into this new era of Star Wars, I want to take a look back at the saga films, how my perception of the films have changed over time, and the ever changing canon of Star Wars.
Star Wars: Episode 1 The Phantom Menace, as we all know, was released in May of 1999 to an almost unimaginable level of anticipation and expectation. The film that we got is beloved by some, derided by others, but has had a significant influence of Star Wars and Star Wars fandom since it’s release.
For me personally, The Phantom Menace is my least favorite of the Star Wars films. While I do love the film and enjoy watching it, I can’t help but notice that it is a flawed film. When it works though, it is spectacular. In 1999, I was pumped and couldn’t wait for the film to come out. Going to see the movie on opening day turned out to be very special for me because it was my wife and I’s first date. So this movie will always hold a special place in my heart.
It’s almost impossible to take in all of this film in a single viewing. Each frame is filled with so much that it can easily overwhelm you. Locations like Naboo and Coruscant are so deeply detailed it’s a shame that we don’t get to spend more time really digging into those locations, years later I’m still seeing new things. Even the barren landscapes of Tatooine give us a lot to take in. The streets of Mos Espa are filled with all number of strange people and aliens. The Phantom Menace is a spectacular visual movie. The visual effects mostly hold up now, however a few shots do feel cartoony and don’t quite stand up to what we are used to seeing, it holds up better than most films from it’s time though.
We can’t talk about The Phantom Menace without discussing the Gungan in the room, Jar Jar Binks. He is easily one of the most divisive parts of this movie for fans. Looking on the film now he does not play a very large part, and he does succeed at lightening-up what would otherwise be a very heavy film. Jar Jar also serves an important purpose in the film, he is the eyes of the audience. Every character outside of Jar Jar is a Queen, a Jedi, or part of the Royal or Senatorial court. Jar Jar is the everyman, a simple gungan who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and got swept up in the adventure. I’ve always had a soft spot for the bumbling gungan, I think he represents the very core of what Star Wars is all about, the effect that a single person can have on the galaxy.
The Phantom Menace is Episode 1, but what strikes me as odd, is how little actual information about the galaxy we are given. It’s because of this that I really do believe the “Machete” order (4, 5, 1, 2, 3, 6…) is the best order to view the films for the first time. However, I think it is important to view the films in the 1-6 order at least once to view the story chronologically.
No matter the rest, the Jedi is by far the high point of the film. Seeing the Jedi in action is fabulous. From the very opening of the film through to the climatic duel between Obi-wan, Qui-Gon, and Darth Maul, the Jedi action is top notch. Even though I’ve seen the movie close to 500 times, I still get excited watching Obi-wan take on Darth Maul in the finale. I remember the excitement I had in the theaters and I still get excited watching them in action now.
The Phantom Menace is a lot of things to both the fans and the overall Star Wars saga. Not every piece of the film works perfectly, but that is what happens when you have a creator who is willing to take such chances. This is a movie that means a lot to me personally, and while it may not be at the top of my list, it will always hold a special place.
The Cantina Cast
The wretched hive your Jedi Master warned you about!