STAR WARS EPISODE ONE: THE PHANTOM MENACE / REVIEWED! / REVISITED! / REDEEMED?
It was a time of creative bankruptcy in the Hollywood Blockbuster market. Nobody was taking any risks and yet there seemed a great drought even in the old blockbuster franchises. And then: summer 1999. An event that would unite all movie fans in simultaneous anticipation, before dividing them ever after in opinion..THE PHANTOM MENACE.
This was GEORGE LUCAS‘ first attempt at directing since 1977’s original STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE (no, second unit work on RAIDERS/JEDI etc does not count!). Also, the first new episode in the series for SIXTEEN YEARS. It’s easy to take the brand for granted in today’s fat years whereby no franchise goes under-nourished and no market unsaturated. But THIS?
A film that was both what everyone WANTED and thereby what they simply could not accept. A film DESTINED to disappoint, sadly. That is quite unjust and ironic, considering that the film looks just like a slightly ‘younger’ STAR WARS, including Jedi at their peak and a more refined, elegant architecture.
Yes, of course, PHANTOM MENACE is a very flawed piece of work. There is no real sense of danger or threat or urgency and an inelegant, clunky delivery to the thing. Its many shortcomings have also provided the basis for the excellent RED LETTER MEDIA MR. PLINKETT videos.
And Plinkett does make some excellent points, a kin to watching a potted film school via character comedy. But that format has now been copied. Done to death, like STAR WARS itself and, much like Lucas, ironically, Plinkett has only teased a comeback after a long hiatus, so we must make do with countless copy-cat sketches on YouTube, all of whom simply rehash the same dissections, minus the wit and humor. Indeed, if I did not know better, I would swear blind that THE FORCE AWAKENS simply was written by a committee with a check-list of things to avoid in case Plinkett were to review the film subsequent to its release?
So it’s TIME for a genuinely new spin on THE PHANTOM MENACE. I for one LOVE the film. I think it is bold and innovative and visually stunning, with a Biblical sincerity married to a childlike sense of awe and an earnest archive of cinematic styles. Indeed, I’d go so far as saying I prefer it to THE FORCE AWAKENS. That is not about quality, you understand (nb trolls: I am NOT arguing PHANTOM MENACE is ‘better’ than FORCE AWAKENS..’Tell That to KanjiKlub!’). This is about distinction. Definition. An auteur’s determination to tell the story they need to, even if their vision is founded on mainly brush-strokes.
Don’t believe me? Ok then. HELP ME FRANK MENGARELLI..YOU’RE MY ONLY HOPE!
Take it away, FRANK!
It’s no secret that many high brow cinephiles have their knives out when it comes to STAR WARS, but in particular the prequels. To be fair, my film snobbery overflows onto big blockbuster franchises, but STAR WARS, all aspects of it; the films, the novels, the video games, collectibles are so ingrained in my life since childhood that it’s fair to say I will never have as much passion for anything as I do for STAR WARS. THE PHANTOM MENACE is a stark contrast from the original trilogy, and that’s exactly what it is supposed to be.
Yes, there are many missteps, including the casting of some actors, and the dialogue at times is lackluster and unintentionally laughable but there is so much more at stake when you look at the big picture. Set decades before A NEW HOPE, Episode I shows us the beginning. We see a vibrant and fertile galaxy before the desolate dilapidation that the Empire brings to not only the aesthetics but also thematically in the original trilogy.
This is a time of prosperity, a time when the Jedi oversaw peace in the galaxy. But. This is also the beginning of the galaxy being divided in a full-out war. Planets pitted against each other by fear and economics. All the workings of seminal STAR WARS villain, Emperor Palpatine, who in Episode I is nothing more than the affable senator from the peaceful planet of Naboo. His Sith alter ego, Darth Sidious, does all the dirty work.
I know. Jar Jar Binks is the go to hangup. Yes, Jar Jar is annoying until you get over it and embrace him. LIAM NEESON as the Jedi Master who is the hierarchy of the Skywalker lineage more than makes up for Jar Jar. As does JOHN WILLIAMS‘ AMAZING score, particularly DUEL OF THE FATES which loudly surrounds the greatest light-saber battle in the STAR WARS saga: Qui Gon Ginn AND Obi Wan Kenobi versus fan favorite, Darth Maul.
THE PHANTOM MENACE is the weakest of the STAR WARS saga, but it is also a solid foundation of what’s to come after. The chaos that engulfs the galaxy. The tangible rise of Palpatine’s dark powers. For all of Lucas’ faults, he does an excellent job guiding the camera through the birth of galactic turmoil. His casting of Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson, and Terence Stamp are wonderfully perfect additions to the series, and his vibrant aesthetic is a pleasant contrast from the darkness of the original trilogy.
ALL ABOUT FRANK:
Everybody relax, Frank’s here! After going to film school at Columbia College Chicago, FRANK MENGARELLI decided to underachieve with his vast knowledge of film into a career in civil service. Frank had a brief stint as a film blogger, and then he met the heterosexual love of his life, Nick Clement. The two instantly bonded over their love from everything to Terence Malick to THE EXPENDABLES films. Some of Frank’s favorite filmmakers are Terence Malick, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Sylvester Stallone, Oliver Stone, Abel Ferrara, Lars von Trier, Steve McQueen and Spike Lee.
Some of his favorite films are THE TREE OF LIFE, STAR WARS (all of them), BAD LIEUTENANT (1992), THE THING and ALL THAT JAZZ. Frank spends his free time with his dog Roger, collecting any Star Wars collectible he can find and trying to finish his pretentious, first person narrative novel(la), LARGE MEN IN SMALL CARS.