Episode I THE PHANTOM MENACE
Is it really 11 years since The Phantom Menace brought Star Wars back to the Cinema after a 16 year hiatus? The hype and expectation for this movie was probably greater than anything before or since in movie history. What film could ever hope to live up to this hype and expectation? No film ever could. The initial response from fanboys and critics across the world was cries of anguish and pain. Claims of childhoods being raped drowned out the more sensible reflections that actually this movie whilst not particularly great, was as bad as many claimed it was. Now, almost a decade on from the initial release, perhaps the time is right for a more considered view of this film?
The Phantom Menace is the very definition of a "mixed" film. It has both good and bad points, and whether you end up liking this film will depend on;
1. Do the bad points outweigh the good points for you?
2. Do the good points outweigh the bad points for you?
Thus you will find the answer of whether or not this movie works for you, somewhere in the balance of the two.
Some of the bad points; George Lucas's direction is stiff. Lucas hadn't directed a film since 1977 and it shows.
Jar Jar Binks is annoying and tedious and frequently gets in the way, however, as with so many complaints about this film, Binks is NOT as bad as some would have you believe, and you CAN enjoy this film despite the presense of JJB. Children will love Jar Jar, so if you show this film to your 8 year old child, please don't let your loathing of Mr Bink's ruin your child's love for this character.
Other bad points are that the pod race goes on too long (it went on too long in the theatrical release, and for some reason its been extended further for the DVD)
Ewan Mcgregor unfortunatly gets very little to do.
Natalie Portman shines as Queen Amidala, but as Padme she often leaves a lot to be desired. Jake Lloyds Anakin is given some annoyingly silly lines to read out (as with Binks, Lloyd is NOT as bad as outraged fanboys would have you believe)
The Gungans are probably the worse species in SW history (except for the Ewoks of course ;) ) and the final battle between the Gungans and the Battle Droids is unengaging.
Perhaps my main complaint about Menace is that the two characters that get the most screen time, Jar Jar Binks and Qui-Gon Jinn, are the two characters that don't really feature in the next two films. Thus, this is, I think, the central problem with Menace. Its mainly filler. Lucas needed "more" in this film.
Some of the good points; Liam Neeson is the glue that holds this film together. Anybody that says the acting was better in the OT, should look at Neesons performance. Its at least as good as anything in the OT.
The political sub-plot is interesting and engaging and seeing how Palpatine begins his rise to power is compelling. Ian Mcdiarmid is outstanding in the small number of scenes he is given.
The Mother/Son relationship between Anakin and his Mother is well done and you do feel a sense of Anakins pain at being parted from his mother and having to leave her as a slave. The twist of Anakin's origins (that he was born without a father) adds a mystical and mythical element. Deeply religious people may be offended, but "virgin births" feature in many mythical stories.
Seeing the workings of the Jedi Council and how the Jedi relate to the Senate is interesting.
Darth Maul is cool and The Duel Of The Fates is probably the most exciting lightsaber battle of the Saga. The piece of music that accompany's the duel is truely outstanding (otherwise John Williams' score on TPM isn't very memorable - Like Lucas, at times you get the sense he is warming himself up with this picture
The general time and effort and attention to detail is wonderful. For Amidala's gowns alone costume designer Trisha Biggar should have won an Oscar. ILM's special effects are amazing. The film looks outstanding and sounds wonderful. As a piece of art, The Phantom Menace is an awesome blend of creativity and artisitic inspiration. Too bad the final product ended up so mixed.
Episode II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES
This is the Star Wars movie that possibly divide's Star Wars fans the most. With The Phantom Menace, most fans are united in their indifference to down right loathing. With Revenge of the Sith, most fans agreed that it was a huge step up in all departments. But with 2002's Attack of the Clones opinion was varied widely between those that hated it more then Phantom Menace right through to those that thought it was a masterpiece on a par with The Empire Strikes Back. Why such a range of opinion? My feeling is that this is perhaps the movie of the series that is closest to Lucas's personal desire to be a truly experimental film maker. Indeed, there's almost something of the advant garde about the style of Attack of the Clones, but at the same time Lucas has gone out of his way to listen and respond and correct much of the criticism of The Phantom Menace.
In a story sense, Attack of the Clones is closest to The Empires Strikes Back. It's a bridging movie that must act both as pathway from Episode I to Episode III and at the same time it must be an interesting and entertaining movie in its own right. It must deepen and flesh out the characters and take the plot in new and surprising directions - Clones achieves all of these things to varying degrees of success. Clearly Lucas realized this film was in some ways connected in story terms to Empire, because he put in a couple of elements from the 1980 movie. So, we have incredibly cool looking Bounty Hunters, a very youthful Boba Fett and his father Jango Fett and a chase through an asteroid field (though the CGI asteroid chase of Attack of the Clones is not a thrilling or exciting as the asteroid chase in Empire)
Attack of the Clones is basically a love story set against the backdrop of war and this is where a lot of the complaints come from. The love story is played out as a very old fashioned, formal courtship, almost in the spirit of King Arthur or Romeo and Juliet. The dialogue is deliberately flowery and over the top. Unfortunately Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman do not have the range to pull off some of the lines they are given. The actors should have had a sense of humor about the guff they have to say, and that would have helped the audience relax into the scenes. As it is, everything is played out very seriously and on one or two occasions the scenes simply become a bore. Listen out for a stunning, melancholy love theme (Across The Stars) composed as ever by musical legend John Williams. This sad piece hints at the tragedy that will await Anakin and Padme....
Juxtaposed to the love story we get a mystery story, where Obi-Wan Kenobi goes off on his own to investigate who is trying to kill Padme. The mystery deepens when Obi-Wan stumbles across a Clone Army that is being developed for The Republic, supposedly at the behest of the Jedi Council. Soon Obi-Wan finds himself caught up in a war beat that explodes into life on the hot and dusty planet of Geonosis. This story is much more interesting than the love stuff and on a number of occasions when the movie is with Anakin and Padme, you'll find yourself wishing to get back to Obi-Wan. Ewan McGregor has a much expanded role, and he shines. This is McGregor's movie and he completely steps up to the plate. Rumor has it that Ewan wasn't particularly happy with this movie, but in my opinion he delivers his best work of the Prequel Trilogy in Attack of the Clones.
As the movie develops Anakin and Padme leave the safety of Naboo (Lake Como stands in for Naboo in this film and looks absolutely beautiful) and travel to Tatooine. This is the part of the film where Clones truly comes alive. The acting level rise's all round as we return to the Lars Homestead (the places and sets so famous in the original Star Wars movie) We meet up with C3PO and find out that Anakin's mother has been kidnapped by Tusken Raiders. As his beloved mother later dies in arms, Anakin lashes out in an uncontrollable rage (listen out for a ghostly voice crying out at this moment) and his downward spiral to his ultimate fate has begun. These scenes and a confession scene (set in the Lars garage - another famous set from Star Wars) are played out excellently. Christenson and Portman really act well in these scenes. The movie rise's to a whole new level at this moment, and the rest of the film just fly's by.
The final action scenes take place on Geonosis as Obi-Wan, Anakin and Padme join up and take on monsters and Battle Droids. They are then joined by Clones Attacking (fancy that) and 500 Jedi Knights, including much expanded roles for Yoda and Mace Windu. All this is overseen by evil Count Dooku, played with great style by horror legend Christopher Lee. Indeed, the climax of the movie is an iconic face off between Dooku and Yoda. The lightsaber fight itself leaves a lot to be desired, but the build up is masterful. The roof, literally, comes down! As we go from one action scene to another in true cliffhanger/Saturday matinee style, the action becomes breathtaking and you'll be exhausted by the end. Finally people get to see why Star Wars is such a special series of movies.
The acting is generally better in Clones than Menace. I've already picked up on McGregor, but Portman and Christenson also do good work outside of some of the love scenes. Ian McDiarmid is again solid as ever as Palpatine (look out for the now Supreme Chancellor to take a further step towards Galactic Domination in a scene that actually justifies Jar Jar Binks's presense in this series) Samuel L Jackson enjoys his expanded role. Read more ›