Thursday, June 1, 2023

freakboy on film: THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)

DVD of Star Wars, episode 1, the phantom menace.
written & directed by George Lucas
What the hell is wrong with me? 

After my sister and I finished our annual Planet of the Apes Marathon, I decided it was time to watch the three STAR WARS trilogies in chronological order, which is something I’ve never done.  Since I only own the Original Trilogy, I borrowed Episode I from the library and, for the first time ever, I didn’t find myself loathing it with every fiber of my being.  So, I reiterate… 

What the hell is wrong with me? 

Please, don’t answer that and don’t get me wrong.  I still don’t love THE PHANTOM MENACE I mean, I could write a scathing post about the questionable creative choices of George Lucas.  That excruciating pod race scene is still endless.  (As if Anakin wasn’t going to win.)  Starting Anakin Skywalker (the future Darth Vader) out so ridiculously young continues to be a WTF?!?moment, compounded by the character’s alleged immaculate conception.  (Sorry, Ms. Skywalker, but someone already used that excuse.)  Then there is Jar Jar Binks… (Um, I just can’t right now.)  However, instead of complaining, I have decided to list (in no particular order) things about THE PHANTOM MENACE which I enjoyed, or at least wasn’t super annoyed by during this viewing. 

1 - Qui-Gon Jinn 
I wasn’t sure I liked him during the first viewing, but I’ve changed my mind.  Maybe it was all the time he spent with Nell, but Liam Neeson makes a believable and patient Jedi Knight. 
Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn
2 - Jabba the Hutt 
This sluggish gangster’s appearance is brief, but entertaining.  I mean, he mimics what theater audiences were doing by falling asleep during that wretched pod race. 
Jabba the Hutt
3 - Padmé Amidala 
I wasn’t sure about her the first time, maybe because of the whole decoy queen thing.  Now I think Natalie Portman brings a nice mix of strength and vulnerability to the character.  Well, until Episode III anyways, but I’m getting ahead of myself. 
Natalie Portman as Padmé Amidala
4 - Yoda 
I mean, come on!  He’s Yoda!  Plus, Frank Oz provides the voice for this Jedi Master again! 
5 - Mace Windu 
I mean, come on!  He’s Samuel L. Jackson!  He may not have a lot to do in his scene, but Mace glows with authentic Jedi coolness! 
Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu
6 - Anakin Skywalker 
Fine, I first thought Jake Lloyd was a horrible child actor, but now I wonder if he was just doing his best with George Lucas’ meh-inspired script.  Don’t get me wrong, the kid is no Jodie Foster, yet he has this one moment where a spark happens.  As Anakin gazes into Qui-Gon’s funeral pyre, he looks believably contemplative about his future, or maybe my half-blind eyes were just seeing things.
Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker
7 - Darth Maul (Ray Park)
I initially rolled my eyes at this character because his sole purpose seemed to be to kill Qui-Gon and look cool doing it.  He succeeds in this, but now I see him as the Prequel Trilogy’s Boba Fett.  Mysterious, baddass and too quickly dispatched, but at least Darth Maul didn’t die for the sake of a burp joke. 
Ray Park  as Darth Maul
8 - Naked C-3PO 
I still hate that Anakin is my favorite protocol droid’s “Maker” but at least I no longer cringe at C-3PO’s incomplete state.  Maybe because it’s pure joy to watch him meet his forever counterpart R2-D2.  Plus, Anthony Daniels once again lends his persnickety voice! 
Naked C-3PO
9 - Senator Palpatine 
He has been one of the best parts of THE PHANTOM MENACE since the first viewing.  It helps they got the same actor from RETURN OF THE JEDI and Ian McDiarmid is charmingly sinister as the future Emperor.  Plus, with this viewing, I fully understand how the plot is really about the Senator’s manipulations and machinations in order to gain more political power. 
Ian McDiarmid as Senator Palpatine
10 - Darth Vader’s breathing 
Even before Marvel movies made it mandatory, I often stayed through the ending credits at the theater, much to the chagrin of the staff.  I was rewarded with a bit of menacing EMPIRE music and Darth Vader’s rasping, mechanical breathing.  For a long time, I considered this audio moment the best part of the film.  Maybe it still is.
11 - Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) 
I still don’t love this character, but my absolute hatred has mutated into annoyed tolerance.  Before you scream at me, let’s all get real.  All of Jar Jar’s slapstick nonsense found its genesis in RETURN OF THE JEDI.  Somewhere between THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and JEDI, George Lucas forgot that while STAR WARS appeals to kids, it is not a kid flick.  He just took that childish mentality to the extreme in THE PHANTOM MENACE with Jar Jar Binks and a way too young Anakin. 
Jar Jar Binks
In conclusion… 
What the hell is wrong with me?  Have I lost my mind?  Did Disney’s Sequel Trilogy decimate what remained of my passion for STAR WARS?  Has Andy Milligan made me enjoy films that most consider bad or have I simply grown older and allegedly wiser?  Whatever the reason, I discovered a tentative appreciation for Episode I I mean, it’s far from perfect, that pod race is inexcusably tedious, but maybe, just maybe, THE PHANTOM MENACE isn’t the complete piece of 💩 that I thought it was.

Freak Out, 

P.S. Click a pic ⤵️ for my thoughts on the Sequel Trilogy…
DVD of Star Wars, episode 7, The force awakens

DVD of Star Wars, episode 8, the last Jedi

DVD of Star Wars, episode 9, the rise of skywalker


  1. Thoughtful post on The Phantom Menace's not-so-cringey aspects. To be honest, no movie could have lived up to the hype surrounding this one, so it's no wonder that it disappointed so many when it was first released. I think you provided a much-needed fresh perspective. Nice work, John!

    1. Thank you, Barry and you're right. It was the first new Star wars film in 16 years, so it was bound to disappoint. I guess I'm glad I could finally see beyond that disappointment.

  2. I tried to do this particular Star Wars trilogy and gave up at the conversation about taxes so I totally admire you for sticking with it...

    1. Thanks, Gill and I understand. The plot can be rather off-putting.

  3. Your cri de cour reminds me of an an awesome little book I just finished reading, Junk Film: Why Bad Movies Matter by Katherine Coldiron. Among some really great insights, she spends 2 pages trying to explain to herself why she likes Ted V. Mikels' 1968 exploitation flick Girl in Gold Boots, and ends up stating, "I like it, I can't defend it, it's bad, and I am not bad for liking it." (Okay, she sounds like a flake, but believe me, she's brilliant, and the book is a joy.) You're one up on her by actually finding specific things you enjoy in a movie that's not so great. Kudos for channeling the positive side of the Force!

  4. Thank you, brian! I must have been in a generous mood the day I rewatched The phantom menace. It just didn't annoy me like it used to.

    The book about junk films is something I will have to look for because it sounds right up my alley. I mean, I am an Andy Milligan fan, Plus I also enjoy girl in gold boots.