STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE

Poffy The Cucumber

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Hairstyles from the 70s, 80s and 90s all in one movie!

A Legend Unravels…

Twenty years ago, I liked Michael Jackson. Everyone did. Twenty years ago, I liked STAR WARS. Everyone did.

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Poff Maul

Look what happened to Michael Jackson. Look what happened to STAR WARS.

Both these entities were done in NOT by lack of funding, backstabbing competitors or unbalanced advisors. Ironically, they brought their downfalls on themselves through a surfeit of funding which removed them from any competition and tipped them into insular universes within their own strangely shaped heads.

All that said, STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE is simply amazing. It is absolutely astounding how much nothing this much money can buy.

Now remember, PHANTOM MENACE was birthed into the world long after the STAR WARS canon entered world vernacular, like red corpuscles in the Earth’s bloodstream. So it is all the more painful to see the cancer of The Prequels eating our childhood dreams away.

George Lucas (Mr. Insular himself) writes and directs and ruins as he goes. If he had just surrendered his chokehold on his writer’s pen and precious director’s chair, we wouldn’t have this facsimile of a movie sullying the legend that he himself brought to life 20 years ago.

an even longer time ago…
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Qui-Gon Jinn

Movie opens with two Jedi Knights, young “padawan” Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his “Master” Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson, with a THUNDERDOME mullet), on a diplomatic mission to resolve a Trade Federation dispute. Immediately, we are lost: not only because George Lucas thrives on cloaking the simplicity of his stories with obfuscating politics, but because no one will admit that the Jedi translation of “padawan” is “bitchboy.”

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Obiwan Kenobi

Qui and Obi immediately get into trouble, like a couple of intergalactic Gilligans; lightsabers sizzle, robots frizzle, and the two flat-faced aliens who sent the robots realize they are neck-deep in shizzle.

This opening sequence is actually the best part of the movie, as we get to see real Jedi in action – their prowess spoken of in three films and only marginally displayed by neophyte Luke, smug Darth and doddering Alec Guinness.

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Jar Jar Binks

Master and Bitchboy then flee the T-Fed conference after blowing things up and land on a planet where they meet Jar Jar Binks. Proof positive that George Lucas hates his fans.

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Queen Amidala

Meanwhile, Natalie Portman is learning her lines to play Queen Amidala, reciting them without a shred of emotion, and Lucas is filming all her rehearsal takes in funny wigs. (At least, I hope those are rehearsal takes.)

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Mace Windu

I don’t know what Jules Winnfield is doing here…

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Anakin Skywalker

Qui, Obi and Jar crash-land on Tattooine (something to do with the hyperdrive that no one ever fixes properly) and meet an irritating slave boy called Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) and his virgin mother (Pernilla August). And here, ladies and gentlemen, is George’s greatest casting mistake ever, even worse than non-actor Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, even worse than non-actor Hayden Christensen as teen Darth, even worse than that non-actor Empire extra with the phony looped dialog, “Holding her is dangerous. Word of this gets out, it could generate sympathy for the rebellion in the senate” – here is the future Darth Vader, a puling, smartmouth, blond American non-actor kid who looks like a refugee from a ’70’s sitcom, playing the icon that haunted our nightmares as we slept on our Star Wars bedsheets.

 

Is anyone buying this?

Invoking the Jesus myth, Anakin’s mother simply blurts to Qui one day that she “just got pregnant” with Anakin – you’d think she’d save the high maintenance girlfriend talk until after dinner and drinks, but I guess she really had the hots for Qui and his Steven Seagal ponytail and wanted to come clean with him about her divine stretchmarks.

By now, Liam Neeson is not even phoning it in – he’s faxing it, his eyes so glazed over with boredom he never once focuses on all the imaginary CGI shit around him, his inflection never rising above audition level.

Qui-Gon discovers the irritating kid is blessed with a lot of little animals living in his blood, called midi-chlorians. Rather than produce whiter whites – which is what they sound like they do – these midi-chlorians contribute to that mystical power that runs the galaxy – The Force. *I* didn’t say it. George Lucas did. George tells us that the more midi-chlorians in your bloodstream, the stronger The Force is in you. So in EPISODE V, when Yoda speaks to Luke about The Force imbuing the rocks, he was talking about the rocks’ bloodstream? And when Ben Kenobi and Yoda speak of The Force binding the Universe together, they mean billions of these little animals floating around in space? I get it now, George. Really, I do.

We could only watch in helpless horror as George Lucas takes apart his toy and tries to put it back together again, like a retarded Rain Man.

If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?
— Anton Chigurh, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.

At a Jedi Council, which looks more like an AA meeting for fanboys in funny masks, Qui-Gon tries to sell the midi-chlorians story about young Anakin – but no one’s buying it. They’re on a higher plane of universal consciousness – Prophesy. And we see that it really worked out well: with all their vaunted prophesies and foresight on Anakin being their “Chosen One” who would “bring balance to The Force” – he becomes DARTH VADER!

Oh, and I’m the asshole for being sarcastic?

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Darth Maul

Padding ensues with a pointless “pod-race,” and the Jedi win the slave boy’s freedom. Before they can leave the planet with him, they are attacked by Gene Simmons – my mistake, it wasn’t Gene, just someone from the KISS Army, Darth Maul (Ray Park). Pissed about something – maybe that KISS did that reunion tour without him.

Is this guy’s red-and-black makeup meant to be his skin pigmentation? Only the Geek Squad knows for sure. We might feel sorry for Darth Vader having to intercourse his hyperbaric chamber every morning for his daily dose of breath mask – but think about this guy: every morning, waking at 3 a.m. just to “get his face on” for his badboy jeepster image. Do his co-workers snigger behind his back when he walks down the halls of Darth Center?

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Chancellor Valorum

Terence Stamp is Supreme Chancellor Valorum and by the looks of his fabulous robes, he’s either an intergalactic senator or a drag queen. Constant puss on his face because —

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Senator Palpatine

Senator Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is allowed to act feyer than him and is plotting to take over the confused political idiotocracy that they rule over from their hovering frisbees.

Political intrigue ensues, our eyes glazing over like Qui-Gon’s in front of a green screen. The Darth boy annoys the crap out of us. R2-D2 goes Action Trashcan Hero. C-3PO is naked. Samuel L. Jackson (as Jedi Mace Windu) tries to sound Shakespearean and still sounds like Jules from PULP FICTION – seems you can take the pimpmaster out of the PULP, but you can’t take the… And Yoda floats around on a hover-chair like some hedonistic Bob Dylan, quoting platitudes until we vomit like abandoned children.

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Yoda

Y’know, Yoda is a prick. When we met him a long time ago in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, he tells us the Way of The Jedi is asceticism, simplicity, balance… So why does he live in a giant palace floating around on a hover-chair in EPISODE I? His very tenets – the tenets of his cackling religious order – are recanted in this movie. I see all the other Jedi walking, Master Yoda – even if you are saving time with the hover-disco, wouldn’t it be more in keeping with your Holy Order for one of your Bitchboys to backpack you? Seems walking or backpacking are too good for Master Yoda – until the Empire burns his frilly palace down. Let’s face it, you little green hypocrite – you were only living in a cave in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK cos you were on the lam from the Empire which YOU tell us is “evil.” Suuure, I’d consider the people who burned down my palace as evil – but that’s only half the story. Did they burn it down in the first place because you were tyrannizing the secular folk who would not bow to your precious Midi-Chlorian Religious Rule? Hmmm…

 

“hokey religions and ancient weapons…”

Darth KISS versus Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan! While John Williams’s cosmo choral music ratchets the tension, Darth Maul, who studied with Jedi Master Little John of the Sherwood Forest Star System, brings it with a double-sided lightsaber quarterstaff.

StarWars_EpI_lightsabersIt is here that Qui-Gon must die. Not because Darth Maul’s midi-chlorian count was higher (which is obvious if he bested Qui-Gon), not because it served the plot, but because Liam Neeson’s fax machine ran out of paper. Neeson showing his utter contempt for this project by not allowing Lucas to use his spirit form in any further prequels/sequels. Kenobi and Yoda appear to Luke every time he stubs his toe, to offer sage advice on how to rub the lotion on its skin or it gets the hose again, yet when Kenobi was a young man in need of spiritual guidance, Qui-Gon, a supposedly powerful Jedi Master, can’t bother to scare up the ectoplasm.

But why do Qui and Obi insist on battling Maul – an obviously superior dueler – with lightsabers when they could have just as easily used a blaster on him? The Jedi ethos seems to purvey that – as in HIGHLANDER – a Jedi should not and cannot be killed unless he is swashbuckled to death by a beam of light. Or do they insist on using this obsolete lightsaber technology due to a misplaced honor code?

Han Solo says in EPISODE IV, “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster any day.” Proven time and again throughout the series: Obi-Wan himself uses a blaster against General Grievous in REVENGE OF THE SITH (and then complains, “How uncivilized!” – that “uncivilized” blaster could have saved us ten minutes of padding with the lizard-riding and redundant quadruple-lightsaber swooshing); also in SITH, Jedi across the galaxy are brought down not by lightsabers, but by blasters. Easily. Midi-chlorians on vacation that day?

If there’s that much “honor” among Jedi, why do so many of them turn to the Dark Side? And upon turning to the Dark Side, why then bother using the “honorable, civilized” lightsaber? You’ve already turned to the genocidal, dishonorable Dark Side – d’ya think killing kids with a lightsaber is more “honorable” than with a blaster?

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non-aiming robots

Meanwhile, down on the planet of wimbleys or something, a completely illogical land battle is taking place between Jar Jar Binks’s Gungan race of agrarian ostrich-riders and Imperial robots who can’t aim.Illogical because the Empire’s firepower can obliterate the Gungans and they insist on taking the battle down to Gungan level by employing ineffectual ground troops – those absolutely useless, waste-of-evil-taxpayer-dollars “battle” droids. (Like these futile drogues who never hit anything even know what “battle” is.)

These things are robots – shouldn’t they have AIMING MECHANISMS? For economic purposes, shouldn’t their guns be built into their arms, with re-loadable magazines slotted into their bodies? At least those rolling droids have built-in guns – but what’s the point if the guns are programmed for “Fire Arbitrarily in General Direction of Enemy and Hope for the Best”? (And no, I don’t know what those rolling droids are called, but I’m sure you can find out on the Star Wars Information Line at 1-800-NO-GIRLFRIENDS.)

After we realize the movie has degenerated to every single pixel onscreen being a special effect, we take a nap. When we wake up, everything has worked out fine in the end, just like a big fat family sitcom in space. With no one ever figuring out just who or what the “phantom menace” actually is.

No two synopses for PHANTOM MENACE can agree on what PHANTOM MENACE is really about, except that it introduces to cinema the most annoying kid in the world and claims he’s Darth Vader. What can really be learned from these Prequels, except that there was a lot more sky traffic – and the Empire seemed to have cleared up that problem by EPISODE IV.

Big Government. Who needs it? We do. If they can clean up sky-traffic like that, go right ahead and keep phantom menacing me, midi-chlorians, maxi-chlorians, ultra-chlorians, I don’t care – as long as I can get across town for a Hefeweisen with a buddy without busting a blood vessel stuck in the belly of a steel snake and giving the finger to ten jerks who drive as if they owned the skies like the Trade Federation…

And like Big Government, PHANTOM MENACE talks too much, dazzles with special effects, overdoses on misdirection – and says nothing.

END

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StarWars-EpI_titleSTAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE (May 1999) PG-13
Director, Writer: George Lucas.
Music: John Williams.
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Pernilla August, Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid, Oliver Ford Davies, Ray Park, Hugh Quarshie, Ahmed Best, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Terence Stamp, Brian Blessed, Andrew Secombe, Lewis Macleod, Steven Spiers, Silas Carson, Samuel L. Jackson, Sofia Coppola, Keira Knightley.
RATINGS-04 imdb
Word Count: 2,050      No. 372
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