Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
A Starcanon Review - Mild Spoilers Ahead!
At this point in time, it seems a little redundant to go back over the plot of this movie. However, on the off chance you missed everything that's happened in the Star Wars universe, it's the beginning of the Skywalker saga and Palpatines' rise to power. In fact, one of the things I particularly liked about this movie during my most recent watch through was the way the Senator is already making his move on the power structure of the Republic. His double life as Sith Lord and Politician are really well divided in McDiarmid's performance, and he keeps just a hint of the sinister about him when performing his political duties.
The movie itself is actually really well laid out, in my opinion, and feels like a classic addition to the saga despite the additional effects employed in its making. From the classic musical background, bringing back (or should that be introducing?) some of the infamous themes from the original trilogy, to the choice of scene cut transitions, everything about it really feels 'classic'. That said, I also think they have used the update in movie technology well too, bringing a vibrancy to the world backgrounds in both Naboo and Coruscant. The latter in particular feels really alive and full of the hustle and bustle one might expect to find on a city planet.
There are some great minor details in this movie too, from the brief appearance of a rather infamous bounty hunter during the pod races, to the fact that R2D2 really shines after getting his cleaning reward from the Queen. There are also a few misses, again in my opinion, that do take away a little from the tension and excitement of the movie. The biggest one for me happened to be in one of my favourite scenes of the whole movie - the pod races.
In general I think they did a great job of building the excitement here. It has the feeling of being a grand event, and really adds in the importance of the events about to unfold. Even though we basically already know what the result will be, there is a thrill to be found in the getting there. However, there are points in the race where things really feel a bit slow, when the whole point is people are dashing around a murderous landscape strapped to two or more ship engines!
A couple of times in this race Anakin seems to magically have the time to sit back and fix his racer, before pushing back on the accelerator and ending up only just behind the other racers again, who have supposedly been going at full speed the whole time. It's a minor thing, really, but it is a bit of a disappointment in what should have been kept as a really high octane moment in the movie. I think, in this case, the book actually does a better job of describing the connection Anakin has with the force in these moments, and that allows him to work through the problems without dying, but in the movie I just didn't feel that they make that point well here.
In general I think this actually a very fun movie, and there are a fair few comedic moments in-between some of the more serious scenes. I'm sure for many, this is a drawback, but I quite enjoy the fact that the story isn't all doom and gloom yet. It seems fitting that at this point in time, things are basically still normal, and life often has little funny moments even in the darkest of times. Then there is Jar-Jar.
I don't think he deserves the level of hate this character gets, and even without the possibility of Darth Binks, it's not technically a bad character, just not particularly well executed in this movie. He is the wrong kind of slapstick, and where C3P0 and R2D2 get it right with their odd form of 'banter' and situational comedy, Binks falls flat as little more than the idiot child. It's a shame really, as later on he becomes a really important and more rounded character in both the animated series and the second movie, but I think the damage was done in the Phantom Menace, and people were just not ready to forgive him.
The overall pacing of this movie is pretty good, and it follows the heroes journey outline found in the original trilogy well. This also helps keep the movie on theme with the rest of the saga. It's quite interesting, to me at least, that there are three heroes here, all on their own journey. While Anakin is quite obviously being set on a path far beyond his previous imagining, Obi-Wan and Padme are also being forced out of their comfort zones and become more than what they were. As a teenage Queen, Padme is forced into an insane situation for someone her age to have to deal with, but she rises to the occasion magnificently, even surprising and outmanoeuvring Palpatine at points.
Obi-Wan is shoved from apprentice to knight, not only with the death of his master, but when Qui-Gon's plans for Anakin are revealed. On top of this, he is forced to deal with the return of the Sith, something the Order believed to be impossible, and so his faith is tested and his world shaken apart.
I have to say, it has been some time since I last watched this movie, and now that I am writing these reviews I will be watching them all again to both refresh my memory and see how my views of them have changed. I never disliked the Phantom Menace, but it certainly wasn't a great movie in my mind. I think reading 'The Queen's Gambit' by E.K. Johnston made quite a difference in my appreciation of the story, since it dives into the background of both Padme and Palpatine, giving the viewer a more nuanced understanding of the power games being played. So, if like me you found it to be a bit meh, I would certainly recommend reading a bit more background information and then giving it another try with an open mind. You might be surprised!