Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Star Wars Subjectivities: The Phantom Menace

Bad. So, so bad.  

Gather 'round, kids, and let me tell you the story of a boy who loved Star Wars with all his heart and soul. A boy who, when it was announced that a new Star Wars film was coming to theaters, stood in line for hours to snag tickets for opening night...and the night after. 

This boy, you see, who loved Star Wars with all his heart and soul, knew - just knew - that the new film would be great, perhaps even the greatest ever. 

Opening night came, and he drove to the theater with his friends. He bought candy. He bought a coke. He endured preview after preview, each more irrelevant and tedious than the last. Then, with a blast of fanfare courtesy of John Williams, that classic yellow font appeared, promising conspiracies to exploit the innocent - by a sinister Trade Federation whose starships looked like proto-Death Stars. He was in. It was happening. Now. Right at that moment. 

For the next 2 hours and 16 minutes, the boy was transfixed. Darth Maul! Darth Sidious! Those weaselly bastards in Trade Federation! Pod racing! When it was over, he left the theater despondent that he would have to wait a whole 24 hours to see it again. 

Then he did see it again, and...

...it was fucking terrible. 

Bad. So, so bad. So fucking god-awfully bad he wanted to puke. 

In fact, the experience was so traumatic that it would take him a full 24 years to watch it again. WTF, Lucas! 

This brings us to the present day. As part of this project, I volunteered to take on The Phantom Menace - knowing full well that I might hate it as much as I did on the second night, but hoping there might be a little bit of that first night magic. There wasn't. The Phantom Menace is easily the worst Star Wars film I've ever seen, and may be one of the worst films I've ever seen of any kind. The words "colossal failure" don't even capture just how colossal the failure is. 

In fact, The Phantom Menace is bad - on so many levels - that it's hard to know where to begin. But here's a start:

The writing is bad. The acting is bad. The direction is bad. The production is bad. The pacing is bad. The design is bad. The effects are bad. The characters are bad. The plot is bad. The concept is...well...okay, maybe this maybe could have actually been a good movie, in theory, but unfortunately...the execution is, in a word, bad. Like, bad on a very basic, fundamental level. 

How in the hell was this made by the same guy who directed THX1138

A good film.

And that's not even getting into the film's many, many facepalm moments. The most obvious of these is Jar-Jar Binks, a groan-inducing slapstick character who looks like a high school coding class experiment and is introduced for the sole purpose of being clumsy and incompetent. Then there's the Trade Federation - greedy, malevolent and weirdly Chinese-sounding. Given the way ethnic Chinese are stereotyped in many parts of Asia (i.e. very similar to the way Jews are stereotyped in Europe), this is just...very problematic. Then there's Watto, who comes to us straight out of an anachronistic 1930s vaudeville rendition of Disney's Aladdin

There is no defending this. 

Now let's talk about the battledroids - bizarrely incompetent machines in a world where actual machine intelligence is widespread, including in service droids. Oh, and the kid is just terrible. I wouldn't normally rag on a kid but he's an adult now. The kid cannot act and is given bad lines to say badly. Over and over. 

So what's good? Well, Darth Maul looks pretty cool. Only he gets punked by weak-ass Obi-Wan after like 4 minutes on the screen. The pod races are...very dated now, but at the time they weren't terrible, I guess? Forgive me, but I can't muster much enthusiasm when the painful spectacle of Jar-Jar's underwater slapstick routine is seared into my consciousness like the worst drunk uncle ever to attend a Thanksgiving dinner. 

So that's it, right there. To sum, this movie is bad. It is very, very bad. And it gets worse with age and distance. Fight me. 


POSTED BY: The G--purveyor of nerdliness, genre fanatic and Nerds of a Feather founder/administrator, since 2012.