The Phantom Menace - Why I loved it
despite its obvious shortcomings


Having been a huge Star Wars fan all of my life, most of my internet buddies have been asking me to put in my two cents worth on Star Wars Episode I. I've been lurking on the Yahoo! Movies message boards to see what other people had to say, but most of them were so busy nitpicking and calling each other dirty names that it was well nigh impossible to find a decent movie review amidst the morass of incivility and boorishness.

As if that weren't disturbing enough, there was an article in my local paper this week about whether or not certain characters in the film represented racial stereotypes. Jar Jar Binks' Rastafarian accent was actually poking fun of black people, the trade federation viceroy had a bad asian accent, the blue flying creature, Watto, was an insult to Jews, Arabs, Italians, Greeks (pick whichever ethnicity allows you to feel victimized). The internet message boards were also clogged with this sort of nonsense. Please understand that these people aren't trying to critique the film, they're just trying to pick a fight. Don't let them. When the Politically Correct Thought Police come knocking on your door, do what I do: Ignore them. Pity them for their narrow-mindedness if you must, but bear in mind that anyone who is so determined to feel sorry for themselves DESERVES TO BE OFFENDED.

But I digress. Without further ado, my thoughts on Star Wars - The Phantom Menace
(henceforth referred to as TPM)

Number of times Mr. Hook has seen TPM: six

Number of times Obi-Wan uses the power of the Force to switch the braid
behind his right ear to the left side of his head: five

Number of cameos by E.T. and pals: one

Number of references to THX 1138: one

Frankly, this film was a bit of a let down. My main complaint is that the dialogue was a bit flat compared to the other three Star Wars episodes. This isn't to say that the other films didn't suffer from bouts of bland dialogue (the scene where Luke explains to Leah that she's really his sister still makes me cringe). But what the other three films had which TPM sorely lacks are memorable snappy one-liners. There's a whole book of them entitled "The Quotable Star Wars." I doubt they'll be able to derive much material from TPM when they release an updated edition. Most of the dialogue in TPM is rather perfunctory or loaded with exposition. In the "original" Star Wars films, the main villain, Darth Vader, had some of the best lines. In TPM, the main villain, Darth Maul, hardly had any lines at all.

Some people have complained that the characters were a bit flat compared to the "original"episodes, but I suspect this is also a result of lame and perfunctory dialogue given to them. I thought Neeson and McGreggor did an outstanding job as Jedi Knights considering most of their lines were humorless and uninspired. Most of TPM's best lines were given to the one character with the worst speech impediment: Jar Jar Binks.

Out in fandom land, there doesn't seem to be much middle ground on the subject of Jar Jar. He inspires hatred from the same group of people who loathe the poor little Ewoks with a vengeance. He's also a big hit with the kiddies, but then, so were the Ewoks. I found Jar Jar profoundly annoying the first time I saw TPM simply because it was so difficult to understand what he was saying. I kept looking for subtitles. The third or fourth time I saw TPM and I was able to anticipate Jar Jar's lines, the annoyance factor scaled back considerably.

So why did I go back to see TPM six times despite the obvious shortcomings of the script? Well, there's the awsome pod race, the full scale droid army invasion, the absolutely fabulous light saber duel toward the end. I think some people have lost sight main thing which makes the Star Wars films so watchable - the depth and scope of the imaginary universe in which the Star Wars saga takes place. The breathtaking visuals on the city/planet of Coruscant are among my favorite scenes from the film, in particular the senate chamber sequence. This is where you can see three E.T. creatures in one of the senate pod flotation devices. Just after Queen Amidala calls for a vote of "no confidence" in Chancellor Velorum, there is a shot of the senate chamber with some Wookies howling in background, then there's a shot of the Chancellor sitting down with a look of resignation, then look to the lower left side of the screen and the E.T.s are in the next shot after Velorum sits down. But I digress.

The main point I'm trying to make here is that the SETTING of the Star Wars universe is its primary appeal, or at least it is for me. TPM let me go back to a fun place that I hadn't seen any new aspects of since I was twelve years old. Whatever the shortcomings of the script, it was still Star Wars, and above all it was still a fun and fascinating place to visit. Whatever you do, don't wait for it to come out on video, see it at least twice in theaters while you still can. Let yourself be transported to another time and place, let the visuals overwhelm you the first time, then sit back and admire the magical blend of music and sound effects while ignoring Jar Jar as best you can the second time around :-)

And now the tidbits:
When Jar Jar and the Jedi first reach the Gungan underwater city, there is a close up of Jar Jar looking up to speak to a guard riding a mount. Obi-Wan Kenobi is standing behind Jar Jar. To make Jar Jar face the right direction, the film was flipped around. This makes it appear as if the braid behind Obi-Wan's right ear is on the left side of his head. Also, when Obi-Wan is standing out in the desert of Tattoine facing Qui-Gon atop a camel/thing, Obi-Wan's braid hangs down over his left shoulder instead of his right. This is just before Qui-Gon goes to free Anakin and tells Obi-Wan to fix the hyperdrive on the Queen's silver spaceship. If you look closely, Ewan McGreggor has a small blemish/mole on his right cheek. In this scene the mole is still on the right side of his face, so you can tell the film has NOT been flipped. There are four separate shots, two from the front and two from the back where the braid is definitely hanging from behind Obi-Wan's left ear instead of his right. The power of the Force or bad costume design continuity? You decide.

After the droid control ship is destroyed, all of the robots go limp. Jar Jar knocks down the one standing next to him. Before he knocks it down you can just barely make out the number 1138 on the droid's back written in a strange font.

And that's all I have to say about that.