"Where's the Beef?"
Star Wars: Episode One: The Phantom Menace
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom MenaceLet's get this straight, The Phantom Menace is a pretty good movie, but like so many other movies it could have been made far, far better with only a little reworking. The movie consists of almost nothing but visual effects and ultimately disappoints almost every Star Wars fan. You leave the theater satisfied, yet empty inside wondering "where's the beef"? It's a lot like eating Chinese food.

In the end it won't matter. The movie will probably go on to be the top grossing picture of all time. The merchandising alone is supposed to make George Lucas $1 billion dollars in 1999 alone. But all that isn't the point. The point is that this move was "this close" to being one of the best movies of all time, and it missed.

You might think that after 16 years there is no way that it could live up to the hype and expectations. But we think it could have. Easily. It was close. All it needed were tweaks to the script and a healthy dose of shit filtering.

So, what was wrong with this movie, you ask? Let's begin, in no particular order.

Lack of big conflict - No meat.

The real problem is that there is nothing here to care about. At the core all the conflict is over the trade disruption of a small planet. Not even a significant planet that provides some significant resource. Why do we care about Naboo? We don't. We only like the pretty pictures. There are no stolen Death Star plans to protect. There is no fight to survive at all costs as Vader pursues you across the Galaxy. There just isn't any meat here. Thirty plus minutes revolve around being stuck on Tatooine and having to get money to get spare parts. Come on, how lame is that for a plot?

Jar Jar Binks - Cool technology, lame character.

The biggest mistake of the movie, and maybe the history of movies. My God, where to begin? His first line in the movie is "Oy, mooie mooie, I luv yous" when Qui-Jon saves him. Anyone else thinking big purple dinosaur here? Here's a character invented to make the movie enjoyable for kids, but with Jar Jar's hard to understand speech, even kids even kids couldn't enjoy this character. He doesn't talk cool like Yoda, he talks like a dork and you can barely understand him, and you soon give up trying.

Jar Jar at his core is a clumsy, bumbling, unfunny character that fails to appeal to adults or kids. During the movie the audience reaction when he was on screen and it was nearly always silent. Nobody seems to find Jar Jar funny or amusing. He's there for comic relief but provides no comedy. Weird eh?

George Lucas had a chance to make Jar Jar a character that evolved from goat to hero a couple of times. Jar Jar being a bumbling fool in the first half of the movie is fine, but let him evolve a bit in the second half. It's basic scriptwriting (which Lucas seems to have forgotten). For example: During the final battle, if only the aquatic idiot would have had a moment of brilliance and purposely opened the back of the truck, releasing the blue ball bombs. This one act of coolness would have probably justified his existence in the rest of the movie. His fellow GunGun's could have carried him home on their shoulders as a hero and you'd have some real character development. But no, Jar Jar bumbles his way through it all, never earning an ounce of respect or admiration.

Oh, and Jar Jar...you say "How rude" one more time, and I'm going to get digitized into a computer and go Tron on your ass.

Pray to whatever God you pray to that Jar Jar is not in the next two prequels. Chant with us: Jar Jar Must Die! Jar Jar Must Die!

Someone at ILM, please delete his files from the computer. Please?

Explaining the Force - Why not explain how a light saber works?

Because you don't do it. "NO, stop, don't do it. You will destroy the mystery" (spoken from a film worker that was fired 10 seconds later by Uber Lucas. What a stupid idea it is to try to scientifically explain The Force.

The scene with Qui-Jon sending a blood sample of Anakin's to Obi Wan for him to analyze had me thinking of Kirk and Spock. "Spock I need a blood sample analysis in two miuntes or we're all dead". Since when do Jedi need science to detect force strength in a potential Jedi? Does anyone recall Yoda pricking Luke's finger in Empire? You DO NOT explain the Force. It's fine just the way it is, thank you. In 15 years I've never heard the masses calling for The Force to be explained in tangible, scientific terms. Obi Wan's explanation in Star Wars was brilliant "Well, The Force is an energy field created by all living things. It penetrates us and binds us and hold the Galaxy together". But no, Phantom Menace has to screw it up for us.

Anakin Skywalker - The kid we're not afraid of.

Where to begin? Jake Lloyd did a fine job (as well as a 9 year old actor can), but his main problems come from the script. Other than saying "Yipeeee!!!" too many times, he was fine.

EVERYONE calls him "Ani". HELLO! He is destined to grow up and be the most feared force in the Galaxy, and you're calling him Ani every five seconds? Did anyone stop to think that "Ani" sound like "Annie", a girls name? Was Lucas trying to make the boy more harmless and sympathetic to make up for how evil he will become? Sheesh! It's stupid and ruined part of the movie.

The Immaculate conception (that the film leads you to belive happened) of Anikan Skywalker is too over-the-top. The movie leads one to believe the conception was brought about by The Force in some way, and that he had no real father. His mother, just woke up pregnant, carried him and had him. Stupid, unnecessary idea. Who is Anakin supposed to be now, Jesus? Things like this are best left to our imaginations or not explained at all. When watching the movie for the second time many people nearby were looking at each other strangely, saying "huh"?

The testing of Anakin by Yoda and the Jedi Counsel was weak. They had a chance to do some chilling things here to reveal the boys true nature and power. Instead all he does is guess a few images on a screen, and they pronounce him as untrainable at his age, and something to fear. SHOW us why you fear him, don't tell us. Anakin should have been in some test with a Jedi on the counsel in which Anakin draws upon his fears and throws the superior Jedi across the room or something. Then the Jedi Counsel sits there in stunned silence. Just do something to make us all fear that young boy and get a look at his dark side. But no. The script sucks, so we will see none of that.

Anakin never demonstrates "The Force" (other than his Pod racing skills and guessing flash cards). He should not have accidentally destroyed the Droid Power Ship while firing at Battle Droids. Instead, while inside the ship, The Force should have somehow guided him into realizing he was next to a very important target, and he should purposely taken the pivotal shot. That would have been much, much cooler, rather than lucking into the shot. The whole idea is that Anikan is strong in The Force like no one before him, and therefore he should recognize opportunities like this. They had an opportunity to actually build some character here and failed miserably.

Darth Maul - The depthless villain.

We had no idea why this guy was supposed to be feared. In Star Wars, Vader strangled a rebel to death in the first 5 minutes, setting him up as a force to be reckoned with. With Maul, we get him sending out cute little probe drones on Tatooine to look for the Jedi. Ok fine, send them out, but at least walk into a bar asking about the Jedi and dismember some locals that get in your way. Do something to show us how bad you are. But no.

Did the cat have Darth Maul's tounge? He spoke maybe three lines in the entire movie! (All to Palpatine) Where was our taunting of the Jedi in the light sabre battles that we've come to know and love? The lack of him speaking during the final fight weakened the emotional significance of the entire scene. For example, when he plunged the light into Qui-Gon, he should have said something...anything, "One down, one to go...", "You Jedi are weak..." ANYTHING! How, oh how, could he not taunt Obi-Wan as he clung on to the pipe for dear life? Where's the emotion and passion? Unfortunately, it's not in this script, it's in a phantom script.

The battle between Darth and Obi-Wan in Star Wars, though far less acrobatic and exciting from an action standpoint, is emotional more riveting and consequential mostly because they talk, and Darth has his memorial line, "When I left you I was but the learner, but now I am the master." The Obi-Wan responds "Only a master of evil Darth." That's chilling just thinking about it 20 years later!

The Sabre battle in Jedi between Luke and Darth has 10 times more power than this scene. With Vader taunting Luke at the prospects of turning Leia to the Dark Side. With Luke taking his father's hand, in the same way he had lost it in Empire. Real dramatic stuff. What we had with Maul was an undeveloped character that looked bad ass, but never really did or said anything to back it up. It was all eye candy.

Samuel L. Jackson - The unnecessary actor.

Hey, we all loved Pulp Fiction, but cut Mace Windu and give his lines to Yoda. Who'd Samuel have to blow to get in this movie anyway? Did anyone else see him and think "Royale with Cheese". "You speak of the prophecy that will bring balance to The Force. You believe it's this boy, mother ****er"?

* Poo-Doo, Doo-Doo - The running gag.

Too much poop humor. And don't get us wrong, we like poop humor, when done right, but it was rampant on Tatooine.

Jar Jar steps in poop in Mos Espa.

Some big animal farts on Jar Jar and he responds.

Sebula calls Jar Jar Bantha Fodder (subtitles) which translates in English as "poo-doo"

Sebula says "poo-doo" when he crashes his Pod.

Probably more, but it was hard to stay awake.

Battle Droids - HA HA HA HA HA!

The funny looking, long faced, butt-sticking-out-funny creations are not even in the same league with Storm Troopers. Nobody was afraid of the Battle Droids. Maybe Lucas had to have them to maintain a PG rating. Fine, but how about making their heads a little scary, and not some bowling pin that looks like a reject from Crow of Mystery Science Theater 3000? How about making them speak with a good voice? How about NOT making them say "Roger, Roger" all the time. How about making them come after you Terminator style until you kill the head? Sheeeshh, what lame ass bad guys. No wonder one Jedi could take out 100 of them. Now the Droid Destroyers were cool. But, fire whoever designed the Battle Droids.

Big fish eat the little fish - Lame writer reads script books.

The underwater scene at the start with Jar Jar, Obi-Wan and Qui-Jon going through the planet's core was cool...up to a point. A big fish grabbed their ship and started to eat it. Instead of our hero's doing something clever of their own to get out of the predicament, a clever plot-device, er, um, bigger fish comes by and saves them.

What's even worse is that not 30 seconds later, yet another fish is looking to make them dinner and yet another bigger fish eats that one. Sheeesh. How lame can a script get? Does Lucas just think he can do no wrong now? We got the gag the first time-don't beat us over the head with it twice in 30 seconds!

Music - Listen to your old work.

John Williams is greatness. His movie scores are the best. Ever. But he blew it in Phantom Menace. Other than "Duel of the Fates" (during the Darth Maul fight at the end), gone are all the memorable melodic style themes, you've come to associate with Star Wars. In the other movies each major character had their theme, and the music was more melodic, enabling you to remember it. That's all gone in Phantom Menace. The whole mood and feeling of a Star Wars movie was missing, and it was rare that you heard music with a melodic theme.

We should have heard just a hint of Vader's theme song during Yoda's speech about fearing Anakin, that would have sent chill's down our spines!

Target audience - Should have been everyone, like the 1st movies.

I realize that Lucas probably targeted kids for this movie. Fine. Make all the action figure you want to. But here's the utter failure with his philosophy. Kids will love nearly anything. They don't care. Why dumb the movie down for adults? The first 3 Star Wars movies did not insult your intelligence. They played very well to adults and kids. So why, oh why is Phantom Menace so lacking in substance?

Because Lucas has lost his touch. Oh, not in marketing or making money mind you, but in basic film making. Want proof? Why the hell does Greedo fire at Solo first in the Special Edition of Star Wars? Why utterly destroy the defining moment in Solo's character? The moment that sets him up as a no nonsense, take no crap kind of character. Why make him a whimp that only fires when fired upon? Because Lucas is going soft. It began with Ewok's which are tolerable, then the Greedo scene, then Jar Jar and the other "kiddy" stuff in Phantom Menace.

* Ending - What was going on here?

What the hell is up with that blue ball thing that Boss Nass holds up? What is it? How about Queen Amidala says a 10 second speech like "Take this <blah blah blah> as a token of our people's coming together, and of our victory together". This scene is worse that the ceremonial ending of Star Wars or Return of the Jedi. But we didn't care. We just wanted to get out of the theater.

Good Stuff - because it wasn't all bad
  • Nearly all the visuals of the movie
  • R2-D2 saving the day on the outside of the ship.
  • Bringing back the Sand People, Jawa's and Jabba the Hut on Tatooine.
  • Darth Maul pacing back and forth in front of a kneeling Qui-Jon
  • The opening with Qui-Jon and Obi-Wan kicking ass (because that's the only real action until the end)
  • Watto (cool character and almost no failure with him). When he resisted Qui-Jon's Jedi mind tricks the whole theater burst into laughter. Now that's comedy. Not Jar Jar.
  • Pod Race (best "race" ever for a movie - because of visuals and sound)
  • C-3P0 and his interaction with R2
  • Any scene with Natalie Portman (Hey, she's almost legal now)
  • Coruscant was awesome. All of it. Except the fact that the Jedi Counsel was in an office building.
  • Jedi's using powers like Force Jump and Push in battles. Good stuff.
  • Seeing Palpatine come to power
  • Palpatine saying to young Anakin "And we will watch your career with much interest, young Skywalker."
  • Seeing Spielberg's E.T.'s in the senate chamber as an alien race (look close, lower left of screen)

* Rating (1-10 scale):

We judge movies on re-watch-ability. The Phantom Menace is not a movie you will watch 20 times like the others. It simply isn't deep enough, or interesting enough.

The Phantom Menace rates a 6. In short, the movie good enough to see once, but it's too full problems that could have been easily fixed.

For reference:

Star Wars: 10
Empire Strikes Back: 10
Return of the Jedi: 9 (Ewoks cost you a point, George)

We have set up a special area on our Web Forums specifically for replies to this review.   To get to our web forums, click here.