Lucas, George. 1999. Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Los Angeles: Fox.

Reviewed 14 June 1999

'See him hitting on the Queen | Though he's just nine and she's fourteen' Amidala has discovered that
too much makeup causes zits.

I feel a little bit ripped off. $4.75 for a candy bar?

No, I don't mean the concession stand. I mean the movie. (So I'm cheap. So I saw a matinee. So sue me. Please.) This movie is a candy bar. I knew that going in. I was hoping to avoid one with stale peanuts, but no such luck.

The Star Wars franchise is a cash cow for the moviemakers, the studio, the merchan- disers, the stars—just about everyone except the scriptwriters. And that is the real problem with this movie: the script has little or nothing to do with the movie itself.

Spoiler alert There are two serious problems with Episode I. The first, and most obvious, is that the script and dialogue just do not link up with the "eye candy" action sequences. Every time there's an action sequence, the plot stops advancing while the filmmaker tries to blow us away with more special effects wizardry. The second problem, which is more insidious, is that only two of the actors seemed to believe the lines they were saying: Liam Neeson and Natalie Portman. For all of Ewan McGregor's attempts to sound like Sir Alec Guinness, his face and hands never achieved the expressiveness that Guinness brought to the role.

There is a single cause for both problems: This movie has an idiot plot. Specific examples:

  • Upon nearing the Trade Federation's blockade, our two Jedi Knights don't think to immediately send a message to the Council before they go "rescue the princess"—and thereby risk never getting a message back at all.

  • The Trade Federation's Viceroy doesn't think to try forgery. Any system complex enough to be worth use as an authentication can be broken, either with direct forgery or trickery.

  • The Tatooine slums seem remarkably secure and crime-free. And, if Anakin's mother is a slave, why doesn't she ever do anything for her master/mistress? Are all slaves on a 9-to-5 schedule? Not bloody likely, particularly if they're so valuable that no ship is worth two of them.

  • Yeah, I was really fooled by Queen Amidala's "handmaiden." Well, maybe this does explain something. Maybe the Jedi Knights are really very stupid. That explains why two Jedi Knights couldn't take out Darth Maul (who, incidentally, we do not know to be dead—he never took an actual wound on screen, and just fell down a hole), and proceeded to make every single error in the 2-v-1 close combat manual. Not to mention continuing to use their multipurpose weapons like broadswords against a quarterstaff (which wasn't even wielded well).

  • The Greek phalanx went out of style in the second century AD. Why, then, do both sides line up in phalanxes when they have ranged weapons? Even Napoleonic armies took advantage of field cover.

  • When the Queen's party invades the palace, it fools not just the Viceroy, but every member of his staff—twice.

  • All of the Naboo fighters are fully fueled, warmed up, and ready to go. The chocks have been pulled, all the "remove before flight" streamers have been thoughtfully stowed, none of them have any maintenance problems, etc. All communications equipment is tuned to the same channel, which (conveniently) does not appear to be monitored by the Federation (although the Federation is blocking other transmissions).

I'll stop there. This clearly shows that either (a) the scriptwriter had nothing to do with the movie as made, or (b) there was no scriptwriter.

In a way, I feel like Bill Murray in Little Shop of Horrors—a masochist screaming "Candy bar! Candy bar!" It took a certain masochism to go see this movie (in a virtually empty theater).

Oh, and George—knock off the homage to Triumph of the Will. We got it the first time. It doesn't even come off well as self-parody. If the soldiers really are groovin' to that funky music, they're not going to stay in step. (And protocol officers would have found a way to keep Jar-Jar from embarassing himself with a Chevy Chasesque pratfall.)

Overall rating: 2 stars
The eye candy just fell out of the wrapper. We've been "ho hummed" by "brilliant" special effects so many times now that we need some story. A few stale peanuts—20 minutes' worth of plot, with a throwaway infodump lasting less than 20 seconds at the end designed to set up the sequel—just doesn't stretch out the lack of story beans in the chocolate. This movie threw away one well-known talented actor and hid a lesser-known talented actor under makeup and inside a role that just didn't give her anything to do. Don't get the idea that I'm going soft by rating this movie this high; it barely made it above the bottom 30%, but only because so much of what Hollywood puts out is (believe it or not) much, much worse.

A Powell's Books Partner

  • You can buy the Terry Brooks novelization (not reviewed) on-line through Powell's Books. At this writing, it's available as a hardback.

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