The Force Awakens has FINALLY arrived, folks (read my review here) and, in honour of the return of the Star Wars franchise, I have been going back and re-viewing each of the prior films in the beloved franchise every day this week. And now, continuing my reviews of the films is arguably the most controversial film in the franchise, the one that kicked off the prequels - The Phantom Menace.

Back in 1993, when Variety first broke that scoop that George Lucas would be directing a "sequel trilogy" to the hit Star Wars films, there was a lot of hype to see the epic saga back on the big-screen - especially considering all three films prior had been revolutionary for cinema. Then, Lucas began writing the film's script the following year and filming on The Phantom Menace commenced in 1997 - with the official title being revealed on September 25th, 1998 and set for a May 19th, 1999, premiere. The world was excited and the hype for the film was huge - almost similar to all the hype for The Force Awakens. Unfortunately though, it was all for nothing because the magic of this franchise and the originals was tarnished by the lacklustre, overbloated disaster that was Episode I. And so began the downfall of one of this industry's finest franchises.
How can you even describe the premise to this film? Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) are sent to confront the corrupt leaders of the Trade Federation, who are planning to take over and disrupt the peaceful state of Naboo. However, things don't quite go to plan when the evil viceroy is ordered to kill the pair. Making their escape - and rescuing the clumsy Gungan Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) in the process - the Jedi's head to warn Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) of the inevitable invasion; but droids have begun taking over Naboo so they must take the Queen to safety so head for the planet of Tatooine to seek refuge and shelter. There, they encounter a hopeful young boy, Anakin Skywalker, who offers to help them raise money to buy the required parts for their spacecraft. Feeling a strong connection to the Force within him, Qui-Gon offers the boy Jedi training and takes him with them to Corsucant. However, they discover a mysterious Sith Lord following them in the shadows and uncover that the Sith may not quite be extinct after all.

Earlier this week, I reviewed the original trilogy, concluding with my Return of the Jedi review and when I re-visited the films, I was whisked away on a amgical adevnture and felt like a little kid again. Looking back at the franchise and the prequels (most especially The Phantom Menace), the film certainly had potential. After the success of Lucas' first trilogy, the idea of going back and seeing the story before the events of 1977's original was promising and exciting - as there's a lot that could've been done with that, further expanding and improving this world. And whilst the Star Wars universe is certainly expanded in The Phantom Menace with the introduction of all sorts of new planets and characters, it doesn't offer much in terms of actually improving this world and adding nuance and excitement and layers. The development was all very stoic and bland and the film, in the end, was a tedious and frustrating mess and one that didn't bring justice to Lucas' prior Star Wars work.
Of course, a major problem with the film was the visuals. With the originals, there was a heavy push on the practicality and the use of practical effects and minimal CGI and, of course, it paid off because the films looked gorgeous. And even the little SFX and CG that was used was effective and stunning, to the extent that the films still hold up impressively today and still look believable and breathtaking however many decades on. With The Phantom Menace, however, Lucas' push on CG was not a good move because the film does not look anything like a Star Wars film. The visual effects were fake and the CG was bloated, messy, unattractive and just plain bad, taking away the authentic and immersive feel these films had. It was almost as if it was rushed and no effort was put into at all. Yoda looked better in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi than he did in this - and let's not even mention Jar Jar. The general atmosphere and tone to the prequel was not good either, nothing like what the first films were able to capture. When the magic and the feel of Star Wars are lacking in a Star Wars film, then you know that's not a good sign and indeed it wasn't.

The characters were fine, for the most part. There wasn't much development too them though and they were fairly simple and bland and basic. But this problem really came down to the writing and to Lucas' script, which was mawkish and sloppy. There was a lot of camp, artificial dialogue and the character's were so written so poorly that we weren't able to invest into their stories and empathise with them, because they weren't fleshed out or developed enough - especially the infamous Gungan Jar Jar Binks, who was frustratingly irritating. The character interaction felt forced and constrained too and made for some tedious viewing. The acting, on the whole, wasn't too bad and the cast tried their best to elevate the characters but, again, the problems fall down to how poorly written they were.

The film didn't feel like a Star Wars film and was lazily written, with poor characters and dialogue and an underwhelming premise that was executed in a convoluted and messy manner. The lengthy 136 minute runtime didn't help either and dragged on a lot and felt rather tedious at parts with nothing exciting happening often. However, for the few times that something of interest did happen, it was exciting. All the action sequences were fun to watch, as were all the scenes featuring the character of Darth Maul - most definitely his lightsaber duel with Qui-Gon and Obi Wan, which was a real highlight. And, despite not quite capturing the essence of this universe, it was nice to see some familiar characters back on the big-screen, such as C-3P0 or R2-D2 or Yoda or, of course, Obi Wan Kenobi. The Phantom Menace showed a lot of promise and had a lot of potential, it's just a shame that it didn't make the most of it and didn't live up to all the hype and anticipation.

A wasted potential, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was a misfire for the franchise that, instead, was mawkish, lazy and tedious - tarnishing the Star Wars legacy and reputation.

About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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