Forgive me for being a little late to this party, but I only just discovered these, and I figured that if I hadn't seen them yet then a lot of other people probably haven't either. While some viewers may be offended by the bad language and many more by the pizza roll loving serial killer subplot schtick, there is no denying that Mr. Plinket’s review of what went wrong in The Phantom Menace is right on the money, and brilliantly illustrated with examples from all 6 movies and behind the scenes footage:
1 The characters.
The Phantom Menace is a stupid incoherent mess. I guess at this point who’s going to question George & tell him what to do? He controls every aspect of the movie. He Probably got rid of all those that questioned him creatively a long time ago.
The most obvious problem with The Phantom Menace (and indeed all the prequels) is the characters. It seems obvious, but apparently it needs explaining. So let’s start with movie making 101. You see in most movies the audience needs someone to connect with - a protagonist. When you have a movie full of aliens & monsters & weirdos, the audience needs to have someone normal like them to guide them through the story. For Example, Marty McFly in Back to the Future, John McClane in Die Hard, Sarah Conner in Terminator. Often the protagonist starts in a place where they are down on their luck. Eventually they are confronted with some kind of obstacle, or struggle they will have to deal with . If we like them we hope they succeed. The drama in the film is the result of us rooting for them against opposition. Eventually our protagonists will find themselves at their lowest point, where it seems like all is lost. But eventually they will pull through and conquer whatever force opposes them. It’s satisfying when our hero gets ahead from where they started off at. Often, they make change, called an arc, and sometimes they will get the girl at the end.
Now obviously not all movies should conform to the same formula, but it works well in certain kinds of movies, and is completely applicable to the original Star Wars film and the character of Luke Skywalker, and was accomplished even without all the wonders of CGI. Now with all you’ve just learned, I want you to tell me who the main character of the Phantom Menace was. It’s not the Jedi, they were just on some boring mission that they didn’t really care about. It wasn’t Queen Amidala - she was just some foreign Queen. You might be thinking that it’s Anakin because he started out as a slave and ends the movie by accidentally blowing up the control ship, but the audience doesn’t meet Anakin until 45 minutes into the movie, and most of what happens around him is either beyond his control or understanding. If a protagonist has no control over what’s going on and doesn’t understand what’s at stake, then theirs no real tension or drama. Without that there is no story.
He then asks some people to describe some Star Wars characters WITHOUT saying what they look like, what kind of costume they wore, or what their profession or role in the movie was. Describe this character to your friends as if they have never seen Star Wars before. The more descriptive they could get, the stronger the character.
Han Solo: A rogue, arrogant, charming, dashing, fancies himself a playboy, cocky, scoundrel, pig headed, sexy, bad boy, a dark streak, deep down a thief with a heart of Gold.
Qui-Gon Jinn: …. Stoic… Stern?
C3P0: Bumbling sidekick, fraidy cat, timid, anal retentive, prissy, provides comic relief, high strung
Queen Amidala: Urm… The Queen? Makeup? Monotone? Natalie Portman. Can’t answer that & you know it!
2. The Story
The 2nd biggest problem with the Phantom Menace is that the whole story and the way it was told. It’s almost mind boggling how complex the awfulness is. From the very start of this movie I could tell something was really wrong. Just by the way it started. It opens with some boring pilot asking for permission to land on a ship that looks like a half eaten donut with the donut hole in the middle. Then 2 cloaked figures walk into a room at a completely flat angle. They sit down at a table, drink tea and wait to talk about a trade dispute. Utterly bored already. Compare this fecal matter to the opening of the original Star Wars. Without saying 1 word of awkward boring political dialog, that goes on for 10 minutes we know everything we need to know just from the visuals. Rebels. Empire. We get a sense of how small and ill equipped the rebels are and how large and powerful the empire is. The low angle implies dominance and the length of the star destroyer implies the long reach of the Empire. This shot says everything we need to know without saying a word.
The original film was an homage to the classic serials Lucas watched as a kid. Good vs Evil. The classic hero on a journey. (Luke) The adventurous rogue (Han Solo). A damsel in distress (and a princess!). The wise old sage (kenobi). and an epic quest of discovery. The new movies are about shoving as much crap into each shot as possible.
“See - it’s so dense, every single image has so many things going on” — Rick McCallum, Producer.
This is part of the reason the Special Editions are so offensive - because you’re into what’s happening in the movie and they keep shoving more shit on the screen to distract you. It reminds me of a child waving his hands in the background for attention. Doesn’t Lucas realize that cluttering the frame up with shit is not what makes Star Wars good?
So the film is called the Phantom Menace and by the nature of the story there is no clear villain. Taxation of a trade route? Family entertainment? Boring! How about a villain whose motivation is clear. “Commander tear this ship apart until you’ve found those plans and bring me the passengers, I want them Alive!” Darth Vader, Star Wars.
The prequels should be similar in style to the originals.
3. Death & Space Taxes.
So when you find yourself thinking things like “huh?” or “What?”, when you’re watching how illogical characters act in a movie it’s not really a good sign. So at the start of the movie, what exactly are the Jedi Knights there to do? According to the opening title crawl it was to settle a dispute with the trade federation over the taxation of trade routes. Oh. So what makes the Jedi Knights experts in intergalactic trade laws? The trade federation have set up a blockade around Naboo in order to stop them from getting any supplies from other planets, which instantly causes some kind of crisis that we never see. OK. I don’t get it. Why would an organization called the Trade Federation want to blockade trade? Obviously Senator Palpatine is using the trade federation to create a crisis that he can use to advance himself politically, but the blockade and subsequent invasion is the entire movie. Understanding what role the trade federation plays in this is important. It would be nice to know what the blockade was about, who was getting taxed, what kind of supplies were so crucial to the Naboo that they couldn’t last more than a few days without them. Did they not have the ability to survive on such a lush planet with a huge power reactor without space trade?
Perhaps we could have accepted the mystery of some kind of mystery villain if the basics were at least clear. So when 2 men wearing brown robes come on board the ship, Rosie the robot just assumes they are Jedi Knights. And why are they wearing robes like Ben anyway? If brown monks robes were the uniform of a Jedi Knight, don’t you think Ben would have been found and arrested a long time ago? Yoda wasn’t wearing one on Dagobah. If you look at what Uncle Owen is wearing in Star Wars it is very similar. And the Jawa’s robes are almost identical, but they weren’t Jedi. Don’t you think that might have just been appropriate desert wear? Nope, suddenly all Jedi, including Yoda wear these robes. Buy anyway, based on the robot’s information alone, the federation guys immediately inform this mystery guy who they’re running this scam with that Jedis are on the ship. And, for no logical reason beyond needing an action scene, with Lightsabers, he tells them to kill the Jedi. They never once went into the room to meet the Jedi, and have only the opinion of a protocol droid that these men are even Jedi. And then they try to gas them to death, not with an invisible gas, but an obvious white cloud. Poisoning their tea would have been smarter. Or simply sending them on their way and blowing up their ship with them in it. Instead, they blow up their ship alerting the Jedi to danger, right before they pump in the gas. And why not use something like Carbon Monoxide which is both odorless and colorless. In any case, we see the Jedi take a deep breath and hold it. Later on Naboo, they pull little James Bond style breathing tubes from their robes in order to swim down to the Gungan underwater town. Why not pull them out here instead of holding their breath? And why don’t they use their Lightsabers to immediately start cutting their way out? Then we hear the dumbest line in the whole movie: “They must be dead by now. Destroy what’s left of them.” So they open the doors and attack them with completely useless robots. Tell them to leave, then when the spaceship lifts off, destroy it! Or just let them leave! Killing two Jedi knights sent there to negotiate would be a pretty heinous crime in the eyes of the Senate, unlikely to help their cause.
So, if Palpatine wanted to create a crisis on Naboo so that the naive young queen would propose a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum. This would lead to Palpatine getting elected in his place. Right? So how does killing the Jedi have anything to do with that? How does creating a communications blackout on the planet even get word back to the senate that there is a crisis? At the end of the movie Amidala goes back to the planet to solve the problem herself because the senate wanted to send an independent team to investigate whether or not the invasion was real. The testimony of 2 Jedi Knights wasn’t good enough. (So why send them out in the first place if what they report back isn’t god enough?) Those were the guys Valorum trusted to settle the whole dispute in the first place.
When the Jedi first show up at the beginning of the movie, Sidius could have simply told the trade federation guys to tell the Jedi there would be no negotiation. Tell them you plan to invade the planet, and send them back to Coruscant to inform the senate. Instead, he tells them to do the exact opposite of what will help his plan. He needs the Queen to sign the treaty, to make the invasion legal. But if she had been as naive as he thought and just signed the treaty right away, then the crisis would be over and there would be no need for a vote of no confidence. So either the story is more complex even than that, or it simply makes no sense.
4. Who’s doing What? Where? Why?
Why are the Trade fed guys taking orders from this mystery hologram? What did he promise them that would be worth risking their entire organization for? Oh, that’s right, we’re never told are we? Sidious Can’t really promise them future political favors because it would give away who he is. When they get arrested at the end they could just say “it was a Hologram in a cloak, who looks a lot like Palpatine. We have recordings, you want to look at ‘em?” It’s hard to believe these guys never started pointing fingers when they got caught.
5. I Can’t put enough quotation marks around the word “Story” So I won’t even try.
The Jedi end up in the Hanger bay where ships are being loaded for the invasion. Why don’t they just jump out and start fighting all of them, steal a ship and head back to Coruscant to tell the Senate what’s going on? It’s not as crazy as it sounds because the whole droid army doesn’t seem to be any match for 2 Jedi and later in the movie a single ship runs the blockade and makes it through. Instead, Qui-Gon thinks it would be better to go down in a ship with the droids to “Warn the Naboo and contact Valorum”. Hey Genius - don’t you think that if you’re going down with the Army it’s a little late to warn them about the army?! And what are the Naboo going to do anyway? They don’t have an army.
Then for no reason, they decide to stow away on different ships. This is a minor point, but what would going down on separate ships accomplish?
- It increases the chances of getting caught by 100%.
- Have no one else to help you if you get caught and get into a fight with the robots.
- Increase the possibility of getting separated by hundreds if not thousands of miles by not knowing where the other craft is going to land on the planet.
But thankfully, neither of them is discovered and they meet up in the same spot in the woods. Then although the reason for them going down to the planet was to alert the Naboo about the army, instead they decide to follow a cartoon rabbit underwater. This is the point at which the lapses in common sense begin to compound beyond repair and the movie is officially broken.
6 Invasion! Of Boring!
What exactly is the purpose of this invasion? To force the queen to sign a treaty? Doesn’t forcing someone to sign a treaty defeat the purpose of the treaty? You might as well just forge it if you’re going to make her sign it. Meanwhile, Qui-Gon & Obi-Wan are on the other side of the planet, still talking to Boss Nass. The only thing the jedi know at this point is that they were sent to resolve a trivial dispute about taxing fade routes, and all of a sudden they think they know the entire plan of the Trade Federation. How does he know they plan to take control of the surface and the underwater city too? It’s doubtful that the droid army can swim. Maybe they came to steal some kind of priceless artifact from the Naboo. Maybe in the past the Naboo performed some horrific act against the species running the federation.
And why does the federation land it’s ships on the complete other side of the planet? That’s right, Boss Nass tells the Jedi that the quickest way to the Naboo is by going through the planet Core, therefore, they, along with the army are currently on completely the wrong side of the planet! If they expected no opposition, why land in the middle of a forest and waste time chopping down trees so far away from the target? Why not just land right outside the city? Or even right in the city?
In any case, after the queen has been captured by the green guys, instead of forcing her to sign the treaty right then and there, or keeping her locked up inside the big capital building under heavy guard, they inexplicably send her away from them. “Commander, process them.”
“Captain, take them to camp 4”
Oh. Well at least those 8 battle droids will be sufficient to protect her from being saved by the two Jedi that they had just discussed they had not found yet. But don’t worry, these battle droids have proven very effective against Jedi Knights. Oh. Wait, no. You know it really adds a lot of tension to a scene when the main enemy forces are totally ineffective. “There are too many of them”. “They shouldn’t be a problem” Ooh, they shouldn’t be a problem. Now I’m really on the edge of my seat. Lucas about the battle droids: “Yeah, the Jedi will cut them down like they’re butter, and they really are pretty useless.”
7 Escape!! From the planet of boring.
So the Jedi free the Naboo air force, board a sleek silver spaceship and attempt to slip through the blockade. No one is really too scared about running this blockade until the shield generator gets hit. Then suddenly it’s dangerous. Buy wait, how does the shield generator even get hit while the shields are still up? And why does the guy say “without a shield generator we’ll be sitting ducks”. Does that mean that with a working shield generator they can breeze right through the blockade? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the blockade if any ship with a working shield generator can just fly right through the blockade? Anyway, R2D2 sticks a thing in the thing and fixes the shield generator, so that relieves all the tension in the scene, and allows them to escape the blockade. You may notice though, that after the shields come back up, they don’t get hit again, so did it really matter? And after showing no emotion at all about the other droids getting blasted into space, for some reason R2D2 gets sent to the queen for a pat on the head. She thanks the little piece of machinery like it’s a person. Nobody thanks the ship. Would a Queen really thank a droid? And at this point, the queen is really a decoy. Why does she order the real queen to go and clean the droid? You’d think the real queen would want to stay nearby to be kept in the loop about what’s going on. And why didn’t they just clean the droid before bringing it to the Queen?
8. I’m gonna slit my wrists!
We still don’t know who the main character is, and why should we care about any of this?
At around this point in the original Star Wars movie, We had been with Luke almost the whole time, getting to know him. We see his plight, his hopes and dreams, we feel his frustration, and his sadness after his aunt and Uncle are killed. The slow build up added depth and emotion and anticipation for the story to expand. In the Phantom menace we have nothing. We have a monotone queen who’s running from a treaty that’s supposed to do something, but we don’t really know what, and we don’t really care, about that - or any of the characters. Almost every single line of dialog makes no sense. On top of that Qui-Gon the wise, seems to be making a lot of questionable decisions. Qui-Gon: ”We want to try to avoid drawing attention.” If you’re trying not to draw attention to yourself, why take Jar Jar Binks into the city with you? He takes R2D2 with him because “my droid has a readout of what I need” but Watto seems to know what you are talking about and you have a hologram gizmo that shows it. R2D2 was never needed and does nothing at all. The two most clear thinking and logical guys stay with the ship and wait while the clumsy idiot, the slow moving droid, a vulnerable attractive young woman and Qui-Gon go wandering around the dangerous city. These two guys probably would have had the part by now.
9. If I get a brain aneurism as the result of this review can I hold the filmmakers responsible?
At this point I realize who the Phantom Menace is. No, it’s not George Lucas, it’ Qui-Gon Jinn. This character is totally baffling and shouldn’t even be in the movie. Obi-Wan should have been the young, eager and adventurous Jedi who found Anakin, formed a bond with him, and then really wanted to train him in the Jedi arts when Yoda told him no. Instead, Obi-Wan who seemed to find Anakin nothing but irritating during the whole movie decides to train him at the end only because Qui-Gon wanted him to. If they had to have Qui-Gon, he should have been more like Old Ben Kenobi - he should have stayed on the ship, meditating and being wise. Then when he dies later in the movie , he leaved Obi-Wan without a wise mentor. Thus setting the stage for a poorly trained Anakin. Instead, Obi-Wan is not a risk taker and he complains all the time. And the older, wiser Jedi is the opposite of what he should be.
Qui-Gon has very questionable moral values. He repeatedly uses his Jedi mind trick to his advantage. He uses it on Boss Nass to get the underwater craft. He tries to use it on Watto to get him to accept his currency. And to fix a bet to his advantage. If you argue that the ends justify the means, but then why didn’t Qui-Gon just steal the part from Watto? Basically it’s the same thing as trying to trick him into accepting a worthless currency for the part. Or he could have gone to another junk dealer in town, used his mind trick there to exchange the credits and come back for the part with money that Watto would take. When they arrive in town he says “We’ll try one of the smaller dealers”, which suggests that Watto isn’t the only game in town and that there are larger places he might be able to get the part he needs. Watto tells him that nobody else in town has the part he needs - which means he is either using an older than dirt sales tactic, or Qui-Gon can really pick out which store to go to randomly. Oh wait, maybe Midichlorians told him where he should go, so that he could find the boy, like it was destiny or something. Hey here is another idea. Maybe you could trade the fancy naboo cruiser for a less fancy but functional crusier. Or maybe hire a transport, pay them all the money you have now and promise to pay more on arrival in Coruscant. Sound familiar? Someone like a transport ship captain or a smuggler would have use for Republic credits.
But instead of using a more common sense approach, Qui-Gon concocts some kind of crazy scheme involving a pod race.
10. Anakin Skywalker
No one likes little kids. Especially ones that can’t act. And one of the worst plot devices ever is the explosive anti escape device implanted into slaves heads. They can’t escape or they explode!! And what about the idea that Anakin is the one that build C-3P0? This is wrong for so many reasons. First of all, Anakin claims he built the droid to help his mom around the house. But how can a protocol droid be any use to her? Programmed for etiquette and protocol, they are basically robot diplomats and not very handy technically. He says he is “Human-Cyborg relations” he doesn’t say he cleans dishes. C-3P0 is clumsy and awkward, and of very little use to anyone unless you happen to need someone to translate a language. Plus his arms don’t even bend. What on earth is he supposed to help the mom with? Maybe a Vacuum cleaner would have been a better thing to build for her! And why does Anakin choose to build a droid that appears to have been mass produced in a plant somewhere? Why not build something original? And to add to that, Watto already has a protocol droid lying scrapped in his shop. Why not just fix that one?
Anyway, somehow Qui-Gon manages to win the most convoluted bet ever.
11. On to Planet Number 3. Is it time for Death yet?
The queen waits around for some decision on something, while apparently people on Naboo are dying, though we haven’t any evidence of this. Eventually the queen gets impatient, calls for a vote of no confidence in Valorum, and then decides to go back to Naboo to fight a huge invasion force alone. The Jedi council tell Qui-Gon that he’s not allowed to train Anakin, but he does anyway. And Lucas ruins Star Wars forever by having Qui-Gon explain to Anakin that the force is just some small organisms.
Finally we come to the stupid ending. After hours of stupid, boring, mindless, sleep inducing, monotonous dialog, Jar Jar Binks screams in excitement that he’s going home.
12. Please God Make it Stop. Make it End!
Jar Jar, Padmé, and for reasons not explained, (The two Jedi and Anakin) return to Naboo, bringing the boy to a war zone. No other Jedi came back with them, even though there could be a Sith there. Mace Windu “We will use all of our resources to unravel this mystery. We will discover the identity of you attacker.” Then Later, Mace Windu tells Qui-Gon to “Go with the queen to Naboo and discover the identity of this dark warrior.“ Oh, I thought he was going to work on that. And where are all the trade federation ships when they get to Naboo. There is only one left. Guess the blockade is over. Everyone on the queens ship waits until they arrive on Naboo to discuss what they are going to do. Qui-Gon says the Gungan will not be easily swayed “and they cannot use our power to help her” - though you didn’t have any problems doing it before…
The Gungans act as robot bait so that the queen can sneak into the palace and capture the Viceroy while the fighters attack the one remaining ship which is apparently the droid control ship. “without the Viceroy they will be lost and confused” who the robots? I thought that’s what the command ship was for? And even if that were true, physically capturing him won’t immediately alert all the droids…
And why is there a child sized helmet and goggle in the cockpit of the ship Anakin choose to hide in?
And what the heck is the room where the final battle with Darth Maul takes place? That room is in the palace? It just looks like a video game set, but it’s purpose (beyond looking like a cool Star Warsy place for a lightsaber battle) is never explained. Presumably it is a large power reactor// And we’re expected to believe that the people who built this technological wonder couldn’t live without space supplies for a few days?
And another thing. At the start of the film we saw that the Jedi can run at a super fast speed to escape from the battle droids, but we never see them run fast again. Surely Obi-Wan could have used that speed again to make it through the door with Qui-Gon?
And Orders the federation to “Wipe them out. All of them”, yet we see them taking prisoners.
And why does the queen keep guns in the arm rests of her throne?
13. Obi-Wan gets mad. And Then I do.
Back to the 3 guys we know nothing about fighting each other in a scene we don’t care about. Their flawless choreography lacks all humanity and emotion. But then something happens. Qui-Gon dies and Obi-Wan is pissed. Hey maybe this will finally get good. Maybe I’ll get emotionally involved. You see Obi-Wan is pumped and ready to kick some ass, but then bam! It is back to perfectly choreographed fighting. It;s like all of this was planned out ahead of time. Hey remember when Luke Skywalker got really pissed and snapped when Vader was taunting him? Remember how worked up and emotional he got? He just started hammering his saber on Vader. There was no grace or complex choreography. He was just pounding him into submission, filled with rage. When you’re worked up with emotion you begin to lose your composure and control, you expose your humanity a little. Obi-Wan should have done that just a bit. I guess that’s the director’s fault, huh? In Empire there is also very little complex choreography. Luke is just barely keeping up in his fight with Vader. Vader is basically just toying around with him, holding back. There is a lot going on between the two characters outside the fact that they are swinging swords at each other. There is even a lot more going on at the end of Jedi. Luke is realizing he is becoming his father, and taking his place, and the Emperor is proving a point that hate and anger can be a powerful ally. You have things like temptation, anger, revelation, defiance, sacrifice, and redemption. What’s happening at the end of Phantom Menace? 3 guys we don’t care about are fighting each other over… something. Lightsaber duels in the original films had less to do with the fight itself, but more so with the internalization of the characters. So if you think the duel at the end of Star Wars was the worst one because it had bad fight choreography and involved an old guy and a man in a mask, then I’m afraid you’ve missed the point entirely. The 45 min fight at the end of Episode III is not only way too long, it relies far to heavily on the amazing (ridiculous video game) back drop visual effects and gets boring pretty quickly. It’s ironic that the shorter fight between the same characters in Star Wars was more interesting. You see, you need a deeper meaning to things, without it, none of it really matters.
“Special Effects are just a tool. A means to telling a story. People have a tendency to confuse them as an end in themselves. A Special Effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.” — Young George Lucas
14. The ending multiplication effect.
Sine the first Star Wars movie, the endings have been getting more and more complicated. Star Wars, blow up the death star before it can destroy the rebel base. Empire: All story threads converge at Cloud City. Luke confronts Vader, Leia & friends try to escape. Jedi: Luke confronts The Emperor , Battle on Endor to destroy the shield generator, Rebel fleet vs. Death Star, 3 stories at once. Phantom Menace: Gungans fight the droid army. The queen storms the palace to capture the Viceroy, Anakin & Naboo pilots attack the droid control ship AND Obi-Wan & Qui-Gon battle Darth Maul.The simpler endings of the earlier films are vastly more interesting because the plot has built up to them and we can focus on the one thing.
After the rough cut screening, everyone in attendance looks just as baffled and bored as we were.
And at the end, Yoda predicts “Grave Danger” if Anakin is trained to use his abilities, but Obi-Wan whines that he promised Qui-Gon, and the Jedi council reluctantly agrees for no real reason. When they all have a bad feeling about something, you’d think they would follow their own instinct and forbid the training of Anakin. Then if Obi-Wan took it upon himself, so be it.
15. The Aftermath.
The Phantom Menace is the greatest example of cinematic blue balls the world has ever seen. Never again will anything be more wildly anticipated or a bigger disappointment.
Where the original trilogy clearly took place in a famously “used” or “lived in universe” The computer generated environments in the prequel trilogy all look so clean and sterile.
[Source: Mr. Plinket’s review of The Phantom Menace]
Lucas directed the whole movie from his chair, coffee in hand, with two cameras and a green screen. This severely limited his shooting options and all the computer generated bling in the background can’t make up for the boring presentation of dialog in the foreground.