THE PHANTOM MENACE

★★

You came back after all. Damn. Well look, this isn’t going to be pretty. Like I said, it’s these films that put me in the loony bin the first place. If you insist, though – just remember that ugly is going to be putting it mildly. We’ll take this one at a time, for your benefit as much as mine.

Enough beating around the proverbial space bush. The prequels. Or, in two words: wasted potential. I hate these films much more for what they’re not than what they are. I think I’ll save what I want them to be for after we deal with what they are. I’ll try to contain the viscous flow of fetid vitriol I could pour upon this films, but this time I make no promises. A quick overview then: if the originals were Luke’s story and Star Wars as a whole is Anakin’s story, then the prequels are Obi-Wan’s story. We follow him from Padawan to his eventual hermitage on Tatooine and along the way a lot of stuff happens. A lot of stuff, but not very much at the same time. Ugh, I should just get this over with shouldn’t I?

The Phantom Menace is accurate indeed – it’s the phantom of the monsoon of turd and disappointment that was to come, not that it’s very good itself. I remember mostly enjoying this when it came out in the cinemas. I think I was eight and didn’t know any better. But even then I was wise enough to notice some of the more glaring issues the film had. Especially the most obvious, slack-jawed, mentally backwards peon of a character Star Wars has ever had the audacity to vomit into our laps. Yes indeed, I refer to kid Anakin. You thought I meant Jar Jar? No, he’s a waste of effort and a total failure of comic relief, but he doesn’t compare to the poorly written, atrociously acted Mary Sue that is Anakin Skywalker. No wonder the Jedi Council refused entry to this human skidmark with all the redeeming features of a mosquito with poor personal hygiene. What’s the big deal I hear you cry? Have you watched the bloody film? The runty little sweatpatch rocks up during the second act and proceeds, with all the charm of a smarmy tic hitting on your grandmother, to creep up Padme, also known as the poor man’s Leia. “Are you an angel?” Bah! I’ve written better pickup lines with the blood exploding from my nose after I got clocked for using them, and no I don’t care about the lack of temporal sense there. Pile on top of this that the insufferable scrotal crease supposedly built C-3PO out of scrap, as well as a podracer, which he then proceeds to win a professional race in (a feat never mentioned again, despite it’s galactically unprecedented nature). Then he single-handedly wins the space battle during the climax by accident. Self-insert fanfiction has more restraint, grace and charm than this kid. He is also the catalyst for the single greatest mistake the prequels make. No, I’m still not talking about Jar Jar.

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I hate you. I hate you. I hate you. I hate you. I hate you. I hate you. Git

I’m talking about midichlorians. Do you remember my rambling about science fantasy and fiction? This is Star Wars trying to be the latter, trying to pull some bullshit science explanation for the magic we had already spent three films taking on complete faith. I mean, dear space gods in space heaven, why would you do that? Way to kill the fantasy vibe and rip us out of the experience, Liam Neeson – and you were the best thing about this film too. Ish. Agh, I could understand such a thing from Doctor Who, a series that inspires me only to disappointment and rage for this very reason, but I expect better of Star Wars. I expect Star Wars to understand that you have to take our faith on faith. Not even that really because, didn’t I mention already, we’d already spent three films taking it on faith. This blunder is so utterly baffling and jarring that I’m going to have to leave you with a picture of a cat, have a drink and come back after I’ve calmed down. So much for holding back the bile, eh?

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Kitty. LOOK AT IT. Now calm down

Right I’m back, now thank Azumanga Daioh for the cute kitty and we’ll continue with everybody’s favourite rubbery Star Wars gimp, Jar Jar. Oh Jar Jar do I have some choice words for you. From your crepe paper ears to your frog tongue to your abominable accent to your incomprehensible stupidity. Jar Jar you missed funny like Icarus missed the sun, only I wish you’d melt like his wings and slither down a drain hole to blend and dilute in the sewage from whence you crawled. Now, as was mentioned in a comment on my Spectre piece, there is an amusing and somewhat compelling fan theory that Jar Jar is in fact the true villain, forever pulling the strings from the shadows. Whilst this idea is hilarious, remember that we’re talking about the prequels here and the idea that the same team that brought us Jar Jar, kid Anakin and midichlorians thought far ahead enough and highly enough of their audience to pull off such a gambit is, to be frank, equally as hilarious.

The thing about Jar Jar, however, is that he does have a redeeming feature. Or, the Gungans as a whole have a redeeming feature. Their lore is some of Star Wars’ best. Otoh Gunga is a beautiful piece of design, alongside their amphibious technology with that gorgeous organic aesthetic, those curious energy grenades and shields. Such a damnable waste of potential there. If it weren’t for the idiotic choice of comedy accent and essentially treating them as indigenous rubes, they could have been something special. I get the indigenous rubes thing is a plot point but still, that plot point was that they actually weren’t, just perceived as such. Bah, that’s by far one of the least insulting cock ups coming our way, but it’s one that rankles personally because of how much I love good world design and how close these guys came here.

Recognise this? “Restraint often produces better results than the perfect translation of vision to screen.” I hope you do because I said that only yesterday in reference to The Empire Strikes Back a.k.a. “everything good about Star Wars. That was, in fact, a not-so-subtle dig at the prequels. How about this one? “A habit Star Wars has of trying to do too much at once.” Yep, me again about the prequels. It’s inevitably time for the plot of The Phantom Menace, now pay attention kids, this is the easy one so, if you don’t get this, you’re going to struggle going forward.

We start with a war. I jest, we start with a trade envoy. That’s right, it’s as boring as it sounds. Apparently, the Galactic Republic is incompetent and useless enough to put the idea of a private corporate entity installing a military blockade around an independent member state in a legal grey area. They must know, they send Jedi to investigate. If I had a high opinion of this film I might say that was good satire, but I’m pretty sure it was just a dumb idea that got past screening because of “vision”.  Right, plot summary, not shredding. I’m sorry. So, Jedi arrive to investigate, one of whom is our protagonist Obi-Wan (you want to argue with that? Comments, you and me, high noon) and immediately the “not illegal” corporate blockaders try to gas them. Overreaction or admission of guilt? Either way, what follows is a still legally grey total invasion and occupation of Naboo, while our Jedi run away, meet the aforementioned rubbery gimp, rescue a queen (apparently now an elected office) and flee the blockade in the equivalent of a Rolls Royce. That’s not much of a blockade surely? But whatever, Rolls is damaged so we need to stop off in the ass end of nowhere for parts. Enter Tatooine. For fanservice!

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At least in anime and Jedi fanservice means tits, rather than sand. And I still hate him. Git

Simple so far? Good, because here we get pointless. Our protagonist stays on the ship whilst his mentor and the queen in disguise take the rubbery gimp into town to buy parts. They go to a scrap yard run by an offensively stereotyped, horribly mutated hummingbird-elephant who tells them that their universally accepted currency isn’t worth diddly and he wants, and I quote, “only money”. For arbitrary reasons, Jedi mind tricks do-not-a-work on the Jewbirdephant so our trio follow kid Anakin back home to his slave digs. Here we meet his mother to mention that the stunty burbleturd is, in fact, Jesus. There was no father. Bollocks. No, really, bollocks, she’s seen so many that the “no father” thing is just something she mumbles into her tear-stained pillow at night whilst she tries to remember how many dudes she had whilst she was tripping balls for years in the spice den, before she sold herself into slavery to pay off her drug debts. That horrible and unnecessary explanation was brought to you courtesy of midichlorians, which also rear their detestable microbe heads during this soiree. This is the part where the mentor, in his infinite Jedi wisdom, decides to bet on kid Anakin to win the massive podrace in order to win the parts they need for the Rolls.

Now, it is mentioned that the tiny crotchmoss has crashed or just flopped every time he’s podraced before, but this time the ten-year-old kid built the racer himself out of scrap so he’s a shoe-in. Don’t doubt his engineering prowess because the little prodigy also built Naked-bot 2020 a.k.a. C-3PO. So Jewbirdephant takes the bet (wouldn’t you if someone bet you a horse with no legs and chronic memory loss would win the Grand National?), the race happens, kid Anakin wins (because plot) and we head off to Coruscant with the now freed kid Anakin in tow to train him as a Jedi and report the invasion of Naboo. Here Obi-Wan doubts his mentor about the mini pus-ooze, definitely not Darth Sidious gets himself elected Supreme Chancellor after the previous one is useless on the Naboo front and then proceeds to be useless on the Naboo front, and the Jedi Council, rightly, laugh the diminutive arsenugget out. This is all important for the upcoming films, but bears little influence on The Phantom Menace as, at this point, we rush back to Naboo to recruit the Gungans to be a pawn to sacrifice to fight the droid armies of the invading corporation (with the certifiably retarded rubbery gimp as a general no less), whilst the Jedi and Queen sneak into the capital to, and this is the point where I had to look up a plot summary to write this, capture the CEO. So now we have the Gungan fight and the palace invasion. But the palace invasion then splits into three as the Queen goes off to do the mission, the hellspawned Mary Sue rocks up to space and destroys the space station controlling the droid army in a snub fighter (all by accident, as previously mentioned) and the Jedi fight “The Rule of Cool” manifest in a power station whose architect had a bright future at Shaft.

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According to Shaft this is a living room in your average two storey family home.  This is sane for them

For the grand finale, we have a shiny parade and a very awkward parallel with A New Hope. Awkward because what this film really does not need is a reminder of what Star Wars is supposed to be. Right, I’m going to move on before I have to crack the cat out again. Next up is Attack of the Clones.

Well.

Shit.

Regret asking yet? Because this is the good prequel. Yes, I’m serious. Yes, I know what I said about it. If you want to stop now that’s fine by me. No? Damn. Tomorrow, then. Tomorrow we tackle ‘Attack of the Clones’. I’ll need a clean straitjacket.

WORDS: JAMES ARNOLD

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