Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace (Part I)
…I told you guys I’d start another movie recap series before I finished one. In my defense, the other movie I currently have in-progress is Rogue One, and I’m sorry, but at this time I need to be recapping something OTHER than a movie where everyone dies. So instead, let’s spend some time with a movie where only some of the good guys die! And one of the bad guys dies but LOL PSYCH NOT REALLY TAKE THAT OBI-WAN. (Sorry, Obes. *mouths “I love you” and sheds a single tear*)
The Phantom Menace. No one has any thoughts about this movie, do they?! HMM?! Ha! Yes, I remember it all just like it was yesterday: everyone showed up, everyone loved it unconditionally, and we all lived happily ever after.
…OK, fine: we as a fandom all lived about as happily ever after as Anakin Skywalker did, which is to say “not really at all, although maybe our ghosts will one day be at peace”. This one pissed off a lot of people, but it wasn’t trying to make people mad. Like anything else in this franchise (or like any movies or pop culture stuff ever,) it’s certainly not above critique (YES, EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, EVEN YOU ARE A CHEESEFEST OF THE HIGHEST ORDER AND I WILL DIE ON THIS HILL.) It’s one of Star Wars’ goofiest entries to be sure, and has that same “oh God Star Wars please stop trying to be funny nooooo” thing going on now and again, and it definitely wasn’t what many people were expecting or, evidently, looking for. That said, I do remember feeling a little put out after it came out and grown men were lamenting that they “didn’t know who this movie was even for“, as Padme-aged me sat there thinking that it was pretty great that this movie was, in part, about a fantastically-dressed teenage warrior queen’s day-saving adventures with a couple of Jedi, one of whom was Ewan McGregor, on whom I had (*coughs* yes, had,) a life-threatening crush. And now, as a parent, I’ve seen how cool the idea that a little boy gets to become a Jedi and drive stuff really really fast is when you’re, say, a 7-year-old boy.
I also feel the need, before we even start unpacking this one, to say something briefly about what this movie did that was special then (and is still pretty notable): its special effects were often groundbreaking for the time. I remember my parents and their friends talking about the crazy stuff they pulled off in this movie, and people who didn’t even like Star Wars to begin with saying things like “well you always have to go see Star Wars anyways, because you have to see what new stuff they came up with.” I feel like this sometimes gets overlooked in the race to point out What’s The Tackiest CGI That’s Aged The Worst in the near 20 (!) years since this movie came out: some of this stuff certainly looks more primitive now, because it was the first time anyone had tried to do it on this scale. Technology that people take for granted in, say, every Marvel movie ever was new or in its infancy when this movie came out.
The last thing I’ll say here on my well-worn Prequel Soapbox for now is that like it, hate it with the fire of a thousand suns, or love it, this movie (and the other two prequels) are if nothing else probably THE largest-budget Single Person’s Insane Vision Project ever. George Lucas set himself up such that he got to do pretty much whatever the hell he wanted, and that’s exactly what he did. You might think it sucks, and that’s absolutely your right. Last I checked no one was legally required to enjoy anything in Star Wars (and thank God for that.) But at the end of the day it’s truly unusual for anybody to have the financial resources and staff at their disposal to be like “you know what, I am gonna make this absolutely batshit series happen and I’m gonna be able to do it exactly the way I want to, no matter how ridiculous it is.” The man himself wasn’t even sure it’d ever be possible back before A New Hope was released:
…so there you go: that’s what this trilogy is. A story of the Jedi and how the Emperor eventually takes over and turns the whole thing from a Republic to an Empire, and tricks all the Jedi and kills them. Yes, it’s going to be a lighthearted romp!
And with that, you’ve all been appropriately warned — if you’re looking for someone to really hate this movie with, well, you’ve probably come to the wrong place. (Don’t worry. I hear rumors that there’s plenty of that to be found elsewhere on this here internet thing.)
Recurring Theme: It’s Always Something Around Here
Oh, we kick things off in gloriously dorky fashion: the Galactic Republic’s got a problem! Said problem is related to the taxation of trade routes, which entertains me greatly because as we know, taxation of trade routes is one of Star Wars’ Top Things That Might Fuck Up The Galaxy (along with bounty hunters, space mining, a Darth Maul Revival, or anyone in the Skywalker clan having a male child.)
Yes, trade routes are being a’-taxed, bad vibes are happening, and the Naboo are the victims of a blockade at the hands of the Eeeeeevil Trade Federation (LOL), but not to worry: the Republic’s totally on it, and they’ve sent a couple of dorks in outlandishly gigantic robes to sort it all out.
Recurring Theme: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Knows He’s In For a Bad Time
So the Mysterious Jedi are approaching Naboo, and their ship asks for clearance to board the Trade Federation’s:
LOL. You know, Gunray, nothing makes you seem MORE up to something than being like AH YES AS YOU KNOW ABSOLUTELY NOTHING EVIL IS GOING ON HERE. It’d be like, say, tweeting constantly about how nothing you’ve done is illegal over and over again all day every day for years or something. Just makes one wonder, is all I’m saying. Ahem.
So the two Jedi get off their ship and are welcomed by a protocol droid:
We then see an un-hooded Obi-Wan Kenobi, Wee Space Peanut featuring Jedi Trainee Hair That I’m Going To Have To Look At For The Entire Rest of This Movie (how could you, George. HOW COULD YOU CUT OFF HIS BEAUTIFUL SCOTTISH HAIR AND DO THIS TO HIM BUT ESPECIALLY ME. Talk about ruining someone’s adolescence, man. Those fanboys don’t even know my pain.) Our Obi-Wan speaks his first lines in the entirety of his canon appearances here, and they are this:
HAHAHAHA. As much as I would love some more Kenobi Backstory, I kind of love that THIS IS THE FIRST THING WE EVER HEAR OBI-WAN SAY. It’s perfect. RUN OBI-WAN RUN IT’S ONLY GETTING WORSE FROM HERE.
Qui-Gon Jinn, his Hippie-ish Space Dad, remarks that he doesn’t sense anything. LOL AGAIN. Of course you don’t, Jinn. No one in this universe ever really does. (Except Obi-Wan here, I guess, but that’s probably just because he hasn’t met Anakin yet and so he still has a few brain cells available to think about things other than “keep Anakin from accidentally killing himself/others” for the time being.)
Recurring Theme: Incorrect Predictions
So the two of them blahblahblah a bit about whether or not Obi-Wan should be concerned about the present or the future (to which I say: BOTH, OBI-WAN. YOU SHOULD ABSOLUTELY BE VERY CONCERNED ABOUT BOTH.)
Then they talk a bit about their mission here, and Qui-Gon declares that the Trade Federation are cowards, so this is all gonna wrap itself up with a quickness:
I mean, he’s going to be right, sort of, but in the larger sense this shit ain’t ending anytime soon.
Back with the Trade Federation, the droid informs them that:
They are Not Happy About This. This must mean they’re here to force a settlement to this Whole Thing! Nute Gunray asks to stall them while he holo-Skypes Lord Sidious Who Is Absolutely Definitely Not Also Senator Palpatine.
Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are now sitting in some sort of conference room/dining room, and the droid arrives with refreshments for them. Qui-Gon observes that:
…as Obi-Wan looks on, looking concerned and showing off his scandalously-deep V-neck.
On the horn with Sidious, he’s informed that YOUR PLAN SUCKS DUDE THEY’RE ONTO US:
I love that this is the first thing someone says to Sheev, in part because LOL HIS PLAN’S GONNA BE JUST FINE MOSTLY, and also because this is nearly the same thing Luke Skywalker’s gonna say to him before Sheev gets his evil ass tossed into the void. Ah, Star Wars: it is like poetry. It may occasionally be like the stupid, awkward poetry that I presume Anakin Skywalker has written a LOT of, but poetry nonetheless.
Sheev is like NO SWEAT, we’ll just accelerate things. Go ahead and execute Order 1A or whatever:
Gunray is aghast:
Ha! Ha! I’m fine. Everything’s fine. Good thing shit like this doesn’t ever happen in real life oh what a fantasy Star Wars is.
Gunray persists: what about the Jedi?
Sorry, Sheevy, you’re gonna have to try harder than this to kill Obi-Wan. Just sayin’. He’s not even going to die when he actually dies.
Recurring Theme: The Jedi Will Absolutely Kick Your Ass
Oh God, I love this part. So the ship the Jedi arrived on gets blown to bits, and back in the conference room, the doors get locked and poison gas fills the room.
What feels like 2 entire seconds later, Nute Gunray is like “OK that probably definitely killed the Jedi” and he instructs his battle droids to dispose of them:
Naturally, of course, you can’t kill these two that easily/ever, and so as they wait for the smoke to clear, a couple of blades emerge:
The thing I love about all of this is how the Trade Federation is absolutely scared shitless of these two. They’re back in their room panicking about how OH GOD THE JEDI ARE COMING and they’re all gonna die. THAT’S RIGHT, BAD GUYS, THE JEDI ARE COMING.
Also a fave: look at this dude. He’s so into it and I love him.
So they start to break down the door and the Trade Federation guys are basically wetting themselves, but before they can fully break through, some droidekas show up:
I cry a thousand tears that these two are like “eh, OK, they have shield generators so I guess it’s a standoff” and so they just run away, when I think about HOW MANY OF THESE FUCKING ROBOTS OBI-WAN IS GOING TO HAVE TO TAKE OUT. Also, I’m greatly amused that they use Force Dash to sprint out of there. THIS WOULD BE A HELPFUL SKILL TO USE A LOT MORE OFTEN THAN YOU DO, JEDI. JUST SAYING.
Recurring Theme: They’ve Gone Up the Ventilation Shaft
Ah, I feel at home again, because of course the place that Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon sped off to is, of course, the stupid vents:
Obi-Wan Kenobi will spend what is by my count actual years of his adult life crawling around in the vents of some building or ship. I wonder if he snuck around in one on Tatooine occasionally just for old times’ sake.
Recurring Theme: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Smirker Extraordinaire
The guys jump down and Qui-Gon is shocked to discover that there’s an entire invasion army of droids down here!
He remarks that this is all pretty weird for the Trade Federation to be doing. Don’t worry dude, it’s probably not because they’re allied with Ancient Evil or anything. He suggests that they split up and stow away on different ships and meet up later.
Obi-Wan, unable to help himself, contributes this:
LOL. The smirk. Too bad his hair is so lacking here because this would have been a prime opportunity for him to swoosh his bangs back saucily. Sigh.
Recurring Theme: Padme Amidala, Has a Lot on Her Plate
Padme gets on a regular-Skype call with the Trade Federation, and let me say: she is not PLAYING with her first costume in this series, which is absolutely and completely OSTENTATIOUS:
Bless her. Yes, at the age when many people are just worrying about whether or not they’re going to get the mean teacher for 3rd period geometry or whatever, Padme Amidala is running a whole fucking planet while wearing a headdress that weighs 16,000 pounds. I love that Star Wars will just be like “…yeah, Darth Vader is a thing and space monks carry laser swords and 14 year olds run whole planets here. No, you don’t need any more explanation than that so JUST DEAL WITH IT.” Fair enough, Star Wars.
Gunray is thrilled: YESSSS, finally we’re getting somewhere, the queen’s on the phone!
Padme is like SO: I hear your boycott’s ended, because the Chancellor’s ambassadors totally made you sign an agreement. Gunray’s like HUH WHAT NEWP don’t know ANYTHING about any AMBASSADORS definitely didn’t try to kill them 45 seconds ago!
Padme, looking mighty unimpressed, is like Oh Is That So: well if I were you I wouldn’t do anything stupid but whatever, bye.
After hanging up, the Trade Federation frets: Padme’s right, the Senate is going to have a shit fit about this, we’re in trouble. Maybe Padme suspects an attack! They’ll have to disrupt communications to the planet before it’s too late! DUN DUN DUUUUN!
Recurring Theme: Sheev Palpatine, Just Wants What’s Worst For You
Back in the palace, after this gorgeous establishing shot which deserves its own callout:
…Padme is chatting with her loyal and helpful and honest and not-evil ally, Senator Sheev Palpatine. He is shocked — shocked I say! — to learn that there haven’t been any negotiations because the ambassadors aren’t there! I swear to God, this could only be funnier if he had clutched his heart dramatically to emphasize how VERY surprised he is at all of this.
Before he can finish his latest Oh Don’t Worry Padme I Won’t Ruin Your Life and Destroy Your Husband and Democracy Mostly For Kicks spiel, his transmission breaks up. Uh oh!
The room gets very ansy at this development indeed:
Padme, however, is not yet ready to press the panic button.
Aww. The Duchess of Mandalore would be so proud. And would also want to know where she got that hat.
Recurring Theme: Accidental Day-Saving
So the invasion of Naboo is beginning, and a bunch of battle droids are all over the place and they’ve been given orders to be on the lookout for the Jedi, who are suspected of having stowed away on the ships.
A melee ensues through the forest as everyone debarks:
In the ruckus, Qui-Gon ends up pinned underneath a giant tank with one Jar Jar Binks:
Basically all “I don’t have time for this”, Qui-Gon is like “WTF were you doing back there you almost got us killed! Anyways, goodbye forever”, but, like most friendships in Star Wars, Jar Jar’s just going to insist on sticking around and being obnoxious until the other party just gives up and accepts it. I presume Chewbacca understands how Qui-Gon’s feeling right about now.
Anyways, Jar Jar explains that he has to go with Qui-Gon: he owes him a life debt for saving him just now!
Obi-Wan, outrunning the probably 8,000th, but absolutely not the last, attempt on his life, joins the group and is also very unimpressed:
Think of it this way, Kenobes: having someone annoying trailing you who is often making it more likely that you’ll die is good practice for when Anakin gets here.
Jar Jar informs the Jedi that the safest place for them to go now would be Gunga City, an underwater haven where they’ll be protected from the oncoming conflict.
But no sooner is out of his mouth that he’s like OH WAIT NEVERMIND: I totes forgot, but I actually am banished from that place. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, however, are like “well the alternative of staying here is not going to be an improvement”:
At this line of argument, Jar Jar relents. Away to Otoh Gunga!
Recurring Theme: I Definitely Assumed This Happened
By nightfall they reach the edge of a body of water, and Jar Jar announces that they’re going to have to go underwater now. He punctuates this with an over-the-top gymnastics-style flip into the water because the animators were just showing off, and the Jedi follow him, equipping themselves with what appear to be snorkel harmonicas. Once again: totally assumed all of this happened when Obi-Wan told Luke he’d been a Jedi. I mean, obviously I just figured this was all part of the package. That and the zombies. And pirates. And all of it.
So they plunge into the water and Jar Jar leads them to the city, and OH MY GOD I just…look at this place:
I just can’t bring myself to agree with people who can’t appreciate the backdrops in these movies. I know it’s a matter of opinion, but I just think they’re gorgeous and so, so storybook-fairytale, which I presume was the point. Even now they still look amazing to me, but I remember seeing this scene the first time in the theater and hearing people “oooh”.
Recurring Theme: Most People In Star Wars Aren’t Welcome Wherever They Are
So they get into one of those bubbles, and everyone’s like FFS Jar Jar not again! You can’t be here! That’s it, we’re taking you to the principal’s office! I like that the heroes of Star Wars are pretty much always an unwelcome guest anywhere they go.
Boss Nass is like UGH JAR JAR COME ON: you’re not supposed to be here!
Boss Nass is Not Interested: the Naboo are a bunch of snobby assholes who think they’re soooooo much better than everyone just because their queen spends 17 billion credits on hats annually! No deal!
Obi-Wan is like BUT COME ON:
Recurring Theme: Brain-Scrambling of the Jedi
Qui-Gon, giving up arguing, just goes ahead and busts out some mind-magic:
Success! Uh, maybe: for one thing they’re not actually sure what Boss Nass just agreed to give them:
…and then as they’re leaving Jar Jar’s like “it’s a trap! They’re sending you through the planet core?! Have fun with all THAT. Oh and by the way um, I’m under arrest or whatever, you know, just in case you cared?”
Obi-Wan, sensing another of Qui-Gon’s Wacky Adventures is afoot, is like no no no no no we’ve gotta GO Master, but Qui-Gon notes that they will need a navigator.
He pauses and asks:
He notes that Jar Jar owes him a life debt, and Boss Nass is like FFS REALLY BINKS:
Finally, he acquiesces: whatever, just get him outta here already.
The group takes off in a beautiful Gungan submarine, which I love (we have the Lego of it and it’s awesome, and yes, I am 10 years old.)
They chit-chat for a bit and then their ship is nearly consumed by a Giant Evil Space Fish, until another one swings by to take care of that for them:
…astute, Jinn. There will, indeed, always be a bigger one. MIGHT WANNA JOT THAT ONE DOWN KENOBI.
Recurring Theme: Sheev Palpatine, The Fucking Worst
Sids is on the holo-Skype yet again with his Trade Fed Buddies, and they’re telling him everything’s going pretty swimmingly:
…however, they are worried about Padme. She sure seems to think that the Senate will have her back on this!
I HATE YOU, YOU CREEP. Just getting that out there. It’s always interesting to me that for all we make of his manipulation of Anakin, Anakin really wasn’t even PART OF THIS PLAN LIKE AT ALL EVEN A LITTLE BIT AT FIRST. He was just the handsome, dorky gift with purchase! Sheev was going after Padme way before he decided to ruin the life of anyone else I care about. Ugh. I don’t even know what my point is here other than that he is the worst and I’m sad for everyone.
Recurring Theme: The Totally Chill Sidekicks of Star Wars
Back on the sub, they experience a brief power outage, which when fixed, illuminates that there are yet more monsters out there and Jar Jar FREAKS THE FUCK OUT:
I’m sorry, but I’d probably be doing the same thing, even if I did have a couple of Jedi with me. I’m not great in a crisis.
Qui-Gon gestures towards an outcropping, and as the scenes ends it looks like our friends just might make it through The Sea of Monsters.
Recurring Theme: The Unbearable Sadness of Padme
We then switch back to Naboo, where we get two perfectly lovely shots:
LOOK HOW PRETTY. Gah! Just beautiful.
Padme is standing solemnly by a window, because OF COURSE SHE IS STANDING WISTFULLY BY A GODDAMN WINDOW. I never realized she’s possibly the first person to do this in the timeline, if you don’t count Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon’s pensive semi-window-stare at the beginning. What a trailblazer.
She watches helplessly at the scene unfolding in front of her, as battle droids and the Trade Federation well and truly make their presence known:
On that happy note, that’s a wrap for today’s entry! Do join me next time, when our friends will hit the galaxy’s sandiest rest stop and encounter someone who’s going to be relentlessly sweet, and eventually turn everything upside-down. Oh, and Sidious’ll probably drop by to say a bunch of Dramatically Ironic Things, too. Pretty sure that’s in his contract. Thanks for reading — until then!
You’re at the start of this recap series.