Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

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Letter to a Star Wars Fanatic

Apr 9, 2000 (Updated Apr 9, 2000)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Love the special effects! Love the soundtrack! Love Natalie Portman!

Cons:Three words: Jar Jar Binks

Dear Son,

I hope by now you have recovered from the harsh words I let fly last night after I ejected the “Special Edition Widescreen Collector’s Edition” video. Please realize that they were not directed at you personally, but rather at Mr. George Lucas in particular and Hollywood in general.

I should never have used the words “sucks,” “shallow” and “disenchantment” in your presence. Furthermore, use of the phrase “Jar Jar Binks must die” was entirely uncalled-for. If I hurt your feelings, I sincerely apologize.

But I couldn’t help myself. I mean, that travesty they call a “Star Wars movie,” that phantom, that mere ghost of greatness…well! I know, I know, I’m starting to sputter again. The flecks of angry spittle are on my lips once more. Sorry. I thought I’d be a bit more rational in the cool light of morning.

Let me take a deep breath…

There. Perhaps now I can proceed…

I know nothing I can say will sway you from your unswerving loyalty to all things Jedi, but hear me out. After all, I was a Lucas lover long before you were even born (“a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”). I was the one who saw what we now call “Episode 4” the first week it opened in theaters and no one, brother I mean no one, had ever used the word “Tatooine” in a conversation before.

Remember, I was the one who trained you in the ways of the Force, my son. When you were just knee-high to a Wookie, I sat you down and showed you the first oracle (“Episode 4”). I was the one who bought your first Luke Skywalker action figure, I was the one who ate all those Taco Bell chalupas so that you could have a complete set of paper placemats, I was the one who stood out in the rain for three hours to buy you a ticket for the re-release of the oracular trilogy. So, don’t you go telling me I’ve slipped over to the Dark Side when I start scorning Episode I, you young whippersnapper!

—Sorry…lip-spittle again—

Where was I? Oh yes, Episode I: the Phantom Menace.

Trust me, son, I know how desperately you want to love this movie. As a first-generation Star Wars fan, I, too, had such high hopes. Such high, high hopes. Unfortunately, they came plummeting out of the sky like a blasted X-Wing Fighter. When you and I saw Episode I in the theaters last summer (yes, another three hours in a ticket line!), I wanted nothing more than to share your giddy enthusiasm for the movie.

But I can’t. I’m sorry, son. It breaks my heart to say this, but you and I must part ways. Simply put, the movie lacks everything that made the first two movies in the series great (I think you know how my zeal started to wane with Return of the Jedi—it, too, suffered by comparison to its predecessors).

Gone is the streamlined action. Gone is the camaraderie. Gone is the genuine wit. Gone, in short, is the fun.

I never thought I’d miss Mark Hamill, but the wooden characters (computer-generated and otherwise) really make me long for just a bit more of the “gee-whiz” factor he so incomparably brought to the screen.

In Episode I, there is far too much “whiz” and not enough “gee.”

The Supreme One (otherwise known as Mr. G. Lucas) has seen fit to make this an important film. He spent so many (too many) years on this project and pinned all his hopes on its success. I’m sure the pressure must have been great for him when I think of all the cards and letters he received from young whippersnappers like yourself. He just had to make a perfect film; nothing less would do in the eyes of his fandom. But I think that’s where he failed. In trying to please everyone, he pleased no one.

Well, okay, there’s quite a few of you young pups out there who swear by this film. I completely understand how you could refuse to see only the bright side, and not the Dark Side, of Episode I. But, if I may, I’d like to ask you to remove your rose-tinted glasses for just a minute and face up to the cold hard fact that

THIS MOVIE SUCKS.

(Wiping lips again.)

Okay, son, put down that light saber. Maybe “sucks” is coming down too hard on this movie. Admittedly, it was not as bad as a vast majority of other “family entertainment” I endured this past year (Inspector Gadget and Dudley Do-Right spring instantly to mind). But neither was it The Empire Strikes Back, the high-water mark Mr. Lucas was aiming for.

Here’s my theory: the Lucas team was, by their own admission, a bunch of kids let loose in a candy store and they stuffed the movie with all those CGI sweets, not stopping to realize we need a little meat and potatoes to go with the empty calories. How many times did we watch those Entertainment Tonight fluff interviews where G-Daddy said, “Technology in film has advanced with giant strides since 1977 and there’s just so much more we felt we could do, yada yada yada…”

Certainly, Episode I is a technological marvel, pure cinematic eye candy. But then so was The Matrix. Another theory: you wanna know why The Matrix TKO’ed Episode I at the Oscars? It’s because The Matrix told a story and told it well. Yes, I know it went home with Special Effects Oscars, but surely the voters remembered The Matrix with fondness because of the way it integrated “bullet time” FX into a well-written script.

Episode I, on the other hand, is not well-written. Nor is it well-acted (despite Ewan McGregor’s best attempts to channel Alec Guinness). Nor is it clever.

Instead, it exists only to advance the Lucas factory into their next production period. Sitting there in the theater with you, biting back the groans, all I could think was, “Gee, this is the longest exposition I’ve ever had to sit through! Enough of Darth Vader’s immaculate conception, already! When are we gonna get to the fun stuff?” You, of course, were perched on the edge of your seat, mouth agape and eyes all aglisten. It’s like you were drinking in the New Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see Qui-Gon Jinn.”

Can’t you even admit that you were just a teensy-weensy bit baffled by all that trade war stuff? Won’t you bend just a little in your view of Jar Jar Binks and concede he is the most annoying thing to appear on screen since Jerry Lewis? Will you ever allow the word “disappointment” to pass your lips?

I love you, my son, and that’s why it pains me to see you so single-mindedly devoted to this film. I beg you to see it for what it really is: a summer blockbuster in the worst sense of the word. Years hence, when you are older and wiser and have gray hair from your own brood of third-generation Jedis, I pray you’ll understand what I mean when I say the words “cash cow” in connection with this movie.

Until then, I suggest we call a truce: I won’t come into your room and deface your Jar Jar Binks poster if you promise not to slit my throat with a light saber while I’m sleeping.

As always, may the Force be with you.

I remain,
Your Loving Father


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