THE TEN: The Phantom Menace
Marcus celebrates the tenth birthday of Episode I in this new DVDActive article...
THE TEN, an all new regular feature for the all new DVDactive. But what is
THE TENyou ask? Well
THE TENcan be anything. It can be the best or worst of movies, it can be moments that make a movie memorable, it can be ten related items or ten of the most random things ever caught on celluloid.
THE TENcan be whatever the contributors of DVDactive want to put out there and hopefully you’ll like what we have to share... whatever it might be.
But where to begin? Well, with the tenth anniversary of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace on the horizon, a look at some of its highlights seemed a great place to start. After all, every saga has a beginning…
Seriously, has there ever been a teaser trailer quite as good as the one for Episode I? Has there even been one better than the theatrical trailer? In the build up to The Phantom Menace, these two trailers as well as the equally epic Tone Poem TV spots were literally like something from a Galaxy Far, Far Away, promising to bring something special to our big screens. A true event that built a mass excitement that hasn’t been equalled since.
I must have watched these trailers at least a hundred times. They absolutely capture the right level of excitement and are just pure Star Wars magic. Every line is a classic: ‘Loss of communication can mean only one thing... Invasion!’, ‘I sense much fear in you’, ‘You believe it’s this... boy?’, every frame was like something no other movie could offer at the time and frankly both of these trailers should be considered the way to do trailers the exact right way.
Now, I’m not a Menace basher, so don’t mistake this selection as a pop at Episode I only being good for forty five minutes. These forty five minutes are featured for the sheer amount of Lucas crammed into the roller coaster ride of an extended introduction to the new prequel era of Star Wars and the speed it flies by at.
In three quarters of an hour, Lucas throws out a ludicrous amount of Star Wars action. We’re in space, we meet our first couple of proper Jedis, one of whom is a younger Obi-Wan Kenobi. We are introduced to our first batch of aliens, the Neimoidians, we see a Sith Master, we get a battle droid scrap with some Droidekas as a side order. We get to see two skilled Jedi. Seriously that alone is still loads to take in for any Star Wars fan and the stuff Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan do with their sabers in the first battle are still some of the coolest Jedi moments ever.
It doesn’t stop there though. We meet a Queen (the future Mama Skywalker), our Jedis stow aboard an invading ship and visit our first new planet, Naboo. We see a seemingly good guy version of Palpatine, there’s an invasion army, we meet Jar Jar Binks (‘Meesa called Jar Jar Binks’), who despite a few motion issues still holds up as some incredibly impressive CGI work from ILM. Then we get our first breather, a little trip under water to Oota Gunga to meet the Gungans and Boss Nass (‘Weesa no like tha Naboo’), but before we can get too comfortable we’re off again in a Bongo avoiding giant fish and Godzilla sized monsters. ‘There’s always a bigger fish’.
Reaching our next location, Theed, our Jedi, along with their new Gungan friend, save the Queen and her entourage. ‘Yous guys are bom-bad’. Once again there are some awesome saber skills. Then we get a faceoff with some battle driods (‘I’ll handle this’) with even more of that sweet saber action and we’re back off into space in a shiny royal starship, where we meet an old friend, R2-D2, for the first time, who goes outside the ship, saves all aboard and sees us on our way—and all that’s over simplifying these opening events. At the time, having this as the first forty five minutes of new Star Wars in sixteen years was one hell of a way of throwing us all back in to the deep end of universe we love.
Now I’m not saying this is the best forty five minutes in movie history, hell I’m not even saying it’s the best forty five minutes of a Star Wars movie, but it’s a hell of a way to introduce you to the Star Wars galaxy and every time I see it, it still blows me away.
Taking a few steps back and going for a slightly more personal selection. The Jedi master Qui Gon Jinn pulls a lightsaber move at (40:39) that has always struck me as ludicrously cool.
After entering into a little skirmish with a handful of battle droids, Qui Gon slashes a Battle Droid in half and with one fluid motion turns his saber off and slides it onto his belt then without blinking, casually lifts his arm and uses the force on two more approaching droids. It’s the tiniest of moments in the grand scheme of things but it’s one of those things I've always adored in the Phantom Menace and just had to be included in this article.
Turning the action up to eleven, what would a listing of Phantom Menace highlights be without the Podrace. Lucas gets bashed for everything he ever does post Empire Strikes Back but there’s no denying that he can do this sort of stuff in his sleep better than most directors can do on a keg of Redbull.
Everything about this set piece is awesome. The designs of the pods, the aliens piloting them, the course itself, with its jumps, its bumps and its nasty canyons. You get the nice touches with the Tuskens, the whiz by with the Jawas and the sound mix on a good 5.1 system has always been jaw dropping (bring on the HD mix Mr. Lucas).
The Podrace is genuinely a classic Star Wars event and it’s great from the first Jabba spit, through ‘diddi crash it?’ right up to the ‘crowds are going nuts’ Skywalker win. That kid really must have Jedi powers.
‘How feel you?’ Getting to the meat and potatoes of this first chapter in the bigger Star Wars story, we come to the scene that starts the dark side ball rolling.
Anakin being testing by the Jedi Council is handled with just the right amount of Star Wars drama. I love the look and lighting of this scene, the orange of the sunset adding a warm glow to the important moment, despite playing off of the coldness of the Jedis' attitude. I love Anakin’s little ‘What’s that got to do with anything?’ pop at Yoda when being asked if he misses his mother but Yoda breaking into the speech ‘Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering’ is classic Star Wars stuff and made all the better that it echoes Vader’s speech to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back.
Generally I don’t much like the Jedi Council scenes in Episode I, but this scene stands out enough to warrant a mention. If only the dialogue wasn’t delivered by such a rubbish looking Yoda puppet (which thankfully should be changed to CGI the next time we get a proper Phantom Menace re-release).
I’m a sucker for movie homages and in-jokes and The Phantom Menace if full of ‘em. Of course there’s the Lucas re-cycling of dialogue ‘I’ve got a bad feeling about this’ etc and there’s the joy of spotting vehicles and faces from the Original Trilogy but Lucas threw another batch of items for us to have fun with—the Easter Eggs. From the expected 1138 reference (on the back of a droid) through the (and I'm yet to be convinced) Indiana Jones watching the pod race to the slightly less obvious but still brilliant ‘It’s working... It’s working’ E.T Anakin dialogue, there’s loads. Some of which I’ve included here:
No matter how much bad press Menace gets, there’s one thing that we can all agree on. DARTH MAUL IS A LEGEND. He literally owns every scene he’s in just by standing there and when the Sith apprentice does move we just sit back in awe. Bad has never been this damn cool.
Stand out moments for me begin with his first appearance as a hologram (‘Not for a Sith’). That badass stare, those folded arms, you know this character is going to be special. Following that you get the only Maul dialogue scene and then his arrival on Tatooine in one of the top three best ships in the Star Wars Universe, the Sith Infiltrator. Him stepping out of that red interior is great, but still not as great as slightly later on when he drives off on his speeder which is just brilliant. The way he disappears out of sight off the ledge is effortlessly cool and just as you have enough time to think ‘What?’, he re-appears, dust cloud behind him travelling off like the smoothest biker ever.
But then of course there’s the obvious one. Maul just standing behind the slide doors as the Duel of Fates kicks—it's still every bit as exciting as it was the first time. Off goes the hood and then comes the saber ignition and of course the always great second blade. I’ll go into the actual Jedi/Sith three-way a little later on, but Maul behind the energy barriers looking at Qui-Gon like a caged animal ready to fight, Maul blocking Qui-Gon’s attack as captured in the screen caps as well as stabbing Qui-Gon and turning to fight Obi-Wan before his fallen master has even hit the ground is just the red and black sugar sprinklings on an already perfect cake.
Okay, here is where I lose a batch of you (if I haven’t already). I don’t and never have had a problem with Jar Jar Binks. I will admit out of the handful of cuts I’d make to Menace the Binks is involved in a few (the lake dive being the biggest eye roller of the lot) but generally I like Binks’ involvement in this first adventure.
Firstly I have a lot of affection for some of his throw away lines ‘Weesa go under water now okiday’, ‘Diddie crash it?’ and ‘Weesa going hooooome’ are great and his ‘Steady, Steady’ to the Gungan army behind him is genuinely a moment I love. Okay, so there’s a few too many ‘How Wude’’s and maybe the constant tomfoolery in the closing Battle of Naboo is a little overcooked, but I don’t take this personally. He’s generally no more annoying than C3-PO was in the prequels and I for one feel that there could have been a lot more growth in the Jar Jar character if the hate hadn’t become such a big deal so early on. Don't get me wrong, Jar Jar isn't my favourite thing about Menace, not by a long chalk, but it just wouldn't be the same without him for me, despite the many claims to the contrary.
‘We'll handle this.’ Two Jedi vs. a Sith. That’s the way to end a Star Wars movie. I remember the first time seeing this on the big screen and just grinning like a school kid at the many, many elements that took Star Wars lightsaber action and put it in the hands of fully fledged masters.
First off, it’s the sheer speed of it all. The lightning fast moments between moments that makes the entire event so memorable. Not only do you have lightsabers cuttings through the air like never before, you have Maul force throwing things to open doors, Obi-Wan doing jedi jumps or Qui-Gon delivering Jedi back hand punches to knock back a skilled Sith.
The energy and sheer thrills just continue to grow as the battle progresses. After Maul drops Qui-Gon, the excitement builds as we wait eagerly for that energy barrier to drop so Obi-Wan can take on Maul. If the speed so far wasn’t impressive enough the saber battle takes another jump in pace and the duel between these two is still as mind blowing ten years on as it was the first time I saw it back in '99. The sabers fly at almost untraceable speeds, there are back flips and a saber getting cut in half and it just raised the bar on everything we’d come to expect from the Star Wars lightsaber battle. It’s just Star Wars at its most exciting.
Of course it’s not just what we’re seeing. The Duel of Fates score pushes it all further into classic territory with the choir and the instruments making this all the more epic and even though I miss the to and fro of dialogue in the Original Trilogy’s lightsaber duels, what do these guys really have to talk about anyway?
The last shout out is for those lesser spoken about elements of Episode I; those faces in the crowd and those little moments that just don’t get enough love. So here goes.
The Neimoidian with his eyes and mouth sealed up, TC-14, ‘I’ve got a bad feeling about this’, Driodekas, Padawan braids, Qui Gon’s saber going through a door, Sio Bibble, Jar Jar’s ear flip on Tatooine, Watto ‘Letame take you out back’, ‘Little bitty accidenty’, Captain Tarpals ‘Here taken dissen one’, Lott Dodd, those little droids that walk past the background while the Neimoidians talk to Sidious, all the astromech droids that were lost trying to repair the hyper drive, Ben Quadrinaros, Pit Droids, the little critter Jabba flicks off the balcony, Sebulba ‘Poodoo’, Watto again, Maul’s Probe Droids, Maul’s Speeder, C-3PO, Shmi, Watto again, the second pod race lap, Yaddle (man she's weird), the Wookies that cheer in the senate, Yarael Poof, Ki-Adi-Mundi, Plo Koon, Palpatine’s little Mr. Bean-esq tongue poking out after he tells little Anakin he’s be watching his career closely and after he tells Padme he’s been voted in, the tubby Gungan, Panaka shooting out the window, the Gungans coming out of the mist, the unloading of the Battle Droids, the Gungan who gets blasted to atoms saving Jar Jar, Padme’s little slip after telling Nute Gunray his occupation has ended and the Vader breaths at the end of the credits. You all played your part and I salute you.
So there we have it. A celebratory look at probably the most debated Star Wars movie out of the bunch. Personally, I love it more now than I did ten years ago and I was big fan then. It’s not perfect, it’s not the best of the saga and it’s got its fair share of problems but taking this wander around ten years on, I miss the excitement that it brought and the enjoyment I’ve had with the many re-watches and debates over its impact since.
Happy Birthday Phantom Menace and may Lucas grace us with a Blu-ray edition soon.
Editorial by Marcus Doidge
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