Max turns back the clock and takes a retrospective look at George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel The Phantom Menace
Last night, I watched The Phantom Menace. There was a Star Wars marathon that I had missed and TPM was on from 12 to 3 which is my usual timeframe for calling it a night. I watched TPM in theaters with my father and step-grandfather 21 years ago when I was 6 years old and I remember it blowing my mind.
I remember asking my dad if the movie contained bad guys and laughing at Jar Jar Binks. I also have a vivid awestruck memory of seeing the Trade Federation Army assemble on the verdant green pastures of Naboo. I was also one of those kids who asked a lot of questions and remember asking my father why it would be dangerous for Queen Amidala to return to her world.
Strangely, most of my memories of Darth Maul (arguably the coolest character in the entire Prequels) is reduced to reading about him in The Phantom Menace Complete Visual Dictionary. Anyway, in the years of my formative growth to my adulthood, most people regarded Phantom as the worst Star Wars movie. Citing the character Jar Jar Binks as the poster boy for the hate.
JAR JAR HATE
Hating Jar Jar is not acceptable anymore; in light of how much it hurt the actor who portrayed him; Ahmed Best. The poor guy suffered from deep depression because of the backlash and I will never insult the character again. I know what it’s like to feel so down that there is no bottom waiting for you. Anyway, watching the movie as a man in his late 20’s, I wanted to see if my now jaded viewpoint would reject TPM like everything else. To my happy surprise; it did not.
I enjoyed the movie and felt the story flowed very well. I love the rustic middle of the road special effects of the lightsabers and laser bolts. They were more advanced than the Original Trilogy but hadn’t yet bloomed into the unrealistic fire flares of today’s movie lasers. A happy medium. I actually think Jar Jar is an endearing character and one who is legitimately funny. I actually find Jake Llyod’s 9-year-old Anakin Skywalker to be very annoying. And I have to say. He was a terrible actor. Yet, maybe I shouldn’t hate on Jake Llyod either; given what happened to him as well.
One of my favorite things about re-watching a movie is spotting new things that I never saw or thought of before. For this re-viewing, I never contemplated what Jar Jar’s punishment would have been for returning to Otoh Gunga. Had Qui-Gon had not intervened. I have a vague memory that my father may have said something, but a 6-year-old isn’t really capable of predicting these kinds of things. Now I wonder as a man if they would have executed him! Thankfully, we will never know.
Speaking of Qui-Gon Jinn, I just think that he is such a wonderful character. And the template for what a Jedi truly should be. He is honest, flexible, stands up for what he believes in, and isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers. He also is a good mentor and if had he lived, I believe with all my heart that Anakin would not have turned to the dark side. I have been very critical of the Jedi lately. And think that if more of the Council followed Qui-Gon’s example; perhaps they could have stopped the Sith’s rise to power.
To end on a positive note, I was thrilled to hear a bit of Prequel dialogue that touched me. When arguing with his mother to let him help Qui-Gon and his friends get the credits to fix their ship, he says “Mom. You said the biggest problem in this universe is that nobody helps each other.” Wow. A few months ago, during my first semester of grad school, I complained to my friend about this very same grievance. Nobody seems interested in helping other people. When asked for help, most people don’t care; yet they have no difficulty congratulating you when you pull it off at the buzzer.
If more people put energy into helping instead of just saying “good job”; I feel that the world and the universe would be a much better place. So yes, I’ll say it. TPM is a great movie. I highly enjoyed re-watching it and in my experience; If I want to re-watch a movie I saw 21 years ago; then it is a keeper.
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Max Nocerino is a regular Staff Writer for The Future of the Force. He is a passionate Star Wars fan and loves the literature of the galaxy far, far away. Follow him on Twitter where he shares his love of the Force frequently!