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Thursday, December 3, 2020

Star Wars I Through Non-Fan Eyes

Since I’m finished watching the middle part of the Star Wars saga (the original trilogy plus Solo and Rogue One, it seems time to go backwards chronologically and do the prequel trilogy, especially since I think I’ve seen at least one character now who technically first appeared in the prequels. I should do them quickly while that experience is still fresh in my mind.

Full explanation of my ranking system is here. Summary: C is average, A/B is recommended, D is badly made, F is something to avoid.

The Phantom Menace

Rating: C-

I have only seen brief scenes from The Phantom Menace, never all the way through without distractions. So I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Yeah, I’d heard older fans hate it, but I’m trying not to let their feelings affect my experience, same as I didn’t let their love for the original trilogy affect my experience. Plus, I kind of suspected that it wasn’t really bad, just average. Mediocre. Which many people interpret as bad, because they can only have extremes, no middle ground.

I was partly right, but a smidge wrong.

It’s definitely average, C-tier material. So not bad, but not good, either. Something that can be enjoyable if you just have some time to kill, or if it scratches some itch, like if you’re a big fan of Star Wars in general or one of the actors. Not something you ought to watch, if you’re on the fence.

But it does have some bad points. Not sure whether to include the dullness of the trade negotiations opening as a failure or just typical of C-tier plots in general, but getting from there to the actual plot (invasion, escape from invaders, need to repair ship to get back and defeat the invaders) takes forever, as does the introduction of what supposed to be a central character and … hero? And there are a couple examples of Chekov’s Gun violations, where something is mentioned (like Jar Jar’s clumsiness) and it never really impacts anything later, so why did they bother bringing it up?

Speaking of Jar Jar: yeah, he’s an annoying character, but I’ve already said I’m ignoring puppet and CGI aliens because I find them all annoying, so I’m assuming it’s a matter of taste. But one thing about Jar Jar’s annoying features that does stand out: he’s constantly doing sight gags in the background while serious things are going on in the foreground. You can do that if your intention is to deflate the seriousness and make fun of it, but none of Jar Jar’s antics ever seem to impact anyone else, nor do serious characters react to his antics. It’s as if two different movies are being filmed simultaneously on the same set without interaction.

And it turns out to be more than just the slapstick aliens. There are several moments in the film where things just happen by accident, for example Anakin’s role in the attack on the Trade Federation’s fleet. It’s not like Anakin said “I’m just a kid, and don’t know about fighting in space, and Qui-Gon Jinn told me to stay put, but I have this feeling in my gut that I should do something.” No, instead, everything he does accidentally helps his friends without him wanting to help, or being aware that he helped. The Force went from “the hidden connections between all living things in the universe” to “the laws of cartoon physics”.

The Star Wars Universe has become the Toon universe.

So, The Phantom Menace gets a mark-down for being poorly assembled, even though they were somehow technically competent while assembling it.

Next Up: No surprises here. We’re moving on to the clones.

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