Today Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace returns to theatres in its brand new, 3D release. Episode I is the first of the Star Wars film saga to be re-released in 3D, with the following episodes to be released one per year. This is to the frustration of most Star Wars fans, myself included, who must wait until 2015 to get to the really good movies.
But I’m over such frustrations. I’m over being an angry nerd who gets waaaaay too pissed off about the guy who made the damn movies constantly changing them. The stress can’t be good for me. I need to learn to accept things and not let it get in the way of my love for the Wars.
That’s why when I sat in the theatre last night at midnight, with a substantial crowd for the movie considered to be the worst of all Star Wars movies, I made the commitment to look for the good in The Phantom Menace.
Here are five things about Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace that are, actually, pretty cool.
The Casting of Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor
This only occurred to me last night, but seeing Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor in their Jedi robes strolling through the Trade Federation ship was weird. All of a sudden they appeared out of place to me. It’s because these are guys with real acting careers. They’re movie stars. What are they doing in this movie?! Pre-1999 everyone thought this movie would rock so I’m not questioning their agreeing to be in the film, but since the film is such a turd their inclusion is one of the few good pieces in a giant mess.
A New Hope obviously set some precedence for casting big names with Sir Alec Guinness, but there’s already so much to like about A New Hope, Guinness’ fantastic turn as the old Jedi Knight doesn’t stand out as one the best parts. Neeson and McGregor and their actually really good performances as Qui-Gon Jinn and the young Obi-Wan Kenobi are a highlight. And McGregor’s performance only gets better as the prequels continue. To this day I still believe Obi-Wan and Anakin’s bromance in Revenge of the Sith is more touching than whatever was between Anakin and Padme.
The Pod Race
When it was announced the Star Wars films would be getting the 3D treatment there was lots of talk about the pod race when anyone mentioned Episode I. There were those who were excited for the possibilities of the pod race in 3D, and those who mocked others for trying to use it as a good reason to shell out more money for a terrible movie. Well I think the pod race is a great part of The Phantom Menace, 3D or not.
If you look at the pod race as a fun, action set piece and not as a function of the plot where the annoying little Ani gets to shine, it’s awesome. All of the Star Wars movies have moments where the audience feels like their on a ride, experiencing something sweet that wouldn’t be possible without Industrial Light & Magic’s, umm, magic. The trench run? Attack on the Death Star in Jedi? They’re the same kind of spectacle.
And yes, the pod race is pretty fantastic in 3D.
Padme Amidala Kicks Butt
Princess Leia is iconic not only for her rockin’ side buns but because she’s the woman in Star Wars. She’s a tough lady in a man’s world, and while at time’s she’s come under criticism, if you’re a chick whose a fan of the Wars you undoubtedly relate in some way to Leia. Or you were at least always relegated to playing her when you and your friends would reenact scenes in the backyard.
With the release of The Phantom Menace the prominent roles for women were doubled! To a total of two! It was momentous. All right, I’m being slightly sarcastic because, really, George, two chicks? But I digress, Padme is Episode I kicks butt. She’s a newly elected, young queen and she doesn’t take no for an answer, effectively leading a rebellion on Naboo to free her people from the Trade Federation’s invasion. She also fools everyone, including the Jedi, with her double act with her handmaiden. And that reminds me of a fun game to play next time to watch The Phantom Menace, try and spot when Queen Amidala is being played by Natalie Portman or her double, Keira Knightley. It was pretty easy to spot them and when they switched, and I’m sure that’s due to Knightley becoming a bigger star since.
What’s also great about Padme in Episode I is it’s a nice reminder of how awesome she was, before she was relegated to a whiny, weepy pregnant woman who dies because she just gives up. You gave birth to twins! How are they not worth living for!?
Duel of the Fates/Final Lightsaber Battle
Something the prequels gave us that until then no other live-action Star Wars could produce was jaw-droppingly epic lightsaber fights. The final fight between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Darth Maul is incredible. It was the first time we’d ever seen Jedi and Sith leaping, flipping and looking super-human as they fought. Don’t get me wrong, Luke’s battle with Darth Vader in Empire is a classic, but that’s just it. It’s classic. The Phantom Menace gave us lightsaber duels for a modern age.
Re-watching the Duel of the Fates scene last night I was kind of awestruck but how powerful and strong a capable Force-weilder would be. Seeing a lightsaber duel on such an athletic level gave me a whole new appreciation for the prequels, because before them we never got to see lightsaber fights like this. They were slow but dignified, still capable of capturing our imagination, but they weren’t the incredible spectacle Duel of the Fates is. Much of this credit goes to the advancements in stunt technology as well as safety, allowing actors to do more without getting horribly injured. And of course to the awesome stunt team, in particular Ray Park. Which leads me to…
If there’s one aspect of Episode I that EVERYBODY agrees is awesome, it’s Darth Maul. He’s menacing, mysterious, capable of fighting not just one but two Jedi at once, and an all around badass. And did I mention he’s the only Star Wars (movie) character to wield a double lightsaber? That’s pretty baller.
It’ not uncommon for Star Wars characters with hardly any screen time to have huge fan followings, but Darth Maul basically is Episode I. Have you seen any of the posters advertising The Phantom Menace in 3D? He’s on almost every one, and those that he is on he’s almost always the main character featured. Honestly, looking only at the marketing you’d think this was his movie. Of course, those of us who are familiar with Episode I know he comprises just a fraction of the flick. The best fraction.
Maul is so popular despite his tiny role that he’s coming back from the dead on Star Wars: The Clone Wars. That’s it, even being cut in half, lost down a chasm and forever being associated with the worst Star Wars movie can’t stop this Sith badass from coming back.
There you have it, five things you don’t need to feel ashamed of for liking from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Sure the movie has lots of flaws and lots of things were added to the Star Wars universe we’d all like to forget. Jar Jar and midichlorians immediately come to mind. But in the end if you love these movies and the incredible world that’s been created from them you have to at least appreciate parts of Episode I. Y’know, it was fated that one of the Star Wars films had to be your least favorite, at least they made it so simple to choose.
Should you go check out Episode I in 3D this weekend? I think so, but only if you’re not terribly strapped for cash. 3D tickets are not cheap and we have all seen the movie before, right? I thankfully was able to pay with gift cards leftover from Christmas, had I to pay my own money I might not have seen it. But I did have a blast. The atmosphere of seeing a movie with a bunch of other total Star Wars nerds is unmatched, no matter what movie. Plus seeing how many kids were there enjoying themselves, many with their parents and probably seeing Episode I in theatres for the first time, was a treat.
The 3D isn’t terrible, it adds a nice sense of depth to many scenes and like I mentioned the pod race is way fun. Sadly, there will be moments where it’s glaringly obvious the movie wasn’t made for 3D. Any time there’s a simple pan shot the entire screen is horribly blurry. Thankfully this doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s noticeable. Oh! And thank you Lucas for replacing the awful, terrible Yoda puppet with a CGI Yoda. This was a change I really appreciated. The original puppet from Episode I managed to look worse than the original Yoda from Empire and Jedi, and I don’t even know how that’s possible.
So, what d’ya think? Will you go see Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 3D?