I was as psyched as anybody when The Phantom Menace premiered in 1999. We had all been waiting 16 years for a new Star Wars movie. I was expecting the same magic that entranced me back when I was six years old and saw A New Hope in the theater. I didn’t account for 16 years of reading and watching other science fiction, let alone my tastes changing and maturing. None of us children of the ’80’s can watch Phantom Menace through the same eyes that we saw our first Star Wars movie, and we’re all the worse for it.
I’m not a film critic. I don’t have a theater or cinema background. I’m just a lover of good stories, especially science fiction and fantasy. I haven’t seen the newer films a dozen times each, and I have most of my sanity intact to prove it. I’ve certainly watched worse movies, but I seldom watch anything as disappointing. It’s with some reservation that I anticipate the upcoming film, The Force Awakens. I haven’t even watched the trailers. When I see Age of Ultron, where the next trailer is supposed to debut, I might be the guy in the theater with his fingers in his ears and his eyes clamped shut.
My son had never seen Phantom Menace. Initially I made the case that he wasn’t old enough. The violence is more intense, I told myself. It can be hard to follow, especially because the dialogue at times seems like it was written by someone in a hurry to get back to more explosions and light saber duels. That’s exactly how I felt when I watched it, and I was curious to see how my son would feel about it. Would he experience the same feelings I had for the original trilogy? Would he choke on the same stuff that gagged me when first saw Phantom Menace, nearly twenty years his senior? Would I have to watch my son experience pain on that same level? It would break my heart, but there was only one way to find out. I couldn’t just avoid it and pretend he wasn’t interested.
My son had been spoiled for the movie a bit because we played the Lego Star Wars games. In that medium, the Phantom Menace was superior because there was no dialogue, and humor was injected into areas that the movie (laughably) asked you to take seriously. Jar Jar was funny in the game. To my son, movie Jar Jar was also funny because he was “likable and stupid”. His words were much kinder than what I would have said.
The pod race was undoubtedly one of the highlights for him. It was very exciting, but Jake Lloyd’s acting makes me cringe. I could cut him more of a break if I hadn’t seen such good acting by kids in Game of Thrones. Talented child actors can be found if one is willing to do the work. Even the first time I saw the movie, the pod race seemed longer than made sense. My son ate it up. It was one of the few times during the movie that he sat nearly still. He commented about how difficult that part of the video game was. I agreed. We didn’t have the benefit of the force when we were trying to pilot those things on the Wii.
Darth Maul was, of course, “cool and creepy” to my son. The light saber sequence among Qui-Gon, Obiwan and Maul was his and my favorite scene in the movie. All of the other light saber action in the film seemed casually ridiculous to me. There were scenes where my son said it was “a lot more fun and crazy in the game”. He called the fight leading to Qui-Gon’s death “intense” and some of the same action when fighting droids “lame” by comparison. Agreed. How intimidating are droids that fall apart when their control module stops working? If the Trade Federation isn’t smart enough to buy better technology than that, they deserve to be defeated by the likes of Jar Jar and some punk kid, midi-chlorians or not.
My son’s overall rating for the movie was “7 out of 10 stars”. He might have given it eight if I hadn’t choked on a popcorn hull as he started to suggest it. I tried not to sway him, but apparently my poker face stinks. Maybe we’ll watch it again in 15 years and see if he feels the same way. No, why do that to myself. He can watch it and tell me about it afterward.