Countdown To 'The Force Awakens': Remembering 'Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace'

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is almost upon us and you know what that's time to revisit the rest of the Star Wars saga for the thousandth time (give or take a few viewings). To get through the final days leading up the biggest movie geek event of the past decade, we're dedicating each day this week to one of the other six Star Wars movies. It's time to chat about what we love about each movie and what we don't love. It's time to bring up the common nitpicks and the most beloved scenes, the tiny little details we love and the the concepts that don't get enough attention.

Consider this your invitation to use the comments section below as a catch-all for any kind of Star Wars conversation you desire. This week is for you. The fan. Enjoy it.

Today's subject: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.


The Thrill of a Podrace

Don't let the occasionally irritating voice over from that two-headed announcer fool you. The podracing sequence in Episode I is bravura filmmaking and it's George Lucas at his playful. Armed with all kinds of new digital tools, Lucas becomes a kid in a candy store, crafting an action sequence that felt groundbreaking at the time and is still very impressive today. Sure, the whole scene feels way too disconnected from the actual plot of the film to actually matter, but it is, hands down, the most memorable sequence in the movie and a high watermark for the whole prequel trilogy.

image_84276d6cThe Dignity of Liam Neeson

George Lucas cast Liam Neeson as an action hero a decade before it was cool to cast Liam Neeson as an action hero. Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jin suffers from the same maladies that plague other Star Wars prequel characters, but at least he has the benefit of being played by an actor with some serious chops. Like Alec Guinness before him, here is a powerful performer stepping into a role that could have been silly and providing the dignity that may have been lacking on the page. You hear Qui-Gon speak and you know he's got whatever situation he's facing – he's probably seen it before. Here is one of the few Jedi in the prequel trilogy who feels more like a warrior monk than a member of the space U.N.

Darth MaulEverything About Darth Maul

Darth Maul is the right kind of mysterious. We never get to know his backstory and we never know what he's like when he's not trying to kill our heroes (we do know that he's certainly a tattoo enthusiast), but it ultimately doesn't matter. Episode I needs a wall for our heroes to run into and Darth Maul is one seriously effective wall. This guy means business from moment one. It's a shame that he goes down in that big finale. The prequels really could have used more instantly iconic villains like this.


Those Damn Midichlorians

In perhaps the most fundamentally irritating revelation in any Star Wars movie, Episode I reveals that an individual's connection with the mystical Force that binds the universe together is dependent on whether or not a bunch of tiny organisms have decided to take up residence in their blood. By attempting to replace the mysticism of the the original trilogy with tack, ever-so-slightly "harder" science fiction, one the saga's greatest concepts (that you and anyone you know can harass the Force and be a Jedi) takes a painful punch in the gut.

Jar jar binksThat Damn Jar Jar Binks

16 years later, Jar Jar Binks is as painful and off-putting as ever. How did anyone think this character was okay? How did anything think a literal cartoon character wouldn't undermine every single scene he's in? Star Wars has gotten away with bumbling comic relief before (it's C-3PO's entire purpose), but Jar Jar is crass and lowbrow and weirdly racist. He cheapens the movie in big, cringe-worthy way and the years have not made him easier to take.

NeimoidiansTall-1536x512The Damn Trade Federation

Speaking of weirdly racist alien characters, it boggles that mind that no one involved in the production of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace bothered to sit down with George Lucas and ask him why the two idiotic aliens behind the illegal blockade against Naboo had to speak with over-the-top caricatures of Asian accents. This movie could have literally made up an accent to suit the characters, but everyone involved instead decided to lean on a racial stereotype for shorthand. Oof.