As you all know Star Wars is like a religion to me. It’s a sacred thing not just because of the magic of the films, but because of the incredible personal experiences I’ve had with friends and family while watching these movies. Obviously I’m counting down the days until Star Wars Episode VIII The Last Jedi opens and I wanted to do something special in anticipation of that film. So today is the beginning of a really cool series of articles that we’ll be posting once a week, from now until Star Wars The Last Jedi opens on December 15th. Each week a different contributor from World’s Best Media (myself included) will be writing a piece on a Star Wars film starting with Episode 1 and ending with Episode VII, right before the new film opens. Some of the articles are already finished and it’s been wonderful reading each one as it comes in. We’ll all get to experience these incredible movies through someone else’s eye. That’s what each of these articles will be about: the personal and emotional experience each of our writers had with a Star Wars film. I won’t be writing a long introduction to each article, but for the first piece I felt like I needed to explain what we’re doing.
So, first up is Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace written by my co-host on The World’s Best Podcast with Paul & Tim, Tim Cuff. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “ Tim Cuff? TIM CUFF?!!! He is no Star Wars fan! Heresy! Heresy, I say!” Believe me guys, I know where you’re coming from. But as soon as I started thinking about this doing this series of articles, I immediately thought of Tim for The Phantom Menace. First of all, Tim’s a great writer and secondly Tim has always had weird love and respect for Episode I. Now, he doesn’t let the movie off easy. Nor should he, because even the most devote fans of The Saga will admit that movie is a bit of a mess. But there are pieces of brilliance sprinkled throughout the film. After reading this article, you may agree with me when I say… The Force may be with Tim after all…
EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE by Tim Cuff
Unlike most of the other writers carefully selected to write these Star Wars-related articles, I am not a Star Wars guy. Being “not a Star Wars guy,” why on earth would Paul choose me to kick this whole thing off and recap Episode I, a movie disliked by many fans and non-fans alike? Well to understand why Episode I is so special to me, let’s hop in the ole time machine and head back to 1999.
Back when the Red Sox were still cursed and Limp Bizkit was a respected musical act, a young Tim Cuff was 13. I don’t think any description from me can do justice to what a major movie event Episode I was. A Star Wars movie hadn’t come out since 1983 (yes, I understand the original trilogy was re-released in theatres in the 90s, doesn’t really count). This was going to be the first Star Wars movie with modern special effects (yes, I understand the original trilogy had some CGI added in when it was re-released in theatres in the 90s, doesn’t really count). This was going to kick off a new saga. This was going to explain where Darth Vader and Obi Wan came from. Young Tim went into this movie with the absolute highest of expectations, and unlike most fans, he was not disappointed.
Let’s start off with Qui-Gon Jinn. If you don’t like Liam Neeson, I don’t like you. Liam Neeson is a boss now, and he was a fucking boss in 1999. Obi Wan, comparatively, is pretty lame in this movie (in terms of his storyline). He spends 50% of this movie inside of a parked ship waiting for everyone to get back, he has a weird short ponytail, and an even weirder super long side-of-his-head rat tail. In fact, other than the fact that they build Qui-Gon up so you can be devastated when he (18 YEAR OLD SPOILER ALERT) dies, I don’t understand why Obi Wan didn’t just replace Qui-Gon’s part in this movie. Anyways, I digress. Qui Gon is a quiet badass, akin to John Wick or Christian Bale in Equilibrium. He is a rebel who doesn’t blindly follow orders, he often disagrees with the Jedi. Anyone who tries to push back against those pompous galactic dickheads is cool with me. Although, to be fair, he was VERY mistaken thinking Anakin was the chosen one who will bring balance to the force. I can’t really stress enough how very, very wrong he was in this thought process.
My favorite Qui-Gon moment, which epitomizes him as a character: During the final battle with Darth Maul, when the force field walls temporarily stop the action and the duelists are forced to take a short break, Qui-Gon sits on the ground and fucking mediates. How badass is that? Imagine you are in a to-the-death battle with a red and black horned demon with a laser bowstaff that can cut through metal walls, and you have a 30 second break. Could you calm yourself enough to mediate!? Well, sadly, it didn’t help much as he is shortly offed with a lightsaber to the stomach. I honestly find those force field walls brilliant, even watching it now, as it stopped Obi Wan from helping and also forced him to watch his best friend and mentor die. Young Tim was devastated by this. I truly did not see it coming, I thought Neeson was an actor I would get to see in the sequels to come (reading about this online wasn’t a thing for me at the time), and it really did hit home.
As much as I loved Qui-Gon, I think the most memorable character in this movie is his killer: Jar Jar Binks. Sorry that was a typo, I meant Darth Maul. In a universe where the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad with no grey area in-between, there is no cooler bad guy than Darth Maul. I actually think it was a huge mistake to kill him off as from a purely visual standpoint he was the best character of the new trilogy. The black and red face (from my understanding the black is tattoos), the horns around the top of his head, the awesome ninja moves, and of course the fucking DOUBLE LIGHTSABER. After seeing the movie and loving Qui-Gon Jinn, when Young Tim went to Toys R Us after this movie did he reach for a green lightsaber? Nope, he went straight for the double red one. Who wouldn’t? My young mind was completely blown. There was no explanation given as to why suddenly the Jedis were ninjas that could almost fly (I guess “the force was stronger then”), but Young Tim didn’t care. I still find this 3-way swordfight to be the best in the entire series, old or new.
The podracing scene was, in many people’s opinions, the highlight of the movie. It wasn’t for me, I always liked the lightsabering more, but nonetheless the race was a truly awesome scene that inspired several great video games. If I was Anakin’s mother, I probably wouldn’t let him enter the race to help out some random strangers. The race is, after all, so dangerous that only 2 racers even made it to the finish line and it seems several of the racers died. When I asked my mother as a boy, “Can I enter a death race so some people that broke down can buy a new part for their car?” she said no, which is why I am not currently living up to my potential.
This is by no means a perfect movie, I will admit. The two biggest issues are Jar Jar and Anakin, but I will briefly tackle why they shouldn’t ruin the movie for everyone. Jar Jar is truly an awful character. Young Tim didn’t hate Jar Jar, he instead accurately thought of him as nothing. He was a nothing character. Under careful recent re-watching I realized Jar Jar could almost be entirely edited out of the movie with it making no difference. The only time Jar Jar contributes to the plot in any way is when he brings Obi Wan and Qui-Gon to the Gungan city. The only other moments he has are when he clumsily falls or has some annoying throwaway line. He was obviously included as a desperate attempt to appeal to children that miserably failed. As a child, I don’t remember any other children actually liking Jar Jar. However since he is such a minor, unimportant part of the movie you can try to just black him out and pretend he’s not there.
Jake Lloyd as Anakin to me is worse than Jar Jar, because his dialogue with other characters (especially Natalie Portman) is so important to the movie. His acting is almost always painful, and I blame Lucas for this. Lucas could have casted another actor, and also Lucas is known for providing the cast almost no direction. Someone as inexperienced as Lloyd likely needed lots and lots of direction. I in no way blame Lloyd as he was a child. My only excuse for this (to help make this aspect of the series tolerable) is even in 1999 we all knew Anakin was going to be Vader by Episode 3. Due to this, it was forgone conclusion Episode I is the only time we would be forced to hang out with Jake Lloyd. I wanted to add quickly I truly do feel bad for Jake Lloyd as Episode I clearly ruined his life. If you google his name or watch any interviews with him, you will immediately understand what I am referring to.
Episode I was quite polarizing when it came out; it received mostly mixed to negative reviews. However Lucas always said Star Wars is meant for children. Well Young Tim fucking loved it, so I guess to Lucas that is a win. Due to my contractual obligation with World’s Best Media to never speak negatively about Star Wars, I will end the review with that. After this movie we all poured some out for Qui-Gon and Maul, gone too soon, and prepared for the budding romance of Anakin and Natalie Portman. I mean, the scenes between them in the next movie can’t be as bad, right?