This one needs a bit of back story.
My first clear memory is of seeing Star Wars at the Wayside Drive-In during the re-release in 1979. I know it was the ‘79 release because my mother was not pregnant and I was the only child in the car with my parents. I was three years od, and the experience is burned into my memory. Everything that comes before that moment is a blank slate, and much of what comes after is muddy at best, but that night is crystal clear.
To say Star Wars influenced me is an understatement. Oh, not as much as Star Trek, I’ll be a Trekkie until I die, but I’m a fandom whore, and I have room on my shelf for many things. One day we’ll talk about Babylon 5 until you want to punch me in the face.
When The Empire Strikes Back came out, we were living with my grandmother. My parents were on one of their breaks with my father at our house and us living with grandma. Grandma took me to see Empire at the Universal theater in Ann Arbor. I know it wasn’t on opening weekend, but it was still early in the movies release. I’m sure the secret of Vader being Luke’s father had already been spoiled in the media, but I was unaware of it and thus had the thrill of learning the truth along with Luke in the bowels of Cloud City. My strongest memory of seeing Empire was grandma taking me to the BEST department store (did they have those in your area in the 80’s?) and buying me a Taun-Taun and Hoth Han Solo.
Even then I knew how I felt about Harrison Ford.
Return of the Jedi is a bittersweet memory for me. It is the absolute last thing I remember doing as a family with my parents that wasn’t a birthday or wedding. We saw it at the State Wayne Drive-In the weekend it opened. The movie was great even if I already knew at that tender age that it was the weakest of the three. I remember loving the crimson uniforms of the Imperial Guardsmen to a bizarre degree and being fixed on the bright green of Luke’s new lightsaber. But let’s cut the shit, Princess Leia owned me in that movie. Even to this day, I adore Carrie Fisher.
Young Josh was a Princess Leia fan in the first two movies of the original trilogy, but he fell in love with her in Jedi. Yes, I know all of you cheeky monkeys think I’m referring to the gold bikini and slave Leia, but you’d be wrong… kinda. Prepubescent Josh was indeed turned on by the gorgeous Miss Fisher, but the rest of Josh found his first true female badass that day. He didn’t see Alien and the phenom that is Ellen Ripley for a few more years and on Betamax at that.
Suffice it to say I love Star Wars.
Fast forward to 1997 and the announcement that one Mr. George Lucas was officially working on the first movie of a trilogy of prequels to the original series. Along with this announcement came the remastered and extended/enhanced special editions of the first trilogy. I have to tell you this right now—I like the special editions. Yes the use of CGI is a bit overdone, and yes I’m as pissed as anyone about the whole making Greedo shoot first bullshit. But setting that aside the cleaned up film, enhanced effects, and yes the addition of the formerly cut scene with Jabba the Hut more than makes up for it in my view.
I saw Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace the day after it opened with my unnamed sibling at the nine pm showing. I liked it a lot. Yes even on the first of my three viewings in the theater there were things I didn’t like. Before I explain why I actually really like this movie, let me give a brief rundown of the things I don’t like.
The entire idea of Midi-chlorians still to this day piss me off. Seriously, bacteria makes the Jedi powerful? So basically I could kill a Jedi with my blood type, drain him or her, transfuse their blood into my body and them BOOM I’m a Sith Lord bitches?! Sign me up because after I’m done, it’s off to Washington D.C. where I’ll get a place as the President’s Chief of Staff. Always wanted to be the power behind the throne.
There was too much Jar-Jar for my liking, but I don’t hate the character as a whole. You need comic relief but even in 1999, the character came off way too racist for my tastes. I in no way think he was intended to be racist, and I actually find the gangly stereotype kinda funny but yeah the affectations of the character make me uncomfortable.
Anakin should not have been a child. The break with established continuity really bothers me. Yes, I know old Ben only said Anakin was already a great pilot when he met him and never specified his age, but it was heavily implied that Anakin was at least a teenager, closer to an adult than a child. Also, I don’t hate Jake Lloyds acting. The kid did the best he could under the circumstances. Look at his work pre-Episode 1 and you’ll see he was a solid actor. I blame how he was directed and the dialog he was given. Look at him during the pod race scene, the kid’s non-verbal acting is intense.
But enough complaining, there’s a lot of good in the film.
George Lucas, despite all of his movie making flaws, actually came damn close to making a perfect movie. I find the plot interesting, entire “Wag The Dog” aspect as Palpatine manipulates everyone killing millions just so he can become Chancellor of the Galactic Republic. Also, the movie still looks amazing, even after nearly twenty years the effects hold up. That final battle for Naboo still has the ability to drag me in and make me forget it’s almost all CGI.
Senator Palpatine is the real star of the movie and in my mind the entire trilogy. When he’s on the screen, he owns it. The man dominates every environment he occupies and his dealings with Queen Amidala in the Galactic Senate chamber are my favorite non-battle scenes in the entire film.
Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi are the Jedi we’d been waiting to meet since 1977. They are they peacemakers, they are the strategists, they are the diplomats, and they are the heart and soul of the Galactic Republic. Yes, they make mistakes, but that just shows they are only human making them even better than if they were unobtainable paragons of virtue.
The Battle for Naboo is amazing. It’s small compared to so many of the other battles in the Star Wars series, but the punch it delivers is memorable. Is it because of the fight in the capital? No, the credit for the awesomeness of the battle hands down belongs to the Gungans. I may not be a Jar-Jar Binks fan, although his portrayal in the TV shows makes him a well-rounded and interesting character, but I love the Gungans. They’re out-manned, outgunned, and using biotech and hand to hand weapons against a droid army and they never back down. The Gungans go in knowing they don’t have a farts chance in a hurricane, and they fight with all they have.
Also, I’m saying this right here, and now, I LOVE Captain Tarpals.
Now we set all of that aside and get to the single greatest thing in Episode 1—Darth Maul. The man is a presence and even though he has very little screen time every second he is up there he owns it. His dominance is second only to Palpatine in Episode 1. From his demonic visage to the double bladed light saber Maul may be the worst Sith around.
Ray Park manages to convey more emotion through expressions and gestures than most actors do in their strongest vocalization. In the final battle between Maul and the Jedi, there’s a scene after he kills Qui-Gon that he and Obi-Wan are separated by a forcefield. Obi forces himself to kneel and meditate as he waits for the forcefield to drop but Darth Maul is a jungle cat. He paces back and forth inches from the barrier eyes locked on the young Jedi. For me, it’s the most powerful moment in the movie.
And that’s it—those are the reasons I love Episode 1. Yes the movie has some serious issues, and I understand why some people hate it, but I don’t. Despite all the flaws I love it.