A Celebration of Star Wars: Episodes 1 – 2
With The Rise of Skywalker due out this weekend, I’ve decided to take a look back at the complete Skywalker Saga. I have loved Star Wars for as long as I can remember. There are a lot of other lifelong passionate fans out there. Most of them love the spark the series has brought to their lives. Others, well some of them are loud, mean, and angry. Anyway, I’ve decided to try my best to go back and watch these movies I’ve seen a million times and re-evaluate them. These won’t be so much ratings, or even full reviews, but more observations and notes.
Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
The year was 1999. Fans eagerly anticipated the beginning of a new Star Wars trilogy focusing on a young Anakin Skywalker and his fall to the dark side to become Darth Vader. For reference here, I was in early grade school and firmly in the demographic George Lucas was after. The hype was huge, and the film was a big success, but after its release it saw massive fan backlash from angry adults who loved the originals as kids. Does it deserve the reputation of the biggest disappointment of all time? Yes and no. On one hand, did Episode 1 live up to the hype? No, but what movie could with those impossible expectations? Still, Episode 1 isn’t quite as awful as most people say.
It’s not without merit. The lightsaber battle with Darth Maul is fun to watch. It presents an interesting explanation for the rise of Palpatine. The special effects still look good 20 years later, even if Lucas leaned a little too heavily on CGI. The acting is a mixed bag. There are some really awful performances, which have been beaten to death, but Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson are great. There are a few points where Episode 1 drags, particularly the Tatooine sequences, but it’s not boring. I won’t even touch Jar Jar Binks. One complaint that’s often lobbed at the prequels is the tired old “ew, politics in Star Wars. Blah blah blah trade routes.” The politics are maybe the strongest part of the prequels, which are really the story of a democracy in decline and how it devolves into a dictatorship.
The issue in Episode 1 isn’t that the plot involves politics, it’s that the politics make no sense. If Lucas would have really explained why the Trade Federation is blockading Naboo, beyond just “Darth Sideous told them to”, the political end of the equation may have worked. This is definitely a bit of a misfire, but it’s not the dumpster fire it’s made out to be.
Episode 2: Attack of the Clones
Okay, this is by far the worst of the series. As I found more good in Phantom Menace than I was expecting, I had hoped that a fresh look at Attack of the Clones would yield additional positive vibes. It didn’t. The love story between Anakin and Padme is creepy, lacks any real romantic chemistry, features boring scene after boring scene of the most cringe “love story” you’ll ever see. Hayden Christensen often catches flack for his portrayal of Anakin, but man, Natalie Portman is as bad or worse the entire trilogy. Every now and then there’s a cool scene, or a great character moment, but the bad outweighs the good by a wide margin. Even a cool moment like Yoda using a lightsaber on screen for the first time kind of loses its luster when you realize it’s an animated puppet flipping around a guy in his 80s in Christopher Lee. Also, how do you have Christopher Lee and give him so little screen time? For shame. Yeah, not much to see here. Attack of the Clones is a boring mess that is easily the weakest link in the series.