Back in 1999, Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace was going to be one of the biggest movies of the year. While it ended up breaking box office records, there was a stinging sensation that The Phantom Menace was not the same Star Wars we knew and loved. The film is arguably the most disappointing movie of all time, with characters like Jar-Jar Binks and lil‘ Ani Skywalker a far cry from classics like Han Solo and Chewbacca from the original.
Before the movie was released in theaters, there were already a few reviews of the film floating around the Internet. Director Eli Roth, who hadn’t broke into the industry yet, anonymously wrote one of those early reviews, for the now-defunct website LeisureSuit.net. It was recently unearthed by Jordan Hoffman from Film.com and the New York Daily Post, who was an editor at Leisure Suit at the time. “So here’s the kicker: IT SUCKED,” Roth said of The Phantom Menace, back in 1999.
Mike Ryan from the Huffington Post recently contacted Roth and asked him about the review. Roth remembered writing the review and played it off as a “style piece,” comparing it to Steve Martin’s rejected New Yorker submission review for Ridley Scott’s Alien. He also views The Phantom Menace and the prequel trilogy in a new light. He accepted that George Lucas didn’t make these films for the older generation, but rather he made them for a newer one. Roth wrote the Huffington Post:
Now I look back at that review and all I can say is, I’m so happy I have a life now. Having received similar scathing reviews (and worse ones), I read it and laugh and realize that the only crime against cinema was getting that upset at a movie that was never intended for me. I’ve met so many young people who love the ‘new’ Star Wars films, because that’s who they were made for. Thinking that George Lucas made The Phantom Menace for me is symptomatic of my entire generation who grew up with Star Wars, because as kids in the 70’s and 80’s, those films were made for us. We just assumed that would continue in the 90’s (and secretly hope it does with J.J. Abrams at the helm of the new ones). So while I won’t be ordering the Phantom Menace special edition Blu-ray anytime soon, I don’t take the film as a personal assault against my childhood. At least not in front of girls.
Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace will always be seen as a disappointing failure in the eyes of many Star Wars fans. It ushered in a new era of Star Wars that didn’t appeal to fans of the original trilogy. With J.J. Abrams in the middle of putting Star Wars: Episode VII together, let’s hope that it won’t be anything like The Phantom Menace.
You can read Eli Roth’s entire review for Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace below.
Few films in history have had greater anticipation than The Phantom Menace. People have been waiting on line for over a month to get tickets. I know I have been waiting since 5th grade, following every rumor in ‘Starlog’ and on the Internet. So here’s the kicker: IT SUCKS. I’m sorry, it does. I know it’s sacrilege to criticize George Lucas or the Holy Grail of movie trilogies, but after waiting 16 years I can honestly tell you this film is an unbelievable disappointment. People may say that waiting 16 years for anything will be a disappointment, but I waited 16 years to get laid and that really lived up to all my expectations. Okay, I’m lying, I didn’t get laid until I was 18, but you get my point.
Let’s start with the first problem of the movie, the title. What does it mean? I have no idea. Having seen the film, I still have no idea. I’m guessing it’s a reference to Anakin Skywalker, but your guess is as good as mine. There are so many other glaring problems with this film that I don’t even know where to begin. You should understand when you go to see it that this is truly a movie for kids. I remember suffering through Hook thinking, ‘Man, Spielberg’s really lost it. He had kids, and it completely fucked him up. He’s afraid to kill anybody–bad guys included.’ I think Lucas is going through something similar right now, having kids of his own. Somebody should kidnap his children or put him through another rocky divorce so he will take out suffering on his characters and not make everything so goddamn cutesy.
The film starts off with Liam Neeson (Qui-Gon) and Ewan MacGregor (Obi-Wan) having to negotiate some sort of trade bargain with some bad guys who look and speak with horrible Chinese accents. I was hoping this film would actually show us some of the back story, like how Ben Kenobi became a Jedi, or how the Jedi got started, or any of that. Nope. Not a chance. Obi-Wan is already almost fully trained, so he’s an expert at everything. The opening crawl says something about a trade embargo with the federation or something about shipping, but by the time it disappeared I was already way too confused. I thought ‘How can a film for kids be so confusing?’ All I know is that there was somebody evil up to something bad, so Liam and Ewan had to negotiate an agreement. Then the evil emperor dude from Jedi, the one Vader killed, appeared. Turns out he’s controlling the Chinese dudes, and he wants them to kill Liam and Ewan. So already I’m thrown off because I have no idea what’s going on, and I don’t understand why these aliens are speaking English with Chinese accents. In every other Star Wars movie the aliens have their own language. This rarely happens in Phantom Menace–the aliens mostly speak English with an embarrassing affected accent. The Chinese aliens try to kill Liam and Ewan, but the Jedis outfight everybody and escape.
At this point I realized that Han Solo and Chewbacca wouldn’t be appearing any time soon, and I got a bit worried. It wasn’t the fact that half the film was computer generated and it was starting to look more like A Bug’s Life than Star Wars, it was the embarrassing dialogue that Lucas wrote. The aliens have to repeat things over and over to each other after the Emperor speaks to them, saying things like ‘This was never part of the agreement!’ The weakest aspect about the first Star Wars was the dialogue, and Lucas made the smart move of hiring Lawrence Kasdan to write the screenplay for Empire. He does not make the same move here, and after about twenty minutes you realize that the entire movie’s going to be cheesy melodrama and unfunny jokes. When Liam and Ewan escape to a planet and meet Jar Jar Binks, you pretty much give up all hope that it’s actually going to be a good film.
Jar Jar Binks is simply an embarrassment. It’s not just that he looks so much like a computer generated character that you can’t believe him, it’s that Lucas decided to make him a crazy Jamaican monster who makes fart jokes. Imagine the worst aspects of Jedi–the Ewoks–exploited in mass form and forced upon you throughout the entire film. I was cringing every second Jar Jar was on screen. I thought to myself ‘Fuck, he’s not gonna be with them the rest of the film, is he?’ Sadly, he was. Lucas came up with some crazy notion that none of the characters in this film should have a sense of humor, and that he should dump it all into this one insane computer generated Jamaican frog. As a result, Liam Neeson is a stoic, over dramatic bore, and Jar Jar Binks says he’s in “big poopy.” In Star Wars, everyone has a sense of humor–even Darth Vader. When Princess Leia calls Han Solo a nerfhurder we get a glimpse into the humor of their universe. In Phantom Menace, when a ship crashes during a race, an ESPN-type announcer says ‘I don’t care what planet you’re from, that’s gotta hurt!’ Is that supposed to be funny? Whereas the previous films were based heavily on Greek mythology, this film is based on popular culture.
By the end of the film I was so disconnected from any of the characters that I really couldn’t have cared less about any of them. Watching an army of computer generated aliens fight an army of computer generated robots is boring after five minutes. None of it’s real, and you can’t even let yourself believe it’s real because there’s just too much computer generated imagery. What’s Lucas got against puppets? Halfway through the film I was bored–the story just isn’t very interesting at all. Forget the fact it’s too confusing, forget the fact the dialogue is embarrassing, the film doesn’t even follow it’s own logic. We meet young Anakin Skywalker and go to his house on Tatooine. He’s a boy genius who’s building his own robot named C-3PO. What? Excuse me? Are you telling me that Darth Vader built C-3PO? And 3P0 grew up on Tatooine? In the first Star Wars, when R2 and 3PO land on Tatooine they make it very clear that they have no idea where they are. They’ve never been there before, so how could they have grown up there? It’s obvious that Lucas wanted to throw the droids in, which gave me some sense of familiarity, but the way he used them makes no sense, even within the logic of Star Wars. Another major problem with The Phantom Menace is that Lucas casts great actors and gives them nothing to do. Save for a few light saber fights, Liam Neeson wanders around Tatooine for most of the film. And why is Sam Jackson in this movie? Not that he’s not a great actor, but he’s in the movie for five minutes and he just sits around talking. I’ve seen him in too many movies to buy him in the “Star Wars” universe. I just kept picturing him ending every sentence with “muthafucka!” However, this isn’t really Sam Jackson’s fault, since Lucas couldn’t come up with anything interesting for the character of Mace Windu, except to sit around and spout out preachy dialogue. The Jedi knights sit around in a room philosophizing about stuff. It looks boring as shit. The acting on the whole was good, but again, with Ewan MacGregor, Lucas makes him, literally, sit around and wait for Liam Neeson. MacGregor’s great as Kenobi, but most of the film he sits on the ship while Liam Neeson walks around Tatooine trying to get parts to fix the ship. Whereas all three Star Wars films were different in structure, The Phantom Menace follows the same blueprint as Jedi. There’s a battle on land with cutesy animals, a battle in space with fighters trying to ‘knock out the shield,’ and a light saber fight all happening simultaneously. Here was the only interesting part of the movie: Darth Maul. Lucas created a wonderfully dark, mysterious character and decided to put him in the movie for about twelve minutes. We never learn anything about him, he’s just a bad guy who appears to be the only one who can take on Qui Gon and Obi Wan. The scenes he’s in are great, and it gave me a really good idea for a Halloween costume, but you will make yourself insane trying to figure out why Lucas had so many scenes with Jar Jar Binks, and so few with Darth Maul.
I was so angry after the film I wanted to punch someone in the face. I was tempted to go to Hollywood Boulevard, outside Mann’s Chinese Theatre, and scream to the crowd who have been sleeping outside since March: ‘It sucks. Go home. Go back to your non-existent lives! It sucks!’ I have a feeling that there will be riots in the streets when this film comes out. Star Wars fans will be so shocked and appalled that they will harass George Lucas into seclusion, and he’ll get so pissed off he’ll just say ‘fuck it’ and chuck the whole thing. Or he could play it smart and stick to writing the story and leave the dialogue to people who actually know what they’re doing.
Still, Natalie Portman’s like totally hot. I kept lookin’ at my date, thinking ‘Man, if she was Natalie Portman that’d be so awesome. Gettin’ a B.J. from her would rule.’