A couple of months ago, I started a series of rebuttals to the infamous “70 minute Phantom Menace review” that’s been making the rounds on the internet, but life and work have pretty well gotten in the way of me continuing.
But since Red Letter Media (those responsible for the Phantom Menace review) have released their 90 minute Attack of the Clones review, I’ve been inundated with requests for me to get off my duff and continue.
So here I am.
This is a direct rebuttal of Part 2 of their 70 minute Phantom Menace review. You can watch their version of it here.
Part 2: The Story
Our friends at Red Letter Media don’t have much to complain about the story other than they think the opening is week. And there isn’t much I can say about the “indictment” of the opening, since it was pretty thin.
The opening, I think, is one of the strongest assets of The Phantom Menace. Take a moment to just set the scene here: When things open in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, things are bad in the galaxy. Very bad. And now we have a prequel set 30 or 40 years previous. If the galaxy had spent that much time in the same turmoil, the series would be monotonous and boring. This opening is the galaxy as it was. There were no rebels and there was no Empire. Everything was idyllic. And it’s a contrast that the biggest problem is something so minor as the taxation to trade routes in outlying star systems.
We have our heroes, the Jedi, enter into this conflict, dabbling into politics in a somewhat unprecedented move and those responsible (Darth Sidious) find out about it and orders them to be killed. 5 minutes into the film, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan’s ship is blown up, Naboo is under-full scale invasion, and the wheels are in motion for the fall of the Republic in a way the galaxy hasn’t seen since the inception of their central government.
Seeing how innocent and naïve the galaxy is here, in comparison to how it is in the classic trilogy offers us a contrast that makes the bright seem brighter and the dark seem darker.
And then we’re off on a meaningful spate of action that brings the Jedi onto their journey to try to stave off the first major conflict the galaxy has seen in a millennium.
As for the title and the villain: The Phantom Menace implies that the villain is in the shadows, pulling the strings. This is setting the stage. This is how Palpatine/Sidious operates, in subtle ways to get what he wants. This is the beginning of the road that leads us to the ultimate destruction of the Jedi, but if he came out, waving his arms to reveal that now, it would be retarded.
As far as the lengthy discussion about the taxation of trade routes, he spends way too much brain power on a macguffin. Alfred Hitchcock coined this term: it’s a plot device that makes the action happen without being important in and of itself. To spend too much time caring about why they’re taxing the trade routes and why the Trade Federation is blockading Naboo is literally a waste of time. Why would the Naboo care WHY the Trade Federation is blockading their planet? It’s enough that they are that forces them into action. It’s enough that the blockade exists and a dispute needs to be settled by independent arbiters (the Jedi) and that the Supreme Chancellor needs to act.
And really, it’s no stretch to believe that a protocol droid, programmed for etiquette and protocol in situations like this, can recognize what the hell a Jedi Knight is. And then for the Trade Federation who have no prior experience with Jedi to think that gassing them will work to kill them makes perfect sense.
There wasn’t a lot of substance to Part Two of the Phantom Menace review that Red Letter Media put out, because to distract from that, they added in a chick tied up in a basement and the reviewer getting off his meds and needing pizza rolls.
In any case, I’ll try to knock these out more regularly. I’ve literally received a dozen emails asking for these since the Attack of the Clones review went live. I’ll get there as soon as I can.