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Is The Phantom Menace Well Written? A Star Wars Essay

By Therealmcteag @therealmcteag

Recent online and youtube debates have sprung up during Quarantine regarding comparing the different Star Wars trilogies. The Prequel Trilogy was beat up by fans and critics at the time, but views have softened. The truth is there really are three far worse Star Wars Chapter movies and one terrible origin movie out there. Only Rogue One has managed to work for Disney. Everything else we’ve gotten has been really bad.

While the Sequel Trilogy seems to draw universal condemnation; the Prequels are being reexamined.

Recently the EFAP youtube broadcast, (which I would call an amazing youtube follow) featured a sometimes heated debate about whether or not The Phantom Menace is well written.

To be fair, people are rightfully bored and we have time for it. Im reacting to their specific question “Is the Phantom Menace Well Written?” I now feel like it’s a little harder to answer than you think.

Is The Phantom Menace Well Written? A Star Wars Essay

While a little acrimonious and no Rise of Skywalker Order 66 episode, it was still an amazing Star Wars discussion.

EFAP , Disney, The Real World and Me

The EFAP podcast on youtube is often brilliant. Listen to it. The Star Wars and film making discussions are probably PhD level. These guys know their stuff.

Full disclosure I buy in to much of what you hear on EFAP. Their views on how Disney has just botched all three of these movies they spent so much money on hold a lot of water.

On the other hand I also agree with the political views the Star Wars people are broadcasting, but not so much when I’m in the theater. There’s a real world waiting outside with all sorts of real problems. I don’t need to be lectured or validated by a Star Wars movie, even if I do agree politically.

Most likely I’m not on the same political page as the EFAP guys, who are mostly Brits. I share their feelings on Star Wars and that’s as far as I’m willing to go. I don’t know what else they believe.

As far as Star Wars goes I’m about 80% in agreement with EFAP personalities Mauler, The Critical Drinker, Shad and Rags.

Do the EFAP guys go hard after Disney? You don’t pick up a label like ‘The Fandom Menace’ for being soft. But hey these Sequel movies have pushed hard to be talked about. It’s the one thing they did well. Disney can’t control the conversation too. They uncorked four stinkers and this is what happens. Try making better movies, Disney!

Lastly, as a Progressive I simply resent my politics being fed back to me by of all people the jerks at Disney. They don’t practice these ideas in their corporate policies. I could give a shit about anything but entertainment when I’m in that theater to see Star Wars. So while geopolitical points or just the need to be on guard against oppression and protecting freedom work in Star Wars, anything more personal than that just doesn’t.

The Phantom Menace – Well Written or Not?

Is this movie Well Written? The short answer is “only sort of.” EFAP has a great policy regarding how to assess the movies. The big rule here is that the novels, video games and comic books don’t count. The movie has to work “out of the box.” Also, writing the movie for him is unacceptable, hes the artist we’re viewers. The answers need to be on the screen. This really does put the movie in perspective for me. I was tired of people using it to excuse stuff anyway. At some point it becomes expensive, un-fun Star Wars homework.

Where to begin on whats bad about this movie? Well, there’s a few really bad characters like Jar Jar Binks. Jar Jar is the Rose Tico of the PT, fading into the background in subsequent films. Here he’s front and center and he’s a mess. Some found him offensive he may have been meant for much younger kids. He seems real enough and present though, more real than Leia in Rise of Skywalker.

We have some really terrible dialog here and there. We have George Lucas directing and he seemingly never gets your best performance. He doesn’t care he’s going for your best Star Wars Performance.

Lucas has a complete vision and says everything he wants to say, but in accomplishing that he didn’t really entertain. A Pyrrhic Victory.

So its a totally Mixed Bag. Maybe the musical score is the best part. The plot in and of itself, is actually NOT terrible. Its sort of good. Lucas had pondered the three movie arc a long time.

The fact its a bad movie and still is somewhat well conceived complicates assessing it. Why leave Anakin’s mother in slavery when she’s spontaneously generating super powerful force users? This one is the worst loose end of all.

George Lucas was insulated from any real feedback at the time. There’s no real internet for him to get anonymous feedback from. I don’t think any person was able to say “hey George there’s some real problems here.” I’m convinced the internet revolution and it taking on its present form grounded a newly anonymous Lucas online, where people would just unload on the movie and say what they wanted.

There’s a case to be made Attack of the Clones is a fairly good movie. It strongly departs from the stuff that killed TPM. Like reducing Jar Jar Binks role and pretty much saying so in the movie the moment we see him.

The Phantom Menace script needed doctoring it never got. I don’t know if it could have been totally saved but it was worse than it had to be for sure.

The pacing of the movie is slow all the way through. There’s flashes of excitement, but usually these moments happen while another plot point is unfolding at the same time.

The great light saber duel, for instance is about five minutes strung out over maybe 20. It might even be 3 minutes of 15, I’m unsure. The point is like all other action scenes we’ve got plots unfolding with other characters. This time it doesn’t work.

Some of this sequence is so bad it’s ‘un-Star Wars-like’ if you can say that about a Lucas movie. “Lets try spinning, thats a good move!” is some really bad dialog that takes you right out of the movie.

The execution and direction are bad.

The acting is all over the place. Liam Neeson is okay but his greatest feat may be hiding how bummed out he is to be there. He mostly stays away from Star Wars after this.

Ewan McGregor, on the other hand does a great Alec Guinness imitation. He owns the role from here on but he doesn’t save the movie. He’s just not in it enough for one thing as the ensemble cast is all over the place to the point of some confusion.

Everyone else is just sort of okay. Natalie Portman is good enough in her really confusing role.

The use of CGI was cutting edge and not all of it holds up. Lucas is trying to do stuff. It’s just not working yet and he’s no Peter Jackson with the CGI at first.

 Is It A Childrens Movie ?

Ok this time maybe the movie really was aimed at a slightly younger audience then the rest of the films. Is he out of his element, aiming too low in age to hit the right beats? It would explain a lot. In fairness we never get a story this bad from George Lucas again.

From memory I remember Lucas saying some elaborate stuff about how he viewed the Prequel Trilogy’s audience and it was all about building the fanbase through appealing to six to ten year old’s instead of middle school kids.                           

Is The Phantom Menace Well Written? A Star Wars Essay

Lucas said he wanted the movies to be more mature as they went on, aging up with the audience. It seems believable when you realize that Revenge of the Sith has a dark, violent and somewhat mature tone.

This one time the children’s movie excuse might be applicable. This one time the movie actually really seems to be aimed at children. Maybe that’s why it kind of sucks.

Is the Movie Just Bad?

The Phantom Menace is definitely not a good movie. The complex plot is never fully unpacked. That seems to have been Lucas thing. He was good at getting you to instantly invest in characters. There’s only as much as you need but it holds up enough. The conflict is pretty clearly over money.

We never find out why Naboo is such a priority. A line or two could have fixed this. It could have had some rare commodity the Trade Federation wanted or just been conveniently located on the hyperspace routes. We never get that. Its a fair point against the movie being Well Written too.

Lucas boasted the idea dawned on him one day and he wrote the script fairly quicky, sometimes that shows in The Phantom Menace. His concept was around a long time, but he just fires off this script. It was the first time in a while and he’s rusty and possibly hard to advise. I doubt he redrafted it much. It seems like no one else was consulted.

In this movie Lucas is at his least successful in so many ways as a creator. The thing is he’s still better than most. His bad ideas are still overthought. He has a backstory and a reason for everything and he can spit out an answer at an answer on any aspect of his universe in most any interview.

It cuts both ways in this movie and he owns the failure. It makes money and he doesn’t destroy his franchise, he just makes a bad Star Wars movie.

Theres plot holes that got mentioned by EFAP and by people as far back as when the movie came out; mainly “Why wouldn’t you break loose some cash and send a Jedi back to free Anakin’s mother from slavery?” Thats a problem that Lucas never addresses.

The journey through the center was debated as unrealistic. On that point I just say “This is a Star Wars planet, its not even a Star Trek planet. You want to say the core is water okay.” That said, that sequence is a terrible mess. It’s not easy to tell who is doing what and why as we avoid a few too many monsters for guys operating alien tech.

Lucas is not really mailing it in; but he has a bad day writing and directing. He gets the performances he wanted. They’re just not what everyone else wanted. The homage to serials was just too wooden in this movie. The expectations may have changed when it comes to acting styles from the release of the OT to the point this movie is made.

One huge problem is Lucas has some dialog and details from the Original Trilogy hemming him in a little. He tries to justify how a 10 year old can be a great pilot, but the solution is the Pod Race, which is only just so exciting and mostly played for laughs. It’s only kind of entertaining. Later when Lucas hits the ‘great pilot’ theme again during the fight on Naboo it doesn’t work either.

The final product has problems and is slow and boring. On the plus side- the damage is real but minimal to the franchise. It still feels like Star Wars, even with the warts. I could make a huge list of continuity and dialog problems. I’ll mention just one – Theres some characters whose English accents just come and go.  Notably Queen Amadala.

Lucas does sell his young Vader for the most part though. Its not a fun romp through the Galaxy Far Far Away, but its the Galaxy we liked for the most part.

The Force is explored to a point but the assumption is that you’ve seen the OT (and you have). There’s more powerful Force use on display, but just better, stronger versions of what we’ve seen for the most part. It’s logical enough a Jedi master would have more raw Force muscle than a glorified padwan like Luke is in Empire Strikes Back.

It’s just sort of boring, though. So the limited exposition about the nature of the Force is an issue as much as the clunky dialog. They are issues that count against the movie being well written. It’s not poorly conceived though, it just doesn’t work out.

Viewed simply as the first of three prequels we can say we do get some more on the Force a little later. I myself also feel that some mystery surrounding the nature of the Force is good.

Directed with in a throwback fashion this only works just enough to be mostly coherent. Highlights are few and far between. A few more mistakes and it would have been awful.

You can’t say its Well Written but its not franchise-killing garbage.  It’s a boring Star Wars movie and yes, overall its bad. Leave it to the Sequel Trilogy to make The Phantom Menace look like “the Good Old Days.”

Because the Prequels get better fast the movie has some fans. Its not Unwatchable.

My Verdict

Bad movie with a decent but poorly executed plot. Its only just so well written. Its an aberration among the six Lucas movies. I’m staking out a position in the middle. It’s the worst written Lucas Star Wars movie.

The movie has an idea of where it wants to go but still meanders. It’s slow for a movie that has a lot of conflict. Its too long and its got bad dialog. The plot was only okay. It’s only written okay. Its NOT written outright bad. The story is clear but can be hard to follow as things unfold so slowly.

The plots is pretty good but the movie is sub-par. If being immersed in Lucas’ Galaxy is your thing you’ll enjoy some of it. It wasn’t the best but is no longer the worst Star Wars movie. It’s a below average movie and a below average Star Wars movie and a fairly bad movie in general.  Its about a Two Stars out of Five kind of movie.

I dont know if saying it sets up the next two movies well is redeeming to this movie in and of itself. Its still not good.

In a word “Underwhelming.” I guess “It never completely falls apart and just keeps plodding along” is my one sentence summation of positives.

It’s a pretty bad movie, but there’s four that are much, much worse Star Wars movies out there now. Perversely, its now mediocre among Star Wars movies. Thanks, Disney. You Force Healed the Phantom Menace!

Here’s the EFAP Debate. This blog post is my theory,  heres several others should you want to hear them.

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