Part 2: Why it succeeds
Back to the Delorean...
I left the theater sort of dumbfounded. Didn't really know what to say, neither did Kalen or Kyle. I remember getting in the car and my mom asking us how the movie was. We all offered a unified shrug. "Meh."
If you had told me that finally seeing the revival of the star wars series would muster such an unenthusiastic response I would have told you to flip it and get with it. But instead, it is I who was required to flip it.
My relationship with the movie remained unchanged for some time. I joined in on the endless Lucas bashing which was only amplified by the hilariously bad "Attack of the Clones." It was only until an interesting weekend at the Larkin residence where my view on things changed.
We had gathered (as we had done countless times before) with little or no plan on what we were going to do. I opened up my backpack and found a DVD copy of The Phantom Menace that was rented from Video Signals and to this point had gone unwatched. We all briefly laid into the film, recalling how shitty it was before Dave mentioned that he had never seen it. "Well, no time like the present"
Throughout the movie I remember just a pleasant sense of enjoyment. Occasionally we would all comment on not remembering particular scenes or even shouting out "whoa, badass shit." This one night changed my entire opinion on this movie. And, now, I shall lay out the specifics as to why this film ain't so bad.
1. The Droids
One of the most underrated aspects of the 1st movie is the explained origin of one of the most essential pairings to ever grace the silver screen -- 3PO and R2D2.
In the interest of time I'll speak to one specific scene one scene in episode 1 displays a moment of such perfect subtlety that should have been present throughout this movie. At one point in the movie our heroes attempt to leave the imprisoned planet of Naboo and escape the orbiting Trade Federation armada. During the escape, the ship is damaged terribly and several droids are sent on a space walk to fix the ship. As the escape perilously continues individual droids are popped off the ship and tumble to their doom. All but one. R2D2 manages not only to survive the attack, but prove Neil's 1st Law of Droid Mechanics: "Not all droids are created equal."
It was a subtle hint that maybe R2 was special. It was something that hit me deep. And something that should have happened a bit more often in the original triology.
2. The Pod Race
Another significant aspect of the movie that gets better with time. This was the main action set piece of this movie and, in my opinion, it delivered. It is one of the only scenes that Lucas delivered on his CGI promise. The CGI flowed brilliantly as pods blistered over the hot dunes of the tatooine desert sea. With additional viewings this scene continues to improve. Several years later the scene has not aged, but has only impressed further and further. The choice to give the viewers 3 laps of the same track was a subtle, yet brave one by Lucas. He could have decided to make it 1 single, long lap that showed off some more Banthas a la the special edition of episode 1, yet he chose restraint.
He allowed the viewers to embrace the scenery and truly get into the scene. It gave us an opportunity to finally understand what Obi-Wan meant when he said that Luke's father was "the greatest pilot in the galaxy." After that scene, how could you think different?
And honestly, this sealed the deal for me:
3. Darth Maul
This guy worked. One of the most interesting considerations of this dude is that he barely said a word. Yet... can one possibly suggest that he wasn't a total badass? True, one can make the case that Maul's lack of verbage makes him another example of Lucas' worthless character developments. I, however, beg to differ.
What exactly did you want the guy to say? Did you want him to spew stupid bullshit during his attacks on Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon? Seriously, this was finally a villain who didn't waste his breath telling his enemies exactly what he was going to do to them. Instead he just did it (seriously ask what remains of Qui-Gon Jin's epigastrium). He was a character who just oozed what makes one evil.
SO! These are just some of the reasons as to why this movie works in the end. Surely, it should have been better. Yet, in the grand scheme of things, it's important to maintain perspective in matters such as this. Personally, I find The Phantom Menace an enjoyable flick that has gotten better with additional viewings. I suggest you give yourself a chance and check it out.