Liz Tells Frank Stuff She Forgot Happened In “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace”

Dear Frank,

It’s kind of profoundly intense these days, to remember the spring of 1999 and how very, very fucking excited we nerds were for Star Wars: Episode 1. Remember that? Remember talking about the trailers and debating casting spoilers and not even doubting a little bit that it would be awesome? And then we all actually saw the movie, and… yeah.

I saw Phantom Menace three times in the first five days of its release, each time having to work harder to convince myself that it wasn’t really that bad, until finally I searched my feelings. I knew it to be true. And then I pretended the movie didn’t exist for ten years.

However, it’s my brother’s birthday this week, and to celebrate I said I’d take him to the movie of his choice. He picked the shiny new 3-D transfer of The Phantom Menace. Now, honestly, this could be a lot worse — for his birthday in 1999, I took him to see the PAINFULLY bad Wing Commander, because the Phantom Menace trailer was premiering before it exclusively.

Best. Sister. Ever. (If I do say so myself.)

Technically, Phantom Menace is a better film than Wing Commander, which is kind of like saying that smallpox is less deadly than ebola. Except that Phantom Menace hasn’t been erradicated, while Wing Commander kinda has… This metaphor’s gotten away from me. Let’s get down to business.

First things first, Frank: It’s so terribly cheesy, but I had forgotten the fucking THRILL of the Star Wars opening — those bold trumpets, that graphic opening. It’s a perfect five seconds of film. It’s childhood and happiness and imagination and adventure and everything I loved about Star Wars as a child.

And then… The opening scroll happens. “The taxation of trade routes to outlaying star systems is in dispute.” Frank, this is (in Lucas’s mind) the first moment of the first movie of his most epic franchise. “The taxation of trade routes to outlaying star systems is in dispute.” This is the note that starts out the greatest space adventure of our generation. “The taxation of trade routes to outlaying star systems is in dispute.” MOTHERFUCKER.

That’s right. TRADE FEDERATION BLOCKADE NEGOTIATIONS. That is what the first chunk of this movie is about. They have sent Jedi knights to negotiate with quasi-fish people over their blockade of Naboo. You would not expect “negotiations” to be the death word in a Phantom Menace drinking game, but there you go. That, or “mitichlorians.”

(I’ll never ever ever be able to forget mitichlorians, Frank. Try though I might.)

Also, I had forgotten the casual racism of the quasi-fish people, with their Charlie Chan-esque accents, but I had also forgotten how hot Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson are in Jedi robes. So this opening is kinda a draw.

Yes, I am shallow. But I am A HUMAN BEING, GODDAMN IT.

Anyways, the negotations on the fish people ship don’t go well, Ewan and Liam start fighting droids with lightsabers and thus become EVEN HOTTER, and then they sneak down to Naboo.

And holy shit, Frank. Jar Jar Binks. Seriously. Jar Jar Binks. Two points:

A) I had forgotten that he ends up tagging along because Liam accidentally saves his life (I choose to believe he didn’t do so on purpose, because Liam wouldn’t do that to me, Liam is a nice guy).

B) I had forgotten JUST HOW AWFUL Jar Jar was. 12 years of joking references might make you think that the levels of awful Jar Jar represents are exaggerated, but NOPE. NOPE. Just awful. Awful, racist, pandering and annoying.


Like, Jar Jar enables fucking FART JOKES, Frank. I like me a fart joke, don’t get me wrong, but NOT IN MY STAR WARS.

Another thing I’d forgotten is how fucking long it takes this movie to get to the interesting parts. Like, there’s at least ten minutes of Liam and Ewan just trying to get to the capital of Naboo so that they can meet up with Queen Amidala, and I’m not even going to get into the Gungan city beneath the sea and the stupid bit where there’s always a bigger monster fish but those things happened and I am GLAD I forgot, Frank, I really am.

And I probably could have guessed this, but it’s nice to remember — I’ve spent the last decade being surprised every time Natalie Portman gives a good performance, and the reason for that begins here. WOW, Natalie Portman is bad in this movie. No one’s particularly good in it (except for Perfect Human Being Ewan McGregor), but WOW Natalie Portman is bad.

She does look fabulous, though.

What is it, like an hour before we even fucking get to Tatooine and meet Anakin Skywalker. Who… Sigh. There’s a lot I could complain about here, Frank, but let’s just stick with the most important thing: according to Anakin’s mom, Anakin is the result of a VIRGIN FUCKING BIRTH. The Cinerama dome echoed with my laughter during that scene. Which might make me a bit of an asshole. But VIRGIN FUCKING BIRTH. I stand by my actions.

I remembered the pod racing scene being better than it actually is. It’s okay. It’s definitely a little long, and I no longer think of it as one of the movie’s high points, but it’s okay.

I had ALSO forgotten that Anakin and his mother are SLAVES, and that through some savvy wagering Liam gets the opportunity to free one of them, and he’s like, I will totally save this annoying little kid instead of his mother WITHOUT BOTHERING TO RUN THE DECISION BY HER NOT THAT SHE CAN DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT BECAUSE SHE’S A FUCKING SLAVE. He basically kidnaps this little kid because his blood is rich in midichlorians. It’s kind of creepy…

…but not as creepy as every scene with Amidala and Anakin, when you remember that in one movie’s time, they are totally gonna bone SO HARD. They are going to get MARRIED and have BABIES.

Joke Of The Year, by the way, goes to my brother for the following:

Anakin gives Amidala a necklace.

ANAKIN: I made this for you. So you’d remember me.

AMIDALA: It’s beautiful.

MY BROTHER: It’s a choker.

We finally get to Coruscant. It’s super-boring. I had not forgotten how super-boring it is. I do still like the senate room with its little pods. Is there an action scene in the senate ever in the prequels? I guess I’ll find out sometime in the next two years. IN STUNNING 3-D.

It is nice to see our good friend Samuel L. Jackson again! SAMUEL L. JACKSON. While watching, Eric and I would add “motherfucker” to the end of every one of his lines. The movie was much improved as a result.


And then they go back to Naboo, and there’s a bit of action. For some incredibly stupid reason, Anakin ends up in a starfighter and destroys a control ship — as a result, Jar Jar Binks and the other Gungans are not brutally slaughtered by droids, thus proving that Anakin has evil inside him.

Oh, this does happen as well:

Damn, it’s still fantastic.

But then it ends and we have to sit through a sad funeral for Liam and a big stupid party for Jar Jar and it’s really important to state again how fucking racist this movie is, in cheaply assigning generic outdated stereotypes to various races to create the illusion of world-building. Oh, and there’s all the stuff where Senator Palpatine is playing a long game of evil, but WHATEVER, I’m not even going to bother thinking about Attack of the Clones because the truly sad thing is that Phantom Menace is the better movie.

And that’s all there really is to say, you know? This movie totally happened. Its immature humor and painfully childish characters left their scars on an entire generation of fans, but that was deliberate on Lucas’s part, because those elements created a new generation of Star Wars fans, who dress up as Clone Wars characters for Halloween and don’t even know who you’re talking about when you bring up Wedge.

Also, the 3-D was a waste of money. But really, I should stop complaining. For one thing, it’s not like I didn’t know what I was getting into. For another, I like my brother, and it was nice to spend a Sunday afternoon watching a movie with him.

Even this one.


About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor, and has been talking about television on the Internet since the very beginnings of the Internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider, and her work has also been published by the New York Times, Vulture, Variety, the AV Club, the Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She is also a produced playwright, a host of podcasts, and a repository of "X-Files" trivia.

Posted on February 14, 2012, in Movies, Some Spoilers and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. I think the real question here is why does your brother hate you so much?

  2. I have to say that the only really good thing in the Phantom Menace was the fact that the costume’s Amidala wore were pretty cool. Cool enough that I actually freaking bought a bunch of the dolls and made some of them. (This is when I did a lot more sewing.) And so I give you: Queen Amidala’s Closet:

  3. …in my defense, I had forgotten how bad Phantom Menace was too.

    Here’s the thing about Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones:

    Attack of the Clones is bad. It has plot holes, its action scenes are not particularly interesting except on a technical level, and the dialog manages to be even more stilted and unnatural than in Phantom Menace, if that’s possible.

    That said, while Phantom Menace had some impressive high points, such as the lightsaber duel between Maul and Kenobi and…….. the pod race? Its low points are far worse than in AotC. At least AotC doesn’t include scenes specifically for Jar Jar to be ‘funny’ in. At least there’s no horrifically racist characters (for the most part). At least AotC actually has something to do with the rest of the series.

    So, yeah. AotC still holds up in my book as the SECOND worst Star Wars movie. But that might only be because its been a while since I’ve seen it…

    Oh, and yeah. 3D wasn’t jawdropping. But, as far as 2D to 3D conversions went, it was pretty solid. Added depth to some of the action scenes and wasn’t exploited or got in the way. No scenes of Jar Jar’s tongue coming at the view, thank god.

  4. Have you read the screencapture comic Darths and Droids? It totally explains the logic behind the movies. Of course, it’s a d&d campaign.

    My favoritest bit is when they meet Jar Jar Binks. aka, Ben’s 11-year-old sister joins the party.

    Once you see it all in this light, really, it all makes sense.

    On a related note, the musical duo Paul and Storm have a song called Thanksgiving that I think will speak to you after having seen this movie.
    (Thanksgiving is the first song under “Newest Stuff.” Sorry for no direct link, it’s streaming. The “Listen” button will get you the whole song, runtime ~2:40.)

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