Making Peace with the Star Wars Prequels: The Phantom Menace

The plan was for me to purchase the first six Star Wars films on blu-ray after watching The Force Awakens. The idea being that I would be in such an euphoric state that I could revisit the prequels and maybe they wouldn’t depress me so much. As with all my plans: things changed. I received the Complete Saga boxset for Christmas. Yay!

I should have bought the Star Wars Saga on blu-ray years ago, but it’s bloody expensive. I could have gotten just the original trilogy, but it doesn’t have all of the special features, which is half the reason of owning them on blu-ray.

After my rewatch, I am still not a fan of The Phantom Menace. To me, it’s the least Star Wars-y movie in the series. It is possible that The Force Awakens is too Star Wars-y, but overcompensation can be a good thing. Sometimes.

Some say the only good part of The Phantom Menace is the podracing scene. I think the concept is better than the execution. It was a genius idea on the part of George Lucas–I’ll give him that. I never would have thought to take a couple of jet engines, some cable, and a wheelbarrow, (minus the wheel) slap it all together, and turn it into a sport. That may just be the most Redneck thing ever.

Podracing seems as if it’s an outlaw sort of thing; they even let a little kid compete, despite the fact that it’s pretty much like Death Race. Yet, for all its lower class trappings, podracing has the pageantry of Formula 1. Normally, I love that sort of absurb contradiction, but The Phantom Menace never quite pulls it off.

I know what the problem is: The problem is me. I have been an auto racing fan longer than I have been a Star Wars fan, and while I don’t consider myself an expert on either subject, I know enough to get myself into trouble.

There are a lot of great sports films, and the one thing they have in common is that they create (or recreate) the drama that is inherent in the real life version. The problem I have with the podracing scene is that there is no real drama. Everyone watching the film knew Anakin was going to win. The racers who crashed and/or died showed how dangerous the sport is, but I never felt empathy toward them, because I had no emotional connection to them.

I know that Lucas was, in part, influenced by the chariot race in Ben-Hur. Prior to shooting that scene, the director of Ben-Hur, William Wyler, went up to Charlton Heston and said, “Just hang on. I guarantee you’ll win.” Yet, the chariot race in Ben-Hur is one of the most exciting scenes ever commited to celuloid. It’s everything the podrace is not.

Side note: Being a “prequel,” The Phantom Menace should work as the first episode in a then six part series. By that I mean you shouldn’t have to have seen episodes IV-VI to understand what is happening. Out of context, Tusken Raiders shooting at podracers makes no sense. The same goes for C-3PO saying he hopes his head is not on backward in Attack of the Clones.

The great racing films–Grand Prix, LeMans, Rush–all give the audience a sense of speed, which is something I never really felt in The Phantom Menace. According to Wookieepedia, pods can reach speeds up to 700kph, which is about 435mph, in old money. Yet in the movie, the pods never looked like they broke the 90mph barrier. Think about it this way: When the Millennium Falcon is at speed–it looks like it.

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