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Commentary, Lead Commentary

YouTube Rewatch #0: Star Wars Episode I

Welcome to YouTube Rewatch, two scatterbrained Internet junkies’ approach to reviewing films, which entails selecting the most memorable scenes of a movie locatable on YouTube and discussing how they represent the films to us. As a bonus, we’re only going to focus on the positive aspects of each film. Goodbye, e-cynicism.

For our prototype outing, we’re going to throw our premise off the high-dive and into the deep end with a YouTube retrospective of one of the most reviled films on the Internet — “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace.”

Sam Watermeier: I vividly remember the first teaser trailer for “Episode 1″ on “Extra.” When it came on, it was as if a thick cloud of mystery and excitement suddenly enveloped my living room. To me, the notion of witnessing a new “Star Wars” myth come to life was absolutely thrilling. The possibility of seeing it in a theater was even more exciting (Until that point, I had only seen the films on VHS and the original one during its re-release).

Therefore, you can imagine my anticipation for this moviegoing experience. I saw the film at 9 a.m. with my dad and brother. Only two other people were in the theater. The film, despite its flaws, was invigorating.

Evan Dossey: Only two other people?

Sam: Yeah, it was odd. I remember it was stormy outside and the whole theater, the lobby and everything, was rather ghostly and vacant. People poured in after this early show though.

Evan: I grew up on “Star Wars,” and by “The Phantom Menace” had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the series. So when I got tickets to see it at 4:30 a.m. — with a run time just perfect to see before elementary school that day — it was really exciting.

Oddly enough, one of the elements I was most excited for wasn’t the lightsaber battles, the pod race, Obi-Wan or Darth Maul. It was the use of a submarine that excited me. This is honestly one of those scenes I would say transcends the quality of the film, and really get into Lucas’ entire mission: designing new environments for his series where the physical limitations once failed him. It’s the arena of filmmaking Lucas pioneered and the one James Cameron truly revolutionized last year.

Sam: Yes, the addition of an underwater world was exciting. The sequence in which the two main Jedi dodge deadly sea creatures is exhilarating. That submarine scene has all the wonder and exuberance of the original “Star Wars” sequences involving the Millennium Falcon.

Evan: I’d disagree about the chase sequence portion. It’s fairly by-the-numbers and actually repeats a dramatic punchline within itself.

I’d say more incredible — and this is why I embedded the scene — is simply the two Jedi approaching an enormous frog egg-like city filled with bizarre amphibious inhabitants. With this scene, Lucas created the most memorable environment of the entire prequel trilogy.

Sam: I agree there. And this brings me to the element that excited me most — the darker tone. I felt a sense of danger, an air of mystery as they approached that strange world. That feeling is even more palpable in the climactic lightsaber duel with Darth Maul.

The intense fight is interrupted by laser barricades. The lethal laser wall seems to represent the veil of evil the Jedi are trying to destroy. With that scene, Lucas proves to be a master of suspense. It’s one of few sequences in the entire franchise during which I recall being genuinely afraid. Darth Maul taunts the Jedi by pacing behind the barricade, displaying a deadly smirk of hubris as he waits for the laser wall to deactivate. He smolders with menace thanks to actor Ray Park. The scene still sends chills up my spine.

Evan: I must admit I’ve watched that scene far too many times on YouTube than is healthy. It’s probably cool to me because I’m the sort of person who buys himself $100 replica lightsabers and posts videos of himself dueling on Facebook. But I’d like you to elaborate on the suspense you feel in the scene.

Sam: Well, to me, Darth Maul is the most frightening character in the entire franchise. I never found Darth Vader scary because I knew he had a soul beneath all that machinery. Darth Maul, on the other hand, is a blank slate evoking pure evil. He reeks of nothing but violence.

Evan: Interesting. Not even before you knew Darth Vader was, in fact, more man than machine, contrary to Obi-Wan’s original exposition?

Sam: Darth Vader is expressive, intelligent. Therefore, his humanity is evident. Darth Maul is a silent assassin. Plus, unlike Vader, you can see his real, organic eyes and he has nothing but hate in them. Maul may appear more human than Vader, but he is actually more of a menacing machine.

Of course, the real menace of the entire prequel trilogy is the one lurking inside Anakin Skywalker, waiting to be unleashed — Darth Vader. But we will get to that in the next episodes, “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith.”

We hope you enjoyed this first episode of YouTube Rewatch. Stay tuned for more to come!

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3 Responses to “YouTube Rewatch #0: Star Wars Episode I”

  1. Joe Shearer says:

    Absolutely. Again, it was technically superior and was one very cool visual and neat idea that led nowhere because it was an ingenious idea cooked up by a race of backward nitwits. I get Lucas’ heavy-handed message of the underdog that doesn’t use technology, but look at how simple it was in "Star Trek: Insurrection," which used almost the exact same metaphor without making the people look foolish, and thereby making the villains look more buffoonish.

    But agreed: it was a marvelous vision, much like most of the prequel trilogy. :)

  2. Evan says:

    Joe –
    I agree about the lightsaber battle lacking an emotional core. It’s of no comparison to the original trilogy’s proper use of action as story. However, let me note my opinion on Ohto Gunga. The Gungans themselves don’t factor into my opinion of that scene. It’s simply the environmental design I am still a little awed by.

  3. Joe Shearer says:

    I disagree with Sam as well on that sub sequence. I thought it was really awkward and slow moving, and reflects one of the prequel trilogy’s main problems, which is a lack of real tension. Neither Qui-Gon or Obi Wan seemed worried in the least that these giant creatures were pursuing them, and Jar Jar’s reactions were played for comedy. There was such a lack of emotion there and through the rest of the film, that it pulled me out. I will call something of an exception for the climactic lightsaber battle, which for me doesn’t hold up as well but is still pretty impressive.

    Contrast that saber battle, or, hell, any from the prequel trilogies, and compare to Luke/Vader I in Empire, where there was nonstop dread and tension for every single moment. The prequel trilogy saber battles of course were technically superior (it was no contest), but every one of them, save the Yoda/Dooku battle, which had the holy sh*t moments of seeing Yoda actually fight, but there was no real emotion from any of them. It was just cold, detached technical prowess, which really is a good representation of thewhole trilogy’s attitude. No heart.

    Also, the Gungan underwater city was better in theory than practice. It was jarring to see something so foreign all of a sudden, and of course the Gungans being such a joke didn’t set a good tone for the rise of the Empire.