Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: May 19, 1999
Director: George Lucas

Two Jedi Knights – Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) – are in the middle of a trade dispute and narrowly escape a hostile blockade by the Trade Federation army. Making their way to the desert planet of Tatooine, the two Jedi warriors find a young boy named Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) who may be the one prophesied to bring balance to the Force. Qui-Gon takes an interest in freeing the boy from a savvy gambler named Watto (Andy Secombe), but meanwhile the threat of the Sith is rising – with a vicious Sith lord, Darth Maul (Ray Park), hot on the heels of the two Jedi.

I’ve been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I used to have hand-me-down action figures from my uncle. They came in a carrying case shaped like Darth Vader’s helmet and I would play with them for hours. So, naturally – when this movie came out during my high school years – back in 1999….I was more than excited. I’d seen previews where Darth Maul was speeding across the desert surface of Tatooine, only to leap from his speeder and attack some Jedi and it gave me goosebumps. Darth Maul truly looked like a badass.

The real experience in the theater wasn’t as amazing as I’d hoped. There was a certain quality to it that I didn’t like. Everything was too clean – even in the dirty, rundown slums of Tatooine. The CGI looked out of place for the Jim Henson style Star Wars experience I remembered as a kid. Everything was bright. The ships were polished and sounded like high-end vibrators. (Not that I’d know about that or anything)

In short, it didn’t feel real. Despite the excitement of the initial ambush sequence and the eventual podrace – I fell asleep in the theater. This is, to date, the only movie I’ve ever fallen asleep to during the time it was showing on the big screen. This hasn’t changed fifteen years later. The film boasts one of the best fight scenes in Star Wars history between Darth Maul, Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon – but other than that it’s a lot of politics and talk of trade embargoes and underhanded dealings. Jar-Jar Binks is MUY ANNOYING and seeing Darth Vader as a youngster is sort of a letdown. And don’t get me started on Midichlorians.

Recently, I’ve reverted to watching the Star Wars films in the “Machete Order“. I recommend you do the same, which enables you to skip out on Episode I entirely. As snarky as some hardcore Star Wars fans are about the prequel films – there is actually some decent stuff in them. When combined into a single narrative with every film aside from Episode I – it actually makes a lot more sense and is more enjoyable to watch.

In any case, after all the hype – Episode I just has way too many problems as a film – let alone as an installment of a beloved franchise. So, while I may watch it once in a while (mostly for the fight scenes), I will usually avoid this Lucas offering altogether.

PS – In case you didn’t know – I cosplay as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Exhibit A

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I was recently at Super Megafest 2013 in Framingham, Mass last November and I ran into Ray Park (the actor who played Darth Maul in Episode I) at his booth. He was only doing one photo per person, but after finishing with mine (I let him use my lightsaber) he told me to pretend I was being impaled so he could get his “revenge” on me. Exhibit B

Me with Ray Park (Darth Maul from Star Wars: Episode One) at Super Megafest

Me with Ray Park (Darth Maul from Star Wars: Episode One) at Super Megafest

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JOE Rating: ★★

Movie Trailer For Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

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Big Trouble In Little China (1985)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: July 2, 1986
Director: John Carpenter

Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is an all-American truck driver with a penchant for gambling. When his friend in Chinatown, Wang Chi (Dennis Dun), loses a bet to Jack – he has to pay up. But first, he needs to pick up his girlfriend from the airport. However, all does not go as planned and instead ol’ Jack finds himself in the middle of a mystical battle between an evil Chinese sorcerer named Lo Pan (James Hong) and the forces of good, led by the cantankerous old Egg Shen (Victor Wong).

This film is a classic now, though it flopped when it was first released. If you haven’t seen it yet, I envy you because that means you can see it for the first time. Granted, some of the special effects in the movie are a bit dated (it was 1986, after all) but overall – the film has held up over time. Kurt Russell gives a great performance as Jack Burton – a sort of bumbling badass who manages to “accidentally” achieve his goals, though most of the time he just talks tough and likes to spout one-liners that don’t quite hit the mark. Kim Cattrall is great as the sexy-yet-annoying love interest, Gracie Law, and Dennis Dun is decent as the ass-kicking “sidekick” to Burton.

John Carpenter, for me, either is right on the money or far off base with his films. (John Carpenter’s Vampires was terrible, for instance) With Big Trouble In Little China – he did right by everyone. It’s got the right mix of adventure, style, horror and camp to make it an enduring franchise. Also – there is currently a comic book adaptation being published that relays events which take place after the film ends. You can check that out HERE. If you loved Army Of Darkness, then you’ll love this movie too.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Big Trouble In Little China