I just had a friend over who only recently binge-watched the original trilogy and had somehow managed to get through the last few months without getting spoiled for The Force Awakens. So we watched TFA and I got to witness her flailing and shrieking and gasping over the Ben Solo reveal (the minutes leading up to Han's death consisted of repeated mutterings of "No, no, no, don't you dare--"). It was pretty fun, and since we were on a Star Wars high we decided to start on the prequel movies, which she also hadn't seen. Cue The Phantom Menace.
Now, you have to understand something here. I grew up with six Star Wars movies. I grew up watching both the original trilogy and the prequels (originals first, of course--some things are sacred); the only one I actually remember coming out is Revenge of the Sith, and even then I was too young to really care about seeing it in theaters. There was never a divide for me between the "original" and the "new" movies. Star Wars was Star Wars.
And yeah, I've spent a fair amount of time since then reading meta on how terrible the prequels are on almost every level. And I could accept a lot of those arguments from memory alone (you ave to admit that the romance writing is unforgettably bad). But they remained fixed in my mind as decent movies--flawed, definitely, but enjoyable.
And then I rewatched TPM tonight, for the first time in years.
This was just...bad. I'm tempted to call it the worst of the films, and I'm only holding off because I haven't rewatched Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith in ages either and I'm a little nervous to now. Movies can get away with a lot, provided they are entertaining; even bad movies can gain the distinction of being enjoyably bad. But I can't even give TPM that distinction.
What even happened here? The writing was terrible; I feel like I can't even comment on the acting because...really, what are actors supposed to do with lines like the ones they were given here? The special effects have really suffered from the passage of time (I don't remember them being that glaring as a kid, but now...George, you used to use practical effects For A Reason). And the plot was just hopelessly confusing and dull. My friend kept asking questions about the plot that I didn't know how to answer because they involved the complexities of trade embargoes and planetary vs. interplanetary (that is, Republic) authority and Senate politics and...so much politics. So much. More than was necessary. We don't need that much exposition; there is such a thing as too much worldbuilding. Especially when it's as ham-fisted as this was.
You know what else we didn't need? The Force being explained away as...microbes. WHY. WHY WAS THIS A THING. WHY IS ANAKIN A FORCE-CONCEIVED JESUS BABY I DON'T--
Also, way to make Palpatine so Obviously Evil that the audience never had a chance to develop their own opinion. Looking ahead a bit, it could have been interesting if we fell for his Kind Mentor act at the same time as Anakin did, but instead we get lingering shots of Palpatine's face while ominous music plays. You know, in case the hood covering half of Darth Sidious's face had you stumped.
Why was the podracing scene so interminably long? Was this race really what required the most focus? Why are there So Many racist caricatures masquerading as characters? Why are all of these gorgeous costumes so blatantly Japanese-inspired that they jerk me out of the story because hang on, none of these people are Asian?
The most grievous sin a movie can commit, imo, is being boring. This was heinously boring. Heinous. My friend ended up scrolling through Facebook and clocking in when things actually happened, like Padme and the gang storming her own palace, or Obi-Wan and Qui Gon fighting Darth Maul (another question: why cram almost all of the awesome scenes into the last thirty minutes of an almost three-hour movie??). Okay, so watching this immediately after TFA was probably not the smartest move, given how freakin' awesome TFA is. And I still think this movie has its moments--the music is epic (DUEL OF THE FATES DUEL OF THE FATESSSS), the lightsaber choreography is awesome, the costumes are fantastic and there are some really nice character moments. And of course as backstory to the original movies it's invaluable.
But I think I learned something important tonight about nostalgia and rose-tinted goggles. And I know I'm late to the party, but now I can finally join the chorus of Star Wars fans groaning, "That was really bad."