The Star Wars Saga In May of 1999, George Lucas released his highly anticipated Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace (TPM) to a bag of mixed reviews. Some were pleased that a new Star Wars had finally hit their local multiplex, while others where unhappy that after waiting 16 years the movie wasn't very good. George Lucas was in a very tough spot. He had to deliver the most hyped movie in history, while telling the back story for character so many are familiar with. The Phantom Menace does do some things well. The action, and battle scenes where well worth the wait. Also it featured some big time actors with Liam Nealson, Ewan McGregor, and Natalie Portman. But the story, drama, and the weak introduction of Anakin Skywalker, who later becomes Darth Vadar, left a lot to be desired. Also, TPM seemed to be made for a less intelligent audience than the original movies, and this too, turn a large percentage of fans off.
The biggest downfall in TPM is the characters aren't as accessible as the first three Star Wars films, and Episode IV A New Hope (ANH), in particular.
The first pair of characters to be examined is ANH's Han Solo and TPM's Obi Wan. Both characters are the most liked in both films respectfully. Harrison Ford's portrayal of a cool space drifter won the hearts of everyone to see ANH. Ewan McGregor had the same luck with his portrayal of a young Jedi apprentice, because he was portraying the younger version of a beloved figure from ANH. Both actor's received characters that where written very well rounded and realistic but Ford gets the nod here for the very funny dialogue written in the first movie. Also Solo's interaction with all the other characters makes his personality that more likeable. In TPM, Obi Wan's interactions don't display much of his personality, but the movie does show off his fighting skills. His fight between Darth Maul is one of the greatest swords fights recorded on film. Solo's fighting skills are somewhat limited to the use of a blaster, but he's quick with his tongue. He is a space pirate and never trained to use a light saber, where Obi Wan is well trained in the arts of fighting and therefore be able to fight more efficiently. Where Han lacks fighting skills he makes up for it with a very strong and likeable personality. Obi Wan can put on a great fight, but his less engaging personality makes him less likeable.
Lucas has always included a strange character in all of the Star Wars movies. In ANH he introduced Chewbacca, and in TPM it was Jar Jar Binks. Chewy worked because he was paired with the highly likeable Han Solo, plus the viewer could never understand what Chewy was saying. He spoke in load grunts that only Han could understand. Jar Jar on the other hand can be understood and he has plenty to say, most of which is very annoying. Plus he speaks in a childish jamaician accent that grates on the viewer's ears. Jar Jar is the main reason why most people found TPM to be so bad. Lucas wanted Jar Jar to appeal to the child audience, but in fact Jar Jar turned many viewers off. Chewy was a strong character that helped in situations of danger. Most of these struggles where caused be outside influences, like Darth Vadar and Storm Troopers. Jar Jar is a weak character that was often the very reason the heros where in dangerous situations. The viewer can only be expected to put up with Jar Jar's actions for so long, but TPM is overflowing with his presence. Lucas has listened to the fans and has stated that in the new Star Wars movie Jar Jar's screen time will be cut dramatically. If George wants an unique secondary creature he must examine why Chewy was more liked than Jar Jar Binks.
The last character comparison has to be father versus son. Anakin Skywalker is the father of Luke Skywalker, the hero from the first 3 Star Wars films (Episodes IV - VI). In TPM Anakin is a 9-year-old boy played by Jake Lloyd. This is the first mistake to portray this character because Lloyd is very bad, and unoriginal actor. Through out most of the film his line delivery seems forced. After reviewing the audition tapes found on the DVD set, Lucas seems to have made the wrong choice for casting Anakin. With child actors bad casting can be detrimental to a film. In ANH Lucas cast a relatively unknown actor in Mark Hammil, but his choice couldn't have been better. Hammil's acting throughout ANH is very real, and believable. The viewer instantly is drawn to this young man living on a remote planet. But Luke isn't without his faults. Both he and Anakin suffer from a whining syndrome, but Luke's is a little more tolerable. Without Hammil's innocence throughout the ANH, much of the magic would have been lost.
The Phantom Menace suffers on many other levels, but the main downfall of this film is its characters and writing. Lucas seems to have written this movie with a much younger audience in mind, but so much so it has alienated long, adoring, older, fans. What made A New Hope so great was it space fantasy setting, with an intelligent script. ANH is not written down to its audience, and in doing so, is appreciated by a larger amount of viewers. Lucas must have forgotten that you can write and direct a family oriented movie without producing a film that makes older audiences cringe with distaste. The fans have spoken; lets hope the master of the Star Wars universe has listened.