Today’s Feature: Webisodes (1994-1999) – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
Calling Episode I a divisive film would be a misnomer. The Phantom Menace is simply not well liked. While I certainly agree that it is one of the weakest entries in the series ( I think Episode II is the weakest), it has had a huge impact on later stories and many ideas not introduced until the film. Some have blossomed into some of the most intriguing in the collective narrative. Concepts like Battle Droids, Pod Racing and, the Menace himself, Darth Maul have all found wonderful second lives through the continued adventures in a galaxy far, far away. The film is plagued by bizarre cuts, awkward dialogue and exceptionally heavy handed exposition. Yes, the exposition in fantasy films is always a bit heavy, but the concepts take such precedent over the storytelling here that it gets grating. However, through these awkward scenes we are treated to some visual delights and legitimately ingenious and innovative action. In a sense, Phantom Menace‘s greatest triumphs are in intent, not execution. If you find yourself taking in a viewing in preparation for The Last Jedi and want a little more insight, one of the best places to look is the original Episode I DVD set. On Disc 2 you will find a Webisodes feature, compiled from videos that originally were exclusive to StarWars.com. These shorts offer a fascinating look into the attitudes and practices of Lucas and Company during the production of the film. There is an air of confidence through the whole process, not necessarily arrogance, but a clear “How can we fail?” attitude toward the production. George Lucas himself has a laid back approach to the crafting of the script, citing its inherent drama. What they do not have a laid back attitude toward is the production and effects design. Everything that went on screen was refined and debated, well, until Lucas himself would make the final call. Producer Rick McCallum makes its clear that his job was to make sure that all of Lucas’ goals were accomplished, fighting through natural calamity and disasters. It is nice to see the love and craft applied to this aspect of the film, in part because of my (and your) love for the series and because it was those aspects that became the positive side of the film’s legacy. It is quite heartening to see that correlation. We also get some nice nods to the hard working and under appreciated ADs, the logic behind Jedi combat practices and the difficult casting process for young Anakin. This latter feature is especially interesting to view since Jake Lloyd’s performances is so frequently derided.
Footage from the StarWars.com Webisodes appears on the also excellent features on the Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-Ray Set, but is only available in its entirety on the original Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace DVD Set.