Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was the most disappointing thing since my son. I mean, how much more could you possibly fuck up the entire backstory to Star Wars? And while my son eventually hanged himself in the bathroom of a gas station, the unfortunate reality of the Star Wars prequels is that they'll be around. Forever. They will never go away. They can never be undone.This right here, I think, summarizes the main thing disconnecting me from most Star Wars fans. It's one thing to think of a film as a complete disappointment, but so many people hate the prequels to such an over-the-top extent that it's almost become Internet law to say that you actually enjoyed them. I totally get being passionate about your interests, but I've never honestly felt so passionate about a media franchise that I'd ever get this dramatic about it, especially over a few bad installments. It's just kinda pathetic.
The nice thing about the character of Mr. Plinkett, though, is that there's an innate self-awareness to his sense of humor. Mike Stoklasa must have known how obnoxious people find it when fanboys complain about their stupid Star Wars bullshit, because nobody who's normal could possibly give a fuck about who shot first, or whatever pointless debate is currently a hot topic among the Mr. Plinketts of the world, and that's the point. He plays up the fact that Mr. Plinkett is just one of these old, gross, hobbiless losers who incessantly whines about shit that doesn't matter, but resonates with a lot of jaded yet nostalgic Gen X-ers.
It's clever, but I think this aspect of his character is lost on the people who cite his reviews as gospel truth.
In any case, I am prepared to slam dunk on this review. I just wish I had found the time to do it sooner.
If you're someone who's under the age of like, twenty, who says his least favorite film in the series is The Empire Strikes Back because it was "the most boringest one," then I suggest you shut this review off right now before I carefully explain how much of a fucking idiot you are.Indeed, when this video was originally uploaded in December of 2009, I had just turned fourteen, and Empire was indeed my least favorite film in the series, and it really was because of how fucking boring I found it. So you could say that Mr. Plinkett had directly called me out. I didn't "shut the review off," though. I watched everything, and in spite of what all the brainless drones in the comment section were saying, it really wasn't that great of a review, even if it did alter the landscape of YouTube film analysis and influence many of the channels that I still watch today.
I'm twenty-three now. I'll be twenty-four in a couple months, and The Empire Strikes Back is still my least favorite Star Wars film, and it's still the most boringest one.
The Phantom Menace, on the other hand? It's pretty okay. I loved it as a kid, because it was made for kids. As an adult, I'd probably give it a 6/10, which means "decent" on my scale. Not great, not even necessarily good, but certainly not bad or even mediocre. It's just all right.
Honestly, the only reason I've felt the need to defend it tooth-and-nail for all these years is because Star Wars fans are so rabid and ridiculous about it, and it's funny to watch them writhe and seethe as I carefully explain to them how much of fucking idiots they are.
But where do I possibly start?I think it's fair to argue that George Lucas probably had too much creative control, and that nobody was willing to question him at the time, because George Lucas was the man. However, these speculative portions of Mr. Plinkett's reviews have always been my least favorite part of them, because of how easy it is to manipulate footage and paint a certain narrative with it. The fact is, we don't know any of this shit. We weren't actually there. It's funny to think about, but it's ultimately a waste of time, unless you're just desperate to have your bizarre hatred for a film validated.
[clip from The Phantom Menace]
Jar Jar: Mesa hatin' crunchin'.
Nothing in The Phantom Menace makes any sense at all. It comes off like a script written by an eight-year-old. It's like George Lucas finished the script in one draft, like, turned it in, and they decided to go with it, without anyone saying that it made no sense at all, or was a stupid, incoherent mess. I guess, at this point, who's gonna question George, or tell him what to do?
[clip from behind-the-scenes footage]
Crewman: I take it, you [George Lucas] say "action," after we roll camera?
George Lucas: I'll say it.
Crewman: You don't have to—Sometimes, people—
George Lucas: Sometimes I forget.
Crewman: —people forget. [laughs]
George Lucas: If I forget to say "action" or "cut," just step in and say "action" or "cut."
He controls every aspect of the movie. He probably got rid of those people that questioned him creatively a long time ago. [clip of Han Solo getting tortured] I also think that everyone just assumed that a Star Wars prequel will be an instant hit, regardless of what the plot was. Really, how hard could it be to screw up? [clip of Jar Jar doing something stupid] It's like screwing up mashed potatoes. YOU BOIL THE WATER. YOU POUR THE PACKE—
1. THE CHARACTERSI agree that this is a formula that generally works very well in a lot of these classic, ultra-popular movies from the '80s and '90s, but in many ways, it's a pretty stale formula. If you try writing a protagonist like this in your movie today, then you've probably written an extremely boring and hackneyed character. Harry Potter fits this formula pretty well, but no one's favorite Harry Potter character is Harry Potter (and in fact, he's many people's least favorite). I think people in general have sort of gotten fed up with the "relatable protagonist" trope, if you ask me. That's why characters like Tony Stark have erupted in popularity. In the original Iron Man, he's not the most relatable guy. You might even describe him as kind of a dick, but we still like him because he's witty, charismatic, and we can tell that he has a heart of gold beneath his tough exterior (with the arc reactor being a literal representation of this). His eventual arc is that he becomes humbled after feeling the weight of the world on his back.
The biggest and most glaring problem with The Phantom Menace is the characters. This is, like, the most obvious part of movie-making, but I guess I got to explain it when talking about this turd. [clip of Jar Jar stepping in fecal matter] Let's start a movie-making 101, shall we?
You see, in most movies, the audience needs a character to connect with. Typically, this character is something called a "protagonist." When you're in a weird movie with, like, aliens and monsters and weirdos, the audience really needs someone who's like a normal person, like them, to guide them through the story. Now, this of course doesn't apply to every movie, but it works best in the sci-fi, superhero, action, and fantasy genres. I picked a few examples to illustrate this point: Marty McFly, John McClane, Billy Peltzer, Sarah Connor, Neo, Charlie Bucket, Peter Parker, Cliff Secord, Johnny Rico, Rocky Balboa, and Kevin Bacon.
So, in addition to being an everyday kind of schlub, usually a protagonist is someone who's down on their luck [clip of Sarah Connor spilling someone's drink while waiting tables], in a bad place in their lives [clip of Kevin Bacon ripping a full garbage bag open after trying to lift it], or someone where everything just doesn't always go perfectly for them. [several clips of unfortunate things happening to likable classic protagonists]
Eventually, they'll be confronted with some kind of obstacle or struggle that they gotta deal with. [clips] If we like them, we hope they succeed. [clips] The drama in the film is the result of us rooting for them against opposition. [clip of the Rocketeer lifting off heroically]
Eventually, our protagonist will find themselves in the "lowest point," where it seems like all is lost. [clips] But eventually, they'll pull through, and conquer whatever force opposes them. [clip of Sarah Connor terminating the Terminator] It's satisfying when our hero gets ahead from where they started off at. [clip of Rocky and Adrian saying "I love you" to each other] They make, like, a change. This is called an "arc." Often, too, they'll get the girl in the end as icing on the cake. [various clips of protagonists kissing their love interests, and Charlie Bucket hugging Willy Wonka]
Not everyone has to like a character written this way, but it proves that you don't always have to stick to this "every protagonist must be relatable and down-to-earth" formula, which I think a lot of writers seem to use a crutch nowadays. Ultimately, what matters is that the protagonist is charismatic. You just have to like them, and even if you don't like them, you have to like disliking them. It sounds simple, but it doesn't have to be. The most interesting protagonists, to me, are the ones where they don't take that easy route. The Phantom Menace uses a particular method that happens to be one of my favorite ways to establish a protagonist that I will discuss later.
Anyway, Mr. Plinkett clarifies and proceeds to acknowledge that not every movie has to follow the same formula:
Now, I need to explain that I don't think that all movies should be the same, or conform to the same kind of structure, but it works well in certain kind of movies. So unless you're the Coen brothers, David Lynch, Paul Thomas Anderson, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Lars von Trier, David Cronenberg, Gus Van Sant, Quentin Tarantino, John Waters, Wes Anderson, Sam Peckinpah, Terry Gilliam, Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog, or Jim Jarmusch, you really shouldn't stray away too far from this kind of formula, especially if you're making a movie that's aimed at children that has a cartoon rabbit in it that steps in the poopy. [another clip of that scene]Okay, so he's not saying that ALL movies should be the same, but in order to break the rules of storytelling, you have to be one of these crazy talented, world-famous, auteur directors like Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino. If you're not Wes Anderson, don't ever try to be creative, especially if you're making a fantasy adventure movie with a childish sense of humor.
Now, I know that's not necessarily what he's saying, but it is what he said, and I just don't think it's a very intelligent point. Obviously, it doesn't matter who you are. Writers should be able to take whatever risks they want, because that's the art form. That's the point of art.
I don't think Mike would dispute this, and I get that he's just trying to say "I think this movie would've been better if they had played it safe with the characters," but that's kind of a platitudinous observation, isn't it? You could say that about fucking anything.
He continues with his point, and proceeds to make his first actual criticism of The Phantom Menace:
This is all, of course, completely applicable to the original Star Wars film, and the character of Luke Skywalker.So the movie chooses not to have one obvious main character. So what?
[clip from A New Hope]
Luke Skywalker: I wanna learn the ways of the Force, and become a Jedi like my father.
This was accomplished even without all the wonders of modern CGI. Now, with all you've just learned—IN THIS VIDEO THAT I'VE MADE FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES—I want you to tell me who the main character of The Phantom Menace was.
Obviously, the movie doesn't have just one main character, but this was clearly intentional. Whereas some stories will have a delineated hierarchy of protagonist importance, where terms like "deuteragonist" or "tritagonist" may be used, The Phantom Menace uses a particular storytelling technique where multiple characters almost equally fulfill the role of the protagonist. The purpose of this is simple: to give every individual in the audience someone to relate to and root for by covering and providing a surrogate for several demographics, rather than just having your one typical young male character who is far more likely to resonate only with young males in the audience.
If you're an older man, father, or father figure, you'll probably see yourself in Qui-Gon and his earnest attempts to pass off his wisdom to his young apprentice.
If you're a little boy, you'll probably see yourself in Anakin, with his bright-eyed enthusiasm and excitement towards life in spite of his unfortunate circumstances.
If you're somewhere in between, you'll probably see yourself in Obi-Wan (this is where I find myself), a young adult who's trying to figure out his life and other people. If you really need the movie to have just ONE protagonist for some reason, you can watch the movie from Obi-Wan's perspective, and he fulfills that role just fine in the traditional sense, by virtue of him having the most in common with the average Star Wars fan.
You see, it's pretty much the same exact formula, but it's being poured down more than one tube, because different people see different things differently. Of course, this technique is not new, by any means—it's very common in serial media, like cartoons, sitcoms, and TV dramas. Neon Genesis Evangelion uses the technique, as well, and it's one of the most appealing and interesting aspects of the show. Young boys will relate more with Shinji Ikari, whereas young adults will relate more with Misato Katsuragi. The different angles from which you can enjoy the show give it a certain depth that a lacking of this device simply wouldn't provide.
Plus, if you're an empath, this kind of storytelling allows you to rewatch the film from the other perspectives that the story provides. This way, you're guaranteed to take something new away from the film every time.
Now, I did say that the technique is more common in TV shows than in movies, and this is because movies usually don't have as much time to flesh out each character's personality, so they often limit themselves to a few. Otherwise, you'll have a whole bunch of flat, cardboard characters instead of a small number of strong, three dimensional ones. Does The Phantom Menace suffer from this issue? Yeah, kinda. You could definitely argue that. But I don't personally view that as a terribly crippling flaw, and I find myself liking almost all of the characters in spite of this relatively small issue (except Anakin, but that's more because of his annoying dialogue and Jake Lloyd's poor acting).
I would also maintain that I'm not necessarily looking for fleshed-out 3D characters in a Star Wars movie, because they've always just been the quintessential popcorn entertainment flick to me. In any case, I think if the film stuck with the same formula that the original Star Wars film did, it would only have made the film seem all the more boring and hackneyed to people. So I'm personally glad that they tried something unique, and even if it didn't pay off with flying colors, I still don't find myself disliking almost any of the film's characters. They're all fun and memorable to me, and that's part of what I go into a Star Wars movie for.
At this point, Mr. Plinkett goes on to list all the characters that he doesn't consider to be the "main" protagonist, because Mike Stoklasa apparently doesn't understand the point of having multiple protagonists:
I can tell you it's not the Jedi. They were just on some kind of boring mission that they didn't really care about. Plus, they were fucking boring themselves.What does it matter if you find the characters boring? I don't understand why that suddenly means they can't be a protagonist. To go back to the Harry Potter example, there's lots of people who believe Harry Potter is pretty boring when you compare him to the other colorful characters in his story, but nobody would deny that he's still the main character.
[clip from The Phantom Menace]
Obi-Wan: What happens to one of you will affect the other. You must understand this.
Personally disliking a character does not actually change their role in the story. That's fucking stupid.
It wasn't Queen Amidala, because she was some foreign queen the movie was certainly not really about specifically, either.Well, I can't dispute this one, because she's obviously not really a main character. Women in the audience might like or relate to her, I guess, but like he said, the movie is not really about her specifically. The thing is, I don't think the movie's even trying to say otherwise. She's there, and she has a role, but at no point is that role ambiguous or confusing. No one would even think or consider her to be a main character. I'm not even sure why she's being mentioned here.
You might be thinking that it's Anakin, because he was like, a slave, and saved the day at the end by accidentally blowing up the starship, but the audience doesn't meet Anakin until forty-five minutes into the movie. And then the things that are happening around him are pretty much out of his control or understanding. If a protagonist has no concept of what's going on, or what's at stake, then there's no real tension or drama. Without that, there's no story. So the conclusion is that there isn't one.Again, this point would ONLY hold water if Anakin really was the only protagonist. But he's not. The fact that we have multiple characters to attach ourselves to allows us, if necessary, to shift our perspectives to the characters who do have a concept of what's going on. And the kids in the audience who are too young to understand the plot anyway will still be entertained, because they still see a little boy in a starship who's doing some cool shit in outer space. Everyone's entertained, no harm, no foul. Not even for the integrity of the story.
Before the movie opened, I was really excited to hear that Scottish actor, Ewan McDonald, was going to be playing Obi-Wan Kenobi. I thought that was a great choice, and that he'd be perfect as the lead of this movie.I like Ewan McGregor, too, and I think he was perfect as Obi-Wan. Not only does he look exactly like a younger Alec Guinness, which is amazing, the speech patterns and mannerisms he worked into his performance tend to emanate a "wise beyond his years" vibe, which fits in perfectly with his character.
But he wasn't, really. He just sat on the ship and complains a lot.
[clip from The Phantom Menace]
Obi-Wan: The Queen's wardrobe, maybe, but not enough for you to barter with. Not in the amount you're talking about.
The fact that he complains a lot is part of what makes his character. It's a neat reversal of the "cautious master, brash apprentice" trope, where Qui-Gon is the confident risk taker, and Obi-Wan is the stuffy and overly cautious one. Anyone in the audience who thinks Qui-Gon's choices throughout the film were stupid and irresponsible will probably consider Obi-Wan to be very sympathetic, and therefore more likable.
This is, dare I say, good writing. Am I saying it's the best writing ever? No, but it works, and it works just fine in my opinion.
So YOU may like the characters... You know, if you're stupid.Fuck you.
I like how he stops there after that one example, too, as if he already talked about all the other characters. Again, I'm not saying The Phantom Menace has the best characters, or even great characters, but I think they're all likable enough to where I could handily defend all of them. Yes, even Jar Jar.
But let's ask some real people about the Star Wars characters, and see what they say. I posed a simple challenge to them:This is one of the most well-known parts of any Mr. Plinkett review, and I'm willing to bet it's the part where most people started subscribing to him, because it's a clever and fun concept that gives you a quick break from having to listen to Mike's stupid Plinkett voice, and because it's a challenge that they can participate in themselves.
"Describe the following Star Wars character WITHOUT saying what they look like, what kind of costume they wore, or what their profession or role in the movie was. Describe this character to your friends like they ain't never seen Star Wars."
The more descriptive they get, the stronger the character, eh?
The problem with the "real people" he interviews in the actual video, however, is that they are all his close personal friends that he continues to review films with to this day on Half in the Bag, including Jay Bauman, Rich Evans, and Jack Packard (back when he had hair). I don't recognize everyone in this section, but it's obvious that Mike made absolutely no effort to actually interview strangers to ensure that no bias would be factored into the experiment.
Nonetheless, let's take his little challenge:
Han SoloThey forgot "insufferable" and "annoying." I always hated Han Solo. Never liked him in any of the original movies.
Rich Evans: He's a rogue. He's...
Jay Bauman: He's very arrogant. Charming.
Jack Packard: Roguish, if you will.
Woman: Han Solo is... totally dashing.
Jack Packard: Wannabe dashing. He fancies himself a playboy.
Man: So, like, he's a smarmy, cocksure... womanizer?
Rich Evans: Scoundrel.
Jack Packard: He's pigheaded.
Woman: Completely sexy, in like, a bad boy sort of way, where he's gonna ride the line.
Rich Evans: He's got a bit of a dark streak to him, with shooting Greedo in the bar.
Jack Packard: But also, deep down, is a thief with a heart of gold. That's his character, really.
But okay, let's keep count here.
Rich Evans described him with three terms: "Rogue," "scoundrel," and "has a dark streak."
Jay only described him with two: "Arrogant" and "charming."
Jack described him with four terms: "Roguish," "wannabe dashing," "pigheaded," and "thief with a heart of gold."
The woman described him with two terms: "Totally dashing" and "completely sexy in a bad boy sort of way."
And the other man described him with three: "Smarmy," "cocksure," and a "womanizer."
Controlling for synonyms, that gives us, like, seven or eight different terms combined. Obviously, Han Solo is a character that Mike Stoklasa considers to be well-written, and you only need to describe him with seven or eight words to demonstrate how strong of a character he is. Got it.
Qui-Gon JinnOkay, my turn.
Qui-Gon Jinn is wise, mature, soft-spoken, and stoic. Very mild-mannered and dry, but that's only because he takes his job seriously. Has shades of grey sewn into his moral compass; he's not above things like gambling and lying to his adversaries, frequently using Jedi Mind Tricks to get his means. He would be a risk-taker, but the point is that he's so confident, that he doesn't view them as risks at all. He's also a very stern, no-nonsense kind of person, and frequently gets annoyed with Jar Jar's hijinks. To some, he may come across as a little cold, but in a fatherly sort of way where he ultimately knows what's best for his disciples.
Boom. Fucking easy.
Now, let's see how these idiots do:
Rich Evans: He's... stoic.Instead of making a point about the characters in Star Wars, Mike chooses to throw his friends under the bus by making them look like complete fucking idiots.
Woman: I don't remember that character. (Offscreen: He's Liam Neeson, with the beard.) Ohhh... Yes.
Jay Bauman: Well, he has a beard.
Jack Packard: Qui-Gon, and uh, he was—[cuts off before we can hear his response]
Man: [laughs] Um... Stern?
Well, Rich Evans isn't a complete idiot. He almost immediately used the perfect word to describe him: "Stoic," which I used to describe him as well. He's the quintessential stoic Jedi who's all wrapped up in the niceties of his profession. He's not particularly emotional, because emotions cloud your judgment, according to Jedi teachings which parallel a lot of real world religions. It's a great word. Good on you, Rich Evans. Not so good on you for struggling to come up with any other words, because there are plenty of them.
I don't blame the woman for not remembering Qui-Gon's character, but she says "I don't remember" in a way that implies that she's only seen The Phantom Menace once, which is clearly the case, otherwise she would've done a better job. Meanwhile, she described Han Solo as if she saw the original trilogy at least ten times, which is probably the case. That's not really fair, now is it?
Jay was being a fucking shithead in his interview. First of all, he said not to describe the character's physical appearance. Second, he's clearly bullshitting. "He has a beard." Get the fuck out of here with that shit.
Jack Packard's interview was clearly about to give us a few adjectives, and he sounded enthusiastic about his answer, but Mike decided to cut it off before he could say anything. Nice. What an honest way to make your point, Mike!
The laughing guy shrugs before using "stern," which is certainly one decent description. He could've come up with more if he really tried, but he's playing dumb, because he sees the point that Mike is trying to make, so he decides to play along with it, because he doesn't like the Star Wars prequels and wants to help his friend make a good video.
Fuck this part.
C-3POJack kinda fails right off the bat by describing his role in the story, rather than his character, as outlined in the challenge's rules. "Sidekick" and "comic relief" are roles, not necessarily character traits in and of themselves (though "bumbling" sidekick has a character trait built into it, I suppose). "Effeminate" is a good word to describe him, however.
Jack Packard: His character is kind of the bumbling sidekick.
Rich Evans: Afraid, scaredy-cat. He's timid.
Woman: C-3PO is anal-retentive.
Rich Evans: He's prissy.
Jay Bauman: Well, C-3PO is prissy. He's used a lot as comic relief.
Jack Packard: He's the comic relief.
Woman: He's high-strung.
Jack Packard: He's bumbling. Effeminate.
The other guys did okay. They still only used, like, two or three, maybe four different words to describe him, which isn't a lot, but Mike decided to play the Star Wars theme over these portions, and NO music at all during the prequel character portions, which manipulates me into thinking that he's making a good point.
Queen AmidalaMy turn, I guess:
This one's a weird example, because there's two different characters playing the role of Queen Amidala. There's the Queen herself, Padmé, played by Natalie Portman, who appears in and out of her role as the Queen, but then there's the oft-forgotten Sabé, played by Keira Knightley, who played Amidala's decoy. The fact that the Queen lacks a personality makes it easier for Sabé to stand in for her, because she doesn't have any mannerisms to imitate which she would otherwise have to learn.
So, I mean, yeah. She doesn't have a personality. That's not a problem, though, because it's woven into the plot.
Padmé herself, on the other hand, has... a little bit more personality to her. Not a lot, but when she's not having to be the Queen, she just seems like a nice, kinda sweet and caring, yet strong and conscientious person. Now, she doesn't necessarily SCREAM any of these qualities at you, but that's okay. She's very down-to-earth about it. She's like a normal teenage girl. I can see how you'd think she's boring, but she doesn't lack character in my opinion.
Rich Evans: That is going to be fucking impossible because she doesn't have a character.I was kinda giving these people the benefit of the doubt earlier, but shit. Maybe they ARE just fucking idiots.
Jack Packard: She... is, um... She's Natalie Portman!
Woman: Uh, yeah, like, just, kind of...
Rich Evans: Um, well, I can't say she was the Queen. I was gonna say she was the Queen.
Woman: Normal, I guess? Just kind of normal.
Rich Evans: Makeup would be a description. I was gonna describe the makeup.
Jay Bauman: Descibe Queen Amidala's character... Um... Monotone?
Jack Packard: She's the...
Jay Bauman: She looks a lot like Keira Knightley.
Man: [laugh] I can't answer that, and you know it.
Jack Packard: She is... [stops] This is funny, by the way. I get it.
The woman won this round, concluding that she was just "kind of normal." Yeah, that's true. She's clearly the only one there thinking Padmé, and not the Queen, which is good. She passes that part, but fails the description part.
Jay Bauman, meanwhile, once again puts his dick into his mouth and pulls it straight out of his stupid ass. "She looks like Keira Knightley"? What the hell do you mean? She WAS Keira Knightley, you fucking dipshit. Why did Mike interview you when you haven't even seen the movie? How embarrassing. They don't even look that much alike.
CONTINUED IN PART 2