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How To Watch The Phantom Menace

(See also: How To Watch Attack of the Clones, How To Watch Revenge of the Sith.)

No, I haven't seen Revenge Of The Sith yet. Stop asking.

I had never intended to see it soon after it's opening, although I have resigned myself to the inevitability of seeing it in the theater eventually. Actually, I was kind of excited about it for a little while, but my enthusiasm seems to have peaked about a week ago, and my interest in the film has been dwindling ever since.

So in an effort to rekindle the Star Wars flame -- or possibly snuff it out entirely -- I decided to rewatch The Phantom Menace. I wanted to reacquaint myself with the story, and this seemed the best way to do it -- even though, truth be told, I was dreading the screening. I'd seen The Phantom Menace twice before, and pretty much hated it both times.

What I really wanted was an abridged version of the film, with just the plot and the cool scenes but none of the crap. Such a version is rumored to exist in the form of The Phantom Edit, but I had no idea how to secure a copy. The next best thing would have been a knowledgeable friend sitting next to me as I watched the DVD, telling me what stuff I should fast-forward through.

Well, I'm that knowledeable friend now. If you foolishly decide to watch The Phantom Menace yourself, here's all the skippable stuff.

I started compiling these fast-forwards with two objectives: to get the film under 90 minutes, and to eliminate as much Jar-Jar Binks as possible; halfway through the film I spontaneously added a third: to omit all the midichlorian flummery. (This might be a bad idea -- it's possible they play a role in Revenge of the Sith, though I'm guessing that, like Jar-Jar, Lucas is going to pretend like he'd never introduced them.)

Start FF timeEnd FF timeElapsed TimeWhat you're missingWhy you might want to watch it
10:5518:407:45Qui-Gon and Obi Wan flee Trade Federation ship and literally run into Jar-Jar; he takes them to the Gungan city, where they are given a ship to travel through the planet's core to reach the main Naboo city. Many gratuitous special effects and much Jar-Jar bufoonery ensues.If you can't remember the exact moment in The Phantom Menace when you realized the movie was going to suck Tauntaun balls, you could remind yourself by watching this eight-minute scene, jam-packed with Jar-Jar and jar-jarringly bad dialog.
19:1920:391:20Underwater voyage concluded; Qui-Gon, Obi Wan and Jar-Jar arrive at Naboo cityIf you watched the previous sequence and really, really liked that part where the giant marine monster attacked their ship, only to then be eaten by an even larger creature, you could watch this segment and see that exact scene a second time.
28:5329:300:37Padme meets Jar-Jar; Jar-Jar recaps the last 15 minutes of the movie in unintelligible gibberishNone. Seriously, this scene serves no function whatsoever.
30:1331:381:25Padme, Qui-Gon and Jar-Jar walk into a Tatooine town. Padme insists on accompanying them. Once in town, the look for somewhere to buy parts for their broken spaceshipsQui-Gon gives little background on Tatooine, but doesn't say anything you didn't know from A New Hope. The presence of Jar-Jar (stepping in dewback droppings no less -- hah hah!) negates the usefulness of the exposition.
35:1637:101:54Jar-Jar's slapstick in a Tatooine market gets him in trouble; Anakin intercedes on his behalf.This is arguably the most important scene in the entire film, as it's when Anakin meets his first Jedi in the form of Qui-Gon. Padme and Jar-Jar met Anakin in an earlier scene, though, so all you need to know is that Anakin recognizes the Gungan and joins the party as they wander around the market.
47:1351:083:55Oh man, there's a lot of bad stuff in just four minutes. First: Anakin has no father, and was the product of immaculate conception: WHAT. THE. FUCK. LUCAS????!!!!! Then we get Anakin working on his pod racer with a generous side of intolerable Jar-Jar slapstick. And then, as if you aren't already trying to figure out a way to go back in time and kill Lucas's great-grandfather, we get "midichlorians" sprung-on us, the ridiculous "mastery of the force has a biological component" claptrap that is second only to "Greedo shot first" in the litany of Wrongeheaded Star Wars Revisionism.Anakin is teased by some local kids while working in on his pod racer in a scene that proves the unprovable: there exist worse child actors than Jake Llyod. (His last name is spelled with two l's -- you know, like "unwatchablle".)
55:241:10:0114:25The pod race. Yes, in its entirely. If you're bridling at the suggestion that you omit what was often cited as the best sequence in the whole movie (after the final light saber battle), then you clearly don't remember how unfathomably boring it was. It may have been worth watching for the state-of-the-art special effects when Phantom was first released, but now it looks like the obsolete video game it essentially is. Just skip it. Anakin wins, that's all you need to know.If you are a big fan of The Wacky Racers but wish the races were twice as long and half as interesting.
1:25:071:25:1600:09This is the briefest fast-forward in this entire guide, but essential if you want to steer clear of the midichlorians.Like Transformers combining into a single, giant robot, here Lucas manages to takes the two dumbest conceits of the film -- Anakin's immaculate conceptions and the midichlorians -- and weave them into a revelation that is stupider than the sum of its parts: Anakin may have been sired by the midichlorians. Gah!
1:35:311:36:210:50MIDICHLORIANS I AM NOT LISTENING LA LA LA LA LA!!!Lucas's clumsy attempt to show off what little he remembered of "mitochondria" from his eighth-grade biology class wonderfully illustrates the old adage that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
1:48:181:50:031:45As in Return of the Jedi, the climax of Phantom Menace cuts back and forth between two separate battles. In this case, it's the Gungans trying hold back the droid invasion of Naboo, while Qui-Gon, Obi Wan, and Anakin attempt to disable the robots by destroying the spaceship that controls them. Unfortunately, only the latter is interesting. The skirmish between the droids and the Gungans looks like shit now that you've seen computer-generated mass-battles done right in Lord of the Rings, Jar-Jar zaniness infests every scene, and the whole thing is completely lacking in tension. Better to just skip it and stick to the other plotline.If you haven't seen a movie featuring computer animation in the last few years, you may still be impressed by the special effects showcased here. But, then again, maybe not: I remember thinking the whole thing looked fakey even in 2001.
1:53:051:53:350:30More Gungan v. droids.If you've skipped all the scenes I've suggested above, you could watch this one to remind yourself how Jar-Jar almost singlehandedly ruined the Star Wars franchise.
1:54:321:55:190:47One of the stupidest escape sequences ever committed to celluloid.Actually, this one is so awful it's almost worth watching.
1:56:401:58:101:30More Gungan v. DroidsYou know, trying to find positive things to say about this movie is wearying.
2:09:452:16:006:15End creditsYou're dying to know who the gaffer was.

Total time saved: 42:42 (although I'll admit that including the end credits in the time is kinda cheating).

Conclusion: Rather to my surprise, The Phantom Menace was every bit as bad as I remembered. I thought that perhaps it had gotten worse in my memory, but, nope: it's full-on travesty. The saddest thing is that the first 10 minutes of the film are very promising, making minutes 11-138 all the more tragic, like spotting a $100 bill on the sidewalk, bending over to pick it up, and having a piano dropped on you.

"Unlike you I am not an idiot and have no intention to rewatching Phantom Menace, so why don't you sum up?": You can find a very thorough summary here. In a nutshell, though, there are three main points:

  • Senator Palpatine, in the guise of Darth Sidious, engineers the invasion of Naboo, knowing that the Republic's Chancellor will be unable to deal with it. When his prediction proves true, Palpatine arranges for a vote of no-confidence in the current leadership, and, in its aftermath, is voted into the position of Chancellor -- his true aim all along.
  • Qui-Gon and Obi Wan, two Jedis, encounter a boy named Anakin Skywalker, who has more innate ability with the Force than anyone they have ever met. Anakin is taken to the Jedi Council where he proves his aptitude with the Force. The Council refuses to train him, however, saying that he is too old and full of fear. Qui-Gon defiantly decides to train Anakin himself, and the Council grudgingly agrees. When Qui-Gon later dies, he makes Obi Wan promise to continue Anakin's training.
  • Qui-Gon and Obi Wan are attacked by Darth Maul, a member of a group called the Sith that was thought long extinct. The Jedi Council considers the reemergence of the Sith be be worrisome in the extreme.
Random revelation: I have long assumed that the title of the final movie in the series, Return of the Jedi, refers to Luke Skywalker. At some point in watching Phantom Menace, though, it occurred to me that the titular Jedi could be Darth Vader -- when Luke is on the verge of being killed, the Jedi in Anakin returns and intervenes.

Posted on June 09, 2005 to Movies


Do this for Attack of the Clones. Please. You'll only have to watch like half an hour of film.

Posted by: J.D. on June 11, 2005 3:45 PM

Next Friday.

Posted by: Matthew on June 11, 2005 3:54 PM

Brilliantly done. As for your random revelation, you're very much so right on. As far as I can see it Anakin/Vader is the chosen one, not Luke like many people want to make it out to be. Vader is the only one who was a Jedi, fell completely to the dark side, and had enough power to come back to being a Jedi.

Which of course is why it's absolutely ridiculous that they would CGI in Hayden Christiansen's figure into the end of David Prowse in the 'special edition'

Posted by: Brent on June 11, 2005 4:49 PM

I had always assumed that 'The Return of the Jedi' meant the return of the Jedi Order. Once the Emporer and Vader are defeated, the Jedi can come back in full force, seeing as the Jedi order was wiped out by Vader (as we learn from Obi-Wan in New Hope, so no spoilers there...)

Posted by: Omegajuice on June 11, 2005 4:55 PM

When you finally do drag your ass to see "Revenge of the Sith" you may be comforted by the fact that it's not nearly as bad as the first two in this wretched series of prequels. But it's still at times laughably bad. At least it's laughable, I guess. Not, like, WHAT THE FUCK HAVE YOU ASSHOLES DONE WITH MY CHILDHOOD sobbing, wailing awful. Laughably awful. Ha Ha!

Posted by: Kate on June 11, 2005 5:00 PM

Take into account that VI was originally called Revenge of the Jedi and then turned into Return of the Jedi once Lucas realized Jedis do not revenge-ify. Maybe it's Luke, maybe it's Vader. Who knows, but I still think it dealt with Luke.

Posted by: mindsuckr on June 11, 2005 5:04 PM

well done... and the Phantom Edit is much better than the menace.

Posted by: chzplz on June 11, 2005 5:45 PM

I will not see the third movie unless and until Mr. George Asswipe Lucas releases the first three on DVD. What, you say he did? Nuh-uh, he released his horrible new versions of them. I want the first three back!

Posted by: liz on June 11, 2005 8:33 PM

Do yourself a favor, skip Sith. Or -- and this would just be cosmic justice -- wait until you can get some shaky-cam bootleg version so you can be absolutely sure Lucas does not reap one cent of profit off your pathetic fan-boy longing to see the "end" of the story.

The most interesting thing about Phantom Edit, to me, would be if They made this kind of thing legal. Can you imagine if Lucas knew his version would have to compete in the free market against versions edited by people who, Oh I don't know, had an artistic vision?

Posted by: Anonymous on June 11, 2005 9:00 PM

i never saw what was so noxious to everyone about jar jar? i would take like...an entire series of jar-jar binks only movies if they just removed little-kid anakin entirely from phantom menace. that movie would have been basically on par with episode III if they just scrapped anything to do with anakin, and replaced the lost run-time with more jedi ass-kicking, and possibly a yoda fight. if only /acting/ was as strong with anakin as the force was. choppa chowa!

Posted by: zach. on June 11, 2005 10:51 PM


Posted by: Wayne on June 11, 2005 10:59 PM

After reading, and enjoying, your Phantom analysis, I am eager to hear your thoughts on ep.3 when you get around to watching it. You could still cut out a lot of ep.3 and get the gist of it, but at least the movie, as a whole, doesn't suck.

Posted by: jacob on June 11, 2005 11:20 PM

I totally never thought about Vader being the returned Jedi....I think you have a valid point. Don't worry about the Clones....if you've seen one you've seen them all.

Posted by: Michele on June 12, 2005 5:05 AM

wow...perhaps the only thing more exhausting and numbing than watching TPM, is reading an encapsulation of all the sucky scenes.

Posted by: aaron on June 12, 2005 6:54 AM

Without spoiling Sith for you, I'll mention that it turns out that Anakin's "immaculate conception" makes some sense after all. Listen closely during one discussion about the extremes of what the Force can be made to do. (If only certain other things had been explained. "Midichlorians? Ha! Clever prank on you, Qui-Gon played!")

Posted by: Scott Hardie on June 12, 2005 7:56 AM

Have you noticed that if you add the prefix "in" to Sith lords' names, you get meaningful english words, like Lord In-Sidious (the mastermind) and Lord In-Vader (he does a lot of that in episode 3)

Posted by: alexei on June 12, 2005 12:49 PM

I am always a little confused when people get all huffy about the prequels... Don't you realize how HORRIBLY AWFUL the originals were? Don't get me wrong -- they're great, classic, etc. I like 'em. BUT THEY ARE SO BAD. The acting is awful, the dialogue is awful, the effects are nice but that can't save them. The prequels are so right in line with the whole series -- bad, cheezy, and great to watch when you're folding laundry.

Posted by: leen on June 12, 2005 3:16 PM

i wanted to watch "attack of the clone" before seeing episode 3, but I couldn't find a copy in any video store i went to! can't wait to read your synopsis on friday!

Posted by: Colin on June 12, 2005 4:13 PM

Nerd alert.

Posted by: Mark on June 12, 2005 9:50 PM

...Darth In-Maul? Darth In-Dooku?

Good point though.
hehe, In-Dooku is a funny sounding word :)

Posted by: stringman on June 13, 2005 1:34 AM

It's sad that the most exciting lightsaber battle of all six movies was the one with Darth Maul at the end of TPM.

Posted by: Ginger on June 13, 2005 1:40 AM

As far as I'm concerned, Episode III is NOT worth watching. It's as bad, if not worse than the other prequels.

And with prequel discussions, there are always those who say that the original was just as bad. I completely disagree with that. Look at the prequels, stilted storyline, acting, dialogue, unloveable and uninvolving characters, locations, heck, even the spaceships were pretty lame.

Then looks at the originals. Coherent storyline that actually goes somewhere smoothly. Completely loveable characters with actually funny lines of dialogue. Chemistry between the characters. The acting really isn't bad at all. Especially compared to, say, Episode III for example where I experinced two and a half hours of pre-high school level performances.

But, of course, in the end, it's a movie. Whether one likes it or not is obviously completely subjective. But, here is my subjective point of view: DON'T WATCH EPISODE III. IT IS SO BAD IT'S INSULTING.

Posted by: Woot on June 13, 2005 3:00 AM

Ah, Matthew, I could have saved you the pain of having to watch "The Phantom Menace" altogether by loaning you my Weird Al Yankovic CD "Running With Scissors". The very first track is called "The Saga Begins" and is a recap of the entire movie in 5:27. And sung to the tune of "American Pie", no less.

A long, long, time ago
In a galaxy far away,
Naboo was under an attack.

And we thought me and Qui Gon Jin
Could talk the Federation into
Maybe, cutting them a little slack.

But their response, it didn't thrill us.
They locked the doors and tried to kill us...

I haven't seen any of the new Star Wars movies, but my ex-husband told me that Weird Al pretty much nailed the plot.

Posted by: C. on June 13, 2005 5:55 AM

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I was going to slit my wrists if I had to sit down and watch Jar-Jar again to get ready for Sith. After you do the short form of Clones, I'll be ready for what I hear is the best of the prequel trilogy. Of course,it's not hard to be the best of crap, and I have to wonder about calling a movie an anagram for sh*t...

Posted by: Julie on June 13, 2005 8:22 AM

Any movie that has a young boy - the main character - saying "Yippee!", *multiple* times, should be avoided. Heaven help us if it's a Star Wars movie.

Posted by: Mark Hurst on June 13, 2005 8:31 AM

This was great! I also was going to request you do the same for the second film, but it seems like you've already promised. I'm looking forward to it.

Posted by: Jenny on June 13, 2005 9:26 AM

With the exception of the pod race, this list of edits is pretty close to the Phantom Edit. What you're left with is a much tighter movie that uses the interactions of just a few characters to show that *both* the Senate and the Jedi Council are craven, hidebound institutions which are incapable of "covering their territory". Fortunately, the people who are slipping through the Jedi Council's loopholes are at least trying to maintain the spirit of their order, unlike the political machine wedging through the divisiveness of the Senate for its own ends. For me, this political story was completely buried under cutesiness.

I only saw Clones once, so I don't have as good a grasp on it, but that shouldn't stop me from having a vehement opinion! First of all, I don't think it can be saved, because there's nothing that can fill the void created by cutting Yoda's swordfight. The choreography of that sequence is just wrong from beginning to end, but without it the arc of the movie is incomplete.

Hopefully I haven't alienated everyone with that opinion, so here are my cuts that should be less controversial, as a starting point:

1. Trim up any shot that ends with a special effect. Lingering on Palpatine, just to watch the air car rush hour over his shoulder--gone. Any shot of a Kaminoan walking without anything else going on--gone. Savings: probably less than a minute, but it's critical to the pace.

2. Anakin is useless in reaction shots. Also, he never picks up his cues. Fortunately, these problems are solutions to each other--in any sequence of alternating one-shots, don't cut to his face until after he's started talking, then cut back away before he finishes. Then tighten up his audio track (lap it on to the previous and following shots) to match. Savings: could be as much as five minutes.

3. Cut everything on Tatooine. Keep everything about Anakin leaving and then rejoining Obi-Wan--just don't show it, and let Anakin's summary of what happened suffice. Savings: over 20 minutes, not counting lifting the psychic burden of having to witness the most unmoving death scene ever committed to film.

Fire away!

Posted by: Jon on June 13, 2005 12:23 PM

Just re-watched Phantom Menace last week -- and oh how I wish I'd waited till you posted this! How could Jar-Jar be even worse than I remembered? And yet he was.

I'll definitely wait and read your cuts for Clones before renting that.

Posted by: Genevieve on June 13, 2005 1:50 PM

Something ten times more boring and pointless than the worst parts of whatever episode of Star Wars you want to get bored with: All the fucking twaddle being typed by the massed nerds of the intarwebs about what isn't good about any of the aforementioned six films.

Next week on defective yeti: All the bits to miss in 'Earnest Gets a Vasectomy'. Because it is *that* important...

Posted by: i_cola on June 13, 2005 4:54 PM

dude. excellent. this is totally how I watch the movie. except I like the fish, the pod race, and the end battle, I'm a sucker for computer animation.

but actually, I like the long run time, so instead of fast forwarding, I just pop into the other room and check my email, ebay auctions and whatnot.

can you explain to me why they killed off darth maul, maybe the best sith ever? he could have been the darth vader of the new trilogy, but no, he went halfsies instead.

Posted by: tom on June 13, 2005 8:21 PM

If it is so boring and pointless why sit and read it. Is your life so pitiful that you have had enough time to sit infront of your computer and read everything on the "intarwebs" that meets your standards and now have nothing better to do but read "all the fucking twaddle being typed by the massed nerds..."?

Anyway, just a dissenting opinion here - I really enjoyed EP III and plan to go see it again. To each his own I guess.

Posted by: Ken on June 13, 2005 8:36 PM

Ken: Two things...

1. I think all of the SW films are great. I'm in agreement with your "dissenting opinion".

2. How can you get it on with Barbie if you haven't got any genitals?

Posted by: i_cola on June 13, 2005 11:25 PM

I must insist that everyone go read this article now. I only wish I was talented enough to write like this!


My favourite quotation: "With Jar Jar's character no longer speaking to annoy you, Lucas filled the void by giving every robot in the movie stupid toy noises."

Posted by: natasha on June 14, 2005 4:23 AM

It's funny how many people forget that Star Wars is and always was a KIDS movie series. The prequels really are on the same par as the original trilogy. Bad dialogue, crappy acting, cheesy humor, annoying characters - it's the same for every Star Wars movie. (Really - it is. Even for the original trilogy. Maybe we're just more forgiving for the original trilogy and don't always see it.) But when you're a kid that stuff works and that's how most of us saw the orignal movies - through the eyes of a child.

George Lucas has a gift for creating movies and characters that kids love - even Jar Jar Binks. Yeah - Jar Jar is a favorite among kids - the real target audience of the movies. Crazy - huh? Revenge of the Sith is a little different though - it's target audience is a slightly older crowd - young adults. It's not a perfect movie but it's definitely my favorite of the six films.

Posted by: tlinks on June 14, 2005 7:32 AM

HA! I got the meaning of the title "Return of the Jedi" back in '83! Welcome to Cluesville. Oh, and I agree with everything you said about Phantom Menace. I half want to purchase video editing software and make my own Phantom Edit.

Posted by: John B on June 14, 2005 11:21 AM

"It's funny how many people forget that Star Wars is and always was a KIDS movie series."

Because nothing says "kid's movie" like people being killed, maimed and dismembered by the dozens.

Posted by: Keith on June 14, 2005 2:15 PM

First, about the "Return of the Jedi", your observation is right on. Lucas said it himself, that the six episode series is the story of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. It begins when he is nine years old, and ends with his death. This, incidentally, is why Lucas will never shoot episodes seven through nine: they aren't part of the story arc.

Second, the story goes that Episode six was supposed to be "Revenge of the Jedi" and at about the same time, "Star Trek II: The Vengeance of Khan" was supposed to release. In a classic game of Hollywood chicken, both film titles were reworked to remove the resemblance.

After changing the film title, the Lucas camp pulled that line about "Jedi don't stoop to the level of revenge", but the "Star Trek" people offered no explanation. Presumably, since Khan's "vengeance" was about as effective as the super-power of Captain Furious in "Mystery Men", it was downgraded to mere "wrath".

Posted by: Matthew Makous on June 14, 2005 3:26 PM

"2. How can you get it on with Barbie if you haven't got any genitals?"

Can you say dry hump? Didn't you wonder why we never had any children?

Posted by: Ken on June 14, 2005 9:30 PM

Oh, thank you thank you thank you. I was so traumatized by Phantom Menace that I could never bring myself to see Attack of the Clones. I toyed with the idea of seeing Sith, but only "if somebody would provide me with an abridged version of the first two movies -- just the important stuff." And I was really wishing that I could somehow see the abridged form, not just read it. With your handy-dandy guide I can get myself up to speed. Although, I have started to entertain second thoughts about going to see Sith. Maybe you could do the same for Sith when it comes out on DVD, and I could watch the whole 'trilogy' in under 3 hours?!

(And don't get me started on the ridiculous idea that children's films must suck because children are simpleminded. Eh...it's not even worth engaging. Nevermind.)

Posted by: Niki on June 15, 2005 12:29 PM