The claim that the film lacks a main protagonist provides one of the most memorable moments in Red Letter Media’s review of The Phantom Menace. Symptomatic of the prequels’ supposed foibles, the fiction Mr. Plinkett declares that Episode I suffers from a lack of strong, complex characters. He cleverly and effectively illustrates his point by eliciting responses from “random” Star wars fans, asking them first to describe key figures from the original trilogy and then to do the same for the prequels.
Obviously, a review that includes the exploits of a sexually abusive psychopath as supplementary material would not have an agenda. So of course when the respondents gleefully and articulately describe characters from the original films, their inability to do so for their prequel counterpoints was totally organic. How strange that all of the responses featured in the review mirrored the reviewer’s conclusions. What a coincidence!
Especially since their full of crap. The subjects could not muster a single adjective for any character from the film without resorting to physical attributes? Anakin Skywalker is a good-natured momma’s boy. Qui-Gonn Jinn is wise and paternal, with a bit of a rebellious streak. Padme is courageous and service-minded. Even Jar Jar Binks has loads of personality. Granted, most people find him grating, but he would not inspire such rage if he was devoid of discernible characteristics.
Clearly, Red Letter Media has sought a demonstrable method to prove the faults of the prequels in an intellectual way. The upshot of lacking a central character is that The Phantom Menace is an objectively bad film because of fundamentally flawed structure. Essentially, these critics have always known the film sucked, but now they can prove it.
The Plinkett reviews are incredibly entertaining (and incredibly effective at articulating their message), but coupling shaky logic with a need to be funny results in vulnerability. They can arrogantly assert their conclusions all day, but when they grade the prequels on following a generic filmmaking template yet contrast them with The Empire Strikes Back they lose credibility. Empire absolutely does not work as a standalone film. If a viewer with no prior Star Wars experience started with this film, they would be jarred by the immediate action and overwhelmed by a seemingly climactic battle 30 minutes into the film. And if they demanded classic story structure, the open ending would be incredibly disappointing.
By upholding Empire as the ultimate, Red Letter Media betrays their bias. It doesn’t mean that The Phantom Menace is better, just that Empire fails Plinkett’s rubric as well. And if the review gives the original trilogy a pass on criticisms that he crucifies the prequels for, then it gives off a whiff of hypocrisy. Red Letter Media is not necessarily a slave to nostalgia, but why expend so much energy obsessing over the prequels flaws when their presence in the originals never led to such gnashing of teeth? By the same token, why devote hours to watching these reviews and referencing them as gospel without acknowledging the flawed logic and double standards?
So yeah, it’s probably nostalgia. Kids who grew up in the 1970s and 80s became cynical adults, but Star Wars preserved a childish twinkle in their eye. But because George Lucas’ vision didn’t match the story concocted in their imaginations in the 16 years between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace, the prequels suck and Lucas is a dick. Give me a break.