Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace Review
When a lot of folks saw Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace back in 1999, they developed a pretty strong opinion about it. There were pretty visuals, but not much focus on the storyline. Maybe the movie needed a Han Solo type to put things into forward gear — and for that matter, less of Jar Jar Binks, the annoying CG character that Lucas was depending on when it came to younger audiences. That said, there’s a certain admiration to be had for the film, even if it is the weakest of Lucas’ saga. Now it’s come back again, this time with a new 3D effect to take advantage of the cinematic craze that’s been around since Avatar. Does it pay off? For the most part, yes.
Let’s get the story out of the way. In the heat of battle with the tyrannical Trade Federation (and their droid army), Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) make their way to Tattooine, along with Princess Amidala (Natalie Portman). Once there, they bump into a kid named Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), whose grip of the Force is more powerful than he could possibly imagine. Along the way, other characters get involved, including the accident prone Jar Jar and a deadly Sith Lord named Darth Maul (Ray Park) following the orders of his foreshadowed master…and of course, we know who that is — guy who’s actually trying to take control of the Senate. And the wheels are in motion…
Now, let’s get this out of the way. Performances haven’t improved, as this is still the same film you saw in 1999. Portman seems rather stoic as Amidala, even when she’s kicking ass. Lloyd makes Anakin seems like a whiner, even if he is an 8-year old kid who’s a slave to a junkyard dealer. And Jar Jar…well, let’s not even go there. On the flip side, Neeson makes a magnificent Jedi, overflowing with the force and capable of handling a lightsaber like a pro. McGregor does great work channeling the old Sir Alec Guinness role, right down to the accent and lightsaber skills. Also, Ray Park is dazzling, with his physical capabilities of swinging around a dual-ended lightsaber. It’s a shame they didn’t keep him around for the duration of the trilogy. (Whoops, spoiler.)
So what’s the main draw for seeing The Phantom Menace? The 3D of course. Now, it does take a little while for the film to get going, since the action sequences don’t really pick up till about a third of the way through, but when they do, you really begin to get your $15 worth out of the film. The pod racing sequence alone is spectacular, almost to the point you feel like it was made for 3D. The way pilots zoom in and out of the screen is crazy, and the first-person perspective is so good, you may return to the film a second time just to see it again.
Then there’s the final half of the film, with four consecutive battles happening at once. The main highlight would have to be the battle between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Darth Maul, who jump around platforms in one heck of a lightsaber sequence. It’s during these times — and not when Jar Jar tries to eat anything in front of him — that the movie delivers bang for its buck, just as it did in 1999.
George Lucas is planning to revisit all six films for the 3D medium, and we have to admit, he handles the effect better than we could’ve given him credit for, despite the fact that Phantom Menace still hasn’t changed in terms of storytelling quality. If you’re a dedicated fan and don’t mind the hiccups that this new trilogy started out with, you’re gonna like what you see. Even if it is a CG-animated fool that you wish would’ve been vaporized in the beginning.
A movie with this rating though watchable, does have glaring problems. It doesn't break new ground or do much to stand out against other movies, but it could definitely be a lot worse. Probably best as a rental.