Lucasfilm's Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace-The Prequels Get Off to a Shaky Start

Every generation has a legend. Every journey has a first step. Every saga has a beginning.

Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace is a 1999 space-opera film directed by George Lucas, written by George Lucas, produced by Lucasfilm Ltd., and distributed by 20th Century Fox. The film stars Liam Neeson and Natalie Portman. The film was nominated for Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing. This is the fourth released film in the Star Wars franchise, but the first chronologically. It followed Star Wars: Episode VI-Return of the Jedi and is succeeded by Star Wars: Episode II-Attack of the Clones.


"Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." -Master Yoda

Plot


After the greedy Trade Federation cuts off all trades routes to Naboo, the Supreme Chancellor sends Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) to negotiate with the Federation. When they are mercilessly attacked, the Naboo launch into a war with the Federation. When Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan become stranded on a planet called Tatooine, they discover a young boy named Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), who is destined to become Darth Vader, and take him back to the Jedi Order. When Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan agree to help the Naboo, they uncover secrets about the return of the Sith and the phantom menace that is in the midst.


Positive Aspects


First off, I think that our leading men are great. Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor are fantastic. You can really believe that both of these men are these Jedi, ancient warrior monks who devote their lives to the Force. Their lines sound fine, because they have these British and Irish accents. Everything that they say sounds incredibly wise. They also have nice chemistry, and you believe that they are Master and Padawan. I think that that is a lone bright spot inside of this movie.


The score is also fantastic. I mean, John Williams can sometimes really save this franchise. The finale of the film is dominated by two things: the lightsaber fight and what has now been known as "The Duel of the Fates". That song is some of the best music inside of the Star Wars universe. Duel of the Fates may be the highlight of the music, but we get the classical Star Wars themes inside of it, and it works super well. There is a little scene near the end with Yoda and Obi-Wan where you can hear the Imperial March for a couple of seconds, and I absolutely love that.


Speaking of Duel of the Fates, the final lightsaber duel (Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan vs. Darth Maul) is incredible. Ray Park, who portrays Darth Maul, is a martial artist in real life and is able to do all these crazy flips and stunts, so it made the duel very pleasing to watch. The choreography is fantastic. It's very fast and looks like two Jedi and a Sith who are in their prime. This is one of my favorite lightsaber battles in the saga, and is easily the highlight of The Phantom Menace.


You know a movie is bad when I have to compliment the sound design. However, the sound in this film is actually great. I never really notice sound design and sound mixing, but there were a bunch of cool space noises that I thought were probably hard to make. It has some really great sound effects and makes the film more immersive.


There are also a couple of cool lines that I really like. One of them is the quote at the beginning of the review, and there is one subtle foreshadowing line that I love. Mostly Jedi philosophies and stuff that I thought added some nice stuff to a movie that is not full of nice things.


I also think that that the setup for the future of the saga and how they lead into the original trilogy is great. You can see Palpatine manipulating the senate and you see the darkness inside of Anakin. This movie may not be good, but it sets Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith up for success.


Lastly, the visuals themselves are actually good for 1999. They would look bad if this movie came out today, but this was twenty years ago, so they look good. They aren't super distracting in most parts, and it looks fine during the final battle.


Negative Aspects


Phantom Menace was a disappointment to most fans, and it is not a very good movie. Let's start with the basics: Besides McGregor and Neeson, the acting is god awful. Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker is overly childish and delivers every single line as though it's some kind of major proclamation. Natalie Portman, who is an Oscar-winning actress, is completely wooden throughout the movie. Her face does not show any sign of emotion until the final scene of the movie. My Alexa can act better than she does in this movie. And Keira Knightley is just as horrible. As the fake Queen Amidala, she basically angrily declares all her lines in the same exact voice. Her facial expression also doesn't change at all. The acting is downright terrible, and this movie could've been better if it was good.


And, of course, Jar Jar Binks is the worst character in cinematic history. I don't know what George Lucas was thinking or what Qui-Gon was thinking when he saved this idiot's life, but Jar Jar is the most annoying pest and is absolutely horrible. He doesn't provide much to the story, because he's played for laughs. The only thing is those laughs don't come. Every scene he talks in, you just roll your eyes. He was a bad, bad, bad idea.


The pacing is also really off. Sometimes we get into these highly important and exciting scenes, then the next scene is Qui-Gon cleaning Anakin's cut. I also really don't like the way that the final fight is edited. There are, like, four battles going on at once; the lightsaber duel, the shootout in the rest of the throne room, the battle with the Gungans, and the space battle. You are really only interested in the lightsaber fight, but it cuts through every two minutes to another one of those battles. They basically tried to replicate what happens at the end of Return of the Jedi, but it does not work in Phantom Menace.


The visuals may be good, but they are way overused. The previously mentioned Gungan battle at the end is essentially a cartoon, because everything is CGI. George Lucas had this new technology that he obviously wanted to use in the prequels, and he did, but it is really too much. Star Wars is supposed to look a little bit grimy and dirty, but the CGI makes it look too clean.


The writing in this movie is horrific. One of the first lines in the film is when this random guy says "Our communications disruption can only mean one thing-invasion.". When you step back and look at it in context, it makes literally no sense. And this film is full of these ridiculous assumptions made by the characters. It is also full of talks about politics and the senate and the treaty and........sorry, I dozed off even writing about it.


Most of the characters in this film are pretty bad. We already touched on Jar Jar, but everyone else is underdeveloped. We get the most information about Anakin, but the info we get is horrible. The midi-chlorians? Come on, George! The Force is supposed to be mysterious, we don't want answers to it. No one else gets backstory at all, so we just get these characters at surface level. On that note, the relationship between Anakin and Padme is strange. They have more of a mother-son relationship in this, but they are going to be husband and wife in the next movies. I think that this movie wouldn't have suffered as much if Anakin was a little bit older. He's nine in this, and it would've been better if he was maybe fourteen or fifteen.


Finally, I absolutely hate that all the important things happened by accident. In the finale, Jar Jar has his big moment where he blows up a ton of the droids that the Gungans are fighting against, but he does it because he's this stupid, clumsy idiot. He accidentally grabs on to something, but doesn't realize that it opens up. When it opens up, a bunch of these bombs hit the droids and destroy them. Right after that, we go to Anakin flying his spaceship to the Trade Federation's reactor. He lands and begins shooting at droids, but accidentally presses a button that sends two ion blasts and destroys the reactor core, blowing up everything and saving everyone. This means that the movie has no payoff, and it exposes the terrible writing.


Final Score


The Phantom Menace is a wild miscalculation by George Lucas, but it has just enough good stuff to save it from a Moldy rating.


I will give it a Sour rating. Age range is 7+.


SWEET N' SOUR SCALE

Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad)

Moldy (Terrible)


"Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace"


Fun Factor: 5.5/10

Acting: 5/10

Story: 5/10

Characters: 4/10

Quality: 5/10


Directed by George Lucas


Rated PG for sci-fi violence and action and some scary scenes


Released on May 19, 1999


2 hours and 16 minutes


Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn

Natalie Portman as Padme Amidala

Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker

Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi

Keira Knightley as Sabé/Fake Queen Amidala

Ray Park as Darth Maul

Frank Oz as Yoda

Ahmed Best as Jar Jar Binks

Ian McDiarmid as Sheev Palpatine

Hugh Quarshie as Captain Panaka

Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu