Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

While the Trade Federation blockades the planet Naboo, two Jedi’s are dispatched to negotiate a stop to it. The Jedi gain allies and find a boy, who maybe the one to bring balance to the Force while the long dormant Sith want to rise in power again.

Director: George Lucas

Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Ahmed Best

Rating: PG for sci-fi action/violence

Fun Fact: Liam Neeson wanted to be in a Star Wars film so badly that he accepted the role without reading the script.

Do you remember the hype for this movie? I do, and I remember the excitement that I had for it as well. This movie came out when I was ten years old and at that point, I was huge into Star Wars and like everyone else, I was excited that more films were arriving in the saga.

So, what did we get? We got a horribly written film that was very underwhelming. We get cringe worthy dialogue, and long drawn out scenes that go on forever. For a film that has a large child fanbase, we get thrilling scenes of negotiations, senate meetings, and a trade federation looking for people paying taxes. Lots of exposition scenes are filled with people just walking and talking. Now would that be entertaining for kids let alone for adults, a nice political movie. We as an audience don’t care about all of that, we just want to see some action in our Star Wars movies. While I give the movie credit that it runs well, but those boring scenes just make it feel like it goes on forever. That isn’t why we go to see these movies or love them for that matter.

I’m just going to get rid of the elephant in the room about Jar Jar Binks. Everything that has been said about him has been said, but I’ll just give my two cents. He’s only in the film to sell toys and be the comic relief and it’s obvious that it backfired. In fact, most of the characters in this are uninteresting. When you think of Star Wars characters you think of pop culture icons, and while we know some of the characters from the original series, the new ones don’t stand out. You’re not going to remember the trade federation guys, the Gungans, or anyone else for that matter. Jake Lloyd was horrible as Anankin, which is a shame because that’s what the prequel trilogy was supposed to be about. Then again even for a child actor the lines he has to say are not well written. Natalie Portman was just as bad and it’s obvious she hadn’t stepped up her game yet that would make her a great actress in her career. Her performance is so wooden and unemotional.

While the movie looks nice, it goes way overboard in the CGI department. What was great about the original trilogy we got to see what set pieces were build and many scenes were shot on locations. Here everything is behind a blue or green screen and most things don’t seem like they’re there. For example, the droids are all CGI and when a character destroys one of them it doesn’t feel like it’s real and more out of something out of a video game. It just feels lifeless. In a way it looks dated for the times as it looks like a product of the 90’s. It would’ve been better if things were on location and the reliance on the computer was a minimum.

While there is a lot of things that don’t work, there are moments that I highly enjoy. The pod race is a fun scene. It brought something new into the universe that hadn’t been around before. Darth Maul is a great character and while he doesn’t have much screen time, he steals the scenes that he’s in. He is played by stuntman/actor Ray Park and the look on him is memorable. The biggest thing going for him is that he barely has any lines of horrible dialogue. The lightsaber battle at the end is a lot of fun as well. Seeing the double-bladed lightsaber, the first time I felt a rush of excitement. Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson are both good with the material they were given. I liked seeing them on screen together and felt like they had a good chemistry.

Overall, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is the perfect example of something being so hyped up the payoff isn’t there. It isn’t the worst movie made, but it’s not a good Star Wars movie either. I know there are people that enjoy this movie and if you are one of those people, then that’s great. While many people hate it, it’s ok for people to enjoy it as well. There is some good stuff in it that I enjoy so I can relate to those that do enjoy it. I understand why people hate it as well. What we get is a boring political movie that isn’t interesting and what Star Wars isn’t about. Star Wars is about action, adventure, redemption, and a hero’s journey. Unfortunately, The Phantom Menace isn’t that.

Verdict: Middle Ground

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