mdtinney's Movie Review of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

Rating of

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

Not as good as the original 3.
mdtinney - wrote on 08/11/09

In light of the completion of the Star Wars saga with Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is probably due for a re-evaluation. While by no means anywhere near as good as the original trilogy, neither is it really that bad a film. After all, it's still Star Wars! The one overwhelming criticism of Episode I is the presence of one Jar Jar Binks. A computer generated amphibian with possibly the most irritating and child-like character and almost unintelligible voice in the history of cinema, with the possible exception of Chris Tucker's Ruby Rhod in 'The Fifth Element'. Jar Jar is merely a walking talking marketing device aimed squarely at children. It is he who is the main cause of irritation for the die-hard fans. But also the lack of action, and the slightly over-long podrace also drew complaints, which reeked of a set-up or plug for a computer game (which of course appeared at the time of the film's release). Further, the plot was rather heavy on talking and politic scenes, causing the plot to slightly drag, and Lucas's over-reliance on computer generated scenery at times prove slightly nauseating for the viewer.

However there is much to recommend the film and to appease the critics (although they remain mostly over-looked in order to criticise the film more effectively). Whilst it does feel like a commercial, the pod race is still an adrenaline-fuelled and exciting race scene. The lightsaber battle scenes are outstanding, in particular the final scene where Darth Maul fights both Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan with a double-ended lightsaber. Indeed, some have called this lightsaber duel the best of all six films. The choral music which accompanies this battle, Duel of the Fates, is possibly the most iconic piece of film music since Indiana Jones or even the original Star Wars films themselves. And baddie Darth Maul himself is also probably the coolest-looking movie villain since Darth Vader.

Also, as a beginning to the prequels for the Star Wars original trilogy, there are a few lovely teases of what is to come to tie the series together – including one for the fanatics with an appearance of a young Greedo. The plot adequately covers Anakin's origin story, but there are possibly not quite enough seeds sown for Anakin's future fall from grace, and in Episode II the transformation thus seems far too steep. However, re-watching the film after seeing the following two prequels does shed more light on character motivations and the like. In particular, in light of Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine's machinations and manipulations in Episode I have become even more obvious and intriguing. There is also a brief but pointed first meeting of Palpatine and Anakin at the film's conclusion.

Leaving aside the irritant Jar Jar Binks, the acting is largely very good. Liam Neeson is serene and regal as Jedi Master Qui Gon Jinn, and Natalie Portman does a terrific job in the dual role of Queen Amidala and the handmaiden Padmé (though the former is shared to some extent with Keira Knightley). Ewan McGregor, while competent as a young Obi-Wan Kenobi, does not really make the role his own, and seems unsure of his identity within the role. Instead he tries to mimic a young Alec Guinness, but this unfortunately makes his performance rather weak. Ray Park, while having little to do acting-wise, is superb in the fight scenes, and is instrumental in making the film's climactic lightsaber duel one of the best of the entire franchise. Overall the film is nowhere near as bad as many fans claim it to be. However it is still probably by far the weakest of the six films, and as an introduction to Star Wars for new fans they would be far better served by watching the original 1977 classic. But the fault lies primarily in the character Jar Jar Binks. While the overlong pod race feels like a commercial for the video game it is still visually impressive throughout, and the lightsaber battle is certainly worthy of the first Star Wars film in over 15 years. And with George Lucas directing, the magical feel of Star Wars is certainly present in the fights and space battles, and the story is a good and involving one, if maybe slightly over-elaborate, but this is perhaps needed in order to begin to tie all the films together.

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