Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace is an entertaining sci-fi epic and has been bestowed the term “automatic blockbuster” which means big bucks at the box office despite film critic slander. This experience was entertaining and filled with “roller coaster” excitement, but the expectations that hard-core fans envision are hard to achieve because of the huge “hype” surrounding the movie.
Many characters, including the friendly Jar Jar, are digitally produced which presents the new “ground breaking technology” of the film. Jar Jar’s dialogue (voiced by Ahmed Best) was sometimes incomprehensible, but becomes more recognizable and likable in time. However, Jar Jar functions as a faithful “sidekick” to the heroes which is hardly groundbreaking from a character’s point of view.
The storyline begins as the Galactic Republic (the good guys) negotiates with the Federation (soon to be bad guys) to settle trade dispute which reveals a hidden agenda against the planet Naboo by the evil Emperor and his apprentice Darth Maul, a Sith. The movie never explained the Sith origin but implies that this question will be answered in future episodes.
As the Jedi knight Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) help protect Queen Amidala, ruler of Naboo, played by Natalie Portman, they encounter young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd). Once the story gets past a slow-paced beginning the action never stops. The film’s story functions well as it branches from the main storyline of saving the planet Naboo from the Federation to related storylines involving Jar Jar and his people and how the Jedi prophecy involves young Anakin.
Most of the amazing action sequences appeal toward boys more than girls, but, like Princess Leia, Queen Amidala takes decisive action and outthinks her opponents. The Queen carries a lot of sustained emotion in her dialogues and much of the dialogue between the Jedi characters is mostly situational and presents many lessons and philosophies. Liam Neeson plays Qui-Gon Jinn as the fearless hero who defies authority and demands the respect his Jedi Knight status gives him. Besides a couple of odd Schwarzenegger-like quips like “there’s always a bigger fish” his dialogue accurately fits with his character.
R2-D2 and C3P0 make their initial appearances in the Star Wars saga, but have no real function in the movie’s storyline and seem to be placed there because of their significance in the future. Frank Oz returns as the voice of a younger Yoda in puppeteer and digital form.
The extravagant costumes, in particular Queen Amidala’s, and special effects impress, but the picture did not get an Oscar nomination like first Star Wars did. The movie’s subtitle, Phantom Menace seemed unnecessary as the evil Sith of the Federation “revealing themselves to the Jedi” do not have much screen time overall. In a way the film might work against itself because the initial impact of the new sci-fi effects in space (first initiated by the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey) have become too common. This PG-rated film comes recommended (*** out of four stars) for all ages.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler