JT Film Review

4 – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace REVIEW

4/5 stars

Director – George Lucas

Cast – Liam Neesom, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid

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— followed by Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

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star_wars_episode_one_the_phantom_menace_ver1If there ever was a hotly debated, critically divisive movie, THIS is it. Fanboys have a frikin field day over this. And I believe, they do so without reason.

This movie (chronologically) starts off George Lucas’ science fiction, space fantasy series. It chronicles the discovery of a certain person called Anakin Skywalker (aka Darth Vader). The parallel storyline is a war the Trade Federation is waging against the Naboo planet. Anakin and Friends of course, get involved in that as well.

Friends include Qui-Gon Jinn, played by Liam Neesom, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, played by Ewan McGregor. Jar Jar Binks (a character either liked or despised, depending which camp you belong to), a Naboo native, tags along for the movie. Yoda makes an appearance of course, voiced by Frank Oz as usual. Mace Windu makes his first appearance, played by Samuel Jackson.

Now in my opinion, this film is great. Sure the dialogue sucks (it sucks in the original trilogy too). Sure Jar Jar is a bit annoying to some podrace(Ewoks anyone?). Theres lots to hate in both this and the original trilogy. But there is also lots to love. I defy you to call the podrace anything other than exciting and original. The closing dual between Obi, Qui Gon, and Darth Maul is in my opinion the second best fight in the whole series (topped only by Anikan vs. Obi Wan in Episode III). The fights are undeniably better in the Prequel Trilogy. All you have to do is compare Yoda vs. Sidious (Prequel Trilogy, Episode II) to Obi Wan vs. Darth Vader (Original Trilogy, Episode IV.) Prequel wins, no contest.

kenobiThe prequel trilogy has been criticized for its complicated story line. Buswah, I cry. Ridiculous, say I. I’d take a storyline involving political manipulations, trade embargoes, etc. over “Hey, let’s blow up a space station real good.”

As I write this I realize my sympathies are seeping through, and I must admit, I like the Prequel Trilogy. Possibily as much as the Original Trilogy. Sorry. The fights are better (undeniably) the visuals are great (also undeniably) and I’m sorry, Return of the Jedi blew. Random karaoke rock songs, Ewoks beating up highly trained storm troopers, blablabla. Sorry, not my thing.

I realize I’m ranting. Sorry.

OVERALL

Ignore what you’ve heard about the latest Star Wars movies, (this one in particular) and watch them for yourself. If you go in with an open mind, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. And the Darth Maul fight is sweet.

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TRAILER

“Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace” on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia

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April 25, 2009 - Posted by | 4 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Fantasy, Year - 1990-1999 | , , , ,

5 Comments »

  1. I’m going to watch this one again after reading your review.
    I am one of the many who saw this and thought it sucked. What I thought was that there was nothing in it that could interest anyone over about age 6. A 2 hour commercial for the toys.
    I do agree that Return was very dissapointing. The look of the film was cleaned up (the aliens all had a softer, gauzier look than the first two films) and the Ewoks…well…I would’ve poisoned them all. Empire was the best film of the series.
    Also, I wish someone in their reviews would point out how much Lucas borrowed from that Japanese fellow…Kurosawa or whatever his name was…it was a little shameless.
    It’s really all about the hair, y’know. The prequel will never be considered as good as the first three films because of Carrie Fisher’s hair…
    Finally, the first three were better overall because they didn’t try to be something they weren’t. In the prequels, Lucas’ ego gets the best of him. He thinks he can actually write a movie with relevant social commentary (evil empire = George Bush et. al.) and he can’t. It was ponderous. He’s also busy ripping off another superior artist – Frank Herbert’s Dune books (which also got really, and I mean REALLY ponderous). To his credit, he actually wrote the novelization of the first film, and it wasn’t bad…good vocabulary.
    And finally, the prequel was CGI overkill. The last one especially, was shot ENTIRELY on a sound stage and CGI’d into a coma. Hugely self-indulgent, I thought it was a bore (I actually walked out on it in the theatre and watched it at home on dvd later). CGI for the sake of CGI, Lucas lost the fun and romance of the first two films, and didn’t replace those aspects with anything better.
    And I thought the podrace was unbelieveably fast…Force or no Force…
    Oh yeah, and then there’s the fact that LUcas makes this idealistic movie about the evils of greed etc. while shucking to the toy companies for everything he’s worth…

    Comment by brent mosher | October 23, 2010 | Reply

  2. Yes…. this review…..

    This review was written by a fanboy. I am (hopefully) no longer that fanboy. In fact I plan on rewatching the movie and rewriting this review (including quite a few others from the earlier days of my blog). One thing I did with this review (which I have since realized is a ridiculous thing to do) is to write the review having not watched the movie recently. I wrote the review on the memory of having seen the movie a year or so before… not good.

    As for the Kurowsaka homages (thefts, what have you) I would reference that except I have not seen any of his films. To reference the Japanese movies in reference to Star Wars without having seen them would be to just repeat what I have heard regarding the movie, and would be a bit pretentious in the bad way I think.

    I definitely agree with you about both Lucas’ inability to write and his own belief that he can. However I personally think that to look at the first three Star Wars movies too deeply is unwarranted. I don’t believe they are the amazing films that many say they are, merely good solid adventure films. I look at the Star Wars films the same way I look at Errol Flynn’s 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood, fun, populist, economical adventure films that are a good example of that type of film-making at the time they were made. But I am in a minority in that I think.

    I agree that the CGI is used alot, but I don’t know if I agree that it is over-used. It is a tool that can be used, and it was the best way to do those movies. Would you accuse the first three movies of being “model-shot and matte-painted into a coma?”

    Just a few thoughts. I think if I reviewed this movie it might get a 3/5. Maybe at most a 3.5/5. But I will have to rewatch it to properly judge it.

    As always, thanks for your comments!

    Comment by jamesturpin | October 23, 2010 | Reply

  3. So you’re saying you don’t think it all comes down to Carrie Fisher’s hair?

    You may have misunderstood me; I don’t think the original three should be looked at too deeply, and they work because they are what they are, like The Losers. It was the later films that suffered because George thought he could go deep, and it didn’t work. They were too incongrous with the first three. Maybe he took too long between the two sets, maybe he fiddled with his original idea too much, maybe they were just poorly conceptualized to begin with,who knows… I agree they aren’t CULTURE, and only Empire would I call a good “film” – the original Star Wars I would call a great action/romance.

    As to the CGI…the final film (uh…what was it called, Darth Vader’s First Suit Fitting??? No, no , that wasn’t it)
    I watched half of it in the theatre and left. I asked someone later if they thought a lot of the images were blurry, I thought maybe I needed glasses (seriously), but was happy to hear they thought it was blurry, too. You mentioned in your review of the second part of the later films that you found the screen cluttered with stuff, and that’s what I thought, too, about all three of the films. More is not always more. And I wouldn’t say the original films were modelled and matted into a coma (though the Return was, as I said, cleaned up quite a bit…sign of meglomania to come). The exterior Hoth scenes were shot in Norway, Tatoonie was in Tunisia, Ewok Hell in California, the Skiff in the Mojave. Darth Vader’s First Suit Fitting was shot on sound stages in Australia…all of it. And it shows. And who can forget the bear claw that wallops Luke at the beginning of Empire…why you can almost sense the stage hand at the other end getting a kick out of knocking Mark on his ass. Lucas would CGI it now, and it wouldn’t be as good.

    Comment by brent mosher | October 23, 2010 | Reply

    • Ah, I see, and agree.
      (And you’re right, Carrie Fisher’s hair is a work of art in and of itself lol.)

      Comment by jamesturpin | October 25, 2010 | Reply

  4. I watched it again…it still sucks.
    (There are over 3,000 reviews of this film on IMDB!)
    The CGI, especially the outdoor scences – the battlefield scence in particular – is distractingly fake looking. I didn’t care about any of the characters, and I should have at least cared about Obi-Wan, since he is the only familiar character in the movie save the droids. So there’s a big well-choreographed fight scence at the end…did you care…some new villan with a Hallowe’en mask we know nothing about. Anakin’s dialogue is right out of a B-grade kids movie – reference my earlier remark about this film appealing only to six year olds. In the original movie, you cared deeply about Luke right from the beginning – the film had heart – this film does not – it has massive CGEye-candy sets that, beyond the initial “oh wow” moment, do nothing for the story or the characters.
    Well, there’s got to be about a thousand reviews on IMDB that say what I’m saying here…a lifeless drag with a few sparks in it here and there…ridiculous dialogue that prevents the film/characters from achieving any depth, and just a whole cute to the point of obnoxiousness about Anakin that turns it into a kids movie. It should have been better.

    Comment by brent mosher | October 27, 2010 | Reply


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