‘STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE’
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Dark Forces Conspire
Every saga has a beginning!
‘Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace’ is the first movie in the ‘Star Wars’ film saga, although ironically it was the fourth film made in the series. This is the first film in a trilogy of ‘Star Wars’ prequels and was released in 1999. It was written and directed by George Lucas, the creator of ‘Star Wars’.
I had the 2-disc DVD edition of ‘The Phantom Menace’ for Christmas 2005 from my best mate Stephen from school. I was getting into the ‘Star Wars’ film series after watching ‘Episode III – Revenge of the Sith’. It was only fair that I should re-start the ‘Star Wars’ movies by going right back to the beginning.
I was aware of ‘The Phantom Menace’ being promoted at cinemas when I was 10 years old in 1999. But I didn’t take an interest in ‘Star Wars’ back then, so I didn’t see it at the cinema. It was after I saw ‘Star Trek’ in 2004 and enjoyed it that I began to take ‘Star Wars’ seriously and watch the films.
As I said, the first time I saw ‘The Phantom Menace’ on DVD was for Christmas 2005. I have to be honest with you; I really enjoyed ‘The Phantom Menace’ as a film. It wasn’t great, but I enjoyed the action, adventure and spectacle of the movie and was getting into the characters when I watched it.
This was before I found out ‘The Phantom Menace’ was despised by the ‘Star Wars’ fans. This shocked me as I didn’t think it was bad. Although after re-watching the movie and reading/seeing reviews by critics and fans, I’ve been able to understand and appreciate why they dislike it so much.
The film itself does have its problems in terms of the story’s plot and structure as well as in some of the characters and development. Throughout this review, I will be highlighting on what those issues are from my perspective as well as identifying what I think works well in this movie and what I liked.
I can’t stress how much I’d like to take a defence on ‘The Phantom Menace’ as well as identifying the bad stuff. This is because I enjoyed the movie so much when I saw it and it did get me into watching the rest of the ‘Star Wars’ movies and finding out why people rate them so highly as well as so badly.
‘Star Wars’ itself takes place in a galaxy far, far away. In ‘The Phantom Menace’, the story has the planet Naboo under threat from the Trade Federation in the Galactic Republic. A full-scale invasion takes place on the planet and Queen Amidala has to make a hard choice in order to save her people.
Meanwhile, two Jedi knights are sent by the Republic’s leader, the Supreme Chancellor, in order to secure negotiations with the Trade Federation. The negotiations don’t occur as the Jedi knights Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi find themselves attacked and fighting their way through battle droids.
Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan end up getting down onto the planet Naboo and rescuing Queen Amidala. They take her away from the planet Naboo in order to get her to Coruscant to sort out the problem with Senator Palpatine. On the way however, they have to stop on the planet Tatooine for the ship’s repairs.
Liam Neeson stars as Qui-Gon Jinn, a Jedi knight and a mentor for Obi-Wan. I recently heard Liam Neeson’s voice as Aslan in the film version of ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. It was a delight to see him in the flesh after seeing him as a lion in that great Narnia film.
Qui-Gon is a wise Jedi knight who senses something is wrong when the Trade Federation negotiations don’t go to plan. He asks Queen Amidala to trust his instincts when they escape Naboo and head for Coruscant. He also has great faith in the boy called Anakin Skywalker to become a Jedi.
Ewan McGregor stars as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon’s young Jedi apprentice who accompanies him on the mission to the Trade Federation negotiations of Naboo before it goes wrong. Ewan has appeared in so many films and TV productions. The ‘Star Wars’ prequels are his most famous works.
Without giving too much away, Obi-Wan becomes an important character in the ‘Star Wars’ film series. It was interesting to see him as a young Jedi apprentice and to be inexperienced when Qui-Gon takes him under his wing. But Obi-Wan proves himself into taking the trials ahead in his Jedi life.
Natalie Portman stars as Queen Amidala in the movie. Now there is something I have to address here regarding Natalie Portman’s character. I thought she was playing two characters in the movie, including the Queen and the handmaiden Padmé. This is due to my idiotic thinking seeing the movie.
I later discovered that was not the case as the Queen and the handmaiden Padmé were the same character. Padmé as the handmaiden went with Qui-Gon, Jar Jar Binks and R2-D2 when they were on Tatooine to meet Anakin. She apparently had Keira Knightley as Sabé to act as her decoy as Queen.
This confused me when I watched the film as I wasn’t sure when Natalie Portman was the Queen or Padmé in certain scenes. It would’ve been nice if it was explained to the audience that Padmé the handmaiden was actually the Queen when she went with Qui-Gon on Tatooine, but sadly it wasn’t.
This leads me onto talking about Jar Jar Binks, played by Ahmed Best. What can I say about him that hasn’t been said before? Yes! He’s annoying! Jar Jar Binks is alien creature called a Gungan. The Gungans dwell in underwater cities on the planet Naboo, led by Boss Nass, voiced by Brian Blessed.
Jar Jar Binks is a clumsy character who tends to get on people’s nerves, including Qui-Gon himself. I assume he’s meant to be a comic-relief character in the movie, but he comes across as rather embarrassing. He also has a bizarre way of talking as I can remember him saying “How rude!” a lot.
In the movie, Jar Jar Binks accompanies Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan when guiding them to his underwater Gungan city and getting through the planet core to reach the Naboo palace to rescue Queen Amidala. I would have preferred it if he wasn’t so clumsy since his moments tended to be embarrassing.
On Tatooine, when Qui-Gon, Padmé, Jar Jar Binks and R2-D2 visit a market to purchase new parts to repair their ship, they meet a young boy, Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker. Now I don’t know about you, but Anakin reminds me of another character I watched in a show called ‘Power Rangers Turbo’.
That character was Justin, a young boy who becomes a Power Ranger compared to the adult characters as ‘Power Rangers’. The reason why I bring this up is because Anakin is like a kid who walked on the set of ‘Star Wars’, being a huge fan of it and getting a part in the first prequel movie.
Anakin reminded me a lot of Adric from ‘Doctor Who’ who was a young boy genius played by an actor who wanted to be in the show. He also reminded me of that boy from ‘Jingle All The Way’ with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Oh wait a minute! He was that boy from ‘Jingle All The Way’. How uncanny!
In the movie, Anakin takes part in a dangerous Podrace on Tatooine. The Podrace is impressive itself in terms of a visual effects sequence. But I couldn’t help feel that this sequence diverted a lot from the main plot of the film. It also seemed fortunate and lucky for Anakin when he won the Podrace
Despite these issues with Anakin, it turns out that he may be the Chosen One to bring balance to the Force in this galaxy far, far away. These ‘Star Wars’ prequels depict Anakin Skywalker’s journey as he would later become a very important character in the ‘Star Wars’ saga, which I won’t reveal here.
Pernilla August stars as Shmi Skywalker, Anakin’s mom. Shmi seems to be a loving mother who believes that Anakin can help Qui-Gon and the others in getting the parts they need for their ship. Both of them share a close bond. Anakin is upset to leave his mom when he goes off to become a Jedi.
The film also features Ian McDiarmid as Senator Palpatine, whom Queen Amidala meets on Coruscant, a city-sized planet, to discuss the situation with Naboo and the Trade Federation. Palpatine seems to be an open-hearted and kind man, but can he be more than he appears when he becomes Chancellor?
‘The Phantom Menace’ also features the first chronological appearance of Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, a protocol droid built by Anakin. There’s also Kenny Baker as R2-D2, an astromech droid. It was nice when C-3PO and R2-D2 first met each other in the movie and it was funny when R2 said C-3PO was ‘naked’.
There’s also Yoda, voiced by Frank Oz, who makes his first chronological appearance in the ‘Star Wars’ series. Yoda is a centuries-old leader of the Jedi Council, who is a little alien and looks like a puppet from ‘The Muppets’. I couldn’t help think of Frank Oz’s Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy in Yoda. 😀
There’s also Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu, another high-ranking member of the Jedi Council. In the film, Mace Windu and Yoda oppose to the training of Anakin Skywalker to become a Jedi. But Qui-Gon decides to take Anakin under his wing to the disapproval of Mace, Yoda and everyone else.
The film’s cast also includes Oliver Ford Davies as Sio Bibble and Hugh Quarshie (who later appeared in the ‘Doctor Who’ story ‘Daleks in Manhattan’/’Evolution of the Daleks’) as Captain Panaka. There’s also Terence Stamp (who was General Zod in the original ‘Superman’ movies) as Chancellor Valorum.
Ray Park stars as Darth Maul (voiced by Peter Serafinowicz), a Sith Lord who looks devil-like in appearance. Darth Maul is an athletic fighter and wields a double-bladed red lightsaber when he fights Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan at the film’s climax. Maul is also the apprentice of the evil Darth Sidious.
What can I say about the lightsaber fight between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan against Darth Maul in the film? It’s fantastic! The lightsaber fight is athletic and energetic compared to the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy lightsaber fights. It’s probably the best thing about this ‘Star Wars’ movie so despised by fans.
Just to point out, there are two sides of the Force which is a power used in all Jedi and Sith knights in this ‘Star Wars’ galaxy. The Jedi are on the Light Side of the Force whereas the Sith are on the Dark Side. The Sith are more vicious when using the Force in their lightsaber battles against the Jedi Knights.
The music by John Williams is impressive. As well as bringing back his ‘Star Wars’ theme music for the prequels, he delivers an action-packed operatic musical score for the lightsaber fight between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Darth Maul called ‘Duel of the Fates’, making it a very memorable piece of music.
The DVD special features are as follows. On Disc 1, there’s an audio commentary with director/writer George Lucas, producer Rick McCallum, film editor Ben Burtt, animation director Rob Coleman, visual effects supervisor John Knoll, visual effects supervisor Dennis Murren and visual effects supervisor Scott Squires.
On Disc 2, there are trailers and TV spots for ‘The Phantom Menace’. These include a teaser trailer and a theatrical trailer for the film as well as a ‘Duel of the Fates’ music video. There are seven TV spots for ‘The Phantom Menace’ film including five ‘Tone Poems’ and two ‘Adventure’ TV spots. There’s a ‘Deleted Scenes and Documentaries’ section on Disc 2. These include the ‘Deleted Scenes Documentary’ and the deleted scenes themselves which you can watch on their own, accompanied with two Easter Eggs on there. There’s also ‘The Beginning’ Making Episode I’ documentary to enjoy. There is also a ‘Featurettes, Web Documentaries and Star Wars.Com’ section. The ‘Web Documentaries’ is a twelve-part series of behind-the-scenes video documentaries on ‘The Phantom Menace’. The ‘Featurettes’ are five short video featurettes that chronicle the making of the movie. And there’s an ‘Animatics and Still Galleries’ section. This includes an ‘Introduction to Animatics’, a ‘Podrace Lap One Animatics’ and a ‘Submarine Sequence Animatics’. There’s also ‘Exclusive Production Photos’, a ‘Print Campaign’, ‘Posters’ and ‘Star Wars Starfighter: The Making of a Game’.
So is ‘Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace’ as bad a film as people make it out to be? Well…to be honest, I don’t think so. I enjoyed it when I first saw it on DVD in 2005 and I enjoyed it again when I saw it on DVD in 2017. It’s impressive in terms of the visuals and the world it inhabits.
The film does have its problems in terms of the storytelling and character development. Many fans would disregard this movie as not being on par with the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy and that’s understandable. But for me being introduced to ‘Star Wars’, this isn’t a bad film as people make out.
I know that makes me less a ‘Star Wars’ fan as I seem to make out to be, but I found some merit in the movie and on the whole it was very entertaining. The lightsaber fights are pretty awesome and it was interesting to see how the ‘Star Wars’ saga began, especially with Anakin Skywalker’s journey.
Who knows where the ‘Star Wars’ saga will go next? Will Anakin become a Jedi and be the Chosen One?
‘Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace’ rating – 8/10
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