After the release of Return of the Jedi, Lucas decided to put the series on hold, having felt “burned out”. While he wasn’t interested in future sequels, he became interested in a prequel trilogy after developing the original trilogy’s backstory. With Star Wars‘ resurgence in popularity in the 1990s, Lucas started developing the prequels, focusing on Darth Vader’s origin story. Lucas also became fascinated with digital effects technology at the time, feeling that this would him help realize his vision. Lucas’ effects studio, Industrial Light & Magic, made strides with digital effects in The Abyss, Terminator 2, and Jurassic Park. Originally, Ron Howard, Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Spielberg were offered the director’s chair, but they all felt he should direct. To build up hype, the original trilogy was re-released to theaters in 1997, billed as “special editions”. Finally, 16 years later, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was released.
A dispute is brewing between the Trade Federation and the Galactic Republic that could potentially lead to war. Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) are sent as ambassadors to negotiate. Unfortunately, things go south and they end up on the planet Naboo, where they meet Jar-Jar Binks (Ahmed Best). With his help, they make it to the capital, rescue Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman), and escape from the planet. Their ship ends up needing repairs, so they land on Tatooine, where they meet young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd). Qui-Gon notices the Force is strong with the boy, so he offers to train him to become a Jedi. Meanwhile, a mysterious warrior named Darth Maul (Ray Park) has been sent to eliminate the Jedi and capture the Queen. With the galaxy’s fate at stake, will our heroes succeed and what will become of Anakin?
Since this is an internet review of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, it’d be easy to trash this. While I do have some legitimate complaints I’m sure to have been talked about endlessly, I’ll try to be positive. Firstly, many of the big set pieces work as a fun spectacle, particularly in the last third of the film. Easily the highlight of the film is the three-way lightsaber fight with Quin-Gon and Obi-Wan taking on Darth Maul. In terms of world-building, there are some interesting concepts and it’s cool to see this universe before the original trilogy. While many of the digital effects have not aged well, they’re still impressive for the time and even revolutionary. Plus, John Williams’ score for this is among some of his best work, especially the “Duel of the Fates” piece. Sadly, these few positives can’t save this otherwise dull movie.
Before I get into some of my other issues, my biggest issue with this is that it’s just boring. There are so many dialogue-heavy scenes that go on and on for what seems like forever that are very uninteresting. Acting-wise, except for Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Ray Park, and a few others, most of it isn’t very good. Yes, Jake Lloyd and Ahmed Best are terrible, but they’re not the only ones delivering subpar performances. Actors like Natalie Portman and Samuel L. Jackson, who are normally good in other films, are pretty wooden here. Granted, much of that could be blamed on the weak material and the film is geared more towards children. However, I think even children would find this movie uninteresting given the slow pacing and especially the more political scenes. Overall, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace isn’t awful, but it’s not that great either.
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