Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)   3/53/53/53/53/5


Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)

Star Wars: The Beginning

I admit, when news came out in the 90s that George Lucas was going to give us 3 more "Star Wars" movies I was excited, not just because of the idea of new episodes but because that meant the original trilogy was shown on the big screen again, allowing me to watch them how they were intended. Now as to the new movies and in particular "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" I like many was disappointed by what I watched, not only did it lack so many key elements which made the original trilogy such a huge part of my childhood but it was so drenched in CGI that it left a bad taste in my mouth.

With the evil Trade Federation planning to take over the peaceful planet of Naboo, Jedi warrior Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) head to Naboo to warn young Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) of the conflict which is about to follow. As Naboo is invaded the Jedi depart with the Queen and her maid travelling with them to the planet of Tatooine where in need of parts meet Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), a slave boy who show signs of being strong with the force. With young Anakin joining them on their travels it all leads to a confrontation with Darth Maul (Ray Park) and his master Darth Sidious who is pulling the strings from behind the scenes.

Jake Lloyd and Natalie Portman in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)

In fear that this review is going to turn into me listing all the things I dislike about "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" I should say that even though I was disappointed I was still sort of entertained. Some of the action sequences especially the pod race and the final light sabre battle involving Darth Maul were exciting and some of the casting, especially Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn worked perfectly. But I imagine making "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" was much harder than we realise because of trying to not only appeal to those who grew up with Luke, Han and Leia but also those being introduced to the world of "Star Wars" for the first time and who were more use to visual effect driven movies rather than story telling.

So now on to my dislikes well lets talk about those visual effects and a lesson which should be learned, just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. I am sorry but I am not a fan of movies where so much of it is obviously CGI, I like to see the creativity and artistry of sets, costumes and make up which was all part of the reason why the original trilogy in their original untampered with format were so good. Instead with "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" you watch and so much of it looks fake and it sort of looks cheap especially the final battle scenes involving the Gungans. Maybe younger audiences enjoyed all of this CGI work but it was not for me.

That leads me to the next point because at times "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" feels like it is more interested in delivering CGI special effects rather than delivering story. Now some may say that this was the introductory chapter which basically introduced us to Obi-Wan, Anakin and other significant characters and didn't need a big story. But for me it did because for the first three quarters it was just a showcase of CGI with little story going on other than introducing us to Anakin.

Talking of Anakin, Jake Lloyd did a good job of playing him but I found it incredibly creepy the scenes between Lloyd and Natalie Portman as Queen Amidala, basically it just felt we had a too young Anakin. As for Portman, well when she appears as Padmé it works but when she is playing Queen Amidala it is too stiff and doesn't feel right. But thankfully Liam Neeson and Hugh Quarshie are good in their roles and Ewan McGregor grew on me as Obi-Wan by the time things ended.

And then there is the humour, now in the original we had great chemistry going on between Luke, Han and Leia which gave us fun and we also had the bickering between R2-D2 and C-3PO. This time well we are lacking a trio to really warm to, a trio who we want to act like and laugh at and instead we get Jar Jar Binks, probably an amusing character for 5 year olds but wrong for anyone else. The whole humour side of "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" just feels off and never really part of the movie, just some jokes thrown in because they were expected.

What this all boils down to is that "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" is a disappointment because it lacks pretty much everything which made the original trilogy classics. And to be honest it often ends up feeling like a showcase for CGI rather than a movie with a story.


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