Classic Film Review: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

Directed by: George Lucas

Starring: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Pernilla August, Frank Oz

 

16 years after the last Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi, was released, George Lucas brought the franchise back out of its retirement with a prequel trilogy. For a franchise with a following as big as Star Wars it’s of no surprise that he done this, as a film like this brilliantly draws in those who loves the films of the 1980’s and those who are new to the series, altogether aiding its near-$1billion sales upon its release. The Phantom Menace sees Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson, Schindler’s List) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, Attack of the Clones) aid Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman, Mars Attacks) as she hopes to secure a peaceful end to a large-scale interplanetary trade dispute. This film follows two paths; the trade disputes and court battles as well as the adventures of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan soon gather a team of their own as they make their way and fend off any resistance they encounter, which includes the mysterious return of a Sith.

I will honest up-front: I’ve never been a fan of the Star Wars franchise. I remember watching one or two as a kid, and, while I can’t remember exactly what happened in the films I watched, I didn’t take to them. However, I also felt similarly to Star Trek, and after watching Into Darkness when that was released I am now a huge fan, so I was hoping to do the same with Star Wars.

Firstly, the visuals of this film are impressive; the characters seem to blend seamlessly with the actors, and the music behind it is amazing. I was initially slightly puzzled upon seeing it credited as a space ‘opera’, but after listening to the music throughout it’s easy to see why: it’s beautiful. It was nominated for its sound, too, in two categories at the Academy Awards (Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing); nominations well-earned despite it not winning. Normally I’m not a fan of background music while people are having an important conversation but I felt in this film it really helped, and I believe if you take away the dialogue and the sound effects, the music alone could probably tell the story on its own.

Unfortunately for my introduction to Star Wars, that’s where the positives end.

Whoever decided that Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) was funny deserves to never work in film again. I’ve watched 123 films since I started my film reviewing site back in June and never have I been so annoyed at a character on screen in any of them. Look, I get the need to have a comedic character, especially considering the political negotiations and otherwise dark tone of the film, but nothing he did was funny, or interesting, or necessary, or clever. He was just slipping and making silly noises. I promised not to break my brother-in-law’s Star Wars DVD box-set, but if Jar Jar returns in Attack of the Clones that promise, much like the DVD’s, may go out the window!

And, despite it being an action film, with the word ‘wars’ in the title, that grossed roughly $1billion, I was bored. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan’s adventure felt so formulaic and structured; they just jump from Location A to Location B to Location C to Location D without a nice structure leading them on, it just felt like ‘Oh, you need to go here’ then ‘now we need to go there’ before ‘we must now go here’.

And despite its cast of decent names, the writing they were given and the acting they subsequently produced, were both pretty poor. (More so the writing). There’s a couple of nice little moments with the script where there’s clear foreshadowing (I know who Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) becomes but I don’t know how he interacts with the rest of the characters) but besides those it’s pretty appalling. It feels so scripted throughout and at no point do they stop to explain things; much like the journeying from one place to another that is pretty much all the script allows for: one character telling another where they need to be.

And my final main point of complaining about this film is the silly transitions: every time it transitioned from one scene to another it used what is basically Windows Movie Maker options: but I have since been informed that this is a staple of the series, so I’ll try not to complain about it again.

The ending of the film is a bit complicated with so much going on, but the final fight is very well choreographed. It has no emotional investement, because the characters involved are quite bland, but the choreography is well done, especially the final moment between Obi-Wan and Darth Maul (Ray Park), which, despite the lack of anger that Obi-Wan should be feeling, it’s visually impressive. Music and visuals aside, though, there’s not a lot I can say about this film that’s positive.

Not the greatest introduction to the Star Wars franchise: it’s certainly the biggest con in the pros and cons of watching the franchise in Episode Order (as I am), but surely considering the size of the Star Wars franchise it can only get better. Surely.

 

Plot: * *

Acting: * *

Writing: * *

Presentation: * * *

Overall Rating: * * ¼

 

Other films in the Star Wars series:

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