Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

The Beginning of the End in a Galaxy Far, Far Away


Samuel Villagra-Stanton, Film Critic

After the end of the sci-fi trilogy that redefined the genre, fans of the space opera known as Star Wars and its sequels believed it to be the last time they would visit a galaxy far, far away. However, when the announcement of saga creator George Lucas’ return to direct a trilogy that would detail the rise of the infamous Darth Vader debuted, the Star Wars fandom went absolutely ecstatic. 22 years after the release of the 1977 classic (now named Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope), Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace sought to detail the events leading up to the original trilogy, fleshing out Lucas’ universe. On May 19th, 1999, the beginning of a divisive prequel trilogy that would plague the Star Wars fandom came to fruition. This film, without a doubt, revitalized the Star Wars fandom, but was it for the best reasons?

Leading the first film of the prequel trilogy is Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ahmed Best, and the sinister Ian McDiarmid. This talented cast, unfortunately, is bogged by a major use green screen and lack of practical effects throughout this narratively confused film. The plot follows a force-sensitive pair, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his padawan apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), as they seek to escape a sepratist blockade. Upon fleeing the droid army, the pair meet the irksome Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) on the newly introduced planet of Naboo. The trio travel to escort the queen of Naboo, Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) as the droids invade her palace, leading to the group ending up on Tatooine where they meet a young boy named Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd). Anakin is strong in the force, prompting the question to Qui-Gon Jinn and the Jedi council as to whether or not this boy is the prophesied “chosen one”, initiating the beginning of the Skywalker legacy. While our heroes venture through the galaxy, the ancient Sith begin their resurgence, led by Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid) and his inarguably sinister apprentice, Darth Maul (Ray Park).

Narratively, this film seems out of place in the grand scheme of the Star Wars saga, it seems almost unnecessary. Unfortunately this film, though with a talented cast, fails. This is due largely in part to the direction that George Lucas had envisioned for this film, bogged down by awkward dialogue and painfully outdated CGI. This is evident with the infamous Jar Jar Binks, a figure of controversy in not just the Star Wars fandom, but also the film landscape. The actor, Ahmed Best, does the best he can with the script he’s given, but the childish humor and annoyance shines through with Lucas’ writing. Furthermore, the uncomfortable chemistry between Natalie Portman and Jake Lloyd easily makes audiences question the foreshadowed relationship between the two, something feeling rather out of place in a Star Wars film.

Amongst the monotony and awkwardness of Lucas’ script, there are some standouts in this film. One of these standouts is easily John Williams’ masterclass score, evoking a much more ancient and choral presence than the former trilogy. In particular, “Duel of the Fates” has become synonymous with this film. In line with “Duel of the Fates”, the final lightsaber duel has become iconic, truly demonstrating the power of force users, both light and dark, in their prime. Though extremely choreographed, the fight is visually appealing, also prompting great physical and emotional performances from Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor. Overall, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace feels out of place, only linking to its predecessors by Lucas’ negative trademarks (his awkward dialogue and infamous overuse of CGI), but is highlighted by some truly iconic moments and actors (namely Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi). For me, this film is disappointing both as a Star Wars fan and a film critic, earning a 5/10. Do you agree with my review? Comment below and let me know what you think of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Be sure to follow my Star Wars film review series as we near the end of the Skywalker saga with Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker!