STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE – Film Review

Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) is a young apprentice Jedi knight under the tutelage of Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson); Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), who will later father Luke Skywalker and become known as Darth Vader, is just a nine-year-old boy. When the Trade Federation cuts off all routes to the planet Naboo, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are assigned to settle the matter.

Star Wars has always been something that I have held very near and dear to my heart for many, many years now. Surprisingly enough though, I didn’t watch all the movies in the franchise when I was young. I had seen the original movies when I was younger, but I never actually watched the prequels until I was in my pre-teens. I genuinely have no idea why that is either since I absolutely loved the original trilogy.

I remember watching the prequels for the first time several years ago and thinking that they were actually fairly good, and I didn’t quite understand why they got so much hate within the Star Wars fan community.

Anyways – 2020 has been a really bad year for basically everybody for countless reasons. Surprisingly enough though, it was actually a great year for films, despite the big-name movies such as No Time To Die and Candyman just to name a few getting delayed to next year. There were plenty of offerings on streaming services this year that were terrific. As a matter of fact, I saw more movies that were released in 2020 than any other year I can remember. I’ve seen something around one-hundred-and-fifty new release films this year, and a lot of them were great.

However, since we are now in December, there really won’t be any more new release movies coming out besides Wonder Woman 1984 and News of the World. To be honest with you, this year feels weird for another reason too – there is no brand new Star Wars movie being released. Yes, we have gotten an excellent second season of Jon Favreau’s spin-off series The Mandalorian, but there has always been something so special to me about seeing a newly released Star Wars story in the theatre opening day with my mom close to Christmas.

We have gotten one Star Wars movie released theatrically for the past five years and so it feels odd to not get one this year. Almost all of them were released around Christmas too, so this Christmas feels lacking in that department. That’s why I took it upon myself to rewatch the entire saga in chronological order starting today with George Lucas’ Episode I – The Phantom Menace.

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

It seems like everybody likes to pick on the prequels, and I can definitely see how some people wouldn’t like this more political and slow-moving chapter in this particular segment of the over-arching Skywalker Saga, but I personally enjoy it. The Phantom Menace is not an amazing movie. It’s not even really a great movie. I’d say it’s just decent, and it most certainly isn’t terrible.

There are plenty of things to deeply appreciate about the first installment of the prequel trilogy. When A New Hope (originally titled simply Star Wars back in 1977) was released, it captured the hearts of audiences all around the world thanks to its riveting story, amazing lightsaber and blaster battles, lovable characters, beautiful world, and more. The original trilogy has a breakneck pace that never lets up. Star Wars movies are usually around two-and-a-half-hours long, but somehow, they never feel that long.

And even though The Phantom Menace is a considerably slower-paced film than any of the original trilogy films, it still feels relentlessly paced. There is always something of interest happening on screen, whether it’s Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi battling droids together, Anakin Skywalker learning about his place in the galaxy or Padmé Amidala’s responsibilities of being Queen of Naboo.

The film does get unfortunately bogged down considerably due to the disappointingly atrocious lines of dialogue scattered throughout. Most of this dialogue is spoken by young Anakin Skywalker, with many of his lines actually making me scoff at how ridiculous they are. It also doesn’t help matters that Jake Lloyd was, to put matters blunt, a really bad choice for the role.

Plus, there’s Jar Jar Binks, who is notorious for being one of the most hated and annoying characters in the history of film. He literally adds nothing to the plot of this movie and he doesn’t add anything to the later movies as well. He is one-hundred-percent a comedic relief character, but the problem is that he is not funny – he’s annoying.

I feel genuinely terrible for actor Ahmed Best though. It’s not his fault that Jar Jar Binks would go down in history as an awful character. He was simply given a role to portray the character, and that’s exactly what he did. Blame bad writing for Jar Jar Binks being a bad character. Don’t blame Ahmed Best. We must separate the character from the actor.

To be honest, I thought a lot of the acting in The Phantom Menace was actually terrific. Liam Neeson is a genuine blast to watch as Qui-Gon Jinn, a wise and quiet Jedi Master who always feels like the one in control of things. But the two best performances in the film have to come from both Natalie Portman as Queen Padmé Amidala and Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Both actors brought their respective characters to life in ways that no other actor could have brought to the role.

They each feel so powerful and captivating in their roles, and I’m so glad that they got to lead an entire trilogy of films. A trilogy of films that were able to do a relatively good job at exploring these characters and making them interesting and likable. The prequels are certainly nowhere near as good and as enthralling as the originals were, but they really aren’t so bad. The Phantom Menace has plenty of fun moments throughout, even if it’s littered with some awful dialogue and a pace that hinders some of the story. And, the film introduced us to Darth Maul, so we should all be thankful for that.

Overall Grade: B

MPAA Rating: PG for sci-fi action/violence

Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ahmed Best, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Ray Park, Kenny Baker, Pernilla August, Frank Oz, Oliver Ford Davies

Directed by: George Lucas

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Release Date: May 19, 1999

Running Time: 136 minutes

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