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

GEORGE LUCAS

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB

USA, 1999.  Lucasfilm.  Screenplay by George Lucas. Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by , .  Academy Awards 1999Las Vegas Film Critics Awards 1999.  

Solid good fun from George Lucas’ fertile imagination that precedes the events in his 1977 blockbuster Star Wars.  In this episode, the story suffers from a strong emphasis on computer graphic animation: where the first three entries in the film series (which has practically become a religion for some) succeed because of their excellent character development and very tangible emotional quality, The Phantom Menace has a rather hackneyed plot and no truly sympathetic characters. Resisting the size of the project is not easy, though, and the film’s stars , Natalie Portman and Liam Neeson do exceptionally well, as does  in a supporting role. The plot involves Queen Amidalah (Portman) doing her best to ease difficult trade relations between unfriendly planets, and Jedi Knights (McGregor, Neeson) who after discovering a force-blessed young man named Anakin Skywalker (aka Darth Vader) are compelled to escort him safely back to the Jedi counsel for closer examination. ‘s performance as little Anakin is terribly weak (even for a child actor) and all the obvious racial stereotypes that Lucas indulges himself in (the shady vehicle salesman has an Italian mafia accent, and the duplicitous dignitaries from the outer reaches of the galaxy are distinctly Japanese) mar the clean enjoyment this film has potentially to offer. None of these myriad of criticisms, however, can compare to the sham of Jar-Jar Binks, a character who dresses like Lenny Kravitz and has an accent that can only make one think of Prissy from Gone With The Wind.  My favourite part of the film, at least for historical importance, is the part where C-3PO first introduces himself to R2D2: watching the start of my very favourite gay romance in all of film history almost leaves my eyes misty. This is the first film George Lucas has directed since the original Star Wars film in 1977.

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