For almost twenty years, the world has waited for a follow-up to the highly successful Star Wars trilogy. For almost twenty years, the knowledge that there would be another trilogy loomed in the minds of people, and the time span between then and now has created has created a feeling of extreme awe towards The Phantom Menace. The long-range time span and the incredibly awesome trailers have created the biggest hype for any movie, a hype too large for a movie to fulfill. But even with a sense of disappointment, The Phantom Menace is still an exciting and visually-effective film.
I went into the theater, on May 20th (yes, I waited an extra day), expecting a movie not quite as large as the trailers made it seem. The early critics who so selfishly published early reviews bombed it, but that didn't scare me a bit. Fellow classmates who saw it on opening day said it was awesome, which strengthened my optimism. And when I saw it in a two-thirds filled theater with a half-heartedly enthusiastic film (they were more favorable after the ending, though), I was left a little disappointed, but mainly enthralled.
First off: screw those stupid critics who released their stupid reviews early. They're worthless. The first, original Star Wars was bombed, and didn't have any more plot than The Phantom Menace supposedly lacked. In the original, Luke and Han and the rest set out to save the Princess, destroy the Deathstar, and stop the spread of evil. They succeed. In The Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn (slightly more complicated names) set out to save the Princess, destroy the bad Federation occupation, and stop the spread of evil. They succeed, or so they think: One of the final scenes shows a powerful image of Palpatine (the future Emperor) rising in power as Yoda and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) discuss whether Darth Maul (Ray Park) was the apprentice or the master. It was one of the greatest foreshadowings ever.
Unfortunately, we already know what happens. Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) will end up having relations with the older and beautiful Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman), who gives birth to Luke and Leia, and then turns into Darth Vader. The fate of Amidala is yet to be foreseen, but based on a discussion in Return of the Jedi, and the lack of her character in the current trilogy, she probably dies. The rest of them - the Jedi Council, Obi-Wan, Yoda - will all die. The next to movies are going to go from grim to grimmer.
Still, there had to be a beginning, and The Phantom Menace delivers it. The dialogue might not be the greatest, and the characters might not be as enthralling as those in the latter trilogy, but it still is an exciting and awesome science-fiction blockbuster. While the current trilogy's heart may blow The Phantom Menace out of the water, the visual effects of the new movie do the same to the trilogy. With technology twenty years older than its predecessors (or sequels), the visual effects are stunningly hypnotic, to say the least. Everything in the movie seems to be computerized, and quickly it becomes hard to tell real from fake. Everything in the movie - the backgrounds and especially the computerized characters - is moving constantly, even to the point of excess. Jar-Jar Binks and his species are an example of over-doing it. Not only is Jar-Jar annoyingly stupid (his voice does not help), he sways awkwardly, as does the rest of his race. He is a horrible replacement for Chewbacca, if he was supposed to be. The technology that exists around his race is bad as well. Contrary to the current trilogy, the graphics used to portray Jar-Jar's race seems cartoony and childish; they erect a globe-like force field around their troops and they throw glowing spheres at the enemy bad guys. Puh-lease! I'd much prefer see something slightly more realistic (even for Star Wars) like guns, or stones, as used by the more flamboyant Ewoks.
The good thing about The Phantom Menace is that it starts off with a small action scene, then recesses to talking, and picks up the pace as it moves along. Too many movies do the opposite, and by the end one is left with a feeling that they got the best at the beginning. This is definitely not the case with The Phantom Menace. While it seems to wander a little too slowly in the first half of the movie, progressing the characters and storyline (invasion), the second half hits with a bang. Anakin's race is pointless to the story but fun to watch, and then the Jedi Knights and the Queen try to retake the Palace, and then comes the space battles and the incredible lightsabre fight. The assault on the Palace is standard and fun Star Wars - shooting back and forth and occasionally hitting one another - but the lightsaber battle is incredible. Darth Maul, with his double-ended lightsaber, is amazing, and the choreography is stunning.
Still, a lot of the action seemed to be accidental, especially the the small-time victories; Jar-Jar clumsily bobbles a series of bombs and destroys some big robots, gets a dead robot stuck on his leg, jumps on it, and begins shooting other robots, and so on. Up in the space battle that Anakin accidentally joins, he skids into the docking bay of the big space station, shoots random shots, and accidentally hits the shield generators, which triggers the whole thing to explode. Unlike the direct mission of Episodes 4 and 6, where Luke or Lando attempt to destroy the Death Star, there didn't seem to be any purposeful attacks other than to divert attention from the Palace.
Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was exciting and visually stunning (can we say "Academy Award"?), but did not captivate me the way I wanted to - the first time. The second time, I loved it. Jar-Jar wasn't as annoying, and the movie seemed more action packed than before. Just like Star Wars (the original), it is an introduction to characters and atmosphere, setting the mood for the two following sequels (which will be much grimmer, thankfully). The Phantom Menace obviously will be an instant blockbuster, and may take its place alongside the Star Wars trilogy.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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