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

As a film critic, I’ve realized that, despite being an industry built on self-expression, there are things we best not admit. Among them is saying that you’ve never seen (or worse, didn’t enjoy) a movie considered a classic. In this review, I’m airing out such a secret: I haven’t seen any installment of the Star Wars series. But while the recent trend to rerelease old cinema in 3D has been generally lauded, it does have its perks. Because of it, I’ve finally mustered the will to see Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.

First released in 1999, it was (as everyone knows) directed and written by George Lucas. The movie was nominated for Oscars in “Best Visual Effects” and “Best Sound,” as well as a Grammy for “Best Instrumental Composition.” With the recognition came a fair share of criticism, however. The first of a three-part prequel to the original trilogy, it received mixed reviews. While many were in awe of the CGI, many pointed fingers at a lackluster narrative. Most (myself included) have concluded that there just isn’t much of story to tell — a lot of the plot is in a state of limbo. Finally, there’s Jar Jar Binks (voiced by Ahmed Best), the clumsy alien and comedic relief. Fans called the character a sign of “excess commercialization,” while others, like Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal, described him as a racial stereotype. As for me, now that I have the right to weigh in, I think he just wasn’t thought-out properly and is obnoxious because of it.

For those who don’t know, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace starts with an intergalactic trade dispute that disrupts the peaceful world of Naboo. In response, two Jedi Knights — the galaxy’s protectors — Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) are sent to investigate. However, they soon uncover that it’s all a ploy by Viceroy Nute Gunray (Silas Carson) to take over the planet. Confronted by enemy droids, the Jedi escape and head out to warn Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman). They’re eventually led to Tattooine, where they meet a young boy named Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), who Qui-Gon envisions a bright future for. Their efforts are slowed by the efforts of Darth Maul (portrayed by martial artist Ray Park and voiced by Peter Serafinowicz), a black-hearted apprentice of the Sith — the antagonists of the universe.

Since the chemistry between Neeson and McGregor has stayed solid and the effects, having been perfected long since, have stood the test of time, the one thing this rerelease has to offer is the added 3D. It’s no doubt a cash grab, but the technology does add a slight bounce to the frames. Other than that, with the exception of a few seconds during the race sequence on Tattooine, the extra dimension doesn’t amount to anything more but hype.

It’s 2012 and the internet and on-demand services have proven worthy sources for movies. So, the question remains, is it worth the $20 to see Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace in theaters? It’s a matter of a personal preference. Are there fond memories you’d like to revisit? Are you like me, preferring to sit in the cinema and munch on overpriced popcorn? Or are you simply one of the few longing to see Mr. Binks in all his glory?

Critical Movie Critic Rating:
3 Star Rating: Average


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