Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Updated June 26, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
Director/Writer:George Lucas
Twentieth Century Fox; PG; 131 minutes
Cast:Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Pernilla August, Terence Stamp, Samuel L. Jackson

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace hit theaters across North America on May 19 after perhaps the biggest media hype in the history of film. Fans of the original Star Wars trilogy have been waiting 16 years (since Return of the Jedi was released in 1983) to find out more about what happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The near hysteria has been a double-edged light saber for Star Wars creator George Lucas. Excitement is welcomed but the incredibly high expectations may not be.

The story begins with two Jedi Knights on a diplomatic mission to negotiate a blockade of the planet Naboo. Needless to say, things get complicated. In the course of the film we meet a young Anakin Skywalker, the boy who eventually fathers Luke and Leia and becomes Darth Vader.

Does it live up to all the hype? Citizen Kane couldn't live up to this hype. While there might not be a clamor for the American Film Institute to revise their list of the top 100 films of the century, Phantom Menace does not disappoint. For fans of the trilogy it will fall somewhere between good and great.

The Phantom Menace is many things. It is not, however, dialogue-driven. The scenery and effects are breathtaking and the action sequences, most notably the pod race, are spectacular. Lucas realizes that a large part of his audience will be kids and Phantom Menace certainly targets adolescents. One new kid-friendly character, Jar Jar Binks, is entirely computer animated and complete with a funny (read: annoying if you're over 16) accent.

Ewan McGregor, as a young Obi-Wan Kenobi, is fine but doesn't get the chance to really shine. Hopefully we'll see that in Episode II. Liam Neeson, who plays Obi-Wan's somber and staid Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn, does a convincing job of portraying the noble image of the Jedi Knight.

One request would have been more Darth Maul. Finally a Star Wars villain who doesn't move like a lumbering Frankenstein. Maul is played by martial artist Ray Park and while the role doesn't require much more than menacing glares, sword fighting and spinning kicks, it's kind of nice knowing it's not a stunt double performing the action.

Most of the favorites are here again including Yoda, R2-D2, C-3PO and Jabba the Hutt. The movie should satisfy the vast majority of Star Wars fans if for one reason alone: Phantom Menace has the best saber fight of any Star Wars film.

All in all, The Phantom Menace is an imperfect bit of moviemaking but a powerful feast for the senses. See it on the big screen. Do not wait for the video. And in all the excitement don't forget to take the kids.

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