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Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

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Roger Davidson

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

June 27, 1999

Well, it appears that George Lucas' Star Wars saga sweeps the nation again and captures the minds of a new generation. Have I been caught up in it? Yes, I most certainly have. No, I didn't stand in line for over a month or dress up as my favorite character. I wasn't THAT excited. But now that I have seen it, what is my reaction? Like most people, I think that the new episode in the saga is a mixed bag.

I did enjoy it highly for it's action, excitement, scores of alien beings and fantastics visuals. And yes, the lightsaber duel. The Character development does indeed leave something to be desired, but here are three reasons why it didn't bother me:

  1. I don't recall Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill giving great method performances in the previous trilogy, so why expect it of Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor? They all play their parts exactly as written. And they do it well I think. Particularly McGregor who captures the esscence of a young Alec Guinness.

  2. Their characters are being set up for what (we hope) to be the better two movies of the prequel trilogy. So it is only to assume that the character development will occur in the later episodes; when the courtship of Anakin and Queen Amidala (Portman) brings about the birth of the twins Leia and Luke; when the falling out occurs between Obi-Wan and Anakin; And when The Emperor turns Anakin into his apprentice, Darth Vader.

  3. Jar-Jar Binks, almost universally reviled as the worst character in the entire series, is not really that bad. Yes, the accent is a little grating. But his movements are astonishing, and his comic slap-shtick is perfect for the little ones. Hell, I even chuckled a bit and heard some adults in the theater chuckle as well.

In short, I'm still amazed by George Lucas' imaginative visuals and epic mythos. The way he borrowed and integrated stories from both film and literature to create his saga, and in turn make it his own. The referances to Arthurian Legend (Obi-Wan Being Merlin and Anakin/Luke being Arthur); Saturday Matinee serials; the Bible (in Menace There are obvious similarities between jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and young Anakin (Jake Lloyd) and John the Baptist and Jesus.); And Kurosawa (look at The Seven Samurai and The Hidden Fortress to see where Lucas got part of his inspiration for the Jedi). And of course, the all-powerful force, which seems to be a close relative to Zen Bhuddism.

All of these do add up to a triumph of visuals over substance, and I see why some were disappointed. But this movie was clearly made to capture and captivate the child inside us, and I was most certainly not unhappy with the result. The pod race and the double-bladed lightsaber of Darth Maul are enough to make me feel as giddy as a kid of 10. Each movie in the series is different in it's own way and are judged on their own merits, rather than the saga as a whole. Judge this on it's own merits and try to forget the other chapters. You will be better off for it. To paraphrase e.e. Cummings, "It's a hell of a universe. Let's go!"

My Rating = Four Stars

For a completely different take on this movie, see Vivian Rose's review of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.
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