Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace

George Lucas said that he wanted to wait until computers caught up with his imagination before starting the next series of Star Wars movies. Apparently, the time has come upon us, and the behometh known as The Phantom Menace is here, leaving tons of toys, posters, clothes, and video games in its wake. What more can be said about the movie? Everyone and their mom knows about it.

Phantom is the first of a new trilogy which chronologically takes place before the original. In it, we get to see the fall of the Old Republic and the transformation of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. In Episode I, we are introduced to Qui Jinn (Liam Neeson), Jedi Master, and his apprentice, a young Obi Wan Kenobi (Ewan MacGregor). They are sent to intervene in a trade dispute between the Trade Federation and the planet Naboo. Naboo is inhabited both by people ruled by Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) and a lesser intelligent species called the Gungan. When the negotiations don't turn out as planned, Jinn, Kenobi, and Amidala escape to the planet Naboo, where they meet young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd).

The special effects are amazing. The much hated Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) is the first completely digital character to be used in a movie. Much of the movie was done digitally, and Lucas plans to use the blue screen even more in the two sequels. The battle scenes in space are chock full of spaceships flying and shooting all over the place, and the pod race is absolutely breathtaking. Computer generated vistas of cities, ships, and planets look amazingly real. The story, however, leaves a little more to be desired. The overall narrative is mediocre to weak, and the characters seem to rush around hapharzardly from adventure to adventure before the inevitable showdown with new villain Darth Maul. There really is no development of many of the characters, they almost seem like one dimensional pieces of cardboard.

Looking at this movie in the context of the other Star Wars movies is much more enjoyable. You know that Anakin will become Vader, and that he will one day kill Kenobi. You know what he will marry Amidala and they will become the parents of Luke and Leia. Some of you know that Amidala's advisor, Senator Palpatine, is the same man that later becomes the Emperor. We know the outcome, we just don't know how things came to be. As a part of a larger whole, this isn't bad. Alone as a movie, it doesn't really do much at all. Episode 1 doesn't really give much away, it just serves to set things up. Very few people can get away with this, and Lucas is one of them.

Probably the best thing about Star Wars is that general audiences will finally get their first look at Natalie Portman (who right now, is the only person signed on for all 3 prequels) and Ewan MacGregor. Portman has been acting both on screen and on Broadway for quite some time. And doing well. She has managed to choose a remarkable range of roles, and seems right at place in polar opposite movies like Mars Attacks and Beautiful Girls. Bad boy MacGregor is well known among independent movie lovers, and has steadily been appearing in a string of small movies. There isn't a much bigger way to introduce yourself to the world at large. Samuel Jackson is introduced as Mace Windu, another Jedi Master, but he doesn't really have much of a role in this movie. Supposedly, that is going to chance with the next movie, due out in a couple years.

Haro rates it: Not bad.
2 hours, 13 minutes, Rated PG for some mild violence.

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