The first film in the timeline of Star Wars is not character driven, nor is the plot overly that important to the franchise’s mythos. What The Phantom Menace does is sets the stage and introduce the characters for the real story that starts ten years later.
Is the film important? For particular fans, no, for others, absolutely not. The story could probably be a decent 25 minute short to serve as a prelude to the story of Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the dark side. On the plus side, we wouldn’t be as well versed on inter-galactic trade law as we are now if it wasn’t for this film.
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace opens on a young Obi-Wan Kenobi and his master, Qui-Gon Jinn on a mission to settle a trade dispute between the Trade Federation and Naboo. The negotiations never occur, the Trade Federation establish a blockade and invade the planet. The Jedi along with the Queen of Naboo flee to the capital planet of Courscant to convince the senate to intervene. Sounds pretty straight forward right? Except along the way the meet a boy who ((SPOILERS)) becomes Darth Vader.
The star of this movie is difficult to pick out as the film has no main character. Liam Neeson plays a great Jedi Knight as Qui-Gon Jinn respects the Jedi Order but also challenges the establishment. Ewan McGregor has little screen time as Obi-Wan Kenobi but The Phantom Menace is a nice little origin story for him. Ian McDiarmid, also did a decent job as Senator come Chancellor, Palpatine. (Funny how the only stand outs in this film were established actors). For almost everyone else it shows that while they may have been good actors, the major fall back came from the direction (or lack there of) from George Lucas. Something you will find with the prequel films is that Lucas seemed to be focused on the over-all story and the look of the films rather than the actors living in the world. As a result, character development and dialogue come up short.
On that point though, the look of the film is fantastic, and for 1999 the use of CGI was bold but they pulled it off. The prequel films are a triumph of visual effects and had Lucas focused on this and left the directing to some of his peers, the general consensus around the films would be much more positive. This does bring me to probably one of the most amazing sequences 7-year-old me could ever have hoped to experience, the battle between the two Jedi and Darth Maul, the platforms, the amazing score by John Williams, the Lightsabers, the flips and the lens flares. What an amazing piece of cinema. Now of course I look back at it and it is very choreographed to the point where it seems more like a dance than if they were actually trying to kill/injure each other. However, it is still a pretty cool scene.
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace is a below average film with a confused plot and very little direction. It left a sour taste in a lot of people’s mouths before the turn of the century and it still does. I don’t bash the film as much as a wide range of fans do but it’s not a film I enjoy.
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace: Below Average