Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

A lot of hatred is spewed at this film. Like, a lot. And frankly, I don’t think this film deserves it.

Yes, Jar-Jar Binks is worthy of strangulation, and the film is far too political for its own good. Actually, this is supposed to be the story of Anakin Skywalker, but I really think The Phantom Menace is about Emperor Palpatine. Still, for all its narrative missteps, this is not a bad film at all.

The fourth released film in the series, yet touted as the beginning of the narrative, The Phantom Menace begs to be a necessary chapter in the saga. It’s ultimately about a boy named Anakin who is discovered on a desert planet. He just might be the one to bring balance to “The Force,” presumably vanquishing evil after his Jedi training. When this storyline is followed, the film is cohesive and essential, and honestly, I don’t mind watching it.

The problem is that’s not the main part of the film, not really. Everything else revolves around political alliances and upheavals. A senator named Palpatine is manipulating his way into power, and pretty much everyone knows who he becomes. Writer, director, and series creator George Lucas both knows this and seems to have forgotten it. He plays the Palpatine narrative like we’ve simply never seen it, and so, like with a lot of the film, I’m left wondering what was really necessary about this chapter at all.

Okay, so maybe this review is getting slightly negative. While I’m at it, the “state-of-the-art” special effects are mostly dated by now, nothing compared to the practical effects of the originals. A lot of the acting is heavy-handed, and I think the film might be a little racist.

But there are some good aspects. Many, even. For every Jar-Jar, there is a Darth Maul. For every verbal senate battle, there is a significantly more riveting lightsaber fight. George Lucas took great care to realize his galaxy to the best of his ability at the time, and some moments stand out in the now seven-film saga. Plus, you have Liam Neeson explaining religion to you in a way that’s not obnoxious.

This film has moments of true brilliance, even if they’re outnumbered by the film’s considerable flaws. Still, I do think I’d prefer having some greatness to none whatsoever.

2.5 Green

The first six Star Wars films are airing on TNT and TBS this week. Check your local listings.

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2 thoughts on “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

  1. Pingback: Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) | The Stoplight

  2. Pingback: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005) | The Stoplight

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