Film Review Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace (1999)


Let’s get this out of the way first: I personally enjoy the original trilogy over the prequels, but I’m not a full-on snob about it. I recognize the merits of the prequels because they thematically add to the saga as a whole. I love Star Wars; I’ve grown up watching it and reading the books.

Episode I introduces Anakin Skywalker, who we first met as Darth Vader later on in the saga. I always have seen this saga as the story of Darth Vader. It’s a great story of redemption. However, before you can be redeemed you have to fall. These prequels help to support the story of that fall, beginning with the innocent Anakin we meet here.

Here’s my breakdown.

Pros:

  • The special effects we’ve always wanted from the Star Wars trilogy, particularly Gunga city, the planet core, and the epic battle droid vs. Gungan battle.
  • This leads me to the awesome Jedi fights–all of them.
    • We finally get to see the Jedi as they should be—in their prime. When we meet them in the Original Trilogy, we have the inimitable Sir Alec Guinness and a guy in a clunky, cumbersome suit. Not the greatest, most engaging fight—they fought with their words instead, which works, but it’s nice to have this visual satisfaction. You cannot deny that there is some great choreography (that only gets better throughout the prequel trilogy) at work here, I’m mostly referring to the final duel.
  • Nice to return to the beginning with Tatooine
  • Again, one of the big features of the original trilogy is the story of two friends—the droids. It’s good to see their first meeting, a familiar aspect in the midst of all this newness.
  • Darth Maul—a bad baddie if I’ve ever seen one. He’s so menacing because he only has 2 lines and he’s so obscured with his facial tattoos that he’s even more frightening.
  • While I’ll concede that some of the buildup to it could border on the cheesy (the farting camel animal…but that involves Jar-Jar, which I’ve covered), the race itself was a lot of fun! It establishes the strength of Anakin’s Jedi powers moreso than any vague “midi-chlorian” count ever really could. Also, we see Jabba again. C’mon. That’s a good time!
  • I enjoy the scenes on Coruscant. The whole Republic idea became real for me during these scenes, particularly in the Senate Chamber. Before this, all we’d seen were Rebels and Stormtroopers, now we see the origins of this. Much like the story of Anakin, I actually think it’s important to see where the fight comes from, the political origins of it.
  • As always, the music is excellent. I believe that music makes or breaks a film. John Williams is one of the undisputed masters of such a feat. “Duel of the Fates,” which plays during the Darth Maul/Obi-Wan/Qui-Gon lightsaber battle, has been one of my favorites since the movie came out. I bought the soundtrack just because of that track.

Cons:

  • Jar-Jar Binks—while I enjoyed him in 8th grade, I certainly recognize the near absurdity of him now. There’s comic relief (the droids), and then there’s Jar-Jar Binks (ex-squeeze me!). 
  • While I’m all for Christ-figures in literature, the midi-chlorian conception of Anakin is a bit much. I actually don’t mind the midi-cholorian concept overall, I just think it’s not established well enough to bolster our conceit regarding their significance. They’re not really introduced and they’re left vague. They’re fleshed out more in the Expanded Universe, but not enough here.
  • Anakin does a lot for the cute factor in this movie, but there are some unfortunately poor line deliveries that detract a bit, especially in conjunction with the other kids during the repair scene before the race (and the poorly chosen young Greedo…), it didn’t word too well for me other than to establish his innocence and naiveté.
  • This one is partially my fault, but Samuel L. Jackson’s too, because he’s in every movie ever made. The most recent film I saw him in was Pulp Fiction. I know he doesn’t have Gerry curls in this, but when he’s interrogating Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Anakin I want him to start shouting about Marcellus Wallace a lot.
  • I’m a sucker for space battles, but they’ve got to be done well. The Return of the Jedi dogfight is great, but Episode I’s doesn’t really live up to my expectations. That will come with the opening scene of Revenge of the Sith and even the Geonosis battle in Attack of the Clones is excellent, but that’s not as much a space battle.
  • The unfortunately done Yoda muppet—he looks more fake than the original, which I loved! It gets better when they decided to go CG, I think.
  • One of the lines I’ve always had a problem with was after Anakin blew up the Droid Control Ship. He says, “Now this is pod-racing.” I’ve always thought, no, it’s not. This is flying in space!

All that being said, I really enjoy Episode I. It sets up the saga well, and I stand by George Lucas for (most of) his decisions.

You should check out the movie Fanboys as well. It’s pretty good, and a Star Wars fans’ goldmine!

See my reviews of Episodes II, III, IV, V & VI

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6 thoughts on “Film Review Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace (1999)

  1. Pingback: Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith « Elementary, My Dear Reader

  2. Pingback: Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back « Elementary, My Dear Reader

  3. Pingback: Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones « Elementary, My Dear Reader

  4. Pingback: Star Wars, Episode VI: Return of the Jedi « Elementary, My Dear Reader

  5. Let me get this out of the way first: I hate ping-backs!

    I agree that I am not a full-on snob about the prequels though I don’t think I would ever rewatch any of them again…except maybe the last one.

    I agree that the saga is about Darth Vader and I do think Episode One had a wicked cool poster.

    I do think that the fights were awesome!

    I love R2-D2 and C3P0 although I seriously loved R2-D2!!! He was on my key chain for a long time.

    I also love Jabba and Salacious Crumb.

    I hated Jar Jar Binks until I saw you do an impression of him walking which may be my favorite impression that Ty Ty does…ever!

    John Williams is awesome…duh.

    I believe I already shared with you my contempt and confusion for the pod race scene. WHOA!!!

    Here’s the deal, when you have Samuel L. Jackson in a movie. You get Samuel L. Jackson in a movie. He ain’t playin and he will kill these MF*N Snakes off this MF*N Plane!

    BD

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