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

A great space fantasy, but not the best Star Wars movie. With the end of the Skywalker saga just around the corner with the release of The Rise of Skywalker, I felt there was no better time than now to review all of the Star Wars movies. Starting off is what I believe to be the weakest of all of the entries and the first of the prequel saga, taking place before the original trilogy and showing the fall of Anakin Skywalker. On its surface it’s easy to poke fun at the bad writing and bland performances, but take it as this: Would we be as critical if it weren’t a Star Wars movie? I know that for the majority there’s mostly prequel haters. People that likely grew up watching the original trilogy when it first came out and being older when the prequels were released. I also know that there are some who grew up watching the prequels first and hate them, but there are still those that find enjoyment and love for this trilogy. Myself, I grew up watching The Phantom Menace first. For most of my childhood I would say that I watched the prequels more often than the originals and I believe that boils down to me being a kid and enjoying the more CGI heavy effects and faster pace. Being older now, I’ve found myself liking all of the movies in a mixture of not just one trilogy above the others. With all of that in mind, I want to start off with the chronological start of the Skywalker saga, Episode I- The Phantom Menace.

A great space fantasy adventure. That’s how I would go about describing the feeling I have when watching this movie. So what makes a “great” movie go from being my least favorite in a series? Usually it’s because all of the rest of the movies are just that much better, in this case it’s because it’s just not a great entry into the overall saga. While it does introduce us to Anakin and Obi-Wan and how they met, it still seems to be the one odd duck out. Great child actors are not a dime a dozen and it shows with the very novice performance by Jake Lloyd as Anakin. That’s no knock on him though, because unfortunately for him, he was being directed by a man who is not an actors director. My biggest issue though is with the next two movies following this one skipping ahead to when Anakin is older, than why did we have to have a whole movie with him as a kid. I thought the prequels were supposed to be about the fall of Anakin? Than why is it that our main character in this one is Qui-Gon who dies at the end leaving us with Obi-Wan teaching young Anakin, something that the whole trilogy should’ve been about from the start. Don’t get me wrong, I do love Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon, but I just don’t see the real need or overall impact of him being needed. On top of that, we were even introduced to a villain in Darth Maul, that was killed off too. A villain so cool looking and that had such a presence that they had to resurrect him for the Clone Wars animated series. Why kill him though? The only actual thing in the movie that bugged me the most was Jar-Jar. While my girlfriend likes him very much, I do not. I see him as being an issue with the movie as a whole, his inclusion was just unnecessary.

At this point you’re probably thinking that I’m just hating on this movie, but remember I did say that this was a great space fantasy adventure movie and it still is. There’s a lot in this movie that I really do enjoy and what kept me so excited as a kid to keep watching it over and over. One of the two best things this movie has going for it is 1. The pod race and 2. The lightsaber duels. George Lucas has always been a lover of fast cars and typically has some sort of race or chase scene in all of his movies and this movie provides what I believe to be the best. Going by story sense, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, because why would you put all of your trust in a kid who has never even finished the race before. I understand it’s all about the force and believing in him so sure, I’ll give that a pass. Once you get past that though, the race just makes you not care about the sense it makes. The sound design alone for the race is incredible and so unique that there still isn’t anything out there to match it. Especially that sound Sebulba’s pod makes as he’s catching up to Anakin. I can never forget that sound. The camera work too just takes you right inside the race. It doesn’t cut away too much, but instead lets you ride out the race with the character. If the pod race isn’t enough to redeem this movie a little bit for those who hate it, then maybe the lightsaber duels will. It presents two duels with Darth Maul. The first is against only Qui-Gon and gives us our first look at the villain and our first lightsaber duel in the sand. The second is at the end with Maul vs. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. With the now famous and one of the best pieces of music from the whole series Duel of the Fates playing during this fight, this marks one of the best moments in all of the series. We get to see a new lightsaber with Maul’s double-bladed saber vs. two Jedi. The fight is exciting and powerful with the death of Qui-Gon giving more meaning to the character of Obi-Wan. It really is a shame that Maul was killed off in this movie. With the skill and fighting style, we could have had more epic fights in the future movies.

I’ve gone into the good and the bad of what to me is the weakest of all of the Star Wars movies. Unlike most people, I do find redeeming qualities to the film overall that make me look back and remember how much I enjoyed it as a kid and those same things are what brings me to re-watching it even now. I feel that it’s the one movie in the saga that had several missed opportunities and took itself too much as a standalone movie in a certain way. If this is your first Star Wars movie you’re watching and you’re not enjoying it…Just remember, the movies just get better from this point forward so give the next few a chance before you jump off. And for those that haven’t seen this movie in a long time, try watching it again. It has many issues and cringe moments, but try to look at it in a different light. Try just sitting back and taking it in as a fun adventure because it does have its moments.

Grade: C

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