Tuesday, February 14, 2012

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

Theatrical Poster
Two Jedis uncover a threat to peace in the universe.

When Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) are sent to negotiate with the Trade Federation over a blockade of the planet Naboo, they realise that it is nothing more than a cover for an invasion.

They rush back to Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) to warn her, picking up a Gungan Jar-Jar Binks on the way. The Queen decides to go and ask the Republic Senate for help, but when their ship is attacked, they are forced to land on a neutral planet called Tattooine where they meet a slave boy called Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd).

Qui-Gon sees potential in Anakin and bets for his freedom, but they must also be wary of Darth Maul - a Sith Lord dispatched to capture the Queen.

I must confess I have a soft spot for Episode I in my heart. I was only 10-years-old when it was released and was swept up in the craze of merchandise that was released for the first of the original series' three prequels. I had mugs, LEGO, and clothes dedicated to Yoda and co. and so, when the 3D version was announced for cinema release, I immediately decided that it would be a good idea to drag along my girlfriend - on Valentine's weekend - to go and watch it.

Looking back it amuses me on my naivety. There is nothing really wrong with Episode I - with the exception of Jar Jar Binks' irritating voice - and it is a charming introduction to the series. The problem is that it seems like a test ground for the final couple of films.

Introducing Anakin was certainly the highest priority and it was a nice touch to add as many faces as possible to those that would appear in later films. The throwaway face of Darth Maul brought fear into me back at the original release, but twelve years on it just makes me chuckle.

The big thing that Episode I did show was that fighting with lightsabers can improve with technological advances - and even better in 3D. Pod racing is some of my favourite action from the entire series, and this would probably have been a real nightmare for anyone trying to create this in the 1970's. Sometimes, its good to embrace technology, even if the story struggles to match the original.

Clearly then, Episode I is not the best Star Wars film, but I still love it.


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