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Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4


*Also starring: Natalie Portman, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Ray Park, Ahmed Best



Review by AlexI
3½ stars out of 4

After 20 years of hope and pleading, George Lucas finely directs a prequel in the Star Wars-saga. Visually mesmerizing it is also extremely flawed as it displays the magnificence of modern special effects and the simplicity of modern storytelling.

As imminent conflict brews between the powerful Trade Federation and the peaceful planet of Naboo, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) travel to Naboo to warn the Queen (Natalie Portman) of the galactic fallout which is to follow. Eventually, Naboo is invaded forcing the Jedis to evacuate the planet with the Queen and her court. They travel to the desert planet of Tatooine where they meet a slave boy called Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd (I) ) who is evidently one with the Force. They enlist his help in fighting the war, while the Jedis confront one of the Dark Jedis behind the invasion, Darth Maul, while his master Darth Sidious (who by the way is the corrupted, but respectable senator of Naboo) continues to lead the invasion as a mysterious "phantom" behind the scenes.

Because of the high expectations the film may be a disappointment to the die-hard-Star-Wars-fans.

The major difference between "Episode 1" and "Episode IV" is that the first film had a fresh plot and was as original as entertaining. This plot was supported by special effects. In "Episode 1" it is vice versa. Here the special effects are supported by a story. At times the film looks more like a demonstration of visual effects (as the unnecessary pod-race).

Besides the thin story there were other things that troubled me. One of those things is acting. Lucas has assembled a solid cast, including Liam Neeson (Qui-Gon Jin) , Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi) and Natalie Portman as Queen Amidala. It is only Neeson and Portman that give above average performances. At the same time, acting is something you can't demand of "Episode 1", because of the computer graphics. Actors are mostly talking to themselves at the set, and the script is likewise nothing to boast of.

Another thing is that there are almost none comic relieves in "Episode 1". In the previous Star Wars-episodes you had the energetic Harrison Ford , whose witty and humorous commentaries are very missed. You also had Yoda, R2-D2, C3PO in many episodic scenes. In "Episode 1" you have only Jar Jar; a charecter that is meant to be funny, but isn't. The rest of the characters mentioned above, are present, but absolutely not developed as the time is instead granted on beautiful visual effects.

But there are not only negative things that I have to say about "Episode 1". Lucas' extraordinary taste and visual imagination transports us from the Royal Palace of Naboo to the glittering underwater city and then to Coruscant, the political heart of the Republic and the headquarters of both the Galactic Senate and the Jedi Council. Visually the film is above stunning. It's a feast. The revolutionary visual- and sound effects are certainly the greatest ever. Equally magnificent are Trisha Biggar's costume design, Gavin Bocquet's production design and makeup by Paul Engelen and Mark Coulier .

As far as common adventure and science fiction films go, "Episode 1" is one of the best. But as the controversial prequel to the classic cult-film, it is a bit disappointing, because of its simplicity.

Lucas has probably figured out that everyone saw his previous Star Wars episodes. He has certainly flattered himself. The evolution of Anakin Skywalker from an innocent boy to the servant of darkness is completely unknown to the new audience. Yoda, R2-D2 and C3PO are total strangers. If he has chosen to direct a film mostly to please the old fans of Star Wars, he has taken the subject very lightly.

After creating a revolutionary film that received a cult status all around the world, George Lucas has a lot to live up to. And if he has chosen to continue, he can't just serve emptiness on a beautiful plate and expect the audiences to throw themselves over it.

Offcourse everything depends on the point of view of every individual. If you have never seen the previous Star Wars-films, you will probably think that "Episode 1" is marvelous. If you have, you will probably share my opinion. The best thing you can do is not expect too much.

See this film simply to experience the unbelievable special effects and try to relive the magic of the first film as it came out more than 20 years ago.

Review by Alex Ioshpe < ioshpe@online.no> Story summary by Matthew McQuillan {mjment@hotmail.com}

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