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

Greg Says: Amazing special effects, flat story.

Title: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
Rating: 7/10
Date: 12 February 2012
Recommendation: See it in theaters
Helpful: 1 out of 6 found this helpful.


Qui-Gon Jinn is Jedi Knight – a mystical and powerful fighter for the New Republic. His apprentice is young Obi-Wan Kenobi. The Jedi are aligned and imbued with the power of the Force – which is a power that permeates, controls, and is controlled by the wills of the Jedi. Together they are charged with negotiating an agreement between the Trade Federation who have blockaded the small planet of Naboo. Little do they know that the Trade Federation is but an extension of a dark figure who has designs to overthrow the Galactic Republic. But the Jedi are ambushed and they escape to Naboo below where they find that Queen Amidala has been taken captive and is being pressured to sign a treaty against her will.

On Naboo they meet Jar Jar Binks of the Gungan clan. Jar Jar is an amphibious being with a Jamaican accent. Together, they free Queen Amidala and the troupe escape to nearby desert planet of Tatooine. There, they meet a young boy (Anikan Skywalker) who is “strong with the force”. The stage is set and we’re off!

I’ve heard a lot of commotion about this new movie by veteran filmmaker George Lucas (“American Graffitti”, “Red Tails”). So I was excited about what lay before me.

Overall I found the movie to be a sweeping, epic: A confusing tale of incomprehensible political intrigue, shoot-em-up action, and slap-stick comedy. It is full of characters to keep track of with no one character taking center stage. As such it is a tough film to follow. The scenes take place on three planets and at least two star ships.

Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) is played with an even keel and cool that betrays the wisdom and venerability of the character. Neeson strolls through this role effortlessly. He is also supposed to be something of a rebel among the Jedi (who are a pretty contemplative bunch).

Jar Jar Binks is a hapless, clumsy, CGI rendered, Jamaican amphibian who is adopted by Qui-Gon Jinn for reasons I can’t understand. This is quite possible the most annoying character in all of film history. And the way he is played, borders on racist. His behavior is reminiscent of the old Amos and Andy radio and TV Shows of the 1950s.

The young boy Anikan Skywalker is played by cherubic Jake Lloyd. If this kid’s job was to look cute and have no emotions, then he should get an Oscar. He’s pretty much a doll baby with a nice coif. I suspect the actor was selected so as not to steal any scenes from Neeson. Mission accomplished. Even the other children in the movie are incredibly bad actors. I have no idea what the criteria were for choosing these kids – they would have been better as CGI.


The movie plods along with scene after scene of political intrigue. There is a wonderful speeder race that looks like a futuristic Ben Hur remake. And there’s some amazing sword fighting with these things called “Light Sabers.” Those fight scenes are worth waiting for. They hearken back to the days of swashbuckling stories of the 50’s.

The climax is a four-way battle scene on Naboo that seems to be created to appeal to three different audiences. On the ground, the Gungans are fighting a sea of robot warriors. In the sky, fighter pilots are attacking a huge battle station in a scene that makes “Red Tails” look like a cocktail party. In the Queen’s castle, Amidala leads her closes allies to overtake the Trade Federation leaders in a running gun battle. And finally, in the bowels of the castle’s flight deck, Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi are fighting the very scary-looking Sith Lord Darth Maul. Again, never has there been a more thrilling sword fight.

In the air, young Anikan has accidentally taken off in a space fighter and blown up the battle station. A more impossible sequence of accidents could not possibly have been imagined and it strains the limits of the willing suspension of disbelief. This again seems to be aimed at the kiddies in the audience.

At the end of the day (and at the end of this 3-hour film) it is best not to think too hard about what is going on here. “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace in 3D” is a classic serial action film. The reasons for the action are of no consequence. What is important is the action itself. The characters are put in positions of desperation that require acts of heroism that excite and thrill the audience. Just like the old serials of the 1950’s. They just don’t make them like that anymore. And maybe there is a reason for that.

I can’t really recommend this movie based on its story. I recommend that you see it for the spectacle. Don’t try to make sense of it. Just let it wash over you and enjoy the ride. So for a flimsy yet complicated story with the most amazing action scenes you’ll ever see, I recommend you see it in theaters.