Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999) – George Lucas


Remember, right back before the Phantom Menace came out, when anticipation was reaching a fever pitch? I miss that.

Sure we had the wonderful build up to The Force Awakens, but the gap between films was no where near as long as it had been for those of us who had been invested in that galaxy far, far away since 1977.

It was a rush.

Suddenly, Star Wars was EVERYWHERE again. Soon, with films coming out every year, it will seem common place, no matter how good they are, but in 1999, this was amazing!

I had secured tickets at my local theatre in Kingston for the first showings on opening day, no camping out required, and had lucked into tickets for a midnight showing in Toronto on the eve of release. We’d piled into the car, I had borrowed a tv/vcr combo that could be plugged into the car’s lighter, and for most of the trip up, we played all the clips, trailers and Duel of the Fates music video over and over, building our excitement higher and higher.

Jump cut to the drive home…

I knew there were things in the film I had liked, but overall, I was completely underwhelmed. This? This was what I had been waiting for since 1983? This plot-hole riddled, poorly written but glossy piece of filmmaking?

Were the original films this bad? Had I lied to myself all these years?

Happily, I hadn’t lied, the consensus was something shared with fans worldwide, we all felt let down.

Even when I watched the film a couple of more times on release date, I was a little shaken. There were things I loved, the lightsaber duel was amazing, but Darth Maul (Ray Park) was dispatched too quickly, and there went a wicked looking villain, one I thought would menace us through the trilogy (he does get some nice moments in the Clone Wars though).


The designs! All sleek, new, beautiful and undeniably Star Wars, but it was all digital, and lacked any reality like the Original Trilogy. The Jedi! But Jar Jar (Ahmed Best). The music (John Williams!)! But the moronic Battle Droids (and Jar Jar). Oh, and let’s not forget the midichlorians.

And here I am 17 years later, writing about it for the blog as I continue through the Sci-Fi Chronicles. Written, produced and directed by George Lucas (that way there was no one to tell him no, or call him on a bad idea), The Phantom Menace takes us back to see the Star Wars Universe before the rebels, before the Empire, before Vader.

Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) find themselves helping a young Queen, Amidala (Natalie Portman), rescuing a young slave boy, with an unusual connection to the Force, and a destiny, Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) and fighting off a Sith threat in the form of Darth Maul and his mysterious master…

The film seems to forget the series pedigree, which paid homage to the serials of yesteryear, and consequently loses its sense of fun. The film is at its best when the action sequences are going full bore (except the cutaways to Jar Jar and Anakin causing havoc).

And despite the film’s beauty, it’s just too digital. Practical effects were key to the original series, and consequently, the glossy digital look of the prequel trilogy seems to make it all look a little too new. It doesn’t have the lived in feel of the original series.

I am by no means an apologist for the prequels, there are moments in all three that I quite like, and they also, for the most part, get stronger as the trilogy progresses, but they don’t quite compare to the Original Trilogy (but that could be nostalgia combined with the fact that I have lived with those movies for decades).

And sure, the scripts may not be the best, the acting may be stilted (but you try to say some of those lines believably), but they can entertain, and actually make a nice tie in with the Original Trilogy, especially after you’ve read Mike Klimo’s Ring Theory. Check it out here, it’s a lengthy but extremely well-written paper.

Of course, watching this for the blog, just means I get to enjoy all the Star Wars movies all over again… you can never watch just one!







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