Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Phantom Menace
"The dialogue is carved in marble, as if the power of speech never progressed beyond Ronald Reagan and the art of the autocue."

As a sci-fi action picture, The George Lucas Travelling Show is littered with weird and wondrous creatures. They don't advance the story, which is incomprehensible, but give the backroom boys at Industrial Light & Magic a chance to experiment.

This being Episode 1, it concerns The Boy Who Will Be Vader, otherwise known as Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), who lives as a slave with his mum on a desert star. The local galactic capitalist federation is besieging the planet Naboo. Jedi lord, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) is sent, with his apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), to sort things out. What they don't know is that The Neimodians, the federation's attack force, are being controlled by a hologram who wants to ethnically cleanse the place. Qui-Gon tells the Queen of Naboo (Natalie Portman) to leave before robot stick soldiers reduce her to dust. They escape in a sleek space craft, only to land on the desert star for repairs.

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Anakin is a self-possessed American kid, who likes racing go-karty machines. He has C-3PO in his bedroom, workable but unfinished. R2-D2 is part of Qui-Gon's party. The pair meet and obviously a mechanical friendship is about to be formed (double sigh!). Meanwhile, the plot has stuck in sand. The Queen decides to go home. The Jedis, The Boy, R2-D2 and a handful of loyal bit players accompany her. What follows is war and a hand-to-hand light sabre duel between The Hologram's hitman and the Samurai priests.

Live thesps have little to do, except look surprised, since they are working with empty space half the time, to be filled later with ILM's cast of thousands, including comic relief, Jar Jar Binks - an odd-looking man/woman, with an animal's head, Barbra Streisand lips, spaniel ears and voice like a strangled bat.

Neeson has the authority to hold it together. He plays straight, without a hint of parody, which leaves McGregor in limbo. He follows at a respectable distance, saying "Yes, master", in a posh English accent. When he does act, he imitates the scenery. Lloyd is allowed to play in a studio full of big toys. He's fearless in that All American cute kid kind of way. He doesn't know yet, but when Anakin grows up he'll be Darth Vader. At the moment he is thoughtful and kind to his mother, gutsy and competitive and not scared when flying a space fighter on his own. He does alright. Takes your mind off Jar Jar, if nothing else.

As a sci-fi action picture, The Phantom Menace enjoys creating weird animals and half-baked civilisations, while the plot dies somewhere in the desert. Also, the dialogue is carved in marble, as if the power of speech never progressed beyond Ronald Reagan and the art of the autocue. This is not simply a sci-fi action picture, of course. It is The Beginning Of The Story: and one that reputedly took $115 million to make. Those who worship at the Temple of Star, fear not. Return Of The Jedi looks like bad children's TV, by comparison. Others will mourn the absence of Han Solo.

The effects, the weapons, the beam-me-up-Obi-Wan-Kenobi, the creatures, the Queen's dresses, the space crafts, the half minute appearance of Terence Stamp are entertaining. What it means, why it is, where it comes from need never be mentioned. In fact, better not.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Lucas's Star Wars origins story returns to the big screen in 3D.
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Read more Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace reviews:

Scott Macdonald ***
Stephen Carty *1/2

Director: George Lucas

Writer: George Lucas

Starring: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Pernilla August, Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid, Oliver Ford Davies, Ray Park, Hugh Quarshie, Ahmed Best, Terence Stamp, Samuel L Jackson, Peter Serafinowicz

Year: 1999

Runtime: 126 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US


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