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

Drew Struzan’s Release Poster – 20th Century Fox

The following is a retro review of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, a George Lucas film.

The first return of Star Wars didn’t go as well as planned. Way back in 1999, George Lucas resurrected the greatest movie franchise of all-time with The Phantom Menace. Politics, fan-service, and a young Vader. This was definitely going to work, right? Wrong. To this day, the end result remains one of the worst examples of prequel films. 

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace follows Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (played by Liam Neeson) and his Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi (played by Ewan McGregor), as they are to negotiate with the Trade Federation on behalf of the Galactic Republic. But when the Jedi are ambushed by battle droids and the planet of Naboo is invaded, we see the Jedi once again battling the infamous Sith – led by Darth Sidious and his apprentice Darth Maul (played by Ray Park, and voiced by Peter Serafinowicz).

The Star Wars-fandom was duped by the prequels, and particularly The Phantom Menace. It is not a good film, even though it may be special for some due to childhood nostalgia. George Lucas did a great job of creating the universe of Star Wars, but his talents as a director and as a writer were brought into question after the prequels were over. The dialogue is stilted and unnatural, the stories aren’t that great, and some would say that he tarnished the reputation of Darth Vader as a villain – though I don’t really think he did.

The performances in The Phantom Menace aren’t good. Liam Neeson, Ian McDiarmid, and Ray Park are probably the standouts here. Ewan McGregor is, over the course of the entire prequel trilogy, probably the best actor, but I’m not a huge fan of him in The Phantom Menace. But you can’t really blame the actors. Every set looks fake, and it’s just a blue screen and actors trying to deliver credible performances from a less-than-stellar script.

Now, I’m not going to be criticizing Jake Lloyd for his performance as young Anakin Skywalker. But I understand why some people dislike the portrayal. It could have been a lot better, but he does about as well as most other actors in the prequel trilogy. Jar-Jar Binks has always been the bigger crime here, and I still don’t get what George Lucas was going for.

It pains me to think about how the actors that voice the Star Wars aliens in The Phantom Menace were directed. People have pointed out that a lot of the voices are racist stereotypes, and I’m not going to argue with that argument. It would have been much better, and much more like Star Wars, to subtitle them and give them their own languages.

It’s easy to tear this film apart, but there are things that I really like about The Phantom Menace. Darth Maul was such a cool and intriguing character. His fate in the film was retconned later, but the fact that they wasted him always annoyed me. But Darth Maul is, by far, the coolest thing about The Phantom Menace. The musical score is also excellent in The Phantom Menace. John Williams hadn’t lost it, and ‘Duel of the Fates’ remains one of the best Star Wars-themes of all-time. That’s the best thing you can say about this film.

5.5 out of 10

– I’m Jeffrey Rex

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