The Phantom Menace

Rated: PG
Runtime: 2 Hours and 15 Minutes

Reviewer: Dale
Grade: C

Just as some movies improve on repeat viewings, some also get worse. Such is the case with "The Phantom Menace". It is amazing that something that was such a fun ride in the theater can prove such a disappointment in one's own home.

Without the benefit of THX and a humungous screen, the film's shortcomings become astoundingly obvious. I watched the film in total disbelief. This is it? This is the thing that was so fun I went to it four times? No, this can't be it. Unfortunately, this IS it and, boy, after sixteen years... what a letdown.

The first thing that becomes painfully noticeable is the dreadful dialogue. Good dialogue crackles, adequate dialogue flows naturally, the lines in "The Phantom Menace" clunk. You can actually hear them hitting the floor. The sentences often do not even seem to connect with the one that came before it. "Are you completely brainless?" "I spec!" "The ability to speak does not make one intelligent." Ouch! This sample should be included in a how-not-to-write-dialogue book. It's the sort of thing that would be in a first draft but would be improved on later revisions. However, it's in this finished movie.

Another problem: character motivation. There is none. Would Anakin's mother go from being dead set against her son being in a pod race to telling everyone that he was their only hope within a minute? I don't think so. And what about Darth Maul? Why is he evil? No reason is given. He simply is. If George had taken the time to back Maul's malice up with a motivation, he may have been a better adversary. At first, I thought the fact that you had no idea how
Darth Maul became Darth Maul or why he was doing what he was doing added an impenetrable sense of menace to things. Now, I just think that it demonstrates the laziness of the plot.

Characters from the old trilogy show up, and I was happy to see them there, but aside from R2D2 saving the Queen's ship, they are given nothing to do. They are just there to remind us of the old movies, which were much, much better. They are like the cameo appearances in a "Cannonball Run" film, and they serve the plot even less.

Another problem was that George did not seem worried about acting quality when casting the movie. Yes, the old movies were not on a par with Citizen Kane where performance was concerned, but there were no actors as howlingly awful as Jake Lloyd (being a kid is no excuse, I can't act either, but at least I don't try to) or the man who plays the Queen's chief of Security. You can actually see him watching for his cues.

The special effects are good, but the mouths of the creatures do not match to what they are saying as well as the old puppets did. And, speaking of the characters, everyone was so eager to hate Jar Jar that they forgot all about the Trade Federation. Their mock-Oriental patois is actually offensive. Not only that, but it is lame. It has no real purpose and it does nothing for the plot.

The pod race is still an impressive spectacle, the Galactic Senate is still amazing, and the scenes with the Jedi Council are the best of the movie. Watto is a wonderful little slimeball, I still like him, and he has the best lines. Liam Neeson does a fine job, considering the limits of his lines, and Ewan McGregor actually makes you believe that he IS a young incarnation of Alec Guinness. And the light saber fights are still a lot of fun. Although you can't help but think that it would have been nice to see them kill something other than battle droids. That gets kinda old.

Once the novelty of seeing a new Star Wars movie wears off, what are we left with?
Ultimately, we are left with a cold, heartless mess. There are moments of that old magic still fluttering around in here somewhere, but they are few and far between. I liked it at first but, ultimately, I was left feeling as though I were swindled by a very good con man.

Reviewer: Erik
Grade: A-

"Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" is a solid entry to the Star Wars saga, perhaps not on par with the superior "The Empire Strikes Back", but pretty close to "Return Of The Jedi." This movie rightfully deserves a place next to the original three.

I'll address some things I liked and disliked, and I'll address some of the criticisms the movie has received.


The pod race scene, which can be viewed repeatedly and enjoyed each and every time; The lightsaber battles, especially the final battle between sith and jedi; The special effects, to no surprise; The imperial Senate, especially the floating pods; The undersea gungan world; The jedi council on Coruscant. There are more, but I'll address them later.


Jar-Jar Binks; The "announcers" at the pod race (I didn't mind this so much upon viewing a 2nd time).


"The storyline is weak" -- This plot is more complex than any other Star Wars plot to date, involving a trade embargo and how the queen seeks help via an imperial senate. How people can call this a "Disney" movie is beyond me.

"The performances are weak" -- Stop expecting Oscar-caliber performances in these movies. Mark Hamill's performances, especially in "A New Hope", are laughably bad, but these movies still rank high on my list. All the performances are acceptable for this kind of movie.

"There's no character development" -- Once again, go back to "A New Hope" and see how much development there is. Chewbacca is the most underdeveloped character of all-time, yet you hear no complaints about him.

"The final Anakin scene is hokey" -- Don't forget...this is the kid who turns into the almighty Darth Vader. He's SUPPOSED to be special.

"Midi-chlorions ruined the concept of a jedi" -- Pay close attention and you'll see that Midi-chlorions indicate the level of jedi skills within a person. It doesn't necessarily MAKE you a jedi.

"The characters are racially stereotyped" -- In the course of the Star Wars movies, we've seen monsters in all sorts of hues, and heard monsters with all sorts of voices. That's the wonderful thing about the Star Wars universe...there's room for everyone.

"Not enough Darth Maul" -- Admittedly, I agree with this one. However, his character serves his purpose, which was to open the door for a brand new apprentice.

"Jar-Jar ruined the movie" -- I hated Jar-Jar. Absolutely loathed Jar-Jar. Would like to see him face a firing squad of sandtroopers. But, he's there for the kids, for comic relief. Get over it. I wasn't happy with it, either. But it would take a lot to ruin this movie for me. And Jar-Jar wasn't enough.

Finally, I'd like to add that this movie MUST be viewed as setting the stage for the next two.
If you want "Citizen Kane", go rent it. This movie serves its purpose, which is to get things going and get enough mystery and intrigue set up to carry us through the next two.

This movie is more than deserving of the Star Wars name. Can't wait for Episode II.