Star WarsSTAR WARS: Episode I
Jedi trio: Neeson, McGregor and Lloyd The Phantom Menace
one of Shadows' all-time best films dir-scr George Lucas
with Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Pernilla August, Frank Oz, Ahmed Best, Samuel L Jackson, Terence Stamp, Brian Blessed, Ray Park, Oliver Ford Davies
release US 19.May.99; UK 16.Jul.99; 3D reissue US/UK 10.Feb.12
Fox 99/US-UK 3.5 out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
I admit it: I was a complete Star Wars fanatic from 1977 to 1983 (with a continuing undercurrent since then). So I entered the cinema with some trepidation - trying to clear the hype and anticipation from my brain. But once the title crawl began, I was back in that Star Wars galaxy again. And it worked. Lucas has got the feel of the thing exactly right - musically, visually, in the cast, effects, everything. This is a real Star Wars film, not some 1990s wannabe. It's not perfect ... but it's still fantastic.

The plot is fairly simple. The nasty Trade Federation is collaborating with a sinister dark-side-of-the-force guy called Darth Sidious to take over the Old Republic, starting with the planet Naboo. Two Jedi knights (Neeson and McGregor) are sent to negotiate, but get sucked into the conflict, enlist the help of a floppy-eared underwater-dweller (Best) and then travel with the planet's queen (Portman) back to the seat of galactic government. But on the way they get stranded on the desert planet of Tatooine, where they meet a young boy (Lloyd) who has a strong presence in the force. Meanwhile, Sidious and his assistant Darth Maul (Park) are trying to stop them.

That's pretty much it. The plot moves straightforwardly without much real action (only two scenes manage to get the adrenaline going - the outlandish pod race and a particularly vicious light saber duel). The characters are also straightforward, which is another problem. Although they're set up very nicely for future adventures, they don't have terribly strong personalities here (none of Han Solo's sarcasm or Leia's impatience). Only young Anakin Skywalker comes alive as he dreams of being a space pilot. In this sense, it feels like Episode III instead of I - like we're watching a young Luke, instead of his father.

Even so, the film so envelops us in its atmosphere that we are carried far, far away in fine style. There are lots of wonderful tidbits to remind us of what's to come, some wink-wink nods to fans, and the focus on a legendary prophecy recasts the entire saga in a whole new light - and makes it impossible to think that Lucas won't go on to make episodes VII, VIII and IX. In addition, the digital effects are remarkably good, John Williams' score is fantastic, and the end comes far too soon. Worth the hype: Yes. So how long is it until Episode II?

[PG violence, suspense] 26.May.99

T H E   3 D   V E R S I O N

The main thing I was looking forward to, revisiting this film nearly 13 years after I'd last seen it, was having the Star Wars universe back on the big screen. And actually, that's the whole point. The 3D isn't gimmicky at all, and it's only notable in the point-of-view shots during the (otherwise irrelevant) pod race and the climactic space battle. Most of the time we forget that it's in 3D at all. On the other hand, the film is still startlingly limp, with that plodding political plot with all its talk of trade agreements. Much of the dialog is pompous and flat, and it completely defeats the more inexperienced actors, especially Lloyd.

Watching it again reinforces the complete uselessness of Jar Jar Binks, who somehow manages to save the Republic through a series of inept mistakes - nothing he does is deliberate. Come to think of it, every key plot point is an accident (including the outcome of the final battle), although I'm sure Lucas would argue that these are Force events engineered by the Midichlorians. Even so, it's still a terrific surge of movie fun. And I'm looking forward to the other five 3D versions, just so I can immerse myself in this world on the big screen, complete with that amazing John Williams' score. Those opening notes are sheer bliss.


R E A D E R   R E V I E W S : E P I S O D E   I
"Hooray! I can now say I went to Star Wars on the day it opened, did not stand in line for tickets, and only had to wait outside the theater for half an hour before being allowed to take our seat. Last night I stopped on my way to work at 10:30pm, bought tickets for the 10:00am show, then came home from work, went to breakfast and to the show. It was fun last night to see over 200 people in line for the midnight show, they were playing with plastic light sabers. A local radio station van was in the parking lot, and all seemed to be having a good time. Being a sci-fi fan for years, this movie and I have a history. My fear was whether this movie could live up to expectations. I say it can and did - very well indeed! It does start out a bit slow, but probably only because I had worked all night and had only 5 hours of sleep. Star War fans will love it. George Lucas has done it again - an awesome movie - and I predict people will go see this one again and again. One patron in line was overheard saying, 'This movie would have made money if it was never shown,' referring to the tons and tons of marketing merchandise. But seeing the movie makes me want to buy this Star Wars stuff even more. The audience cheered when the film started, clapped when the movie began and cheered when it was over. Go see it Star Wars fans! And non-fans, go see it on a matinee - avoid the lines - you will like this movie!" --Laurie T, Minneapolis.

"Amazing effects but not much more than that. Very wooden acting from many I thought (Portman for one) and that ridiculous creature Jar Jar Binks drove me mad - just plain silly. This is the first Star Wars movie I've ever seen and I couldn't help thinking the whole thing had been a massive swizz - was this an extension of the brand portfolio too far?" --Jo B, London.

"I waited over 13 hours for the midnight premier since I'm a big fan and was hoping the first people in would get special souvenirs. We went in at 10:30 and got a theatre t-shirt, which I gave away. By 11 o'clock the line was done and 60 seats were still unfilled! The movie started with high hopes but no one clapped or cheered for about 30 minutes. There just was no action. When awkward moments did happen or occasional moments of excitement appeared, they were too quick and unreal looking. Too much digital, fake looking effects. And that Jar-Jar has to go. He should have gotten it early on. Maul was not very evil or repulsive. No Darth Vader-like strangle grips here. Not many lines either. I had high hopes, but in the end I was dissapointed. There was no plot or characters to identify with, no Lukes or Solos. Even the queen was cold, snotty and forgetful. The Jedi were too stiff and evangelistic. Not the kind I would look up too. Especially since they fight dirty, two on one. I don't think I will see it again, except maybe for the scenes of the old characters, such as the tusken raiders up to their old tricks!" --Robert H, net.

"Without giving away anything BIG about the story, the movie kicked major booty! Welcome back to the George Lucas-created world of Star Wars. This movie definitely had the feeling of Star Wars and was worthy of the title. A few problems were how fast the movie seemed to be going, a mix-up between Queen Amidala and Padme, and the loss of Anakin getting any credit for his major help at the end. (You'll have to see it to understand.) Eagle-eyed fans can also catch some cameos by earlier actors. Warwick Davis (Wicket the Ewok in Jedi) can be seen sitting next to Watto during the pod race. I even think I saw a quick glimpse of George Lucas in there. I do recommend that if you go to this movie, you make sure you have seen Episodes 4, 5, and 6. Otherwise you might get lost in all the translation of the story. Like the fact that the character of Senator Palpatine in this movie is the one who becomes Emperor. (Hint, hint--pay close attention to what Yoda says.) Other than some of the stuff I've mentioned above, the movie is VERY good. You MUST see this film in the theater. It won't be as good on TV. The characters are somewhat colorful and Jar Jar will drive you up a wall with his 'Weesa gonna die?' questions. I'm definitely seeing some Oscars going to this movie this year, like best director, best special effects and best ccore. And that's another thing, get a hold of the soundtrack if possible. 'Anakin's Theme' is cool because it has a kind, light tone like Anakin but is also laced with pieces of the 'Imperial March.' So see the movie, get the soundtrack, buy the toys and may the Force be with you!" --Robert A, Texas

"I've seen the big Star Wars twice. I was dismayed the first time I saw it. To me it was kind of a letdown. I was ready for all the action-packed scenes. And that Jar Jar Binks.... Then the second time I saw the movie I thought, 'Hey, it isn't bad.'" --Yvette R, Los Angeles.

"We got in line at about 8:30pm. It was great! People were BBQing steaks (the theater didn't mind), others brought TVs and were either playing N64, Playstation, or watching Episodes 4, 5 and 6. It was a party, complete with people dressed as Obi-Wan or Darth Maul, while others waved their light sabers around! They let us in the theater at 10:15pm, I guess because they wanted us to buy stuff. And at exactly 12:01am the theater darkened and the audience went nuts! We booed every trailer, except Austin Powers, of course. As a HUGE Star Wars fan, I'm am obligated to really like the movie. And It is easily the best visual movie I've ever seen. As a HUGE Star Wars fan, I am obligated to see it more than three times, because it is the best visual movie I've ever seen. Having said that, I have to admit it moved kinda slow. And there was not as much fighting (space battles or light saber duels) as I had anticipated. Some interesting characters were introduced, but either lacked personality or was not developed (we really don't have a chance to hate Darth Maul). And if they had personality, it was forced (specifically Jar Jar Binks). But Episode I still has the look and feel of all the Star Wars movies. It's not quite The Empire Strikes Back but it is still one of the best of its genre." --Al R, Los Angeles.

simpson wars "I am going to see The Phantom Menace again this Friday. One comment beyond how cool the fight sequences were and how well the 'menace' moved: Let's talk about Ben Hur and the pod-racing. Perhaps this is obvious to die-hard movie fans, but Lucas is taking his cue here from the extended chariot-racing sequences in Ben Hur, complete to the locking carriages and spectacular crashes, panning shots and stadium atmosphere. It did not strike me then, but once I thought about it, it seemed so obvious. This is not to say the movie lacks originality, but only to reinforce how Lucas is entertaining as he re-uses familiar imagery, and he has something for fans of all ages and levels of movie-going experience." --Dave S, Massachusetts.

"I have been a die-hard Star Wars fan for around 20 years. I have more questions after seeing Episode I than answers. This small skirmish with the Trade Federation over a little insignificant planet such as Naboo is not going to start the Clone Wars. I hope George Lucas just doesn't make something that is not believable so he can cash in on the name. Darth Sidious only has two episodes left to destroy the Jedi, start the Clone Wars, recruit Darth Vader and declare himself Emperor. The only criticism I see of Episode I is that the actors seem to have a hard time acting against a green screen. There is nothing for them to interact with and you see this in their body language, making the film a little cold. Unlike A New Hope, The Phantom Menace has no soul. I hope George Lucas ties into his next two episodes what was said in the first three movies so it is a good believable flow on. Using the technology that we saw in The Matrix would also be a good idea." --Steven M, Australia.

"At the risk of being deemed an heretic, I thought this movie was only OK. Just two to three stars out of five in my book. The main character was VERY impressive, however, and I am afraid that it stole the show. The thing is though, the main character in a movie should NOT be the computer-generated special effects. They are supposed to support the story, not BE the story. The other actors in the movie paled in comparison, and came out boring. I think that there was potential, but it just didn't deliver. All that politics stuff was a total drag. A bunch of guys you don't know, and don't like very much, sitting around deciding the fate of the world. Yuck! I hate bureaucracy in real life--why would I want to watch it in action in a galaxy far far away? The chariot race was totally cool, and very well done. There, the special effects were a support and not a distraction. The sword fights were good too. And nicely choreographed! However the real bad guys don't get wnough screen time to get truly hated. All those robot soldiers (the pretend bad guys) in row upon row got way too much time on screen--being broken in bits and shattered by various weaponry. And consequently, Darth Maul's make-up was the only way you got a clue that he was the bad guy (he didn't even do any evil stuff--unless you count that he was always fighting the Jedi guys.) Speaking of the Jedi guys--where was the personality, the joy, the gusto? They just swept in an out of rooms bashing the robots that got in their way. The queen--overpowered by her costumes, poor thing--when did she get time to have all those hairdos done? I saw her in an interview and she said that she was going for control and restraint in her character--well she got THAT right! Where was the spunk, the joy, the gusto? I will obviously go see all of the movies and will enjoy watching the story, but I think that maybe George needs some help in the writing department." --Bec O, Minneapolis.

neeson and park practice the big fight "I, along with the 5 other people I saw it with, really enjoyed it. I don't see too many movies these days, but I made it a major goal to see this one before our next baby arrives (I'm due June 10). I had read all the reviews ... most of them not so good, but I put them completely aside as I went into the theater. I read [the Shadows] review the day before I saw it and found it to be the review that most closely resembled my feelings for the movie. When I first heard the music, I was instantly brought back to the excitement of 1977 when I saw Star Wars (incidentally, the first PG movie that my parents let me see ... probably because we were on a family vacation). It definitely had the George Lucas flavor all over it. I was thoroughly entertained and found the special effects to be amazing, as usual. It was neat to be introduced to characters that we've seen before (in a different stage of life) and I'm excited to see how the characters will continue to develop in the next episodes. I think some people found it 'boring' because there wasn't jam-packed action/violence for the whole 2 hours and 20 minutes of the movie, like so many other movies are these days. Just had to put in my thumbs up vote since I've heard more bad than good. Now we can have our baby! On a side note, we sold our car a few weeks ago, and the guy who bought it works for Lucasfilm in Marin County. He collects sound effects for movies. I caught his name in the credits." --Kristen C, California.

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© 1999 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall