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Member Name: dave27
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (DVD)
Date: 06/05/01, updated on 24/08/01 (79 review reads)
Advantages: Effects, Story, Darth Maul
Disadvantages: Jar Jar Binks
BE WARNED - THIS OP GIVES AN AWFUL LOT OF INFO ON THE PLOT, SO IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS - THEN LOOK AWAY NOW!
The Star Wars phenomenon of the late 1970's was awe inspiring in its depth and range - it touched an entire generation in a very special way and even prompted those poor unfortunates who had revered Star Trek to consider trying to register the Jedi as an official religion in the census of 2001 - only time will tell whether their goal was achieved.
But no time whatsoever is needed to assess the revival of the Star Wars craze, because 1999 saw the next phase in George Lucas' scheme for world domination. The original three films in the SW history, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and The Revenge Of The Jedi, were actually episodes 4, 5 and 6 in what was intended to be an epic history. In 1999, as well as revised versions of the first three films, Lucas released the prequel, Episode I - The Phantom Menace, the first part of the history.
There was an absolute deluge of pre-release publicity designed to whet the appetite of an expectant army of fans and most of it surrounded the Darth Maul character.
Opinion was very mixed about this film, ranging from the absolutely gobsmacked to the sadly disappointed. I tend to fall into the former camp and thought it was just amazing.
It stars Liam Neeson as Qui Gon Jinn, an experienced Jedi Knight, Ewan McGregor as the young Obi Won Kenobi (who went on or used to be played by Alec Guinness – all depends on your outlook) and Ray Park as Darth Maul, with cameo appearances from Samuel L Jackson and Terence Stamp.
I’ll give my view about the film, the effects and the performances later, but first, the gist of the story.
We enter the Star Wars history at the very beginning with the omnipresent legend “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....”
The entire universe is now part of what is known as the Gala
ctic Republic. There is conflict and disharmony everywhere. Trade routes to the outer star systems are being taxed, giving rise to much argument and fighting. The Trade Federation is seeking to enforce the taxes by blockading the far off world of Naboo. The Supreme Chancellor Vallorum, who runs the Republic’s congress has sent two Jedi Knights, Qui Gon Jinn and Obi Won Kenobi, to Naboo to try and sort matters out.
The Trade Federation resist the attempts of the two Jedi to land, but permit them to board their ship. An attempted gassing fails to wipe out the Jedi and they swiftly mop up the droids sent to resist them.
While battle continues, Queen Amidala tells the Federation viceroy that she’s not playing their game.
As the two Jedi escape, they encounter the Gungan Jar Jar Binks and are taken to meet his people, led by Robert Morley lookalike Boss Nass. They agree that they will take the exiled Binks with them as their guide. Their escape through the water involves avoiding all manner of fearsome sea beasts before rescuing the Queen and her entourage from their captors. They agree to flee to Coruscant to plead Naboo’s case before the council, but have to land on the planet of Tatooine to get parts for their disabled craft.
Qui Gon Jinn sets off to find parts for their ship with Jar Jar Binks and the Queen’s handmaiden, who is actually the Queen. While they are there, Qui Jon tries to get the parts they need from a trader, a blue skinned flying alien called Watto. They also meet a young slave called Anekin Skywalker (who eventually grows up to be Darth Vader, father of Luke Skywalker). To cut a long story very short, Anekin has built a pod racer which he agrees to enter into the upcomming race and try and earn the money that Qui Gon needs to buy the parts. He overcomes the vicious Sebulba to win the race, the money and his freedom.
As the pair run back to their ship, they are con
fronted by Darth Maul a Sith Lord who has been sent to Tatooine to help find the Queen by Senator Palpatine, who is the brains behind the Trade Federation’s scheme and is using the unrest to manipulate his way to power. Qui Gon Jinn has a fearsome battle with Darth Maul, but manages to leap aboard the spaceship and fly off to Coruscant with the rest of the party.
Qui Gon Jinn pleads with the Jedi council when he gets there to let him train Anekin as a Jedi because he believes him to be the one who will bring balance to the Force, but they refuse to admit him, until Qui Gon says that he will train him anyway and that Obi Won is now good enough to face the test of becoming a Jedi in his own right. The Jedi council also do not believe that there is really a Sith amongst them.
At the same time, Amidala pleads in vain with the Senate to send help to her planet, but the bureaucrats who hold sway and are in the pay of the Trade Federation block the move and force Chancellor Vallorum to decide to appoint a Commission to investigate her claims. Amidala is having none of it and moves a vote of no confidence in Vallorum. She is playing right into Palpatine’s hands as he plans to stand as Chancellor.
While the election is going on, Amidala returns to Naboo with Qui Gon, Obi Won, Anekin, R2D2 and Jar Jar Binks, together with her entourage, much to Palpatine’s displeasure. There, they join forces with the Gungans and hatch a plan to defeat the Trade Federation. The Gungans mass as if to attack the Trade Federation, but they are just a diversion while a small elite band attack the capital city in an attempt to capture the Federation viceroy. They send planes to try and disable the spaceship which controls the Federation’s droid army, but it is not until young Anekin flies out and sorts matters out that the day is won.
Qui Gon and Obi Won confront Darth Maul in a fight to the finish and Qui Gonn is killed before a v
engeful Obi Won slices the Sith in half.
Amidala’s little band manage to capture the Federation viceroy and save the day.
Phew! What a scorcher!
It’s a neat little tale, full of wonderful set pieces and brought thrillingly to life by the wonders of computer generated tricks. At times the FX get a bit overwhelming and are in danger of swamping the plot, but you cannot dispute that they are marvellous in the extreme and very impressive. The alien creatures and some of the space scenes are absolutely incredible.
The set pieces which are most wonderful are the pod race and the fight between Qui Gon, Obi Won and Darth Maul.
The pod race in particular is absolutely breathtaking stuff and excitingly staged. You really do find yourself believing that this is actually happening.
The acting is by no means brilliant despite the presence of Neeson and McGregor, who both seem just a little uncertain as to how to play things, very earnest or tongue in cheek and end up doing neither successfully. Most of the attention falls on Park as Darth Maul and he is even more unpleasant and outlandish here than he was as the Toad in Brian Singer’s X Man movie.
Imagine your worst nightmare made flesh and you have Maul, a classic screen baddy, even down to the awful teeth.
Taken as a whole, Lucas realised an astonishing panorama with Phantom menace and strove for the epic. He pulls off something fully in keeping with the spirit and verve of the first three films and that he does so without any of the original characters and yet still makes his cast very believable and sympathetic.
It’s somehow very different and yet wonderfully similar to the first three and the nation waits the news about episodes 2 and 3.