five + two =

nineteen − eleven =

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace [1999] is what writer/director George Lucas claims to be the genesis of his monumental pop culture mythos, although it’s easy to assume that he’s not being entirely truthful. A bizarrely dry film, Episode I takes a shot at the backstory of the 1977 cinematic milestone Star Wars and grazes it. Starring Liam Neeson as the wise but unorthodox mentor Qui-Gon Jinn, Ewan McGregor as the inexperienced young Obi-Wan Kenobi, Natalie Portman as the even younger but somehow more experienced Padmé Amidala, and Jake Lloyd as an eager kid who accidentally wandered in from a Chuck E. Cheese commercial, the prequel offers high-flying popcorn thrills and cheesy B-movie weirdness in equal measure.

But I was gonna go to the Tosche Station to audition some actors! Rumor has it that Lucas wrote his dialogue and directed his actors to resemble the theatrical, operatic serial dramas from which he drew the inspiration for Star Wars. If he was going for depth, he hit the moon instead. This is an awkward movie, to say the least, but somehow at the end, it all feels like very high-budget low-budget schlock, retaining that delightful silliness and buried thematic heft that films like Forbidden Planet are remembered for. This movie would have been a cult classic if its production had cost as much as a used car.

Where did you dig up this old screenplay? Although the first part of a trilogy, The Phantom Menace has little to do with the narratives of its sequels. In fact, it has little to do with anything at all. The story concerns the relatively localized trials of a single small planet, removed from any immediate epic machinations or sweeping galactic tribulations. At times, it feels contained enough to be a spin-off and boring enough to be the news.

Digital effects can deceive you: don’t trust them. This movie actually looks beautiful. Its sequel will make history three years later as the first feature film to be shot entirely with digital cameras, but The Phantom Menace’s film stock blends the momentous visual effects into the live action elements with seams remarkably negligible for a 1999 picture. Too bad the animators weren’t in charge of the actor’s faces too.

Mesa your humble servant! What is he doing there?! Why is he with them?!

Nobody knows what happened here; think of it as a theme park attraction.
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
2.5Overall Score
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