Cast: Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman, Silas Carson, Terence Stamp, Ahmed Best, Kenny Baker, Jake Lloyd, Pernilla August, Anthony Daniels, Ray Park, Frank Oz, Samuel L. Jackson, Ian McDiarmid
Runtime: 133 Minutes
Rating: PG for sci-fi action and violence
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” The Trade Federation, supposedly lead by Viceroy Gunray (Carson) initiates a blockade of Naboo. Supreme Chancellor Valorum (Stamp) has sent two of the Jedi, Qui-Gon Jinn (Neeson) and his Padawan learner Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor), as ambassadors to remedy the situation.
Negotiations don’t go according to plan. After being attacked, the two Jedi happen upon an army of droids ready to invade Naboo, which is run by the elected Queen Amidala (Portman). Upon reaching the planet, Qui-Gon runs into (literally) a Gungan named Jar Jar Binks (voice of Best) and finds himself stuck with the creature after saving his life. Jar Jar, an outcast from his people, reluctantly agrees to take the duo to Gunga City, which lies far underneath the water’s surface. Once there, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan try to convince the Gungan bosses to warn the people of Naboo of the impending attack. This is done with very little luck.
Queen Amidala, along with her “hand maidens”, council and guards has been taken prisoner by the Viceroy. Their situation doesn’t last for long when Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan rescue them and convince the Queen to travel to Coruscant as a way of protecting her while the Jedi try to figure out the true motives behind the blockade. The escape from Naboo doesn’t go off without a hitch, however, when their ship is damaged after coming under fire while trying to flee. They have no choice but to take the ship to the small, out of the way planet of Tatooine in order to repair it.
The ship lands on the outskirts of a small settlement, where Qui-Gon, along with Jar Jar, R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and the Queen’s hand maiden Padme (Portman) venture out in search of the parts needed to repair the ship. Not only do they find the items they need, but they also meet the young Anakin Skywalker (Lloyd), a slave working for one of the dealers as well as a pod racer. When the group is caught in a sudden sandstorm, young Anakin offers them shelter where they meet his mother Shmi (August) and the “not quite complete” C-3P0 (Daniels). Anakin also comes up with the ides for the Jedi to sponsor him in the dangerous Pod Race, where a win would buy the parts they need to fix their ship.
At the same time the small group is on Tatooine, the Viceroy has informed his mysterious “lord” about the Queen’s escape from Naboo. Needless to say the mysterious figure is unhappy and tries to remedy the problem by sending his apprentice, Darth Maul (Park), to find the ship and its occupants.
Meanwhile, Qui-Gon discovers that Anakin has a midi-chlorian count well higher than any other Jedi and becomes convinced that the young boy is the “chosen one” who will bring balance to the force. Anakin wins the Pod Race resulting in the group not only being able to fix their ship, but, thanks to a side bet by Qui-Gon, they are able to take the young boy with them.
Just when the group is about to take off in their repaired ship, Darth Maul arrives to annihilate the Jedi and take Queen Amidala back to Naboo to sign a treaty with the Trade Federation. The initial confrontation between Darth Maul and Qui-Gon results in the Jedi barely escaping with his life. Once in Coruscant, Qui-Gon reports his findings (and the young Anakin) to the Jedi Council, which includes Yoda (voice of Frank Oz) and Mace Windu (Jackson) while Queen Amidala addresses the Senate. But what will happen in the final confrontation between the Trade Federation and Naboo? Not to mention the two Jedi against the evil Darth Maul! You’ll have to watch “Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace” to find out.
I have to admit that “Phantom Menace” is not my favorite “Star Wars” installment. I don’t think it’s as bad as some may think but I think it fell a little short of expectations. But I guess every story has to start somewhere, including “Star Wars”!
Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor and Ray Parks were the highlights of the film as Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Darth Maul, respectively. The light saber battles between the trio were intense, action packed and fun to watch. Especially the battle near the end with the added complication of the force fields being thrown in. (There’s nothing like having to sit and wait while the person in front of you paces with a light saber!) It was also fun to watch the subtle way of then Senator Palpatine (McDiarmid) since we know what happens to his character in future movies.
There were a few things that I thought detracted from the movie. The Pod Race scene seemed to go on a little too long (I’ll admit, after seeing it one time, I’ve always hit the “forward” button to skip this part when watching it on DVD ever since). Jar Jar’s scenes could have also been toned down a bit. While everyone can be klutzy to an extent, the character seemed to take it to the extreme. It also seemed that he was in a few too many scenes which I thought took the focus from the story and characters. Could I also ask for a moratorium on the number of times the word “Yippee!” can be yelled in a movie?
Like I mentioned above, every story needs a starting point. “Phantom Menace”, I believe laid the groundwork for “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith”, which I thought were better films.
My Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 stars
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