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Star Wars: The Phantom Menace movie review
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

It's been over twenty years since the first Star Wars film. On Festivale we have reviews, features, and a featured Star Wars picture each week during June and July.
Choose one of the following, or scroll down to read Ali's review.
Star Wars Memories by Ali Kayn
Star Wars: The End of an Era, feature by Lorraine Smith
Star Wars picture of the week
Credits and official site details, are listed under the review.

Movie Poster, Star Wars Episode 1, The Phantom Menace, Festivale film reviews; starwars1.gif - 16024 Bytes
Movie Poster, Star Wars Episode 1, The Phantom Menace
Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) are sent as ambassadors to negotiate between the Trade Federation and Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman), the elected leader of Naboo. Instead they rescue the queen and a small party of handmaidens and guards, taking their limping ship to desolate Tatooine. There they encounter the young slave Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd, a child with remarkable powers of persuasion, mechanical ingenuity and precognition. In short, they see in him Jedi powers. His tests show his potential is off the chart, and, the Force help us, his mother has a tale of a virgin birth. starwars32a.jpg - 8153 Bytes
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Yes, it is the beginning of the Star Wars saga. We're back where it all began, and before the film is over you can be sure that there will be creatures cute and terrible, brave and ignoble deeds, ancient superstitions, brave damsels and awesome machines.

George Lucas, writer/director/producer has built two empires -- one in fiction, and one in real life. His real life empire includes leading-edge companies in the fields of movie science and technology. He had held off returning to make episode until he believed that the technology was there to tell his story. A visual storyteller, he has said that he dislikes writing, and maybe he needs a writing parter(s) who love the hard work of story-making.

Phantom Menace is a wide-screen visual delight, but the audience was not spell-bound. The pod race was a lap too long, and there were more briefings than a Star Trek Next Gen episode. There simply isn't enough story, and the shifting of bottoms, coughing and whispers in the audience proved that. The man behind me was so bored he shredded paper to get through the slowest parts.

I'm not convinced that this film will stand alone for a newcomer. It should, really, because this is the first episode. It and the next two films are the back story from the original Star Wars, and Lucas himself said that more detail was needed in Phantom Menace.

There are always those who believe that any story with a child protagonist is kids stuff. That's not so. So discounting this film as children's fare would be unfair. However, Phantom Menace lacks emotional depth. Some will find an adrenal rush watching the vroom-vrooms and shoot-em-ups, but the sequences of dramatic action often failed to move us. In an audience filled to the rafters with kids and their parents, there was a distinct lack of sniffling when the little boy parted from his brave, self-sacrificing (amazingly tear-less) mother.

The actors did remarkable things with the material. I'm going out on a hunt for more Liam Neeson films, and I'm definitely going to check out a copy of Natalie Portman's The Professionals. Lucas in his briefings tended to tell us, rather than show us -- strange for a visual director. In guiding the actors he has left us listening and watching, not sharing the experience.

Sharon Stone and her co-stars in The Mighty, which I saw only a couple of nights before, had a powerful gut-wrenching moment that took me completely by surprise. The Matrix, which has been the most popular film with Festivale readers for the past two months has a fun, hip strike-a-pose attitude.

Phantom Menace has appeal for people who want to jump in a uniform and go very fast until something explodes, but it does not live up to its potential. The sword fights benefit from the expertise of martial artist Ray Park who plays Darth Maul, but the jumps lack the supernatural grace of Matrix fighters. The Jedi magic does not make us awestruck in the face of its power, or inspire us with its spirituality. Visually Phantom Menace is spectacular, but as a story it had people wishing for a fast forward button.

There will be more Star Wars films -- the other two are scheduled. It's a space opera, and we want to see the next installment. But when Star Wars first came out Star Trek hadn't had a new live action episode in eight years, Dr Who was virtually unknown in the US, and 2001 was way too esoteric for the mainstream. We were starved for sweeping spacescapes and space ships and futuristic adventures. Today science fiction is part of our daily fare. There is more new Star Trek than Paramount has decent stories, Michael J. S. with Babylon 5 and Chris Carter with X-Files are giving us weekly doses of horror, hard and soft SF and "It's life Jim, but not as we know it". We don't have to return to Star Wars to get another dose of tomorrow (yesterday), there is plenty else out there. George Lucas is an independent film maker. He'll get enough from this effort to make the next one, and the next one. But they may not be the best that he can do. This one wasn't.

Click here to buy films from one of the online stores in Festivale's on-line shopping mall by Ali Kayn
If you want an enthusiastic fan's response, try Loraine's review.
See also: Star Wars: The End of an Era
Weekly Pics

Send your comments or review Science Fiction Film, the interesting old stuff, by Terry Frost.

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Just the Facts:

Title: Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)
Written by: George Lucas
Directed by: George Lucas
Produced by:
Edited by:
Director of Photography:
running time:

The Players: Liam Neeson .... Qui-Gon Jinn
Ewan McGregor .... Obi-Wan Kenobi
Natalie Portman .... Queen Amidala/Padmé Naberrie
Jake Lloyd .... Anakin Skywalker
Ian McDiarmid .... Senator Palpatine
Samuel L. Jackson .... Mace Windu
Terence Stamp .... Chancellor Valorum
Oliver Ford Davies .... Sio Bibble
Pernilla August .... Shmi Skywalker
Frank Oz .... Yoda
Ahmed Best .... Jar Jar Binks
Adrian Dunbar .... Bail Organa
Hugh Quarshie .... Captain Panaka
Kenny Baker .... R2-D2
Official website: http://www.starwars.com
For session times of current films, use the cinema listings on the Movie links page.
For more information about this movie, check out the Internet Movie Database"
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: Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia : copyright © Festivale 1999 All rights reserved
Filed: 12-Mar-1999 : Last updated: 19-May-1999 : Last tested: 19-Jan-2009 : Last Compiled: 08-Aug-2014
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