Director: George Lucas
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd
I know this trilogy doesn’t come close to the originals, but I do remember ‘The Phantom Menace’ being a lot of fun. When it was released in 1999, I finally had the chance to be a front line fan for the start of a new trilogy and as an enthusiastic 8 year old, I grabbed that chance with both hands. Following on from my revisit of the old trilogy, I felt it would be rather fitting to enjoy the more recent trilogy. Just how Lucas wanted it, in the wrong order.
When the Trade Federation plan to take over the peaceful planet of Naboo, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) are sent to resolve the issue in a diplomatic fashion. Things don’t’ quite go to plan, and when they come under attack from battle droids, the Jedis are forced to escape. Along with new friend Jar Jar Binks, they make their way to Naboo to warn Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman), but the Trade Federation droids have already begun to overwhelm the placid inhabitants. With Amidala in tow, the group land on Tattooine – a planet outside of the jurisdiction of The Republic – where they meet young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), a slave with a passion for pod racing and a powerful energy flowing through his blood. Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan must lead the group safely to Coruscat to solve the dispute, whilst battling the resurgent dark side and its newest Sith Lord.
I’m rather apathetic towards Ewan McGregor as an actor really; I don’t think he’s amazing and I don’t think he’s awful. Apart from the shocking hair, McGregor provides an interesting introduction to one of the most integral cogs in the workings of the ‘Star Wars’ galaxy. Before everyone was sick of the ‘Taken’ trilogy and the various copycat roles Liam Neeson has delivered, he was actually a pretty good actor you know. As Qui-Gon Jinn, he offers a commanding and entertaining performance to make us momentarily forget about all the recent shit he’s subjected us to. A very young Natalie Portman takes on the role of Queen Amidala, and I’m hoping her character is meant to speak in such a robotic tone, otherwise her acting was a million times worse back then. An interesting, lead female character nonetheless and one which has much more to offer throughout the trilogy. Jake Lloyd – who you may remember from ‘Jingle All The Way’ – is an exceedingly confident and likeable actor in the role of Anakin Skywalker.
There is an unusual lack of stars and space in this film, which I think can be attributed to a desire to show off CGI developments since the original trilogy, which means we get much more of a focus on the actual planets and their landscapes. Impressive, but a little unnecessary. The underwater world of Jar Jar Binks and the Gungan race in particular just seems like a major plot diversion which doesn’t help the narrative at all. The pod races on Tatooine however are an exciting and interesting feature, and indeed, the whole of Tatooine is a pretty fascinating world to take us to. The devilish Darth Maul is an inspired creation by the LucasFilm team, a fantastic villain and one which scared me a great deal as an 8 year old. The perfect precursor to Darth Vader.
Whilst ‘The Phantom Menace’ may be a little cheesy and a little slow at times, it is nonetheless a decent introduction to new characters, new worlds and a trilogy which breathed life back into the classic franchise at just the right time. I can’t help but compare this to ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’, in the way that it opens up the whole franchise and offers some light-hearted context to the vast universe to follow. Bring on the clones!