1997-1998 - 1999 - 2000 - 2001 - 2002+
Why I love The Phantom Menace
The whole movie kept me on the edge of my seat. If I wasn't ohhing and ahhing at the imacculately rendered action sequences, I was getting chills from the subtle setups for the coming storm of the rest of this trilogy.
The Niemodians were a great precursor for the Empire to come. Greedy, cowardly, easily manipulated, and ultimately disposable, they were so unlike anything we had seen in the classic trilogy. With their un-feeling droid army, and ecco-unfriednly, tree-smashing transports, they attempt the equivelent of punching a little girl in the stomach. I wasn't sure if I should be glad they were thwarted, or sympathetic for how they were manpulated into it.
Qui-Gon Jinn was the most amazing vision of a Jedi Knight. The quintissential samurai warrior who is on his own path to enlightenment. Liam Nesson was magnificent, you could tell he put himself into the role completely.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is played to a T by Ewan MacGreggor. As soon as I heard him talk, I could tell he had become Alec Guinness for this film. His obvious effort in practicing the saber sequnces, and especially the duel is evident, and to me, he lives up to my expectations for Kenobi's origin.
Natalie Portman was stunning as a 14 year old queen. Amidala's stoic pose and extravagant cosutuming combined into an intoxicating mixture of nievity, natural beauty, and inner strength. I couldn't have imagined a better mother for the heros of the classic trilgoy.
Jake Lloyd was adorable as a 9 year old boy who gives with no thoughts of reward. Anakin's inhibitious way of expressing his "inner opie" is refreshing in this day of harshley swearing adolecsents.
Ian McDiarmid was nearly perfect as Palptine/Sidious. His genuine smiles to Amidala, his commanding tone of voice towards the Niemodians, I can truly see how the galaxy ended up right in his hands.
Ahmed Best gave an incredilbe digital performance with the help of ILM and the most talented CG studio on Earth. He was annoying, but in a very real way. I also think the general reaction to him is very telling of how far our "prosperous" society has come. Jar-Jar is the best social commentary of the decade. It was revealing to see how easily so many people, even die hard Star Wars fans gave in to hate over him. Sure, people say he isn't real, and that's true, he is created in a computer. But everyone's reaction to him was all too real.
The cameos of Sam Jackson as Mace Windu, and Terrance Stamp as Supreme Chancellor Vallorum, really stand out for the short time they are on screen.
Midichlorians. This has a lot of us fans divided. Many say that it is wrong to know "too much" about the Force. That now the whole concept of the Force is different from the way it was presented in the classic trilogy. But for me, the facination with Midichlorians comes from the real world equivelant: Mitochondria, upon which Lucas says they were loosely based. Much like Midichlorians, Mitochondria exist in all living cells. They are thought by some scientists to be the origin of all life. The irony of this real world discovery is that many religious people felt that it was wrong to know too much about the origins of life. Some feared that the study of Mitochondria would cheapen the spiritualness of mankind by explaining away creation. But the thing that is true in both cases is that this discovery does nothing to explain the wonderous phenomenon known in the SW universe as "The Force" nor does it's real world equivelent explain God. They are just another part of the biological side of things. I do not think that Lucas would introduce something this controversial unless he had a good idea for how they will play out in the next two films.
The effects in this movie were incredible. When the Jedi were slicing up droids, you can slow motion the stuff and find no flaws in the animation. The physics modelling they were using to make the droids fall to peices and bounce on the ground, along with the ultra realistic Pod Race explosions, is indistinguishable from nature.
The art design of Theed is absolutely beautiful, and rich. The Gungan city is so otherworldy, yet beautiful on a conetpual level alone, with the water tension bubble spheres that allow people in, but not water. Their weapons and sheild technology were so creative and well thought out that I was just blown away.
Tatooine was something old, something new. I am glad we got to see a new town like Mos Espa, and the pod race was the second greatest thing in the film. I already mentioned the immacualtly cool CG modeled crashes, but half of this is sound. Ben Burt, the man who invented the Lighsaber sound, completely outdoes himself with the symphony of custom engine sounds for each of the pod's.
GA GA GA GA GA GA GA GA GA GA!
It was good to see that Jabba could be done in CG well. The cameo of Princess Leia's slave outfit on the slave to his right is great for fans who love easter eggs like that. There are things like this in the whole film. The escape pod from 2001, Luke's old landspeeder, the E.T.'s in the senate, it never ends.
Corusant, what can I say you haven't thought yourself? The visuals alone are staggering, and the way they put the camera over a street and pan downwards, you keep thinking you will eventually see the street, but it just keeps going deeper. Just incredible acheivements in CG digital backdrops. They make the SE improvements to Bespin look dated.
The amazing political system that is fleshed out here is collossal. With one senator representing 50-60 different planets, you can see how the red tape gets thick. The way Palpatine manipulates Vallorum out and himself in is so diabolical it gives me chills.
This brings me to the thrilling 4-way finale, which starts with a bang, and doesn't let up until Maul splits and the kid "blows that thing". There is so much going on that you really can't appreicate it in only a few veiwings. The action starts at a quick pace, then pauses here and there for tension, the scene with the duelers pausing for the laser gates is an instant classic, with Maul pacing back and forth silently like a panther, while Qui-Gon meditates, as an impatient Obi-Wan looks on from his separate pen.
The Gungan-Droid battle is not only an amzing CG accomplishment, but very interesting to watch from a strategy standpoint. The way the gungans prepare themselves, with the sheild carriers in the front row, and people in the back lobbing boombers over them, and the way that contrasts with the row by row relentless marching approach of the droid army. I thought the coolest shots were the long range overhead shot like the one that shows two catapults bowling over scores of marching droids. Jar-Jar is not the most heroic, but you can see braveheart courage in the background. Every nameless gungan in the bakcground has his own little story for you to find in repeat veiwings.
The space battle was great. It is good to see that they didn't use CG for most of these shots. They used a lot of models shot with motion control cameras. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Some would complain about how Anakin accidentally flies into the hanger at the exact moment that the sheild is lowered (for another ship that is leaving), accidentally hits the cooling units for the ship's main reactor, which destroys the station, which shuts down the droids, and saves the day, but I think the point being made here is that while Luke used the Force in ANH, Anakin is being used by the Force in TPM. I think this will all help push Anakin to beleive that no mattter what he does, it is the will of the Force. It leaves his victory a little hollow feeling, but I beleive this is an intentional setup for his eventual fall in the next two films. The biggest part of this finale for me was the 3-way duel. I have yet to meet anyone who will put this sequence of the film down.
Ray Park as Darth Maul. For a guy with 4 lines of dialogue, he has the most commanding presense in the entire film. His double bladed lightsaber adds a whole new dynamic to Jedi fighting, and you would be hard pressed to find anyone who didn't like this character.
The celebration at the end is happy and light, until you realize that Palpatine is the real winner, with everyone else losing to some degree. I love the way they took the Emperor's theme from ROTJ and made it all happy so you think it would fit the celebration.
Some fans will tell you that they felt Episode I was too "kiddie" oriented for their tastes. In a way they are correct to say that it is certainly the most "kiddie friendly" of the series so far. But this is all by design.
George Lucas: "I made Episode I as light hearted, and as happy go lucky as possible, because the next film will be darker, and the third film will not be happy by any stretch of the imagination."
Episode I is the light-hearted counterbalance to the incredibly dark nightmare to come. This is as nice as the SW saga gets, and it won't be this happy, ever again. Well, at least not until Return of the Jedi.
Not everyone will agree with me about it, but at the very least, The Phantom Menace brought all of us Star Wars fans together, even if it was only for one opening night.
TheForce.Net Guest Editorial
September 30th, 2001