Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)

Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd
Two Jedi Knights escape a hostile blockade to find allies and come across a young boy who may bring balance to the Force, but the long dormant Sith resurface to reclaim their old glory.
  • 19 May 1999 Released:
  • N/A DVD Release:
  • N/A Box office:
  • George Lucas Writer:
  • George Lucas Director:
  • N/A Website:

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Trailer:

When does the hurting stop?1/10

This movie is a perfect example of when what could have been one of the most brilliant movies ever is made, through the incompetence of only one man, into one of the worst. I cannot list in detail the number of ways this movie could have been made better, and they are all mind-bogglingly simple and all George Lucas's fault. Even so, I will try to condense them into a short list.

1. Actors/Casting - I have to give all of the actors credit for this because I know they tried their best, even Jake Lloyd. The movie did not give me a single reason why I should have cared for any of the characters and I can't explain why I did anyway.

I can't count how many times people have told me how much better Haley Joel Osment would have been in the role, and I am almost inclined to agree with them. Supposedly there's something dark and ominous about the Anakin character that all of the Jedi council can see, after all, he's gonna be Darth Vader, right? Osment projects that fear which leads to anger which leads to etc., and Lloyd just looks like your run-of-the-mill blond California Cabbage Patch kid. I'd call Jake Lloyd a terrible actor if it weren't for what the great sci-fi writer Orson Scott Card, who personally knows Lloyd, observed: "Jake Lloyd's a good actor, and it's a pity you didn't get to see that on-screen, since he had no direction or screenplay. In the same way, Liam Neeson is a great actor, but you didn't see that onscreen because he had no direction or screenplay."

Which brings me to my second fault:

2. Direction - Let's face it, George Lucas has lost it. He has gone from the great actors' director he was when he made American Graffiti to a special effects artist gone wildly out of control. I do give him some credit: It takes a lot of deliberate effort to sap all of the energy and life out of Ewan McGregor.

3. Screenplay/Plot - This is the section that really makes me wince, and proves that there is nobody left in Hollywood with the courage to tell George Lucas that he can't write. I mean, logical inconsistencies aside, this dialogue is simply ridiculous. If a first-grader were called in as a script consultant, he could most likely have improved this movie.


There are a thousand instances of questionable logic in this movie like, why did Queen Amidala reveal herself when she did? Why did she want to go back to Naboo so badly if it would do no good whatsoever and she would probably just get killed? Are we supposed to believe that a ten year old is going to have twins with her eventually? Why is she called a Queen anyway, if Naboo is supposed to be a democracy? Do the natives of Naboo share one collective brain cell to elect a teenager to run their planet? And what kind of name is Naboo anyway?

Beyond that, it doesn't even make sense in terms of the rest of the established Star Wars universe. For example, the shields that repelled blaster fire, obviously added so the death count would be lower and they could appeal to the 'family' market. Why do we not see them in the later episodes, when they seem to be of immeasurable tactical value?

As for the so-called 'Phantom Menace' conspiracy, does the initiation into the Jedi knighthood include an IQ curtailment? Why didn't those clods figure out at once that Palpatine was behind it all along? In the end, I found myself rooting for Palpatine/Sidious, simply because he was geometrically more intelligent than any of the other characters and would probably do a pretty good job of ruling the universe. At least he would be a better emperor than George Lucas is a screenwriter.

Well, it seems that I didn't do a very good job at condensing, but oh well.

I am ashamed to say that I saw this movie three times and hated it more each time. That it has grossed over $400 million makes me wonder that the entire American society doesn't grind to a halt as soon as someone sees a bright shiny object. Did I mention that the special effects were too amazing for their own good?
Too many "Yes Men" around George Lucas7/10


Of course this movie had a ton of hype and what movie can live up to all of that....yada yada yada. Even allowing for that, this movie is somewhat of a dissapointment. This movie proves that it wasn't just special FX that made "Star Wars" fun to watch. It was as if George Lucas was so thrilled with what he could do with CGI effects, he forgot what made the original trilogy so great, which is writing and characters. It's not a bad film but the problems are many.

-Many people have forgiven this movie for being lackluster as they say "It is only the first in another trilogy and it is just setting up everything to follow". WRONG WRONG WRONG, this film needed to be it's own movie first and foremost as the other three films were. It needed to have good characters and a somewhat interesting story....it didn't.

-The conflict in this story revolves around a trade dispute and the fate of the planet Naboo. Was anybody really caring about this? The details of the dispute are somewhat vague and what is revealed doesn't real generate enough interest for us to root for a particular side. The important conflict regarding Darth Sideous and his rise is kept far far in the background. We don't even know why Darth Maul hates the Jedi's so much....he just does. Possibly Lucas wanted Darth Maul to be somewhat like Boba Fett (silent and mysterious). It worked with Boba Fett because he was only a supporting character, not a main villian. This film really has no clear villian. I wish somebody would have had the courage and just told Lucas that his basic story was lousy.

-Nobody looks particularly happy in this film. Qui-gon is really the only character that can be related to and even he is rather distant. The queen acts like a mannequin in much of her scenes (and looks like one to). Obi-wan Kenobi wanders through the entire movie to no avail and never says anything interesting. The characters never seem to talk about anything besides the plot (unlike in the first film). C3PO and R2-D2 were pretty pointless. The Jedi council comes across as extremely cold and buracratic. And I will never understand WHY they wrote Annakin as a grade school kid in this film. He should have been a teenager. His scenes with the queen were awkward. We're not even going to discuss Jar Jar.

Various other things...

-The "midochlorians" thing seems to have just been tacked on. The humor falls flat unless you are an extremely small child. Annakin destroys the trade ship at the end and safves everyone, basically BY MISTAKE!!! ILM and George Lucas seem to be so happy with their new CGI toys that they spent 95% of their time perfecting them. Quite frankly I thought the FX in "Return of the Jedi" were sharper, more dimensional and less cartoonish. Nothing all that memorable seems to happen here. This movie may never have been as good as the hype, but it could have easily been much better than this. I waited so long for this film, yet the first time I saw this movie I was actually bored in the middle of it.

There are good moments. The pod race was fun, as was the light sabre battle at the end. There are some very nice special effects throughout.


Hopefully Lucas just had writers block when he wrote this one. Maybe he will remember what made the other films so good in time for "Episode II". Though he seems to have botched the title of it already.
A perspective after all the hype has died down5/10
Lucas may have problems as a director and writer, but I've always thought that those flaws are balanced by his great storytelling ability. The problem with "The Phantom Menace" is that he simply has no story to tell. The film merely adds an introductory chapter to a story that has already been told, and stretches it out into a two-hour movie. It is no accident that prequels of this kind are rare. They are very difficult to make properly. And apparently he's just not a sophisticated enough filmmaker to pull it off.

For one thing, this project is limited by the fact that anyone familiar with the first trilogy knows the story's outcome, and it therefore lacks some of the suspense associated with a gradually unfolding saga. More importantly, however, this situation leaves Lucas with very little freedom as a storyteller. It also encourages him to gloss over key events; because their outcome is a foregone conclusion, he forgets to bring them to life.

For example, we know there will eventually be a romance between Anakin and Padme. So Lucas has the two characters meet here and--surprise, surprise--they seem to like each other. Their developing friendship isn't portrayed that clearly, and their motivations for becoming close aren't explained. Because Lucas fails to make scenes like these believable, we can't help being conscious of how he's manipulating the plot in his effort to connect the two trilogies. Another good example of this problem is Anakin's portrayal as a potential Jedi. There doesn't appear to be anything about this kid remotely out of the ordinary, even though the other characters keep talking like there is. Our only reason for thinking he's special is that the plot requires it.

If the story fails to be engaging, it is because we never see the important events. Lucas makes a fatal error in not showing what's happening on Naboo, the small planet whose capture is the focus of the plot. Numerous atrocities are supposedly being committed against the planet's inhabitants, but we only know about this because the characters on screen refer to the events, usually rather woodenly.

The deadpan performances are a problem in themselves, but they only highlight our lack of involvement in the story. Think of Han Solo sweating in fear, then think of the emotional vacuums passing for characters in this film. Whenever any of the characters do express emotion, as in the scene where Anakin and his mom part, it still seems awfully restrained. Somehow, Lucas manages to keep the emotional reactions of his characters to a minimum, which gives the film an almost mechanical feel.

It's true that "A New Hope" never showed Alderaan's inhabitants, but we still could feel the tragedy of the planet's destruction through the horrified reactions of Princess Leia and Obi Wan. Moreover, there were many other involving events which we witnessed directly, such as the slaying of rebels at the beginning; the capture and torture of the princess; and the murder of Luke's foster parents. Furthermore, the major plot elements were intriguing in and of themselves. They weren't there merely to show us how they were to be linked to later events, which seems to be the case with the new film.

I suspect that Lucas was not as concerned in the first trilogy with what had to happen later in the story and was therefore able to focus his attention on the events at hand. The weakest segment was "Return of the Jedi," which had the task of bringing the story to an end. Only then did Lucas start to show signs of forcing plot points. In "The Phantom Menace," he gets so bogged down in the task of bringing his story from point A to point B that he ends up with only the bare bones of a plot, and none of it comes alive.

This is especially true of the characterization. In the old trilogy, characters like Yoda and Han reveal distinct personalities in their first few minutes on screen. This film goes for more than two hours and the characters, including the familiar ones, come off vague and nondescript. We aren't given much of a chance to experience their personalities in the way they interact. We must take Qui Gon's word for it when he describes Obi Wan as "headstrong." What's most odd is that the cartoons seem better developed than the humans. The scenes where Qui Gon negotiates with the birdlike slave-owner Watto are amusing and well-done--probably the movie's best scenes aside from the stunning action sequences--but they can't hold a candle to the constant interactions throughout the first trilogy.

One thing I cannot do is accuse the film of lacking creativity. The design of the creatures, the technologies, and the planets is impressive. Watching the film is sort of like reading a children's book that isn't very good but abounds with beautiful illustrations. There is certainly a "wow" factor in the movie's visuals, but the effect of it is short-lived.

I get irked when I hear fans talk as though the "Star Wars" movies were never about anything beyond special effects. While the inventive visuals are part of what made the originals so revolutionary, they're not what made the films so fun to watch. And in no way can they explain the trilogy's continuing popularity today. After all, many of the original effects look primitive by today's standards, and their novelty has certainly worn off. Only an enduring and compelling storyline could have allowed the first three films to become the classics they're almost universally acknowledged to be.
The Disenchantment of Star Wars1/10

Keep in mind while reading my comments that I am - and always will be - an avid Star Wars fan. The first three films helped define my childhood and have stayed with me into early adulthood. The themes and the sheer FUN of the trilogy are truly rare in this day and age.

That being said, "The Phantom Menace" is perhaps one of the worst films I have ever had to sit through, and a disgrace to both Star Wars and Lucasfilm. A true embarrassment, I was near tears through most of the film. Seeing it on opening night, I was thrilled as the trademark intro script scrolled up the screen. Everything that followed was truly horrifying, starting with the most ridiculously stereotypical Asian alien bad guys this side of Ming the Merciless. Add to that a completely dreadful script, way too many effects, no discernable plot line, and dreary "action" sequences, and you have yourself a real stinker. And I won't waste any space talking about the apocalyptic disaster that is Jar Jar Binks.

Poor Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson, and Natalie Portman!! Three of the finest actors to grace the screen today, and they have nothing at all to work with. Meanwhile all the dialogue goes to Jar Jar and Anakin, played awfully by Jake Lloyd. Sidenote: Am I the only one concerned with the fact that through the whole movie everyone calls the future Darth Vader "Annie"???

Darth Maul would be a formidable villain, assuming, of course, that he had any lines, which he doesn't. He is silent during his entire lightsaber duel with Neeson and McGregor, eliminating the verbal duel that was at the heart of Vader's fights with Luke in the original series. His role seems detached and his presence does not seem to effect the sequence of events in the least.

And let me say this: there are too many effects. They are not even that impressive, not for a lack of technical wizardry, but because the action they portray is either confusing or non-existent, and there is none of the tension in any of the battle scenes which is even close to that found in its technologically ancient granddaddy, "A New Hope". In fact, considering the technology available, the scenario of the battle scenes seems pretty ho-hum-ish if not trite.

There is not enough room to write all the terrible things about this movie. They even reduce the Force to microscopic organisms that live in the bloodstream. This was the most disappointing movie experience I have ever had. Mr. Lucas, if you or any of your people read this, please take to heart the ramblings of a disgruntled but faithful fan in order to make Episode II much better.
A solid but flawed addition to the Star Wars Saga7/10

Well, after waiting 16 years for his next installment, George has given us "The Phantom Menace". As a Star Wars fan I got what I expected - another chance to immerse myself in the Star Wars universe - a film whose sole purpose is essentially escapism. But as a movie fan, and judging it as I would any other movie, I frankly feel mildly disappointed. Any movie that's made can always be improved upon but I feel that this SHOULD have been better. Firstly the good points :

1) The visuals are stunning - a lot of love and hard work has quite obviously gone into the effects and the people involved can quite rightly be proud of their work

2) All the performances by the main cast were good. Particularly Natalie Portman and Pernilla August.

3) The Pod Race was exciting and amusing.

4) The final sabre duel was quite fantastic : Darth Maul prowling up and down like a caged tiger was a particularly excellent touch - it added real tension and anticipation to the scene.

5) The music as always was magnificent. The Star Wars saga would lose much of its charm and intensity without Williams' scores.

And now the negatives :

1) The pacing was too fast in parts! The first half hour of the film just left me cold - you weren't led into the story. You were dumped straight into the action. On paper I'm sure the first half hour looked fantastic but I found myself sitting in the theatre going - 'hey, great special effect shot there!' I wasn't involved in the story and the scenes lacked tension and danger.

2) The film only truly started for me on reaching Tatooine. I finally got a chance to get to know the characters. However there still was not enough character development in the film as a whole. For example, Obi Wan had nothing to do or say throughout the movie except flash his light sabre around from time-to-time. Who is Obi Wan??? After seeing the film I'm none the wiser. And the final sabre duel (good as it was) would have been infinitely better had the relationship between Qui-Gon and Obi Wan been explored past the mere mentor-apprentice motif. The final sabre duel lacked emotional involvement as a consequence.

3) Why did they make Jar-Jar so incomprehensible?? I found myself becoming annoyed at having to strain to understand his nonsensical utterings! (Having said that, he wasn't as annoying as I'd been led to expect) Why George used easily identifiable racial accents for his alien characters completely puzzled me. It just shows a lack of imagination!

4) Not enough Darth Maul.

5) What's with the biological exposition on the Force! Was that necessary? The first three films pointed to links between the Force and genetics but I don't need tiresome cold scientific explanations as to the Force's origin, thank you very much! It just ruins the mystique.

6) Can we have less of the mindless gaffes that occur in the final battle scenes (You know the ones that save the day!) Its an insult to the audience's intelligence (In a full theatre I swear I didn't see a single soul who looked under sixteen! - has George forgotten about the original fans). In the original trilogy there was none of this cringeful embarrassing material (Ewoks excepted!!)

Well I think I'll stop there. To summarise : a good movie that could have been a whole lot better. Perhaps there was too much story to cover in two hours? In which case the plot should have been shortened on the adage that "less is more". I've always thought that episode one was always going to be the lamest of the new films so I await the next installment with anticipation and hope .....