STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE 3D
**** (out of 5)
February 10, 2012
Liam Neeson as QUI-GON JINN
Ewan MacGregor as OBI-WAN KENOBI
Natalie Portman as PADME AMIDALA
Jake Lloyd as ANAKIN SKYWALKER
Ian McDiarmid as SENATOR PALPATINE
Directed by: George Lucas
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I am a self-admitted “Star Wars” baby. No other film series, work of literature or pop culture element has been more instrumental in my childhood and entertainment over the years. I was five when “Star Wars” came out, and yes, I’m one of those fans who doesn’t quite feel comfortable referring to that movie as “A New Hope” because it will always be “Star Wars” and nothing more to me.
I played with the toys as a child, saw each movie when it came out multiple times in the theaters. Hell, I even remember watching “The Star Wars Holiday Special” on live TV back in 1978 and loving it. (I was only seven at the time of the airing, so you’ll understand my perspective.)
When the prequels came out, I loved them. I loved each one of them. I come from the perspective of an unapologetic fan of the series, warts and all. So getting a chance to not only see a “Star Wars” movie in the theater again, let alone seeing it in 3D, let alone seeing it with my kids for the first time… this was a momentous event.
Instead of writing a typical review, I’m taking a different approach. I won’t bury the lead here… I loved seeing this movie again. And if you’re one of those people who cannot fathom why I would, I’ll start with a defense of the film, especially in regards of just having seen it, sitting between two of my sons, ages eight and ten.
Here’s what I hear most complaints about…
1. Jar Jar Binks
I get it. He’s an annoying character. He’s childish. He’s goofy. He’s not cool in any sense of the word. Ahmed Best gave him an irritating voice reminiscent of the godawful Jackalope on “America’s Funniest People.” He’s a terrible addition to the series.
However, watching it again, knowing that there’s no escaping him or the Gungans in the film, I wasn’t so bothered by him. In essence, he’s the cute Ewoks from “Return of the Jedi.” He’s the tiny robot that flees from Chewbacca in the first “Star Wars.” He’s the element of the film that keeps the otherwise humdrum political discussions tolerable to children.
This was no more apparent to me than when, about half-way through the film, my ten-year-old son leaned over to me and whispered in my ear: “I love Jar Jar.”
Whether you want to believe it or not, the “Star Wars” films always have been made for kids. That’s why the toys sell so well. And most of the fans out there loved them as a kid and only soured on them when they got older and couldn’t remember what was so appealing to them from that age. I’m the same way with “The Ewok Adventure.” It’s a terrible film with goofy-ass characters, but I loved the hell out of that TV movie when I was a kid.
2. The dialogue
Yes, the dialogue is bad. It’s downright terrible. But so was the dialogue in the previous three films. Luke whining about going to Toshi Station? C-3PO’s constant yammering about the odds (which he never does in five other films) in “The Empire Strikes Back”? Han and Luke’s witty banter on Jabba’s skiff in “The Return of the Jedi”? It’s been there since the start.
3. The acting
Yes, Jake Lloyd is a terrible actor. There’s no excuse for that. But we’re stuck with him, and I don’t necessarily blame him. A little more than ten years after making “The Phantom Menace,” Natalie Portman went on to win an Oscar. It’s clear she just didn’t know how to handle the dialogue. It was only veterans like Liam Neeson who knew how to deliver the dialogue. But that doesn’t ruin the film for me.
4. The story
I’ll admit there’s really only about 20 minutes of real story in “The Phantom Menace.” But this movie isn’t exactly a full movie in itself. Did the fanboys complain about the meandering pointlessness of “The Fellowship of the Rings”? Did Harry Potter fanatics complain about “The Order of the Phoenix” having little plot structure. Like “The Phantom Menace,” these films served as introductions to a greater story that would be built out in further films. It’s really the first act in a three-movie saga.
I’m not excusing these problems with “The Phantom Menace.” I’m sure Lucas could have formed the script better. But I’m okay with these warts. And here’s several reasons why…
1. It’s Star Wars
That’s a weak reason, I know. But here’s why I think it’s worth mentioning. After “Star Wars” came out in 1977, everyone on the planet tried to imitate it. Oddly enough, no one was able to get the right mix of seriousness, technology, sound, music and tone. There’s a uniqueness about “Star Wars” that comes through in “The Phantom Menace.” From the Gungans’ blue bombs crashing into the battle droids to the sound and feel of the laser blasts, this film was a return to the Star Wars universe, which had only been found in three movies prior.
2. The action
There’s a lot of talking and politics in “The Phantom Menace.” Like I said, it was done in order to make way for a greater story later on. Most of the exposition takes place in this film. But to balance it out are some spectacular action sequences. We all remember the pod race and the climactic battle triumvirate at the end. But let’s not forget the trip through the Naboo planet core and the mini action moments like Qui-Gon Jinn’s first encounter with Darth Maul and the numerous sneak attacks on the battle droids. These action pieces are what made this film thrilling even today.
3. The 3D
I know this has only been added for this release, but the 3D conversion on this film is one of the best I’ve ever seen. I’m always cautious of converted 3D, but the technology is getting better and better over the months. And aside from “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II,” I can’t think of a converted 3D film that holds a candle to this one. In particular, the pod race is even more thrilling in three dimensions. The technology pulls real depth out of the movie, even in relatively flat talking scenes, and that’s what makes it worth paying some extra money to see it again in the theater.
4. Darth Fucking Maul
Forget the old men (which would be Ian McDiarmid and Christopher Lee). It’s the Sith Lord known as Maul who makes one of the greatest villains of all time. Hard to believe that little shit has only a handful of lines in the entire movie.
So there’s my defense, for better or worse, for “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D.” If you hated it when you saw it in 1999, you’ll likely hate it now. But if you’re like me and love all installments of the series but are afraid to say so because so many people insist it’s terrible, stand up and be proud. You are not alone.