At the end of the 20th century (shut up purists, I know the 20th century didn’t end until Dec. 31st, 2000), fans lined up for miles outside theaters in order to watch the first new Star Wars film in 16 years. Teaser trailers abounded for a year, which wasn’t really necessary as the mere mention of a new Star Wars movie was enough to get fans salivating. I know they weren’t necessary for me, as I did my part waiting in line to be there at a midnight showing opening night, hoping that my expectations would be met with the movie. Well, I enjoyed it and bought it so let’s get to watching how Vader came to be with today’s movie, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.
The plot: The Trade Federation has set up a blockade around the planet of Naboo so Chancellor Valorum dispatches Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi to Naboo to negotiate with them. When they arrive on Viceroy Nute Gunray’s ship, Gunray contacts Darth Sidious, a Sith Lord, and tells him about the Jedi’s arrival so Sidious tells him to kill the Jedi, while he works on making the blockade legal. Gunray has the Jedi’s ship destroyed but fails to kill the Jedi, who attempt to reach Gunray on the bridge of his ship before they are forced to leave when a pair of destroyer droids arrive. Sneaking down onto the loading docks, they see an invasion army preparing for launch and stow aboard the ships so they can make their way to the planet’s surface. Meanwhile, Gunray receives a transmission from Queen Amidala of Naboo, demanding he cease the blockade and saying she knows that the Chancellor’s ambassadors are on his ship but Gunray denies any knowledge of them, then orders the invasion to begin after ending the transmission. After the invasion ships land on the surface, Qui-Gon rescues Jar Jar Binks, a Gungan who has been banished from the Gungan city. After meeting up with Obi-Wan, the two Jedi convince Jar Jar to take them to the city so they can get help in reaching Naboo. When they reach the city, they are taken to see Boss Nass, the Gungan leader, who ignores their pleas to help the Naboo so Qui-Gon uses the Force to influence him into giving them a ship so they can go, then arranges for Jar Jar to accompany them, saying that Jar Jar owes him a life debt. The trio make their way in a Gungan sub through the waters and after being attacked by several large predators, arrive in the capital city of Naboo. Meanwhile, Gunray’s droid army has taken control of the city and captured Queen Amidala and her court, then tells Amidala that he wants her to sign a treaty to legalize his occupation of Naboo but she refuses. As Amidala and her court are taken away, they are rescued by Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, who want to take her to Coruscant, as Qui-Gon believes that there is more than just an occupation at work here. Heading to the hangars, they rescue some pilots and make their way to a cruiser and leave, but the ship is damaged as they make their way through the blockade and they are forced to land on Tatooine in order to make repairs, though Captain Panaka, Amidala’s Chief of Security, doesn’t like the idea and voices his displeasure. Meanwhile, Gunray and his aide contact Sidious and explain Amidala’s escape but Sidious tells them his apprentice, Darth Maul, will find her and bring her back to Naboo to sign the treaty. On Tatooine, Qui-Gon, Jar Jar, and R2-D2, the astromech droid that repaired the shield generator as they were leaving Naboo, head towards Mos Espa to search for the parts they need when Panaka stops them and says that Amidala wants one of her handmaidens, Padme, to accompany them and though he says it is a bad idea, Qui-Gon reluctantly agrees. Heading into one of the shops, Qui-Gon speaks with the owner, a Toydarian named Watto, and Qui-Gon learns that Watto has the parts they need but finds the Toydarian immune to mind control and is unable to make a deal with him. Meanwhile, Padme speaks with nine-year old Anakin Skywalker, a slave that Watto owns, who tells her he is a pilot and one day plans on leaving Tatooine. After leaving the shop to figure out there next move, Jar Jar has a run in with Sebulba, a mean-tempered Dug, but Jar Jar is saved by Anakin, who taunts Sebulba about the upcoming pod race. As a sandstorm approaches, Anakin takes them to his home to seek shelter, introducing them to his mom, Shmi. When they get there, Anakin shows Padme C-3P0, the protocol droid he is building to help his mother, and 3P0 starts to bond with R2. Meanwhile, Amidala receives a message from Naboo detailing what is happening but Obi-Wan tells her not to contact them back, as it could be a trap, but unfortunately, Darth Maul is able to track their location and he heads to Tatooine to find them. Back on Tatooine, Qui-Gon is talking with Shmi and Anakin and ends up explaining their situation to them. Anakin says he is building a racing pod and suggest entering him into the race, which would allow them to make the money needed to buy the parts, and though Shmi doesn’t like it, she agrees it is their best chance. When the storm passes, Qui-Gon returns to Watto’s shop with Anakin and makes a deal with Watto, using their ship as collateral. That afternoon, Anakin works on getting his pod racer ready and Qui-Gon speaks with Shmi about Anakin and his father, to which Shmi said he didn’t have one. That night, as he tends to some of Anakin’s cuts, Qui-Gon takes a blood sample and sends it to Obi-Wan, who says the Midi-Chlorian count is off the charts, higher even than Master Yoda. On the day of the race, Watto taunts Qui-Gon about the race, saying he is betting on Sebulba to win the race, so Qui-Gon takes the bet and if Anakin wins, he is free to go with Qui-Gon. As the racers move to the starting line and the announcers introduce them, Sebulba secretly heads over to Anakin’s pod and sabotages it, before taunting Anakin. As the race starts, Anakin’s pod stalls out but he manages to get the engine started and takes off after the other racers while Sebulba, who is in the lead, does whatever he can to keep it. After two laps, Anakin and Sebulba are the only two racers left and Anakin takes the lead when Sebulba’s sabotage finally takes effect, causing one of his engines to catch fire. As Sebulba retakes the lead, Anakin is able to put out the fire and restart the engine, then catches up to Sebulba and as they jockey for position, one of Anakin’s engines latches onto one of Sebulba’s and Anakin leaps forward, causing Sebulba to crash as his engines separate, leaving Anakin the winner. As Jar Jar, Padme, and Shmi congratulate Anakin on his victory, Qui-Gon speaks with Watto, who is angry at losing his bet and starts to refuse to give Qui-Gon Anakin but reluctantly agrees when Qui-Gon threatens to take the matter up with the Hutts. After taking the parts to the ship so Obi-Wan and the others can get started on repairs, Qui-Gon heads back to town to get Anakin and tell him he is free and Anakin is excited about leaving but sad about leaving his mom. As the two make their way back to the ship, they are attacked by Darth Maul and Qui-Gon battles with him as Anakin runs ahead to the ship. Once Anakin is on board, Obi-Wan has the ship fly towards the battle and Qui-Gon is able to leap onto the open gang plank and they make their escape. When they arrive on Coruscant, they are greeted by Naboo’s senator Palpatine and the Republic’s Supreme Chancellor Valorum and Valorum says that he has arranged a special meeting of the Senate so Amidala can speak of what is happening on Naboo while Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan head to the Jedi Temple to speak to the Jedi Council. In the Council, the Jedi believe that Qui-Gon’s attacker is a Sith Lord but are surprised that the Sith could have come back without their knowledge. Qui-Gon then speaks to the Council about Anakin, asking that he be tested for entry into the Jedi, as he believes he might be the child spoken about in a Jedi prophecy. At the Senate meeting, Amidala pleads her case but when Valorum asks that it be turned over to committee, Amidala, at Palpatine’s subtle urging, calls for a vote of no confidence against Valorum. After returning to her chambers, Padme is approached by Jar Jar, who talks about the situation back on Naboo, and when she learns that Palpatine is one of the men in contention to be the next Supreme Chancellor, she decides to head back to Naboo. Meanwhile, Anakin is tested by the Jedi Council and though he is strong in the Force, they refuse to train him as a Jedi. Qui-Gon argues against their ruling, so he will take Anakin as his Padawan, as he believes Obi-Wan is ready to become a Jedi Knight, but the council forbids it, then has him and Obi-Wan accompany Amidala back to Naboo. When they arrive on Naboo, Amidala sends Jar Jar to seek out the Gungans but when Jar Jar finds the city deserted, he feels that the Gungans went to their hidden place to regroup and leads them there. When they approach Boss Nass, Padme reveals herself to actually be Queen Amidala, explaining that the other Amidala was merely her bodyguard serving as a decoy. Padme then begs the Gungans for help in defeating the droid army and Boss Nass, liking the fact that Padme does not act like she is better than the Gungans, agrees to help. Padme lays out her plan, having the Gungan army lure out the droid army into the plains, while she leads the rest of her group into the city to capture Gunray and send her ships out to take out the droid control ship in space, shutting down the droids. The Gungans head out into the plains and activate an energy shield, which is able to withstand the droid army’s tank fire so the droids march on foot into the shield to fight the Gungans. Padme’s group enter the city and manage to secure the hangar, sending their ships out to destroy the command ship. As Padme heads out to go after Gunray, they are confronted by Darth Maul, wielding a double-bladed lightsaber, and Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan move to deal with him while Padme and the rest of her soldiers are attacked by 3 Destroyer droids. Anakin, who had hidden inside a Naboo fighter with R2, accidentally activates it and manages to take out the Destroyer droids as the auto pilots takes him out into space. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan continue their fight with Darth Maul but eventually end up being separated from each other by some energy shields near the power core. As the shields go down, Qui-Gon continues the fight with Darth Maul while Obi-Wan rushes to join him but is trapped behind the energy shields again and can only watch as Qui-Gon is stabbed in the gut by Darth Maul’s lightsaber. Meanwhile, Padme leads her troops to capture Gunray, splitting up when their way is blocked, but she ends up being captured. As she is taken to see Gunray, Sabe, her decoy, appears and Gunray sends his droids after her, allowing Padme to grab some hidden weapons and take Gunray hostage. Out in space, R2 is finally able to take the ship off auto pilot and as Anakin pilots the ship, he ends up crashing into the control ship’s hangar. As R2 gets the systems restored, Anakin uses the weapons and ends up blasting the power core, then flies out of the ship as it explodes around him. On the surface, the Gungan’s shield is destroyed and they are forced to retreat but are quickly captured by the droid army when they suddenly shut down, and the Gungans begin cheering over their victory. Back in the power core, Obi-Wan continues the fight against Darth Maul and though he manages to cut Darth Maul’s double bladed lightsaber in half, Maul Force shoves him and knocks him down the central shaft. Obi-Wan manages to grab onto a handhold and as Darth Maul swings the lightsaber towards him, Obi-Wan is able to leap over him, and summon Qui-Gon’s lightsaber to his hand, using it to cut Darth Maul in half. As Gunray is led to a shuttle and forced to leave the planet, Palpatine arrives, having won the special election and is now the Supreme Chancellor. Members of the Jedi Council and in a private meeting, Yoda confirms Obi-Wan as a Jedi Knight and, though he thinks it is a bad idea, says the Council agree to let Obi-Wan train Anakin. As a funeral pyre is held to cremate Qui-Gon, Yoda and Mace Windu speak about the attacker, wondering if it was the Sith Master or Apprentice that Obi-Wan killed. The next day, a ceremony is held as Boss Nass, Jar Jar, and Captain Tarpals of the Gungans join Padme, Palpatine, Anakin, Obi-Wan, Panaka, and the rest of Padme’s court in a peace celebration between the two races.
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace met with mixed results from the critics, holding a 56% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus on the site is, “Burdened by exposition and populated with stock characters, The Phantom Menace gets the Star Wars prequels off to a bumpy — albeit visually dazzling — start.” When the first trailers for the movie were released, theaters reported that up to 75% of audiences would buy tickets for movies which screened the trailer, then leave after the trailer was shown. Audiences were surprised, and delighted, to see E.T.’s species featured as a Senate contingent, which was done as a tribute to George Lucas’ longtime friendship with Steven Spielberg and to show that the two movies shared the same universe. The movie was a box office hit, earning $924.3 million off of a $115 million budget, making it the highest grossing movie in the franchise at the time, until it was surpassed by Episode VII – The Force Awakens.
This has some good parts to it, but I was honestly a little disappointed in the movie as a whole. The acting was fairly good, with Liam Neeson doing a great job as Qui-Gon, playing the mentor role with Obi-Wan as well as showcasing the tendency to move to the beat of his own drum, which would sometimes move against the wishes of the Jedi Council. I thought Ewan McGregor did a good job in playing a young Obi-Wan, and I liked Natalie Portman as Padme, but the idea of bringing back Ian McDiarmid reprising his role as Palpatine was genius in my opinion. The story was good in the sense that it set up future events that we know will happen, but it was a little weak on it’s own merits. Another thing I felt that they could have done a better job with was that the added too much of a comic twist to this movie. I mean, Jar Jar was nothing more than a comic foil for the entire movie and it took away from the depth of the story. Yes, there was some humor in the original Star Wars trilogy but it was more subtle and usually a line or two, or a line and a reaction or situation resulting from it, but Jar Jar was just annoying. The special effects were very good but I honestly think they relied on the special effects a little too much at times to try and help carry the story. That aside, the scenes of the citys (Gungan City, Naboo, Coruscant) were spectacular and definitely showcased some of the best elements of the effects. A great start for a new generation of films, but definitely lacking compared to the original trilogy.
Rating: 4 out of 5