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May 2000


Star Wars Episode I:
The Phantom Menace

Rated: PG

CAST: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, and Samuel L. Jackson

DIRECTOR: George Lucas


Is there someone left on Earth who doesn't know what this movie is about?


Seems like plenty of folks are disappointed that with the tremendous hype surrounding Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, the film hasn't really lived up to their expectations. Me, I don't mind so much that the film didn't live up to the hype -- nothing could -- but I do mind that a film which could have been the best of the decade turned out to possess more flash than substance.

Episode 1 had plenty of problems, and they begin to become painfully apparent with the early introduction of a character called Jar Jar Binks. Sure, Jar Jar has taken a lot of flack from critics. But I don't hate Jar Jar because he might be a racial stereotype or any other such nonsense. I hate Jar Jar because he gives me the most horrible, frightening, not-at-all-fun Full House flashbacks. I tend to disagree with the theory that if Jar Jar were a human character he'd be a tall, uneducated Jamaican or something. No... no. He'd be the so-cute-you-want-to-vomit we-share-a-single-brain duo of childish adorableness, Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen.

No, don't laugh, I'm absolutely serious here. Every time Jar Jar would rattle off another inane line I'd just sit there and wish he'd be killed violently. But then he started saying "How wude!" The first time I'm pretty sure I went into convulsions and blacked out, then (after I recovered consciousness) I expected him to start calling Qui-Gon "Daddy" and Obi-Wan "Uncle Jesse". The second time he said it I developed a nervous tic (don't worry, the doctors say it'll go away on its own in about ten years). Add to that the fact that Jar Jar generally behaved like an idiot, got everyone into trouble far more than was necessary, and rattled off even more annoying and cutesy phrases, and I started wondering why the other characters let him live.

But I did have more problems with the film than just poor picked-upon Jar Jar. I didn't see the point to the million little scenes they gave us, for one. We'd be in the middle of a scene somewhere, and they'd cut someplace else to show us two characters saying a few lines that didn't really have anything to do with anything. Then they'd do it again. It may have been the first time that I watched a film and was highly conscious of the scene changes, simply because they were so clunky and awkward.

But by far the worst offense of Episode 1 was a stunning lack of character development. For all the depth they gave Darth Maul, he could have been just another droid. Anakin Skywalker, though played well by Jake Lloyd, also had his moments; those forced little "Yippee!"s and everything to do with Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman). Yes, we get the hint of "foreshadowing" that you're beating us over the head with... but in this movie Skywalker is only a kid, and we definitely don't want to think about him shagging with Amidala at any point in the future, so just keep your deep "I care about you, too" stuff to yourself, Lucas! Even Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), my own personal object of lust, suffered in this movie; he spent a lot of time doing nothing. Which is not to say that he doesn't work as an eye-candy prop, but to get the full effect you need to hear that luscious accented voice and see that bod in some kind of ass-whipping action! The only character who acquired depth in this first installment of the trilogy was Qui-Gon Jinn, extremely well-played by film veteran Liam Neeson, and I doubt we'll be seeing much more of that particular Jedi Master, will we?

The only sequence that had me really invested in the film was the wonderfully choreographed and brilliantly executed three-way lightsaber duel. McGregor is really given a chance to shine here when he finds himself cut off from the fight, and again when the barrier drops. Not to mention the action itself, which was just plain awesome. Not even the original trilogy gave us a lightsaber fight like that one!

DROOL FACTOR: My god! I wonder if Ewan McGregor needs a love slave...

GROSS-OUT FACTOR: The only real gross you'll find here is the blatant build of undeniable future bonking between a young queen and a nine-year-old. Ewww!

STRONG CHICK FACTOR: Amidala and her girls are not the type to be pushed around; this film's pretty good as far as tough chicks go.


I found the effects incredibly impressive, and the movie itself was enjoyable in spite of its faults, but it could have been so much better. I have high hopes for the next installment of the new trilogy (which promises more Obi-Wan, always a good thing!), and I hope I won't be disappointed again.

Lisa Kohles of
The 11th Hour