Movie Magazine International

Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace

USA - 1999

Movie Review By Alex Lau

It's what we've all been waiting for, either with breathless anticipation or with unqualified dread. I, in fact, called dibs on this movie more than two full years ago, before it even had a title; seniority has its privileges. That's right, it's "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace," quite possibly the most hyped cinematic event in history.

And it's definitely an event. People have been lined up for weeks just to buy tickets. People lined up to buy the toys. People have been waiting for "the next Star Wars movie" ever since the release of "Return of the Jedi" in 1983, and the Lucasfilm hype machine actually had to run in reverse recently by reminding us that, hey, it's only a movie.

And yes, it's only a movie. But for the most part, it's a pretty good one.

If you can leave behind the hype - a tough task, I know from first-hand experience - "The Phantom Menace" is a solid action thriller with spectacular visual effects and a promising story line. Sure, there are a few flaws in the execution, but they're excusable in the grand scheme of things.

The biggest, and perhaps most unavoidable, flaw is that it's too obviously the first chapter in a series. Half of what happens seems preordained, and the other half seems to be foreshadowing. For everyone who has seen episodes 4 through 6, watching Episode 1 might seem like watching the beginning of a puzzle being put into place, when you already know what the end result looks like.

Acting was never the strongest point in Star Wars movies, and the legacy continues in "The Phantom Menace". Ewan MacGregor and Natalie Portman aren't much more than set dressing, and young Jake Lloyd is adequate at best. Liam Neeson, as Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, is solid, but the most memorable character performances are by non-humans: Jar-Jar Binks, played by Ahmed Best, and the always scene-stealing Yoda, voiced by Frank Oz.

Even so, the pacing is pretty well done, the action sequences are spectacular, and George Lucas weaves an interesting, if familiar, plot around the rumored 2,000 special effects shots - that's about one every 4 seconds, to save you the trouble of doing the math.

Is it worth standing in line for a month? I don't think I'm qualified to answer that question. But is it worth seeing? The answer to that one is, yes.

© 1999 - Alex Lau - Air Date: 05/12/99

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