Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 25th Anniversary Edition Review

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Rating: 4/5

Synopsis:

Before the summer movie season kicks off, Disney has decided to give fans a bit of nostalgia with a “Star Wars” rerelease. This time, “The Phantom Menace”, a highly discussed film in its time gets another shot on the big screen. The story begins long before the time of the Empire, where political discourse and rifts in the senate are rising. Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi are tasked with investigating the trade federation and bringing about a settlement. But their mission goes astray, forcing them to land on the desert planet of Tatooine. They encounter a young boy with unusually strong force tendencies, forcing Qui-Gon to consider that he may be the chosen one. But the resurgence of the Sith may cause disturbances in democracy, forcing politicians and Jedi alike to be weary of dangerous intentions.

Positives:

Ah “The Phantom Menace”. So many memories with this one. This was my introduction to “Star Wars” when I was very young. I watched the film on repeat for many years, specifically the lightsaber battle between Darth Maul and the Jedi. Revisiting it twenty-five years later, my fond nostalgia remains. While acknowledging the story isn’t perfect, I still have a blast with “The Phantom Menace”. Each frame brings me back to my childhood, reminding me how large an influence this had in my love for movies. Twenty-five years later, I think the film holds up very well. Upon its release, the special effects were cutting edge. Where the classic trilogy broke ground for effects like these, the prequel trilogy expanded upon that. The world George Lucas was able to create holds up to this day. He had a very difficult task with establishing new lore and a premise that leads to the rise of Darth Vader. I think the initial release of the film jolted the fanbase, where a different presentation “Star Wars” unsettled viewers. Now that this storyline is complete and the years have allowed the material to breathe, it seems as though most are coming around to the film. I’d even argue most fans seem to respect the continuity of the prequels after the sloppy execution of the sequel trilogy. So credit to George Lucas for running with an idea and doing something different.

I really enjoy the storyline too. We had never seen anything like this in the franchise before. There are so many new characters and worlds to explore. Some fans initially complained about the political negotiations and how it was such an important part of the story. This was necessary to establish the environment the republic was in and how Palpatine saw it as an opportunity to seize power. His methodical planning in the disruption of peace unfolds brilliantly. I also enjoyed the introduction of Anakin. His life as a slave combined with his unmatched ambition makes his downfall much more tragic. The film does an incredible amount of worldbuilding in just one movie. I can understand how fans felt that this went astray and explored areas that didn’t fit into the original trilogy. Exploring it now, I’m glad Lucas gave us the opportunity to experience the many avenues “Star Wars” can offer.

I really enjoy the dynamic of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. They provide different perspectives but always respect each other’s judgement. Qui-Gon’s rebuttal to the Jedi counsel shows how even the Jedi can have rifts, providing opposing views of morality and insight. Obi-Wan really grows into a fan favorite, managing to be a thoughtful Jedi with skills in the art of lightsaber fighting. I don’t think anyone can disagree that “The Phantom Menace” raised the bar for lightsaber fighting, giving us one of the best battles in the franchise towards the end of the film. The choreography for the lightsaber duels are some of the best in the franchise to this day. I especially enjoy the Darth Maul fight at the end where both Jedi are forced to deal with his double-edged weapon. Even the pod race scene is constructed with an exciting style, proving Anakin has skills that most regular humans don’t. There is a lot to enjoy about “The Phantom Menace” and I stand by my enjoyment of it.

Negatives:

Yes, I can acknowledge “The Phantom Menace” is a flawed beginning to the prequel trilogy. It attempted some things that were controversial and shifted the direction of “Star Wars” forever. I can also admit my nostalgia for the film does carry weight in my thoughts. Objectively speaking, the weakest aspect of the plot is some of the acting. I don’t think anyone gives a career best performance here, but most of the cast members hold their own. The performance that stood out in the worst way was Natalie Portman’s. It’s clear she was still developing her acting chops while filming this. Her bland and unenthusiastic line delivery stands out like a sore thumb. Many believe Jake Lloyd’s portrayal of Anakin is weak, but I think he does a fine job. Imagine being in his position, tasked with beginning the journey of one of the most complex and famous villains of all time. As it shows with the other performances, I think this is more the shortcoming of Lucas’ direction rather than a bad performance on his end. But we can’t forget Jar Jar Binks, the red headed stepchild of the Star Wars franchise. Although he has gained some fans over the years, I’d still agree that his addition to the story is unnecessary. His clumsiness and lack of purpose does stand out in the wrong ways.

Some argue that the political discussions and complicated backstory weaken the enjoyment of the film. While I don’t fully agree, I can acknowledge why it bothers some people. It sets up what is to come, laying the groundwork for Palpatine’s rise to power. I think this was a necessary step forward for the franchise as it ties into the greater conflict at hand. But my biggest gripe with the film is the utilization of Darth Maul. He is one of the coolest characters in the whole franchise, only to be wasted with minimal screentime. I also hated the way he was killed off, leaving Obi-Wan to slice him in half without any sense of self-defense. The possibilities of his character were endless as he could have been one of the main villains in the next few movies. I wish he was handled with more care and was given an opportunity to showcase his potential as a Sith.

Conclusion:

“The Phantom Menace” is one of the most discussed entries in the entire franchise. The highs are high but the lows hold it back in most fan’s ranking of the series. I admire the film for taking risks and attempting to do something new with the series. There is a lot to love here, featuring the introduction of many famous characters. This extra background with them strengthens their standing in the original movies. I also really enjoyed the lightsaber fights, which raised the bar for the action sequences in future films. But the film isn’t perfect. There are some wooden performances and poor writing in certain segments. I’ll never get over the mishandling of Darth Maul either. For me, the film has aged well. It allows fans to step back and admire the things it gets right in the long run. I especially appreciate the continuity it sets up for the rest of the trilogy. I think everyone can agree that the prequels at least make sense in the greater “Star Wars” lore, while the newer trilogy really dropped the ball in that department. Take “The Phantom Menace” for what it is and I think walking away with fond nostalgia is likely.