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Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

September 9, 2010

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
Director: George Lucas
Actors: Liam Neeson, Jake Lloyd, Ewan McGregor

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Synopsis: Problems are afoot in the galaxy, while in the planet of Tatooine, a young boy (Jake Lloyd) emerges, who may bring balance to the Force….

Review: The start of George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel trilogy probably just about sustains itself on the goodwill built up from the previous three films, but much like in the on-screen narrative, there are dark signs ahead.

The CGI emphasis is generally a distracting addition: for every benefit it brings (I found the underwater cityscape a stunning design), there are numerous minuses. These include the Star Wars ‘world’ looking a far less realistic and tactile place than it had done in the previous trilogy (the paradox of CGI), and in particular, the addition of completely CGI-generated characters is regrettable. Not only do they look unconvincing – note Ewan McGregor getting his eye-line completely wrong when having a conversation with Jar Jar Binks – but they are weak dramatic creations in their own right, as Jar Jar Binks’ dumbed-down cartoon incarnation testifies.

The story’s charting of the disintegration of the republic (Senator Palpatine’s machiavellian behaviour is already a prominent theme) is relatively successful though surprisingly stodgy with talk of trade disputes and bureaucracy, but the development of the Annakin Skywalker strand is weak. Talk of virgin births and fulfilling prophecies, plus the character’s supposed chemistry with Amadala, hardly sits comfortably on the callow acting shoulders of young Jake Lloyd. Surely a slighter older actor – possibly in their mid-teens – might have given the role a bit more gravitas, because in the next two episodes the character will have to look closer to Natalie Portman’s age anyway in order to convince for their love-match. (November 2006)

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