A film by George Lucas

After years of watching and rewatching the original Star Wars trilogy, the first of three prequel movies was released in 1999. Episode I: The Phantom Menace was a long awaited, and highly anticipated new (and first) chapter in the Star Wars Universe. The previews teased of what was to come and it looked good. After finally seeing the movie in the theatre, I was filled with part excitement and part disappointment, and the more I thought about the movie, the less excited I was about it.

This opening chapter presents us with a trade blockade on the planet of Naboo by the Trade Federation. Two Jedi, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) are sent to negotiate a settlement to the blockade, but they are attacked by droids employed by the Trade Federation. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon end up on the planet of Naboo and become entangled in the local political situation with the blockade and rescue Queen Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman). They also acquire a tagalong alien named Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best). More about him later.

The Jedi and Amidala, along with Jar Jar end up on Tatooine (yes, that Tatooine). They are helped out by a little slave boy named Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), whom Qui-Gon believes is the one spoken about in some prophecy about the one who will bring balance to the Force . The rest of the movie is a mixture of Tatooine, and the attempts to free Naboo from the Trade Federation. We see the Jedi Council for the first time, featuring Yoda (Frank Oz) and Mace Windu (Samuel L Jackson). We see the remnants of the Sith, Darth Sidious and Darth Maul (Ray Park) and their plots against the Jedi and their manipulation of the Trade Federation. We see the first meeting of C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker). We see the Old Republic that was, and the corruption of the Senate. The Phantom Menace is truly a set up. After watching this movie, we have a very good idea of how the Republic becomes The Empire, and we are introduced to key characters like Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. We even get to see the Jedi fight as true warriors, rather than two old men in A New Hope .

There are some very exciting sequences in this movie. Seeing the Pod Race on the big screen was rather impressive, and the lightsaber duel between Darth Maul and the two Jedi was the best lightsaber fight of the entire series thus far (without knowing what is in Episode 3). I didn t even mind all of the talk about Trade and the Debates in the Senate. So, what was my problem? The movie was filled with a cast of capable actors, but the dialogue was so bad that I don t think anybody could have done a good job in delivering the lines (Pernilla August, as Shmi Skywalker was a notable exception for most of her scenes). It was the writing. Star Wars has always been on the simplistic side, with some silly lines, but for whatever reason, nothing seemed to work. Add to this the issue of Jar Jar Binks, and it makes things a little bit worse. Jar Jar is a character designed to appeal to kids. He felt like the answer to Yoda, directed at small children. But, he was rather annoying to adults, rather than being cute or interesting, as Yoda was (and is). Jar Jar s clumsiness also negated what could have been a powerful battle scene between the Gungans and the Droid Army.

Why do I keep watching? Because at the end of the day, it is a Star Wars movie, and my love of the original trilogy compels me to watch. My expectations were so high that I acknowledge it would be difficult to meet them. This was an enjoyable movie to watch, and it finds new life on DVD. This is a 3 Star movie, and while I was disappointed, I still kind of liked it.

3 pugs, out of 5