Welcome to Star Wars week. On Friday, Episode VII: The Force Awakens opens in theatres around the world. In anticipation of this historic event, I’ve decided to rewatch the original six and review them here, with a new review coming out every day this week.
The Phantom Menace was my introduction to the Star Wars universe. Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul were amazing characters that personified my first memories of awesome action movies. Needless to say, this movie means a lot to me.
And after watching it again this week, the story holds up. For a movie that in retrospect has a lot of world building to do, it succeeds, introducing characters like Padmé, Chancellor Palpatine and of course Anakin Skywalker organically. When the audience meets these characters, they don’t learn everything about them right away, they learn slowly as the series progresses.
Darth Maul is still a formidable opponent for the Jedi but in retrospect, he is hardly in the movie at all. Besides a couple meetings with the Emperor and a quick fight with Qui-Gon in the dessert, Maul’s only major scene comes in the final battle. As a kid, he left a much bigger impression on me than that. Still, the final lightsaber battle holds up, and the death of Qui-Gon followed by the final duel between Maul and Obi-Wan Kenobi is still one of the most exciting scenes in the series.
There is a lot to like in The Phantom Menace, but watching 16 years later also shows the films age. A majority of the movie is CGI and some of the scenes appear only half rendered. While others look amazing, some of the bigger droid battles are comically bad now. But that shouldn’t be something to criticize a movie for. Time and technology evolve at a rapid rate and George Lucas could only work with what he had.
The Phantom Menace in a way introduces a new side of Star Wars. The original trilogy was limited by the budget and technology of the day, making them more intimate stories with less action and characters. The Phantom Menace takes advantage of more modern technology to create more exciting lightsaber battles, larger drone armies and more characters and conflicts than ever before. Not all the choices made work, but enough do that the movie doesn’t completely fall apart.
The role of the first movie in a trilogy is to introduce the world and characters that inhibit it. The Phantom Menace succeeds at that. It doesn’t do anything groundbreaking or solve any the major conflicts, but the film moves the story along just enough to be worthwhile. You can’t fault it for that.