Thirteen years after its original release, Episode One of the Star Wars phenomenon makes a reappearance with the addition of 3D conversion. Out of the six movies in the series, this installment is widely considered as the weakest for various reasons, but seeing as though I have shamefully never actually seen a Star Wars movie in its entirety before this one, I’d like to think I’m a neutral party. After viewing, it’s safe to say that The Phantom Menace does not help 3D’s case of being worth the extra ticket price, nor has it fully won me over as a fan of one of the biggest franchises of all time.
The evil Trade Federation, led by Nute Gunray is planning to take over the peaceful world of Naboo. Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi are sent to confront the leaders. But not everything goes to plan. The two Jedi escape, and along with their new Gungan friend, Jar Jar Binks head to Naboo to warn Queen Amidala, but droids have already started to capture Naboo and the Queen is not safe there. Eventually, they land on Tatooine, where they become friends with a young boy known as Anakin Skywalker. Qui-Gon is curious about the boy, and sees a bright future for him. The group must now find a way of getting to Coruscant and to finally solve this trade dispute, but there is someone else hiding in the shadows. Are the Sith really extinct? Is the Queen who she really says she is? And what’s so special about this young boy?
I’ll admit: I took that synopsis from IMDb (thanks ‘simon!’) because I for the majority of the film, I had little to no idea what was going on in terms of narrative. I got the impression that, with it being the set up for the rest of the saga, this existed mainly for character introduction and on that level it worked. As I said, I’ve not seen a Star Wars film all the way through (usually just catching the odd half hour when it’s on TV) but I know the overall gist of the story and the vital characters. It was good to see how C3P0 and R2D2 (who are hilariously listed as Artoo and Threepio on my local cinema’s website) first meet, and I found the plethora of alien races visually interesting.
There is nothing positive to say about Jar Jar Binks. I was aware the character existed before seeing this, but there’s no way I could have fathomed just how irritating it is; it’s the comic relief that just isn’t funny in the slightest. Some have said that Jar Jar is simply a merchandising opportunity, to bring in a younger audience. If anything, this monstrosity would put me off buying any further Star Wars memorabilia. Liam Neeson, who is always a pleasure to watch, brilliantly keeps a straight face as he acts alongside the CGI and is the standout performance from a pool of wooden acting from the rest of the cast. Ray Park, who plays the spikey headed and red faced Sith apprentice Darth Maul, is indeed as menacing as the title suggests, but unfortunately is just as ‘phantom’. Appearing for about 10 minutes overall in the films 133 minute runtime, Maul just stands next to his master giving evil looks until he’s sent to ‘take care’ of Obi Wan and Qui-Gon. To be honest, he does provide the best scenes in the film with the impressive lightsaber battle, but it’s all over too soon, and what could have been one of the best villains in movie history is disappointingly disposed of.
The conversion to 3D is, unsurprisingly, pointless and the film still looks as flat as the acting. The pod racing sequences are the closest it comes to being worthwhile, but I thoroughly enjoyed those scenes regardless of the dimension: they seemed to be part an entirely different movie than what preceded or followed on from them, and I’m assuming it’s scenes like that what make the other Star Wars films so enjoyable.
Die hard fans of the franchise will relish in having the chance of seeing the films again at the cinema, but there’s nothing here to bring in the casual movie goer. If, like me, you haven’t seen a Star Wars movie before this, I’d say your best option would be to purchase the Blu Ray box set and discover them that way. Episode 2 is scheduled for a 3D re-release in 2013, and with 4 more ‘episodes’ still to go after that, it looks like the proverbial cash cow isn’t quite dried up just yet.