Two Jedi escape a hostile blockade to find allies and come across a young boy who may bring balance to the Force, but the long dormant Sith resurface to claim their original glory.Two Jedi escape a hostile blockade to find allies and come across a young boy who may bring balance to the Force, but the long dormant Sith resurface to claim their original glory.Two Jedi escape a hostile blockade to find allies and come across a young boy who may bring balance to the Force, but the long dormant Sith resurface to claim their original glory.
Here's Your Cheat Sheet for the 'Star Wars' Saga
Overall, Episode One ranks above Episode Six, about par with Episode Four, but certainly nowhere near the grandeur and wit of Episode Five. Phantom Menace reminds me of something someone said of Citizen Kane: A hollow masterpiece. PM is technically brilliant, yet it is so technically brilliant that it lacks a certain "human" warmth. To me, the best moments were those intimate, interpersonal moments--Padme giving Anakin a blanket, Qui-Gon placing his hands on Anakin's shoulders in the Jedi temple, and ESPECIALLY all those moments with Shmi Skywalker, Anakin's mother.
In an interview in Premiere Magazine, Liam Neeson gave a telling anecdote that illustrates my point. First, he noted that Lucas was reticent to give the actors any motivation for lines, expressions, or anything. In other words, Lucas simply expected the actors to say lines devoid of emotional content, as if the post-production could somehow invest emotional motivation. Neeson revealed that it took him a long time to convince Lucas to allow Qui-Gon to place a hand on Shmi's shoulder after he convinces her to allow him to take Anakin away to Coruscant. That hand on the shoulder was probably the BEST moment in that film, a sign of human connection in a swirling clash of galactic politics gone awry.
Traces of post-production fiddling is evidenced most forcefully with Jake Lloyd's Anakin. Watch carefully his scenes at the dinner table, sitting with Qui-Gon at night, and saying goodbye to his mother. Those scenes were clearly doctored in post-production; I believe Lucas took different takes of Lloyd saying lines and splicing those with Pernilla August's. Pay special attention to Anakin after Shmi says, "He can help you, he was meant to help you." Anakin's face is clearly digitally manipulated to turn sideways. The first time I noticed it (it was the fourth time I've seen the film) I was taken aback. It was so blatant I began to wonder what other bits were modified that way.
On the plus side: Lucas can weave a wonderfully rich narrative tapestry. I love that all this begins with a trade dispute. A trade dispute! Complete with procedural wranglings in a galactic senate rife with corruption and bureaucracy (watch for the cameo appearance of Spielberg's ETs) and a sinister Darth Sidious pulling the political strings. It's the perfect smokescreen to disguise the rise of an evil empire. Every step of the plot has the look of careful craftsmanship; every twist and turn of the plot had relevance.
The costumes are outstanding, especially Queen Amidala's Asian-influenced wardrobe. John Williams has certainly outdone himself with the soundtrack, particularly "Duel of the Fates," which introduces choral voices into the Star Wars musical repertoire, ominous voices that sometimes hiss and sometimes howl the forboding Sanskrit text. The production design and cinematography (both real and CGI) create vistas of unparalleled beauty and richness: from the Italianate arches and domes on Naboo, to the art nouveau-inspired underwater air-globes of the Gungans, to the dramatic cityscapes of Coruscant. I can see Academy Awards next year for all these achievements . . .
Despite its many drawbacks, I am drawn continually to rewatch The Phantom Menace: for its artistry, for its lines ("There's always a bigger fish"), for those rare human moments, and to soak in this latest addition to the Star Wars text. Yes, the wrapper might be a tad bit flashier than the present inside, but its a gift given with a lot of heart and the best of intentions.
- Jun 9, 1999