The world waited breathlessly for nearly twenty years as George Lucas teased that someday he would go back and tell the story of how Anakin Skywalker fell from grace and became the greatest villain of all time, Darth Vader. It’s almost unfair how much pressure was on this movie. After all, the original “Star Wars” trilogy is considered probably the best trilogy of all-time– at least it was until Peter Jackson and his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy came along.
“The Phantom Menace”, Episode One of the prequel trilogy, was released in 1999 and might go down as the most over-hyped film ever. Ewan McGregor donned the robes of Jedi master Obi Wan Kenobi (played by Sir Alec Guiness in the original), Natalie Portman was cast as Padme Amidala, the Queen of Nabbo and the woman who would go on to give birth to Luke Skywalker and his sister Leia. Given the daunting task of bringing young Anakin to the big screen was little Jake Lloyd. To give the film a bit of depth, writer and director Lucas cast Liam Neeson as Obi Wan’s master, Qui Gon Jinn, who would become responsible for finding little Anakin on the desert planet of Tattooine, Luke’s home planet in the original trilogy.
The movie never manages to capture the fun or imagination of any of the first three movies. It is spectacular to look at though. At the time of its release, the character of Jar Jar Binks was the first computer generated character to use the motion capture sensor system, since perfected by Jackson’s Gollum in LOTR. The problem with “The Phantom Menace” is it never truly gives you anything or anyone to care about. There really isn’t a primary character to get behind. The plot centers around a Trade Federation blockade of Queen Amidala’s home planet. The Jedi, Obi Wan and Qui Gon, are sent to settle the dispute but of course there is more going on than anyone in the Galactic Senate realizes.
Jake Lloyd and Ahmed Best, who plays Jar Jar, are the targets of much of fan hatred in this movie. Lloyd isn’t much of an actor, but he is given so little to work with in Lucas’ simplistic script. The movie boasts several stunning action sequences such as the pod race on Tattooine and the three-way lightsaber duel between Qui Gon, Obi Wan and the film’s main bad guy, the seriously misused Darth Maul, but it never captures the magic of the old flicks and relies too much on its amazing special effects, rather than solid characters and story.