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Star Wars - The Phantom Menace
Reviewed by Rajiv Bajaj

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…. errr actually it was 1977 and in Hollywood, a young film maker named George Lucas released a film - 'Star Wars - A New Hope', which met with tremendous critical acclaim. Its success was attributed to a simple formula, it was a story about the fight between good and evil, and ofcourse it had great special effects and lovable characters. Star Wars was followed by two sequels 'The Empire Strikes Back' and 'The Return of the Jedi' which were major successes too.

Why a prequel?

Now the first movie Star Wars, was supposed to be the fourth movie in a saga. When George Lucas started writing Star Wars, he gave each of his characters a history to give them more depth. He realized that the histories of his characters could themselves be made into one complete movie and broken up into another set of three movies, starting with The Phantom Menace (sequels to The Phanton Menace, to be released in 2002 and 2005). In 1983, Lucas released 'Return of the Jedi' which he proclaimed would be the last Star Wars movie for the time being, since he felt that technology at that time was not up to the mark of bringing his vision to the silver screen. It was only when Lucas was supervising the special effects of his friend Steven Spielbergs movie 'Jurassic Park' that he realized that technology could now render on screen what he saw in his mind’s eye. So he decided to make a new Star Wars movie, and what better than a prequel for which he had already created a basic plot line while creating the character histories for the older Star Wars movies. 

The Last 3 Movies

First I'd like to say that one should see the three other movies before seeing The Phantom Menace (TPM), as one is required to know some of the happenings in the Star Wars universe to understand some of the twists and turns in the plot.

The last three movies were all about Luke Skywalker and friends battling the evil empire controlled by Emperor Palaptine and his apprentice Darth Vader (who is actually Luke's father Anakin Skywalker gone bad). The prequel saga (of which TPM is the first movie) is more about Anakin Skywalker, his rise, his fall and his ultimate redemption in 'Return of the Jedi'. Anakin (played by Jake Lloyd previously seen in 'Jingle all the Way') here is a nine year old boy !!!!!!!!!!

A Brief Synopsis of The Phantom Menace

The movie starts with the greedy trade federation blocking trade to the planet Naboo. The supreme chancellor of the senate sends two Jedi Knights, Qui Gon Jinn (played by Liam Neeson) and his apprentice Obi Wan Kenobi (played by Ewan Mcgregor) to meet with the trade federations viceroy and negotiate a settlement. Unknown to the senate and the Jedi's, something more sinister is at work here than a simple trade block. The Dark Lord of the Sith  (the evil Jedi's who have supposedly been wiped out), Darth Sidious is in control of the trade federation and wants to invade Naboo. No one knows that Darth Sidious exists hence he is the phantom menace. Darth Sidious orders the trade federation's viceroy to kill the two Jedi. 

While escaping, Qui Gon and Obi Wan realize that the trade federation wants to invade Naboo. They help Queen Amidala (played by Natalie Portman), the queen of the Naboo, escape from the planet and reach the planet Coruscant, the capital of the union of planets where the senate holds sessions. On their way to Coruscant, they have to land on the planet Tatooine for repairs where they run into and are helped by a young Anakin Skywalker. Qui Gon senses greatness in the boy and takes him to Coruscant to be trained as a Jedi. On reaching Coruscant the queen realizes that the senate is filled with corrupt individuals (on the payroll of the trade federation) who will do nothing about their plight. She is manipulated into passing a no confidence motion against the rule of the supreme chancellor by Senator Palaptine (who later becomes Emperor Palaptine) and nominating him instead. What follows is the queen’s attempt at freeing her planet Naboo from the trade federation.

The verdict

The special effects in the movie are first class, the choreography of the light saber duels are the finest martial arts scenes ever seen on screen. Unfortunately the special effects steal the show from the characters. One finds oneself looking at the effects more and the characters less. While the movie is excellent, don't get me wrong, I wish Lucas had concentrated a bit more on character development. For example, Obi Wan simply follows Qui Gon, there is no bond evident in the acting between them as it should be for a Jedi master and his apprentice. The end of the movie, while excellent, leaves one wanting more. But I don't blame Lucas for this,  TPM is just one third a movie, the rest of the story is still to be told in the next two movies. On this I shall bid you adieu or should I say – “May the Force be with You”.

Rating: *****

Written and Directed by
George Lucas

Liam Neeson - Qui Gon Jinn
Ewan McGregor – Obi Wan Kenobi
Natalie Portman - Queen Amidala
Jake Lloyd – Anakin Skywalker
Frank Oz – Yoda
Ray Parks – Darth Maul
Samuel L. Jackson – Mace Windu
Senator Palaptine – Ian McDiarmid
Shmi Skywalker – Pernilla August

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