Star Wars: The Phantom Menace Review - IGN (2024)

When the first Star Wars came out, I was eight years old and living in Phoenix, AZ. The ticket lines stretched around the block and I remember getting an alarmingly hideous sunburn waiting nearly two hours in the sweltering Arizona sun. My subsequent pain and milk baths were worth it. Every second. Though it was critically-mauled, this tiny film called Star Wars was winning over the hearts of kids and adults alike. It was everywhere. It was striking a tonal emotional chord. It was introducing what can only be called a spiritual space opera to passion hungry crowds. What do critics know anyway? Idiots. And now, through an utterly bizarre set of circ*mstances, I am now a critic. I'm about to critically maul this movie. I feel like a mother condemning her wayward son. I feel like Benedict Arnold.

I feel dirty.

To be sure, The Phantom Menace is one hell of a movie. The effects are truly inspired, among the best you will ever see. The sound easily sets a new standard and John Williams' score is once again perfect. The pod races (though having very little to do with the plot) are spectacular. With nearly 95% of the movie digitized in some form or another, it lacks that certain grit that peppered Star Wars. Still, these great sweeping washed frames get under the skin with their mouth-gaping beauty. You will be impressed. You will go "Gee Whiz!" You will believe it's a world you can inhabit. But, will you care about the characters? More importantly, will you care about the story?

Before we proceed any further, it's time to address the Jar Jar Binks issue. Part Roger Rabbit, part Jerry Lewis, and part Bob Marley, this freaked out creation is to The Phantom Menace what that awful space monkey was to Lost in Space. The only possible charm comes from his utter lack of coordination and when he steps on a turd. People falling down was funny when Chevy Chase did his famous Gerald Ford impressions but here, among the polished new kids of The Phantom Menace, it just seems out of place. There's a point when he actually channels Mike Myers from his Wayne's World days and says "Exsqueeeeze me?" Groan. What's next, "Where's the beef?" If there's Jar Jar toilet paper, I want a crate.

Equally troubling to me was the wasting of Ewan McGregor. An excellent actor, about the only thing that can be said for him here is that he effectively nailed Alec Guinness' accent. (Of course, this wasn't Ewan's movie. It's not yet his time … c'mon Episode 2) Jake Lloyd (Anakin Skywalker) gets an E for effort but falls flat. Natalie Portman shows experience beyond her years. The rest of the characters are digital creations hand-picked for the toy shelves. Mostly, it was impossible to work up any feelings for any of the characters.

I like the idea of a ragtag band of rebels up against an ultimate evil. I like Han Solo's leather. I like Leia's freaked out hair. I like Luke's whiny co*ckiness. The characters in Phantom play like a group of powder-bottomed, silver-spoon wielding poncey clothes horses. It's as if Dangerous Liaisons collided with The Muppet Show.

Lucas as Director also lacks the patience of someone like, say, Stanley Kubrick who permits scenes to completely unfurl before your eyes. Actors have room to breathe. Emotions have time to build. TPM is paced wrong. Instead of letting the world fall into place so it can be digested, George keeps whipping the horses. There is no time to absorb the creatures and locations, no time to become emotionally-invested in the characters. Memo to Lucas: step aside on the directing duties. The Phantom Menace better be the worst of the prequels or we're all in trouble.

Still, all is not lost and Lucas sprinkles bits of familiarity throughout the movie. The opening sequence is shot for shot like A New Hope. R2D2 is there. So is a nude C3P0. The infamous scene wipes are still there. Ultimately though, this movie could've been about half an hour. Much like The Rise and Fall of Milli Vanilli, it's a story that doesn't even really need to be told. Effects and the gee-whiz factor are still important for pulling in the crowds (witness The Matrix) but without a compelling story, you've got dick.

All of this pontificating aside, what's really missing from the movie is a sense of wonder, a sense of unrestrained, unjaded, unbridled imagination. We fell in love with Star Wars over the years. Kids loved it for its simplicity, adults cherished it for what life secrets it winkingly imparted. There were moments to whoop and holler, moments to bite the nails, and moments to have the experience simply rain on you.

That's missing in TPM. All of it. The best way to illustrate this lack of heart in Phantom is to talk about the audience. At the first flash of the LucasFilm logo and throughout the first 15 minutes, the air crackled with electricity and cheers. By the end, when the credits rolled, the clapping was merely polite and restrained. I haven't seen so many people with dashed expectations since Godzilla or the time Chad Wincourt told our class that Santa Claus was a fake, a phony, not the real deal.

Steven Horn is the editor-in-chief of daily movies. He is known in certain corners of the world as "rebel scum."

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace Review - IGN (2024)
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