THE PHANTOM MENACE
Starring Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman and Jake Lloyd
CineSight Rating *** 1/2
The Galactic Trade Federation has begun to exert its greed at the very beginning of the STAR WARS saga, by blockading the small peaceful planet of Naboo. This action, and the ensuing invasion, are merely the backdrop to the main story - the discovery of Anakin Skywalker (Lloyd), who will one day become the dreaded dark lord of the Sith - Darth Vader.
Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn (Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) are given the task of escorting Naboo's young queen Amidala (Portman) to the Galactic Senate on Coruscant, where she will appeal for help against the Federation. However, a spaceship malfunction forces them to make an unscheduled stop on the desert planet of Tatooine. Here they run across a young slave boy by the name of Anakin. As the boy helps them, Jinn begins to sense that the youngster could grow to be a great Jedi. Circumstances allow Jinn to arrange for Anakin's freedom, and he joins the mission to Coruscant, taking his first steps towards his ultimate downfall and redemption...
If you accept the STAR WARS series for what it is - an exciting space opera in the tradition of the 1930's and 40's cliffhanger serials, such as FLASH GORDEN - then you'll have a good time with PHANTOM, despite what the critics say.
This is not a movie about complex characters or plot. It's main purpose is to set the stage for the Skywalker saga in the next five episodes. THE PHANTOM MENACE unrolls an epic canvas of the galaxy far, far away, that we have so far only glimpsed. And what a galaxy it is! Lucas and company take us from the verdant opulence of Venetian-styled Naboo, through the familiar harsh desert wastelands of Tatooine, to the breathtaking metropolis of Coruscant - a retro high-tech city which covers an entire planet.
This spectacular journey of discovery is a visual feast. Traditional STAR WARS action is served up in the form of fast-paced lightsaber duels and spaceship battles, in addition to the memorable podrace sequence. Racers in tiny capsules are harnessed to jet engines and fly careening through Tatooine's desert canyons (these contraptions look as if they just rolled off the assemblyline at the Looney Toons Acme Company).
I think George Lucas has succeeded in what he set out to accomplish - raising the curtain on the entire series, not just creating a single movie. Just remember: there's plenty more to come!