Every Great Story has a beginning. When the Star Wars saga began in 1977 who would have known at the time that this one film would be the beginning of one of Cinema’s Greatest film series. But every Great Story needs a beginning and 22 years after the original film’s release, a new film series would begin for the Star Wars saga in the form of The Phantom Menace. Now I have always said that when it would come to reviewing the Star Wars film, I would do it in the order that it is meant to be, start with Episode 1 and carry on to 6 (then probably 7, 8 and 9 after those). Similar to how I am planning to review the Harry Potter series but start with The Worst and finish with The Best. I have wanted to write the reviews for these films for a long time, and now it finally begins.
The film opens with the opening crawl that appears at the start of each film and tells that the republic is in decline and the greedy Trade Federation have blockaded the peaceful planet of Naboo in response to the taxation of trade routes. The supreme Chancellor has dispatched two Jedi Knights to resolve the situation. The two Jedi; Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) arrive on one of the battle stations while the Viceroy of the Trade Federation Nute Gunray (Silas Carson) is alerted by a droid that what he thought were ambassadors are in fact Jedi. He contacts someone he calls Lord Sidious who tells him to Invade Naboo and kill the Jedi. The Jedi make their way to the central command room and almost get in but are attacked by Destroyer Droids. The Jedi then board two invasion ships.
The invasion ships land on the planet’s surface and Qui Gon encounters a strange local creature named Jar Jar Binks (Voice – Ahmed Best) before reuniting with Obi Wan. The two Jedi are taken by Jar Jar to an Amazing Underwater city where the rest of Jar Jar’s kind (named Gungans) live. Jar Jar is captured though as he was banished from there. The Jedi have a meeting with the Head of the Gungans named Boss Nass (Brian Blessed) who states that he does not care about the people of Naboo despite living on the same planet as them. Qui Gon using a Jedi Mind Trick manages to secure transport for him and Obi Wan to get to the people of Naboo; he also frees Jar Jar and takes him with them. The trio journey through the planet core and get attacked several times by Giant Sea creatures. Meanwhile the Droid Army reaches the Naboo Capital and quickly captures the queen.
The Jedi Arrive in the city and rescue The Queen. They decide to head to Coruscant and take the Queen with them. They rescue some pilots and take a cruiser from the Hangar. They immediately get attacked by the blockade and lose their shields. Several Droids are used to fix the ship but only one survives. With ship now partially fixed they manage to escape the blockade; however they don’t have enough power and need a new engine. The queen orders her handmaiden Padme (Natalie Portman) to clean up the surviving droid named R2-D2 (Kenny Baker). The ship lands on a remote desert planet named Tatooine where Qui Gon, Jar Jar and R2-D2 along with Padme head to a local town named Mos Espa to try and scrounge for parts. Meanwhile Sidious finds out about the cruiser getting past the blockade and dispatches his Apprentice Darth Maul (Ray Park) to find the missing ship.
Qui Gon and the group search through the town and find a shop selling ship parts. Qui Gon meets with the shop owner Watto (Andy Secombe) to see if he has the parts. Watto has what Qui Gon is looking for but does not accept republic credits and Mind tricks don’t work on him. Padme meanwhile talks to the boy shop keep named Anakin (Jake Lloyd) who is a slave owned by Watto. Qui Gon and the group leave the shop. Jar Jar then gets into trouble with a creature called Sebulba (Lewis MacLeod). Anakin arrives to save Jar Jar from the creature, Qui Gon thanks Anakin. A storm arrives and Anakin offers the group shelter from it. He takes the group to his home where he lives with his mother, Shmi SkyWalker (Pernilla August). He shows Padme and R2-D2 the droid he is building named C-3PO (Anthony Daniels). Back at the ship a message is received from Naboo, in truth it was a trace to find them and Darth Maul heads for Tatooine. Over diner at his home Anakin finds out that Qui Gon is a Jedi. Anakin finds out about the problem that the group currently faces and suggests that Qui Gon enters him into the Pod Race. While his mother is unsure about it she says it’s ok. Anakin works on and test his racer after the storm passes while Qui Gon discovers that Anakin did not have a father. That night Darth Maul arrives on the planet.
The next day people are getting ready for the race and Qui Gon makes a deal with Watto that if Anakin Wins he will be free. Watto however does not place his bet on Anakin and instead places his bets on Sebulba as he always win. The race opens and the commentator announces the racers while Sebulba sabotages Anakin’s racer. The race is about to begin and Jabba the Hutt makes his entrance to officially start the race. The race begins and Anakin stalls, after a few minutes he gets going. The race is intense and racers crash throughout the race. Eventually it comes down to just Anakin and Sebulba. Anakin manages to get in the lead after Sebulba crashes and comes home to win the race. Everyone celebrates and Qui Gon goes to see Watto who allows him to take the boy and have his ship parts. Anakin finds out about his freedom and after a tearful farewell with his mother, he goes with Qui Gon to learn to be a Jedi. When they reach the outskirts Qui Gon is attacked by Darth Maul. Anakin signals the ship to take off and Qui Gon boards it after a quick fight with Maul.
The ship arrives at Coruscant where the queen talks to the senator for the Naboo, senator Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) who tells her what will likely happen. Qui Gon and Obi Wan head to the Jedi Council which is led by Yoda (Frank Oz) and Mace Windu (Samuel L Jackson) where Qui Gon tells them about his mystery Attacker and about the Boy. At the senate the Queen tells of her issue but two senators supposedly on the pay roll of the Trade Federation question her. The Queen calls for a vote of no confidence on the current Chancellor. The Queen talks with Jar Jar and finds out that the Gungans have an Army. Senator Palpatine arrives and tells the Queen that he has been nominated to potentially be the new Chancellor; the Queen decides to return to Naboo. Meanwhile the Jedi Council evaluate the boy and declare that he is too old to be trained. The council tell Obi Wan and Qui Gon to return to Naboo with the Queen. Darth Sidious meanwhile sends Darth Maul to Naboo. When they return to Naboo the Queen sends Jar Jar to contact the Gungans. He returns and says that the city is deserted. Jar Jar takes the Queen to a sacred place for the Gungans. Padme steps forward and announces that she is really the Queen and that the other one is just her Decoy. She forms a friendship between her people and the Gungans. The Queen announces her plan for the Gungan Army to draw out the Trade Federation while she, Captain Panaka (Hugh Quarshie) and her soldiers will go to the palace and capture the Viceroy. Fighters meanwhile will attack the droid control ship and destroy it.
The Gungan Army marches out and confronts the Droid Army outside the city. Amidala, the Jedi, Panaka and his men attack the palace. The fighters manage to launch and head off to the droid control ship. Before the Queen enters the Palace she and her men are confronted by Darth Maul. The Jedi set to work with him while the Queen and her men enter the palace. Anakin meanwhile accidently enters a fighter and heads off into space. Things start going bad for the Gungan Army and are soon overwhelmed and a retreat is called, however Jar Jar and Captain Tarpals (Steve Speirs) are caught. The Queen is caught and is taken to the Viceroy and Anakin crash lands inside the droid control ship. Meanwhile Qui Gon is killed by Darth Maul during their fight. Back at the palace, Amidala and her men are rescued by her decoy and they manage to capture the viceroy. Anakin manages to disable the Droid Control Ship and Obi Wan eventually kills Darth Maul, he then rushes to Qui Gon and promises to teach Anakin.
The newly elected Chancellor Palpatine arrives on Naboo along with the Jedi Council. The council gives Obi Wan the title of Jedi Knight and Yoda allows Obi Wan to teach Anakin and Qui Gon is cremated while Mace Windu and Yoda try to figure out if Darth Maul was the Master or the Apprentice. The people of Naboo celebrate and Queen Amidala presents a gift of friendship to Boss Nass.
Star Wars Episode 1 is such an epic film on every scale that to properly analyse it we need to look at its major points one by one, so let’s start with the films characters. Because the film is the first in a new series and due to the fact that there is some headway to cover until we reach the original saga, there are many characters to introduce. So the first people to introduce should be the first people introduced in the form of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui Gon Jin. Qui Gon is one of the most interesting characters in the series, and is a shame that he only appears in this film. Played brilliantly by Liam Neeson, he plays the character as a wise old master much like Obi Wan in the original saga. He is not the sort of person to shout or yell and is calm for most of the film, does not once raise his voice but is stern/firm when he needs to be. These characteristics are attributed to him greatly and it shows that his Padawan learner in Obi-Wan is a good match for him. Obi-Wan is pretty young at this time and not as wise as he will become, he is loyal to his master yet strong and when he has a specific feeling he will air it even if his master does not agree. It is important for the film to show this bond between the two as well as Obi-wan at a younger because it shows that to become wise takes time and shows that you are not necessarily born with it. As you will see in the second film as Obi-Wan is much wiser as well as more patient than he is represented in this film.
Next up we have Queen Amidala played by Natalie Portman. For most of the film her character is a mystery and mostly plays the part of a handmaiden. It is not until later when the big shock is announced, and it is a big shock because you had no idea that it was coming. Most of the time the queen part is actually one of Amidala’s Bodyguards, in this film played by Keira Knightley (Yes, you read that correctly, Knightly was hired to play the role because of her striking resemblance to Portman). What makes the shock surprising even more is the amount of time the film spends with the queen in the early stages which makes you believe it is the queen; also the age of which she plays the role too looks more senior than Padme’s part. But when Amidala is truly revealed the film follows her and remains with her. Padme as a whole is more warming as well to the audience than this very firm queen that is at the start of the film. Amidala’s reveal had to happen one way or another due to the amount of time spent with her as a hand maiden, unlike all the others, you notice her.
Next up is of course Anakin Skywalker. This part is an important one and while he may not be the lead in this film he will eventually play the Biggest part in the series, that of the Main Villain. It is an interesting story to tell because in a way you want to know how this villain came to power. Even more so when you see this film and see how he is a nice young boy and becomes this force of evil. When he first makes an appearance he has this nice side to him as well as this inquisitiveness, he is not shy and instead asks straight questions. It is not until he rescues Jar Jar that Qui Gon knows about him and later becomes interested in him. Anakin shows great knowledge for his youth as well as interest into specific subjects. It is almost like he has Asperger Syndrome but on the opposite side to it he has no difficulty when it comes to social activities. I wouldn’t be surprised if Anakin is used as a subject or has been used as a subject for characters in fiction and the Autistic Spectrum, which would be an interesting study. His special characteristics work well in his favour once he has found proper channelling and direction in the form of Qui Gon; a skill he maintains through the course of the film. While not being the main role of this film in particular, he still plays one of the more interesting parts, when you think about it.
Now we move onto Jar Jar Binks. When I watched this film a few weeks ago I posted that I did on Facebook and soon after I got a string of people saying that they did not like the film but did not explain why. Later on one person revealed the reason why they did not like the film was down to one character, Jar Jar Binks. Now in some parts I can agree with them, he does seem to be a bit more of a comical relief and to many people who see this film and not delve into it may just see him as an annoyance. However when you take time to look and think about the film, Jar Jar is a very important character and in most ways the most pivotal character in the film. If Jar Jar did not find the Jedi then he would not have taken them to the Underwater City and so the Jedi may have had to have walked to the city instead of going through the planet core. If Jar Jar did not get into trouble on Tatooine with Sebulba, Anakin may not have come to his rescue and so Qui Gon may not have mat Anakin. If Jar Jar did not tell the queen about the Gungan Army then the Queen and the Jedi may have had to take on the entire Droid Army in the city and probably lose because the Gungan army will not have amassed outside the city drawing the droid army out of it, and as such the people of Naboo would not have made friends with the Gungans. It was through the actions of Jar Jar Binks that almost every major part in the storyline occurred and as such he deserves more credit than he receives.
Now for the rest of the Cast. Captain Tarpals is an interesting character with an amazing voice. He is a rather strong character with a professional attitude. For a character that only makes a few brief appearances, they are definitely worth it, even though it is a surprise that a character of his stature is not promoted to General before Jar Jar Binks. On the topic of Gungans lets move onto the impressive Boss Nass, Leader of the Gungans. Brian Blessed is the perfect choice for the character, while he plays the part differently to that of a King. While Boss Nass may be a leader he seems more like a gangster in style and in the way he talks and acts. Even before the battle scenes he has this gangster like walk and personality. This however does make the character special because if he was played as a king the character probably would not be as interesting.
As for series regulars, The Phantom Menace has a satisfying and pleasant opening and explanation for the 2 droids R2-D2 and C-3PO. In the original trilogy, the droids were the story tellers, an angle that was originally inspired by the Akira Kurosawa Classic; The Hidden Fortress. This time however, the characters are not at the very beginning and as such are not able to fulfil their role. However, the moment that they both meet each other is also the same moment that the bond between the 2 characters begins and as we can see in the original trilogy, they are still the best of friends. This film also puts an interesting perspective on how the characters came to be, well it does for C-3PO at least showing that he was made by Darth Vader, while R2-D2’s beginning is still a mystery (unless someone has written about it).
Another series regular that makes a return is the Jedi Master Yoda. This time around he is living in a time of piece and leads the Jedi compared to hiding away on a planet from all the hardships. Yoda is an important character to feature. While older viewers will remember him, younger audiences will be amazed by him. This small character with a big heart, great knowledge and a skilled fighter. While in the Blu-ray release he is a digital character, to me he does not look as good as he did as a puppet. Alongside Yoda we have a brand new character who is somewhat annoying, Mace Windu. He spends most of the film disagreeing with people and does not give a single smile at all during the film. While a Jedi is a very disciplined warrior, that does not mean they have to be mean. However on the plus side, he is played very well.
In the background meanwhile there is Captain Panaka, it is sometimes easy to forget that he is there, he does not seem to do much early on except advise the queen. It is not until he is involved on the attack at the palace that he seems to make a proper appearance. For the most part he is just standing around looking strong. When the queen arrives at Coruscant he almost seems to stop talking altogether. Captain Panaka is a strong character but with the lack of appearances for most of the film, it is easy to forget that he is there.
Nute Gunray is an interesting character. He starts off in the film as a sort of villain but is more of a coward as well as greedy. He is more of an initiator and follows through with his plans but has to rely on other people to do things for him and if backed into a corner he would probably cower in the corner. However, his scenes, particularly when he is talking are always memorable ones to me as his voice is amazing and can show authority and in some way demand respect. On the other hand in the villain stakes there is Darth Sidious. The commander of evil as such for the story, all the way through all six films. In this film though he does seem to have a deeper and more sinister voice than on other occasions. He is of course Senator Palpatine and eventually the Emperor in Return of the Jedi (played by the same actor; Ian McDiarmid). He is great at hiding his identity, as it can be seen when he is Sidious, much like Christian Bale’s Batman in some sense, which to a simple passer-by who has not seen Return of the Jedi would not know any the wiser.
Next up we have Watto and Sebulba. While these 2 don’t really share any scenes even though they can be both seen in 1, they are interesting characters and helm their spots brilliantly. Watto isn’t a villain as such; he is more of an obstacle, and a pretty big obstacle. He is not evil or bad, he is just a businessman who does not fall for tricks. He can be seen as he is represented but if you were to look at his point of view you may see someone like Qui Gon as the villain under the basis that Qui Gon is trying to trick him. Generally Watto is not a cruel person, just more misunderstood. Sebulba on the other hand, while not evil does seem to be genuinely not nice. However he does make a good rival to Anakin Skywalker particularly when it comes to the racing scene. Both he and Anakin already share a connection as they are able to swap pleasantries and conversation with depth other than just saying hi like two people who may have just seen each other from time to time. Sebulba as a creature is also interesting to me in the point that he walks on his hands which I do quite like and gives him some character, even though it is quite confusing when he is racing and swaps.
Finally we arrive at one of the films and in some capacity, the series best characters, Darth Maul. For a first film he is a fantastic option to represent a universe of culture. He both looks and is a sinister character. He does not have to grimace to look sinister as a dead pan face can just convey it and make his appearance do the rest of the work. He hardly says anything in the film and when he does (voiced by Peter Serafinowicz), it shows him in a different light. You could have him not talk at all and it would not spoil the film or character in a way but when he does it reveals more. He does not have a deep or sinister voice, he more whispers which brings in questions about who or what he really is. His skills with a lightsaber also make him a dangerous fighter, how many Double Sided lightsabre’s have you seen. The simple fact that it has two ends allowing him to fight two opponents without losing an arm is incredible. Add his martial arts skills into the mix too and you get one impressive warrior. He is the main villain of this film, you can forget Nute Gunray, the Trade Federation and Darth Sidious, Darth Maul anchors the sinister role. For the main part he is an incredibly mysterious character, even after the film ends, he is still a mystery. To me and several other people it is a shame that he has to die in this film as he could pretty much be the Dart Vader of the original trilogy. The Black and Red face is an excellent piece of design and as iconic to the series as Darth Vader’s Helmet and look. The soundtrack of the film works greatly with his character too, it’s almost like Duel of the Fates; particularly at the beginning of the piece was written for Maul just like Vader’s music was written to be his theme in the original series.
While the film was released in 1999 (about 14 years ago), the special effects of this film still rival the effects of films that have been released since then. While films like Transformers and Avatar may have beaten that on a visual scale, in terms of technical achievement they are nothing compared to this film. While I always state that the best CGI is Jurassic Park (both visually as well as experience), Star Wars comes close. The CGI Characters are one of the amazing achievements. I remember a documentary about this film back in 1999 stating that Jar Jar Binks is the biggest technical achievement since Jurassic Park. But it is not just Jar Jar, creatures like Watto, Sebulba and Boss Nass, all of them which are completely CGI, the level of detail still makes them look like they are real. When it comes to characters though you cannot beat the real thing. Darth Maul is an amazing achievement in its own right, the horns being placed on the real human character instead of having to be placed on with CGI. Pretty much the same effect style that was used for TV shows like Star Trek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. However if you compare Yoda from the original release of the film with the Yoda in the Blu-ray edition you will see a difference. The original Yoda was a puppet while in the Blu-ray version he has become a full CGI version of himself in the following two films. While people may say that the CGI version is better (which some will say it is better just because it is CGI with no real reason), to me, you can’t beat a real thing. While the lines are exactly the same as well as voice from the original release, to me it is not the same and I would prefer to watch the Yoda from the original release.
But to me the best effects in this film are the environments. With a film like this which does rely on one previously used location in Tatooine, the film introduces several new locations previously not seen. Naboo is an interesting planet and culture. It has a sense of being very posh and upper-class and acts as a sort of opposite for the planet of Tatooine. Naboo’s structures even those in the Gungan city are very regal in style and more like old-fashioned, perhaps classical, not new, almost like it was built to be like that. But the best part of Naboo has to be the Gungan Underwater City. Using a pan affect the city is revealed, and it really is a city, it is huge and vast and expands farther than the eye can see. The light effects are amazing to as the city is revealed. Even when you leave the city image and head inside the city you still have this vast image of a culture that lives underwater. A culture that lives almost like any other culture. However the most surprising part of Naboo is the place where the Lightsaber duel takes place, it almost seems to be somewhere else entirely and not in Naboo at all.
Tatooine has been seen before but this time it is a different angle in the form of Mos Espa other than Mos Eisley from the original trilogy. Mos Espa is more of a city and is very large and has a Pod Racing Track, which probably helps the local economy. However the economy is not rich, the place is very much poverty-stricken and so explains the slavery. Mos Espa is much more vibrant and in some way pleasant to that of Mos Eisley and does show a nice comparison for an already familiar location. The other major location for this film is Coruscant, a planet that is just one Big City. The scenes in this film look very familiar to that of any city skyline and it is not until the next film that a more familiar resemblance is shown. But the skyline look is important as Coruscant needs a hero like character for this film as the constant talk of the place makes it sound fantastic as well as safe. For me the best part of this city is the giant senate room with the flying discs. Why this has not been included in any video games (as far as I know) I don’t know, but it looks incredible as well as look like a lot of fun to both be there as well as pilot one of the pods.
In terms of other major effects, the Gungan army sequence is brilliant. The whole beginning of the battle with the number of Troops as well as Droid Tanks, even when they are moving down the hill into position is incredible. The effect of all those soldiers easily beats that of any effect Lord of the Pants can achieve (which was after this film) but also is a sort of nod towards a company that LucasFilm founded and later sold, Pixar. The battle in outer space is terrific, particularly the shots involving all the droid ships at the beginning of the scene flying out of the star ships but also the destruction of the star ship which to me is a lot like the destruction of the Death Star, yet another example of the beginning of a new trilogy. A couple of scenes that are short but are of particular mention are the opening shot of the Star ships around the planet which is a great way to open up a film while present a previously unseen part of the universe. The other scene of note is the invasion shot when the ships leave the star ships and head for the planet surface. The sheer number of them along with a great piece of music to go with it makes it one of my favourite scenes in the entire film.
While other effects such as the Planet core scenes show off wildlife of a planet through great detail, the scene that makes the best effects out of CGI as well as real effects is the Pod Race Scene. The various characters that appear in this scene such as Jabba the Hutt as well as The Commentators who I think are fantastic. But it is not just character, the pressure and tension that race itself produces is fantastic, the great pan shots as the racers drive off into the distance shows the speed of the race but many times returns to the foreground and close up for us to see the drivers themselves. But in my opinion the best part of this scene is when the racers are introduced, the music (which I will talk a lot more in detail about shortly) and the part with the flags, it is a lot to take in during a short part but it altogether it creates one of the most memorable parts of the series, (why isn’t it available on YouTube?).
The soundtrack is an important part of any film but to Episode 1 it is even more so. The beginning of a new trilogy and it relies completely on its own soundtrack. The original trilogy’s soundtrack is really only heard on 2 occasions, the beginning crawl and the end credits. From the moment the film really starts it is completely its own film. One of the major importance’s with this film’s soundtrack is that a lot of this music will need to be used again later on, because we have another 2 films to go until the original trilogy begins. I do like the fact though that the soundtrack is a new soundtrack for a new trilogy. I also think that the soundtrack with this film does not get enough credit. If we were to look through each piece one by one, we would be here all day; so a quick run through. The invasion pieces have a nice military feel to them, the pod racing music has a nice sense of tension and pressure, which is also pretty much the same with the battle pieces but on a much larger scale. The Gungan city theme adds a depth of mystery to the scene but more on a reveal scheme, which is different when it is compared to the Coruscant pieces which are more on a pleasant grander scale to give the correct feel, which is sort of peculiar because it is almost the same as the Tatooine scenes and the celebration scenes for the end are complimented nicely with a piece of celebratory music. However quick we go through this though I do feel that I must give a more in-depth look at the films main and striking theme which is unlike any other theme in the series; Duel of the Fates.
Duel of the Fates is an incredible piece of music in it’s own right. It’s combination of loud music plus a vocals section mean it can stand toe to toe with great classical pieces such as In The Hall Of The Mountain King and Verdi’s Requiem. The opening vocals section is by far the best part and a great opening, it gets your attention, but not in a pleasant way. From this point it starts off gentle but soon becomes this fast paced track and brings it’s vocals back. Then it stops, before starting again, almost like a chorus. The theme includes sections of chasing as well as moments of stand offs and in-depth battles, the track could be used at several points in the course of the film as it almost suits any dramatic part. If anything this piece is the main theme for this film and as such makes it different from other films in the series as they rely on the main overall theme. It is also easy to see that this piece is also the theme for Darth Maul, just like Vader and Grievous had their themes, Duel of the Fates is Maul’s theme. It is incredible in some sense than that one of the series’ most outstanding parts as well as iconic in recent years is a piece from its soundtrack and in some way sells the film to other people, even those who have not heard of Star Wars even more.
All these points together maybe hard to understand if you have not looked in-depth at this film before, but when you bring them altogether you get an experience like no other. The special effects are old in comparison to todays work, but they are far more impressive as they give a grander feel to the overall perspective and look of the film. The music gets you on edge but finds time to bring a sense of amazement as you look at worlds undreamed before but stills bring you back into the action. The characters are all well designed and while some may be annoying, the film would not be the same without them. But a film would not be the same without a story and this film explores several ideas and it is through this story that the films parts are brought together to make one incredible experience. The film in some sense is not anchored much around the Jedi like in the original saga, but the War has not begun yet, so they are not much of an issue. The film explores the idea of peace, an idea that did not exist until the end of Return of the Jedi, however there needs to be an explanation for the war, the high point before the fall. But the film also explores the important beginnings of characters, and with this film it explores the innocent beginnings of Darth Vader, which is a Good Story to tell. While there may be long-time fans of the series who may not like this film and have issues with it, It was enjoyable to me and many others. While Return of the Jedi is my favourite in the series, my second favourite film in the series explores what life was like before the war; and that film is called The Phantom Menace.
GENEPOOL (this film is also the first time that George Lucas has directed a film since Star Wars)