Star Wars: Episode One – The Phantom Menace
1999, PG, 133 min. Directed by George Lucas. Starring Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Jake Lloyd, Natalie Portman, Pernilla August, Ahmed Best, Samuel L. Jackson, Ray Park.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Feb. 10, 2012
It's 22 years later, but George Lucas is finally back in the saddle, pitting good against evil in a complex web of intergalactic skullduggery. Episode 1, however, draws heavily on clichés and innumerable cinematic and literary references. Drowning amidst the oceans of hype, marketing, and fan worship, there is a movie, and unfortunately it's not a terribly good one. Lucas, eager to please everyone it seems, crams gobs of action into every part of every frame. Episode 1 often has a rushed, stop-start feel, with information being parceled out at an alarming rate but minus the emotional or character-driven narratives we've come to expect from our dealings with Lucas. What works, of course, are the effects, computer-generated and otherwise. The cosmic Huggy Bear that is Jar Jar Binks may be the most annoying Star Wars character since the Ewoks first piddled on the forest floor, but for an entirely CG-character, he's impressive, if not human. What does it say about a filmmaker when his effects come out better than his human cast members, when a single laser strike is more dramatic than a whole raft of (stilted) dialogue? It says he ought to spend more time on story and less time crunching binaries, more on pacing the myth and less on cramming it down viewers' throats.