February 24, 2012
The story“There's something about this boy,” says Jedi knight Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) to his padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor). “He gives without any thought of reward. He can see things before they take place.” Qui-Gon is talking about young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) who will play a major role in subsequent installments of the Star Wars saga. In “Episode I: The Phantom Menace” (1999) — re-released now in 3-D — writer/director George Lucas introduces characters in the sci-fi tale and tells of the invasion and subjugation of Queen Amidala's (Natalie Portman) peaceful planet Naboo. Jedi knights Jinn and Kenobi are sent to intervene on behalf of the intergalactic Senate.Can the Jedi knights return Amidala to her rightful place on Naboo? Who is Darth Maul (Ray Park)? Why was he sent? What is his mission? For answers to these and other questions, see this first chapter of the Star Wars epic. The actorsLiam Neeson and Ewan McGregor are Jedi knight Qui-Gon Jinn and knight-in-training Obi-Wan Kenobi. Jinn is older but, as he says, not as wise as his apprentice. It's young Kenobi who senses the significance of their investigations on Naboo. “I have a bad feeling about this,” he says. Fans of “Star Wars” (like me) know the rest of the story. Kenobi is right. As Jinn, Neeson has some of George Lucas' clunkiest lines: “There's always a bigger fish” and “Nothing happens by accident.” Natalie Portman has two roles. She's regal as Queen Amidala and low-key as Padme. Amidala has the best costumes and most astonishing hair-do's in the film.Others in the large cast include young Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker and Pernilla August as his reserved mother Shmi. Ian McDiarmid is Palpatine, Naboo's senator whose loyalties are not clear. Ray Park is the mysterious sith warrior Darth Maul. The voice cast includes Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Frank Oz (Yoda), Brian Blessed (Boss Nass), and Andrew Secombe (Watto).Other comments“Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace” is sci-fi adventure and action, full of spectacle and special effects, but slight of story and characters. George Lucas wrote and directed this 1999 film, re-released now in 3-D. Fans of the saga will want to see it again on the big screen. New generations may want the experience, too, this time from the beginning. As the film started, I heard a young fan say, “Here we go!” The 3-D effects are okay, with several moments that are better than that, but, overall, 3-D adds little to the visual pleasures (which are many) of the film. John Williams' exciting score is another pleasure. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, “Phantom Menace” runs 136 minutes. Final words“Phantom Menace” back again,C-3PO and the rest —“Star Wars I” in 3-D,“IV” and “V” remain the best.