Overview: The narrative beginning of the Star Wars saga, two Jedi Knights are embroiled in a conflict between the questionable Trade Federation and the diplomatic planet of Naboo. Lucasfilm; 1999; Rated PG; 136 Minutes.

I Have a Bad Feeling About This: When you hear someone talk about this movie, they will undoubtedly get to a point where they vent their absolute hate and frustration with Jar Jar Binks, and it will likely come on pretty quickly. This character’s presence permeates every single conversation about Phantom Menace (and now seems to be a scar on the face of the entire saga). “I want to capture a genuine discussion of this movie without fussing about a singular character,” I said to myself. I had every intention at earning the respect of those obsessive fans of the legendary Space Opera by gauging only the non-Jar Jar elements.   But…despite my best efforts, within 20 minutes of watching, I was already shouting obscenities at the screen like a madman. The character of Jar Jar is one of the absolute worst distractions ever presented in a movie. Grating at the senses, he is the worst comic relief ever. Every time the movie begins to catch a groove and attempt to present a storyline here comes the damn awful “meesa meesa” nonsense. My point being, you can’t ignore this atrocity and The Phantom Menace can’t be graded independently of the character. He is an interruption that demands- nay consumes our attention, consistently ruining the entire flow of the movie. So, I failed in my attempt to provide a non-Jar Jar analysis of Phantom Menace (this asshole even demands the attention of reviews of The Phantom Menace). I apologize for having to start there, but I would honestly take a million creepy Ewoks over this mess.

Ewok

A New Hope: During my lamentation, I realized something. If I closed one eye I could imagine watching Phantom Menace without Jar Jar. The results are stunning  (you can read all about it in my beer-stained technical dissertation A Jar Too Many). In short, this movie isn’t that bad. Liam Neeson is sublime as Jedi Master, Qui-Gon Jinn – wise, calm, and powerful.  Ewan McGregor, as the young apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi, quietly establishes himself as one of the major players in the saga. Especially after a solidly choreographed battle with one of the movie’s major villains, the lightsaber bo-staff wielding Darth Maul (Ray Park). Maul himself, as fantastic a Sith villain he is, is poorly represented. He could have inhabited much more of this movie (and prequel series  for that matter). The stare down between Maul and Obi-Wan between the light-barrier is as good as it gets. I even enjoyed the pod racing sequence, which sadly may be all this movie is remembered for. Well, at least for some…

Racing toward prolonged virginity.

Overall: A passable enough prequel to the Star Wars saga, The Phantom Menace falters in its execution. The single worst character of all time and poor plot and character development hold this chapter from reaching the level of the earlier releases. However, there are great action sequences and a decent set-up for the following stories of the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Just close an eye. Grade: C+