Rakesh's movie talk
Star Wars Episode I: The Panthom Menace (1999)

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Directed by George Lucas
Written by George Lucas
Starring Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman and Jake Lloyd.


Expectation is the cause of disappointments. I blame the marketing department and the success of the first three Star Wars for that. I hope that in the future, I will enjoy this movie better than I could now.

One of the complaints I have for this movie (I gave it a70% mark in my Return Of The Jedi commentary) is that it looked far too modern for a story that had taken place a generation before the original Star Wars. The ships looked clean and smoother. The architecture is far too futuristic and even the Jedi fights are plain martial arts rather than the more clever down to earth (literally) duels of the earlier three films.

More complaints. The new character Jar Jar Brinks is even more irritating than the Ewoks (ROTJ). Whether or not it has an impact on kids, it will definitely be scoffed upon by adults and adults to be in a few years time. Some, like me, alrady have.

Then, the aliens. There are way too many of them. Every scene is crammed with CGI creatures or creations. Was George Lucas trying to show off? While we may wonder with amazement about some of them, we are too busy to notice others. There are just too many.

Characters. Some characters from the early films return here. R2D2 comes back and we see its first meeting with C3PO, still in unfinished form. Of course, like in all the Star Wars film, it serves as an important element, especially in saving the other important characters, much like James Bond gadgets of the seventies. Here we see Anakkin Skywalker still a kid played by Jake Lloyd. Obi Wan Kenobi, still an apprentice, is in form of Ewan McGregor. McGregor does not do much here, mainly behind the shadows of Liam Neeson's powerful and noble Jedi, Qui-Gon Jinn. Natalie Portman is Queen Amidala, the future mother of Luke Skywalker and his sister Princess Leia.

Performance of these actors, with exception of Neeson, are dull. They are forced to deliver cliched dialogues, sometimes bordering on corniness. Amidala, especially, has one single note in whatever emotions she has in her voice. Maybe its Lucas' fault, as it is pretty evident that he is not an actor's director.

Speaking of dialogues, this is the most talkiest of the lot. There is a lot of politics and exposition going on, that you just don't care. Where is the action? There is not even a decent dogfight that I loved so much in the earlier three film. Critic Roger Ebert mentioned in his review to ignore the dialogues because this movie is about "New things to see". Maybe he is right.


All the complaints aside, TPM is still one hell of an entertainment. Perhaps my comments on the action is unfair. There is a pod-race scene which is pretty hair raising. While it is obviously influenced by chariot race in Ben Hur, it is really exciting, sort of remindful of the attack on Death Star in the first Star Wars. Then there is the escape from some sea cretures in planet Naboo. Those are one mean looking creatures which I hope to see again in future Star Wars prequels.

There's nothing much on the plot side, except that it is planning to lead to the premise of good (the Rebellion) and the bad (the Empire) that we had seen earlier. Of course, the whole of the three prequels (third coming out in 2005) looks mainly on the development (or the decay) of Anakin Skywalker who will become Darth Vader.

Oh, I forgot about Darth Maul. He is easily one of the best creation in the Star Wars world after Darth Vader. I mean, it could have been. He is seen in very few scenes and, though he looks menacing, does very little but to fight the Jedi duos with a more practical looking light sabers (and the horns planted on his head which he never uses anyway). He will not be appearing again in future movies and that's a shame. He was such a cool looking bad guy.

All said and done, TPM is still better than many of the good Sci-Fi, special effects movies of the nineties. Independence Day and Godzilla comes to my mind. A more gracious critic will list this film as one of the best of the nineties. I have no complain with that.

Check out my other Star Wars comments:

Star Wars Episode IV : A New Hope (1977)
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Star Wars Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi (1983)
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)