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on May 26, 2005
I saw this film on theatrical release in and was very disappointed. Of course, alot of the disappointment initially had to do with the incredible hype build-up that accompanied the new trilogy. Nothing could have lived up to the public's expectations.

That having been said, The Phantom Menace is disappointing not so much because it stinks, but because, I felt, with some additional tweaking, it could have been much much better. Its almost as if Lucas got the plot ideas and character concepts developed to a schematic level and then sort of lost interest in them and did not develop them any further.

Specific gripes:

1. We never really bond with or understand Qui-Gon's character or his relationship with young Anakin. He states that he thinks Anakin may be the chosen one, but that is not really sufficient. We need to see an emotional bond or some kind of identification between the two, but it just isn't there.

2. Not to pick on Jake Lloyd (he's probably a great kid), but Lucas or whoever just did not get a good performance out of him. Plus, there is no hint in young Anakin at this point of character traits or flaws that might later foreshadow his fall. Yoda says he sees anger and fear in Anakin and the Jedi Council make vague predications that he may eventually be dangerous, but we as audience members just don't see it. We are supposed to infer that Anakin is somehow damaged by his life as as slave and subsequent separation from his mother, but again, we don't see any of this. His life as a slave doesn't seem to indicate any hardship; his big scene saying goodbye to his mom is not particularly moving (mainly due to wooden acting by Lloyd; Pernilla August as his mom does a good job thought). Also, if he's a slave, how does he have time/resources to build robots and pod racers? Just not very true to life.

Perhaps if we had seen Anakin and/or his mom subjected to some sort of abuse or exploitation we would have a better indication both of the fear and anger in Anakin and also a potential emotional reason for why Qui-Gon wants to rescue Anakin. When I reflected on it, I thought it would almost be better if Anakin were like the feral boy in Road Warrior II: an unkempt, unclean, and agressive character that had to be somewhat tamed and civilized by his Jedi rescuers. We don't see any character flaws, any little hints of selfishness, anger, fear or frustration. As is, young Anakin is just an average cute kid; we don't see any depth to why he wants to escape his life as a slave or run off to join the Jedi so we don't really care.

3. Source of humor: The original series had a mix of humor based upon the droids 3PO and R2D2 and also with the human characters (primarily interactions between Solo, Leia, and Luke). In TPM, the primary source of humor is generated from droids and Jar Jar Binks with little or no humorous banter or interaction between human characters. This has two effects: 1)relying on computer-generated characters for humor means the primary form of humor becomes physical slapstick, which is one of the main complaints about the Jar Jar charcter; and 2)the interactions between the human main characters, when deprived of humor, makes their relationships seem dry and mechanical, another source of the shallow characterizations.

The one humorous moment that stands out is when, after being ambushed by the Trade Feds at the beginning, Obi-Won says to Qui-Gon with a wry smile: "Well, you were right about one thing Master....the negotiations were short!" This one moment stands out because it is one of the few jokes between human characters and it works and expresses some of Obi-Won's personality. It also effectively echoes some of the banter and attitude that made Solo's character so liekable and crucial to the original films, an attitude and sensibility that is lacking in TPM. As is, we are stuck with Jar Jar's pratfalls for yuks, and it just doesn't work unless you are 5 years old.

4. The shallowness of Darth Maul: Similar to other problems with character depth, we don't know enough about Maul. He says early in the film that at last he will have revenge on the Jedi. Revenge for what? We never know beyond vague notions that the Sith and Jedi are ancient enemies. That is not enough. We either need to be shown more back story on this or have some reason for Maul's motivation. His fight scenes with the Jedi at the end are dynamite and clearly the actor is very skilled in martial arts and projects a menacing attitude with only minimal dialog or screen time, but we never really know anything about him other than "he is a bad guy" and that is not enough.

5. Plot goofiness. As others have pointed out, all the midi-chlorian business is a red herring of mumbo-jumbo that takes the mystical mystery out of the Force and reduces it to a medical condition. The Jedi are supposed to be wise, powerful seers, but them seem oblivious to the presence and intentions of the bad guys over and over again. Having young Anakin build C3PO is silly and seems like a forced "circle closer". Further, having Anakin start out on Tatooine doesn't seem right and seems like another circle closer that is forced. Wouldn't he remember all this years later as Darth Vader in Episode 4? Wouldn't there be some result of this coincidence? As noted above, having a slave that doesn't seem to be deprived or suffering and has the time/resources to build robots and pod racers as a hobby seems goofy too.

Again, it seemed to me like Lucas got the plot and characters to a certain point and then quit on them. With only a little extra effort or different emphasis on certain elements, the movie could have been much improved and the audience would have had more insight into the characters and identified with them more. As is, the lack of character development combined with wooden acting makes it hard for the audience to care. The special effects set pieces are spectacular, and the computer generated elements are pioneering and well executed, but without a reason to care about or like the characters, its hard to get too excited.

Again, not a horrid movie, but frustrating because with just a few changes or extra effort, it could have been so much better.

POSTSCRIPT (2011)to my original year 2005 review:

This movie does not get better with time or repeated viewings. Further, the contention of some fans who like this movie and claim it should be viewed in the context of the other films (now complete) is not only a misguided apologist stance, but outright doesn't hold water. Why? Because if you compare TPM to any of the 5 other SW films, it is clearly the idiot bastard son of the bunch, wheezing and drooling in the corner.

In review, I give credence to a theory that a lot of other reviewers have given: in essence, Lucas was boiling everything down in this film to aim at the 5-year-old to 8-year-old demographic (probably to sell toys and mechandise, the real unexpected treasure that the original trilogy coughed up back in the 70's and 80's) and, as a result, bored everyone else to tears and/or made older fans hopping mad. However, huge stretches of this movie are so slow-moving that I bet a lot of the the target audience squirmed around in their seats anyway.

The second theory that other viewers have posed that seems to ring true with me as well is that Lucas is in a position now where he's THE MAN and, as a result, has no one around him that is willing to bring up constructive criticism to him or challenge weaknesses in the plot, script, or characters. Back in the day, while the original SW was certainly his vision, that film had to rely on a far more collaborative process to get made and address the many challenges its making entailed. With TPM, Lucas had total personal control and it seems like no one around Lucas had the guts to say: "George, we need a good kid actor to play a central character like Anakin, not some cutesy wooden mop-topped kid from TV commericals" or "Damn, George, that Jar Jar is irritating as hell!" or "George, did you realize all the aliens seem to be stand-ins for offensive real-life planet Earth racial / cultural stereotypes?" or "All the scenes with Kabuki-Natalie are boring boring boring" or "This movie is all-CGI and no plot and no character depth!" or "This movie is full of jumbled-up crap that makes no sense!". Further, modern movie technology further consolidated control with Lucas in that the 1970's technology required many people's input to solve technical problems and was far less malleable; modern CGI allows Lucas to personally review, tweak, and endlessly revise every aspect of the film just the way he wants it.

In a nutshell, there is a reason that the Irvin Kerschner (R.I.P.)- directed "Empire" is widely viewed as the best of the 6 films. How Lucas could see dailies of some of the performances he got out of his actors in TPM and not realize things stank or, at the very least, weren't working is beyond me, unless he was constantly surrounded by lackeys and toadies saying "That's great, Mr. Lucas! Not explaining anything about Darth Maul makes him sooooo mysterious! Having Jar Jar be a moron who speaks like Stepin Fetchit is really cool! He needs more screen time! You're a genius!". In retrospect, I wish that Lucas had handed over all the remaining films from "Return" all the way thru the newer Pre-Quel trilogy to others with Lucas only having an overall story arc / consulting role.

I know that Lucas is irritated by fans who act as if he "owes them" to handle all these movies a certain way (its HIS vision, as I'm sure he'd point out), and maybe it is unfair to whine about how Lucas could have / should have directed the story a different way. But the fact is that TPM is not a very good movie, and regardless of quibbles about overall direction of the story line, Lucas did owe it to fans to at least not make a stinker-roo that not only insults fans above the age of 8, but really tarnishes the legacy from the first trilogy. Lucas seems to think these movies are only for kids now, and has, at least in the case of TPM, clearly targeted them accordingly.

However, while I guess one could argue that adults should only go to see films like "My Dinner with Andre" or the oevre of Ingmar Bergman and leave anything less mature and intellectual to the kiddies, the fact is millions and millions of adults went to and enjoyed the first trilogy (and other action-adventure-fantasy films) and it is not unrealistic to expect millions of adults would have some interest in the Pre-Quel trilogy as well. Further, it is not unreasonable to expect those adults would have some expectation that the Pre-Quel trilogy would not only have something worthwhile for grown ups, but would also build and expand upon, in a worthy way, the original trilogy that was so well-liked. Lucas, frankly, dropped the ball on this one; contentions that it should be enough simply because it sprang out of Lucas' mind and vision are not sufficient.

One could even argue that Lucas now has more contempt than anything else for his adult audience and for the fanboys who gripe about things like "How could he make Greedo shoot first?" (the big Special Edition tweak that many felt was a poke in the eye.) Lucas seems to go thru great lengths to tweak things that don't need it and then ignores or is oblivious to things that are huge, infected carbuncles staring him right in the face, like crappy dialog, unrealistic plot devices, bad casting, and wooden acting. Its almost as if with TPM he's saying "Grow up, already! Trix are for kids! Don't forget to buy your kid a Happy Meal with an authorized LucasFilm toy on the way home!"

In short, Lucas seems to be taking his own films far less seriously than his fan base (and probably movie goers in general) does, and it clearly irritates the crap out of him (and/or he doesn't understand it). However, it also irritates the crap out of his fans and the audiences who loved the movies of the original Trilogy and expected more of the TPM. At worst, as some other harsh reviews have pointed out, TPM seems like just another cynical Hollywood-as-usual souless big money cash-in; was it so wrong for fans to expect something more than that? Until TPM, everyone felt that the Star Wars series was somehow different from the myriad of sci-fi / fantasy effects-laden movies (many of them awful; others: naked cash grabs) that its success inspired and spurred from 1977 onwards. The Star Wars series seemed to have a spirit of its own. The reason, whether Lucas understands it or not, for the vitirol spewed about TPM is many fans felt this "special-ness" was betrayed or sold short (either out of laziness, sloppiness, ineptitude, or worse, greed).

In short, TPM is a stinker. I surmise that even though he seemed to discount it in the press, Lucas took some of the fan reaction to TPM to heart as he stepped his game up somewhat with (the marginally better) AOTC and certainly with the much better (and darker, natch) ROTS. (Granted, no one is going to think ROTS was directed by Kubrick, but you get my point). Too bad TPM seems, still, like a serious and uncertain mis-step, almost like a rough draft concept that should have been abandoned and re-done from scratch. "Super Special Edition" anyone?
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on December 20, 2005
when i first saw this film i loved it,and i always remember the

light-saber duel beetwen darth mual and the jedi's. but now

after wacthing it a few times i have seen that it really wasn't

what it could of been. the film was made up of crummy dioluge

some action and an ending that wasn't wprth the watch. also the film should have focused less time on jar-jar binks! he is a completly stupid charecter. the film although bad did have it's good parts and such.

this movie is rated PG for sci-fi action\violence. the film deserved the rating,[like any other star wars] and the violence was kept mild. there was no languge kissing or any thing of that sort. it was not a scary film at all but it might not be the perfect film to take youre 4 year olds to.

overall the film was not what it could have been and totally worse than the old trilogy.
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VINE VOICEon January 12, 2001
Now that we've gotten two bad "Star Wars" movies in a row, does that mean the anticipation for the SW2 will be a little less insane?
I didn't think so.
Singing Ewoks, crappy production values, bad writing and an embarassing plot didn't sink "Return of the Jedi" -- and there are adults who say, with a straight face, that they actually enjoyed it -- so I guess it's no surprise that TPM has its defenders, too.
To be fair, it's not awful in the way that, say, "Deep Blue Sea," "Instinct" or "Highlander 2" are awful. It's just not very good.
It does have nice production values, and you can see the money on the screen. The beautiful costumes and sets, amazing CGI graphics, spectacular jedi battles and even the sort of pointless space combat are all done extremely well and hold up as the best parts of the movie.
But then there's the writing. Is George Lucas surrounded by people incapable of telling him no? Where was the outcry when he gave us simpering Asian stereotypes as evil stooges of the future Emperor? Where was the outcy over Jar-Jar Binks? Where was the outcry over Anakin's immaculate conception? Where was the outcry over the idea that being a good manipulator of the Force depends on bacteria in your bloodstream? Honestly, the writing end of TPM is like bad fan fiction.
The worst part is that it was all salvageable. The quasi-Asian aliens could lose the accents and be more or less fine. Jar-Jar Binks could have used the same and NOT opened the cart at the end by accident. Dump the crap about immaculate conception entirely and say Annakin's father has been dead, presumed missing, since his mother was pregnant. And cut the midichlorians discussion on the balcony.
Boom. Right there, another star for the movie, just by cutting out the worst stuff. It still wouldn't measure up to the first two movies -- they had actual good stuff in them, instead of just an absence of bad stuff -- but TPM wouldn't have been a real stain on Lucas' record. With "The Phantom Menace," he's provided critics with ammunition for decades to come, who are already deriding him as a terrible screenwriter, stiff director and an auteur who put his ego ahead of his story.
And that's a shame. The promise of the first two films increasingly seems like it was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
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on June 7, 2000
After watching the devoid-of-any-charm-sleep-inducing-travesty-of-a-movie known as the 'The Phantom Menace', I dropped to my knees and prayed to God and every saint that I could remember that Mr. George "Quasi-Genius Turned Marketing Whore" Lucas hands the writing and directing duties of the next two films to another party (dramatic-overstating,but I'm just making a point here, folks). Maybe in the hands of people like Lawrence Kazden (who wrote the script for 'Empire'-the best of the orinal trilogy) and Frank Darabont, we'll get some inspired film-making. Something that the Star Wars myth legacy deserves (even though the trilogy didn't deserve 'Jedi' either, but...). But if it stays in Lucas' hands?...YEESH! Do we really need ANOTHER "VILLIAN TUMBLES DOWN A BOTTOMLESS CHASM" scene, or ANOTHER "BIG-BAM-BOOM SPACE STATION" scene, or even ANOTHER "CELEBRATION FINALE" scene? THere is no doubt, to me anyways, that Mr. George is a great 'Idea Guy', and he used to be an inspired all-around filmmaker. But with 'Phantom', all he seemed inspired to do was show some ILM muscle and create a two- hour commercial for the new line of Star Wars Dolls.
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on April 4, 2000
I am a fan of the original Star Wars and its first sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. Phantom Menace continues the trend began in Return of the Jedi, with the series stressing its appeal to children rather than developing a coherent storyline and developed characters. But hey, kids are the ones who buy the action figures (mostly!) and thus that is who the movie is geared towards. The special effects are excellent, but cannot carry a movie by themselves. The poorly conceived story of Phantom Menace is appalling, especially when you consider that George Lucas has 15 years to come up with one. For example, the film could have started with Kenobi getting his last lesson from Yoda before embarking on his first mission with Qui-Gon, considering that Obi Wan is the central character of the film. Anakin Skywalker should have been older, say as a cocky headstrong teenager rather than a cute little boy. The taxation of trade routes problem is not properly explained (who is taxing whom, and how does bombing Naboo into smithereens solve the problem?) nor are the Sith Lords explained either, though the next film will probably address this. Darth Maul is an intense and interesting villain, but he is not given very much to say or do, and thus he never generates the hatred and loathing that Darth Vader elicits from the viewers. While R2D2 and C3PO are thrown in to give some continuity with the original series, having C3PO created by Anakin/Darth Vader is not credible at all. This movie could have had great potential if the story was probably developed, but in the end one can't help but feel that this was cranked out just to make a lot of bucks. Unless you are an absolute die hard fan of the series, there is no reason to purchase this film.
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VINE VOICEon February 14, 2002
Perhaps giving this movie two stars was a bit harsh. But, I couldn't bring myself to give it three. No way. It's just too boring. This is a movie that is truly sleep-inducing. The plot is a muddle--trade federations, knights fighting on behalf of commerce, a race here, a race there, muddle, muddle, seven large, indisinguishable underwater monsters, etc. Even my 11-year old couldn't stay up through it when we saw for the second time (the pain, the pain) on pay-per-view. I truly love the original Star Wars trilogy. But those films were good in all the ways this film isn't. A true fairy tale story form, great acting turns by the entire cast, energy and enthusiasm, and a great set of villains. The worst thing about this film? The AWFUL kid who plays the young Darth Vader. You'd think after an hour of filming they'd have dumped him. Hmmm. He must be related to George Lucas. Rent it if you must, but no need to buy the darn thing.
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on July 6, 2000
As I'm sure you know, this movie is so extremely average that it is a mountainous blemish on the face of the Star Wars saga. The standards George Lucas had to live up to for this project were immense, but this movie is a letdown all the same. The original three movie arc was a dark, dramatic saga that was perfectly paced, beautifully written, and featured strong, three dimensional characters. Episode I, conversely, lacks the dramatic edge that marked the previous efforts. Instead of Chewbacca we get Jar Jar Binks, an overgrown frog with an ugly pug of a face and a voice that's about as soothing as a drill through the head. Instead of a tightly knit plot propelling the movie forward, the entire film feels like action scenes with numbing drivel inbetween. The importance of Anakin is somewhat underscored. He has "special blood" and can compete in pod races, but that's the only look we get of his abilities.
The core audience for these movies was established 23 years ago. With this movie Lucas is trying to appeal to the next generation, but he's supplying them with inferior product. Summation: kill Jar Jar Binks, up the Darth Maul factor times 10 to make it dark and edgey again, tighten up the plot *A LOT*, cut out the circus/kiddy feel, and focus more on the characters who will be in the forthcoming movies (not Subulba, not JJB, not those weird looking Jedi dudes). Appended to the holy name of Star Wars, this movie is nearly blasphemous.
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on April 5, 2000
I was really excited yesterday to pick up Phantom Menace yesterday but was really disappointed when I watched it last night.
Most of the the movie is so "compacted" that you miss part of the action at times that takes place to the left or right from the center of action. Example: When Naboo is invaded, Droid fighters fly past the palace (in the movie). On video, you hear but do not see and the focus on the queen looking out the window is a little jerky.
Most reactions from actors on the side are missing as the action unfolds, etc.
Lucas couldn't be bothered to put the time into the DVD version that he must have fallen asleep at the wheel on this version. Gee....Thanks, George.
Good Movie..Buy the Widescreen (I am, anyne can bid on my "viewed once" copy in Auctions.)
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on February 7, 2000
I'll be brief: this movie had no acting, plot, romance or humor. Special effects alone are not enough to make a movie interesting, especially a film with as much potential as Star Wars.
As the initial installment in the series, this movie could have done a MUCH better job of introducting the main characters. I still think a real prologue to the series is necessary, that details the reasons WHY Palpatine moves to the Dark Side and a good story behind Anakin's mother.
The plot was very weak: the conflict between Naboo and the Federation was obviously contrived and was only of marginal importance to the real issues of Anakin's early days and Palpatine's move for power.
Many people have said that all of the Star Wars movies are really kids' movies, and that Jar Jar was consistent with episodes IV, V and VI. If so, why does this CG anamoly come across as excessive juvenile and irrelevant to the plot?
Lucas should hire a new director and some real writers to help with Episode II. It's a shame to mar the spectacular story of the first three films.
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on August 29, 2000
Let's not beat around the bush-- this was a bad movie. A very bad movie. It only makes things worse that this was the most anticipated film, well, ever. We waited 17 years and THIS is what we get?
Much was made of the fact that George Lucas hadn't directed a movie since Star Wars. It shows. If Lucas had been on the ball he would've fired the screenwriter, because the story and script are awful. Oh, that's right, Lucas wrote it, too. We begin to see the problem.
So what is The Phantom Menace about? Well, its about taxes. Its about a planet that doesn't want to pay what it thinks are too-high taxes. Now, this may be an acceptable subject for Bush and Gore to debate, but it seems an odd topic for Lucas to choose as the flashpoint for all that is to follow. Perhaps this is meant to be a civics lesson for the millions of politically uninvolved youngsters out there. Perhaps.
Anyway, it only takes about 3 minutes for the lightsabers to start waving around and no doubt the crowds went wild. Except that our fearless Jedi are fighting robots that are about as fearsome as a bunch of Furbies. Outnumbered 10 million to one our fearless Jedi make it to the planet's surface (exactly how is blessedly glossed over) and there Liam Neeson runs, literally, into one Jar Jar Binks. It is one of the momentous meetings in film history. Star Wars, perhaps the most revered (and profitable) story in the history of human creation is up against a character with the power to destroy it all. Like Lucifer himself, Jar Jar is an unholy creature. His pathetic attempts at comic relief, his unintelligable speech, the fact that a great actor like Neeson was forced to emote at empty air and then watched as it was filled by this's beyond my abilities to describe how awful it all is. Did no one have the courage, the decency, to tell Lucas that this character was a horrible mistake? Cowards, all.
The other mind-blowing gaff Lucas makes is how he pretty much abandons what the whole Star Wars universe is based on, namely, the Force. If I recall correctly, Sir Alec Guinness describes the Force as a kind of New Agey cosmic energy emitted by all living things, a power that could be harnessed by those with the skill, training, wisdom, and patience to master it. Well, in this movie we find out the Force is actually a blood infection. The two Jedi analyze Anakin's blood & find out that he has a high level of this microbes or something and that's why he's so good with the Force. How on earth the people closely associated with Star Wars let Lucas screw up the Force is beyond me. It's insane.
The story itself is pretty blah. The pod race was neat and two laps too long. The assault on the Naboo fortress was about as exciting as preseason NFL game and ridiculous to boot. The kid who plays Anakin is annoying, as almost all child actors are. When he finds himself trapped on an enemy battleship and surrounded by murderous killer droids, Anakin utters the memoroable line, "This is NOT good." Ah, such scintillating dialogue.
Even the special effects are just kind of, ehhh. When "Star Wars" came out it was such a colossal hit because the special effects were light-years ahead of everything else. The opening scene, where the Star Destroyer is chasing Princess Leia's ship, was awesome, and I don't mean "cool", I mean awe-inspiring. Incredible. Today, digital technology (much of it pioneered by Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic) have made special effects, well, less special. Pretty soon any filmmaker will have the ability to hire a couple of high school kids with Macintoshes who can put together digital effects that can do anything. The director will wish it, and POOF! It'll be on the screen. Films will no longer be differentiated by the neato effects, but on such forgotten elements as the director's vision, good acting, great scripts, and interesting stories. All of which were sadly lacking in The Phantom Menace
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