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Star Wars - Episode I, The Phantom Menace VHS
Special Edition, Limited Edition, VHS video
VHS | Box Set
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"I have a bad feeling about this," says the young Obi-Wan Kenobi (played by Ewan McGregor) in Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace as he steps off a spaceship and into the most anticipated cinematic event... well, ever. He might as well be speaking for the legions of fans of the original episodes in the Star Wars saga who can't help but secretly ask themselves: Sure, this is Star Wars, but is it my Star Wars? The original elevated moviegoers' expectations so high that it would have been impossible for any subsequent film to meet them. And as with all the Star Wars movies, The Phantom Menace features inexplicable plot twists, a fistful of loose threads, and some cheek-chewing dialogue. Han Solo's swagger is sorely missed, as is the pervading menace of heavy-breather Darth Vader. There is still way too much quasi-mystical mumbo jumbo, and some of what was fresh about Star Wars 22 years earlier feels formulaic. Yet there's much to admire. The special effects are stupendous; three worlds are populated with a mélange of creatures, flora, and horizons rendered in absolute detail. The action and battle scenes are breathtaking in their complexity. And one particular sequence of the film--the adrenaline-infused pod race through the Tatooine desert--makes the chariot race in Ben-Hur look like a Sunday stroll through the park.
Among the host of new characters, there are a few familiar walk-ons. We witness the first meeting between R2-D2 and C-3PO, Jabba the Hutt looks younger and slimmer (but not young and slim), and Yoda is as crabby as ever. Natalie Portman's stately Queen Amidala sports hairdos that make Princess Leia look dowdy and wields a mean laser. We never bond with Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), and Obi-Wan's day is yet to come. Jar Jar Binks, a cross between a Muppet, a frog, and a hippie, provides many of the movie's lighter moments, while Sith Lord Darth Maul is a formidable force. Baby-faced Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) looks too young and innocent to command the powers of the Force or wield a lightsaber (much less transmute into the future Darth Vader), but his boyish exuberance wins over skeptics.
Near the end of the movie, Palpatine, the new leader of the Republic, may be speaking for fans eagerly awaiting Episode II when he pats young Anakin on the head and says, "We will watch your career with great interest." Indeed! --Tod Nelson
This limited-edition boxed set (only 1.5 million made) contains a widescreen version of the film, a behind-the-scenes documentary, a 48-page collector's book excerpted from The Art of Star Wars Episode I - The Phantom Menace, and a mounted 35mm filmstrip. The documentary and widescreen version of the film are only available in this set.
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Yes the cinematography was breathtaking, the effects were cutting edge, the design was first class, blah blah blah. But that's not what makes a good film. Does it have a decent story, interesting characters, suspense, action? In short, does it pack enough emotional content? Well, in this case... Yes, it does. How could I think George Lucas might let me down.
I happen to think Natalie Portman stole the show entirely, but maybe her beauty and the fabulous costumes had something to do with it. And, as much as the first Star Wars was cast with relatively unknown actors, Liam Neeson added just the right touch of weight to the ensemble. Of course I wouldn't be the first to suggest Ewan McGregor is going to be giving us memorable performances for years to come and I'm not talking about the Star Wars prequels. All in all, a stand out cast were able to make what could have been a light sci-fi romp, into another classic.
During the early moments of the story, we join two Jedi, only this time they are set amid a backdrop where Jedi are thick on the ground and are given routine tasks, like diplomatic negotiation. Obi-Wan is familiar to us but not as a young man yet to be promoted to Jedi knight. His friend and master, Qui-Gon Jinn, is the other Jedi and it is this duo that teaches us the true nature of a Jedi's role. In the first films the Jedi culture was all but extinct. In The Phantom Menace it is in full flower and we can watch in awe as Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan defy poison gas, blast shielding and military robots. In fact it isn't until they come up against another, albeit darker, proponent of the Jedi arts, that they are forced to pause.
I have to say, Darth Maul was wonderful. I suppose it was always going to be a tough job coming up with a "bad guy" concept to match Darth Vader but wow! Ray Park was and is a stunt-man rather than an actor but during the final fight scene where force fields temporarily separate the combatants, his frustrated strides brought to mind a caged tiger. I certainly didn't envy our heroes, waiting to face such an animalistic warrior.
There are quite a few set piece scenes in the film, all of them memorable. The journey through the center of the earth was fabulous; talk about your perfect fishing hole. The pod race was probably a little over cooked but fun none the less. And it did contain a nice homage to the locked fenders in "Return of the Jedi". But for me, it was the little things which won my heart. Like the moment when Padme, "Hand-maiden to the Queen", is scrubbing the heroic R2-D2 but takes a moment to comfort the young Anakin who's just coming to terms with a potentially permanent separation from his mother. It's all the more poignant after we learn more about Padme's true role.
So, as much as I was anticipating the release of Episode One, I am now left with the distressing feeling that the true test of my patience is still to come. I have two years to wait for Episode two and who knows when "three" will appear. We're waiting George, we're waiting.
The story actually starts back in Darkhorse Comics' series, "Tales of the Jedi", where the Sith are the powerful race. The Sith have had dealings with the Jedi in the past and lost. Now the Sith are out for revenge. "Now we will get revenge", says Darth Maul. The Sith are secretly using the Trade Federation, a body in the Republic Senate, as a catallyst to start a "change-of-guard" by throwing a monkey-wrench into the fragile Republic by illegally invading the planet of Naboo.
Enter Senator Palpatine. A senator who's interest in gaining power in the Republic is quite apparent when he pushes to oust Chancellor Valorum for lack of confidence. I still question whether or not Darth Siduous is Palpatine in disguise, I'm not sure here.
Enter Annikin Skywalker. A slave boy on the planet Tatooine, born to woman who says, "I carried him, gave birth to him. There was no father." Sounds like a premonition to me. ;) The Jedis have always had a prophecy that a boy would be born to bring Balance to the Force. However, as Qui-Gon wins Annikin's freedom and brings him in front of the Jedi Council, Annikin fears the unknown without his mother. As Yoda preaches, "Fear will lead you to the Dark Side", the Jedi Council hesitates to train Annikin of the Force for this very reason. The darkness starts to loom after this as Palpatine wins Chancellor of the Republic and pats Annikin on the shoulder with a twinkle in his eye.
I have upped my review from 3 to 5 stars, based on my new understanding of this film.
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