Star Wars: Phantom Menace Steel Book
Metal/Steel packaging, Limited Edition
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Stranded on the planet Tatooine after rescuing Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) of Naboo, Jedi apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) discover nine-year-old Anakin Skywalker, a young slave. Gifted with the power of the Force, Anakin wins his freedom and leaves home to be trained as a Jedi. Back on Naboo, Anakin and the Queen face a massive invasion while the two Jedi confront a lethal foe named Darth Maul. They soon realize the invasion is part of a sinister scheme by forces of darkness known as the Sith.
**Audio Commentary with George Lucas and Crew
**Audio Commentary from Archival Interviews with Cast and Crew
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Although Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is supposedly, as most film critics and many fans have said since 1999, a disappointing prequel to perhaps the most popular film trilogy, I think it is an enjoyable and yes, even interesting "origins of" story. Like many Star Wars fans, I wanted to know how and why the Galactic Republic morphed into the evil Empire, how Senator Palpatine wormed his way to be Emperor, and most of all, how and why Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader.
I theorize that in the 16-year-gap between trilogies, fans had dreamed up scenarios far different from what we ended up seeing on May 19, 1999. Maybe they thought Anakin was a bad seed who went around wearing black and using the Force to choke other children....or that he was the Anakin we did finally get to see in Episode II, already a Jedi in training...I do know that there was grousing on three different topics, in order of ascending disappointment:
The movie was way too political.
Anakin was a 9 year old kid.
Jar Jar Binks.
There were also complaints about the pre-release hype (and maybe that was warranted) and that The Phantom Menace was really a commercial for Hasbro's related toy line (which may also have been warranted to some degree). But, for all that.....
The Phantom Menace is a fine Star Wars film! I was caught up in its storyline from the opening logos to the end credits. The characters, whether they were new ones (such as Qui-Gon Jinn, Padme Amidala, Shmi Skywalker, or even those CGI creations Watto and Jar Jar), or younger versions of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and the boy destined to be Darth Vader, gave the Classic Trilogy's story some depth and complexity. Finally we got to see the girl who will be Luke and Leia's mother....the Jedi Order and how Knights served and fought at the height of their power....and perhaps most revealing of all, how a powerful democracy could be replaced by dictatorship by clever insiders.
Maybe in part that is why Episode I somehow disappointed die-hard fans: at times The Phantom Menace does feel a bit like a civics lesson rather than space opera. I have not delved into all the message boards that gripe about TPM's shortcomings, but I suspect that most fans were expecting Palpatine's rise to power to be violent and sudden (like Castro's takeover of Cuba). George Lucas' intent was to illustrate how Julius Ceasar and Adolf Hitler took power: by using democracy's strengths against itself. Palpatine/Darth Sidious doesn't storm the Senate Hall in a 1917 Russian Revolution mode; he worms his way into high office by first weakening Supreme Chancellor Valorum in a manufactured "scandal" (which is detailed in Cloak of Deception, a novel by James Luceno), then using the crisis on Naboo - which he as Darth Sidious has conceived - to cause an election for a new Supreme Chancellor.
But if it did have its slow expository scenes, The Phantom Menace also had moving segments. The thrill of the Podrace....Anakin's sad farewell scene with his mom....Qui-Gon's appeal to the Jedi Council to allow him to train Anakin as a Jedi....the exciting Battle of Naboo on three fronts......This was Star Wars action at its best.
And yes, by Golly, I even like Jar Jar!
And, there are parts of this movie that I really like--the pod racing, for instance. There are parts of it, however, that resemble a SpongeBob Squarepants cartoon: all the Jar Jar Binks scenes, specifically.
Still, the movie is invaluable for establishing the storyline of the series.