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Review: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace - Liam Neeson Ewan McGregor

LucasFilm starts the saga all over again with the release of the first film in the prequel trilogy in 3D, providing a whole new generation a chance to catch these films on the big screen.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D (1999/2012)

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace poster Australia

Director:  George Lucas

Writer(s):  George Lucas

Runtime: 133 minutes

StarringEwan McGregorLiam Neeson, Jake LloydNatalie Portman, Ian McDiarmidAhmed BestAnthony DanielsKenny Baker

Distributor: Fox

CountryUS

Rating: Worth A Look (?)

More info

Has it really been thirteen years since the Internet melted under the strain of dial-up modems accessing the first glimpses of a new Star Wars movie? Back in 1999, the levels of anticipation around the first Star Wars film in sixteen years were the closest thing to a movement for a generation taught to be cynical about such things, but not everybody felt that their patience had paid off. The hollow digital puppetry of these new creations instantly alienated millions of people who had already grown to love their films, and worse yet, Mr. Lucas had long-since begun to forever alter the original trilogy to align with his new vision. Over a decade later, the film returns to take advantage of the latest technological advances in cinemas.

Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The Trade Federation has blockaded the sovereign planet of Naboo in response to the taxation on trade routes. Two Jedi,  Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), have been sent to negotiate a settlement. However, no sooner than the Jedi arrive, puppet master Darth Sidious orders their deaths. The duo narrowly escape, and after an escapade on the planet’s surface (and under it), they collect the native Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) and rescue Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) from the clutches of the Federation. Escaping to the desert planet of Tatooine, they encounter a talent young boy named Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), unusually strong in the Force. The meeting will change all of their destinies forever.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D has been sent back to theatres for the enjoyment of a younger generation, and this time the old fans are not necessarily the primary audiences. Rehashing the problems of a film now a generation old would simply be tantamount to whispering into the digital wind, as the flaws to this film have not changed one bit. Indeed, with the benefit of time, we have even more cause to wonder what George Lucas was thinking.  The basic premise has moved from the radical period of civil war of the 1970s to a tax blockade, full of trade franchises and votes of no confidence in the Galactic Senate. Yeah! Tax! This is perhaps indicative of Lucas getting older, but all the other elements in contention are probably more a sign of the aging audience. Frequent toilet humour and a admittedly cool Podrace sequence may appeal to the smaller ones, but us bigger kids are keeping our eyelids propped open until the magnificent Duel of the Fates three-way lightsaber battle ensues.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace - Podracers

Even the podrace seems to take up 80% of the film now, although it probably always did. Perhaps this was a little bit of overcompensation for a exposition that largely involved intergalactic trade. Then there’s the usual gripes: a poor choice of child in Jake Lloyd, struggling with meagre scraps of cringe-worthy dialogue to feed on, frequently racist characters in the Neimoidians, Gungans and most certainly Watto and one of the best villains dispatched before his time. Nothing will ever make Jar Jar okay, and that’s the one thing that has brought this world together in times of crazy strife.

George Lucas being who he is, couldn’t help but tinker with the film some more, and there are a few additions to the movie. While we can’t verify an exhaustive list on a single viewing, there have certainly been some additions to the podrace sequence, with more debris to take advantage of the 3D effects. One of our younger, eagle-eyed Bothans also tells us that they noticed some additional changes to the podrace. Even scrubbed up for the Blu-ray release last year, the effects are looking dated, which is always the danger with any film that relies so heavily on technology-based enhancements.

Yet the draw-card for this reissue is meant to the be 3D, and it is disappointing that LucasFilm, who pride themselves on state-of-the-art technology, have released such a disappointing conversion. Never intended for the third dimension, much of the film is shrouded in a murkiness that actually improves with the removal of 3D glasses. There are undoubtedly moments of great visual depth, but the majority feels as though the only people who will benefit from the 3D are theatre owners able to charge 3D prices for a 13 year-old film. Yet at the end of the day this is Star Wars on the big screen, and it is great to actually have them back in theatres for a whole new crowd to enjoy. Let’s hope this leads to more releases in the near future.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace - Duel of the Fates

Existing fans will know exactly what they are getting into, and the addition of 3D only provides an excuse to watch this on the big screen again. For others, they will have the joys of being introduced to a well-loved universe for the first time.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D is released in Australia on 9 February 2012 from Fox.

About the author: Richard Gray

Richard Gray

Editor of DVD Bits and TheReelBits. You can see Richard's unfiltered train of thought on Twitter @DVDBits. The Reel Bits is also @The_ReelBits.

  • Larry

    That Clone Wars Bounty Hunter chick was ALWAYS in that one shot observing the pod race.

    • http://www.thereelbits.com/ Richard Gray

      Thanks for the update, Larry. I was going on an observation. Like Mr. Lucas, I reserve the right to go back and edit my work and pretend this never happened. :)

  • Kaneda Dry

    I’m a lifelong Star Wars fan and have them all on video. But I DO have to say that the prequels were sorely lacking. I will say that as much as I can tolerate Ep. 2 and like Ep. 3 more of the three prequels, Ep. 1: The Phantom Menace was the least favorite of the entire 6, in my eyes. It had zero wonder and felt pulled back on the excitement level (save for a few sequences, like the Pod races, for example, or the ending lightsaber duel). Yes, it’s a darker story about this youngling that will become the scourge of the galaxy one day, but it was so boring! And the writing itself was sorely lacking much quality enough to entertain most of the time. It felt rather tedious.

    Over the years, I’ve thought of it and come to the conclusion that what I felt was missing MOST out of the prequels in regard to characters and theme was………WE HAD NO HAN SOLO CHARACTER.
    Not to say we needed Han Solo specifically, but a Han-type of character. If you think of it, in the original trilogy, Han was US.
    Yeah, we’d all like to think we could be Luke Skywalker: The young guy on the road to becoming a great and powerful hero. Some dug Vader due to his being the epic-level powerful mamma-jamma he is. But they were all very much BEYOND US, in various ways.
    Han WAS US. He was that voice that was in the middle of all of this outlandish stuff that constantly questioned it. Always had something to say in reaction to it all. Think of that line he says how no all-knowing Force will ever replace a blaster at his side.

    Han was our point of view character. He was the character we ALL saw the story through. And as he matured and became more of a heroic entity in his own right, we were along with him for the ride.
    Where was that character type in the prequels?
    I feel Lucas should’ve created a Han-like character…maybe even Han’s father he never really knew or something like that…to add some of that audience identification factor to the prequel trilogy.
    I think that could’ve added some more interest for the audience.As for the rerelease’s converted 3D, I was hoping AT LEAST some theaters will offer the 2D version as well. Even thought Ep. 1 is my least favorite, it’s STILL a chance to see Star Wars on the big-screen again. I’m hoping to opt for the 2D version. If none, I think I’ll pass. Converted 3D gives me a headache (unlike REAL Real3D…not converted and they bait and switch you SAYING it’s REAL) and just looks bad. A friend of mine has stated many times that converted looks as though you’re watching it under a black veil through a moving Viewmaster toy.