The first time I saw “Star Wars (Episode IV)” was late in 1977. I was nearly seven years old and had no idea what I was in for. My brother, not quite three at the time, says he doesn’t remember that trip to the packed theater.
While never achieving the level of fanaticism, I did watch the original “Star Wars” trilogy scores of times over the years, so I admit that “Star Wars: Episode I” had a difficult time living up to my expectations.
Luckily, I calculated my son is likely just old enough to remember seeing “Episode I” with me, and without the familiarity I have of the original, and likewise without the high expectations. Hopefully that will let him enjoy this film with the same vigor I enjoyed the original. That possibility allowed me to break my own vow to never view “Episode I “again.
“Phantom Menace” introduces Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan MacGregor) as the student of Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson). The two are assigned to negotiate with Viceroy Nute Gunray of the Trade Federation who has instituted a blockade of the planet Naboo over taxation. The Jedi never get to begin negotiations because, unknown to them, the Traders are working with Sith lord Darth Sidious, who has his own plans that involve the military takeover of Naboo and orders the Jedi eliminated.
The two Jedi escape the to the planet and warn Princess Amidala (Natalie Portman), the elected ruler of the Naboo, that the negotiations never occurred. Amidala’s guard, with the help of Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, evacuate the queen to speak directly with the senate, but their ship is damaged and has to take refuge on Tatooine, a lawless desert planet, until they can acquire parts.
It is on Tatooine that Qui-Gon encounters the young slave Anakin Skywalker who proves to be a spontaneously conceived product of The Force. Ultimately it is Anakin’s skill as a pilot that wins both the parts necessary to repair their ship, and his own freedom, allowing him to go with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan to the Jedi council on Coruscant. Before they can leave, however, Qui-Gon encounters Darth Maul, the apprentice of the Sith Lord Darth Sidious.
Finally escaping Tatooine, Qui-Gon reports his encounter, and his suspicions that his attacker is a Sith before revealing that Anakin may be the child of prophecy that will balance The Force. When the council refuses to admit Anakin into the Jedi Academy, and also refuses to promote Obi-Wan so that Qui-Gon can take Anakin as an apprentice, Qui-Gon tells Anakin that he must follow him and learn on his own.
At the same time, Senator Palpatine manipulates Princess Amidala into forcing her ally Chancellor Valorum out of his position. Deciding that she must return to her planet, the Princess, with the the Jedi in escort, runs the blockade a second time and with the help of Jar Jar Binks, enlists the help of the other sentient race on the planet to fight the robot army of the Trade Federation.
“Episode I” tries to fit a lot of story into a single movie. It throws a few bones to die-hard fans by introducing a few characters from the original trilogy, but explaining all of these characters to a new audience leaves inadequate time to establish any real depth.
Originally released in 1999, “Star Wars Episode I” has now been subjected to the 3D treatment. Like most movies originally shot in 2D, the effectiveness of adding artificial depth to the film is minimal. Any scenes with fast motion almost lose the third dimension entirely as the blur of motion seems to either confuse the eye, or confound the technique. Either way, the additional charge associated with 3D is not really worth it.
On the other hand, if you have only seen “Episode I” at home, seeing it on the big screen is worth the ticket price even though this is the least appealing episode of the series. It is a long movie at 136 minutes, but still managed to keep my son engaged most of the time. While clearly one of the weakest of the six “Star Wars” movies, it is not as much of a disaster as I remembered.