Monday, June 13, 2011

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace * * * *

Oh, how time flies.  12 years ago I stood in line for hours to get tickets to Star Wars:  The Phantom Menace, which was the first Star Wars film after a 16 year hiatus since Return Of The Jedi.  By now, half the planet has seen this movie, and almost everybody knows what it is about:  Young Anakin Skywalker will some day grow up to be the evil Darth Vader, but in this prequel he is all sweet and possessed with magical abilities that ultimately save the day.  (I like what Dr. Laura said on her radio program:  "See what happens when a boy has no father and you take him away from the mother?  He turns into Darth Vader!")

Months before the movie came out, they released an amazingly cool teaser trailer that didn't give away too much.  This is why people stood in lines for hours.  When I actually did get to see the movie in the theater, the audience went nuts over the opening scenes.  They waited 16 years plus a few hours in line to see another Star Wars Movie, and they were going to be one of the first ones to see it.

The first five minutes of the movie did not instill confidence.  The first shot is of a slightly goofy looking spaceship followed shortly by some goofy looking aliens.   Moments later the Jedi Knights display their remarkable powers.  I had some concerns that this "Episode I" of the series would confuse people about "Jedi Knights" and "The Force" if they weren't already familiar with the other Star Wars movies.  George Lucas thinks that people should watch the Star Wars movies in episode order, as opposed to the order in which they were actually made, but it is really "Episode IV", the first movie made, that introduced us to the ideas of the "The Force" and "Jedi Knights."

Despite my concerns, I think that the movie is a masterpiece.  The story is simply too good.  But it is a masterpiece with a nearly fatal flaw.   There are a number of "aliens" in this movie whose style of speaking is hard to understand.  Now I understood almost everything that was said in this movie, but it requires a good ear and careful attention to follow the dialog.  But I know a number of people who think that this movie is full of gibberish.  So, by all means, turn on the SUBTITLES if you are going to watch the movie at home.

The other nearly fatal flaw is the character of Jar Jar Binx.  I don't think that this is a flaw at all, because I like the character, but a great many people don't.  The reasons why people don't like Jar Jar is that he is a bumbling fool mainly in the movie for comic relief, and he is also the character who most frequently sounds like gibberish.  Despite this, I think that it is good to have a comic relief character in an otherwise serious movie.  But the negative reaction to Jar Jar Binx caused this character to be less utilized in the next two movies.

All these concerns are minor.  This is a really good story that is rich in detail and stunning to look at.  I am almost sorry that I waited ten years to watch it again.

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