Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace (1999)

I didn’t grow up a Star Wars fan. While I knew of the series’ existence, was familiar with how popular all of the movies were, and had even seen a little bit of Return of the Jedi at a birthday party in the mid-80s, I had just never searched out the movies out to watch them. I even played with my brother’s hand-me-down toys. I enjoyed playing with the action figures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, Storm Trooper, Tuken Raider and more, along with the Ewok’s treehouse and the Millenium Falcon. But I still didn’t fell the need to try and watch the movies.

Then sometime around late 1992 or early 1993, USA was showing Star Wars on a Friday night, and I decided to make it my entertainment for that night. I really enjoyed it, but they didn’t show the other two. But in the late spring or early summer of 1993, they showed all three movies on consecutive nights from Tuesday through Thursday, and I made it a point to watch all three. Over the course of those three nights, I became a fan. I even watched all three again the following Sunday when USA ran them back-to-back-to-back throughout the afternoon and evening.

Later on, I picked up a few of the Dark Horse comic book series to be able to experience more of the universe, but that was as far as I went with my fandom. But in early 1999, I became aware that a new prequel series would be dropping, and I was excited. Not like true blue Star Wars fanboys, but I was excited nonetheless.

My local theater was relatively new having only opened two years earlier, so the technology there was still top-notch. As a matter of fact, they were one of the first theaters in the world to install the Lucas-designed surround sound system ahead of The Phantom Menace being released. Add in the fact that they would be offering the first showing of the new release at 12:01 AM that fateful Friday, and the fact that they would be playing it in multiple theaters around the clock earned it the designation of the number one place in the world to see the new Star Wars movie.

While I didn’t go to the 12:01 AM showing, I did reserve tickets for the 7:00 PM showing on opening night and bought ten tickets so that any of my friends interested in going would have seats. I found no shortage of people who wanted to go that night. The crowd roared its approval as the familiar Star Wars “crawl” rolled up the screen and we all settled in to enjoy the unique experience together.

Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace features Obi-Wan Kenobi as a young apprentice Jedi knight under the tutelage of Qui-Gon Jinn; Anakin Skywalker, who will later father Luke Skywalker and become known as Darth Vader, is just a 9-year-old boy. When the Trade Federation cuts off all routes to the planet Naboo, Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan are assigned to settle the matter. Along the way they meet the underwater race of the Gungans, discover a new Sith apprentice is after them, and have to help free the Naboo from the Trade Federation and battle the Sith apprentice known as Darth Maul.

Now in the years since the film was released, the prequel has caught a lot of crap. But for someone like me who was never a serious fanboy, I had no issues with the prequels in general, or The Phantom Menace in particular. I thought it was an amazingly fun film and a great experience in the theater.

Having watched the movie another dozen times since that initial viewing, I still feel the same way. What Lucas and team was able to put on screen was beautiful and captivating. While I never cared much for the character of Jar Jar Binks, I’m not overly annoyed with him like most of the fanbase. I really don’t care either way.

The cinematography is top-notch in The Phantom Menace, with every shot being epic and beautiful. The story filled in some gaps and questions from the original trilogy, and you couldn’t really ask for much more action than the film provided.

The initial battle scene between the Jedi and the Trade Federation droids, the underwater chase scene, the pod race, the big battle on Naboo between the Gungans and the Droids, the fighter battle in space, and the fantastic final showdown between the Jedi and Darth Maul were all packed with excitement.

So while a lot of serious Star Wars fans pick nits with the film, as a casual fan, I think it’s great, and recommend it to anyone who has never seen it, and urge those who have to give it another look and appreciate what was accomplished by the filmmakers.

4.0 stars.

Join in the conversation!