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Sunday Classics Matinee: Star Wars Episode I - The Phantom Menace

by Robb Reel

It's a diverse group at the Reel Estate.  We have wildly differing ages and backgrounds in our motley group.  Part of what makes Movie Night so much fun is that we can introduce others to some great films that may not have had the occasion to see, much like this series.

One of the housemates has never seen any of the Star Wars saga, so we begin an experiment for what it's like for someone to see all six movies, for the first time, in relatively quick succession.

Rather than go by their original release date, we are attacking this ordinally.  That means beginning with The Phantom Menace from 1999.  I grew up a huge fan of the series and distinctly remember the anticipation that had built up over the 16-year interim.

Liam Neeson is Qui-Gon Jinn, a slightly jaded Jedi master on a diplomatic mission.  He does not trust politicians, yet he is working as the instrument of the Galactic Senate to break a blockade and prevent war.  He is sage but still acerbic and a character you will want to see more.

You know the name Obi-Wan Kenobi but this is a new face.  Ewan McGregor has the challenge of embodying the character that Sir Alec Guinness made us love, not an easy task even linguistically since the former is a Scot and the latter a Londoner.  It is curious to see Obi-Wan as an impetuous padawan learner.

Natalie Portman, now an Oscar winner, was still relatively unkonown.  After a fabulous turn in The Professional, she was to be the breakout star as the young Queen Amidala.  Much like Princess Leia before [and after] her, she is the strong female presence in the story and the galaxy.

The Phantom Menace takes heat from too many critics as the worst of the saga.  Jar Jar Binks is a big reason why.  He is an obvious effort to be the comedic foil, but he just falls flat.  Young Jake Lloyd, who played Anakin terribly [though he was only 9], ended up out of acting altogether and literally delivering pizzas while going to high school near Indy.  Other criticisms involve evil henchman Darth Maul -- I can't say why without giving a big spoiler.

It is not the best of the six, but I don't think it is the worst [more on that later].  The movie just has too much to do in tying the first trilogy in while starting a new one.  The expectations were all just too high.  Housemate Chris enjoyed it enough to be ready for the next one though.

May the Force be with us... for at least five more movies.