STAR WARS Prequel Offers Amazing Sights
Mae West once insisted, "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful!" That’s the way I feel about Episode I: The Phantom Menace. A myriad of sensational special effects and extraordinary creatures fills the screen in this first Star Wars prequel. It’s like a three-ring circus, and I never knew where to look for the most exciting action.
Among those 2,000 technological effects (the most ever included in a movie) are visually stunning space stations, awesome battle scenes, and an adrenaline-producing pod race through caves and canyons. The film’s imaginative creature cast includes a clumsy, long-eared Jar Jar Binks (who blends characteristics of Charlie Chaplin and Danny Kaye, according to illustrator Terryl Whitlatch), hordes of amphibious Gungans, an army of marching droids, a serpentine-like sports announcer, a younger (but just as wise) Yoda, and my two favorite robots -- R2-D2 and C-3PO.
Vying for my interest as the most intriguing human character were: Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman), who bears twins Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker in a later episode; Qai-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), a Jedi Master who mentors Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), the Jedi who becomes Luke Skywalker’s mentor in later Star Wars outings (played by Alex Guinness in the last trilogy).
Queen Amidala wins this contest hands down. Her colorful costumes and dramatic make-up seem more dazzling than any special effects. In addition, her regal demeanor and sense of duty evoke feelings of intense admiration for this teenage heroine. She is a strong role model for women in any galaxy at any time.
Writer/director George Lucas masterfully lays the groundwork here for future exploration of such important themes as good versus evil, redemption, the hero’s quest, and the power of the FORCE -- a universal energy each person can tap into. In The Phantom Menace, two Dark Lords of the Sith work with the dark side of the FORCE. One of these villains, Darth Maul (Ray Park), tries to kill the Jedi Knights and plots to rule the galaxy. It takes great courage for Queen Amidala and her loyal followers to stop the destruction this evil menace sets in motion.
There is one big disappointment in this otherwise outstanding film. The entire production needs more humor. Jar Jar Binks, designed to provide comic relief, generates only a few muffled chuckles. His heavily-accented comments may be quite funny, but who can tell? I longed for sub-titles that would help me understand his lingo.
Still, the movie’s visual artstry amazed me. And, with so many of today’s films touting cynicism and despair, the Star Wars emphasis on morality and loyalty is most welcome. Bring on the next two Episodes!
(Released by 20th Century Fox and rated "PG" for sci-fi action and violence.)