I don’t care what anyone else thinks, ever since I first saw it, I’ve thought The Phantom Menace is an excellent film in the Star Wars canon. And I’m amazed that it’s already ten years old.
I watched it again this evening for the first time in a long time, and it’s still just as good. The first thing that struck me was how well the CGI has aged. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that it’s still better than almost all of the non-ILM output in contemporary blockbusters. The convincing GI lighting solutions they have used are fantastic.
And Jar Jar Binks, a decade on, is still one of the better examples of CG character animation, and the detail of his skin knocks a lot of Golem’s close ups out of the water. Plus the organic movement of the battle scenes with the Gungans versus the battle droids is more realistic than the hoards in Lord Of The Rings.
What’s more, Jar Jar is a good character, and I like him, so there.
Not as much as R2-D2 though, who I think remains one of my favourite movie characters of all time. He’s a cheeky little shit.
I remembered Jake Lloyd as Anakin being a bit annoying, but he turns in a very polished performance which is very watchable and charming. Even Ewan MacGregor is less wooden than I recalled; I once held the belief that he was bored for most of the trilogy until his final scenes where his cinematic presence actually put a lump in my throat – like Alec Guinness did when I finally saw him on a massive screen.
Plot-wise the script does an awful lot of work under the surface, acting as a good primer for the next two episodes, and operatically foreshadowing (or should that be backshadowing in this unique case?) the events of A New Hope. In fact, it introduces an awful lot of stuff in a very elegant manner.
But most importantly of all, it made me bounce in my seat and remember how I felt as a kid watching the original trilogy. Hearing the horns blast out the Star Wars theme as a much less familiar text scrolls up the screen still makes me giddy. As did the moment when Darth Maul extends the other end of his light sabre. That made me chuckle as much as when Yoda reveals his light sabre for the first time in episode two.
Plus that whole fight sequence to the strains of Duel of Fates is a tour de force. As is the Podrace sequence, which looks photo realistic throughout, and rushes by at an extraordinary pace. But back to the duel, the moment when Darth Maul is pacing menacingly as Qui Gon kneels is spine tinglingly good, as is Obi-Wan’s violent reaction to his death and frenzied fighting.
So, I don’t care what anyone else thinks, The Phantom Menace is brilliant. It’s just as much fun as a Star Wars film should be.