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"Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace"

by Jeremy M. Posner

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Right off the bat, I have to say that I do not believe in spoilers. If you don't want to know what happens in the film, don't worry. I won't give anything away.

That said, I also assume that you, the reader, have done your homework and are at least vaguely familiar with the universe of Star Wars. If you've been living in a cave for the last 22 years and somehow didn't catch the key elements of the plot of episodes four through six, then I might spoil a couple of things for you.

Waiting to get in to see The Phantom Menace, I had plenty of time on my hands. I was on line a full three and a half hours before my showing was scheduled. I did take great comfort in the fact that I was hardly the only one there. So, I had quite a bit of time to think about the film before seeing it.

As frightening as it may seem, it occurred to me that without having seen any more than the trailers, the film already has a couple of key points in common with shudder Titanic.

Face it. It's one of those odd freak occurrences.

For starters, both films have obscene numbers of effects shots. Even more important is that in both films we already know of the ultimate fate of some of the main characters.

In Titanic, the audience knows that the ship will sink and that Rose will survive. In Phantom Menace, we know that Anakin has to at least hit puberty before becoming Darth Vader. We also know that no matter what happens, eventually Obi-Wan will end up as a hermit on Tatooine.

The real trick in both cases is for the filmmaker to weave a compelling story around the basic facts that are already known to the audience. This is a craft that has existed at least since ancient Greek drama. This is where the difference between the two films becomes evident. Where Titanic failed to tell a compelling story, Phantom Menace succeeds.

That's not to say that the film is without faults, but they are clearly eclipsed by the work as a whole.

Like the original trilogy, this new episode has moments that seem to be very slow, taking almost forever. However, the parts that are not slow include some of the fastest, biggest, and best action sequences I've ever seen.

The film has its funny sidekick in the form of Jar Jar Binks, but he is often a bit too over the top, becoming progressively more annoying as the film went on.

Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor give great performances as the pair of Jedi knights we follow throughout the tale. McGregor does a particularly good job as Obi-Wan Kenobi, making the audience feel that it is no stretch at all for this man to mature into the gentle hermit we first met 22 years ago. He even nailed Alec Guinness's accent to add to the effect.

Jake Lloyd made for a very effective child prodigy of sorts, with a performance whose quality was emphasized when he was put next to other children on screen, most of whom probably would have displayed better emotion if they were computer generated.

I was a bit more ambivalent about Natalie Portman's performance, although by the end I had warmed to her character. It will be interesting to see where she and Lucas take this character in the next two installments.

Which brings me to the man himself. No, this won't win any Oscars for best picture or best director. (Although it's sure to get nominated for the effects work.) The dialogue is as choppy as in the original, with acting that often lacks motivation. But then we get the little gems, which as usual occur when Yoda is in the room.

The film is also chock full of references to the original Star Wars, which was also set on Tatooine. If you haven't seen the original in a while, it might be worth watching before going to see Phantom Menace, as you'll get more of the references.

And of course, the film is littered with bits fortelling that which we've all known since the original trilogy came out. We all know that the boy will turn to the dark side. Will it happen in this film, or in one of the following two episodes.

Go see the film to find out, since I'm not going to tell you.

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