'Star Wars: Episode One – The Phantom Menace 3D' Review: Jar Jar Aside, Prequel Still Has Merit

When people think of the first official chapter in the “Star Wars” saga one character comes to mind: Jar Jar Binks.

The film’s comic relief created so much animosity than even diehard fans of the series were turned off. The impish Gungan was mocked for his insipid dialogue and stupid clownishness. It is true that Binks is one of the worst–if not the worst– characters in this distinguished series. But despite its well-documented flaws, “The Phantom Menace” is much better than its detractors suggest.

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I remember watching “The Phantom Menace” for the first time when it was released in 1999. As a 15-year-old, I was excited to attend a midnight screening of it with my father and sister. Not only was I pleased that I could see the movie with other fans of the series, I was ecstatic that I could stay up so late on a weeknight.

Because of my general enthusiasm, I probably overlooked some of the film’s blatant faults. Seeing it again in 3D made those flaws much more obvious.

For those who haven’t seen “The Phantom Menace,” the story begins as a trade standoff is occurring between the trade federation and the planet of Naboo. Jedi Knights Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Qui-Gon Jinn(Liam Neeson) are sent to help resolve the conflict, but the duo quickly discover that the trade federation is planning an all-out war against Naboo. The Jedis then work to prevent the war from taking place– a task which eventually leads them to the planet of Tattoine, where they befriend a young boy named Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd).

As fans of the series know, Anakin grows up to become the villainous Darth Vader. But this film simply shows Anakin during his youth as he befriends the two Jedis. The relationship developed between Anakin and Obi-Wan will, of course,  change the course of intergalactic history in the episodes to come.

Watching the film in 3D, it’s hard to overlook its major problems. Since its release thirteen years ago, many critics have endlessly derided “The Phantom Menace” for its terrible dialogue, its kiddie film veneer and a disgustingly lazy conclusion where Anakin–despite himself–saves the day.

But this is “Star Wars,” and alongside the flaws there are several great things to love about this entry in the series. These attributes–often forgotten–are worth noting for fans and critics alike.

Firstly, there are several great and awe-inspiring action sequences. A podracing scene showing Anakin’s determination and perseverance at a young age. A fight sequence where the villainous Darth Maul (Ray Park) takes on both Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon with a two-sided light saber. Added to that, “The Phantom Menace” offers a few nice surprises. For instance, who knew that the boy who became Darth Vader also created C-3PO? Additionally, it is a pleasure watching the characters we all know and love (Obi-Wan, Yoda, R2-D2) in their earlier incarnations.

Fun with Yoda, this movie has.

Yes, I freely admit that this is the weakest chapter in the “Star Wars” series, but overall there’s enough to enjoy in this movie to merit a recommendation. The 3D effects add to it, but the real pleasure is bringing your family alongside to relive the adventure. The Saturday night screening I attended was packed with families coming to enjoy it as the decent but often unremarkable film that it is.

The Force may not be strong in this episode, but it’s there.

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