The Light Side of The Force
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
Review by Ross Anthony

The "Star Wars" logo bursting on the screen opened a time capsule of memories that exploded in a spontaneous applause from all of us. We were charged and ready to be flown out of our seats in the same way the original "greatest story ever told" had done it nearly a quarter century ago. And to be sure, "The Menace" has some thunder under the hood; though I hate to say it, not enough to match the infinite expectations orbiting in our heads.

"The Phantom Menace" is Episode 1 of 9 (episodes 4 through 6 were produced prior). So your favorite characters are either young or not born yet, hence played by different actors. The set up for things to come is all here, cleverly planned, but rather plainly executed. The dialogue spills out of passionless characters with little more purpose than to explain their plight. Where was the drama? Where was the guts?

Part of the answer lies in robotic enemies. Scores of daffy duck soldiers hardly fill the storm trooper boots. They shoot a lot, but never seem to hit any human targets and are as easily knocked down as green plastic army guys -- I didn't fear them. So how could I respect a "hero" who took them out? The only formidable enemy is Darth Maul. With a double-edged light saber, he steals the show -- taking on both the young Obi (Ewan McGregor) and his Jedi Master (Liam Neeson). That's the drama I want! Unfortunately, it's not enough to carry the movie. The only other characters that display any spirit are 1) an annoying alien camel-like creature replacement for the nagging C3PO droid and 2) the cocky young Skywalker. The latter is charming and provides the closest being to a character with which to sympathize.

That said, in addition to the saber duel (or should I say trio), there's an absolutely all-out-wonderful pod (hover craft) race that makes this episode worth catching in the theaters. Spectacular in their imaginative designs, the pod-chariots whirl around a coliseum type race course, seemingly weaving in and out of the theater's audience. Sparks fly, as the screaming engines blare from left to right, back to front -- this race will engulf you.

The choice to keep the main characters reserved and poker-faced, drains the picture of many juicy possibilities. Why can't the young Obi be drawn romantically to the Noboo Princess, causing an internal conflict? He is the apprentice this time, but already seems rather flawless.

Quite uninteresting in its stale moments, the "Menace" soars from time to time. And after all, it is "Star Wars." You can't stop respecting a Jedi Master just because he's getting slower in his older years.

[Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones]

Starring Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake LLoyd and Ian McDiarmid.
Written and directed by George Lucas.
Produced by Rick McCallum at Lucasfilm LTD/20th Century Fox.


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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 07:54:19 PDT