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Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace 25th Anniversary ★★★★



Re-Released: 3 May 2024

Director: George Lucas

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman

As I sat down to watch The Phantom Menace on the big screen for the very first time, I realised that the Star Wars Episode I is the same age as me, which is both terrifying and somewhat satisfying at the same time. The fact that this may be this is one of the first Star Wars films I get to see on the big screen may seem irrelevant, but for someone who grew up watching this franchise over and over, watching it in the cinema is an experience like no other, and one I am grateful to have experienced thanks to the re-release of the movie in UK cinemas.

As the first film of the prequel series, The Phantom Menace is set 32 years before the original trilogy during the era that we now know as the Galactic Republic. The film follows Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), a Jedi master, and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) in their attempts to protect Queen Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) of Naboo. Their adventures take the group to Tatooine where they meet Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), a young slave boy who dreams of becoming a Jedi, and encounter a mysterious Sith lord.

While The Phantom Menace may not be the best Star Wars film – after all, the consensus is pretty clear on this one – it is still a good film. The film allows us to travel back into the franchise’s past just enough for the audience to introduce new original characters – Qui-Gon Jinn will always be one of my favourite characters in this film – and meet familiar faces in their younger form. Jar Jar Binks is not nearly as annoying as the fandom makes him out to be: sure, sometimes over the top but in the overall economy of the movie, it works, especially because he is not in it for nearly as long as most people seem to remember.

On the 25th anniversary of its release, I realised that The Phantom Menace truly holds up to the test of time, much like many other Star Wars films. This is particularly interesting in terms of special effects. With the latest technology, it seems that visual effects tend to become obsolete rather quickly and when they do, it is often visible when looking back on older films, so much so that it can even be distracting. With the first Star Wars prequel, however, the special effects still work for their purposes, despite not using today’s technology.

It is also incredibly fun to see the parallels and easter eggs to the main saga: for those of us who know exactly how the story is going to go, this film feels like the last beacon of hope. Even if the audience knows what’s going to happen to Anakin, we can’t help but share Qui-Gon Jinn’s hopeful vision, at least for the duration of this film. The Phantom Menace is a great start for an equally great trilogy. The original three movies will always hold a special place in my heart. Still, this film is a brilliant addition to the saga that allows the viewers to explore the Star Wars universe and its characters a lot more thoroughly.

This is not to say that The Phantom Menace does not have its flaws. It’s undoubtedly lengthy and boasting surprisingly little action for a Star Wars film, with much of the movie feeling like a long set-up for the rest of the trilogy to come. It also overexplains a tad too much when there was no need for an explanation in the first place. Part of the charm of Star Wars was in the fact that audiences just took some elements for granted: until this film came out, I am sure that no viewers actually asked themselves where the use of the Force really came from. And yet, the first prequel movie gives us an answer introducing the concept of midichloreans which, much like Anakin Skywalker himself, none of us really understand, despite the expositionary sequence designed to explain it to us.  

Needless to say, watching Star Wars, any Star Wars for that matter, on the big screen is a noteworthy experience for any fan of the sci-fi series. The infamous prequel is often considered one of the worst Star Wars movies but watching it in a cinema 25 years after it was first released reminded me of how much I actually enjoyed it. Much like other films of the franchise, The Phantom Menace is a testament to the brilliant universe that Lucas created, so unique and fascinating that it remains a huge part of popular culture today.

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