We went to see The Phantom Menace’s re-release; how does it hold up after 25 years?

We bought a ticket to see The Phantom Menace’s 25th anniversary re-release. Was it worth it?

Star Wars has been, and still is, a massive part of this particular writer’s life. Unfortunately, I wasn’t around to catch A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back in cinemas when they were first released, but I did manage to sneak in to see those cuddly Ewoks lay waste to the Empire in Return of the Jedi back in 1983. The franchise inspired me to work in the industry, and I had the thrill of watching and re-watching the original trilogy countless times with friends and family. As we all know, the series evolved into a cultural behemoth and, unlike nowadays, where I think the amount of Star Wars content that is available to consume is actually to the detriment of the series’ quality, we only had the original movies to cling to.


In a galaxy not too far, far away, on May 19th, 1999, the world got to see the hugely overhyped first installment in George Lucas’ prequel trilogy. The legendary filmmaker first announced his plans to produce more Star Wars films to Variety in October 1993, and the world went Star Wars mad, with fan anticipation at a fever pitch to see the story of how exactly a nine-year-old boy would eventually become the fearsome Darth Vader. They weren’t expecting a tale of trade disputes, myth-busting midi-chlorians and…Jar Jar Binks. Has there ever been a bigger mis-calculation in terms of character development in any movie franchise than the creation of Binks, who swiftly became one of the most hated characters in movie history?

I remember going to see David Cronenbrg’s eXistenZ months prior to the release of Episode I, not just because his movies are great, but because the theatrical trailer for The Phantom Menace was playing beforehand. I wasn’t alone as, bizarrely, a number of people got up and left the theater straight after the trailer played. It looked awesome on the big screen, and to be fair, it is a great trailer. However, when I first saw The Phantom Menace on opening day (at a midnight screening naturally) the excitement and anticipation for the movie was beyond ridiculous. People had lined the streets, lightsabers in hand, after having camped out to see just exactly what Lucas had in store for eager Star Wars fans the world over. I enjoyed the movie back then, and while I completely understand the hatred towards Jar Jar, he never really bothered me that much. I figured because the movie was aimed at twelve-year-olds, it wasn’t necessarily a deal breaker when it came to my enjoyment of the first prequel.

With the movie now playing in cinemas to celebrate its 25th year anniversary (it ended up making a lot of money this weekend), I’ve had the opportunity to revisit what was, for me at least, a hugely enjoyable, if badly scripted movie, the first time around. Watching it again on the big screen for its anniversary with more mature eyes was not only strangely nostalgic, but I had a ton of fun with it. Sure, the script is terrible, and the performances from most of the cast suffer because of this, but the two-hour and eleven-minute runtime flew by. I guess I’m one of those Star Wars fans who have found a greater appreciation for the prequel series since Disney bought Lucasfilm in December 2012, and while I’ve enjoyed some of the output from the House of Mouse, the prequels at least have a clear narrative, plus a sense of wonder that’s been sorely missing lately, at least for me.

I think we all know the plot of The Phantom Menace by now: Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi attempt to protect Queen Padmé Amidala of Naboo in the hope of securing a peaceful end to an interplanetary trade dispute. Not exactly a riveting synopsis for sure, and the famous opening scroll at the very beginning of the movie does little to whet the appetite for what’s to come. But you know what? I like the movie and enjoyed it tremendously on the big screen again. Despite having that awful clunky dialogue to work with, Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor do their level best to bring their Jedi Knights to life, and you can really tell they had a blast learning the fight choreography for the movie’s standout saber duels. Natalie Portman looks stunning as Queen Amidala and apparently studied Japanese Kabuki Theatre for the mannerisms of the character. Her voice is stilted at times, but she has at least put some thought into her performance.

What works so well about the film is its standout set-pieces, namely the pod race and the climactic battles that rage across the ground, in space and, of course, in the Theed hangar and power generator based three-way lightsaber battle. George Lucas has always been a fan of high octane speed sequences, and the Ben Hur inspired Pod Race is a hugely fun, thrilling sequence that sees ‘little Ani’ beat the odds to win his freedom from the awesome junk dealer, Watto. However, where the movie really comes to life is with its main bad guy, Darth Maul; the whirling dervish may have limited screen time, but his impact is massive when he first appears from behind the hanger doors on Theed. British martial artist and stuntman Ray Park clearly loved being a part of the franchise, and the choreography in the final fight is stunning.

Of course, The Phantom Menace is one of the most hated Star Wars movies for a lot of people, and while I may be a fan of the movie, I can completely see why it’s not held in the highest regard (editor’s note – it’s performing well in our Star Wars poll this weekend). However, if you haven’t had a chance to revisit it on the big screen for its 25th-year anniversary, why not treat yourself to a flawed, if fun spectacle that, for me at least, still holds up well enough all these years later? May the force be with you…Always.

Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/we-went-to-see-the-phantom-menaces-re-release-how-does-it-hold-up-after-25-years/

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SBS editor