Star Wars gets a makeover

Doug Laman, Guest Contributor

Back in 1999, a new Star Wars movie must have been like the Second Coming. Judging by all the merchandise and movie reviews from that year, it’s safe to say that is an understatement. Similarly, the negative reaction to the movie is a legend in and of itself, with headlines from angry critics such as “My mugged childhood and why the ‘Phantom Menace’ is responsible” and “Jar-Jar Binks must die!” dominating the newsstands. Thirteen years later, the smoke has cleared enough for the film to return to theaters in 3D. Has it gotten better with age? Or has the “Dark Side” really overtaken this franchise?

As a life-long Star Wars fan, I guess I should be the most critical of this movie. But I’m also a critic, and as a movie in and of itself, it works just fine. In fact, The Phantom Menace is one the more fun movies you’ll see out there, full of rip-roaring action and thrills that only Star Wars can bring. Of course, after all that praise, I should note that this is the weakest Star Wars movie (Attack Of The Clones would have that dubious honor, if it weren’t for the awesome Yoda fight at the end) thanks to several factors.

First off, it’s a very slow moving film, and after a nice fight scene in the first act and the pod racing sequence, not much happens. In fact, after one contemplates it for a while, the Jedi do nothing for a good chunk of this film, leaving Anakin to do the hard work (such as creating the pod racer and piloting it in the treacherous race).

Another problem is…Jar-Jar. I don’t dislike him as much as many do (judging by the sheer number of anti-Jar-Jar sites), but his dialogue and character are extremely irritating. I will say this though: upon seeing the film again, I can somewhat understand his purpose in the film. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen this yet, but I won’t lie that he is very helpful in solving an obvious problem in the third act. Still, that doesn’t make up for the barrage of flatulence jokes and stupidity he brings to the proceedings.

One other nitpick: the Neomedian enemies Nute Gunray and Rune Hakku are one of the few non-CGI aliens in the film, and it shows. Their rubbery masks look outdated and the lip-syncing on the characters isn’t that far from a 1960’s Godzilla film from Japan. They stick out like a sore thumb whenever they come on screen, even if their mature motivations (taxations and power) are much appreciated when juxtaposed Jar-Jar Binks.

Plenty of problems hold this film back, but there are still many positive aspects, not the least of which is Darth Maul. His evil appearance and cunning attacks still send chills down my spine. His final battle with Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn is mesmerizing, perhaps the best lightsaber duel in the entire Star Wars saga. His sheer awesomeness is definitely a highlight of the film.

Darth Maul is not the only good character in the flick though; shifty parts dealer Watto is a fascinating creation, and is definitely a character that really “works,” thanks to all of his small characterizations.

Qui-Gon Jinn is also a great little creation, thanks to Liam Neeson, who plays the character perfectly. He gives this Jedi enough soul and heart for him to come to life like other characters don’t in the film (et tu Padme).

However, one thing that must be discussed is the quality of the 3D. Believe it or not, it really helps the film. It adds great depth and tremendously enhances sequences like the podrace. You’ll feel like you have entered the universe of Star Wars like never before. The best post-conversion of 3D yet? I think yes!

Sure this chapter in the large Star Wars saga has its caveats, but even the worst Star Wars flick is head and shoulders above the most derivative movie that comes out. Despite Jar-Jar and it’s slow pace, great 3D and riveting action still make The Phantom Menace a film worth checking out on the big screen, in surprisingly effective 3D. It may not be the best in the saga, but it’ll do until the original Star Wars trilogy is released in 3D. May the force be with you, dear reader.