Director: George Lucas
Everyone loves a universal hate figure. Society coalesces surprisingly well around a common figure of contempt. Jar Jar Binks is one such figure, and arguments against The Phantom Menace centred first and foremost around the fact that George Lucas found a need for this jibbering and racially insensitive frog abortion to exist. Well, guess what? He’s back! In three dimensions!
The addition of 3D to the first episode of the Star Wars saga was never going to heal the scars inflicted upon many sci-fi nerds by the prequels. Neither the passage of time (it’s been 13 years since the initial release) or the addition of 3D makes Jar Jar more appealing or makes Jake Lloyd any less annoying. He’s the moppet playing Anakin Skywalker, the boy who would grow up to be the biggest badass in the universe, Darth Vader. A young slave on the planet of Tattooine, he’s discovered by Jedi knight Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson, lending some much needed dignity to this picture) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, doing a terrible Alec Guinness impersonation and sporting an even worse mullet). Cue a convoluted plot to get the boy out of slavery and put him on the path to becoming a Jedi. As annoying as the kid is, hindsight is a wonderful thing; next to Hayden Christensen, he’s John bloody Gielgud. Meanwhile, the planet of Naboo (ruled by Natalie Portman’s Queen Amidala) is under attack from the Federation in a dispute over tax (Tax in 3D? The kids’ll love that!) and the Senate is squabbling over the appropriate response. Sadly, Han Solo won’t be born for another few decades; wisecracks and fun are out, while solemnity and posturing are in. Oh, joy.
It’s unlikely the passage of time will make you care any more about intergalactic politics or the taxing of trade routes to Naboo. However, if you can look past claims that “Jar Jar raped my childhood”, there’s a lot to like in The Phantom Menace, at least in the broadest blockbuster terms. The central Pod Race (part of the bet to free Anakin) is still thrilling, the visuals are still great (as is John Williams’ score), and Darth Maul is still a great villain. His lightsabre duel with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan is still one of the best scenes in the series, and the 3D makes it all the more dazzling. Still, Maul and pretty scenery are not enough to compensate for Jake Lloyd, a dull Portman, her ridiculous costumes, the convoluted plot, virgin births, racist alien design, the kiddy-friendly tone, all that midichlorian bullshit or Jar Jar bloody Binks! Star Wars used to combine fun with genuine wonder. The Phantom Menace is sadly lacking in that sense of worthy awe, and all the 3D in the world can’t fix that.