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Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
reviewed by Elizabeth Weaver Engel

I am proud to report that I was at the first showing of SW1 in the DC area. "Luke I am a big geek." Thanks to the persistence of my wonderful friend Rob, I not only had tickets for the first showing in the DC area, I was also part of the group that was first in line to get in to the theater. "Luke, Rob's a bigger geek than I am."

{short description of image}Now for the $64,000 question: so, how was it? Just in case you haven't already gotten it, I am a Star Wars geek. Not a big one - I don't collect the action figures or anything (Rob I'm looking at you) - but big enough to have the special edition and know what makes it different from the versions as originally released. That said, I loved it. I would have to say it was the best SW since the original. Yep, I think it was better than Empire and Jedi. To answer some of the criticisms that have been raised: the plot was not impenetrable for anyone of normal intelligence. Movie critics, maybe, but I guarantee that if you're smart enough to figure out how to get yourself hooked up the internet, you'll be able to follow it. Why is it so hard to comprehend that someone making a grab for power would first attempt to gain control over the flow of goods, services, people, and information and start with a small, undefended but strategically located planet? Wasn't that the function Alderon fulfilled in SW4? At least poor little Naboo didn't get blown up in the first 20 minutes!

The highly talented Ewan McGregor was definitely under-utilized as Obi-Wan Kenobi, but he'll get more screen time in episodes 2 and 3, and I think he's very well suited to playing the young Jedi. I also hope we'll see more of Samuel L. Jackson as Jedi Master Mace Windu in episodes 2 and 3. Liam Neeson, always excellent, rocked as Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn. He brought gravitas and compassion to the role of Obi-Wan's teacher. Jar Jar Binks, the computer generated character, was a major annoyance who sounded like Roger Rabbit on a caffeine buzz. The underwater city was cool, but please, George, could you ditch him or get him a diction coach before episode 2? Computer generated characters are a fun idea and all that, and at least the robots were believable, but a main character? Return to actual actors, please.

The pod race scene on Tattoine was amazing. Apparently, some of the scene mounts from Ben Hur were used to construct it, and if you're familiar with Ben Hur, you can see it in some of the shots. Natalie Portman was a little stiff as Queen Amidala (maybe it was a costumes?), but it was good to see her, in the great tradition of Princess Leia, masterminding the plan to capture the bad guys and running down the hall firing away at the robot troops at the critical moment. And Darth Maul, for all his brief screen time, was one scary SOB. The climactic light saber duel was unbelievable. You know the good guys always win in the end (this is a George Lucas movie), but I was literally on the edge of my seat.

So what about young Anakin? Here's the thing I don't get: many critics have complained that he's too normal - there's no spark of evil. If he were already evil at 6, there wouldn't be much of a story in his conversion to the dark side now would there? Also, one would expect the Jedi council to exercise a bit more judgement than to train Rosemary's baby as a Jedi. The kid actor was a kid actor - cute, not a great deal of range or emotional depth, stilted dialogue. But ultimately, he was sort of incidental to this episode. Yeah, they had to bring him in and get his character development going, but this was really Amidala, Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon's story. The payoff will come in later episodes and with an older actor.

But ultimately the best part of the experience was the experience itself. For Gen-Xers (or as I prefer to call us - Children of the 80's) this is more than a movie, it's a part of our history. Standing in line with our laptop playing the downloaded trailers and "Troops" spoof and whacking each other with our light sabers, we reminisced about the first time we saw episodes 4, 5, and 6 and segued into intense discussions about Speed Racer, Star Blazers, and corduroy pants. We were all kids again - before jobs, bills, mortgages, and the internet showed up to complicate our lives. Critics say Star Wars is for kids - maybe so, but in that theater there wasn't a person present who was over 12, at least for 2 magical hours.


b i o
Elizabeth Weaver Engel, besides being a budding writer, is a stealth geek, a manager (but NOT the Pointy-Haired Boss) at a non-profit association, a distance runner, a "rabid" Lindy Hopper, and a connoisseur of fine B-grade movies. 

Currently a resident of Washington, DC, Elizabeth grew up outside of Philadelphia and holds a Master's degree in political theory from the University of Virginia.  She fell into working with computers by accident and has since been struggling to pull herself out.  Writing for Mindjack is one of the steps she's taking to do so. 

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