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Laramie Movie Scope:
Star Wars:
The Phantom Menace

Phantom Menace a chip off
the old Star Wars block

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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March 12, 1999 -- Seeing the latest "Star Wars" movie is like reading a new book in a series being written by one of your favorite authors.

You know what to expect, you have a certain level of anticipation and you have a certain familiarity with the characters and the setting. In this case, it isn't the best book in the series, but it delivers about what you would expect.

"The Phantom Menace," episode one of six stories envisioned by George Lucas over 20 years ago , has finally come to the screen. As all Star Wars aficionados know, Lucas was forced to start in the middle of the stories and work toward the end because he had to start with an idea he could sell to a studio. That situation has changed slightly. No problem selling a story now.

"The Phantom Menace" takes place years before the story in the original Star Wars movie ("A New Hope," 1977). Little Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd, who appeared in the TV series "The Pretender") is the hero of this story and is the only character who is the slightest bit interesting.

We, of course, know that this sweet little heroic, self-sacrificing kid is going to become the super evil Darth Vader in the future, and the father of Luke Skywalker. When the best character in the movie is a 10-year-old kid (somewhat younger when the film was being made), who is really not a top-notch actor, it ought to spell big trouble, but this film will do fine at the box office, primarily because of that same little kid.

Little An akin gets to be a hero in this story. He also gets to do all kinds of dangerous stuff, like fly a star fighter into battle and participate in a death-defying race (which no mother on any world would let her son do). This is a character every little boy can identify with. They will want to see this movie over and over and over. The box office cash register will go ka-ching, ka-ching, ad infinitum.

There really is only one thing in this film for adults, and that is spectacle. The special effects are out of this world (sorry for the pun). We see whole armies of robots and strange creatures duking it out in digitally-constructed scenes that are awesome.

It makes one wonder what the original movie would have looked like if Lucas would have had all these wondrous digital effects at his disposal in 1975. In those days almost all aliens looked like humans because they were, in fact, humans in alien costumes. Now you can make an alien look like anything you can imagine. You can create any kind of image you want.

The primary action revolves around a giant battle to save a planet ruled by Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman of "Mars Attacks!" and "Everyone Says I Love You."). Two Jedi Knights, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson of "Les Miserables" and "Rob Roy") and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor of "Little Voice" and "Brassed Off") are dispatched to help with a trade dispute on the planet in question.

They end up being caught up in an invasion of the planet. They rescue the queen and others and flee to another planet where they meet up with young Skywalker, who has oodles of Force stuff in him.

Skywalker, who is a slave, is freed by Jinn and decides, in one of the few scenes in the movie with any emotional content, to leave with Jinn and learn to become a Jedi Knight.

The story is a little weak, and there really aren't any interesting characters, but the sheer spectacle of the film will probably be enough to satisfy many people. This film rates a B on a scale of A to F, with F being the pits.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information. For more information on the continuing Star Wars saga, click on this link to the official home page of Star Wars. For even more information, see the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy and Special Edition home page.

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Copyright © 1999 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)