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“Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 3-D”
3 out of 4 stars
Starring: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman and Jake Lloyd.
Now playing at the West Theatre in Craig and Carmike Chief Plaza 4 in Steamboat Springs.
Remember back in 1999, when people still thought Y2K was a genuine threat and the most irritating creation by George Lucas were the Ewoks?
Even though they were proved wrong, the movie that changed everything, “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” gets another chance.
A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, the task of interplanetary peace falls upon Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), as they work to negotiate a resolution between the Galactic Republic and the Trade Federation.
When the two men are nearly killed on the orders of the Federation’s mysterious benefactor, they flee to the planet of Naboo, where they pick up spastic Gungan Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) and the entourage of threatened royal Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman).
Keeping the young queen safe becomes a more difficult job when the escape route has an unplanned detour on the planet Tatooine. Stranded without much hope of contacting their superiors, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan have little choice other than to barter with the locals for functional parts for their ship.
While working on a plan to get off the desert world, Qui-Gon encounters a boy named Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), a slave in whom he soon recognizes the potential to be the greatest and most powerful Jedi of all.
With 13 years gone by since the movie’s initial release, the slew of characters new and old present a new perspective on the “Star Wars” universe.
It seems like eons ago that we were introduced to Qui-Gon Jinn, but Neeson’s presence as the wise, maverick Jedi has improved with age, even if he appears in no other movies. The same cannot be said of McGregor and Portman, who each have their weakest points of the series in this entry, but at least we know they’ll have better moments.
Lloyd’s much-panned portrayal of the kid who would grow up to be Darth Vader still doesn’t quite ring true, but with more than a decade to let it sink in, he at least deserves a passing grade. The four-foot tall Jedi savior is certainly no worse than clumsy, childish Jar Jar Binks, whose entire race still comes off as an offensive stereotype of Caribbean creeds.
Plus, even the most objectionable minstrels in history never had to contend with lines of dialogue like “Yousa in deep doo-doo dis time!”
Unsurprisingly, the brightest performances in the film still come from the dark side of the Force.
Whether he’s the cloaked figure Darth Sidious or his more respectable alter ego, Senator Palpatine, Ian McDiarmid handles the dual role with ease, as the glint in his eye signals to us what big things he has planned for himself in the future. As his more silent but no less evil apprentice, Ray Park is still one of the coolest characters of the entire series as demonic Darth Maul, whose double-sided lightsaber has no equal among the Jedi and Sith.
Maul’s swordplay with his Jedi nemeses, Anakin’s skill in the seat of a pod racer, the Gungans’ glimmering underwater city, appearances by Yoda (voice of Frank Oz) and lovable droids R2-D2 and C-3PO (Kenny Baker, Anthony Daniels). The same highlights that caught the eye of people in 1999 remain the best parts even more so when remastered with a three-dimensional look.
Before the new millennium, there was perhaps no movie with greater anticipation in the days leading up to its release and an accompanying sense of disappointment from those who had dedicated themselves to the Gospel according to Lucas.
Of course, the rerelease of the beloved original trilogy in 1997 already had some devotees shaking their heads.
Yet, having the much-maligned prequels back in theaters presents a much different opportunity. Rather than having to live up to astronomical expectations this time around, Lucas can show us everything on the big screen in the manner in which he envisioned, Episodes one through six.
Undoubtedly, most fans would rather skip ahead to “A New Hope” — maybe partaking in “Revenge of the Sith” if they’re feeling generous — but the movie that caused a great disturbance in the force fits well in 3-D, although considering Lucas’s techno prowess, maybe he should have held off until he could film it in the right format. Nevertheless, the space opera style is easier to take in when you’re wearing those special glasses, and it’s likely the method Lucas wanted all along.
OK, “The Phantom Menace” still isn’t that good a movie on its own, but when it’s restructured to bring out the visual effects to an even greater degree, it’s downright enjoyable. We’ll just have to see if “Attack of the Clones” — my personal pick for worst of the series — can be salvaged as well.
And, even that can’t be any worse than the embarrassing theatrical animated spin-off “The Clone Wars.”
Now playing at West Theatre in Craig and Carmike Chief Plaza 4 in Steamboat Springs.
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