Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace | Chicago Reader

Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace

Not bad for a toy commercial, and the SF settings, however familiar, are even more impressive than the gadgets and beasties. The casualties are narrative momentum (at least compared to episode four) and the actors—Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Frank Oz, Samuel L. Jackson, Ray Park—who are stilted and humorless but can't be blamed, since George Lucas's mind was on the digital effects. (An overgrown Jamaican reptile of indeterminate gender named Jar Jar Binks has been created specifically to tell the audience when it's OK to laugh.) At great expense, Lucas has finally succeeded in duplicating his low-budget models (mainly serials and westerns of the 50s) in emotional range as well as in action. The digital effects help him realize this sincere aim, but the campy whiffs of pseudoprofundity are strictly analogical and exclusively the writer-director's, and in a way they're every bit as charming as the simplicity. PG, 133 min.

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