Star Wars Episode 1 The Phantom Menace…a review

I find myself in the sub-zero, Hoth like West End of London wondering just how I will review a 12 year old movie that was almost universally despised upon its initial release.

Sure, if this had been a ‘directors cut’ tinkering with the addition of long forgotten footage or new CGI ‘enhancements’ I’d be more confident that I have something to add.

Maybe, if I had a technical understanding of 3D and the conversion process I’d also have something to say that might challenge your exiting view, alas, sadly I don’t possess that knowledge.

So, how DO I review the 3D release of Star Wars Episode 1 The Phantom Menace?

Well, here’s the thing.

The Midichlorians are still there, Jake Lloyd is still there and yes, Jar Jar is still there.

So, if back in 1999 those things contributed to the ravaging of your childhood and the denouncement of George Lucas as the proprietor of all things you hold dear, in all seriousness? Save yourself some time and cash, because little about the Phantom Menace has changed.

Or has it?

The Empire; Leicester Square played host to this multi-media screening which proved more akin to a premiere than a simple press screening as Stormtroopers and Darth Maul greeted and posed for pictures with a crowd of all ages that was clearly more than the usual pack of snarling press rancors.

Star Wars video games were available to play and Lego models were on display as the crowd filed into the vast and packed main auditorium. If you have never seen a movie at the Empire, seriously, if you are in London, be sure to check it out. It echos theatres and movie houses of old on a grand scale that has to be seen to be believed.

Following an introduction from Fox’s head of marketing and a worthy Star Wars themed promotion for the Variety Club, the audience were treated to a rather special, but all too brief introduction to the movie as Antony Daniels, C3PO himself, took the stage with trademark flare.

Daniels presence cemented the authenticity of the event as he recounted his experiences and extended his wish that, may the force be with us.

With that, the lights dimmed, a fanfare trumpeted and an all to familiar shiver made its way down my spine as the audience were transported to that galaxy far, far away.

As I said, little has changed about the Phantom Menace since that same Episode 1 opening crawl dominated the screen 13 years ago.

I was somewhat disappointed that some ‘special edition’ style tweaks were not made as much has changed in film making since the movies original release. A cinematic re-release would be the perfect opportunity to update ageing CGI, however, In the most part that same CGI holds up remarkably well.

In the instances where it doesn’t hold up, the thing that strikes almost immediately is how the Star Wars movies really are big screen events. I’m not surprising anyone with that comment, but it is particularly notable in such a CG heavy movie. Elements that didn’t hold up so well on the small screen, for example Jabba the Hutt and the, at the time, ‘troublesome’ cloth animation on some characters, becomes less apparent on the big screen (but still notable if you are looking for it).

The Gungan battle scenes, a sequence that were once considered the Star Wars equivalent of War and, Peace now equates to a minor skirmish when compared to the advances in ‘epic battle’ animation shown in movies such as, the almost equally dated, The Lord of The Rings. Without a doubt those advances own much to the foundations laid by ILM in The Phantom Menace and an upscaling of that battle, to match its intended scale, wouldn’t be a bad thing in the inevitable special editions of the prequels.

Irrespective of your views on the film there’s also a lot to enjoy about The Phantom Menace. Ian McDirmid’s Hooded Claw-esque Emperor in the making, the first opportunity to see the jedi in their prime or the sense of foreboding as Qui Gon utters the fateful,

“Anakin Skywalker meet Obi-Wan Kenobi”.

So, what about the 3D?

As has been said elsewhere the restraint shown in the use of 3D is notable and where I was certainly expecting every opportunity to have laser blasts and battle droid remains flying at me from the screen, remarkably, those instances were few and far between. There are moments where the 3D works particularly well in this conversion, notably in the ‘first person’ scenes in the pod race and the final space battle. I places it’s almost as if scenes shot with 3D in mind all those years ago. The CGI character animation again, holds up well in the 3D environments, including, dare I say it, Jar Jar Binks!

Does the 3D enhance the movie or change your experience of the movie?

To someone who has seen the film countless times, I’d argue that it doesn’t, which in turn begs my original question, what has changed about the movie?

Well, there’s one very definite thing that has changed…….

As I sat, scowling at the 5 years olds complaining about the glasses and constantly shuffling past to deal with walnut sized bladders, I found myself distracted by the luminous glow of mobile phones as ‘grown up’ texters struggled to detach themselves from cyberspace for two and a quarter hours.

However, despite outsized glasses and bladder control issues it was the kids who were were fully immersed in the experience, gasping at the reveal of a Sith Lord or thrilling at the pod race and thats when I came to the realisation, this is THEIR Star Wars.

In the 13 years since The Phantom Menace was released and even the 7 years since Revenge of The Sith there is an entire generation of youngsters who have never seen a Star Wars movie on the big screen, with only the animated The Clone Wars to call their own.

So, what has changed about The Phantom Menace?

In essence, We have!

We have grown older, in some cases more mature and have each had many years to come to terms with how we dealt with our experiences on 19th May 1999.

Much has happened to the world and to the films original audience and some of us, maybe, even have a padawan learner of our own and if you have a son or daughter, niece or nephew then without a doubt The Phantom Menace in 3D is for them.

I challenge you not to see the film in a different perspective as those youngsters have their Star Wars moment and you hark back to a blockade runner fleeing from the advance of that seemingly endless Star Destroyer back in 1977.

Sitting in that crowded theatre quietly contemplating the invention of a cell phone blocking device I noticed the entire audience, children and parents alike, hush as the fluorescent glow of communications devices dim.

On a far off world, a vast door in a cavernous hanger glides open as a Jedi Knight and his youthful apprentice face down a mysterious, hooded enemy and not one, but two deadly crimson lances extend from a weapon hailing from a more civilised age.

So begins a battle that bought cinemas in both 1999 and 2012 to awe-struck silence and a cinematic experience that began with you in 1977 now extends to your children and surely that alone is reason enough to revisit The Phantom Menace.

May the force be with you.


Interview with Garth Ennis in CLint issue 13

Russ Sheath talk Panels for Primates and Stan Lee @ Ain’t It Cool News!










Stan ‘the man’ Lee is involved, so check out the piece and let me know what you think.


Fans go WOW at Kapow! Day two at London’s new Comic Convention with Russ Sheath @CBR

Kapow! 2011 Russ Sheath reports on the new kid on the convention block, Day 1.

Kapow! 2011 in the heart of London.

Russ Sheath talks Comic Conventions in CLint Issue 5

CLint Issue 7 Russ Sheath talks to Andy McNab

Here’s a link where you can buy CLint issue 7. Not only is it a great read with comics and interviews, it also features my piece, an interview with SAS legend and Author Andy McNab.

Check it out here.