We gave it a C-
Here’s why I love video: Because, with judicious use of the fast-forward button, you can create what writer William Goldman would call the ”Good Parts” version of any movie. This comes in especially handy when dealing with a film like Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, an ”entertainment” that’s got almost as many eye-popping special-effects shots as it does slack-jawed dialogue scenes. (It’d be easier to excise those clunkers on DVD — perhaps that’s why there’s no digital release in sight.)
To do its job as a prequel, The Phantom Menace has to provide only three pieces of information: (1) introduce Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) and Amidala (Natalie Portman); (2) establish Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) as Anakin’s teacher; and (3) let us meet Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) before he becomes the evil emperor. We don’t need to know anything about Gungans, senatorial chancellor elections, podraces, droid armies, or midi-chlorian levels.
So, what’s in my ”Good Parts” version? The mentor-student dynamic between Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan, the somber Jedi Council scenes, and the intricate cli-mactic lightsaber duel, which shows just how badass Jedi Knights can be. Everything else gets in the way. ”Good Parts” version: B The official cut: C-
WHAT WE SAID THEN: ”Fails to recapture the elemental magic of Star Wars…” B- (#486, May 21, 1999) — Owen Gleiberman