Will today’s parents be missing a trick if they take their children to see Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace and proceed from there through all six films? My answer, and I would imagine the answer of most others, would be “yes”. Having said that, the chief interest in this rerelease of the deeply flawed but often mercilessly and unfairly derided ‘first’ film in the Star Wars saga, is to get a new generation involved. Unfortunately, they’ll be starting at the weaker end of the series, but ironically that might make the advent of episode four seem just as revelatory as it did to so many in 1977. Then again, they might simply bemoan the lack of modern day special effects.
I said that the chief interest was in getting a new generation involved, but perhaps that’s a sugar-coated way of overlooking the inherent cynicism of retrofitting a successful film into 3D. It hardly needs to be said that the 3D conversion here is nothing more than proficient, that it adds nothing and actually takes away some of the clarity and vividness of the film’s varied colour palette. The only other new elements which those who do not own the Blu-ray discs can look out for are one or two short narrative or effects shots added in here and there, which are completely unnecessary, and a digital Yoda to replace that awful puppet.
The rest is just the same, as you would expect. A Jedi Knight, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), acting as ambassadors for the Galactic Republic, are sent to resolve a trade dispute on the planet of Naboo. Their contrived journey takes them to the planet Tatooine, where they encounter Anakin Skywalker, a young boy with an untapped connection to the Force, who as we all know will become central to a six-film saga.
The film hasn’t aged particularly badly – its flaws are as pronounced as they were in 1999, and so too are its strengths. Die hard fans will feel the same conflicted love for it that they always have done. At times the acting is flat, at times it’s rather good; there are affecting moments, laughable dialogue, thrilling lightsaber battles and the enduringly fun pod race. I find myself asking if, were this not a Star Wars film, I would be so lenient on its flaws. But it doesn’t really matter. Some things we’re just fans of.