Review: Star Wars Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace 3D

For his next travesty the evil tyrant George Lucas has decided to bury the entire Star Wars saga under a coating of 3D mush. This adds precisely nothing to the experience but means you spend a lot of the time squinting at murky, blurry images thinking the film can't possibly be meant to look like that.

Apart from that though the Phantom Menace plays exactly like it did 13 years ago – a crushing initial sense of disappointment rallying to an uneven but enjoyable piece of pulp space opera.

Watching the first 30-odd minutes of Episode One is a uniquely painful experience. The opening is hectic yet nondescript. Characters lollop onto screen like they are coming back from an ad break.

Everybody seems to be in the middle of something not particularly interesting. The opening scrawl is a remarkable piece of prose: even after all this time it still retains its power to dampen expectations; I can't imagine how deflating it must have been seeing that in May 1999 on opening night. Does anyone read it to the end?

It isn't until the film reaches the familiar landscape of Tattooine that proceedings become bearable. At the halfway point the film comes up with its first worthwhile set piece – the pod race. For all its special effects it's a fairly primitive piece of film-making, offering only the excitement of things going very fast and going very fast through narrow gaps, but it is at least exciting and well executed (the sound effects are marvellous) and from that point the rest of the film just whizzes by.

What's good in Phantom Menace is very good indeed – Liam Neeson, Darth Maul and the three-way showdown that is a highlight of the whole series, heightened by some of John Williams' very best music. Dennis Potter lookalike Ian McDiarmid makes a great villain.

What's bad in Phantom Menace is truly inexplicable. It's an odd film and you can never quite pin it down: it's calculating but guileless; po-faced yet silly, aloof yet ingratiating. But while most Hollywood blockbusters want you feel that they are the ultimate, the pinnacle, this is a film that seems to suggest that it is no big deal. Instead it offers the casual throwaway pleasures of a luridly covered science fantasy paperback you might pick up for 20p in a second-hand bookshop.

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Director: George Lucas

Starring: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd and Ian McDiarmid

Length: 136 mins