Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace ★★★★½

84

It's been fun to see the tide turning in regards to the prequels, even if it's at the expense of Disney's trilogy - films which I find function expertly as nostalgic capsules and subversions of Star Wars as cultural history. George Lucas' trilogy deserves as much love as it offers, which it does in selfless, all-consuming amounts. The Phantom Menace, in particular, is sheer joy, mesmerized at Star Wars as an expansive property, technological tradition, and origin story. It's so happy to be itself and be alive as a movie. It really feels like magic, with a child-like glee and resistance to self-seriousness but never once losing a sense of danger. Astounding special-effects for the period, but the design work is key, with every droid, ship, interface, costume, sound, and setting being a natural extension of the world, but never falling into the trap of feeling overly constructed. It's tangible and wondrous escapism, with a Buster Keaton stand-in, an all-timer lightsaber/space/land battle (typical three-plane-action-brilliance), and a pod-racing sequence that veers into experiential thrill. While Lucas achieved a heightened political and formal complexity in the next two installments, the simplicity of this long-derided first episode shouldn't be underestimated.

Anyone continuing to whine about The Phantom Menace is lame.

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