Film Night Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

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Star Wars: Attack of the Prequels
Towards a critical reevaluation of Star Wars Episodes I, II and III.

Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) - George Lucas.

For too long the Star Wars prequels have been overlooked. This film night series, prepare to reconsider. The long held dogma that Episodes I-III are inferior to Episodes IV-VI will be challenged and the opinions of various sci-fi purists will be subject to vigorous revision.
We will begin with Episode I: The Phantom Menace, a film that was initially dismissed as juvenile and an offense against the original trilogy. George Lucas began work on Episode I once he believed that CGI had reached a sufficient level of technical virtuosity to depict the universe which he imagined. And the wait was well worth it; from the glittering lights of the underwater Gungan City to the breathless madness of the Pod Racing sequence, the film is one of the first instances of the poetic use of CGI and not merely another technical showreel.
But Episode 1 is not only visually arresting but sets in motion the narrative arc of the Prequels, which describes the failure of parliamentary democracy to respond to the internal threat of dictatorship. The threat visualised by the Sith (the haunting Darth Maul) is hardly as terrifying as what lurks within the Senate itself and the blindness of the Jedi as the supposed watchdogs of the Republic is shown to be another instance of enlightened interventionism by so-called peacekeepers.
But the political critique which dominates the prequels is always expressed within a narrative with multiples centres. While Episode I was criticised for lacking a central protagonist, it is precisely this ensemble approach to character which makes it such an engaging film. The incredible charm of the Master-Apprentice relationship between Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his Padawan Obi Wan (Ewan McGregor) is balanced by the virtuosic imbecility of the much despised Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) and the tenderness between Padme (Natalie Portman) and young Anakin (Jake Lloyd). The political intrigue and military conflict culminates in the greatest light saber duel ever filmed, with a balletic precision recalling contemporary dance as much as martial arts.
The Phantom Menace is a curious film, which balances silliness with profundity, chaotic action with visual poetry, and to this day suggests the potential for cinemas continued existence camouflaged within the blockbuster form.

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