The Phantom Menace is an interesting film in that the primary reasons I enjoyed it during my first viewing are no longer my favorite features of the film. My first viewing was really dominated by the spectacle — the environments (like Theed, Otoh Gunga, and Coruscant), the podrace, the duels, and the music. As I've gotten older, though, my interest has shifted to the quieter character-driven scenes, such as Anakin's goodbye to his mother, Shmi and Qui-Gon's interactions, and the friction between Qui-Gon and the Council. And Palpatine - he's a highlight. Not knowing his true identity the first time I saw the film, I dismissed him as a largely innocuous secondary character. Rewatching, though, is a treat, especially after realizing just how much of a slimy, manipulative snake he is. And there's Qui-Gon, one of my favorite Star Wars characters of all time. Not only is he played by the exceptional Liam Neeson, but he's also one of the greatest Jedi of the Old Order. Here's a man who really stands in strong contrast to the dogmatism and elitism that plagues the Jedi Council, which isolates itself in a literal ivory tower. His interactions with little Anakin were a joy to watch and his death really hit me hard, hurting all the more after viewing Revenge of the Sith and wondering what could have been. The movie itself is a nice set-up for the following films, establishing a lot of the underlying difficulties that will plague our characters — Anakin's difficulties with the Jedi, the Jedi's detachment from the lives of common people, and the Republic's inability to act (even for those facing a crisis), and so on. On its own merits, though, the film's plot, centered around the liberation of Naboo, is well-done and gives us some great insight into Padmé's character. Qui-Gon is the protagonist of this film, but it is really her story. He serves to bring the three central characters together (Obi-Wan, Padmé, and Anakin), but it is Padmé who is at her most powerful here — who proves her mettle whereas in the following films, she will increasingly have both her personal and political power torn from her. Anyway, The Phantom Menace was a wonderful introduction to the Star Wars universe. Full of life and warmth, it nonetheless has its own undercurrent of darkness. Highly recommended (through a highly subjective review).
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