Queen Amidala
Qui-Gon Jinn
Theed, capital of Naboo
Slave quarters
Queen Amidala
Sith and Nute
Darth Maul
Anakin and his mother
Star Wars Episode I
The Phantom Menace

Review of the film
   A long time ago, in a galaxy far away... Fans hold their breath, expectantly waiting in the momentary silence. Then the fanfare suddenly explodes in the cinema room and while the familiar scroll slowly unrolls across the screen, fans can feel their heart pounding as the child inside of them watches with awe, letting the magic transport them back into the fantasy world of StarWars. However, this is a different world from the one fans are used to. Thanks to the Jedi order (knights charged to defend peace and justice through the universe), the Republic is prosperous and the people have been living in peace for thousands of years. Nevertheless, one man's secret lust for absolute power is about to precipitate the universe into chaos. Grave danger is lurking in the galaxy but even the Jedi can only sense an elusive threat, hence the title. What seems to be a trivial trade conflict is actually a small part of Lord Sydious's evil and ingenious plan.
   The plot is skillfully crafted like a game of chess where Sydious is the manipulative cunning player who secretly moves his pawns in order to capture the Queen and become the Emperor. Tragedy and irony are everpresent in Episode I as only the fans know Sydious's intentions as well as his identity and the doomed fate of this peaceful universe and its unaware inhabitants. There are some strong emotional and ominous moments, and we are revealed more about the nature of the Force through an interesting theory involving what we term here 'bacterias'. The lightsaber duels are astoundingly wild and beautifully choregraphed. The scenery (from the costumes to the matte paintings) is breathtaking and the creatures are amazing. The performances are remarkable amongst which Natalie Portman's perfect balance of strength and fragility, Liam Neeson and Pernilla August's subtle hints of romance, Ewan Mc Gregor's impersonation of Alec Guiness, Jake Lloyd's natural and Frank Oz's (Yoda) magic. The new musical themes (especially the "Swim to Otoh Gunga" and the "Duel of the Fates") are great achievements worthy to join the old score and will haunt the viewers long after their return to the real world. Sounds and sights are magnificent and feel strikingly real.
   I must admit that it is difficult to approach StarWars as an objective newcomer since I literally grew up with it (I was born in 1977). Though, I do believe that everyone can enjoy The Phantom Menace as it is faithful to the old episodes while remaining accessible to those unfamiliar with the StarWars universe. After all, it is Episode I, so it is meant to be watched first. Non-fans will benefit from added suspense while fans will be able to understand the plot better and feel more involved.
   It is true that The Phantom Menace is not perfect: some lines sound quite awful, some plot devices are dubious, the themes are not exposed very subtly and some characters are at times incredibly annoying ... but this matters little because the film is such an outstanding work of art and anyway, after a few viewings fans get used to these flaws. Furthermore, these awkward and clumsy moments do not betray a bad acting or direction but an innocence and frankness which have always been part of the essence of Star Wars.
   Episode I is a breath of fresh air; a finely assembled and truly entertaining fantasy tale which necessitated four years of intensive work and the love and dedication of exceptionally gifted artists. It would be impossible to name everyone (this is what credits - though sadly overlooked - are for) but first there is of course, the man behind it all, George Lucas, to whom I owe an apology for my disturbing lack of faith (I was amongst those who thought he did not care about StarWars anymore). Then there is Doug Chiang and his team who gave us lavish imaginative designs, John Williams and his orchestra who composed and performed the most loved and moving music of all time, the actors who all offer impeccable performances, ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) who made it all possible and so many more.
   Star Wars is not just a film, it is an epic fable, a space opera, a journey into another world where all people are ready to unite to fight together against injustice and oppression, which has been stimulating the imagination of fans worldwide for years. And Episode I definitely deserves its place in the exotic universe of the saga.
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