Susan Granger’s review of “STAR WARS: EPISODE I, THE PHANTOM MENACE” (20th Century-Fox)
The Force is definitely with George Lucas in this first of three “Star Wars” prequels which attempt to awaken a mythic, sci-fi kind of spirituality as they chronicle the life and times of young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) who eventually becomes Darth Vader. For those of you to whom this cultural icon is unfamiliar, rent videos of the original “Star Wars,” followed by “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” It also wouldn’t hurt to read Joseph Campbell’s musings on heroes and “The Uses of Enchantment” by Bruno Bettleheim, which analyzes how myths affect young people. “The Phantom Menace” tells how two stolid Jedi knights, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), meet nine year-old Anakin and join the Gungan, a scrappy race of amphibioid creatures, to save Naboo, the planet ruled by gutsy Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman). She is destined to marry Anakin and give birth to Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, but that comes later in Episode II in 2002 and III in 2005. Right now, the excitement lies in the action, particularly a heart-thumping “pod race,” reminiscent of the chariot race in “Ben-Hur.” Sure, there are flaws: die-hard fans may chafe at the recycled Good vs. Evil plotline and the chatter of one creature, Jar-Jar Binks, is almost unintelligible. Nevertheless, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Episode I, The Phantom Menace” comes at you with a thrilling, meteoric 10. Not only is it a fanciful phenomenon but it’s also the most eye-popping spectacular special-effects picture ever made as George Lucas integrates the fantasy of computer imagery with reality. The only question is: Will it beat the all-time box-office champ “Titanic”?