Qui-Gon (Liam Neeson), Darth Maul (Ray Park) & Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) in a fight to the death
Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Directed by: George Lucas
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson, Jake Loyd, Ray Park & Ian McDiarmid
THERE’S little doubt that the Star Wars prequels, and The Phantom Menace (****) in particular, were the most anticipated films of all time.
It’s been seven years since we last had a big screen outing in a galaxy far, far away so, with The Phantom Menace about to return to the big screen, what better time to take a retrospective look at the series on Blu Ray?
The first thing you notice about The Phantom Menace is just how pristine it looks in high definition.
The picture is sharp and the saga has never looked better. But apart from the fantastic picture does the film hold up to scrutiny?
Out of all the films this is the one that has been the most maligned but upon watching the prequel trilogy back-to-back it emerges as something else entirely.
A fun and innocent romp that harks back to the golden days of adventure serials like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon.
There’s certainly more than a few nods to Alex Raymond’s wonderful comic strip especially in terms of design and the look of the prequel universe.
The opening sequences are everything you could hope to see in a Star Wars film as Obi Wan Kenobi and Jedi Master Qui Gon Jinn take on a Trade Federation ship full of battle droids.
It doesn’t take long to be brought back down to Earth, or, in this case, Naboo, with a bang.
As soon as Jar Jar Binks turns up there’s a definite vibe emanating that’s akin to nails being scraped down a blackboard.
Thankfully the story’s propelled forward at light speed as we get to meet young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd).
The film slows down as we meander around Tatooine with young Annie and his mates.
Liam Neeson’s Qui Gon Jinn is meant to be a Jedi Master but he comes across as more than a little incompetent throughout the course of the film.
He loses every battle he’s in and then his crowning glory is that he discovered Anakin Skywalker and introduced him to the Jedi Order.
Epic fail doesn’t even begin to cover it.
You couldn’t write about The Phantom Menace and not mention the Pod Race.
The whole film centres on it and rightly so.
It’s an outstanding sequence that makes the film a must see. The race itself captures the exhilaration and fun of the original Star Wars trilogy and it’s possibly the highlight of the entire trilogy.
There’s some nice foreshadowing too as Ian McDiarmid excels as the slimy and manipulative Palpatine who seems too good to be true.
There’s an all too brief role for Ray Park as Darth Maul, but when he’s on screen he lights up the film as the villainous henchman of Darth Sidious.
Next up is Attack Of The Clones (***) which is poor for large segments.
The obvious weak link is Hayden Christensen as the adult Anakin Skywalker, as awful as he clearly is, he’s not helped by a tepid attempt at a love story that will have you curling your toes for long periods.
Watching it immediately after The Phantom Menace is also a little unsettling as Padme and Anakin now have the hots for each other.
This despite the fact that he was a child and she was an adult just a few minutes ago, is Uncle George going for an intergalactic Demi Moore/ Ashton Kutcher vibe?
Thankfully things pick up when Christopher Lee’s Count Dooku turns up and we’re thrown headfirst into a fantastic finale that sees a new army of clones join the fray and we get to see Yoda in battle for the first time.
It doesn’t disappoint to say the least. Lee’s outstanding as always and Dooku feels like the proper hands on villain the prequels have been lacking up until that point.
Attack Of The Clones has some great sequences, there can be no denying that, but it suffers from badly judged dialogue and, surprisingly for ILM, some distinctly average special effects.
If you didn’t know that it was a sequel to The Phantom Menace you would swear it was the older of the two films.
Revenge Of The Sith (*****) has no such problems as we are thrown headfirst into the final days of the Clone Wars.
The opening battle above the skies of Coruscant is everything you could wish for in a Star Wars film.
It is, to put it simply, a jaw dropping piece of film making.
It’s the prequel film that we all wanted to see as Anakin makes his final, tragic steps towards joining the dark side as Darth Vader.
There’s some nicely judged symmetry that sees the film play out as Return Of The Jedi in reverse.
The film opens with a lightsaber duel between a Skywalker who’s flirting with the dark side of the force and an older Jedi, who’s embraced that dark side, while both are being manipulated by Palpatine.
It plays out against an epic space battle in the background but unlike Jedi the film ends with the heroes in disarray rather than starts that way.
The action sequences are exhilarating and when watched on Blu Ray it’s hard not to get swept away as Palpatine’s dire plan comes to fruition.
Ewan McGregor deserves plaudits too for a charismatic turn as Obi Wan Kenobi, the Scotsman gives us a cleverly judged performance that makes us wish that we had started with this embodiment of the character, rather than the uncertain Padawan of The Phantom Menace.
Ian McDiarmid’s just as good as the dastardly Palpatine, giving us one of the all time great villains.
Not nearly as impressive is Christensen as Anakin, physically he looks the part and is more than adequate during the action scenes.
But when it comes to the quieter scenes he doesn’t convince at all.
He isn’t helped by a storyline that sees his character turn to the Dark Side in one of the least likely leaps of logic ever to appear on the big screen.
When given a clear choice, between Jedi or Sith, he opts to side with the man with the glowing yellow eyes who can fire lightning bolts from his fingers.
That’s ahead of the Jedi Order who took him as a child and trained him. Surely Palpatine’s first order to go and kill a school full of children, Jedi Younglings in this case, should have been all the confirmation he needed that maybe his friends were right after all.
Either way it doesn’t stop Revenge Of The Sith from being a fantastically judged piece of film making that resonates long after the final, heartbreaking, scenes.