review for Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace on AllMovie

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)
by Lucia Bozzola review

To say that the first prequel to George Lucas' legendary Star Wars trilogy was "highly anticipated" would be an understatement. Twenty years after the original Star Wars hit the screen in 1977 and helped redefine the contemporary blockbuster, Lucas answered fans' prayers by not only re-releasing the original trio, but also beginning production on the epic's first three episodes, depicting young Anakin Skywalker's rise to Jedi greatness and fabled descent to the Dark Side. Even the first trailer for the closely guarded Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace (1999) touched off a fan frenzy, as the faithful bought tickets to catch a glimpse of the impending Industrial Light and Magic spectacle, complete with signature gallery of oddball creatures, and then left the theaters. When The Phantom Menace opened in May 1999, however, response was mixed. While the computer-generated alternate universe was top-notch and Lucas' knack for whiz-bang special effects action reached an apex in the Ben-Hur-esque pod race, critics (professional and otherwise) objected to the wooden human characters, overly kiddie-friendly atmosphere, and goofy alien sidekick Jar Jar Binks. The fact that its impressive 61-million-dollar opening failed to break weekend records also caused some consternation. Still, by January 2000, The Phantom Menace had grossed over 400 million dollars in the U.S., proving that the box office force was still with Lucas (though The Matrix would sweep the special effects categories at the Oscars).