by Michelle Erica Green

This review originally appeared on the now-defunct site FamilyWonder.com, which showcased children's entertainment for parents and caregivers.

Grade: B-
Year: Fox, 1999
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes

Video Summary:
Young Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his Jedi trainer Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) arrive to mediate between the greedy Trade Federation and the peaceful planet of Naboo, but the traders have allied themselves with a Dark Lord of the Sith. They try to kill the Jedi knights and imprison Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman).

Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon rescue the queen, intending to take her to plead before the Senate. But when their spaceship requires repairs, they set down on the isolated planet Tattooine, where Qui-Gon meets a slave boy named Anakin Skywalker with prodigious ability to control the Force.

Despite an attack by evil Sith Lord Darth Maul, Qui-Gon frees Anakin. The group travels to Coruscant, the capitol of the Republic, where Amidala helps Senator Palpatine gather support in the Senate. Neither she nor the Jedi realize that Palpatine is Maulís master. Instead, she returns home to unite her planet against the Trade Federation.

Best For Ages:
6-8: This movie will be too violent and frightening for some children, but the simplistic characters are most appropriate for this age group.

9-12: A second generation of pre-teens will probably grow up loving Lucas films.

13 and up: While some may be disappointed by this prequel to STAR WARS, many will be awed by the worlds created by ILM's army of special effects wizards.

Parental Advisory:
Educational Value: Dialogue about the Force may stimulate childrenís spiritual curiosity, but may also cause conflicts with scientific or religious education.

Entertainment Value: The most sophisticated CGI ever invented canít compensate for the slow-moving story and wooden performances. Brilliantly choreographed lightsaber duels are very violent. An exciting pod race seems designed to sell video games.

Violence: At the start of the movie, armed destroyer droids try to kill Jedi knights. Struggles with blasters, lightsaber duels, and starship weapons dominate the movie. An army of battle droids marches on brave but unprepared Gungans; the anthropomorphic droids are later destroyed.

Sex/Nudity: Anakinís virgin birth may require some explaining.

Emotional Intensity: Obi-Wan witnesses his mentor Qui-Gonís murder and cremation. Anakin must leave his mother in order to train as a Jedi knight.

Frightening Situations: Amidala is taken hostage. Many competitors die in a pod race. Vicious Darth Maul attacks Qui-Gon twice. Functional but skeletal C3PO may frighten younger viewers.

Questionable Behavior: Anakin launches a Naboo fighter and gets involved in a battle after being told not to.

Gender/Racial Issues: The heroes are primarily males of Anglo-Saxon appearance who speak formal English, while the alien-like villains and comic characters pander to ethnic stereotypes.

It was inevitable that THE PHANTOM MENACE would be a disappointment to some fans who waited more than a decade for the continuation of the STAR WARS epic. But inflated expectations donít excuse the movieís expository dialogue, clichťd characters, and heavy dose of bloodless violence.

Since we already know that Anakin Skywalker will grow up to become evil Darth Vader, itís hard to root for him. Still, young viewers are fascinated by the boy superhero who builds pod racers, and love the droid C3PO--one of the few familiar faces from the previous trilogy. Preteen boys also enjoy the visually stunning pod race and the final space battle. Because this movie lacks the romance of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, it may appeal to a narrower audience. On the other hand the resourceful Queen Amidala is an excellent role model for girls.

THE PHANTOM MENACE is an old-fashioned tale that references a wide range of myths, but also reproduces some uncomfortable stereotypes. Despite her bravery, Amidala requires rescuing by the mostly male Jedi Council. The movie features Anglo-Saxon heroes, while the people of color are forgettable at best, stereotyped at worst. Comic relief creature Jar-Jar Binks speaks in Caribbean dialect, while the unlikable Trade Federation leaders have vague Asian accents.

Thank John Williams for one of the most unforgettable parts of the STAR WARS universe--the music. Historical epics like Lucasís INDIANA JONES films may appeal more to young people who enjoy the themes and adventure of STAR WARS. STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT, though even more violent than PHANTOM MENACE, has equally stunning special effects and gives its cast a better continuing story to work with.

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