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Star Wars 1: The Phantom Menace (PG)
George Lucas transports audiences back to the future with Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace, the first instalment of a prequel trilogy in which the director imagines the foundation for the entire six-part saga. Reflecting the symbolic and mythological bases of at least five story arcs, The Phantom Menace wields a newly emerged, youthful vibrancy courtesy of Lucas’ invigorating return to the director’s chair and his healthy respect for the emotional sources of fantasy. Despite receiving a storm of adverse criticism (notably for Jar Jar Binks) Lucas continually fascinates with his ability to place his characters–some new, some old, some CGI–in the same dramatic situations posed in the original trilogy: whether it be the juxtaposition of primitives with technologically advanced societies or the timeless battle between good and evil, the very familiarity of these recurring scenarios and rhythms galvanises the viewer. Of course, the state-of-the-art visual effects contribute mightily to the final impact. Much has been written about the kinetic Pod Race sequence (compared favourably with the chariot race in Ben Hur) and the War and Peace-style military battles, but even these events are upstaged by the new planetary vistas: consider the Romanesque grandeur of Naboo, the underwater city of Otoh Gunga illuminated by Art Nouveau lamps, the decadent brio of Tatooine, or the dizzying skyscrapers of the city planet Coruscant (imagine Blade Runner in daylight). Despite the beauty of his iridescent images, Lucas exercises discipline, cutting fast within frames filled with rich detail and activity. As a result, The Phantom Menace lends itself to repeated viewings.