Finally, the Beginning

On 19th May 1999 the USA saw the biggest madness since Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic. " The Phantom Menace" had its opening in over three thousand cinemas across the States. Fans had been queuing for over a month in hot sun and cold rain because the tickets were not sold in advance. The introduction of the film was preceded by hype in the mass media and mass hysteria unseen since the times of Rudolf Valentino. Traders of Star Wars toys were already booking holidays in the Seychelles and ordering new Cadillacs. Experts anticipated that the film would be an absolute box-office smash, breaking all previous records (including the one established twenty-two years ago by" Star Wars: A New Hope" ). The special effects specialists are already waiting for the Oscar ceremony and all the actors expect their careers to dash off into the sky, just as Harrison Ford' s did. But what is it all about?

"The Phantom Menace" (and the next two parts, which will be produced soon) concentrate on the childhood of Luke' s and Leia' a father - Anakin Skywalker - who later will become the sinister Lord Darth Vader. In Episode I, Anakin is a cute boy who lives as a slave on the planet Tatooine. There is nothing dark or grim about him and we will have to wait for the next parts to see why he turned to the Dark Side of the Force. He meets Queen Amidala, his future wife and mother of Luke and Leia, but their wedding will also come in the next episodes. Little Anakin is found by two Jedi knights who feel that" there' s something about this boy" , so they just take him away from home. The knights - Qui-Gon Jinn and young Obi-Wan Kenobi - are trying to prevent a war between the peaceful planet of Naboo and the powerful Trade Federation, but they fail. The knights feel that the war is not about commerce, but something else. Wait for Episode II to see what the 'else' is. There is also a very bad Darth Maul who looks like the devil himself. And that' s it. But do the fans need anything more?

Surprisingly, the answer is yes. First opinions have shown mixed feelings. Some of the viewers complain that the film is too technical and too little emotional. They also don' t like the way the story is told. Critics' reviews say the same. David Ansen wrote that" it' s been twenty-two years since Lucas directed a movie, and he' s gotten rusty." According to Ansen, most of the scenes are flat - they are not ended but abandoned. Robert Horton said that" if Han Solo were sitting next to you, he' d get up and go for popcorn and not come back for twenty minutes. He wouldn' t miss anything, because the action sequences are dull." Kenneth Turan' s view is that" Lucas either misjudged or did not care to re-create key aspects of what made" Star Wars" a phenomenon." The new film may be good in some ways, but it' s lacking in warmth and humour.

However, the biggest problem of all is the acting. Both critics and many fans agree that the actors look slightly embarrassed. Ewan McGregor as young Obi-Wan Kenobi has nothing to do or say. Natalie Portman (Queen Amidala), who is normally full of life, this time is stiff. Liam Neeson manages to make something of his part and brings a certain dignity to Qui-Gon Jinn, but he doesn' t fit in this adventure fantasy. Anakin Skywalker is the central character of the story, but Jake Lloyd is an adorable nine-year-old brat, and you can' t see anything that might suggest his split nature. One critic even wrote that he should be advertising cereal on TV. It doesn' t sound like a good reference for the future Dark Lord.

However, many fans are really delighted with the film and they despise all those 'spoilers' who keep on criticizing their favourite movie. The audience mostly praises the visual effects and the sense of adventure. Warren Deans, a young legal assistant, said:" It brings back the child in all of us." It seems then that opinions of the film are very mixed and it' s hard to say whether it' s good or not. So don' t listen to any reviews, just go to the cinema and see" The Phantom Menace" yourself. And may the Force be with you!