“Phantom Menace” Values FX Over “Star Wars” Story

It’s the prequel turkey that will live in infamy: George Lucas’ Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (D). Presenting virtually no interesting characters that inhabit early galactic life and a storyline about tax disputes, the film sends two Jedi knights (Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson) with mullets and rat-tails and their piercingly annoying CGI sidekick Jar-Jar Binks to pick up a bratty kid (Jake Lloyd) and an inexpressive queen (Natalie Portman). It’s not clear what they’re supposed to do then except bide time between now and when this moppet becomes an angsty teenager. Meanwhile, there’s an interminable pod race, a cool double-edge lightsaber battle and some revisionist history about how you activate the Force in your bloodstream. Lucas’ clunky direction and dialogue miss the mark in each and every way in this very embarrassing opening salvo to the prequel trilogy.