For a generation increasingly overloaded with 3D movies both new and reinvented from their 2D originals, it is not very surprising that legendary filmmaker George Lucas took the 3D plunge, a reflection on not only George Lucas but also our generation. Potentially alienating reactionary “Star Wars” fans, Lucas recently released a 3D version of “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” 13 years after the original hooked the millenials. The “Star Wars” saga has demonstrated an impressive ability to continue to engage obsessed fans over almost four decades. When this new film begins, and that yellow sans serif script flows into the distant reaches of space while familiar music marches along, the average fan gets his or her routine rush of exhiliration. However, the new 3D aspect does not add enough to merit a re-release on its own.
A brief explanation for those confused with the arc of the two “Star Wars” trilogies: “Phantom Menace” introduces 10-year-old Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), a child with Jedi abilities who will eventually become Darth Vader. The film also establishes the relationship between Skywalker and his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), as well as that between Skywalker and his paramour, Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman). In this re-release, Keira Knightley serves as Amidala’s double, Sabe, and is listed incredibly low in the credits. Also introduced are droids C3P0 and R2d2, who will somehow survive all six episodes. Interestingly enough, this is the episode that propels the scheming Senator Palpatine into the role of Imperial Emperor. The movie does a fairly good job setting up the series and is packed with suspense, action, and chilling foreshadowing. Lucas heavily relies on fans’ prior knowledge of the series’ ending to produce an eerie feeling when Jedi master Yoda, refusing to train young Anakin, says, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you.”
The movie presents a broken and corrupt Galactic Republic and a flawed soon-to-be-Darth-Vader that eventually lead to the rise of an evil empire. Replete with irony, the feel-good ending also sets the stage for the horror that will engulf all the characters as the saga unfolds. So that leads us to the widely panned comic relief character, Jar-Jar Binks. A gangly and annoying yet good-hearted Gungan, he added very little except for random non-sequiturs to the 2D movie, and his slimy tongue slightly stretching into my 3D glasses makes him even less endearing and ever so much more annoying. However, repeated exposure to Jar-Jar desensitizes his character, allowing for a better experience of the movie in general.
The new 3D movie has value as visual eye candy. Commanding three Oscar nominations for its original incarnation—Best Sound Effects, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound Effects editing—one might expect to be blown away during a 3D rendering. The only problem was, after removing the 3D glasses during the movie, there was not a significant difference in picture quality or even the blurry screen usually associated with heavily-laden 3D effect.
“Star Wars” never required an intensely 3D movie—again, nobody wants to see Jar-Jar Binks’ tongue in 3D. The type of 3D production used in this film was stereoscopic 3D, in which the film appears in multiple layers to the audience to give a sense that one is looking into a diorama. Therefore, this technology is not the technology that causes objects to appear to literally jump out of the screen. Only four scenes fully used the 3D to maximum effect: the spaceship scene escaping the Planet Naboo, the podrace scene, the last space battle between the Naboo and the Trade Federation, and of course the lightsaber fight between Darth Maul (Ray Park), Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson). Here the 3D did have redeeming value. Those specific scenes were spectacular and added to the overall Star Wars experience. Actually feeling immersed in a podrace or participating in an epic lightsaber fight is incredibly exhilarating.
However, on the whole, the 3D effects are not enough to merit a revisit to the classic. The balance of the movie felt strangely familiar, and even the new computer-generated Yoda (instead of a puppet) was not surprising or novel in 3D. The real question at the end of “Phantom Menace,” however, is whether or not a subpar 3D experience can dissuade fans from returning. —Staff writer Alexander J. Spencer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.