I am a Star Wars nerd of immense proportions; probably well into the 70s on a scale of 1 to 100. Except for the actual Laserdiscs themselves, I think I have every version of the movies ever released in the U.S. on VHS and DVD and now BluRay. I've got all the original trilogy in pan&scan and then widescreen, the Japanese import DVDs of the Laserdisc transfers, the Special Editions (I think in VHS and DVD), I've got all the Clone Wars stuff, and I even have a fan-made lightsaber I bought off of Ebay (before the really cool ones were around).
Like I said: "nerd".
With the recent release of the "Definitive" collection of all 6 movies on BluRay, I thought I'd take this opportunity to geekify and offer some opinions that no one's asked for. I'll do one for each movie, and I'm sure that's a thrill for someone. :)
EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE
When I heard that there was going to be a prequel trilogy, I was seasoned enough to know that it might be less then hoped-for, but I was not prepared for my initial visceral hatred for the film when my butt was first in the theater seat. My initial complaints were
1) The overall story was just a retelling of the Return of the Jedi (in fact I usually refer to it as "Return of Return of the Jedi" - ain't I cute?), which by now all us geeks knew was Lucas' first attempt to go back to his original vision of his space fantasy climax that involved simultaneous land, space, and personal battles, all interleaved into the final climactic resolution. He'd only enough movie and money for the space battle part in Star Wars, didn't really write Empire, did a crappy version of it in Return of the Jedi, and here we had it again in Phantom Menace (TPM). I don't want such blatant James Bondian formulae in my Star Wars movies!
2) Jar-Jar. I'm actually going to try and keep my profanity low in these posts, so I won't say more, but I'll channel a little Captain Kirk commentary: "But I mean, really."
3) Kiddie muppet movie or slice-guys-in-half space opera? Give me one or the other, please.
4) Too derivative. Far too many (IMO) of the weapon, ship, or speeder designs in TPM can be seen languishing in the margins of the various "Art of" or "Sketchbook" books of the orginal trilogy. For instance, there's a quick scene in the final space battle that is pretty much a recreation of an iconic Ralph McQuarrie production painting for Star Wars which shows Y-wings diving from high above onto the northern pole of the Death Star. In the movie shot, the Naboo starfighters are in the same attitudes as the Y-wings in the painting, and the Federation starship globe their diving on subs in perfectly for the old Death Star. One or two of these things, I feel, is fun and/or cute, but too many gets old.
5) Midichlorians. Midichlorians? Sigh. We were doing okay 'til then with "Luminous beings are we - not this crude matter", but now your ability to cheat at dice and deflect blaster bolts is dependent on not having lazy Mitochondria. I mean Midichlorians.
If the Master List of changes some fans have been hyperventilating about includes any TPM changes other than Yoda, I'm unaware of them. Overall the HD transfer is crisp and gorgeous, and the sound is great. And the CG Yoda they did for the BluRay looks 10 times better than the puppet they originally used in this movie; sorry guys.
Smashing cutesy-cuddly muppets into canyon walls at 200MPH doesn't seem to be a good combo to me, and I kinda wish things had moved in a different direction, but TPM certainly wrote in stone the vision that George Lucas has for his creation, and watching Ewan McGregor nail a perfect "young Obi-wan Kenobi" is a delight to watch. Also, the saber fight between Kenobi and Qui-gon and Darth Maul is one of the best-choreographed fights I've ever seen on film - those three guys definitely look like they're trying to kill each other and are quite capable of doing it.
So eventually I mellowed on the movie - it's got whizzy spaceships and flashy lightsabers, and not much else does, so I'll keep it, and enjoy it for what it is (without forgetting what it could have been).
My rating of its place in the pack, best-to-worst:
1 - XXXX
2 - XXXX
3 - XXXX
4 - XXXX
5 - The Phantom Menace
6 - XXXX
Next up, for the non-geeks: Attack of the Clones.