A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Phantom Menace is a prequel to the classic sci-fi action trilogy and has a few scary and surprisingly violent moments, although there's no explicit gore. Viewers see the deaths of at least two major characters on screen, one of whom is sliced in half by a laser sword. The movie's climax cuts together a sword duel, two separate ground invasions, and a space sequence, all of which feature frequent lasers, explosions, and the deaths of minor characters and creatures. A key moment in the film involves the lead character, a boy of about 8, leaving his mother forever. The film's chief villain is a menacing, silent figure with a frightening appearance. The humor and plotting are aimed at children, but very young kids may not be ready for the movie's darker moments. Widely considered to be the weakest of the films in this franchise, the film will likely entertain children with its straightforward story and imaginative design; though it may also confuse those who've already seen the original films and aren't yet old enough to understand the concept of a prequel. Note: The 3-D version of the movie renders some scenes (like the pod race) more exciting and others (like lightsaber battles) more intense.
What's the story?
Released 16 years after the final film in the original trilogy, STAR WARS: EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE takes viewers back to an earlier time, when the Galactic Republic was in full swing and the Jedi were truly a force of peace and justice throughout the galaxy. Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his "padawan" protege, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), are dispatched to protect Queen Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) of Naboo from the forces of the evil Trade Federation, who are acting as the pawns of the mysterious Darth Sidious. A convoluted plot ensues, but it's really all an excuse for some swashbuckling swordplay, big effects sequences, and classic good vs. evil battles.
Is it any good?
With its 8-year-old lead character, bright and imaginative design, and never-lets-up plotting, this prequel is perfectly suited to kids' attention span. It's a shame that The Phantom Menace doesn't hold up to adult standards as well as most of the original three Star Wars films did. It could be a generational thing, and maybe 1977's Star Wars is as clunky and leaden to older viewers as The Phantom Menace is to most twenty- and thirty-somethings.
But director George Lucas seems to make some of the same mistakes here that he narrowly avoided in the original trilogy. Technology trumps storytelling, plot trumps character, and hollow exposition trumps clever dialogue. There's little doubt that Lucas and his team accomplished some amazing visual feats with Menace, and there are a few sequences (the opening 10 minutes, the Tattooine pod race) in which that old Star Wars feel returns once again. Overall, kids will probably love Phantom Menace, but parents will be wishing it were over so that they can put the kids to bed and watch the classics again.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about The Phantom Menace's moments of violence and threatening behavior. Is the violence shown in the film important to the story? Why or why not?
How did you feel watching Anakin leave his mother? Why do you think so many kid-oriented movies involve parents leaving or dying?
Have you noticed Star Wars merchandise? Does seeing the characters on products make you want to buy them?
- In theaters: February 10, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: August 2, 2007
- Cast: Ewan McGregor, Jake Lloyd, Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman, Samuel L. Jackson
- Director: George Lucas
- Studio: Lucasfilm
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Adventures, Robots, Space and Aliens
- Run time: 133 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: sci-fi action/violence
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.