The forces of good and evil have a few nasty run-ins, but the primary struggle played out in Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace is that of George Lucas nervously fighting to give everyone in the galaxy their money’s worth. It’s not just the preponderance of digitally realized (yet still rubbery) creatures, which have the disquieting effect of making everything around them seem cutesy and innocuous. It’s that Lucas now directs like a man with a short-circuited attention span. Some of The Phantom Menace is fun, but it’s also skittery and overstuffed, too intent on keeping the audience wired into a state of sense-crackling excitement. Watching the movie, you feel as if you’re simultaneously playing a maniacally rapid-fire videogame, wandering the aisles of a futuristic toy store, and, almost incidentally, sitting through a science-fiction fable about a couple of Jedi Knights who befriend young Anakin Skywalker, the spunky intuitive whiz kid who will eventually grow up to become Darth Vader.
Read the rest of Owen Gleiberman’s original 1999 review ‘Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace’