It’s only natural that a director so well-rehearsed in taking a beloved creation and rubbing it in our faces should turn to 3D. But after Star Wars: Clone Wars, Star Wars: Episodes II/III and Star Wars: The Clone Wars (again), what seemed like a careful plan to cash in on childhood happiness now seems to have gone beyond a mere marketing ploy. George Lucas gushed earlier this week that 3D vs. 2D is like colour vs. black-and-white – and that colour is always better. You get the impression that George genuinely thinks that releasing Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 3D (2012) is the right thing to do. So, is he wrong to rerelease it? Well, not entirely.
For all the outpouring of fan hatred against The Phantom Menace, there are still some undeniably good bits; the pod-racing sequence halfway through is exhilarating; the landscape of the planet Naboo is stunning; and the three-way lightsaber scuffle between Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Darth Maul (Ray Park) – with its emotional climax and frantic choreography – is a superb piece of blockbuster filmmaking. Coupled with John Williams’ Duel of the Fates, it’s probably the best battle sequence in the whole series. All of these things deserve to be seen on a big screen.
The rest of it – a combination of discussions about trade blockades, Ian McDiarmid’s Senator Palpatine looking sinister and Jake Lloyd’s Anakin Skywalker shouting “Yippeee!” – just about hangs together with some truly dreadful dialogue. “You were right about one thing, Master…” jokes Obi-Wan after the Jedi Knights are attacked by droids, “…the negotiations were short!”
We haven’t quite hit Episode II levels of awfulness, but this is pretty bad stuff. Does The Phantom Menace demand a 3D rerelease? Not massively. The post-conversion, while cleanly done with bright colour balance and no ghosting, only comes into play during the iconic opening titles – and those receding yellow letters were equally impressive in 2D back in 1977. And yet there’s something about the Star Wars franchise that suits the cinema. Whether it’s the dogfights around exploding starships or the chance to see Liam Neeson with 20-foot long hair, Star Wars writ large just works – even if it’s only to remind you how many kids in the audience actually do find Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) funny.
Of course, you already know if you want to see it. No matter what dimension you’re in, The Phantom Menace is still The Phantom Menace. But if you can peel back the layers of gimmicks and bad dialogue far enough, you can still find some of that old Star Wars – it’s just a shame that it’ll cost you so much to enjoy it.