From the Chicago Reader (April 2002). — J.R.
The whiff of amateur theatricals in The Phantom Menace, imparting a personalized clunkiness to the proceedings, is back in force in this aptly titled fifth installment, but this time the exposition is so thick that everyone except acolytes may tune out. Though the look aspires as usual to be both otherworldly and familiar, there’s nothing that doesn’t reek of southern California plastic, including the characters. Whatever showmanship director George Lucas brought to the earlier episodes has been paved over by calculation (Christopher Lee is about the only actor who looks comfortable). But Lucas is enough of a businessman to know that the earlier chapters helped foster the celebratory mood that greeted the previous gulf war (mainly by promoting the glee to be extracted from supposedly bloodless annihilation, delivered chiefly to faceless reptiles in desert settings), and the livelier final stretches here seem designed to help pave the way for more. PG, 138 min. (JR)