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George Lucas transports audiences back to the future withStar Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace, the first installment of a prequel trilogy in which the director imagines the foundation for the entire six-part saga. Despite receiving a storm of adverse criticism (notably for Jar Jar Binks), Lucas continually fascinates with his ability to place his characters--some new, some old, some CGI--in the same dramatic situations posed in the original trilogy: whether it be the juxtaposition of primitives with technologically advanced societies or the timeless battle between good and evil, the very familiarity of these recurring scenarios and rhythms galvanizes the viewer. Of course, the state-of-the-art visual effects contribute mightily to the final impact: the kinetic Pod Race sequence, the epic military battles, the Romanesque grandeur of Naboo, the underwater city of Otoh Gunga, the decadent brio of Tatooine, and the dizzying skyscrapers of the city planet Coruscant.--Kevin Mulhall

If The Phantom Menace was the setup, then Attack of the Clones is the plot-progressing payoff, and devoted Star Wars fans are sure to be enthralled. Ten years after Episode I, Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), now a senator, resists the creation of a Republic Army to combat an evil separatist movement. The brooding Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) is resentful of his stern Jedi mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), tormented by personal loss, and showing his emerging "dark side" while protecting his new love, Amidala, from would-be assassins. Youthful romance and solemn portent foreshadow the events of the original Star Wars as Count Dooku (a.k.a. Darth Tyranus, played by Christopher Lee) forges an alliance with the Dark Lord of the Sith, while lavish set pieces showcase George Lucas's supreme command of all-digital filmmaking. All of this makes Episode II a technological milestone, savaged by some critics as a bloated, storyless spectacle, but still qualifying as a fan-approved precursor to the pivotal events of Episode III. --Jeff Shannon

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CastNatalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, Ian McDiarmid, Liam Neeson, Jake Lloyd
DirectorGeorge Lucas
Genre:  Sci-Fi, Fantasy
Screen WriterGeorge Lucas, Jonathan Hales
DVD Release Date:  November 12, 2002
Runtime:  275 minutes
Studio:  20th Century Fox
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Star Wars - Episodes I & II
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