The Phantom Menace (1999)
The Phantom Menace has been brutally criticised over the years yet despite its flaws its almost an undisputed fact that its climax is one of the greatest in the saga. Young Obi-Wan Kenobi, his master and mentor Qui-Gon Jinn in the legendary lightsaber battle with the Sith lord Darth Maul.
In many ways, the film builds to this climax, through the film we grow fond of our protagonists, we become absorbed in their journeys. Of course, we get a fair share of action and lightsabers throughout however we can always sense there’s something larger waiting for our heroes, the ultimate challenge.
The battle is the perfect conclusion to a film that explores the Jedi way. It’s not solely about flashy moves and acrobatics, the Jedi way is about balance, patience and focus. This battle emphasises this perfectly, the laser barriers in this sequence force the characters to wait. They separate Qui - Gon from Obi-Wan, it soon becomes a duel and Obi-Wan has to helplessly watch as Qui - Gon battles the Sith lord.
There is no soundtrack for the majority of the sequence, the tension is built in the silence, the piercing gaze of Maul, the slow footsteps of Qui-Gon, the soft hum of the sabers. When the barriers open, the sequence erupts, phenomenal choreography and stunt work take over and the audience is treated with some of the best duelling moments in the franchise, the buzz of colliding sabers, the flying sparks, the grunts as these masters of the lightsaber duel till death.
Ewan McGregor brings a frantic energy to his performance as Obi-Wan Kenobi, perfectly portraying a skilled yet inexperienced Jedi Knight. Neeson’s Qui-Gon brings balance to McGregor’s character creating the perfect chemistry. Ray Park’s silent performance as Darth Maul brings that element of danger to the sequence, we begin to fear the Jedi are outmatched and with each moment we watch as Maul gradually gains the upper hand. Eventually, it’s a moment of tragedy that turns the tables and leads to the final moments of the battle, finally allowing the audience to breathe again.
The Phantom Menace marked the return of the saga 16 years after Return of the Jedi, it was met with praise and criticism yet, despite the varied opinions, the final lightsaber battle remains a highlight in the film, as well as the franchise, making the film well worth the wait.