In 1999, two years after George Lucas and co. celebrated the 20th anniversary of ‘Star Wars’ with a theatrical re-release of the original trilogy (In new remastered versions with many controversial edits and Episode additions), ‘Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace’ was first released. As the first part of a new trilogy of prequels, telling the story of Anakin Skywalker’s early years and his journey to the Dark Side, The Phantom Menace was anticipated higher than any movie had been for a long time. As fans of the originals came out in ‘Force’, the first of the new Star Wars movies became a global box office smash, and claimed second place on the list of all-time grossing movies, next to ‘Titanic’ (Whch ironically enough has now since changed to James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ and ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ for top two places). But alas, as we know, while the movie had a great deal of praise and positive reviews, including a stellar review from the late Roger Ebert, it was also met with a lot of negativity. And for me, as a long time Star Wars fan, the negative responses are completely unwarranted. And as it’s Star Wars Day around the world (May The Fourth Be With You!), now is a perfect time to look at 5 reasons why The Phantom Menace deserves your love…
5. Time of passage.
A return to a franchise is always going to be difficult. Different cast, different writers, different crew etc… Any number of things can change over time. And with the Star Wars prequels, a lot of things did change. Technology changed, hence the revamped and somewhat destroyed releases release two years earlier. Many of the original cast members were brought back to play original parts, but without stars like Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and of course Mark Hamill, and with the story being a prequel, we were never going to get what we got from the first trilogy. So expecting more of that same magic was foolish. And considering that the wonderful ‘Return Of The Jedi’ was also met with mixed reactions, why should the prequels be so pushed aside? People already believe that wrong was done, so surely The Phantom Menace doesn’t deserve to be so badly treated? I saw a post on Instagram this morning where a man displayed his entire Star Wars collection, but totally omitted the prequels. For me, that’s wrong.
4. The characters.
We do miss Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker, as the legends of the original trilogy. And we also miss the sight of Darth Vadar suited and booted until he appears at the end of Revenge Of The Sith. But what did we get in place? In my opinion, a batch of characters, while not of the standard of those originals, that are exciting, fun and filled with mystery. Darth Maul especially is incredible to watch. The makeup design, the costume, the limited speak, and the magnificent fighting skills. He’s a fantastic character. Qui-Gon Jinn, played by one of Ireland’s greatest actors Liam Neeson, is a wonderful character. Wise, gentle, mysterious and just like Darth Maul, comes with a very particular skills that make him a nightmare to his enemies. And his demise is a very emotional one at the hands of the dastardly Darth. Young Anakin, to be fair, can be a little lifeless at times, a little wooden in his delivery of lines, a little lacking in emotion, and his random yell of “YIPPEE” just makes him shine a little less. But he’s still a lovable kid, with a lot of spirit and well played by Jingle All The Way’s Jake Lloyd. Queen Amidala/Padme is magnificent. Oscar winner Natalie Portman is well known to us for her many brilliant roles, but I’ve never loved her more than I do in Star Wars. Warm, funny, tragic and very beautiful, she brings all three movies together emotionally. And her somewhat duel role in The Phantom Menace is genius. Even if we know that Keira Knightly is clearly not Natalie Portman. Ewan McGregor is perfect for young Obi-Wan, and well capable of the many action scenes he’s in. He’s especially spectacular in the 3-way lightsbaber duel between Qui-Gon and Darth Maul. And to top it all off, the most controversial character in Star Wars history… Jar-Jar Binks. Many love him, but many hate him. And for all the reason they claim to hate him, it comes down to one thing… They believe he’s a racial sterotype. Which, in my opinion, is nonsense. Why should every character in a Star Wars movie be an American, or a Brit? Why can’t we have a little diversity? Jar-Jar is that diversity. And he’s wonderful. I’ve many memories of first watching the movie in 1999 with my uncle, who has since passed away. He adored this movie, and he quoted every line of Jar-Jar with just as much spirit as Jar-Jar himself. Lines like “Oooo Mooey Mooey, I love you!” and “Mesa day startin’ okee-day with a brisky morning munchy!” make him such a wonderful character. And the part he plays in accidently saving the day at the end of the movie just makes me love him even more. Bumbling, crazy, full of fun and extremely funny, Jar-Jar Binks is hands down the most underrated movie character ever.
3. The story.
“Oooohhhh yawn! They’re talking politics and federations!”. The many ignorant mumblings of people who actually forget that the series is called “Star WARS”. Wars are born from politics and denied freedoms. Why should Star Wars be any different? If I ever had a problem with the original movie from 1977, it is the fact that they gloss over the cause of all that is happening, in favor of glossy action, fantastic characters and a John Williams score so good people would pay just to hear that at the cinema. Many questions went unasked, and therefore unanswered. Who is Darth Vadar? Who is Luke’s father? Why build the Death Star? And that’s where Star Wars shines as a whole, because by the end of Revenge Of The Sith, we have our answers. Had it just been that first movie, we’d know nothing. Even Vadar receives no grand farewell. And in among all of that, are the political questions. That’s what I enjoy in The Phantom Menace. Not just the action and the fun of Jar-Jar, but the politics. The attempt to be something more than just a big science fiction action movie. People need to remember the title of the franchise before they start complaining about the political side of these movies.
2. The action.
Oh my God. Put everything aside for a moment and consider the action of every Star Wars movies… Now ask yourself… Is there one that has the quantity and the level of action that The Phantom Menace has? Abolutely not. The pulse-pounding pod race, the incredible lightsaber duel of Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan/Darth Maul, the spectacular 20-minute finale etc… This is the action showcase of the whole Star Wars legacy. And lengthy action, not short bursts, but foll set pieces, just like that finale. And the scene during the lightsaber duel involving the force shield is a thing of beauty, the intensity of that scene is glorious. These days, we get short changed a lot with movies promising big generous action scenes, which they fail to deliver. But George Lucas delivered with The Phantom Menace. Boy did he deliver.
1. It’s Star Wars!
For years, I’ve been hearing words like “I’m a Star Wars fan, make no more movies!” and “Oh, only the first two Star Wars movies should have been made!”. And yet, as a big Star Wars fan myself, I can never understand how a fan could want less. I personally think that ten theatrical movies in forty years is disgraceful. Especially when it’s a franchise like Star Wars. Ten movies and a couple of cartoon shows? Nowhere near enough. And yet some people who proclaim themselves fans of the series actually have complained about the series being revisited? Take these words from a major Star Wars fan… Myself… There could never be enough Star Wars. Some say they want the originals, fine. I want it all. And much more. Spin-offs, sequels, TV shows, storybooks… Everything. I want a Darth Maul spin-off, I want a Jar-Jar spin-off, I want a Queen Amidala spin-off. I want everything. And if it wasn’t for The Phantom Menace, all we would ever have is the original trilogy. And while I could never do anything but adore those movies, the Star Wars universe is there to be enjoyed, not just for three movies, but for many more. And they could not have kicked off the future of this beloved legacy with a better movie than ‘Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace’.
Happy 40th Anniversary, Star Wars! Long May The Force Be With You!