George Lucas brought his beloved Star Wars saga back to the big screen with the kickoff of the “Prequel Trilogy,” 1999’s The Phantom Menace. The buzz and hype surrounding the film and its reborn enthusiasm was off the charts (much like Anakin’s Midi-Chlorian count, a-yo!). So why was Episode I so awful, or are we remembering it improperly? I’m so glad you asked.The Phantom Menace was actually relatively well-received at its launch and set all kinds of Hollywood Box Office records. As time went on and we weaved our way through Episodes II, III, and beyond, fans everywhere began to despise the film. Is it just popular to hate TPM? Was it truly awful? Perhaps, it is somewhere in between. Sure, I ranked it number 8 on my list of Star Wars movies. I should preface this article by saying that I was 8 years old, just 1 year behind TPM Anakin’s age, when the film came out. So I might view it differently if I had grown up around the original trilogy in the late 70s and early 80s. Here’s the thing: my awesome Dad took me to see the original trilogy in 1997 when I was 6, as the films’ “special editions” came to theaters everywhere. My Star Wars obsession had begun 2.5 years before TPM was released. So I remember the build-up, the hype, the awesome merchandise (remember those Pepsi cans? Those were sick!). I am kind of The Geekiverse’s Jocasta Nu when it comes to Star Wars knowledge (if you get that reference, you’re just as geeky as I am), so I’ve read the books, the lore, and have studied this from every angle.
With The Last Jedi one month away (**squeals**), I am rewatching all 8 films, in chronological order. I typically do this when a new Star Wars film comes out. The best way to watch Episode I is believing the sadly now debunked Jar Jar Binks-Sith Lord Theory. Some fan-made watching orders cut out TPM completely, as they say that there was nothing of consequence to the greater overall arching story of the Skywalker Saga. I’m here to give you 7 reasons that Star Wars: The Phantom Menace isn’t the flaming piece of poodoo that you think it is. Perhaps, even (wait for it), I am telling you it’s a good movie (GASP). Lets get to it.
1. It features one of John Williams’ best musical scores for a film & laid the groundwork for his other beautiful work in Episodes II & III.
I’m pretty sure no one will deny this first point. John Williams is one of Hollywood’s greatest composers of all time. His list of work is staggering (Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Home Alone, too many to list……). He found a way to bring back that classical Star Wars sound and feel, while setting TPM apart as a new era in the galaxy. Hints of original trilogy musical nods are placed gracefully throughout the movie, including a brief portion of Darth Vader’s Imperial March when Yoda warns Obi-Wan Kenobi of the risk of training Anakin as a Jedi. In the early 2000s, loads of video games came out based on Lucas’ new dawn of Star Wars. Williams’ different scores are interwoven across each of those games. The best new song and perhaps the most epic? Duel of the Fates, which plays when Darth Maul is revealed on Naboo to Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn. Absolutely chilling. My wife and I love this song so much, that we had it played at our wedding in 2014 as we were revealed for the first time during introductions.
Fun fact: I’ll present this in the form of Star Wars trivia. After playing during the Lightsaber duel in TPM, do you know the other two times that Duel of the Fates is present in Star Wars movies? I’ll give you a moment. Please scroll to see the answer.
Answer: Duel of the Fates plays during Attack of the Clones when Anakin is on Tatooine, driving a speeder bike in search of his mother, Shmi. It also plays during Revenge of the Sith, during Anakin and Obi-Wan’s duel and simultaneously, Yoda and Emperor Palpatine’s.
2. It has possibly the greatest Lightsaber duel of all time.
On my rankings list of every Star Wars Lightsaber Duel, I listed this one third. I could easily make an argument that it should be first. Darth Maul v. Obi-Wan Kenobi & Qui-Gon Jinn is one of the most awe-inspiring, energetic duels we have ever seen, and it was all the more impressive in 1999. The great part about this is that it holds up today. The 2-on-1 dynamic became a recurring theme during the prequels, outlining just how powerful the Sith truly are, despite the samurai-like fighting style of the Jedi.
Fun fact: Remember when Obi-Wan tells Anakin not to try to defeat him in ROTS, because of the simple fact that he has the high ground. Nice bluff, Obi-Wan! In TPM, Maul has the high ground before Obi-Wan jumps over him, stunning him and slicing him in two (but not killing him). In ROTS, mere hours before Obi-Wan fights Anakin, General Grievous has the high ground as a yet-again Obi-Wan is dangling from the edge of a platform. Obi-Wan doesn’t jump over him, but rather defeats him with a blaster. Oh, the irony of Kenobi using a blaster. There’s a lot more to the Grievous/Kenobi duel, perhaps I’ll write another article on the foreshadowing ahead of Anakin/Kenobi’s duel.
3. It has one of the best villains in Star Wars history.
Even if Darth Maul was under-utilized in TPM, he has more than made up for that with lengthy, prominent appearances on both Star Wars animated series in The Clone Wars and Rebels. Maul appeared to be Palpatine’s true heir apparent, the most lethal, loyal, devastating weapon of destruction that would do his master’s bidding and help realize the Sith’s 1,000 year plan to destroy the Jedi. That all went wayward when Maul was sent packing by Obi-Wan. But until then, his characteristics made him a sort of Boba Fett of the Prequels. His intensity is unmatched, thanks in part to little to no dialogue, as well as his tattooed body. Oh, and who could forget the absolute coolest Lightsaber ever created? Maul’s double-bladed Lightsaber (and subsequent ability to wield it) is one of the neatest things Star Wars fans will ever witness. The sound of the two blades whirling by is a thing of beauty.
Fun fact: Maul actor, Ray Park, didn’t actually utter any of Maul’s lines. A voice actor was brought in to record over Park’s ad-libbing.
4. Unpopular Opinion: The CGI Effects are the best of the Prequel Trilogy.
Yep. One of the most common complaints regarding Lucas’ direction and production would be his overuse of CGI and I must say, I can’t fault you for thinking that. Episode I could hold up better than either II or III, with the least amount of effect being used. Some of my favorite sights include the breath-taking underwater city of Otoh Gunga, Naboo’s Royal Theed Palace, the crisp skyline of the city-planet of Coruscant, and heck, even the proper balance of the pods during the Boonta Eve Classic Podrace on Tatooine. As awful as Jar Jar Binks was, his appearance was the least-worst thing about him.
Fun fact: As you might recall, Jedi Master Yoda was a puppet throughout the original trilogy. For 1999’s TPM, he was again a puppet. An odd looking, likely on drugs, Yoda. For Episodes II & III, Lucas insisted that Yoda go digital, for a number of reasons. When the franchise’s then-6 films were released on blu-ray for the first time in 2011, Yoda was remastered as a digital version. Thank the maker, it is such an improvement over the original.
5. Popular Opinion: Ewan McGregor as a young Obi-Wan Kenobi.
This is an easy one, folks. Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of a young, Jedi Padawan version of Obi-Wan Kenobi is one of the greatest things about not just TPM, but all 3 of the prequels. His acting performance is the highlight, and no actor is more closely associated with their counterpart than McGregor to the original trilogy’s Alec Guinness. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find another casting in which an actor or actress is supposed to play a younger version. Mannerisms and moral steadfastness aside, they look like they could be real life father and son.
Fun fact: A standalone Obi-Wan Kenobi is reportedly in development at Disney and Lucasfilm, with a number of high profile media outlets such as Variety.com confirming this. Disney has not confirmed it yet, but maybe they want to see how well the first character-focused standalone film, Solo: A Star Wars Story, is received before officially announcing. Reports suggest that McGregor is in talks to reprise his role (!!!).
6. We saw life before the corruption of the Old Republic & the beginning of The Empire.
I think this is an underrated, often overlooked aspect of TPM. We were able to lay witness to what everyday life looked like in the Republic, what its system incorporated, and how prominent the Jedi Knights were in keeping the peace. It’s a glimpse into what Obi-Wan tells Luke Skywalker about in A New Hope. Sure, no one wants to see “trade dispute” or “taxation” in a Star Wars crawl, but the end of civilization and democracy had to start somewhere, right?
Fun fact: Lucasfilm announced this week that The Last Jedi writer and director Rian Johnson will get to helm his own trilogy. This trilogy is to be disconnected from the Skywalker Saga (numbered, episodic movies), and that it will be an era and place in the galaxy that no one has ever covered. Perhaps they mean “covered in our new Disney canon,” and that we’ll get to see the beginning of the plot of the Sith. I’d love to see the Sith Empire on screen.
7. It established a starting point for Anakin’s issues.
Most people didn’t like seeing a 9 year old, child version of Anakin Skywalker, much less watching him be the hero during the Naboo/Trade Federation space battle. I get it. But in some ways, TPM established the beginning of the downfall of Anakin before he even became a Jedi Padawan. He can’t let go of things. He has a temper. He is emotional. These are all things that Yoda warned us about. Not being able to completely let go of his mother is something that was able to connect us on a human level to Anakin. Would Shmi Skywalker’s death in AOTC be as intense if we didn’t get to know her a bit first? I’m not so sure. Good people can fall, and Anakin was a good person. TPM shows us a glimpse of this before he runs off to Coruscant to train as a Jedi. In another way, the groundwork is laid to reveal who Anakin’s father is, which we find out in ROTS (at least, we think we do).
Fun fact: We weren’t just supposed to meet young Darth Vader on Tatooine; we were going to see little Greedo, too. In a cut scene, Greedo and Anakin get into a scuffle. That would have been awesome, but unnecessary. Also, Lucas states that he couldn’t resist making Anakin the father of C-3P0 in addition to Luke & Leia.
8. Politics & Midi-Chlorians
OMG I am kidding! Chill out! Politics suck in real life, why would we want to see that in a movie like Star Wars? And now we are saying the Force is scientific instead of faith-based? Which is it, George??? Are you going to tell me that Kylo Ren & Rey have a higher Midi-Chlorian count than Anakin? Get out of here.
So there you have it folks, 7 (definitely not 8) reasons that I think Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is truly not as awful as you remember it. In fact, watch it again after having read this. (*Slight wave of hand*) You will enjoy it more.
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Josiah LeRoy is The Geekiverse’s crazed Star Wars
nut job enthusiast. You could say he is even the Palpatine of the whole thing. The Last Jedi is mere weeks away.
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