Today is what is known as Star Wars Day and with it comes a celebration of one of the greatest film franchises in cinema history. But while the original trilogy of films is widely considered to be classics, they were succeeded (ore technically preceded) by three films that really don’t rank well among even average movies.
George Lucas will forever be blasted for creating the prequel trilogy and of all the crappy films he’s made or been a part of outside of the Star Wars trilogy, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace ranks pretty low. But while cinematic atrocities like Howard The Duck are much worse, they can easily be forgotten where as The Phantom Menace is directly tied to the entire Star Wars storyline.
That’s why the film gets so much hate, or at least partially why, but is it really that bad of a film or are we all being sore and half-witted nerd herders? It’s easy to pick on The Phantom Menace but it’s been bullied for far too long when it’s not nearly the abortion it’s made out to be. Original trilogy purists have been far too hard on the film that, despite it’s many many flaws, is a solid piece of escapism fun.
For starters, the film doesn’t include Hayden Christensen, even if Jake Lloyd’s Anakin Skywalker is just as bad. But while Lloyd is a bad actor he’s also just a kid whereas Christensen moped his way through the following two films. Lloyd at least has the weak defense that he’s an 8-year old kid where Christensen has no defense at all for his mechanical acting.
Let’s be real, R2-D2 — who is literally a machine — had more personality than Anakin Skywalker in the prequel films.
Another gripe people have is the political backdrop and lingo that the film takes on, as scenes about trade embargoes and senate hearings are hardly what we define as high flying action. But since when was trying to inject a little intellectualism into a movie ever a bad thing? We’re not getting degree in political science with The Phantom Menace but the Trade Federation blockade on Naboo is a central plot device and skating around it would be the definition of bad storytelling that purists try to apply liberally to The Phantom Menace.
There is also a certain charm about The Phantom Menace — call it nostalgia if you must — that helps give the film a different feel from the other prequel films. Love it or hate it, you have to admit that the film doesn’t feel like Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith and that works in it’s favor. It was the last of the Star Wars films to be shot on traditional film and was the only prequel film to be shot largely on location. That helps the aesthetics of the film and gives it as close to an OT feel as it can get.
The easiest defense of the film though is the action, as it’s the saving grace beyond all else. At the end of the day The Phantom Menace — much like The Matrix: Reloaded – gets way too much gruff for being boring when it has plenty of action sprinkled throughout. From the Podracing scene to the juggling act at the end of the film that follows four different battles, The Phantom Menace makes you wait for the action but it pays off.
The lightsaber fight between Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon and Darth Maul at the conclusion of the film still ranks as one of, if not the best, lightsaber fight in all six films. The battle between the Gungans and the Droids makes Jar-Jar actually not seem al that bad for slapstick purposes and the space battle above makes up for the shoddy dialogue with great visual effects.
Look, no one is saying that Star Wars Episode I is an iconic film nor is it a particularly great film. But it’s far from the crime against nature it’s been made out to be and it’s okay to go against the mob mentality and admit you enjoy it even at a primitive level. Again, without using the excuse that the bar of expectation was set way too high, the film holds up as a solid piece of escapism. You don’t have to love The Phantom Menace but to defend it as worse that Attack of the Clones is just foolish as it’s far better than it’s been slagged off as being over the last 15 years.