When I left the theater back in 1999 after my first viewing of The Phantom Menace, I wasn’t sure how to feel. On the one hand, it was a new Star Wars movie. On the other, it was a rather childish and often times nonsensical Star Wars movie. There were many things to not like about Episode 1, and boy did moviegoers NOT like it. Sure, it appealed to young kids, but the older hardcore fans were not happy. As a teenager at the time, I had many mixed emotions, but I still enjoyed it for what it was. Thinking back on the movie all these years later, there are several things that Episode 1 did right. Here are my thoughts on why the first of the prequel movie deserves a little more respect than it got.
Regardless of what you think of the script, acting, goofy sound effects, and of course, Jar Jar, the music is still incredible. Sixteen years after the Return of the Jedi, we got a fully realized Star Wars soundtrack from John Williams. Every note was perfect and the orchestration was brilliant. Duel Of The Fates alone is a masterpiece beyond comprehension. To this day I get chills down my spine when I hear it. The auditory experience one has from start to finish is outstanding.
If I’m going to sing the praises of the music, it’s only fair I mention the sound design. From the lightsabers to the insanity that was Coruscant, and down to podracing, it’s all so delightful. The world building is just as much an auditory experience as it is a visual one. Granted the numerous kid and fart humor sound effects Lucas threw in there are exceptionally cringeworthy, but that shouldn’t take away from what’s good. With every clash of a lightsaber during our titular heroes’ battle with Darth Maul, the sound puts you at the edge of your seat. There is no better test of a surround sound system than putting on the Podracing scene and jacking up the volume.
I dare anyone to tell me Ewan McGregor isn’t perfect as Obi-Wan. His mannerisms, cadence, and even future self with a full beard in episode 3 were all on point. With each movie, McGregor got better and better and one of a few bright spots throughout the series. We all wish Disney hadn’t scrapped the “A Star Wars Story” idea after the mediocre response to Solo. Legions of fans want an Obi-Wan movie and we all demand that Ewan star in it. It’s no secret McGregor would love to do it, and there is no doubt in my mind it would be anything short of amazing.
I adore Darth Maul. As little screen time as the Sith apprentice had, he left a huge impact on the geekverse. His low brooding lines were delivered with perfection by Ray Park. The fight choreography is incredible, with the duel between Maul, Qui-Gon, and Obi-Won arguably one of the best in the entire series. Every time the movie cut away to see what Amidala and the gang were up to, I would silently yell at the screen to go back to the action. It was sad that we hardly got to know Darth Maul before his untimely “death” at the end of the movie. Luckily, the brilliant Clone Wars cartoon series breathed new life into the character, giving us a whole lot more Maul to love and enjoy.
I have two points to make here. The first is about the character of then-Senator Palpatine from Naboo. If you strip everything away from The Phantom Menace down to what it is trying to accomplish, you’re left with Palpatine. Plain and simple, that is what the movie was about. It is the Senators slow rise to ultimate power that eventually leads him to become emperor. His orchestration of the blockade of Naboo and working both sides as Senator and Sith Lord are masterful. The entire point of the movie was to get the man into power and that’s exactly what it accomplished.
The second point is on Ian McDiarmid, who played Palpatine with so much camp and style that I have to give a shout out. As the movies went on, McDiarmid becomes so over the top with delicious scene-stealing megalomaniacal overacting. By the time he transforms into the deformed Emperor we know and Love, McDiarmid is exactly what we expected him to be. We all knew Senator Palpatine was the Emperor, but seeing him evolve over the movies was a definite treat.
Young Anakin is annoying. This is a fact. Most scenes with him are trash (this is also a fact). However, podracing is pretty awesome to watch. The fast-paced action is fun, and we were all on the edge of our seats at one point in the theater. As I mentioned earlier, the sound design for the race was spectacular, even with the occasional childish effects. Let’s not forget how much fun the podracing video game was!!
Coruscant and the Jedi Temple
We had heard about Coruscant and the Jedi Temple throughout the original trilogy, but aside from the special addition, we never really got a good look at either of them. Finally, in the prequels, we got to see both in all their glory. Coruscant, a planet that’s one big city, and the Temple located within are both breathtaking. I was in awe at the sheer scale and monumental nature of the city. I was enamored over the beauty and elegance of the Jedi Temple. It’s everything I had imagined it to be. It truly saddened me when they canceled Star Wars 1313. Here’s a game that was going to delve into the underworld of Coruscant and it was going to be insane. Say what you will about the questionable acting and at times horrid dialogue throughout Episode 1, the production design was stupendous.
It’s Star Wars!!
At the end of the day, who cares about all the weird or annoying things in the movie…It’s STAR WARS. After sixteen years, we got a brand-new movie complete with awesome lightsaber duels and space battles, badass villains, chase scenes, and a beautifully written score. Sure, there were some characters that should never have been created, but there were also some who have left an indelible mark on pop culture.
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s definitely fun. At its heart, Star Wars was made for kids, and ask anyone who was a child in 1999. They’ll tell you the movie was amazing. Perhaps Lucas was right in not pandering to adults going to see the new trilogy. You had your movies in the ’70s and ’80s. It’s time to let a new generation of kids have THEIR Star Wars. It’s not the same as yours, but it’s still an adventure set a long time ago in a place far far away.
Do you think Star Wars: The Phantom Menace gets enough respect? Let us know in the comments below!