Star Wars is arguably the most popular franchise in cinematic history, with the seven film series totalling over $3.2 billion in domestic box office. The original trilogy, as well as The Force Awakens, are all considered to be critical home-runs.
The prequels however - which began release in 1999 - are much less appreciated by the general public. Some fans of the series didn't like the use of heavy CGI, the melodramatic dialogue, or the acting styles of some of the actors in the prequels.
That being said, two of the prequels still garnered a "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge Of The Sith earned a 79% score, and Star Wars: Episode II - Attack Of The Clones was given a modest 65%, meaning the reviews aggregated for those films were generally postive.
This means that the only Star Wars film that's close to universally scorned is the original prequel, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace.
Episode I has a score of 55% on RT, and some fans have spent the last 17 years complaining about the film. Many say that the graphics were too fake to bear, the acting was the worst of the series, and that none of the stories were believable.
This may be an unpopular opinion, but what if all of those complainers don't actually have much to complain about? In other words, there's plenty of evidence to confidently consider The Phatntom Menace a good movie. Even bolder - The Phantom Menace is possibly the best of the three prequels. Here's why:
First off, you have to give credit to the actors in this movie, no matter how badly you may not want to. Liam Neeson turned in a stern and believable performance as Qui-Gon Jinn, one that ultimately brought the entire film up a notch. In every scene the actor appeared in, his calm stature and incredible poise really led you to appreciate what Qui-Gon was trying to do. Even the lambasted midichlorian lines were delivered with purpose - and that's a difficult feat.
Ray Park and Ewan McGregor also tested the boundaries of dramatic sci-fi acting, as they pulled off that memorable lightsaber fight scene to perfection. The chemistry between these three characters wasn't matched again throughout the rest of the saga, and the actors should be celebrated for this kind of acheivement.
Speaking of Ray Park, his turn as Darth Maul has to be one of the highlights of the prequels. Everything from the terrifying make-up, to the double-sided lightsaber, helped create one of the most original villains in the history of Star Wars. Think about it, here was a a guy who looked like a clown's worst nightmare had a baby with the creature from Insiduious, who could also kick your ass harder than a Super Saiyan. Nothing could have been scarier than going toe-to-toe with Darth Maul.
It's a shame to have seen the character leave the live-action franchise so early (he was brought back for Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels animated series, as well as comics and novels), but having Obi-Wan kill such a powerful foe went a long way in proving just how skilled he was as a Jedi master. This villain alone, while seemingly small, left a long-lasting mark on all of Star Wars.
Another element that made these scenes so breathtaking was the beautiful score crafted by John Williams. The composer has turned in legendary pieces of music for each film, but his Phantom Menace work goes up with some of his career's best.
One of the biggest complaints revolves around Jake Lloyd's performance as Anakin Skywalker. It was slightly disappointing to see the most important character in the entire franchise in the hands of any young actor, but everyone seems to look past the fact that Lloyd was only nine years old when The Phantom Menace was filmed. The kid held his own in a room with Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, and Natalie Portman - all of whom have been nominated for or won an Emmy or an Oscar throughout their careers.
No matter how poor you may think Jake Lloyd was as an actor, he still managed to bring out the two most important parts of the entire film.
The pod-racing scene didn't happen because Lloyd was a successful actor, but you needed the character to bring the action to life. To see a young boy with so much focus was needed in making that scene work as a whole. While pod-racing wasn't integral to the plot of the movie, it was a major component of the marketing. The clips of these enormous machines barrelling through the mountains were enough to build extra hype around the film, and fans would have been extremely let down had the one actor in the sequence not delivered.
The other factor that we often forget to thank Jake Lloyd for, was his ability to make Darth Vader relatable. If you just take the popular villain at face value, as the original trilogy did, there's almost no depth in his character. With the exception of his death scene, where he saved Luke's life, Vader was nothing more than a stagnant strong-man. However, Jake Lloyd's ability to bring joy to Anakin, and to make you believe in his innocence, set the tone for the downfall of the character. You need that performance from Jake Lloyd to help you remember how human - and how truly good - Darth Vader was at one point.
The Phantom Menace may have spent too much time laying groundwork, but none of the other films mean nearly as much without the information. Some may regard it as a necessary evil, but it's worth watching again in a different light. Sure, it's easy to complain, but watch the film as the beginnings of something great. When you follow it with the rest of the series, it's a story that you can look back on and appreciate.
Episode I is far from a perfect film, but it's not bad by any stretch of the imagination. Just watch it one more time, you'll see.
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