In the history of cinema, few films were as highly-anticipated than Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. The original Star Wars trilogy were some of the most beloved films of all time, causing fans old and new to show up on opening day to see Anakin Skywalker's humble beginnings.
Due to a variety of factors, initial responses to Phantom Menace from many fans was negative. Considering fans who had seen the original as kids and were now adults, some critiques were that it was too juvenile in tone. Other complaints came from the overuse of CGI as opposed to practical effects. Many people complained about the narrative and still have no idea what the "Trade Federation" is. The list goes on and on.
Many of the complaints against the film are valid, but too many people dismiss the film entirely, regardless of how many positive things the film gave us.
Rather than focus on the negative, we'd like to take the opportunity to focus on the positive and reflect on some of the best things Phantom Menace gave Star Wars fans!
Let us know your thoughts on the film in the comments!
In the original trilogy, the idea of a "Jedi Master" was relegated to older, frail characters like Yoda, Emperor Palpatine, or Obi-Wan Kenobi. Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker showed us a wider range of physical abilities, but audiences were under the assumption that at a certain age, you'd hang up your lightsaber and live alone in a hut. With Qui-Gon Jinn, we saw a Jedi Master who was every bit as powerful as he was wise, reminding fans that maintaining your physical skills were just as important as the mental ones. We might have only seen Qui-Gon in one film, but Liam Neeson's performance was a memorable one.
Young Obi-Wan Kenobi
Much like Qui-Gon changed the perception of Jedi Masters, a younger, more reckless Obi-Wan changed the impression we had of the older Alec Guinness we had seen in the original trilogy. Had you told someone familiar with the original Star Wars that they'd see Obi-Wan doing front flips and other acrobatic attacks, you'd surely be met with doubters. More than just seeing a younger version of the character, actor Ewan McGregor so wholly embodied the character, both by taking influences from Guinness's portrayal and adding his own flourishes, he has become the seminal portrayal of the character to many fans.
When thinking of villains in Star Wars, really the only image that would come to mind was the ominous Darth Vader, who merely needed to be on screen to make audiences quiver. Vader was a tough act to follow up, but Maul's red-and-black face in the film's trailers was enough to pique fans' interest. A character of few words, Maul shattered every expectation we had about the Star Wars universe with the simple action of showing off his lightsaber had two blades, changing the weapon's versatility indefinitely. Maul might not have become as seminal a Sith staple in Star Wars as Vader, but he might be the most ferocious villain the franchise has ever seen.
In the original trilogy, the lightsaber battles were relatively stiff, despite Luke Skywalker's advancing abilities throughout the series. Thanks to advances in fight choreography and actors being in their physical prime, the final three-way battle between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Maul is arguably the best fight scene in the entire saga, possibly of that decade.
Duel of the Fates
Whether it be the opening theme of the "Imperial March," music has proven to be just as integral an element of the Star Wars films as anything else. Prior to The Phantom Menace's release, a music video was released of a new track from the film, which mixed footage from the film with behind-the-scenes shots to shoot levels of anticipation into the stratosphere. Before hearing a single orchestral note, we here a choral cacophony, something altogether new for the music had grown accustomed to, forever altering our expectations of what we'd hear. "Duel of the Fates" continues to be one of the most significant pieces of music throughout the entire saga.
[H/T Vimeo, Pasya]
The Pod Race
The final battle in Star Wars, the Hoth battle in The Empire Strikes Back, and the speeder bike chase in Return of the Jedi were some of the most high-octane moments in the trilogy, but after the advances of CGI, they couldn't come close to the velocity achieved by the pod race scene in The Phantom Menace. In 1999, the sequence blew away what the original trilogy's special effects could accomplish. Admittedly, the sequence doesn't do much to move the story forward and could have been cut from the movie completely to save everyone some time, but if you saw this sequence in theaters, you were witness to the direction most of Hollywood was going when it came to pushing special effects as far as they could go to audiences' delight.
When you're a Star Wars fan, your brain absorbs every element of the franchise as it can, whether you like it or not. One of Phantom Menace's biggest issues, according to fans, is both the dialogue and the actors' delivery of the sometimes cheesy lines. At the time, it might have been frustrating to hear disappointing dialogue in the space opera, but these days, you can spot a fellow die-hard fan when you hear someone say, "There's always a bigger fish," "Are you an angel?" or "Wizard!"
Jar Jar Jokes
Up until Phantom Menace, one punchline that never grew old was referencing the Ewoks. No matter what the context, no matter what the situation, fans could point to the Ewoks as one of the silliest things in the franchise. That is until one particular Gungan united fans everywhere in disbelief of silliness. Jar Jar Binks had less and less screen time with each subsequent film, but he remains a go-to punchline for all fans when it comes to not taking the saga too seriously.